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.

MadeWithCodeBracelets

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.

activist stickers

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.

activist sticker LA

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.

activist sticker aurora lady LGBTQ

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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Hope is Action: Getting Started Fighting Post-Trump Depression with Activism

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“Hope is action,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her fantastic book “Hope in the Dark.” This post is about taking action to find hope.

The other evening I got together with a group of friends I trust and admire. I made two lasagnas: vegetarian and vegan, lit candles, and tried to make my space as cozy and comforting as possible so we could talk about some hard topics. I asked them about what they have been thinking, feeling, and working on since last month’s election. We brainstormed about how we could get further involved, discussed anything that was holding us back from doing so, and shared ideas about how we could support each other.

Being active is a choice, and a necessary one. One of the things we talked about was feeling the weight of necessity to be constantly doing something to resist the incoming regime right now and knowing that it will be a long struggle ahead we need to pace ourselves and ensure we don’t burn out too quickly. We also talked about there are many different ways to get involved and that activism doesn’t always mean leading the protest with a megaphone, but also stepping back and supporting with your time, ideas, energy, presence, and voice.

There’s a lot of great lists of action items, ideas, and reading lists circulating since the election, but I wanted to share some of the big ideas we shared together in the hopes that it can remind us all that staying active in big and small ways can fight the immobilization and depression that comes with despair. The next few years are going to be tough. We need each other.

Stand up and speak out

Small acts of speaking out can make a big difference to people who are being target by bigoted and hateful speech or actions. After a woman wearing a headscarf was attacked by three white men chanting “Trump!” on the 23rd street subway platform and no one intervened, New Yorkers expressed outrage and horror. Thankfully, self-defense, bystander intervention and de-escalation trainings are taking place around the city.

Speaking up and sharing ideas online is important too, but with Trump and the trolls out there it’s also important to keep yourself and your identity safe. Check out this Feminist guide to cyber security put together by my friend Noah, a developer and activist out of Boston, full of great tips to keep yourself safe online!

Make your voice heard to your representatives

Make a habit of calling your representatives and telling them you oppose specific nominations and legislation that is taking place and to support initiatives you believe in. I looked up my federal, state, and local representatives and saved their numbers in my phone. Who represents you? House and senate. NY state house. NY state senate. NYC city council.

I get it… calling people sucks. I found this guide helpful: How to call your representatives when you have social anxiety

Find out what your local council members are organizing. For example, my council member Carlos Menchaca is organizing gatherings in local homes for immigrant families to talk about resources available to them. He declared New York City a “Sanctuary City” and delivered a statement at Trump Tower stating such. I love him.

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Get involved locally

One thing that the election has fired me up about is getting more involved locally in organizations that support people who will become even more vulnerable under the incoming administration. There’s also a solidarity and action group forming in my neighborhood – find out what’s happening in yours.

Here’s some NYC organizations I am hoping to help out – find the equivalent in your town!
Clinic escorting in Jamaica, Queens (also info about how to get involved in New Jersey)
Atlas DIY – youth-run organization in Sunset Park providing legal, professional development, creative and social services to immigrant youth
Ali Forney Center – shelter and education center for LGBTQ youth
SAGE – services and advocacy for LGBTQ elders
New American’s Welcome Center run by the Y around New York City – some of them run conversation groups with new immigrants learning English

Also, if you are in NYC on December 18, join me at the March for Immigrant NY!

Creative resistance

From street art, sticker campaigns, public education, and media intervention, creative people have a lot of skills that will be useful (and undervalued by the mainstream) in the current years. I’m planning to create stickers to carry around to place over offensive graffiti or to create a positive, pro-women, pro-LGBTQ, pro-immigrant public message, as well as make a zine that includes bystander intervention tips. While creative resistance can feel insignificant in the face of a political shitstorm, taking steps to keep yourself engaged creatively and sharing alternative ideas is essential for our survival.

Organize with other artists! Union Docs hosted a “Next Steps Now” gathering for film and media makers and plans to host more. A group of artists is hosting “Artists in Action: organizing against the normalization of hate” in Long Island City, Queens on December 13.

In NYC Art After Trump is taking place at Housing Works on December 15 and will be a gathering and marathon-style reading of responses by and for artists and arts organizers.

Kind Aesthetic is creating an action guide for creatives – it’s a little sparse right now, but maybe you have some ideas for them!

My friend Aurora put together the Pussyhat Project, encouraging folks to knit and share pink pussyhats and wear them to the women’s march on Washington in DC on January 21 to build community and start conversation.

And yes… donate! 

Instead of buying more crap this holiday season I’ve been focused on putting my dollars (however small) where my values are and supporting civil rights, access to abortion and reproductive health care, LGBTQ and immigrant youth, refugees, and independent media.

The ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Ali Forney Center, Azule (artist, community, and activist center in North Carolina), Fund for Legal Name/Gender changesAtlas DIY, International Rescue Committee, Independent Publishing Resource Center, and Wikipedia have all been on my giving list this year.

Again, giving what you can may seem small, but it’s an important gesture towards making your voice (by way of your dollars) count for what you believe in. And if you are looking for businesses NOT to support, download the “Boycott Trump” app.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless (I struggle with this every day), but I sincerely believe the actions we take everyday, however large or small, add up to who we are and what we stand for.

Clarity and action in Trump’s shadow

Fuck Trump

I woke up on the ninth of November to a living nightmare. US voters demonstrated how scared they are of powerful women, as well as the values I hold dear: difference, change, diversity, multiplicity, and inclusion.

I spent the first 48 hours after the election with the feeling of heavy grief, like a loved one had died. I could distract myself for awhile, but then the pain and the fear crept in. The reminder that the curtain had closed on an opportunity, a certain future will not be possible, and that many communities faced imminent violence crept in hit me in the gut again and again. Not just a threat: I traveled to UPenn to speak at a conference of black collegians for work on Friday the tenth, only to arrive an find that black freshmen had been the target of a cyber attack that threatened death by lynching. I learned that the dorm room of three Jewish women students at the New School, my alma mater, had been vandalized with nazi symbols. The nightmare was real.

After those days the fog of grief lifted and I found an oddly calm sense of clarity. I felt something inside me click into place. The feeling was familiar, like muscle memory from the Bush years. There is no ambiguity to the politics of the moment. Grieve, analyze, question, research, organize, share, protest, donate, speak out, actively practice solidarity, create radical art, and build and participate in communities that reflect a vision of a more inclusive, diverse, and peaceful future.

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I’ve had a fire inside all week. I know how to do this. I make my living by bringing people together and helping to create inclusive spaces to connect with and learn from others. I’ve had years of experience by this point organizing, buckling down, planning, and executing on ideas and I realized that these “soft skills” are often undervalued in our tech and data driven society are exactly the ones i need to use to survive and resist over the next years (and throughout my life). I’ve based my life and my career around building communities that are oriented towards diversity, inclusivity, learning, connecting, and social justice. Now it’s time to use those skills more directly.

The amazing Grace Lee Boggs, who passed away in 2015, said, “We need to do what I call visionary organizing. Recognize hat in every crises people do not respond like a school of fish. Some people become immobilized… and some people begin to find solutions. And visionary organizers look at those people, recognize them and encourage them, and they become the leaders of the future.” This quote is from an interview with her in the newest issue of Got a Girl Crush (which is great post-election reading, by the way). She spent the majority of her 100 year life working for social justice, from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements onward. Reading this interview reminded me of the many ways there are to resist, political protest and organizing being a part, but that we need to have vision and support each other in expansive, innovative, and visionary fashion over the next four years.

I set up recurring donations to the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. I organized transportation for me and a few friends to the January 21 “Million Woman March” in Washington DC. I applied to volunteer at local organizations that support immigrant families, to do clinic escorting, to commute with neighbors who don’t feel safe doing so, to help out at a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. I called my representatives and plan to do so weekly. I invited friends over night of reflection and action planning.

Then I realized, these are all things I should have been doing all along. My rage and burnout from the Bush years, combined with fears about my own economic security during the recession, and the sense that “things were getting better” throughout the Obama administration, let complacency wash over me like a warm bath. This was also a numbing tub of privilege, because things have not been “getting better” for millions of people – the refugee crises in the Middle East and Europe and the continued killing of unarmed Black people by law enforcement here in the states being just two prominent examples. Of course I empathized and felt solidarity with these situations and the movements to address them, but my daily life was not heavily impacted.

I’ve been rereading Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and she reminded me, “When I think back to why I was apolitical into my mid-twenties I see that being politically engaged means having a sense of your own power–that what you do matters–and a sense of belonging, things that came to me only later and that not come to all… despair is more a kind of fatigue, a loss of faith, that can be overcome, or even an indulgence if you look at the power of being political as a privilege not granted to everyone.”

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I work on Wall Street, two doors down from the Trump building, with gold letters glinting out that hateful name at me every time I walk by. I work in the shadow of racism and white supremacy, misogyny, and capitalism run rampant. But these specters are always there, have always been operating, whether in the shadows or out in the open. It’s always been there, it’s just that  it was just that some of us like myself had the privilege to see it, and keep walking, keep living our lives as if it wasn’t staring us in the face, thinking the small acts of solidarity we did take time to create were enough. They were not.

Solnit also reminds me that the impact of activism and the arc of history are not linear. “Progress” waxes and wanes, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t keep fighting for social justice, for the environment, for a world that is understanding of difference, but that the future is full of possibility for change. She writes, “The government and media routinely discount the effect of activists, but there’s no reason we should believe them… To be effective, activists have to make strong, simple, urgent demands, at least some of the time–the kind of demands that fit on stickers and placards, the kind that can be shouted in the street by a thousand people. And they have to recognize that their victories may come as subtle, complex, slow changes instead, and count them anyway. A gift for embracing paradox is not the least of the equipment an activist should have.”

Let’s hope that, no let’s ensure, that this is the last stand of white supremacy. That the republicans are dragging out all these old trolls of republican thought past because they are scared. That their vision of an ultra-capitalism, ultra-nationalist, ultra-white, ultra-macho US narrow, limited, and on the wrong side of history. I know that the future belongs to those of us who believe in equity, social justice, inclusivity, and environmental health. That expansive vision is so much larger and so much more beautiful.

I hope that you will join me to agitate, educate, and organize to bring it to life. And if you are on that path too, I hope I can join you.