Make some noise!

We are living in strange times, as if it wasn’t enough that we are living through a never-ending plague where the people in charge have just given up. Those of us who possess uteruses and live in the United States are reckoning with the fact that the government thinks we are too incompetent to manage our own bodies. 

Or is it just that the plan to keep white supremacy alive is to force white folks with uteruses to make more white babies, and turn us Black and brown uterus-holders into wet nurses and indentured servants? 

No matter what the plan is, women and all who possess uteruses are rightfully pissed off after learning of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion recently. Granted, for Black and brown women who have been leading the charge of reproductive justice, that leak wasn’t exactly unexpected. It was clear under the Trump years that the Supreme Court was going to take us back as best it could—and as far in time as it could. Well, it appears that day may be upon us. 

Granted, Roe v. Wade is intact at the moment, and abortion is still legal (though legislative language has already been drafted in many states to change that in response to the leaked opinion), but right now is where our voices must be heard.

But in the midst of fighting to maintain our bodily integrity and autonomy, there are those who are concerned that it is happening in the wrong way. 

Say what? 

As protests have broken out in front of Supreme Court Justice Brett “Gimme a brewski” Kavanaugh’s home, there are those who feel that lines are being crossed. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that President Biden abhors “violence, threats, or vandalism,” and that judges “must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.” The Washington Post wrote an entire editorial piece on why the justices should be left alone in their homes. 

We live in a country where two-thirds of Americans want Roe v. Wade left alone, and who feel that overturning it is a step in the wrong direction. At 49, I can’t even imagine a country where safe and legal access to an abortion is determined by where you live (and the GOP is already suggesting passing a nationwide ban on abortion). If the majority of the Supreme Court has its way, abortion will be hard to access in at least half of the states. And then you have some states like Mississippi, where the governor is talking about banning contraception. These are extraordinary times. A small radical and powerful group of privileged people want the ability to control everyone else’s life. 

Excuse me, what year is it? 

Given that these powerful and privileged people who want to control reproductive rights aren’t tuned into the masses and that no one elected the folks who are overturning Roe v. Wade, strong measures are needed. These are a clear minority of people who have the power to determine the fate of a a clear majority of Americans, and so they need to be reached by any means necessary. 

If that means showing up at their door and making some noise, make some damn noise. 

Voting is already becoming a difficult tool to keep the conservative extremists in check, what with gerrymandering and voting restrictions. But the Supreme Court is another matter entirely. Unlike elected officials, we don’t even have the option to vote these people out. So, any notion of enforcing “civility” in this instance is one more way in which our white supremacist system upholds and protects itself. By demanding civility of the people most negatively impacted, we are silencing people and taking away their last means of making change. 

Clearly, the five justices in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade are not listening to the masses. And sometimes, if people won’t willingly listen to you … well, you have to make them hear you. 

Our white supremacist system places a premium on decorum and civility. As long as someone is seen as a “class act” and never shows a hint of emotion, smiles on cue—all the while sticking knives into vulnerable backs—our society will hold said person in high regard. It’s one of the many reasons that people find it hard to be critical of Barack Obama the president, because Barack Obama the man was a class act. It’s why others struggled to see Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the court as an existential threat, because she seemed so pleasant and nice. I mean sure, we knew the deal, but she was so pleasant. 

Decorum and civility is what keeps well-intentioned white people in relationships with abhorrently racist and xenophobic people in their families. It’s too hard to tell Uncle Rusty the Racist Trumper that he is an asshole, because the pressure to keep sweet and be civil runs high in white spaces. It’s why the idea that these justices are being disturbed at home is off-putting to some.

At the same time, no one cares about how the tools of white supremacy disrupt other people’s lives. What about the neighbors when cops break down the wrong door in communities of color? What about the neighbors when Black people are harassed and sometimes killed by agents of the state? 

But somehow it’s so much more serious when a political figure has people protesting outside their house than when an innocent person gets killed by agents of the state.

Rarely are the uber-privileged and powerful inconvenienced—and, no doubt, having a while lot of angry people showing up on your idyllic tree-lined street yelling feels bad. But that’s kind of the point. 

In a situation like this you need to be made to understand that you hold in your hand the power to make millions of people’s lives hard and to know that your actions will lead to death and harm, all to appease a small group of people and to advance your own selfish insistence that your beliefs are more important than everyone else’s autonomy.

Whether one believes abortion is right or not isn’t the issue. After all, if you don’t want one, don’t get one—and don’t do anything that puts another person in the position to even having to consider it. But when a very clear majority of the people in a country want access to abortion and you decide to play God in a country that has no family-friendly policies or real social support systems, expect to encounter angry people. Expect to hear from lots of angry people. 

That said, as a locally elected public official who happens to be a Black woman, a recent late-night exchange with a constituent revealed a special intersection of civility that can be encountered when we ask the most marginalized people to occupy public decision making spaces. So, stay tuned to part two of: When sometimes you need to be quiet

As soon as I sent this piece to our editor, I saw a notification from CNN that the Senate had passed a bipartisan bill to expand security protection to immediate family members of the Supreme Court justices, in the aftermath of weekend protests at some justices’ homes. Given the raggedy state of America and with COVID surging unchecked, it is just another reminder that our leaders are often not here for the people but are often here to keep the white supremacist capitalist wheels churning and to protect their own elite circles over the interests of the masses.

Sigh. 

By all means, let’s not put anyone out. Or scare them. Let’s make sure they can live in the most insulated bubbles while they do whatever they want—the will of the people be damned.


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Elon Musk and our continued hypocrisy

I have been involved in social change work since my teen years; my earliest memories of social justice work are getting involved with raising funds for The Committee in Solidarity with The People of El Salvador. That was my introduction to how US imperialism has both shaped and harmed others, at least outside of my experience as a descendant of enslaved Africans. It was that early work that led me to actively protesting against the first Gulf War and defending the right to burn an American flag. 

My late teens and early 20s—despite getting married at 18 and having a child shortly thereafter—were spent devouring books and hanging out in leftist and Black bookstores, learning from elders and dreaming of change. Even my adult son, who is now 30, has told me that some of his early memories of childhood were our almost weekly stops at the local Black bookstore and how I used to spend way too much time talking to the owner about pan-Africanism. 

I share this to say that there has never been a time for me when I wasn’t aware of how unfair our world and its systems are. The last time that I ever said the full pledge of allegiance was at 14, and even when I was sworn in for my current position as a member of the Portland Charter Commission, I had to sit with the words that I would uphold the Constitution, as I think it most certainly is a contradiction. 

While I did spend a few years in my early 20s working for corporations, the majority of my professional career has been spent in the non-profit sector. A sector I discovered after my brief stint as an AmeriCorps Vista. While the sector no doubt has its issues, the majority of people that you find in non-profit work actually have a deep commitment to social change. So much so that we pretty accept that—barring winning lotto tickets, lucrative side hustles, marrying well, or family money—we are taking vows of poverty. 

But with over 25 years of experience working everywhere from facilities for the unhoused, people struggling with substance abuse disorder, kids in need, people of color living with HIV and racial justice, I can say that most of our work—while needed—is often a bandage and that the real change we need has to occur at the structural level. But—and you knew there was gonna be a but—structural change is harder to achieve because that requires a blowing-up of systems and mass discomfort. To be frank, most of us, yours truly included, are hypocrites who care but aren’t going to intentionally inconvenience ourselves in a sustained fashion. Especially in our current climate of comfort as self-care. 

Unless you have been living under a rock, no doubt you have heard that the world’s richest man, Elon Musk—a man so loathsome that he is a walking advertisement for most of the worst traits that plague white manhood—intends to buy Twitter. The sale, of course, hinges on Twitter’s shareholders actually agreeing to the sale, along with a few regulatory agencies giving their blessings. This is important to note, since the mainstream media’s reporting leaves one to assume that Musk passed off a fat check for $44 billion and took possession in the same fashion that one buys a new car or the neighbor’s old lawn furniture. 

I have to say that as someone whose personal and professional life has been enhanced by Twitter, the idea of Musk at the helm is scary. His idea of free speech is the stuff that brings out and gives voice to the most heinous who walk among us. Twitter is a unique platform. In the last decade-plus, we have seen social movements take shape on Twitter. It has reshaped modern journalism and has allowed those with the least access to media to use their voices for the greater good. Yes, the undesirables live there too, but like any tool, it can be used for good or bad. 

For many, the announcement that the Twitter board—which includes Twitter founder Jack Dorsey—had greenlighted Musk’s offer for their town square left millions of Twitter users loudly declaring that they were leaving the platform. In some cases, they were looking to jump over to new platforms such as MeWe and Counter Social, whose origins are still unclear. In other cases, as I witnessed, people deleted their Twitter accounts and proudly announced it on Facebook, eager to tell everyone of their resistance to Musk and his antics. 

That would be lovely except that every major social media platform and almost every remaining media outlet is owned by someone who has far more money than they need and in some cases, such as with Facebook, the platforms are hardly paragons of virtue. It isn’t hyperbole to say that Facebook, for example, has definitely rearranged our society in ways that don’t benefit us. Or that Facebook’s domination was partly because its founder helped to snuff out the competition. I mean, Instagram and Whats App are also part of the Facebook family and other than TikTok, almost all new social media innovations have lived at the fringes with no little to no chance of going mainstream.

So, leaving Twitter for another platform isn’t the win that some are making it out to be, and it isn’t even a protest. It’s performative activism at best. much like the big storm a few months ago over Spotify allowing Joe Rogan to stay on their platform. Many canceled their Spotify accounts only to shift their music streaming accounts to Amazon Music and Tidal. In the case of Amazon Music, it is still owned by Jeff Bezos. The same Jeff Bezos who isn’t exactly known for treating his employees well. The same Jeff Bezos who also owns the Washington Post. The same Jeff Bezos who was married to MacKenzie Scott, and whose divorce made her one of the world’s richest women—though unlike her ex-husband, Scott seems to be a sincere and dedicated philanthropist. 

The thing is, we are living in the era of outrage where there’s so much to be pissed off about but people want quick fixes. Hence, taking “actions” that feel like something in a moment but upon a second look don’t move the needle—they just make people feel good about themselves. If you aren’t connecting the dots, look no further than the George Floyd protests and 2020. Global protests declaring that Black lives matter, calls to defund the police, anti-racism books selling like hotcakes. It seemed like we might really be on the cusp of change. 

Fast forward to 2022, and almost all the calls and offers to defund the police have proved to be empty. In fact, we are seeing a reversal of that energy—in many jurisdictions law enforcement is receiving even more dollars to combat the “growing” crime problem even though the crime isn’t really growing like pundits, politicians and police unions claim, and spending more on policing almost never reduces that crime. 

Where are all those people who were demanding transformative justice? What happened to defunding the police? Do Black lives even still matter? It was almost exactly two years as I write this  that the world exploded with a new social consciousness and yet here we are: Most people have moved on. Sure, people will post a supportive article on Facebook, but are they showing up? Are they moving material resources to aid the most impacted? Are they living their stated values? Or is it a matter of picking and choosing and doing as little as possible to avoid be inconvenienced? 

Back to Twitter and Elon Musk, though. I posed the question the other night on Twitter: “Would anyone consider paying for a more just and safe social media platform?” And almost no one said “yes.” While not scientific, this definitely aligns with the known fact that most ethical and independent media platforms are dying. Just this past month, independent and feminist powerhouse Bitch Media announced they were shutting down. The reason? No money. As someone who discovered Bitch magazine in my 20s and has been a supporter for years, this wasn’t a surprise. I see the letters they have been sending out. 

In fact, over the past year a number of platforms that gave voice to the marginalized have ceased operations. In every case, it is a lack of financial resources that caused them to shut down. 

As I have said before, paying for your access to the internet does not give you access to everything on the internet. Real live people are creating content, whether it is a blog, a magazine, newspaper, or social media platform. Those real live people also have expenses and desires for food and shelter, just like you. But unless those people are working for the handful of insanely wealthy people who now control most of the media landscape, and whom we mostly all agree are evil, how exactly do you expect those people to live? 

Every time you read those sites, or engage on platforms without thinking about how the people are getting paid, you are essentially saying they don’t matter. But at the same time, you blast the super-wealthy for not doing more. The super-wealthy in most cases are super-wealthy precisely because they don’t care about the greater good. The sooner we all accept that and stop wishing for these people to do better, the better off we will all be.

Instead, we can look at what we each can do, individually and collectively. Who can we support and how? No, we don’t all have the means to offer support, but in that case, can you amplify voices so they can get support elsewhere? Can we examine our own expectations around why we expect entertainment and knowledge to be free, especially when we are willing to be nickeled-and-dimed by the zillion streaming platforms. 

I am old enough to remember when one bought a TV, turned it on and there were things to watch. No cable boxes, streaming services or special antennas required. You just turned on the TV and there was stuff to watch until TV took a break at 3 a.m. and went off the air for a few hours. 

Now, though, we know that watching TV requires either paying for cable TV or streaming services. We’ve accepted it and yeah, it sucks. But we also realize that in this case, the funding model has changed and the trade-off is that not only can we watch shows when we want but in many cases, we even get to avoid commercials. 

We are in a place where everyone wants ethical and just behavior but far too few people are committed enough to make it happen. Thus, whether we intend to or not, we make it easier for the oligarchs to take over our lives. 

While Twitter has changed a lot of things about modern life, for all the bad things about the space, it has seeded social movements and many careers for folks who previously did not have access to mainstream access. I include myself in that category.

But a money maker? Twitter hasn’t turned a profit in eight of its last 10 years. As someone who went to graduate school for management, I absolutely understand the board of directors accepting the Musk offer. I am pretty sure that while the board recognizes the cultural importance of Twitter and how it has served as a vehicle for change, they also know that no one, even its most devoted users, are interested in paying for it. I suspect even Musk knows that too. So the perfect storm was created. It remains to be seen if the Musk sale will happen, but this moment is larger than an overgrown man-child looking for a shiny new toy. 

At what point do we actively decide to create the world we want? Or will we allow these people to control every facet of our lives? 

We are all hypocrites on some level. I live on an island, and by choice I don’t own a car, and I use Amazon Prime. Using Amazon Prime is bad, but not driving is good. We all have decisions to make, and none of us are going to be pure. But we can strive for consistency and work every day to live our stated values. 


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Racial justice in every breath, not as a task list or project

As a cisgender, upper-middle-class, college-educated white woman, writing publicly about racism is complicated. While some of my social locations (I’m chronically ill with an autoimmune disorder, I’m fat, I’m in recovery for substance use disorder, I live with treated mental illness, and I’m a woman) leave me vulnerable to social and personal harm, the fact is the dominant culture and systems of the United States of America are set up to protect people like me (especially the “white woman” part) from obvious or direct harm.

I write on this blog speaking to other white people, especially those who are motivated to be on a path of collective liberation—who want to destroy every aspect of white supremacy and join with others in creating a new world. I write from my experience as an individual, with my own unique “issues” and styles of learning. My experience is likely to be different than yours.

And also, what I write here is informed by the many conversations I’ve had with other white people. I frequently generalize in this space. Hearing “white people do this” or “”white people do that” isn’t comfortable for a lot of us white people. We are so used to experiencing the world as individuals. Most of us don’t have to experience living collectively, and being lumped in together with others goes against the grain for us.

As recently as just a few years ago, I used to think of racial justice work as something I focused on or I didn’t focus on. Racial justice work was something I learned about and talked about as I tried to figure out what I should do differently. In fact, just two years ago I invited other white people to join me in “Dismantling White Supremacy” check-in groups. I wanted to stay on task and not let the seduction of my addiction to whiteness let me slide back into denial or apathy. I knew I could “know” about racism—I was in a group called “Society Organized Against Racism” in the late 1980s, for example—and then “forget” about it.

Today, my 13-year-old and I were listening to N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” and I felt grief and rage as I considered how we white people have been told over and over and over again how racism is killing people, but we find reasons to minimize and dismiss those statements. Most of those reasons have to do with our not believing Black people are fully human. That sentence is vile, but it’s one of the only explanations for how we have continued ignoring the truth for so long. Sometimes we touch it, start to face it—see the civil rights movement of the 1960s—and then retreat back into our addiction to whiteness. It’s a form of denial.

These days, with the help of so many Black and Indigenous people (and some white people) I’m finding that racial justice is the journey of living fully into my humanity in every moment of my life. I remember the moment I noticed how I kept racial justice work as something different than my everyday life, and that was thanks to this conversation with Bran. If you look at our bios at the bottom of that post, you’ll see how I referred to racial justice work as something distinct from the rest of my life. I’m now realizing that, for me, racial justice is about growing in every area of my life, changing how I move in the world. Groups such as the check in group I mentioned above have taken on different meanings. It’s still true that I want to stay active in my racial identity development, and stay active in helping to dismantle white supremacy, but what that looks like is changing for me.

One of the most important shifts I’m practicing, as I’ve written about here before, is moving away from most binaries. Sometimes that’s as simple as choosing “and” and “also” rather than “but” and “or.” Sometimes it’s learning how to own my power in leadership while also staying grounded in humility. And, sometimes it’s lots and lots and lots of learning from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (paying them for their time, or learning in community and in relationship with each other) who so frequently model a well-honed skill for facing overwhelmingly disheartening truths that can lead us to despair while also finding joy and creativity and love and peace in life. I’ve been taught and shown, and I am learning and experiencing every day, that the ability to stay present in our white bodies while we unlearn the patterns of oppression is essential. White supremacy culture can feel so comforting and familiar. We white people need to build the capacity to hold multiple complicated and non-binary truths in our minds and bodies if we want to grow and become more than “allies” and if we want to be true partners in collective healing.


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