Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Blog Address

Hey "She's a Movement" followers: The new blog can be found at I'll keep shesamovement up for a few more weeks, but all of the archived content plus a few new pieces is now over at A Beautiful Fire. Thanks for reading! Peace & Love

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Me in the American Prospect

How do we keep Obama's youth mobilized? 
The young people mobilized by Obama's campaign were politicized in a strongly personal way long before the election contest even began. Their politicization grew from the cost of their own and their friends' involvement in the seemingly endless Iraq War. It grew from their
 increased college and credit-card debt. It grew with the realization that the air they breathe gets dirtier every day. It came from a very simple but meaningful desire to make their lives better. What the campaign did, along with the longstanding work of many progressive youth organizations, was channel that energy and passion into the electoral process.

It is now the responsibility of those same organizers to show youth the next step in that process. Civic education -- educating these new voters on the policy-making process and how their voice, art, technology, and activism can influence it -- is the way to transform into tangible results the decidedly progressive principles and values for which they voted.

At Campus Progress, we have spent the last four years working with youth to spread the word about what it means to be a progressive and how values like equality and justice can be affected through the political process. As representatives of the most diverse generation that our nation has ever seen, we are prepared to arm youth with the information and tools they need to move beyond engagement and onto results -- making our nation's laws and policies reflect the ideals that
define our movement.

--Erica L. Williams, director of policy and advocacy for Campus Progress at the Center for American Progress.
For full article featuring Mattie Weiss, Ivan Firshburg, Sally Kohn, and others click here

Youth Policy Summit Rundown

The youth policy summit of the Generational Alliance has drawn to a close here in beautiful Oakland, CA. It was a wonderful opportunity to bring together some of the youth movement’s most power leaders.  We discussed building organizational capacity, looking back at the successes (and failures) of election ’08,  strategies for keeping new voters from non-traditional communities engaged, and, most importantly, determining our policy focus for President Obama’s first 100 days in office – i.e. What policy victories can we legitimately expect and how soon? Which campaigns are worth our effort? We determined that health care, college affordability (which is mainly an issue about budget and appropriations) and green jobs were the top three areas in which we can get traction. But you know me. I can never stay focused only on the issue at hand. I’m constantly stepping back and critically observing. Here are a few thoughts :
  • I still hate the idea of a “youth movement”. To be a movement defined by identity and not goals is, in my view, shortsighted, self defeating, and unfocused. Shortsighted because unlike race and gender, people don’t claim this identity for life. This movement is based on a level of identification that numerically lasts at best between 7  and 10 years. And for many, that time line is actually not just determined by chronological age but by life circumstances. So the minute that “young people” get married or become parents themselves, they often stop identifying with carefree 19 year olds. Not a terribly well defined or dependable idendity to build a movement upon.  Self defeating because we are creating our own kiddie table of politics instead of working to include “kiddies” at the big table.  Unfocused because the name of the movement doesn’t define our values or goals. We should not be a movement of something (young, 30 and under, diverse, progressive people) but instead a movement for something (civil rights, human rights, economic equality, progressive polidy and values).  The fact that I opened my post by characterizing the event as a gathering of “progressive leaders of the youth movement” rather than “young leaders of the progressive movement” says something. Reveling in our youth and our power actually does very little to develop and hone that power in a way that creates concrete policy goals and victories. The way to change the perception of  young people as they relate to political power and change isn’t to state over and over again who you are (young) but instead to do what needs to be done (change policy, create new structures, enter and innovate the system) while you are who you are.  While the subtext of much of the work that we do is that our generational identity actually is grounded in our principles, we must take the critical next step of articulating that in our language. I didn’t move into this segment of my life work to be a youth activist. I am a young activist that works to engage a new generation of leadership for civil rights, human rights, equality, etc. and I am so frustrated by being labled in such an unproductive way.  Nevertheless…
  • This “movement” has some incredibly smart, passionate people in it. Seriously. Sitting daily in an office of white, buttoned up liberal men that have phd’s in nuclear proliferation and have been lobbying since a965,  it was so refreshing to sit in a room of people that aren’t desperately in need of wrinkle cream, wear jeans, and reference the lyrics to T.I.’s “Live Your Life” right before explaining a sociological theory of self interest and self preservation. Smart, smart people. I was completely humbled. And unlike the people with whom I work – upper crust Washington – these people are not just book smart, they are people smart.  And honest. And caring. And funny. And soulful. And passionate. And excellent communicators. And technologically savvy. And creative. Our leaders have the unique ability to be what so many of our elders in the movement have stuggled to become - a whole, complete person. We mix the political with the spiritual with the emotional with the philosophical and the FUN in ways that encourage full personhood and a bringing of ones entire self to this work. It also allows us to find the intersectionality of every issue that we work on and engage audiences on many different levels. It's impressive. I genuinely believe that my generation is in great, capable hands. If we can overcome the fact that…
  • Policy is the Achilles heel of the youth movement.  Yes, that's right. Basic policy work. And that’s a big, big, big, unfortunate heel. We were a room full of smart, passionate, incredibly talented organizers – 80% of whom didn’t know the process of a bill becoming a law. 90% of whom had no idea what a committee is, let alone who resides in which committee. I was shocked - these were some of the basics that I was introduced to at LCCR and were the foundation upon which all of my work is built, whether my job title includes the words field organizer (as it formerly did) or policy and advocacy (as it currently does), these are the basics of our nation's system that are fundamental to this work.  I worry that this lack of sophistication and focus is the core of our marginalization not just as a movement but as a demographic of people. Why is this the case? While many organizers want to remind policy folks  that there is no change in policy without “the people”, the grassroots often forgets that there is no tangible, visible change without policy...and people don't stay involved without tangible, visible change.  And while the movement is ready to acknowledge this point, as evidenced by the convening of this summit, there is a steep, steep learning curve. This is the core of the youth movement – an activist community that is adept at integrating the art, technology, and general voices of a young population into an energy that demands change and questions the status quo. But that energy will go no where without leaders that understand the inner workings of the game. (I wonder if this is because most of my peers have never worked anywhere except for the youth empowerment organization that they work in now…this also says something about the lack of professional mentorship in startup organizations) Now, to be fair, the purpose of this conference was to learn how to now integrate policy into the work that galvanized the youth vote and I think that there are some groups that have been doing it all along (USSA for example, who’s legislative director Angela is a fierce sister fresh out of college) and others like Hip Hop Caucus who has the right idea of turning their attention now to civics education. But we better get it in gear fast. Because empowering a generation to use their voice and demand change without teaching them the process by which change will actually come, is buildling a house on the sand. Especially when you acknowledge the truth that…
  • Who are we kidding? Many people voted because of Obama. Deal with it. I think one of the main failures of youth vote advocates this election season was in the shallowness and transparency of our messaging. The message that “young people voted on the issues” never broke through to mainstream media because it frankly wasn’t true. It was a message set up to support our organizational missions and demand legitimacy and credibility not just for our constituency, but mostly for our own work. And I understand that. But there is a difference between saying that young people care about the issues – that is true – and that young people voted because they care about the issues – not true. You can care about issues and stay your butt home on the first Tuesday in November, particularly in our communities (young, black, latino, disenfranchised). Because guess what? Young people have always cared about not having clean air to breathe, or money in their pockets, or their loved ones at war. And while yes, the past 8 years have brought us to a boiling point, logic would not tell our communities that voting is the solution. Obama is what made them channel their frustration about the issues onto the ballot. And denying that reality is going to make tomorrow a cold blast of water when we go back to our newly registered voters and find out that they  actually know very little about “the issues” or how those issues will really be changed. 

Just my thoughts.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Prop 8 & Black blame: Are we done yet?

(crossposted over at Pushback)

We get it. It was ironic and problematic that African-Americans in Califonia voted largely in favor of Proposition 8. But much of the analysis surrounding the demographic breakdown of the loss has been completely superficial, divisive, and counterproductive. As a whole, we live in a homophobic society. Period. If attitudes around marriage equality and same-sex relationships have slowly and/or steadily shifted in a progressive direction over the course of the past decade (particularly among young people), let’s look at why.

It hasn’t been by accident or by some cosmic shifting of the civil rights stars. It has been in large part due to the tireless work of activists and the increased representation of gays and lesbians in the mainstream media. So what went wrong with African-Americans?

While I’m not discrediting the blood, sweat, and tears of LGBT activists that have worked hard for this movement, I do question the diversity of the work. Have you seen many ads about gay marriage geared towards non-whites? Seen many representations of gay people of color in the mainstream media? When was the last time you saw a gay black man on TV who wasn’t a side character in a hair salon? Anti-racist training is all good and well but, frankly, how many people of color actually work at the largest, most prominent, best funded LGBT organizations in the country? So is it any wonder that many African-Americans reside firmly in the socially conservative box in which most Americans have always lived with regards to sexuality?

People criticizing the black vote in Prop 8 have forgotten a fundamental organizing principle: on any issue, people respond when they are spoken to. As an organizer, when a large block of people that I expected to vote my way based solely on principle don’t, I blame myself and my assumptions, which, no matter how logical-seeming, were clearly incorrect.

For example, logic would have said that all white women would have supported the African-American voting rights movement because of their own fight for suffrage decades earlier, but that wasn’t always the case. Why? Because white women were still white. They clung to the racial identity with which they were most familiar and which society told them to prioritize. They still had to go home to their white husbands, and white churches, and white children and claim a whiteness that ignorance said was threatened by the black vote.

See the parallel? Straight black people are still straight. That is the sexual identity that we, like most other straight Americans, have been told to prioritize and that is supposedly threatened by gay marriage. While assuming that black people should automatically support marriage equality may be right on the merits (gay rights = civil rights), it is actually illogical considering:

  • the historic marginalization of people of color within the LGBT movement
  • the lack of inclusion and diversity in many of the larger organizations that were channeling money into California
  • the minimal and limited representation of gay people of color in the media
  • the more extreme and at times convoluted views on marriage and gender roles passed down as a legacy from slavery
  • and the large historical role of “the African-American church,” a stereotyped religious entity that is, at its core, theologically evangelical and conservative

Taking the African American vote for granted in this instance (and in any for that matter), presupposes that we live on a civil rights island, pray to Rosa Parks every morning, and are not influenced by the attitudes of the larger society around us. Don’t forget–some of our greatest civil rights icons of the 1960s were notoriously homophobic. That is the nature of American bigotry: it is selfish and separatist, causing many of our movements for freedom to be the same.

Do I understand the hypocrisy inherent in this vote? Absolutely. And and as a straight, pro-marriage equality African-American it frustrates me that the conflict is not readily apparent to many of my peers. But the correct response to this loss isn’t to blame a segment of people, but to realize the chasms in the movement and work to bridge the divide. The rhetoric of “white gays gave YOU guys Obama but black straights couldn’t give US a win on Prop 8″ is ridiculous, and insulting to everyone involved. We ALL won with Obama and we ALL lost with Prop 8. Now let’s all find a solution.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Insightful commentary coming soon. For now, just breathe.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Own Your Politics: Obama's 30 Minutes of Fame

Long day. Long night. 30 good minutes from Obama. Was it worth it? And what does T.I. have to do with it?