Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Black and Red Thanksgiving

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A Black and Red Thanksgiving

This time of year always fills me with deep contradictions. To be blunt, Thanksgiving, in its purest form, is a celebration of the eventual subjugation, domination, and massacre of millions of indigenous people of this land. As a man who is a proud member of the Ojibwe nation, I viscerally feel disgust at the roots of this holiday and all it represents to those that carry the burden of history.

As a person descended from slaves, who still has family in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, the place where my family was held in bondage, I was taught that Thanksgiving was a time to celebrate our freedom and the strength of family and community that got us through and brought us over. Thanksgiving is the celebration of our metaphorical crossing of the River Jordan or, perhaps, the Ohio River.

The truth is that Thanksgiving should be a time where we honor the spirits of those living and dead that fought, bled, and died so that our communities could survive. It is a time to gather around us our friends and family and to show them through words, food, and laughter that we appreciate their presence and their love. But it is also a time of obligation.

No two peoples living on this land known as the United States of America have such a tragic and intertwined history as African-Americans and Native Americans. Throughout our shared history of enslavement and genocide, forced labor and forceable removal from our homelands, our fates have touched one anothers: sometimes in acts of solidarity such as the taking in of runaway slaves by the Cherokee and Seminole and other native nations, and sometimes in acts of violence where slaves served with continental armies participating in the massacre of indigenous communities and indigenous communities that served whites as slave catchers.

Since the end of slavery, the relationship between African-Americans and Native Americans has,again, sometimes been one of solidarity such as the brown/black power movements of the 1960s and sometimes one of betrayal, such as the stripping of citizenship from black members of the western Cherokee Nation earlier this year.

Yet the truth remains that at this time of profound social change opportunity, leaders of the African-American community and leaders of both urban Indian and Indian nations should be working together on common goals related to sovreignity, reperations, and reclamation. At times the survival of entire segments of the black community have depended on our native brothers and sisters. That history was, intentionally, kept quiet by mainstream authorities. Divide and conquer has always been their primary tactic.

This Thanksgiving, I challenge our communities to committ to not only celebrating our freedom and our family but also developing strategies to build deep relationships with our native kin. In Humboldt County, California, a small grassroots collective called Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) has partnered with the Seventh Generation Fund on a relatively new project called the Honor Tax. The two organizations are working closely with small businesses, non-profit organizations, and individual citizens encouraging them to make a yearly tax payment to the Wiyot Nation. The nation on whose lands Humboldt County sits. This is not a charitable contribution but a tax payment acknowledging that the land itself is not owned by those who sit on it but by the peoples that historically belong to it.

These are the types of endeavours that should be championed by people of African descent. If we, the grandchildren of those held in bondage, are to righteously, and justly, demand reparations in recognition of the trillions of dollars of wealth created from our unpaid labor, then it is our moral and civil obligation to advocate for at least as much for the indigenous peoples of the United States. In the end, it is my hope that one day all of this land will be restored to those from whom it was taken, but until that day comes, it is our duty to work hand in hand to hold up and restore each other as we collectively move towards a just and liberated future. Let's transform Thanksgiving into a holiday of thanks for each other and an opportunity to create new river crossings on black and red bridges.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One Liner of the Week Award: Mervyn Marcano

Yesterday morning, Merv and I sat on some rocking chairs outside of the Cypress Creek dining hall as the sun was coming up. I looked over and pointed to the pinkening clouds and said, "Hey Merv, looks like the sun is coming up today."

Mervyn, who was channeling an antebellum plantation owner's wife turned to me and said, with a southern drawl, "If God would have it, I would like it."

And for this witty response, Mervyn is awarded the One Liner of the Week Award.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Media Justice Leadership Institute Part One

The day started off with a quick breakfast meeting to go over final logistics for the arrival of the Media Action Grassroots Action Network members (MAG-Net). It was quickly followed by a basic yoga class followed by an 80 minutes deep tissue massage. This is how I started the first day of the Media Justice Leadership Institute.

For the last three months, since starting at CMJ, I have been working with Malkia to put together the first national institute focused on the building, expanding, and deepening grassroots media justice leadership.

The list of attendees are probably people of whom you have never but are people to whom you owe a great deal. These are the people who fight every day against the negative images and portrayals of young people, queer folks, people of color, and women on your local tv station, on the radio, and in the papers. These are folks who understand that without a media that tells OUR stories, we will never achieve racial and economic justice.

The Media Justice movement is in its infancy, but MAG-Net and the people that make up MAG-Net are doing the work in our own communities to foment a direct challenge to corporate controlled media and corporate retelling of our lives and our stories.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Divide and Conquer: Prop 8 As A Black/Queer Wedge

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Obama’s election victory is less than two weeks old, yet already the divide and conquer tactics of the Right are in full effect. Though Obama’s election was a great victory, there were some significant losses on November 4th, particularly the queer community. The passage of Prop 8 limiting marriage to one man and one woman in California, the country’s most populous state, was a sad defeat. It was a loss created very simply by a largely complacent organizing model by the left and a massively funded, exquisitely organized campaign by the Right that cut across political, religious, and racial lines. Unfortunately, instead of the Left looking at the passage of Prop 8 as an opportunity to evaluate our organizing tactics and learn from the loss while exploring alternative avenues to stop implementation of the proposition, a vitriolic attack on the Black community has ensued.

At a time when the Left should be uniting, a line is being drawn between Black and queer communities leaving black queer folks invisible and creating wedges that could be long lasting. The truth is that many African-Americans in California did vote for Prop 8. Some statistics say that as many as 69% (plus or minus the margin of error) voted for the proposition. While that is a small t truth, the big T truth is that from the beginning of the Prop 8 battle, the religious right and other pro-8 organizers beat the streets of black neighborhoods, used black faces front and center in their organizing strategies, and made immediate overtures to black faith leaders and in black churches. Not until the 11th hour, when the polls began showing a sharp turn in favor of prop 8’s passage, did the Left realize it had been out maneuvered. Although there were a few, small LGBT people of color organizations participating in the No On 8 coalition, the No On 8 campaign was largely organized and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (an organization with a notorious history of racial exclusion in its operations and political priorities) and other white-led LGBT organizations, it is not surprising that communities of color were an after thought in the organizing strategy around the No On 8 campaign.

Unfortunately, in California newspapers, and in papers across the country, this is being touted as an issue of homophobia in the Black community. Our loss, and I include myself as a Prop 8 opponent, was not due to some inherent homophobia in the black community, our loss was a failure of our community to organize itself. The separation, marginalization, and exclusion of communities of color, particularly black communities from the leadership of national and state level LGBT organizations continues the image of queerness being equal to whiteness and fails to allow communities of color to see their own queer children as part of themselves.

As we move into an Obama-era in this country. It is imperative that we recognize the tactics that will be used against the Left in order to destabilize the broad coalition of LGBT people, women, working class folks, and communities of color that put Obama into office. The amazing national backlash against Prop 8 is heartening, in that it is a galvanizing force that will keep the coalitional politics of the Obama campaign alive---if we do the work to keep it alive. That means that we can not scapegoat the Black community for our failure. Be angry. Be disappointed. Be angry and disappointed that the Right got to our people and our communities with disinformation and lies. Be angry at the outcome but do not slip into race baiting generalizations that do no good and create long lasting harm not only to queer-black relationships but also to the relationship of black queers to the rest of the black community.

To be clear, I am not absolving the overwhelming majority of Black voters that went to the polls and betrayed their brothers and sisters, children, grandmothers and grandfathers, cousins and friends. How quickly our community forgets that it was only 40 years ago that interracial marriages were illegal in large swaths of the country. They said that love between whites and blacks was unnatural, un-Biblical, and wrong. The same arguments used against LGBT folks getting married just different versus from the Bible used to justify intolerance and injustice. But the black community was no more and no less culpable as an entity than any of the other millions of people that went to the polls that day and voted for injustice. Black folks should know better.

If we want to see ourselves as a mature movement, then we must accept responsibility for the passage of Proposition 8 as a collective failure. Acknowledge the failure, mourn the loss, and then do the work to figure out how to move forward towards victory. Accepting defeat and accepting responsibility for defeat is the only way that we can avoid falling into the base dividing pitfalls of the Right. It is time for a national leftist humility. By looking closely and critically at the real reasons that Prop 8 passed, we can learn, grow, and make sure that next time around we are knocking on the right doors, broadening our coalitions, and laying the foundation for sustainable progressive social change. To have a revolution means to revolve to go back to or to change back the collective will. I am not interested in a revolution. I am interested in an evolution. A moving forward. An advancement of the will. It’s time to move towards a just society that says no not only to Prop 8 but also to race baiting, racism, and the divide and conquer tactics championed by the right. Yes We Can.

The Difference Between Social Work and Social Justice

I got this email from my friend Noodle today. She is one of my oldest friends, a brilliant writer, and a loving Mom. She is my fam in every sense of the word.

"I love reading your blog.

I was listening to Julian Bond a few weeks ago...he was speaking at St. Johns some award. Anyway, the speech was on MPR.
He was talking about the difference between Social Service and Social Justice work. He was saying that he was a bit disappointed in young people today because, even though they are getting out and doing social service, they are not doing social justice work. He was saying the social service work is fun and there is immediate, instant gratification...that's why young people are drawn to it. But social justice work is grueling and tedious and you never get a thank you and sometimes it takes a generation or more to see any change.
I thought of you. You are doing Social Justice work and it's all on the hard-to-do pile, but you do it and I'm saying Thank You for all the people whose lives you are helping to change who just don't even know how to say thanks!"

Thank you Noodle for 17 years of friendship, love, and support.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Responsibility of Hope

This article appeared today as the first of my weekly contributions to the online magazine, Thank you to Taylour "Little Chicken" Johnson for helping with the editing of this article.

Without a doubt, Tuesday, November 4, 2008 will become a date that is memorized by students across the United States, and in the world, as a great day in human history. It will be marked as a day when the most powerful, and arguably the most racist, nation in world history elected a person of African descent, the most vulnerable and exploited people in history, to lead itself.

But the election of Barack Obama does not change the fact that this country was built on the backs of African peoples. His election does not change that this nation continues to thrive and survive on the stolen and undervalued labor of people of color, particularly black folks, immigrants, and the unpaid labor of women in our homes. His election does not change the fact that America is an occupying power and continues to practice colonial rule at a time when even the old European colonial powers have largely recognized the fiscal, political, and metaphysical drain that pulls on perpetual colonizers.

Now that Senator Obama is President-elect Obama, he holds a unique responsibility to not only speak a rhetoric of change but to act as a change agent. If the hope that he has inspired is to grow instead of becoming a collective canker, he must show that he is willing to challenge, at least inasmuch as he can, the imperialist and capitalist nation that he will soon lead. In essence, a President Obama, if he expects to live up to the expectations that he has created, must imagine a new U.S. that begins to reject America as usual.

Barack Obama was elected President of the United States because of a confluence of personal charisma, a message of hope, and a set of political and economic circumstances created by eight years of monolithic Republican rule. Under that rule, the Right made no attempt to veil its attempts to transfer as much wealth from the working people of this nation to the corporate elite of America. November 4, 2008 was a grassroots repudiation of Wall Street politics.

Barack Obama rode into the White House on a wave of angst and a deep, fundamental need of the people to believe in something greater than themselves, something tangible, something different and yet something that looked and felt familiar. Working class people (white and black, brown, yellow and red) turned out based on hope. Barack Obama, through his words, actions, and astute politicking latched onto a nascent kernel of hope and fanned it into an impressive, historical, grassroots movement not seen in this country since the Civil Rights era. To win an election based on a message of hope is an awesome spiritual, mental, and political feat. Yet, with the raising of hopes comes the raising of expectations. And having the audacity to hope and to inspire hope in others also comes with a responsibility: the responsibility of hope.

Unfortunately, Obama, an avowed capitalist, seems to have a heart of gold and a mind that is still partially colonized. To judge him for being a product of the nation in which he was raised is not helpful. Recognizing it helps us all to see that the responsibility of hope also resides with each of us. There will come a time when President Obama disappoints us. That is why it is incumbent on us, people of African descent, to use this political and spiritual moment as a time to organize our communities both as a basis for our own localized change but also as a physical, spiritual, and political support for President Obama when he inevitably stumbles.The chains of the mind, even in as inspiring a man as Barack Obama, are deep, long, solid, and largely invisible.

Fifty-two million people believed enough in Obama to go to the voting booths and vote their hopes. The day after the election the United States was still the United States. We are still at war in two nations. We still hold Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands in bondage. The unemployment rate continues to climb and the number of uninsured as well. The material nature of America did not change from one day to the next. But, anyone that has ears to hear and eyes to see or a spirit to feel could touch and taste the alteration of our perspective. The spiritual landscape of the United States radically shifted at 11:00pm EST when the last polls closed on the West Coast. At that moment, we set our feet to a new path, that if walked together, hand in hand with our new President, can lead us into a new way of being, one about which so many of us have dreamed, but one that few of us believed could even begin to happen in this lifetime.
We stand at a critical moment in our black history. Barack Obama owes a debt of hope to the people of this nation. His actions must begin and end with lifting up the least of us. Anything less is a betrayal of the inspiration and feeling that sent him to the White House. Yet, it is also our responsibility, We the Hopeful of these United States, to commit ourselves to living and being in a way that promotes freedom, builds and strengthens our black families and our communities, and helps, supports and holds lovingly and critically accountable Barack Obama.

We shall overcome. Today.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On Being Strong

I have been missing David pretty fiercely lately. As I have explained it to anyone that will listen is that when I was a kid I never cried because I missed my Mom. I wasn't the kid who cried when he went away to camp. I embraced life's adventures. I loved going places and seeing the world...even if I were just going up the street. I rarely looked back, because I knew, without a doubt, that home was always behind me and I could turn around when I needed to and go back there for healing or sustenance.

I cried when the bus pulled away from Port Authority last Monday.

I cried on Friday afternoon for no other reason than I was missing David. My life is wonderful right now. I have food to eat. I am moving into a new beautiful house next week. I have a beautiful and loving boyfriend. My job is pretty cool. I have made some great new friends here in the Bay. My heart feels extremely full. And, at times, it feels as if my heart is breaking from abundance. Writing this, I feel as if I am being truly ridiculous and childish. Woe is me that I have someone that loves me, that wants to be with me, that sees me and loves the hell out of me.

The truth is that this, again, is all new territory. Hallelujah that I love someone enough that I cry because they are not here. Hallelujah that the roughest thing going on in my life right now is that I can't find my house key in my dirty ass bedroom and that my man is far far away and I can't see him as much or as often as I would like.

Woe is me. Right?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On the Occassion of a Victory, a New Poem

On the Occasion of A Victory
For President Elect, Senator Barack Obama

Stand up you children of Sankore and Songhai!

the Middle Passage is closed and the whips laid by!
Stand up lost children from your watery graves!
the time has come to let loose your chains!
Stand up you dead in unmarked graves!
Stand up you sons and daughters of slaves!

Stand up at the dawn of this new day!
Stand up and let your joy proclaim
a new life
a new vision
a new way!

Stand up and protect what our fight has made!
this battle has raged through blood and pain
we shall overcome will be we have overcame
Stand up what has won can be taken away!

Stand up!
Stand up!
Stand up!

-Brandon Lacy Campos
-Oakland, CA
-November 5, 2008

One Liner of the Week Award

The One Liner of the Week Award, this week, goes to Mervyn Marcano and his unnamed friend. Last night, Mervyn received a text that said, "They wouldn't give us 40 acres and a mule. So we took 50 states and the White House."

That, is the statement of a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


To Senator Barack Obama:

On behalf of myself, my family, and all my ancestors that went before us. Thank you. Congratulations. And may God bless and protect you. This is the people's doing by the will of God.

Thank you for having the courage to put yourself forward. You have a responsibility now to the hope that you have inspired in all of us. Please do not let us down.




It's Heading Towards a Landslide

Fuck me two ways until Sunday and double fuck me then. Barack Obama is not only changing history, he is changing the electoral map of the United States! I am projecting a win of at least 295 electoral votes.

Democracy Today

I was raised in Minnesota. As long as I have been alive, Minnesota has had the highest voter turn out in the country, and it has continued to increase general election after general election. In my neighborhood back home, the question wasn’t, “Did you vote,” the question was, “When did you vote?”

Never in the 13 years that I have been an eligible voter, have I ever seen lines such as the ones I have seen today.

I am on my way to my co-worker Mervyn Marcano’s spot to have a Black Family Reunion viewing of the election returns. Since we are proud black folks, I volunteered to stop and pick up the fried chicken. God Bless Church’s, amen.

Across the street from Church’s Chicken on Park Boulevard is the Park Theater, which, tonight, is doubling as a polling place. The line to vote at 4:45 pm wrapped around the theater, into the parking lot, up the slope and to the front door of the automative supply store hundreds and hundreds of yards from the entrance to the theater.

There is hardly a street corner in Oakland that is not peppered with individuals waving signs advocating their positions on a number of statewide propositions: most notably Prop 4--which seeks to roll back the rights of women by requiring parental notification before a teenage woman can receive an abortion and Prop 8---which seeks to alter the California State Constitution to enshrine bigotry and hatred by removing the right of queer folks to marry. Violence over Prop 8 has sprung up across the state, largely as hate filled Prop 8 advocates have PHYSICALLY attacked LGBT folks and their allies going so far as smashing Yes on 8 signs into cars and ripping signs out of front yards. Apparently speech is only free when it is hate filled.

There is so much at stake today. And, because of the hegemony of the United States, not just for those of us that live here but for the entire world.

Voting for my History

This morning, I sat bolt upright in bed at 6:30am. This morning felt like Christmas morning, every nerve ending screaming for me to get in the shower. Except, this morning, I wasn’t excited about getting a pile of gifts; I was excited about getting one giant gift--a new president of the United States Specifically, and to be completely transparent, what got me out of bed this morning was the opportunity to cast my vote for Barack Obama.

This morning, as I raced down Holman Road, cut quickly over on Grosvenor, and then bolted up Underhills, I was racing towards history. As I uncapped my pen and filled in the arrow next to Barack Obama’s name, I was voting for myself, my Great-Aunt Sis, my Great-Granda Juanita, her mother Loma, and all of the Haynes-Lacy family that survived slavery to make my life possible. I voted this morning for Jason Strother, Jr. and Shayla Zoerink--my niece and nephew.

This was a historic election year. Not only was Barack Obama on the ballot but so were Cynthia Mckinney and Rosa Clemente--two black women heading a major U.S. party ticket (and do not get it twisted, the Green Party with hundreds of elected members across this country IS a major party despite the best efforts of the Republicans and Democrats). If this were a true democracy, I may have cast a different vote today. But, in the end, it wasn’t just about voting for a progressive person of color--it was voting for a progressive person of color and then having the opportunity to watch that person walk into the White House as President of the United States of America.

This today was about history and victory. Will Mr. Obama bring the radical change that I dream about? Probably not. Have McCain and Palin with their far left and socalist red baiting opened the way for Obama to be much more progressive than if he had been forced to play the middle of the road character that Bill Clinton did in the 90s? Hell yes. Will he take the opportunity? I sure as hell hope so.

I am still proudly a Green. As a matter of fact, I am now a registered member of the Green Party of California. But, today, I was not voting just for myself I was voting for the black mother and her son that entered the poll as I was leaving. The woman had a huge smile on her face when she looked at me and said, “Today is an exciting day.”

This is my fourth presidential election. Never have I ever seen people smiling as they went to the polls. Never have I seen the every day working person proud of a candidate for the nation’s highest office. Never have I seen children bouncing down the street singing about a man that, as of poll close tonight, be the next President of the United States.

If Obama wins, our work will be harder than if he loses. If he wins, all the forces of oppression that live freely in this nation will array themselves against all of us that believe that justice is the moral imperative and not a misguided belief in the divinity of money or the religiosity of hate. We will see an organized resistance that, unless we are able to maintain and strengthen the multi-racial, multi-class coalition that Obama has been able to tenuously forge, will rip this country apart in its effort to break us.

We will not be broken.

Today is for Juanita, Druscilla, Loma, Big Sam, my Dad, my brothers and sister, my nieces and nephews, and for all of those that did not survive that did not make it that did not wake up today to see this possibility with their own eyes.

Lullaby (A New Poem) and GO AND VOTE!

Today is Election Day. Get your ass up and vote. Now.


Rage sweet child at the pins and needles morning
the Boogy Man has gone to bed
tip-toe quietly down the broken hallway
to the lying mirror
through the looking glass is your salvation
two swift jagged pathways
to Never Never Land

Rage sweet child at the treasure map on your back
switch ink tattoo
marking the spot where Captain Hook
found his lost boy
buried his payload
while you whispered a pirate’s oath to never ever tell

Rage sweet child at the jacknife lullaby
hussh Mama is sleeping
her neck smile redly weeping
she called you her prince
but your salty kisses can’t wake her
weep so so softly
or Charming may hear you

Rage sweet child there is no such thing as innocence
Peter Pan has AIDS
there is genocide in the Land of Oz
Tinkerbell is dead
clapping won’t resurrect the light ripped from her chest
the grim tales have no ending

Rage sweet child for what is taken from you
Rage sweet child for what is forced on you
Rage sweet child for what you carry with you

Rage sweet child dream a better world.

Good night.

-Brandon Lacy Campos
-New York, NY
-November 2, 2008