Tag Archives: activism

The Fall of the I-Hotel (Curtis Choy, 1983)

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

A little over a decade ago, this documentary changed my life.

It was the first time I had seen or heard about Manong Al Robles, longtime community organizer, activist, writer — a pillar in the Fil-Am and API community in San Francisco. He not only narrates this documentary, but is featured in it. He is shown interacting with the elderly Filipino tenants who face eviction from the only home they know: the International Hotel in what was then Manilatown, SF. He is the glue that holds director Curtis Choy’s amazing footage together, in one scene doing a voice-over with his own poetry, in the next scene he’s marching in protest alongside organizers, confronting city officials, blockading police from entering the building on eviction day. Even as the story unfolds toward the inevitable tragedy of the building’s demolition, Manong Al’s presence gave one an impression of hope. Not that idealistic hope that, perhaps, the fight against the city’s “development” plans might somehow prevail.

No, this hope was and still is something greater. Some fights that aren’t won are still victories — as evidenced by the outpouring of community support and internationalist solidarity for the I-Hotel. Though the building was lost, Manong Al and them laid the groundwork for all of us who continue their tireless work to stand up for our communities. The Fall of the I-Hotel, more than a story about a building, more than a story about its tenants or even the fight to save, is a rally cry still heard loud and clear nearly 30 years later.

News that Manong Al had passed away reached me last night as we sat in anticipation for the Pacquiao/Hatton fight to begin. Suddenly, I had realized that, in all my trips to San Francisco, even performing once at Kearny Street Workshop where he was a resident poet, I never got a chance to meet Manong Al, which made the subsequent celebration bittersweet. But as I looked around a room full of cheering Filipinos, I thought of his poetry in his book Rappin’ With Ten Thousand Carabao in the Dark, where he described nights of kickin it, drinkin, celebrating with the Manongs. I thought about the Manongs who were evicted from the I-Hotel, whose sad faces, captured on film, I can never shake. And I thought about how, no matter what bullshit comes our way, or perhaps because of all the bullshit that comes our way, we live for nights like these.

Rest in Power, Manong Al Robles!

Online Tributes to Al Robles:

Hyphen Magazine: R.I.P. Al Robles
Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.: Al Robles, RIP

On Race, Networks, and Access

by Latoya Peterson

Okay, a little over my self-imposed posting limit for today but I wanted to get this out while all the ideas were fresh in my mind.

In the wee hours of the morning on Monday, a friend of mine dropped me an email. She asked if I could make it to a meeting that day to talk about communications for the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Now, this friend has taught me more than I ever thought I could know about national security tactics, nation building, underground democracy movements, and back room deals in Washington. At this point, when she says “Hey, you should check this out,” I mentally prepare myself to take the red pill and fall down the rabbit hole.

So she said “Show up at 4 at this Congressional Building” and I told my job I had to take off early. I arrived at 4:15 and entered a room, and quickly realized:

    1. I was one of a handful of people of color.
    2. That most of these people knew each other, and were bloggers, congressional employees/aides, or think tank employees.
    3. That what we were talking about was how to shape the messages that made it to the Congressional floor.

Continue reading

Open Thread: Racism 101, Beyond Bingo Cards

by Latoya Peterson

Regular reader Elton Joe recently sent around a Facebook message around a spate of comments over at Digg, about a New York Times opinion piece inspired by Eric Holder’s comments about being “a nation of cowards.”

After reading through the normal comments accompanying a piece about race – blacks are the real racists, an instance of bad behavior by one member of a certain racial group is equated to an entire history of discrimination and subjugation, the insistence that slavery was so long ago that nothing else is happening, accusations of “playing the race card” and the ever interesting “if whites are a nation of cowards, are blacks a nation of bitches?” question (with 41 diggs) – Elton had enough. He wrote:

I propose we make a cheat sheet with the most common arguments about racism followed by summary counterarguments. I’m not saying that answers to racism are short and easy, but I keep seeing and hearing the same inane, clichéd statements over and over and over again, on the Internet, in daily conversation, on TV, in movies, and in print, especially from deniers of racism who misunderstand what racism even is.

For dialogue on racism to even get off the ground, we must require people who don’t know shit about racism, who have never experienced it, who, indeed, benefit from it, to SHUT UP FOR ONCE and let people who have something to say say something instead of having our voices
eternally stifled and marginalized. That censorship is at the core of the systematized oppression that is racism. Continue reading

Poverty and the One-Third World

by Guest Contributor Tagland, originally published at Tanglad

I am an immigrant woman of the Two-Thirds World, who is living with the One-Third World.

I first came across Esteva and Prakash’s concept of the One Third/Two Thirds World via Chandra Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders. The concepts recognize the transnational nature of capital, and how policies instituted by people in the One-Third World (middle and upper classes in the North and elites in the South) destabilize the lives of those in the Two-Thirds World, comprised by majority of the world’s population.

And most of the time, those of us in the One-Third World remain unaware of how our actions, well-meaning or otherwise, generate and perpetuate poverty and hardship.

For example, many of us in the One-Third World rarely reflect on our patterns of consumption, on how overconsumption contributes to substandard working conditions in Export Processing Zones around the world. If you’ve ever bought clothes from Nike, the Gap, or purchased products from Walmart and Target, for example, please take a minute to consider why your purchases seem so “affordable.” Ditto with that $2 bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s.

If you want to help those in poverty, take some more time to consider the consequences of top-down assistance programs that are instituted without any input or consultation from the communities themselves. This includes turning a critical eye on programs that present capacity-building and microcredit as solutions to poverty, rather than stopgap measures to systemic problems that are exacerbated by globalization. This means actually listening to the people in communities when they say that they need healthcare and education programs instead of yet another start-up handicraft business. Continue reading

Vibe Magazine Asks That You Barack the Vote

by Latoya Peterson

In this month’s issue of Vibe, Barack Obama receives a formal endorsement from the magazine. Danyel Smith’s Editor’s Letter is an impassioned plea to get involved and help push Barack all the way into the White House. She writes:

We value freedom and aspire to be better than we are, and to live in a country that will be better than it is. We must vote for Senator Obama and for Senator Joe Biden. We must make sure our friends get to the ballot box. We must reach deep for every bit of idealism we had at the beginning of rap music. We must not be cool. We must not again make manifest the “apathy” label that has been thrust upon us. This is not a moment to be reviewed or dissected, or gazed upon from an ironic distance. This moment in history is ours. Our country will not be okay if Obama loses.

The issue goes on to provide three key pieces of political commentary: Obama’s own letter to Vibe readers, Jeff Chang’s “The Tipping Point,” a piece that explores the shifting nature of our political landscape, and a compilation of 99 hip-hoppers positions on politics.

Obama’s letter cuts straight to the heart of the apathy Danyel Smith describes in her intro piece:

Now, I’ve heard people say, “My vote doesn’t matter,” “My vote won’t count,” or “I’m just one person, what possible difference can I make?” And I understand this cynicism. As a young man attempting to find my own way in the world, I faced many of the same choices and challenges facing many of you today. I sometimes doubted that my thoughts and actions really mattered in the larger scheme of things.

But I made a choice. I chose to check in, to get involved, and to try and make a difference in people’s lives. It’s what led me to my work as a community organizer in Chicago, where I worked with churches to rebuild struggling communities on the South Side. It’s what led me to teach and run for public office. And even today, I hear the skepticism. Too often, our leaders let us down, They don’t seem to do much to make our lives better. So I understand the temptation to sit elections out.

But this year, when the stakes are this high, and the outcome will be so close, I need you to choose to vote.

Continue reading

VH1’s Best 100 Songs in Hip-Hop: The Evolution of Black TV

by Guest Contributor M.Dot, originally published at Model Minority

Two major things happened in Black television in the last week or so.

Rap City was canceled, TRL was canceled and VH1 presented the 100 best songs in Hip Hop.

All of these are interesting because they relate to hip hop. I remember when I first learned that 106 and Park audience surpassed TRL’s about 7 years ago, and I thought to myself, hmm thats interesting. In fact, I think Carson Daly had just left the show for Hollywood.

Recently, I read a quote in S. Craig Watkin’s book which said that black teenagers in general and boys specifically occupy a very interesting place in the American culture. On one level their presence is reviled, their bodies are policed (laws on sagging pants) and they are systematically undereducated (only 35% of Black men starting 9th grade in NYC graduate) yet their “cultural products” are in demand from Madison Avenue to Japan. Continue reading

Indigenous Feminism and Cultural Appropriation

by Guest Contributor Jessica Yee

Last year, a friend of mine told me that actress Juliette Lewis started up a band and that their sound was seriously a rockin’.

I was like “Really? Cool!” since I’d always appreciated the versatility Lewis demonstrated in her acting craft with movies like “The Other Sister,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” or even “Old School.”

Off to Google I went searching for her website, when I came up with this image:

Oh no, not again.

Another appropriator.

A quick glance at their website and various other fan photo materials reveals even worse.

Continue reading

Harnessing the Power of Pop Culture

by Latoya Peterson, originally published at Feministe

In the first 45 seconds of the trailer for Clueless, Cher Horowitz (played by Alicia Silverstone) gives one of the best rebuttals I have ever heard to opponents of providing asylum on our shores for oppressed people.

Yes, I’m serious.

Let’s reexamine the language (excerpted from Paul’s Ultimate Clueless Script):

SCENE IV – CLASSROOM DEBATE

MR HALL

Should all oppressed people be allowed refuge in America? Amber will take the con position. Cher will be pro. Cher, two minutes.

CHER

So, OK, like right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” But it’s like, when I had this garden party for my father’s birthday right? I said R.S.V.P. because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that like, did not R.S.V.P. so I was like, totally buggin’. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, squish in extra place settings, but by the end of the day it was like, the more the merrier! And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion, may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?

(Class breaks into applause)

This segment was designed for us to laugh at the ridiculousness of Cher’s logic and her mispronunciation of Haitians (Haiti-ins!). But there is some truth in what she says.

Haitians need to come to America = Amnesty.

But some people are all “What about the strain on our resources?” = Opposition Arguments

And so, if the government could just get to the kitchen = Survey the situation

Rearrange some things = Reprioritize and reexamine how we use resources and we admit new entrants

We could certainly party with the Haitians = Grant amnesty, fix our selective and fractured policy.

And this line is classic: may I please remind you that it does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty?

It totally does not say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty. It actually says:

“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name,
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And yet, for the last few years, we’ve been having a debate around immigration which boils down to “everyone has to RSVP, we’ve got a velvet rope, and most of you aren’t invited to the party.” The tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free? Fuck ’em!

Where are all the other voices in this debate? We’re left out. So many conversations around public policy and theory are couched in a language that makes them inaccessible to the average person with a limited understanding of the issues. And if the language that we as progressives and feminists use is inaccessible to the average reader/listener/viewer, we lose out. This is the void that has been filled by regressive interest groups – they dominate the dialogue by using very simplistic messages to summarize their position. Messages like “they are evil” or “they hate our freedom.” These messages may not even be true – but they are easy to remember. And that’s the problem. A complex, nuanced message is harder to grasp than a simple catchy statement, and thus, less likely to stick.

So, in order to reach more people, progressives need to critically examine the messages we send, what we say, and how we present them.

To this end, we need to learn to harness the power of pop culture – taking a message, shortening it, adding some spin, and preparing it for mass consumption.

Back in May, the New York Times published an article describing the efforts of U.S. Campaign for Burma to sell their cause using celebrities like Ellen Page, Jennifer Aniston, and Will Ferrell. And yet, somehow, they are still having problems getting their message to catch on. Continue reading