take back the streets…take back the land

“I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment … because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist. [People] ask me, ‘are you afraid?’ Yes, I’m a human being, of course I am afraid. But my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest.” (José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, environmental activist killed six months after this statement was made)

i was driving home from work friday after a long days work. it was around 5:30pm, just before the sun transforms everything orangy-red, i was thrilled to be going home to my 3 gatas and my little studio in highland park. i live in a compound where i share the property and a lush garden with friends and family. (different from my south central home, difficult to make the shift but needed and grateful for such a lovely space to call home.)

my life is pretty calm these days. the new book that i am writing with each day lived seems so connected to the one i just finished writing, saying my thank you’s and i’m sorry’s just as i was about to publish. i have a couple of jobs i enjoy- i teach at a university on topics close to my heart, i work with a team of  curious learners who are passionate about tapping into their own and others’ creativity and imagination in order to dream up new worlds. on my off hours i’m organizing with a group of young people around the importance and right to land- access to land, the taking back of land, and the many uses land has to offer…from planting and growing our own foods, to moon and womb ceremonies, to skate parks and bike paths. also off the clock and my current political homeplace- i’m involved in co-creating a organzing-teatro group based on the teachings of liberation psychology and teatro del oprimido, among other liberatory perspectives and theories…grounded in on the ground work, never just theory. life from my eyes looks pretty shiny right now, although the melancholy never stops visiting.

back my friday story- i get off the freeway and i as i drive down York Blvd through the Avenues, i notice two young men, maybe 18 years old, white t-shirts, dark pants, and peloncillo heads, one of them sorta points to something on the street and starts laughing, the other one begins to shine his teeth too. i enjoy their laughter from my beat up little car. i look to my right and notice that a cop car is driving next to me, i get a little nervous, sit up and think to myself these () are gonna stop those youth for no reason at all, just cuz they are young, brown, dressed the way they are, and pelones. fuck.

soon enough they slow down, let me pass so they can make their famous unnecessary scandalous u-turn. as soon as the youth laid eyes on the black and white car con lights flashing, they calmly walked to the nearest wall and put their hands behind their head.

it was a trip to witness. the youth didn’t even wait to be told or asked anything. they simply did what they know they’d have to do soon after the cops would get to them. what kind of world do we live in that allows this type of criminalization of our youth? why so many bystanders to these types of injustices?

my heart went out to the young men who out of instinct did what they knew would keep them safest and get them out of the situation in the quickest amount of time. what kind of solidarity can be offered these  youth, how can we help “reweave the torn fabric of our interdependence”*? they witness each other through these situations countless times. the solidarity and loyalty built between them is rock solid. how could it not be when they and only they know what its like to be young, brown (black and/or poor of any color), “crushed by a society who then penalizes them (and poor people in general) for not being able to stand up under the weight”**?

the next day, my core team of youth, who by the way are the younger brothers of the first generation of SoLA Youth Collective, and i sat at the HP inn n out, eating our animal style hamburgers, enjoying the warm sun. we began our meeting by evaluating our first bike ride, we learned that we have to think about the destination a bit more and whether or not it’s bike friendly (or how we can make it more bike friendly/safe). the ride itself was fun but getting to their chosen destination (art walk l.a. in downtown) made us realize we hadn’t thought through a few key details like where will we leave our bikes when we get there in order to enjoy the free art.

after our evaluation we co-created an outreach plan and time line for our next bike ride on october 9. we are helping to bring youth to the ciclavia south central l.a. extension of cicalvia l.a. the ciclavia itself is not powerful unless we politicize it with revolutionary politics and actions. that’s what i believe our team is there for. the young folk know whats up and they don’t stay quiet about it.

our work together just began but i feel we have been working together for years. and we have. a group of friends and i collaborating in 2005 to start a youth collective in south central. our hearts and dreams were bigger than our bodies, and we shared all the knowledge and love we can possibly share with the families and youth involved. the young men i work with now are the younger brothers of the teens who help to found SoLA. the youths life experiences and the ground work we did years ago has served as powerful soil to plant these new seeds in. as we teach each other and little by  little grow our group in numbers, in knowledge, and in demands and actions, we all pay our respects to the experiences and stories that brought us all together in the first place and now for this second time around, with many lessons learned and hearts longing for a past that can not be repeated only used as the soil in which we plant and nurture the extension of our dreams back then, we seem to be strong and committed to each other and the work just the same. i couldn’t be more grateful.

i was talking to my older brother the other day, sharing with him my struggles with going back to school and how it feels so disconnected from real life and the work that i am doing now that brings me so much life. he helped me brainstorm how i can stay in both worlds at once, he offered to be on my keeping me accountable council, i laughed and told him the council is a great idea and i already have plenty of folks who are in it (d and the teatro group, the j’s, my sister and her other half, my family, the team of faculty i work with at the university, people not in my life directly anymore but who still remain in my head and heart as voices of support and reason, SoLA youth and families, and the new generation of youth i’m working with, etc.)  it felt right to hear my brother say that to me. doesn’t answer all my fears of entering academia but it certainly feels good to know that i have a council supporting and calling me out if ever i forget where my ground is.

*from the autobiography of Malcom X

**question raised by Aurora Levins Morales, Medicine Stories

Inspiration for the day:

Protests at Wall Street: “If your hungry, eat a banker!”

After weeks of protests, Chilean students are called “terrorists” by their own government, in response they come out the next day dressed as “terrorists” (the stereotype of what a terrorist looks like) and in a sense mock the government for calling them that when what they are demanding education as a human right: “you disappear my family and community and now you call me a terrorist because i demand a better education”


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