The Dangers of Storytelling: How the Industrial Complexes Target Black People with False Propaganda


 

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By Shermeeka Mason

 

 

 

 

 

On June 9, 2016, the day of the Shut This Shit Down: Black Lives Matter Rally organized by Building Leadership and Community Knowledge or B.L.A.C.K. went into effect.

The event was a response to the brutal murder of Alton Sterling, a Black man who was gunned down by a Baton Rouge police officer because he was suspected of pointing a gun at someone (Sterling was armed, but Louisiana is an Open Carry state, so his death was completely unwarranted).  The Shut This Shit Down event here in Rochester was one of the plethora of Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place throughout the country and internationally.

I arrived at the rally a little after 4:00 p.m., joining the massive crowd of protesters at the Liberty Pole.  I instantly felt the positive vibe of those around me, straining to hear the slam poets and activists speaking into a weak microphone.

When the pep rally came to a close, we headed towards the street, our spirits high while chanting “Black Lives Matter” and some others to maintain the momentum.  As we turned the corner, however, I and a few others beside me immediately spotted a swarm of police cars settled near the curb, occupied by officers in full riot gear. We made comments about how unnecessary the riot gear was, considering that we were peacefully protesting, and moved on. We continued to march down our designated route, crowding the street during rush hour, hyping up the drivers that believed in the cause.  We then headed towards Monroe Avenue, the synergy increasing and evident…

Until we were met with a line of riot cops near the Strong Museum of Play.

They were silently waiting for us, batons in hand.  We approached them, determined yet peaceful while chanting for them to hold themselves accountable for working for a corrupt industrial complex founded to target the disenfranchised.  It wasn’t long before members of the SWAT Team began charging at us in a militarized formation.

I grabbed the arm of one of my friends and frantically informed him that we needed to leave the scene effective immediately.  Neither of us can afford to be arrested, as I have mental health issues and he is a trans man who had just had knee surgery not too long ago.  Plus, his son was graduating and he was not going to miss the opportunity to see his baby walk across the stage.  There were folks who stayed to continue to protest the heavy presence of law enforcement, but I didn’t know what happened to them until I eventually returned home, where I watched footage that was uploaded on Facebook by protesters.  Those who confronted the cops at the Strong Museum were shoved by the latter, even though the former did nothing physically to provoke violence.

There were also videos of protesters on East Avenue area doing a peaceful sit-in being physically assaulted by riot police.  I watched angrily as one cop lunged at one of the demonstrators (a friend of mine) and punched him in the face before one of his partners pulled him away.  Remember that the Black Lives Matter rally was nonviolent from beginning to end, yet the heavy cop presence resulted in seventy-four protesters being detained and taken into custody—many of them being friends of mine.

So when Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief Mike Cimerelli expressed support for the cops and declaring that protesters weren’t physically harmed (even though two people were hospitalized while some others suffered injuries), when East End business owners complemented law enforcements’ conduct towards those who did nothing, when both local and national media portrayed the Black Lives Matter rallies as violent and disruptive (while broadcasting heavily edited footage of protesters shouting at law enforcement), I was infuriated, frustrated, and completely through.

I knew what occurred because I was there.  I witnessed with my own eyes the police’s aggressive behavior toward us.  I watched the unofficial footage protesters posted on social media, which further discredited what was being reported.  So I shouted at the live news report reeling on my computer screen, updated Facebook statuses with my thoughts on the aftermath of the rally, and corresponded with friends and follow activists who knew what the fuck was up.  But what bothered (and triggered) me the most were the lies that compounded the issue at hand.

Of course, this is nothing new—we Black people have been battling for our liberation for over 600 years and counting, often dying unjustly due to the various industrial complexes propagating falsehood.  But in the 21st century, modern technology made it easier for the local, national, and even independent press to report misleading information about Black people (educated ones in particular) as 1) we become the majority in the United States and internationally and 2) we challenge White supremacy and how it affects everyone (White folks included) through our right to peacefully assemble. These facts and many others are the reasons why we are frequently targeted by oppressive industrial complexes (law enforcement being one) to the point to losing our lives.

Since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, more the 1,134 Black men were murdered by cops in 2015 alone.  Over 500 Black men lost their lives in 2016 and the year is only halfway over.  And these numbers don’t even include the trans men and women who were killed while either in police custody or harassed by them.  I myself had had run ins with the police—one of those incidents involving my former housemate, Kelliegh.  She called 911 because she thought I attempted to physically assault her when I did not.  Her erroneous accusation literally placed me at risk of being killed by the two officers that responded to her call. And since law enforcement aren’t properly trained to handle those who’ve been previously mental health arrested, the risk of death would’ve increased had I not been medicated.

This is why I am extremely antagonistic towards both the so-called Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter campaigns.  Besides their utter ridiculousness, they are used by the press and uninformed people to spread more lies about Black people and Black Lives Matter in general.  Y’all, I can’t even tell you how many White and non-Black people of color I’ve dragged for filth because of them defending these campaigns.  For one, those entering law enforcement chose to participate in that industrial complex and wear the required uniform.  My skin, however, is not a uniform I can unbutton, step out of, and hang in my closet with the rest of my coats.  I am Black all day, every day and there is no reprieve from the negative stereotypes associated with being so.

In regards to All Lives Matter, it doesn’t ring true because it isn’t.  Let’s be honest here:  if all lives mattered, why aren’t these folks organizing or working alongside people of color?  Why aren’t they fighting for the liberation of prisoners, the safety of sex workers (most of them being transwomen of color), victims of sex abuse or untreated mental illness and so forth? They will swiftly accuse Black Lives Matter activists of “reverse racism,” homophobia, and divisiveness, not even acknowledging the members of the LGBTIQA+ community involved in BLM (regardless of ethnicity).  I also want to point that when a 16-year-old White boy was killed by a cop, it was Black Lives Matter who not only protested on this young man’s behalf, but launched a fundraiser for his family.  Meanwhile, the All Lives Matter people were completely silent as they ALWAYS are when injustice occurs.  And when they are speaking out, it’s always in the form of perpetuating dangerous misinformation rooted in the very racist ideologies designed to dehumanize and annihilate Black people.

So, long story short, the Rochester Black Lives Matter rally and the events following forced me to fully recognize the extent that oppressive industrial complexes will go to fabricate stories about the disenfranchised—even when the truth is documented on film.  It further demonstrated how many White and non-Black people of color blindly give credence to the false information the media broadcasts about a movement they choose not to research. But more importantly, I refuse to ignore the high level of trauma these industrial complexes inflict on Black people by not only internalizing the misinformation associated with us, but becoming increasing desensitized to our suffering by utilizing their resources (and our tax dollars) to commit acts of abuse that usually results in a senseless death.

 

Author Bio:  Shermeeka M.L. Mason is a self-published author, blogger, and volunteer radio show host.  She recently published the political science-fiction novel, The One Taken from the Sea of Stars under the pen name Octavia Davis.  She is also the creator of and contributor for two blogs, The Possible World and The Chuck Taylor Buddhist (both available on WordPress.com).  In addition to being an active author, Mason is currently one of the co-hosts of The Bonfire Talks on WAYO 104.3 FM.  In her spare time, she reads, performs with the Rochester Womens’ Community Chorus, binges on Facebook, and spends time with beloved cat-son, Tobias.

 

 

 

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When We Are Silent We Are Still Afraid, We Speak Up to Survive: An Interview with Julie


In the second installment of the “Your Voice is Beautiful” series, Earth First! activist and writer Loki interviews fellow comrade Julie Henry about her abusive relationship with Rod Coronado, well-known animal rights activist and environmentalist of Wolf Patrol.  To learn more about this interview or Earth First!, click here.  Thank you Loki and Julie for letting me share this piece in The Possible World.  Your story will help so many people.

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By Loki of Earth First!

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Backlash, Victim Blaming

2015 is the year that rape culture, a buzz word that has been rattling around in my brain for over a decade, took on a whole new meaning. I watched story after story about rape or abuse unfold. Steubenville. Jimmy Saville. Bill Cosby. Jian Ghomeshi. Julian Assange. Most of those names mean something to all of the women and femmes I know. Many of us shared news articles, used hashtags, got sucked into furious Facebook flame wars. For once, the mainstream media seemed to be as saturated with stories of sexual assault as my personal world often is. In the midst of all this, I heard that people were coming forward and sharing stories about Rod Coronado’s violent, unsafe behavior. It felt like a familiar tale; I (and many other women and trans folks) had come forward in the early 2000s with our own experiences of being sexually assaulted or abused by fellow environmental activists. Time and time again, the reputations of men are protected at the expense of safety for women, trans, and gender-nonconforming people. All of this is still very present and real inside our own Earth First! circles, as we try to figure out how best to show up for survivors and make our movements better equipped to challenge abusive behavior.

In 2014 a crew of folks tried to call out Rod Coronado, a well-known animal and earth liberation activist. They felt he had been violent and threatening towards his ex-wife Chrysta. They had also heard stories of predatory behavior towards younger women. A movement-wide call-out seemed necessary because they believed he was a risk to women in the environmental movement. The Earth First! activists they reached out to about this in the summer of 2014 didn’t share this information with the wider community. A renewed effort was made later that year, and an email warning people about Rod began circulating in early 2015. Around that time, Julie, a “new guard” EF! activist, came forward with an experience of being sexually assaulted by Rod in November 2014. A few months later, Julie shared her experiences in a statement that was circulated over email and social media. Being open about her experiences was an act of solidarity with all the other women out there who have survived sexual or physical violence. She has received a mixture of support and vitriol, as have others who helped call Rod out.

In the spring of 2015, Julie approached the EF!J Collective about sharing her statement on theNewswire, but they didn’t follow through on her request. I approached Julie because I wanted to help her share her story with a wider audience. We asked the Journal Collective to revisit their previous decision to not share Julie’s experiences on the Newswire. They agreed to do so after hearing input from other survivors and allies in the community. Her interview should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to renew our commitment to challenging cultures of abuse in our own networks and organizations.

Loki: What led you to get involved in Earth First!?

Julie: Before I was an activist, I was a researcher. My background is in biology and environmental science, and I have a degree in wildlife biology and field biological techniques. After I graduated from college, I got an opportunity to do research for a wildlife agency in Vermont. I would spend weeks at a time in the field conducting environmental impact studies. On occasion, I would write environmental impact statements. To make a long story short, I soon became disillusioned with what I was doing, and I came to the realization that Fish and Wildlife is nothing more than a government hunting club on the side of the exploiters. Meanwhile I’m watching as oil companies and corporations are literally eating the planet and destroying what I thought I would be protecting. Fast-forward a bit, I quit and became an activist. 2009 to 2010 I spent in Southeast Asia doing undercover work on the black market wildlife trade. I would love to write an article on that some day. Fast-forward more, I’m back in the States. A year later I’m part of the Tar Sands Actions civil disobedience arrests in DC, which led me to meet more activists, and a year later I’m involved with the Tar Sands Blockade and EF!. Those are the cliff notes.

Why did you join Wolf Patrol?

I first heard about Wolf Patrol in the summer of 2014, and it came at a time in my life when I was looking to get involved in something again. I had just had a split from a partner and lost my community at the same time. I was vulnerable. I had never met Rod before, but Wolf Patrol felt like another chance to protect wildlife where I had failed in the past. I was really looking for a campaign to throw myself into.

The following is an excerpt from the statement you put out last year: “My boundaries became less and less respected and his touching became more … for his own gratification. There were nights I would wake up to my body being touched and fondled. There was no more checking in, but it was all on me to push him off and tell him no. I could tell he was becoming increasingly more irritated with me. My anxiety didn’t go unnoticed by one of the other Wolf Patrol members. And when she asked me what was going on, I confided in her. It got so bad that finally I took him aside and told him it had to stop. I told him what it was doing to me emotionally. Shortly after, his entire demeanor towards me changed. I should have realized then what was going on. Then a few nights later, it happened. My most triggering boundary, where all my trauma surrounds, was violated.” How did Rod react when you talked with him about the experiences mentioned in this statement?

It took me hours to work up the courage to confront him about it. I really had no idea how he would react. I was completely terrified, so when I finally did have my moment, all I could say was “Why? Why did you do that to me?” What’s strange is that he didn’t even act shocked that I had just accused him of raping me. He pretty much just dismissed it like it was funny to him. He told me that what I was telling him was “impossible.” As if I should have been honored. Then he told me that I was being too emotional and that he wasn’t going to talk to me until I calmed down. That I was being demanding of him by taking up his precious time to talk to him about this. Then he left. Left me alone with the only two other remaining team members to finish up the campaign in Montana, while he went home. Twelve hours later he called me to “discuss the matter,” which was really him telling me how I had wanted it, because he would never do anything that I didn’t want. And it was very clear from his tone that me talking about this anymore would not go well for me. Then he went on to tell me that he had decided that we didn’t have good chemistry. I was stunned. I don’t even remember how I responded, if I even responded at all. I wanted to say, “You think, you fucking asshole!?” But I didn’t. Then I felt the most acute loneliness and isolation in the acceptance that I wasn’t going to pursue this matter any more. I knew it would hurt more trying to seek accountability from someone who was so clearly telling me that he would never be accountable.

 

I can definitely understand why you felt silenced after Rod told you it would be best all around if you kept quiet. I know there’s also been some discussion about why you didn’t go to the police. Did pressing charges feel like an option for you?

Absolutely not. And I’m really glad you brought this up. What has really been hurtful and baffling is some of the responses I’ve gotten over how I reacted in the aftermath of this situation: “Rod is innocent until proven guilty in a court-of-law;” “If this really happened then why didn’t she go to the police?” Or, “You should really think twice about talking about such serious criminal actions without proof,” paraphrasing something from Rod himself. The baffling part is that the people who are criticizing me for not going to the police are people who have been in the movement actively fighting against police and state repression for decades. What would they be saying if I had gone to the police? So my question to them is this: Why do you throw survivors under the bus when movement insiders commit the horrific acts you claim to stand against? In a community where we as survivors are told not to go to the police, where we have a completely different version of “justice,” what do we have to do? What are you bringing to us as an alternative? I’m not supposed to go to the police, but there’s also no safe alternative that I have. I can’t even speak up without knowing I will be attacked. No, I absolutely did not consider going to the police. Of course the whole police/state repression issue was the last thing on my mind immediately after. I had an even greater fear. My team. What would they say? What would they do? I was in the wilderness, alone with these people. I didn’t trust the police, I didn’t trust the community of hunters who had been threatening us, and I didn’t trust my team. By not going to the police, I felt like I was protecting myself from a whole circus of shame. I wasn’t ready to lose control over my situation. By doing nothing I was at least still in control. No, going to the police was just not an option.

It makes a lot of sense that you’d want to remain in control of the situation at that point. It sounds like you might have been in a really vulnerable position. What happened after you confronted Rod? Were you able to talk to other people in the campaign about your experiences with him?

Even before that night, I had confided in one of the girls in the campaign that Rod had been making me uncomfortable. He’d been pressuring me more and more, and when I didn’t give in, he’d either ignore me or treat me like I wasn’t valued anymore. So after I had confronted Rod and had him react the way he did, I was completely devastated and probably in a state of shock. I couldn’t have hidden the fact that I was not OK, even if I was greatest actor in the world. So I confided to the rest of the crew. At first I believed that they were supportive and had my back, but over the next few days, that all changed. Towards the end, the bullying had escalated to a point that I felt so unsafe that I called Rod to get me out of that situation. It was the biggest mind fuck I’d experienced yet. I now depended on him for my safety and well being. That’s when I really think certain parts of me shut down completely. Rod rescued me from them and I was relieved to see him. I went back to his house and spent the next few days there before I left to stay with friends in Kalamazoo. I went back to his house. I stayed in his bed. Sometimes I still hate myself for that.

That sounds like such a tough spot to be in, to have to rely on Rod because you felt bullied by someone else. I wish people would realize how often women or trans people have to make those kinds of decisions when they’re struggling to keep themselves safe and come to terms with the traumatic nature of what happened to them. Were your friends in Kalamazoo more supportive?

I didn’t tell them. By the time I was in Kalamazoo, I had convinced myself that it was my fault, that I deserved it, that I was garbage. What kind of a victim goes back to their abuser anyway? I was traumatized by the bullying and it felt less complicated to talk about that than it did the assault. I still had a lot of shame about it and had now been conditioned to keep my mouth shut. Even for a long time afterwards, I still wanted to organize with Wolf Patrol and was crushed when I was told I wasn’t welcome back. It’s actually hard thinking back to that time in Kalamazoo because I was trying so hard to be OK. My friends there were wonderful but I know I was clearly depressed. Even for months afterwards, I found myself breaking down multiple times a day. I tried to keep it under control. I do remember one specific incident when we were all painting a banner and I just suddenly became overwhelmed. I declared to everyone that I was excusing myself so I could fill up the tub and have a cry bath. (Never underestimate the power of a good cry bath.)

It sounds like it was hard to feel comfortable sharing your experiences. I know a lot of survivors struggle with that, because they are afraid of not being believed or of being judged for how they responded to the abuse. A lot of the survivor advocates I’ve spoken with talk about why it’s important to support and validate survivors who do come forward. They feel that doing this will create a culture where people feel safe sharing their experiences of abuse. Why did you feel it was important to tell more people about what happened?

Not only is there so much fear about not being believed but there’s so much shame associated with it. To make the decision to speak up, you know that all your sins from the past will be thrown back in your face. I had absolutely no plans to come forward, especially not publicly, but it wasn’t until a while later someone approached me and very bluntly asked me if something had happened, if Rod had done something to me. And I broke down. I was tired of keeping it a secret. I feel like I need to say this: I don’t think I ever would have told anyone, had she not directly asked me. And it frightens me to think about that. She encouraged me to reach out to a few former Wolf Patrol teammates who had left the campaign due to issues with Rod. I think she may have told them because it felt like they already knew, which to be honest, made it easier for me.

It was during a conference call with them (former Wolf Patrol team) that they asked if they could talk to others about what happened. I was hesitant for at least a week, knowing that once it was out, whatever amount of control I had would be over. That itself was terrifying. I knew I was going to be attacked if it was public, and I needed time to consider all the ramifications.

That week I came across an article about a woman who’d been assaulted and she never said anything. Then later a woman in her town had committed suicide, and in her letter she implicated the [same] person who had been assaulting her. I called them immediately after and told them, “Yes, you can share my story.” Silence helps no one. Silence protects abuse. I was helping no one by staying silent.

It sounds like you were afraid of the negative repercussions of speaking out, but you wanted to warn other women about Rod so that they wouldn’t have the same experiences as you. That feels like real bravery to me! I know that there has been backlash against you and people supporting you. Do you have any examples of that?

Besides being called a liar, crazy, psycho, I’ve been labeled a snitch, an informant, accused of using COINTELPRO tactics, and at one point Rod even accused me of being an agent directly working for lawmakers “targeting my work.” That one was actually kinda cute. There’s now a rumor going around that I recanted the whole story. There’s also an attorney who’s been actively creating a climate of fear and threatening others who wanted to talk about it. Not only was I being labeled all these things, but so was anyone who supported me.

Are you aware of other people who have had similar experiences with Rod? And have you been able to connect with any of them?

Chrysta (Rod’s ex-wife) is the only one. So far. And it was probably the most validating experience, not that I needed someone else to validate what had happened to me, but just having her reach out to me and tell me that she believes me. She’s really been an angel to me.

Many survivors talk about having to leave their communities or organizations after they’ve been assaulted because of the backlash they experience. In activist communities, this means that we are losing a lot of really powerful, outspoken activists after they are assaulted. In this sense, the abuse itself, and the backlash that these survivors (the majority of whom are women and/ or trans people) and their allies get in the aftermath is a form of repression. It deters them from staying involved, just like state harassment or violence deters some people from getting involved with or staying involved in grassroots activism. Has what happened with Rod impacted your ability to continue to organize with Earth First!?

One of the first consequences was being kicked out of Wolf Patrol, a campaign I really wanted to be a part of, because Rod wields so much power. But I’ve been more afraid to organize anywhere, because Rod has so many friends and supporters. I live with that as a constant fear. Certain Wolf Patrol members have been virulently, actively trying to destroy my reputation and it’s scary. It’s really really frightening.

Have there been any attempts to hold Rod accountable or do any kind of accountability process with him?

All I have is secondhand information. I want to make something very clear, because there’s been a lot of different stories: When asked if I wanted to pursue an accountability process with Rod, I said no, because number one, he’s not going to be held accountable. I believe he will continue to deny it, and I’m not going to put anyone through the abuse. Nobody’s got time for that shit! So I made it clear that I wasn’t actively seeking a process, because his first response was to make me believe it was my fault. He’s also extremely manipulative.

Are there any final thoughts you wanted to share?

Yes. Sexual assault and harassment have been something I’ve dealt with most of my life. I’m sure this is something that many womyn can relate to. It became normalized. I handled it by trying to ignore it and move on. But this is not a single horrible event womyn suffer once in their lifetime. It’s an epidemic. Something I started to notice after speaking up about what Rod did to me is that men hate rape. Let me rephrase that: Men hate the word “rape.” It takes the onus off of survivors and points the finger directly at who is responsible. Men who commit rape. Rapists.

The problem with our culture is that people—men, and even some womyn—believe that rape is a very specific crime. Rape is only rape when a survivor is abducted against their will, by a stranger in the dark. It can’t be rape if they knew their rapist. It can’t be rape if the survivor had consensual sex any other time in her life. These lies are damaging, but they stem from misogyny and patriarchy that still leads our culture. These lies take someone who is already traumatized and dumps the shame and guilt on them when it belongs to the one who committed the crime. To everyone who has supported me (and there have been many): a huge thank you! I could not have ever done this without you! To those who would rather I not have spoken out publicly, I’ll make you a deal. Get off of your computer and do something to stop these crimes from happening to womyn. Call men out when you see sexist behavior. Call your friends out when they participate in it. Make it socially unacceptable for men to abuse and oppress us. If you do that for me, then I won’t have to. Until then, I won’t be silenced. To anyone who has ever been hurt by Rod or men like him, you have a voice. Abuse and oppression thrive on silence. People like Rod thrive on silence. Fuck them. Fuck him. Speak your truth.

Please visit youcaring.com/support-for-julie for more informationon how you can support Julie.

Loki is an artist-storyteller and PhD student currently residing in unceded Coast Salish Territories. They have a background in forest defense and feminist/queer community organizing. A central focus of their research and praxis is the history of anti-oppression and safer space organizing within forest defense in the early 2000s. Contact them via their website or twitter at lokiera.wordpress.com or twitter.com/kjandersons

Save The Prayers: What The LGBTQIA+ Community Needs From You


 

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By Susie Carmichael

 

“I’ll be praying for you” is so broadly used that folks don’t even really do it, most at least. As a former Christian, I often did generally pray. I asked for God to look over my family, my friends and even for folks who probably will never have an encounter with me. But I often witnessed this as empty sympathy and pseudo humanism from people in my church. The same folks that spread anti queer, transphobic, classist bullshit all of a sudden became the most empathetic person when catastrophes hit these communities.

Overtime, I asked these folks to not pray for me but for themselves. I’m not accepting any prayers from anyone that call themselves a follower of any religion that speaks of loving on the next human but uses the same principles to shame folks who are “the nastiest type of sinners.” Before you pray for anyone, think and reflect about how you can be better person to people before they experience events that are tragic. Think about how you “sending love and healing” is actually belittling them. In a time of need, pity doesn’t do much.

One of my chosen family members Takeallah once said: “I’ll pray for you” means “You’re  going to hell but I have sympathy for you”. Ain’t that some shit? The same folks who condemn my “lifestyle” pray for me when I lose a Trans chosen family members to suicide, when Trans women of Color are massacred or even missing because the foster care system don’t care about LGBTQIA+ youth. Wasn’t we faggots last week? Weren’t you the same person mocking someone with They/Them pronouns? Didn’t you try to say that Trans women are men in a cis sexist rant to defend your blatant hate rhetoric. Wasn’t you just praying my gay away last night at supper?

The next time you want to pray for members of a marginalized, oppressed group, also participate in asking these folks what do they need. How about you tell the ignorant folks in your congregation to stop making fun of that one gay kid who loves God just as much as you? Y’all want folks like me to be dance choreographers and music directors for the church but pick on the child that wears his bow ties and switches his hips when they come into the sanctuary. Have more QT folks active in temple and educate folks on how to love them. Let Bi Muslim women be free enough to speak their truth. Hold workshops in your worship space about how you can truly be the best neighbor to someone that doesn’t look like you. Attend Pride and other events to show you want to build community. Make clothing drives for poor and/or homeless Trans folks. Counter protest anyone religious group that targets us. Stop leaders in your religious/spiritual groups that can possibly feed into the extremists fantasies about hurting marginalized people. That kind of power and platform comes with so much responsibility. It doesn’t take extremists much to commit acts of terrorism. We can’t depend on prayers alone. Use your principles to combat hate.

Survival in Practice


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By Dr. Sekile Nzinga-Johnson

 

I’m typically a chatty Cathy…except for when I’m in pain.

When I was in labor with my children, I was sooooooo quiet. Labor was painful and somehow I intuitively turned inward to survive it. During my first labor and delivery, I remember my grandmother being very worried about me not using medical intervention. She and her bible sat in the corner. She was present and prayerful and I was grateful for her.

Cedric was right beside me and I recall when the pain got so intense I looked at him and said “I don’t think I can do it!!” He looked back at me and said, “Yes, you can”. I turned inward and I did.  I pushed out a 7 lb 15 oz baby boy. It was then that realized that I could survive what was quite surely one of the greatest physical pains that a body can tolerate. I set the terms, no pain killers, a Ghanian fertility doll as a focal point and loved ones present to help me get through. But ultimately, it was me who had to get that baby out of me and had to deal with the pain associated with childbirth.

It was no joke but I felt like a bad ass after.

During labor, it was my silence that was most necessary. I had learned the Lamaze breathing/panting (ineffective) technique, but I just wanted peace and quiet so I could listen to my body and survive the pain. With each childbirth, I refined my desire for intentional silence during labor. I learned Hypno birthing and incorporated affirmations that helped me believe that I could birth my baby. This practice is necessary only because we have been taught to fear our bodies and the child birthing process as well as deny our strength. The hypnotic state was really a deep relaxation and meditative process. It required inward reflection and visualizing a place of peace. Even the verbal prompts Cedric had practiced to help me go deeper into a hypnotic/relaxed state were distracting in the labor process because of my deep desire for silence and turning inward. I needed peace and quiet to survive that pain. No nurses coming in and out poking and prodding, no lights on, no massages. Just me getting through that shit.

Leave me alone.

I birthed an 8 lb 7 oz baby boy that day with very little pushing thanks to a very self-determined little one.  By the time the 3rd labor came along, I was skilled at childbirth and also at knowing which conditions were ideal for me. Silence and solitude during labor! I wanted my support system there, which now included Cedric and the boys. I had the boys with a family friend while I was in labor but they were the 1st ones to hold and see their little sister after she was born. Unfortunately, my midwife did not get the memo about my need for peace and quiet and got on my damned nerves the whole time. She could not accept that I was in charge of my birthing process and kept trying to offer suggestions. Irritated the fuck out of me.

What I have realized is that when I am in pain, deep pain, I hurt too much to explain myself to others. Cedric was my advocate but we could not regain control of the labor and delivery process. I felt disempowered. I recall that process as my worse birthing experience simply because I felt imposed upon and I was not allowed to just lie there and meditate til that baby was ready to come out. She wanted me to shift positions and just kept talking. I needed to just survive the ugly beauty of my pain in peace. Thankfully, a 8 lb 6 oz baby girl blessed me with another quick labor and put me out of my noise induced misery.

I find myself in pain a lot lately. My current pain is not physical–it is psychic, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It still hurts and it’s hard to explain its fullness to others. I tend to retreat into myself during these times. It’s simply too tiring and painful to try to help others get why and how a happily married, mother of 3 beautiful children with a bunch of sister-friends who owns a home, smiles a lot, and is a professor is dealing with anxiety and life long depression. My support team is ready to help—friends call, family members pray, Cedric does the heavy lifting at home and is the affirming spouse that I need in my life. I am grateful.

But I have learned that sometimes I still have to–need to– turn inward to survive my life. Especially when I feel my survival and joy are at risk or are being threatened. It is how I have survived before when there was seemingly no one at my side (go ahead, insert your “but God” here). Turning inward is how I am still here. I need to time to think, to name my pain, and at times go numb to survive it. Turning inward feels safe in this moment. Being in silent solitude through pain also allows me to spiritually ground myself and to store my reserves so I can tackle life as it is dealt. Living in solitude means not having to explain why I stopped listening to someone in the middle of their sentence, or why I am not feeling happy at “happy” moments or why I am not interested in things that typically bring me joy like socializing and exercising and eases some of the pressure. It means not having to cry in public or navigate answering the dreaded question “how are you doing?”

Prayer, meditation, silence, and out of body robot mode—have helped me survive before, in beautiful times like during childbirth and in horrific times, like during child sexual abuse.  I won’t stay forever but this is where I am in this moment.

This is survival.

 

“Survival in Practice”  was reposted in The Possible World with Dr. Nzinga-Johnson’s permission.  Readers can find this piece and others on her Blogger.com blog, I usta be monique.

 

It Can Be Overcome: How I Cope with Depression


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By Steve Crowley

I’m going to try and keep this piece relatively short but I can’t make any promises. Once I open up and start writing about things like this, I’m not exactly sure what will come out or where it will lead. For starters, I’ve been dealing with depression and slight anxiety for as long as I can remember.

Coupled with that, I also have cerebral palsy. Mine isn’t as bad as a lot of other cases but I do walk with a significant limp and have difficultly performing certain tasks that most would have no trouble with. This might surprise some but if I had the choice of getting rid of the palsy or the depression, I would eliminate the depression, hands down.

The cerebral palsy is obviously visible. People can tell I’m dealing with something. They most likely don’t know what, but they know something isn’t as it should be. But more importantly to me, it’s the same day in and day out. It’s not like I woke up one morning and was like, “Shit, I can’t run a mile today because my leg is fucked up.” That’s always been the case and it always will be the case. I know what I can do with it and I know what I can’t do with it. Many things I do in my own way. Sure, I get some strange looks if I’m a crab walking down the side of a hill during a hike because it’s the easiest and most efficient way for me to get to point B. I couldn’t care in the least. It’s one way I deal with what’s been given to me.

The depression, on the other hand, is a totally different animal altogether. No one can see it, no one knows I’m dealing with it unless I say something (which I never do) and the worst part is that it can show up unexpectedly at any time. And on top of all that, there are varying severities of it as well. Some days I have very little energy (that’s the worst of it) and on others I want to keep to myself and not be around anyone. At the worst of times, I constantly think about taking my own life. But with a lot of conscious effort, those really bad days don’t come around so often any more. And that’s what I want to focus on in this piece: explaining some of the things I do to make my depression not as formidable as it once was.

For years I tried battling it the “traditional” way with counseling and medication with very limited results. Part of the problem was that, for whatever reason, my cerebral palsy leaves me with odd sensitivities to certain foods and most drugs—both the fun ones and the prescribed ones. So while some medications would make it even more difficult for me to walk, another might make it nearly impossible for me to get it up and to me not being able to walk and/or have sex is more depressing than having depression. The best results I had were when a drug would work great for six months and then be absolutely worthless after that. So needless to say I needed to find something other than prescription drugs to help me get through or prevent these low points.

After some time (and trial and error), I came across a combination of things that really help keep me happy, build self-esteem and fight off these funks. I know people aren’t robots or machines so everything that works for me won’t be the exact things that do the trick for someone else, but I still thought it could be beneficial to share them. For the sake of length and simplicity, I’m just going to list the items and give a brief description if I feel it’s necessary.

  • I’m kind to myself. I don’t beat myself up for making mistakes.
  • I’m kind to others. It doesn’t do anyone any good to judge others and put them down.
  • It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s helped me tremendously.
  • I like to help my friends whenever possible with no expectations of anything in return.
  • Continuously volunteering in my community has had an enormous, positive impact on my life
  • Eating healthy.
  • Not spending a lot of time on electronics (phone, TV, etc).
  • Spending time outdoors.
  • Deep conversations.
  • I try my best not to give a shit what others think of me.
  • Consuming very little alcohol and no other recreational drugs.
  • I try to quickly dispel any negative thoughts, and not dwell on them.
  • This one can be tricky but it’s might be the most important. I try to always be doing something that I love. I’m not crazy about my job, it brings me no joy whatsoever so I do projects here and there that do make me happy. I work on my writing, I brew beer and am trying to open a brewpub, I also want to open a place where kids can come and meditate, no matter their experience level.
  • Lastly, I’m always trying to make myself a better person. The key is I don’t put overwhelming pressure on myself to do so. I just give myself little, encouraging, mental nudges when I need them.

That might seem like a lot but it’s not as difficult as you might think. If I slack on a few of them, it’s not the end of the world. It’s when I’m doing almost none of those things that I find myself in trouble. I’ve followed this guideline for nearly two years now and have only had one bout of depression the entire time and that’s because I allowed it to happen.  I was drinking heavily almost every day. I wasn’t meditating, I was eating like garbage, my heart wasn’t in my volunteering, and all I was doing with my free time was watching TV and playing video games. That’s basically a recipe for sadness and self-loathing. But I slowly put the pieces together and got back on track.

The key is that you have to play with it. I didn’t come up with this list overnight; I had to look deep inside myself and really analyze practically every move that I made. The things that brought be down, I slowly cut out of my life and that unfortunately included some people I used to be close with. The things that brought me happiness, joy and raised my vibration, I slowly kept incorporating. I imagine you’ll have to do the same. There are many tools and support systems to help you with your fight against mental illness. As cliche as it may sound, you just have to keep your head up and know that you’re not alone.

It can be overcome.

Courage with a Pen: Fighting Rape Culture with Writing


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By Shermeeka Mason

 

As I write this, my eyes burn with fatigue.

My body is tired, but my spirit and mind are alert, yet bothered by both past and recent events.

It all started earlier this week when I hung out with a friend of mine.  While we were talking, I found out that a local radical we both dated moderated a discussion about misogyny in the Rochester radical community.

Needless to say, I was floored and somewhat sickened by this piece of information.  The guy in question not only uses a well-known community space and political events to cruise for find potential sex partners, but uses poly and labels such as Pansexual and Demisexual as an excuse to sleep with them. In fact, he is one of the reasons why I don’t attend that space.

I knew this because he and I dated for three weeks.  He approached me after an organization meeting and I thought he was genuinely interested in me. I found out over the course of time, however, that he was more comfortable being a “friend with benefits” than my long-term partner.  This was AFTER I shared with him my history with sexual trauma.

Around the same time, pictures, news articles, and think pieces about Brock Turner continuously showed up in my newsfeed. Turner is the former Stanford University swimmer who was arrested and sentenced to six months in county jail for raping an unconscious young woman last year. I went through a plethora of emotions as his blank expression and blood shot eyes stared back at me time and again, burning into a mind already fogged by medication-induced insomnia.  His father’s letter and the judge’s leniency on the Turner further perplexed and angered me due to the gross lack of accountability.

In addition to all of this, a friend of mine spoke up against their rapist, a prominent Black radical in their community.  Though this young man violated them, it was my friend who was banned from Facebook for forty-eight hours for just posting a picture of their perpetrator!  What bothered me was that they were one of many who were sexually assaulted by an activist and/or pillar of the community.

So between this fact, the constant coverage of the Stanford rape case, learning of the hypocritical behavior of the so-called radical I dated last month, and the lack of adequate sleep, I broke down crying.  This recent chain of events pushed me back to Saturday, February 7, 2015 when I traveled to Peekskill, New York to visit Alec and Sharon, a poly couple I met online a year prior.  What was was supposed to be our last romantic weekend together turned out to be one of the most traumatizing.  This couple not only joked about me being dead, but crossed boundaries that involved Alec hitting my body with a crop and threatening to hit me in the face with it.  To this day, I can’t talk about that night without having panic attacks and flashbacks.

Without feeling ashamed.

The shame was one of the reasons why I remained silent about the assault in Peekskill for the most part. In fact, this was the reason why I kept quiet about how I was treated by the local activist I dated.  And I thought that just keeping quiet and going about my life, would let forget what happened.  Forget about all of them.

But I can’t.  My own PTSD won’t allow me to.  The flashbacks, panic attacks, and wave of emotions won’t let them get away with it—won’t grant me the desire to distance myself from the fact that I allowed myself to succumb to my self-blame and their gaslighting.

So as exhausted as I am, I write this passage because I’m mentally and emotionally done with seeing victims of sexual assault not believed by the media and judicial system.  Done with hearing stories about perpetrators in radical clothing lingering around within the community to somehow seek sexual gratification and then have the nerve to occupy spaces not created for them.  Done with domineering sexual perpetrators using the polyamorous lifestyle to traumatize others.

In other words, I am done with rape culture.

And I’m done shielding myself from it.  That’s why I have my pen, my laptop, and my books at my disposal—so these tools can be utilized to at least talk about what rape culture is doing to people and to our society.  I cannot and will not allow my perpetrators and ex-partners to frighten me or continue to get away with how they treated me and possibly others.  Writing is my way of holding them accountable for what they have done.  And if someone reads this and relates to it somehow, then my experiences served a purpose.

 

The Most Vulnerable Group:  What The Trump Effect is Doing to Our Children


“We have an obligation to protect children from violence”

–author unknown

 

The 2016 primary election is byfar the strangest and the disturbing.  Between Hillary Clinton doing the Nae Nae on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to appeal to millennials and the Bernie “Hey Girl” memes, I seriously don’t know whether to laugh or be skeptical.

But what seems to be clogging up my social media newsfeed is the antics of Donald Trump. Trump is a businessman and candidate for the Republican nomination for the President of the United States in 2016. Unlike the other Republican candidates, Trump seems to be getting all the media coverage one way or the other.  Now, there isn’t a day that I don’t see a plethora of think pieces, memes, videos and skits focusing on this man alone.  Of all the Republican candidates, Trump is the most popular while leading in the polls at forty-four percent and has recently been endorsed by former candidates Sarah Palin, Dr. Ben Carson, singer Aaron Carter, and other celebrity Republicans.

This is completely different from four years ago when he could barely get press due to his ridiculous accusation that President Barack Obama is a non-U.S. citizen, demanding that the current Commander in Chief show his birth certificate.  But this time around, President Obama is not the focus of the Trump campaign but certain demographics of color.  At every rally, the Republican candidate is not only telling his predominately White supporters that Mexicans are raping and stealing here every time they cross the border.  He is also telling them that Muslims need to be deported or wear “special ID badges” and the Middle East should be blown up.  When anti-Trump demonstrators show up at his gatherings to protest, Trump encourages his supporters to “beat them up,” watching while angry White men shove protesters out the auditorium.

But what disturbs me about Republican candidate is how his violent inducing rhetoric affects the most vulnerable populations:  our children.

Called the Trump Effect, this use of oppressive rhetoric is more likely to cause trauma among young kids–especially immigrant children.  Mostly Hispanic and Middle Eastern children are now being targeted by their peers, causing the former to fear their environments.  Case in point: there is one story about a young Muslim girl named Sofia who hears Trump’s speech about deporting all Muslims.  She soon goes into her room and begins packing her bags and checking the locks on her door, thinking that she and her family are going to be targeted by soldiers.

Another example involves Trump supporters taunting Latinos at Dallas Center-Grimes High School during a basketball game. The former not only chants “Trump” as the students play, but “U-S-A” after the game is finished.  This act of racism stems from the runner-up’s promise to build a wall at the Mexican border to prevent migrant workers from entering the United States.

When NPR’s Cokie Roberts asks Trump during an interview if he is proud of his actions, Trump responds “Well I think your question’s a very nasty question.”

But the question is far from nasty.  I have to say that it’s completely valid and fair.  For one, let’s talk about the fact that not only are children of color are being targeted due racism and xenophobia, but are victims of fear mongering that leave them extremely confused.  They are watching Black Lives Matter protesters being attacked by White strangers at Trump rallies and wondering why this is even happening.

So imagine my anger at the cognitive dissonance of those who defend Trump’s supporters and the actions of Trump himself, arguing for their “First Amendment rights.”  Look.  Everyone has the right to speak and express their ideologies, so that’s not the issue here.  The problem is that there’s a difference between freedom of speech and using speech to incite the physical, emotional, and psychological harm to entire demographics of people.  When Trump is encouraging his supporters to attack protesters and people of color, his words and actions are no longer protected by the First Amendment.  It’s officially hate speech and adults aren’t the only ones affected.

So what am I getting at, Dear Readers? That our children are paying attention to the election.  They are watching the anti-Trump protest rallies unfold on their streets and their peers reacting to those who attack them.  They listen to Trump’s speeches about building a wall to keep Mexicans out of the country, how the BLM members are trouble.  They hear the lies about how Muslims are nothing but terrorists. Our children see it on the news, YouTube and catch the conversations on the city bus.  They are aware and are becoming afraid.  Don’t believe me?  Watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmylREVCULo

So whether you “Feel the Bern,” consider yourself a conservative or radical, please do all you can to protect the children who are negatively affected by Trump’s foolishness and that of his supporters.

P.S.–Do not come at me with the “Bernie is better” nonsense.  Not only does that misses the ENTIRE point of my post, but his being in the White House will neither erase historical trauma caused by White supremacy or the trauma caused by Trump’s ignorance and the disturbing acts his supporters.