Saturday, May 26, 2018

For People Who Aren't Usually "Political" but Know that Something Very Wrong is Happening Right Now

Only have five minutes? Read an article from the first section, follow the organizations listed in the second section, and use the template in the third section to contact your reps.

This past week, news broke that the US government is "now systematically taking children as young as 53 weeks old away from their parents at the border, thanks to new directives issued by the Trump administration" (link). At the same time, we're hearing about how federal agencies have "lost track of" nearly 1500 children who had been placed with sponsors. Some of those children are believed to have ended up in the hands of human traffickers.

There's always bad news in the world, yes. And we can argue all day about what constitutes "uniquely" bad news, or "major" shifts in already-harmful policy. We can (and should) talk about how immigration policy in particular has been a bipartisan travesty, and not solely a result of Trump. We can (and should) talk about how separating children from their families as a matter of law has happened before in this country.

But let's at least agree that this is bad. This is wrong. This is one of those "if you had been alive when (historical injustice) happened, what role would you have played?" moments. This is connected to larger trends. People are dying. People are being disappeared. And we have a responsibility to do something about it.

So what do we do?

I want to share a few links and resources here, partly informed by my TEDx Talk (which was about the power of taking big, overwhelming issues and "zooming in" on them to create specific actions), and partly by this quote from Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture on Twitter):

Questions I regularly ask myself when I'm outraged about injustice:
1. What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
2. Who's already doing work around this injustice?
3. Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
4. How can I be constructive?

I feel like that's a very elegant, practical way to think about this. Even for people who do organizing work every day, it can be overwhelming. For those us just getting involved, or who have never identified as an activist "or political" in any way, it can be frustrating to figure what you can actually do. I hope the following can be useful.

Links and Resources for More Information
"Raising awareness" on its own may not be enough to disrupt injustice, but that disruption isn't going to happen without it. Here are a few articles (some news, some analysis); one simple action idea is to share one of these on Facebook and/or Twitter every day for the next week.

Federal Agencies Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Migrant Children Placed With Sponsors (NYT)
The children were taken into government care after they showed up alone at the Southwest border. Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence and domestic abuse, government data shows.

Parents, children ensnared in 'zero-tolerance' border prosecutions (Arizona Daily Star)
Alma Jacinto covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks. The 36-year-old from Guatemala was led out of the federal courtroom without an answer to the question that brought her to tears: When would she see her boys again? Jacinto wore a yellow bracelet on her left wrist, which defense lawyers said identifies parents who are arrested with their children and prosecuted in Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for illegal border crossers.

HHS Official Says Agency Lost Track of Nearly 1,500 Unaccompanied Minors (PBS Frontline)
“It’s just a system that has so many gaps, so many opportunities for these children to fall between the cracks, that we just don’t know what’s going on — how much trafficking or abuse or simply immigration law violations are occurring,” said the committee’s Republican chairman, Sen. Rob Portman.

Border Patrol Kicked, Punched Migrant Children, Threatened Some with Sexual Abuse, ACLU Alleges (Newsweek)
Based on 30,000 pages of documents obtained through a records request, the report includes gruesome, detailed accusations of physical and mental abuse at the hands of officers.

Video: Chris Hayes on 'despicable' new Trump policy (MSNBC)
The United States government is now systematically taking children as young as 53 weeks old away from their parents at the border, thanks to new directives issued by the Trump administration.

Treatment and rhetoric about undocumented children put the Trump administration in a new category on hard-line immigration policy (Washington Post)
In an NPR interview earlier this month, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was asked if using family separation as a “tough deterrent” to keep families from attempting to illegally immigrate into the United States was “cruel and heartless.” “I wouldn't put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever,” he said.

Follow the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren on Twitter.

I want to share two more links here that aren't explicitly about the missing children, but are both critical insights into how policy is shifting in the US:

Betsy DeVos Stirs Uproar By Saying Schools Can Call ICE On Undocumented Kids (HuffPo)
“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the ACLU, in a statement. 

A BETRAYAL: The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death (ProPublica)
Confused, Henry told the agents he was already working with the police. He asked them to call Tony. Instead, after interrogating him, the ICE agents put him on a bus... He was headed to an ICE detention center full of young men suspected of being MS-13 members — the very same ones he had snitched on.

Who Is Already Doing This Work, and How Can We Support Them?
The answer to this question will be different in different communities, but I will use the Twin Cities as an example. If you're here too, hopefully you can check these organizations out. If you're not, a quick online search like "(your city or state) + immigrant rights organization" or something like that may turn up something.

From there, it may be a matter of showing up and getting directly involved, or showing up to an action organized by one of these groups (like this one from just a few days ago), or donating money, or organizing a fundraising event, or something else. But being plugged in, following these organizations on social media (now!), joining their email lists, etc. is an easy step.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee
MIRAC is the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee. It is an all-volunteer grassroots organization that organizes the immigrant community and their allies to struggle for legalization for all and equality in all aspects of life. We struggle for legalization, for a moratorium on raids and deportations, and for drivers licenses for all regardless of immigration status. MIRAC was formed in Spring 2006 out of the huge immigrant rights marches. We’ve organized many protests, marches and other activities for immigrant rights in Minnesota since then. (Twitter | Facebook | IG)

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) is a nonprofit agency that provides immigration legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. ILCM also works to educate Minnesota communities and professionals about immigration matters, and advocates for state and federal policies which respect the universal human rights of immigrants. (Twitter | Facebook | IG)

Navigate MN
Mission: NAVIGATE/ Unidos MN  is a millennial driven Latinx based organization that builds power for gender, racial and economic justice. Navigate MN envisions a visible Latinx community with clear vehicles and tools to build intergenerational economic, cultural and political wealth and like this contribute to the wellbeing and the prosperity of all Minnesotans, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, immigration status, dis/ability and gender identity. (Twitter | Facebook)

There are also national organizations like United We Dream, the ACLU, the Immigrant Defense ProjectAmnesty International, and others. Please feel free to add others in the comments.

Voting, Contacting Our Reps, and Holding Our Leaders Accountable
The upcoming elections offer opportunities beyond simply casting a ballot. A few thoughts:

1. Contact Your Elected Representatives. Find them here. Demand to know what their specific action plans are to address this. Call, email, Tweet, show up to town halls, and everything else. Make noise, especially if one of your reps is a moderate or on-the-fence. In can be something as simple as:

Dear (your rep): I am gravely concerned about new developments in the Trump administration's immigration policy, especially the practice of separating children from their families (some of whom have ended up missing). Please share what your plan is to address this.

Find more tips for contacting your reps here, here, and here.

2. Make Immigration Justice a Core Part of the 2018 Platform. Every politician running for office in the midterms should feel the pressure to come out strongly in favor of addressing this problem, abolishing ICE, and committing to the safety of these children and families. Let candidates know that in order to earn YOUR vote, they must have a clear, specific plan in place to address this injustice.

3. Vote. As I wrote above, the Democrats, and Obama in particular, don't have a great track record when it comes to immigration policy. That being said, I would also argue that Trump's normalization of hate, dehumanizing language, and policies designed to let ICE "off the leash" are something uniquely odious, and something very much worth fighting against now. Change is driven by grassroots movements, and my position is that while Democrats aren't perfect, they can be pressured by those movements in ways that Republicans can't. Voting for liberals won't change anything by itself, but it can help clear the way for the movement work that will change things. So mark your calendars for the 2018 midterms, tell everyone you know to do the same, and send a big damn message.

Plug In. Stay Engaged. Commit. 
There's a lot more to talk about here. We need to talk about direct action, underground railroads, and the disruption of business-as-usual. A sense of urgency is necessary. But this post is only meant to be a starting point-- learn more, get connected, and be ready to act. I think one thing that intimidates people about activism is feeling like they have to have all the answers and solve all the problems on their own. But this is going to be a collective effort. It's going to take ALL of us, plugging in where and when and however we can, combining our efforts to create change. 

When you look at the large task before you, it can feel hopeless. So don't look at that. Look at a small, specific piece of it. Email this post, or one of the links in it, to five of your friends or family members. Go through all the social media links and follow the organizations doing this work. Look into who's running for what office where you live this fall. There's no one magic answer to this problem; there's just the work.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Video: "When They Look Right Through You"



This is an older poem (in my book, it's called "Cartpushers"), but it's probably one that not many people have actually heard. I'm happy to finally get quality footage of a decent performance. We ran with a different title for the video, hopefully something a bit more evocative. Two quick notes:

1. This poem is about the first job I ever had, and is dedicated to all the cartpushers, cashiers, drivers, servers, bartenders, and other service workers out there. For me, a fundamental pillar of spoken word is the idea that everyone has a story, and every story matters. So one of the most powerful things we can do is tell the stories that most people never choose to hear.

2. This poem also, for me, illustrates something I really appreciate about slam poetry as a style (which is, of course, a generalization, since a slam poem can be whatever you want it to be... I'm thinking more about tropes/formulas/common approaches): this isn't a poem that really "works" until you hear the last line. Everything else builds up to that. There aren't a ton of IG-ready quotes to share; it's really about the whole being more than the sum of its parts. I think spoken word is uniquely situated to build these little three-minute "experiences," and this poem falls into that tradition.

As always, I appreciate when people buy my book, but I also like to make the text available:

Friday, May 11, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Unforgettable" by Pages Matam, Elizabeth Acevedo, and G. Yamazawa



My name wasn’t given to me/ it was given to the rest of the country...

I've been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry's channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I'll be doing once per month here. It's a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.

I remember my first time seeing this poem, and really being struck by G.’s line: "In Japan, your last name comes first; there is an emphasis on family. But in America, your nickname comes first, 'cause there is an emphasis on accessibility." For me, that’s one of the most important functions of poetry: to call out what’s hiding in plain sight, to encourage all of us to think more critically, and more intentionally, about topics we’re not always encouraged to think deeply about. Everyone has a name; how much do you think about where yours came from? What does it mean to you? What does it express, and what does it not express? How do our names move with us as we move through the world? These are big questions.

The whole poem is a great example of using something “small” and personal (names) as an entry point to explore an issue that is much bigger. While all three poets approach that issue from different angles, with different experiences, the overall “thesis statement” of the poem is laser-focused. This is a useful thing for aspiring poets to remember: there’s a difference between a poem about a topic and a poem that has a specific thing to say about that topic. This is a poem that knows what it is, so to speak, and communicates its message all the more powerfully because of that.

Feel free to share any of your own thoughts or observations about the poem (or its topic) in the comments.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New Interview + Some Book Recommendations

Looking for book recommendations? Here's one of my favorite interviews I've done, since I basically just got to shout out a bunch of my favorite writers: N.K. Jemisin, Danez Smith, Carmen Maria Machado, Ed Bok Lee, Patricia Smith, Bao Phi, Jeff Chang, Marjorie Liu, Emily St. John Mandel, Ruth Ozeki, and more!

Check it out.

Speaking of books, some cool news concerning my book coming soon. A sincere thanks to everyone who's picked up a copy.

Monday, April 23, 2018

New Poem: "Thoughts and Prayers"



This is a brand new poem; basically a "written the day of the performance" poem. It's kind of an experimental piece, in terms of how it work as a "poem," but addresses something that a lot of my work engages with in one way or another: power.

On that note, I also wanted to share this series of videos from Ricardo Levins Morales, that I would encourage every aspiring activist or organizer to watch.

I'll also refer people back to this post, which includes a ton of links, resources, and poems on the connections between violence (especially mass shootings) and how we talk about masculinity.

Full text of the poem below:

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Poems, Links, and Resources RE: The Connections Between Masculinity and Violence


In the spirit of this piece (sharing poems that might be useful entry points into conversations about white supremacy) and this piece (sharing poems reckoning with #MeToo, consent, and rape culture), I wanted to pull together some poems/videos, links, and resources for people looking to start more conversations about the relationship between violence (whether that's interpersonal/domestic violence, mass shootings, and beyond) and masculinity.

Because as the left focuses on gun control, and the right (disingenuously) focuses on mental health services, I think it's worth considering that there's something deeper going on. It's also worth considering that just because that "something" is a more complex problem than a single policy can fix, that doesn't mean that there's nothing we can do about it.

Reading Up: Articles and Essays
To find solutions, we first have to acknowledge the problem: there is something about the way we teach boys to be men (especially in a white, western, capitalist context) that encourages violence. When we only understand masculinity through the lenses of power, control, strength, and dominance, when our pop culture heroes are so often men (and so often violent men), when our views of "what it means to be a man" are shaped by racism and colonialism-- this all helps create a culture in which violence can be committed, normalized, and even rationalized, again and again. More:
  • Don’t Blame Mental Illness for Mass Shootings; Blame Men (Politico)
  • Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings (Harper's Bazaar)
  • Boys To Men: Masculinity And The Next Mass Shooting (1A)
  • We will never address gun violence if we don’t address the root of the problem: masculinity (Feminist Current)
  • The Boys Are Not All Right (NYT)
  • Toxic white masculinity: The killer that haunts American life (Salon)
  • When We Talk About Police Shootings, We Need to Talk About Gender (Feministing)
  • Who Are The Majority Of Mass Shooters In The U.S.? (AJ+)

Having a Deeper Conversation: Poem/Videos
My work is about using poems as entry points to dialogue, since poems and stories are able to put a human face on issues that are, for some people, too easy to intellectualize or think about in an abstract way. With the above articles as context, my hope is that these poems can be resources for educators (or just people who want to start more conversations) to jumpstart some reflection, soul-searching, and community-building:
  • nayyirah waheed (from salt.)
    • This is the only poem on this list that isn't a video, but it's such a perfect entry point, one that sums up this issue elegantly and precisely.
  • Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist 
    • This is a newer poem that powerfully makes the connection between gun violence and masculinity. This poem doesn’t just make that connection, though; it challenges us to see both why that connection exists and why it doesn’t have to. The link includes both the video and some further thoughts/analysis from me on the poem.
  • Elizabeth Acevedo: I use my poetry to confront the violence against women
    • This is a TEDx Talk, but includes multiple short poems. When the national conversation focuses on masculinity and mass shootings, it's important to keep a broader view of what "violence" means. It isn't always headline-grabbing. It isn't always reported. This conception of masculinity hurts people-- especially women, trans people and gender-nonconforming people-- every day.
  • Guante: Handshakes and Ten Responses to the Phrase "Man Up" 
    • I'm including both of these poems of mine here because they're both explicitly about how so-called "little things" (habits, word choices, small actions, etc.) both shape and are shaped by the larger culture. Especially when we think about masculinity-- our socialization starts so early, and is so insidious because those "little things," if we don't think critically about them, are so easy to never even understand as harmful.
  • Donte Collins: Genderlect 
    • This is a great exploration of how the positive things we're taught to think about men are so often rooted in the negative things we're taught to think about women. Violence can take many forms-- mass shootings, domestic abuse, sexual assault, any beyond-- but it often starts in the same place
  • Sam Rush, Kwene, & Oompa of House Slam: My Masculinity
    • This piece could be a good introduction to talking about masculinity as a social construct, as opposed to something that is inherently/inextricably "male." 
  • Javon Johnson: Baby Brother
    • The connection between masculinity and violence includes more than just mass shootings. It's about the violence we inflict on the people to whom we are closest, regardless of gender. It's also about the violence we inflict on ourselves.
  • Alex Luu & Jessica Romoff: Masculinity
    • Like the previous poem, this piece explores the issue of masculinity's connection to violence through family relationships-- in this case, a father's effect on his household.

Next Steps and Other Resources
"What we do" about this is a big question, and will shift depending on who we are, where we are, and what kinds of resources and audiences we have access to. So while "having a conversation" is not the only work to be done, it is an important starting point, and I hope the links and poems above can be useful. What follows are some examples of where people are taking this work:

As always, I'm far less interested in writing authoritative think-pieces as I am in just sharing resources and creating space for dialogue. So if you have other poems for the list, other links to share, or just some thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The 2018 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series FINALS: March 31 at SteppingStone Theatre



It's that time of year again. This is the SIXTH annual Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series presented by TruArtSpeaks, and we've already been through five fantastic prelims and two semis bouts. Finals, featuring 12 of the fiercest MN poets between the ages of 13 and 19, will be held on Saturday, March 31, at SteppingStone Theatre in Saint Paul. Get your tickets now!

Every year, Finals is breathtaking. If you want to support youth voice, and also just hear some moving poetry, you should be there.

For more on the series, check out this MN Monthly piece, as well as the latest TruArtSpeaks email newsletter, as well as this great MPR story featuring a few poems.

And here's the first of many poems we'll be sharing from this year's series; check out this piece from Muna Abdulahi: