I'm back from almost a month in various parts of the Bay. I spent time in the mountains, at the river, at the beach, at a huge sustainable farm at UC Santa Cruz, at a retreat center in Woodacre, in the East Bay, and a very brief amount of time in San Francisco.
California. Yes, the same California where in 2011 for half a year I was a witness to Occupy Oakland, "O.G." Black Panthers, Co-ops and collectives, anarchists- white and QPOC, and an overwhelming sense of..."The Struggle". The struggle to survive in the face of multiple fronts of injustice. Economic, food, environmental, health. The struggle to hold on to parts of our cultural identity in the face of assimilation. The struggle against antagonistic police and law enforcement- a repressive police state.
I often wonder why organizing on the East coast and the West coast seemed so different to me. On the West Coast there seemed to be a different kind of awareness and urgency. The boiling point had already been surpassed and education and empowerment seemed to be happening in very different ways. The conferences and symposiums I'd come to appreciate in NYC I'm sure were happening in the Bay. But, action was happening on some other level. Oppression was being tackled from all these other angles, no doubt influenced by organizing that happened back in the 60s. Groups in Oakland and LA and various other parts of the state were beyond fed up. Picketing and protesting were one tactic, but designing programs to support our communities became another. Writing about the struggle and disseminating information about how to protect ourselves and keeping us informed about truth and the lies we were subjected to were another tactic.
As I continue to learn more about organizing and continue to form the core of who I am as an "activist" I have to say that I have learned a great deal from my compas, comrades, created family and extended community over in the Bay. When I went back I had all these ideas about what orgs I wanted to visit and who I wanted to get involved with right away for the time I was there- and...well, most of it didn't happen. Folks were too busy organizing or traveling and at first I felt a bit deflated. But then I remembered the main reason I'd come to the Bay was a 6 day silent retreat for people of color at Spirit Rock. I was actually coming to the Bay- the same Bay that had made me feel so much angst in watching this very visible struggle- to clear my mind, and become more mindful and aware so that I could have more inner peace and be ready to keep going without feeling burnt out.
So, last year I was told about the East Bay Meditation Center and the weekly sitting meditation and talk that they had for people of color. It was great finally getting to sit with other people of color who were coming together with the same goal of being at peace with themselves...and in the middle of Oakland, where it is badly needed. At these sits I heard about the annual POC retreat they had and months later when back in TX I decided to apply to the retreat. People are chosen by "lottery" and my name was drawn and I was excited about the sliding scale for payment.
The retreat couldn't have come at a better time for me. So much was going on with trying to figure out if I should publish Notes from an Afro-Genderqueer and some of my other work, how I should get my writing out and who I should be writing for, and trying to find a job, and organizing with various groups and organizations. I literally couldn't think one thought without thinking three others. I wonder how many other folks of color feel this way. A good deal of the women of color I know are always pressed for time, working multiple jobs or organizing for different groups and going...and going...and going. We take on so much! It's sort of ingrained.
So after some time in Berkeley and Santa Cruz (no Oakland)- I arrived with a million thoughts and a small bag with just enough clothes to make it through 6 1/2 days of the silent retreat. There were so many POC! The teachers were all POC and their dharma talks addressed issues specific to us POC and a few of the teachers were QPOC. In those 6 1/2 days I worked through a lot of emotions, memories, and patterns during our hours and hours of sitting and walking meditation. Our meditations focused on being compassionate to ourself, forgiving ourself and then forgiving and being compassionate to others. Our thinking patterns are key to our actions- this is why awareness and mindfulness are so important. If we are aware of the negative thoughts we have about ourselves and others, we can empower ourselves to change them and then we can experience inner transformation and contribute to outer transformation of our communities. With less toxic thoughts about ourselves and others we can let go and have a new established freedom. Now we can form more positive thoughts, and therefore actions which brings us closer to inner and outer peace and better solutions for injustice in our communities. If we are more aware of what's within us and what's happening outside of us, we can have more clarity and take better actions to end the oppression experienced. If we try to tackle outer struggle while dealing with inner turmoil our decisions are tainted, our judgement clouded and the outcomes are not as effective or sustainable.
After the retreat, I went to the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz for a week. There's a six month apprenticeship that addresses different aspects of the growing process, maintaining farms, and food justice. I have been committed to food and health justice for a few years now and being on that farm cemented my commitment to sustainable foods, community gardening, and continuing to spread knowledge about the healing power of foods and the empowerment gained from food sovereignty. I met such proud and committed folks who were happy to be working hard on the farm and acquiring knowledge in that space that they would take out into the world, making significant contributions and facilitating change in various communities.
While on the farm there was a Youth Day that was truly inspiring. Youth from different parts of Cali who were involved in various food justice groups came to do workshops with apprentices on the farm. I led two workshops on poetry and writing for social justice/healing/empowerment. At the end of the day we came together to eat and some migrant workers told their stories.We then rallied and talked about the importance of continuing to do this work in our communities and not to become complacent after receiving this knowledge.
Who knew I'd go to California to learn to let go, find a new sense of self and be revitalized to do more organizing and healing work. Thinking back, it all makes sense. I am nearing the end of a transition and now I'm at the jump off point for the next phase of philosophactivisting. We can talk, read, write, and theorize all day long, but at the end of the day- what are we willing to DO? Are we willing to take action? And most of all, are we willing to work on ourselves? It's easier to push our own needs aside and address the needs of others. But we've got to take care of ourselves. We've got to address the inner struggle as well as the outer struggle. Many say there is no outer peace without inner peace. As I take these lessons in stride, I know that it's a new era for me as far as my organizing and writing. With added clarity, I am ready to build more bridges, create more paths, and have a new level of self-acceptance and inner peace. The Struggle continues but with these new tools and a fresh perspective, it's no match for any of us- including You.
Next time I'll talk about my Healing from Internalized Oppression workshop for Allgo's Statewide QPOC Annual Activist summit!