Tag Archives: People of Color

“Out Here Doin Good” by Renaissance

 

I am a Black Liberationist, a Prison Abolitionist, and an Intersectional Organizer working for justice for all People. By justice I mean that which provides for the flourishing of all human beings.

This means I am fighting to bring an end to Patriarchy, Sexual and Gender Violence. This means that I work to end Deportations of People especially, when those deportations of people violate Human Rights and Peoples Rights, and when the motivation for migrating in the first place is a direct result of U.S. Imperialism. This means that I am fighting to bring an end to Climate Change, and to bring about Climate Justice because those who are most impacted the anthropogenic climate change are also the victims of Colonialism and Imperialism; People of Color globally. Furthermore, 68% of African descendants in the United States live within the danger zone of a coal fire power plant. Women and children are the most vulnerable and the most impacted by the effects of climate change. This means that I work for equal and fair access to equitable education at all levels and also, to bring about an end to the School-to-Prison Pipeline. I work to bring an end to Police Brutality, who are for all intents and purpose for our Communities, nothing more than the strong-arm of a repressive regime founded upon oppression. I am fighting to bring an end to the System of Mass Incarceration which, is merely the extension of the System of Enslavement in a new form. And the list goes on because there is no shortage of injustice in our world.

Please make a pledge to support my work:
https://www.patreon.com/renaissancethepoet

For us as a People to achieve our Collective Liberation, we must first work through the indoctrination of subordination that has been force fed to us. Thus, I work to implement a Radical Pedagogy with Decolonization at its core. This is sometimes through discussions, sometimes through book studies, and other times through Hip Hop Workshops. In all cases, what I am working with our People to bring about is a critical analysis of ourselves, and the system of systems we struggle within.

Hip Hop Workshop banner

I am a formerly incarcerated individual who grew up in gangs and on drugs. I am now over 16 years sober. When I turned 18 years old I had a 0.0 GPA in high school and no prospects for any sort of life with four felonies. However, recently at 34 years old I graduated from the University of Washington double-majoring in History and Philosophy. My focuses were on the rise and fall of civilizations, social movements, justice, ethics, and jurisprudence (philosophy of law). I am also a veteran Hip-Hop and Spoken Word artist, and I use my skills as a means to instruct and foster dialogue.

Today, I am merely a servant of the people doing what I can, when I can, where I can. The most important part of the work I do is accountability to our community because without it, then I am merely recreating the very same systems of oppression I assert that I am working to overcome.

This work is, in my opinion, some of the most important work that needs to be done. In turn, it is also some of the least paid work. So, I rely on our community to provide the things that I need and to help me to maintain the programs and campaigns that I am working on for our People.

http://azjusticethatworks.org/
https://www.facebook.com/azjusticethatworks/
https://www.facebook.com/noforprofitjails/

https://renaissancethepoet.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/hip-hop-workshop/

 

Please, make a pledge. It does not need to break your bank, not if those who can share the load. Many hands makes light the load. $5 here, $1 there, goes a long way in between the $20 or $50 gifts.

https://www.patreon.com/renaissancethepoet

 

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Beast of Nature

 

Produced by and Featuring Mark Hoy, this song seeks to present the reality many People of Color must contend with in this country wherein the laws are written against us, and the society is so diametrically opposed to our success that a nearly impossible trap to escape is laid out before us.

Insufficient Education

Insufficient, Contradiction, Moral complication ism/
Old division, bend the mission, till we’re left with latent vision/
Ivory tower, pearly gates, not the scape, we’re sent to prison/
Complex is the situation, that we’re facin , isn’t/
A bootstrap problem, then and modern, individualism/
Claiming that we want our fates, while looking through a prism/
Deny the fact, still held intact, that social factors mount/
Adds weight upon our backs, until, we are filled with doubt/
And think we are the issue here, responsible to count/
Choices made, determinant, of what we can amount/
While profiteers, far and near, hold futures in their hands/
The School-to-Prison Pipeline does nothing but expands/
And New Jim Crow is couched, within their sordid plans/
These impossible, almost, insurmountable demands/
Are placed upon us, as we seek to get through school/
Balancing the social pressure, what we’re told is cool/
And traversing through these neighborhoods, red lined to the gills/
Economic exploitation, grounding, that kills/
Jobs are vacant, hopes are waitin, constipation trill/
Estimation, wanting statements, not measuring the skills/
Void of opportunity, take advantage of the dream/
So we turn to other means, to add up all them beans/
Things they claim are criminal, subliminal, the seams/
Are bursting with their lies, and spilling triple beams/
Constricted in the space there is, competitions thrive/
Thus violence erupts, as we’re striving to survive/
Intergenerational, the trauma is alive/
A positive, feedback loop, how dare you to contrive/
That the intersectionality is what we can abide/
When layers of oppression coalesce and deride/
Restrict the options left to us, there’s nowhere left to hide/
Hence revolt and underground, we’re designed to survive/
Stack the odds, weigh them out, and think if you could make it/
Think if only some of them, how complicated/
And explain it to me, how the bootstrap ideology,
Even gets, remotely close, to our reality/
Cuz while in school, we’re always somehow torn apart/
& We live a double consciousness, fused in one heart/
Pushing hard to make it through, cuz our families need us to/
But never quite escape, the plights our people suffer through/
Those of us who make it, a duty, obligation/
Forms by passing through this corporate situation/
To those of us, who deserve to have a fair chance at makin/
Which is everyone, but most of all, the least well off,
They have a right, to receive a decent education/
So, we’re bound to change the circumstances/
Those social factors, stacked within their paths/
So that our people can choose for themselves,
If school is something that they really want to have/

A Prisoner on the Streets of America

I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.

I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.

I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.

Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.

Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.

If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.

While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.

I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.

During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.

In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).

Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.

At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.

In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.

During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.

The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.

My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.

The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC).  I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC.  But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.

Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation.  With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.

Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.

I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.

Speech Delivered to Governor Jay Inslee November 16, 2015

Speech to Governor Inslee Nov. 16, 2015

Before beginning I must first acknowledge that we are on stolen Duwamish and Salish land.

 

Second, I would thank you for making the time to visit us at the University of Washington Governor Inslee.  There are myriad pressing issues you could have selected to devote your time to, but you have chosen to invest your time with us and your concern and interest has not gone unnoticed.  Thank you.

 

Today I am going to speak on issues of equity and how they pertain to the qualities and characteristics of the kind of Board of Regents members we desire here at the University of Washington and why.  Equity is not blind it is very intentional and it differs drastically from equality. Equality as I have come to understand it is like placing everyone from different socio-economic, racial, gender, and citizenship status backgrounds on the same starting line. On the one hand this would seem just and fair because of the concept of equality, but what it lacks is an understanding of preexisting conditions for some that translate into unfair advantages for others. Many of the non-white students here at UW are also first generation college students, which may mean that our families do not possess as much disposable income to assist us in times of need, or that when it comes to academic concerns or administrative issues they are unable or incapable of helping us. Gender is a fluid and evolving concept of identity, but one thing that is certain is that when a student does not fit into a particular definition of gender they face discrimination and marginalization. And citizenship status can often pose an almost insurmountable barrier to affording tuition or other helpful resources, regardless of the reasons a particular individual’s status is in question. These preexisting conditions and many others can make admittance into and successful completion of university programs difficult, if not, nearly impossible for many. Merely placing everyone on the same starting line is simply not enough. On the other hand, equity seeks not to establish a similar starting point rather it seeks to garner similar outcomes regardless of preexisting conditions.

 

Last week students from universities across the country staged demonstrations in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri who were protesting racial injustices and unfair responses from their administration. The demographics of University of Missouri are not unlike University of Washington, which is also a predominantly white institution; black students make up roughly eight percent and three percent of the undergraduate populations respectively. Earlier this year the students of the University of Washington staged what has been reported as the largest demonstration on campus since the 1960s when we declared a State of Emergency because of the racial and class disparities on campus, and walked out on February 25, 2015. During that demonstration we were subjected to racial epithets and as a result of further reprisals intent to silence our people through violence, which went unpunished, we determined it was necessary to challenge the unjust system of impunity with further demonstrations, much the same as the students at the University of Missouri.

 

These demonstrations are part of a much larger national struggle challenging the racial and class inequities and injustices within institutions such as law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, and education that reemerged onto the agenda of the general public with the Black Lives Matter movement. Police brutality and murder by police officers are major problems because they equate to state sanctioned violence against the people, which is extremely problematic because this violence is perpetuated in the name of and purported to be for the benefit of society. We are members of this society and this treatment is disreputable, and repugnant, humiliating and dehumanizing. Moreover, police brutality, which is nothing new to poor and minority communities is but one of the many factors that constitute the negative preexisting conditions that layer and stack upon each other to consolidate into a system of oppression and inequity.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is also a major factor contributing to the racial, class, and ethnic disparities that confront many of our communities. People of color and those with mental disabilities are three times more likely to be disciplined while at school. From the ninth grade onward, one suspension or expulsion makes a student over fifty percent more likely to wind up in juvenile detention. Once in juvenile detention they become seventy-five percent more likely to end up in the adult penitentiary system and, once in that system they are more than eighty-five percent likely to return. Many people equate these statistics to inherently ‘bad’ youth, but Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow, reveals that there is just as much if not more crime committed by white people. And one of our very own professors at the University of Washington, Katherine Beckett, the author of Making Crime Pay, has shown racial profiling is real and a serious problem even here in Seattle. So, it is not the case that students and people of color are ‘bad,’ but it is the case that we are being punished at disparaging and unfair rates.

 

The prison industrial complex is an institution grounded and founded upon extracting profit from slave labor. The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which supposedly outlawed slavery made one exception in the case of a person being convicted of committing a “crime.” That short clause provided justification for the creation, expansion, and explosion of the prison labor system. It began with convict leasing to plantations and mines that used to be worked by slaves, and now the prison industrial complex produces products that range from military equipment, to furniture, to home appliances and Correctional Industries’ website looks like any other online shopping website where people can purchase products. More troubling is the relative monopoly that Correctional Industries is granted by Washington State Law. RCW 39.26.251 states that all state agencies which include both universities and colleges must purchase the products made by Class II type prison labor. What this all equates to is an inequitable system of oppression entrenched in our largest and most prestigious institutions, which forms many of the preexisting conditions that stack and layer upon one another to create an inequitable system.

 

I was the president of my high school and the treasurer of North Seattle College and I used to be a business owner and helped the Department of Planning and Development of the City of Seattle revise it Job Order Contracting, so I am very familiar with bureaucratic governmental organizations. I was also part of the Divest UW coalition who for three years negotiated with and challenged the Board of Regents until we won a divestment from coal fire power earlier this year. I was also part of the team that helped draft and pass the City of Seattle City Council Resolution 31614: “Zero Use of Detention for Youth” in Seattle on September 21, 2015. What has been a consistent pattern is the nearly ubiquitous feeling that we as people are not being heard by the representatives that are supposed to be working on our behalf. Our UW President, Ana Mari Cauce, has done a lot to shift that phenomenon and also to address the racial and equity issues at the university, but we must do more. Although, I do not agree with all of the capitalistic and profit driven motives of the institution, I do understand that the university is operating within a capitalist system. Nonetheless, I and the many people I represent find it deplorable to be dehumanized and objectified, being reduced to dollar signs. When a human being is “thingified,” as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, it dissolves one’s perception of their moral culpability to that individual and that is problematic. We need some Board of Regents members who are not the heads of major corporations, who are leaders in marginalized communities and can represent our concerns. We need Board of Regents members who have a firm understanding of how interlocking and intersecting forms of systemic and structural oppression function to foster inequitable conditions for many people. So that when we bring our grievances we feel heard, are heard, and our concerns are responded to appropriately and in a timely manner. And most importantly, we demand that we are respected as Human Beings.

Women of Color Speak Out: Changing the Climate of Climate Change

This group of strong, dedicated, passionate, intelligent and driven women who have been engaged in the climate justice movement have come together to share their experiences as Women and as Activists.

The audience loved them!

Answering difficult questions and sharing their personal stories of growing up fused with depictions of dealing with stereotypes, racism, sexism and self-doubt, they connected with people in a way that is often hard to achieve. Many people thanked them over and over for having the courage to speak out about the things that they too have also felt, but not had the space or felt safe enough to express their truth.

They were also able to pull together many of the organizations active in the climate justice movement into a unified initiative to expose the truth of so many of our movements for justice, that is, they are being led by women; and that women of color from front-line communities need and should be at the forefront of the movement.

It was a beautiful event and I hear that there is much more to come.

Why Climate Change Matters to Black Lives

Climate change is both a global issue and an environmental justice issue that threatens people of color lives the most.

The same moral justifications that support the Department of Justice and its derivative the police institution, which permits the murder of Black and Brown people, also serves as the moral foundation for maintaining economic disparities, political disenfranchisement, environmental injustice and as a result climate change. If we want to stop killing of black people, we cannot only look at the direct killings, done by police officers we must also look at the slow, insidious killing of black people through environmental pollutants.

As with most things in this racist system, marginalized communities like people of color, migrants and poor people get the short end of the stick. (Poor) Black people are literally breathing different air than rich white people, the places with the lowest air quality and highest levels of toxins are also the places where the majority of minorities live due to the lower cost of living in these places. This is why Black people have the highest rates of asthma and why black woman have high rates of infant mortality. Although climate change is affecting the entire planet, as with everything else, black people are getting the worst of it. We have already seen this during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, where Black people were the last to be rescued from the wreckage, and with climate change these disasters are becoming more frequent. As natural disaster frequency increases, those with money and power will be able to protect their own, leaving marginalized communities to fend for themselves.

If Black Lives Matter as much as White lives, we would have already done something about climate change. But it is not the elite and privileged in the USA, England or Germany who is already being affected by climate change but black and brown lives throughout the rest of the world. Droughts have already caused thousands of preventable deaths in Africa, the monsoons are already drowning people in India, the decreased snow-pack is already causing shortages of freshwater in South America, the melting glaciers have already caused thousands of Indigenous people in the Arctic to be displaced and the rising tides have already risen over Pacific Islanders homes. The failure of the Global community to take action on climate change to stop these impacts tells us that those in power do not believe #BlackLivesMatter.

To oppose one part of the system, and in particular Police Brutality, without recognizing the larger superstructure that is maintained by racist ideologies will not serve to unhinge the system that oppresses us. This superstructure, just like police brutality, is hinged to capitalism, and capitalism, as Malcom X said, cannot exist without racism. Capitalism is an extension of colonialism, which entails the exploitation of both our people and the earth, dislocating and destroying the relationships countless peoples once had with the earth, and commodified both. The White Supremacist Ideology emerged with colonialism as the Europeans systematically exploited the labor of people of color; the Indigenous from the ‘Americas’ and the Black People stolen from the African continent to be enslaved. This is the ideology and system of justifications that has been transmitted to the contemporary corporations that continue to exploit the people and the earth. So, opposing police brutality and not the slow, insidious killing of black people through environmental pollutants is simply not enough.

Climate Change matters to Black Lives because we are the first ones impacted and the most impacted globally, and at its base are the core racist ideologies that have led us to challenge police brutality.

An Open Letter to those who Oppose the Protests in the United States

The protests that have been occurring nationally in the United States ignited because of the recent Grand Jury decisions of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but there is a much longer, older, and deeper system of oppression that tolerates and permits these decisions. These cases were the proverbial straws that “broke the camel’s back,” so to speak, that galvanized the people to action.

The negative responses about these protests are precisely the reason that the protests have continued and why some people decided to protest at the Seahawks game, most people do not know, and or disregard the importance of an unjust Department of Justice and Criminal Justice System in the United States. It is very clear that most people are not aware of the “New Jim Crow” and how the laws of the United States have been crafted not only to be discriminatory towards people of color—McCleskey  v. Kemp (1986)—but also fill in the Prison Industrial Complex with people of color at alarming rates, and disenfranchise entire populations. The legal framework that permits this new system of Jim Crow to exist is the same system that is permitting the Grand Juries to make and levy the decisions that they are making in these cases and essentially, allowing police officers to kill with impunity.

The assertion that a “thug” got what he deserved because she or he was a “criminal,” when the label of criminal is almost ubiquitously paired with being a person of color—even though the data shows that white people commit just as much if not more crime as do people of color—what is being presented is a justification for the murder of people of color by an institution established for the protection of the people.  The people who are protesting feel that either, they themselves or others are not being treated fairly by the system and are correct in the feeling. We do not feel like we are being granted the full status of People of the United States.

It is unfortunate that these protests have to occur at all and it is also unfortunate that The People had stand outside of a stadium where fans were gathering to make our complaints heard. If the system was fair and just then The People would not be taking the actions they are taking all across the country. Just that fact alone should tell the civilization of the United States something is wrong. However, what we see most are people who are upset that events are being disrupted and are presented with arguments like “get over it” and “the Grand Jury already made their decision and there is nothing you can do about it.” But as was stated earlier, this is a much bigger problem than any two Grand Jury decisions. Many people in the United States either fail to understand the depth of the injustice or choose to ignore that it is unjust and would prefer that these issues not be brought to the surface.

I challenge all of you who think that these protests are a pointless waste of time and that they should stop, to imagine, just for a moment, how you would feel and what you would do if, you were a member of a marginalized group being discriminated against and denied your rights. Then imagine that your marginalized group has also been relegated to this inferior position because of some benign characteristic that has nothing to do with your character or merits and the world tells you to “just get over it,” what would your position on the issues be then?