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Friday, October 28, 2011

Solidarity Statement from Cairo

I just left University of Penn’s Irvine Auditorium and a full house enraptured by Angela Davis, who still has fire in her soul.   She referenced and analyzed many human movements, including Occupy Wall Street.   She quoted a bit from the following statement addressed to us, by some participants in the Egyptian uprising.  Here is the whole, brilliant statement.  Read it and be inspired to move in a new direction. And by the way, I am so inspired the hundreds of young people who came out to listen to Ms. Davis tonight.  Bravo to us all.
Solidarity Statement from Cairo
To all those in the United States currently occupying parks, squares and other spaces, your comrades in Cairo are watching you in solidarity. Having received so much advice from you about transitioning to democracy, we thought it's our turn to pass on some advice.

Indeed, we are now in many ways involved in the same struggle. What most pundits call“The Arab Spring” has its roots in the demonstrations, riots, strikes and occupations taking place all around the world, its foundations lie in years-long struggles by people and popular movements. The moment that we find ourselves in is nothing new, as we in Egypt and others have been fighting against systems of repression, disenfranchisement and the unchecked ravages of global capitalism (yes, we said it, capitalism): a System that has made a world that is dangerous and cruel to its inhabitants. As the interests of government increasingly cater to the interests and comforts of private, transnational capital, our cities and homes have become progressively more abstract and violent places, subject to the casual ravages of the next economic development or urban renewal scheme.

An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things. Living under structural adjustment policies and the supposed expertise of international organizations like the World Bank and IMF, we watched as our resources, industries and public services were sold off and dismantled as the “free market” pushed an addiction to foreign goods, to foreign food even. The profits and benefits of those freed markets went elsewhere, while Egypt and other countries in the South found their immiseration reinforced by a massive increase in police repression and torture.

The current crisis in America and Western Europe has begun to bring this reality home to you as well: that as things stand we will all work ourselves raw, our backs broken by personal debt and public austerity. Not content with carving out the remnants of the public sphere and the welfare state, capitalism and the austerity-state now even attack the private realm and people's right to decent dwelling as thousands of foreclosed-upon homeowners find themselves both homeless and indebted to the banks who have forced them on to the streets.

So we stand with you not just in your attempts to bring down the old but to experiment with the new. We are not protesting. Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant? We are occupying. We are reclaiming those same spaces of public practice that have been commodified, privatized and locked into the hands of faceless bureaucracy , real estate portfolios, and police ‘protection’. Hold on to these spaces, nurture them, and let the boundaries of your occupations grow. After all, who built these parks, these plazas, these buildings? Whose labor made them real and livable? Why should it seem so natural that they should be withheld from us, policed and disciplined? Reclaiming these spaces and managing them justly and collectively is proof enough of our legitimacy.

In our own occupations of Tahrir, we encountered people entering the Square every day in tears because it was the first time they had walked through those streets and spaces without being harassed by police; it is not just the ideas that are important, these spaces are fundamental to the possibility of a new world. These are public spaces. Spaces forgathering, leisure, meeting, and interacting – these spaces should be the reason we live in cities. Where the state and the interests of owners have made them inaccessible, exclusive or dangerous, it is up to us to make sure that they are safe, inclusive and just. We have and must continue to open them to anyone that wants to build a better world, particularly for the marginalized, excluded and for those groups who have suffered the worst .

What you do in these spaces is neither as grandiose and abstract nor as quotidian as “real democracy”; the nascent forms of praxis and social engagement being made in the occupations avoid the empty ideals and stale parliamentarianism that the term democracy has come to represent. And so the occupations must continue, because there is no one left to ask for reform. They must continue because we are creating what we can no longer wait for.
But the ideologies of property and propriety will manifest themselves again. Whether through the overt opposition of property owners or municipalities to your encampments or the more subtle attempts to control space through traffic regulations, anti-camping laws or health and safety rules. There is a direct conflict between what we seek to make of our cities and our spaces and what the law and the systems of policing standing behind it would have us do.
We faced such direct and indirect violence , and continue to face it . Those who said that the Egyptian revolution was peaceful did not see the horrors that police visited upon us, nor did they see the resistance and even force that revolutionaries used against the police to defend their tentative occupations and spaces: by the government's own admission; 99 police stations were put to the torch, thousands of police cars were destroyed, and all of the ruling party's offices around Egypt were burned down. Barricades were erected, officers were beaten back and pelted with rocks even as they fired tear gas and live ammunition on us. But at the end of the day on the 28 th of January they retreated, and we had won our cities.

It is not our desire to participate in violence, but it is even less our desire to lose. If we do not resist, actively, when they come to take what we have won back, then we will surely lose. Do not confuse the tactics that we used when we shouted “peaceful” with fetishizing nonviolence; if the state had given up immediately we would have been overjoyed, but as they sought to abuse us, beat us, kill us, we knew that there was no other option than to fight back. Had we laid down and allowed ourselves to be arrested, tortured, and martyred to “make a point”, we would be no less bloodied, beaten and dead. Be prepared to defend these things you have occupied, that you are building, because, after everything else has been taken from us, these reclaimed spaces are so very precious.

By way of concluding then, our only real advice to you is to continue, keep going and do not stop. Occupy more, find each other, build larger and larger networks and keep discovering new ways to experiment with social life, consensus, and democracy. Discover new ways to use these spaces, discover new ways to hold on to them and never givethem up again. Resist fiercely when you are under attack, but otherwise take pleasure in what you are doing, let it be easy, fun even. We are all watching one another now, and from Cairo we want to say that we are in solidarity with you, and we love you all for what you are doing.

Comrades from Cairo.
24th of October, 2011.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Conversations with Writers- Octavia McBride-Ahebee

Painting by Zhang Yaowu

Here’s a link to my interview with Conversations With Writers( Oct. 26, 2011) in promotion of my new collection of Poetry-Where My Birthmark Dances, published by Finishing Line Press.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Support Film Project: The Undocumented by Filmmaker Marco Williams

This skull, part of the remains of a 26 year-old migrant woman,
was found in a remote stretch of Arizona's Sonora desert.

...though you are brave
a believer in dragons and dinosaurs
and their messy intrigues
I will spare you
the whole truth of her journey to you…
                                           from Where My Birthmark Dances
                                                                By Octavia McBride-Ahebee
above photos are of shoes found in the Arizona desert; shoes of migrants who have died in the desert.   Deborah McCullough is an artist who uses objects left behind by dead migrants, many who remain unknown, to remind us of the human cost to aspire, of “the vastness of desire.”  There is also a photo of  a bible and a cross made by a migrant out of aluminum foil as a last bid for mercy. 
Thousands of people ride the oceans’ waves, cross deserts, crawl through tunnels and scale fences in search of what we want; “ to eat, to laugh, to grow into ideas.”  As a society, we have failed to respect them, to extend protections and to promote foreign policies that would negate them from leaving their home countries in the first place.
I am a major devotee of the work of independent filmmaker Marco Williams. His body of films include In Search of Our Fathers, Inside the New Black Panthers, I Sit Where I Want; The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education and  Freedom Summer to name a few.  He is now working to complete his documentary called The Undocumented.   Here is a link to the trailer.
Mr. Williams needs our support to help him complete this project.  Kickstarter, the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, allows us-the every person-to fund projects we believe in.  Kickstarter allows artists to deliver a truth not diluted and distorted by corporate and political dollars.  Here’s the link to Marco Williams discussing the importance of The Undocumented:
Here is the link to Kickstarter and your way to lend support to this project.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jean Binta Breeze-

Jamaica Poet Jean Binta Breeze

I adore her melodious, enchanting and very honest delivery.  Give yourself a morning treat and have a listen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

An Overdue Victory for Zoliswa Nkonyana

Photos-Zanele Muholi
Photo-Zanele Muholi
Photo- Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi is a South African, lesbian photographer who uses her photos as a form of activism.  Muholi has documented more than 50 rapes targeting lesbians in various South African townships as well as continues to capture the everyday lives of women who dare to love.

More than six years ago, 19 year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana was beaten to death because she was a lesbian. According to the Mail & Guardian, “In what gay lobby groups have termed a classic hate crime, the 19-year-old was clubbed, kicked and beaten to death by a mob of about 20 young men on February 4, 2006. The youths, aged between 17 and 20, chased Nkonyana, pelted her with bricks and finally beat her with a golf club a few metres from her home. ..”

Finally after five years of postponements, last week four men were convicted of the murder of Zoliswa Nkonyana and three others were acquitted of the original 9 arrested. To learn more about this case and the particular challenges of Black lesbians in South Africa read the following article by Diane Anderson-Minshall .

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Under Our Skin, Too;Breast Cancer Around the World- For Ahou

Painting by Eric Larkin

My daughter was born on a Thursday, in Cote d’Ivoire into the Akan group of the Baoule.  Though my husband and I had already decided to name our first child Sojourner after the indomitable Sojourner Truth, we had decided her middle name would be the traditional name designated for the day of the week in which she would be born.  There was one caveat; if she was born on a Thursday, my husband was insistent that Sojourner would not be given the name of Ahou.  

For both us, names carried powers and omens of their own and my husband’s mother, who was named Ahou, had had such a difficult life.  And her ending was especially full of torment because she died of untreated breast cancer.  My husband had witnessed her agonizing exit out of this world.  He did not want his daughter burdened by his mother’s history.
Our daughter was born on a Thursday. And though Sojourner does not carry the name of her paternal grandmother-Ahou-, she is every bit the feisty, proud person that her maymay was. Ahou, Ahou, Ahou…
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I invite my readers to consider women in other parts of the world and uninsured women here, in the United States, who have no access or very limited access to healthcare that could save their lives.
I wrote the following poem in memory of my mother-in-law and those traditional healers who, in the face of unfamiliar and rapacious challenges like breast cancer, are undeterred in their search for a cure.

Homesick Spirits
By Octavia McBride-Ahebee

                                                    Aya brought back,
                                                                 carrying vestiges of her pride in her hip,
                                                                                   a caged bird from the city
                                                   whose tongue had been eaten
                                                                            by the whipping tongues of red-headed salamanders
                                                   and whose throat, tautly strapped in a malachite choker
                                                                                 with gems made of coffee and bark,
                                                                                              danced holding the cadence of lost crickets.
                              Aya, our village healer,
                                                                                       the child who pushed
feet first into an empty Friday
                                                                                                                    had grown flat, faithless in the knowledge
                                                                     of her plants
                                               in their power to seduce with fragrance and fear
                                                    these new homesick spirits
who stand at the doors of our breasts
                                                                 bu ld
                                                                                   ing tunnels with its anger to the tips
where our children once sucked relief
from the taunts of companion spirits who float alone.

I tore-off the dry reeds of my roof
cutting it with a dead cross
dressed in tired, singing cowry shells
to let in the weight and tales of the rain
waiting beneath the stomach of a headless pain
to offer my breast to a star in wanderlust
                                                     after I had c l awe
                                        the earth with the whole
                                    of my body
tempting it with the blood of dense life
                                 if it would feast on the whole of my left dreams
                                                                           But Aya, my friend with two daughters
                       who lay in the ground with faces down,
                                                                                  hooded in dyed Guinea cloth
with one breast between them,

said be                                   p a t i e n t ,
                                                                      homesick spirits, she recently learned,
preferred to feed on the sorrow of silenced birds

                                                       than  r
                                                                  t inside an aged breast
                 hangs    w                       th                  no
                                                                   -the end-





Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Combs Have Names- A Hair Story

Painting By Endia Summer

Here is the link to my first guest post for Blackgirl Flow, a blog emanating from  England and run by some very  conscientious, fashion-minded African-British ladies.  Here it is :

Monday, October 10, 2011

All That You Have Is Your Soul- Bravo to the Poets Brigade Marching on Wall Street

Tracey Chapman by Guillermo Contreras
Listen to Chapman's All That You Have is Your Soul

Poet Charles Bernstein

Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Nobel Prize for Peace is For Our Daughters

This year's prize is for you.
Karman, Gbowee, Sirleaf

I received with great joy today’s announcement by the Nobel Prize committee that Liberia’s  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and  Leymah Gbowee and Yemen’s Tawakul Karman received this year’s prize for peace. My visit to Liberia and my years spent in Cote d’Ivoire were ones that coincided with Liberia’s horrific civil war.  Hundreds of thousands of Liberians found refuge in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire and many became my dear friends as well as the subject of my literary work.  War exacts a brutal toll, especially with regard to women. As Virginia Woolf stated, “War is not women’s history,” and so it is necessary to tell and celebrate herstories, particularly in the context of something we did not create.   Bravo not only to the individual women who won this award, but to the millions of women whose simple allegiance to human decency raises the bar for us all.

Listen to Malian singer Rokia Traore.  Her voice embodies gentle hope.

Derrick Bell- A Life of Ethical Ambition

During a recent interview, I discussed at length and with great passion the lasting influence of a great teacher. As a teacher myself, I never tire of hearing stories from other people about their encounters with phenomenal educators.  My friend and wonderful playwright, Mona R. Washington, always shared her love and respect for her law professor Derrick Bell, who died yesterday.  He was Harvard Law School's first tenured African-American law professor. Though many of us may only know Professor Bell through his seminal work on racism in the United States and his brave activism, I had the privilege of listening to Ms. Washington, who had maintained her relationship with Prof. Bell over the years, praise his insight, his brilliance and his generosity.

Here is a link in honor of this great mind and soulful activist.

Here's Al Green singing A Change's Gonna Come