Square image with test that begins "if our survival is to be Jewish by tema okun"

we have become / the pharaoh

I have been so incredibly grateful for the leadership and energy of people like Jewish Voice for Peace who are making it abundantly clear that there are many many of us American Jews that do not support Israel at the expense of Palestinian human rights. The best time to make this clear would have been decades ago but the second best time is right now.

For years I have been called “antisemitic” by Jews who conflate Israel with the Jewish people. Not only do we not owe any loyalty to that colonial apartheid state, I believe Jews are actively harmed by their actions as Israel rightly becomes a global pariah and claims to be acting for US!

Tema Okun is a long-time anti-racist trainer and changemaker. She is the author of the widely circulated article “White Supremacy Culture” which was originally written and published in 1999 and continues to educate and transform the way white people understand ourselves and our impact in the world. Last week, Tema offered us this poem, “If our survival is to be Jewish.”

If our survival is to be Jewish

i

my tears are crying
I am drowning

no longer wandering
in the wilderness
we have become
the pharaoh

ii

centuries of
sacred celebration
and suffering
sunk into strident subjugation

the mirror is cracking

iii

my despair is desperate
I am trembling

our prayers
so full of longing
mock us

we chant
in the shade
of a homeland
shuttering for half a century
the lives of humans
we push out of sight behind
(prison) Walls

iv

my anger is angry
I am shaking

our silence grows deadly
with the deal we’ve made
to defend our hearts
from knowing
they love their children
their laughter their lives
as much as we do

v

my rage is raging
I am bent
over

Jewish godmother to
an exuberant Palestinian boy,
now a man

my love for him
a kind of genesis,
his love for me a kind of grace

he would hate us
otherwise

not any kind of anti-Semitism

consequences
for making of him a demon,
and discarding him daily in the dust
of so many, too many checkpoints

vi

my trauma is traumatized
I am broken

we condemn them
for making corpses of
our children
as we make corpses
of theirs

the math of it
is bleeding us

dry

vii

my people, my Jewish people,
I don’t know how to reach you

our fear is afraid
and forgets
we are the ones
settling, seizing, sequestering

we pile fear upon fear like
stacks of rubble from
houses demolished
dreams destroyed
for decades

viii

my grief is grieving
I am wailing

we did not outlive
the horrors of holocaust
to hoard survival
like this

to hollow ourselves out

ix

or did we

x

my people, my Jewish people,

tell me it is not too late
to choose another way.

Tema Okun, Oct. 26, 2023
Cassandra at the peak of her madness.

the madness of seeing

Sinead O’Connor’s death has me wondering if it’s even possible to exist and thrive while living a life of integrity.

Another Cassandra that tried to warn us and was rewarded with derision and exclusion. How can we ever learn if we don’t listen to the voices of integrity?

tribute for shuhada sadaqat – sinéad o’connor
by adrienne maree brown, 7/30/23

what comes first 

the madness of seeing thru

to the truth of an institution, a time

or the bravery to point

to show everyone what you see

i suspect it’s the survival

of a brutal childhood

& being told to recover

& being told you are resilient

& being told you are beautiful

when you already know the cost

of looking thru sweet fairy eyes

upon corruption

Continue reading “the madness of seeing”
adrienne maree brown

some of us are never surprised

Wow, I have so much to say about this tragically historic moment in time that we are living through, starting with we fucking told you so.

But while I try to get my head together to write something more articulate than that, here is a new poem from the brilliant visionary adrienne maree brown.

what is unveiled? the founding wound. (poem/directive)

January 7, 2021

a body is always a body
individual or collective
(whole or in many pieces)
alive or, later, dead
a body is always vulnerable

a wound is always a wound
singular and deep
or many cuts, slowly, blood everywhere
left untreated, unstaunched, denied
a wound will always fester

the first wound happens within
the violence of birth
the expulsion from the illusion of safety
from the idea that someone (else)
will do all the labor

and some of us keep looking everywhere
for placenta, for mothering
for acceptance of our worst choices
to be told we are so special
to be named a favorite child

some of us learn to work
we are given tools, lectures, practices
we are given the blessing of knowing
that work to nourish the collective
is a sacred path for our lives

some are only taught to eat
given the title to land that isn’t ours
judged for the speck of dirt under our nails
set to race against even our own kin
for the neverending victory of more

some of us are black
still nauseous from the boat’s hold
still catching our breath from snapped ropes
still oiling our calloused field hands
and still wounded

some of us are white
still synonymous with impossible purity
still given no songs from the earth
still taught to master nothing but superiority
and still, wounded

some of us are red, yellow, brown
still made to feel tertiary to the plot
still dismissed for all we remember
still claiming we are human, not terrorist
and, still wounded

some of us are never surprised
never apoplectic when the stench hits us
what rots at the core is known, documented
it is tangible, moral, American, spiritual
it is the founding wound

gray only at the surface
brittle black where the injury began
a rainbow of bruising everywhere
green mold making life in dying flesh
but the pus, the pus bursts white

we are well past the age of turning inwards
of seeing the open wounds on our souls
of stepping into our shadows with truth light
of seeing we were shaped, and can change
of believing the wound is who we are

we know the smell of decay on breath
we see the swollen cracking flesh of infection
it is not rude to acknowledge the stink
to wonder if it is viral, venom, survivable
to look for the laceration(s)

things are not getting worse
they are getting uncovered
we must hold each other tight
and continue to pull back the veil
see: we, the body, we are the wounded place

we live on a resilient earth
where change is the only constant
in bodies whose only true whiteness
is the blood cell that fights infection
and the bone that holds the marrow

remove the shrapnel, clean the wound
relinquish inflammation, let the chaos calm
the body knows how to scab like lava stone
eventually leaving the smooth marring scars
of lessons learned:

denial will not disappear a wound

the wound is not the body

a body cannot be divided into multiple living entities (what us will go on breathing?)

the founder’s wound is the myth of supremacy

this is not the first wound, or the last

we are a species before we are a nation, and after

warriors, organizers, storytellers, dreamers – all of us are healers

the healing path is humility, laughter, truth, awareness and choice

a scab is a boundary on territory, between what is within and what is without, when the line has been breached

stop picking at the scab, it slows the healing

until we are dead, and even when we are exhausted and faithless, we fight for life

we are our only relevant hope
we are our only possible medicine

a body is always a body
wounded, festering, healing, healed
we choose each day what body we will shape
with the miraculous material we’re gifted
let us, finally, attend to the wound
let us, finally, name the violence
let us, finally, break the cycle of supremacy
let us, finally, choose ourselves whole
let us, finally, love ourselves
whole.

http://adriennemareebrown.net/2021/01/07/what-is-unveiled-the-founding-wound-poem-directive/

Ruby getting arrested in Graham, NC

None of us are free until all of us are free

One year ago today, I and eight other lovely humans were arrested by the Graham Police Department as we attempted to walk to the Alamance County Detention Center and hold a Jewish-led ceremony to say #NeverAgain, to mourn the many who have suffered at the hands of ICE, and to protect the ICE detainees currently held by Alamance County’s racist sheriff Terry Johnson.

Half of the group is STILL being charged, but the nine of us are fortunate to have the freedom to not be detained while we await trials. Unfortunately others are not as lucky. With COVID the jail is even more inhumane than ever. Please donate to Down Home North Carolina’s bailout fund to free as many people as possible:

https://downhomenc.org/2020/09/10/mass-bail-out-down-home-alamance-begins-securing-the-release-of-people-incarcerated-during-massive-covid-outbreak-in-the-alamance-county-jail/

Rest in power, Monica Roberts

Monica Roberts, the original TransGriot, just passed away. She was an absolute titan. In the early blogging days I heard about her pioneering work, telling stories of people that hardly anyone was even thinking about at the time, especially online.

She received a lifetime achievement award at the Creating Change conference that I attended in January this year in her home state of Texas, where she was very well known and respected in politics as well as the queer community. At the conference there was always a flock of people around her. Everyone knew who she was and adored her.

Tragically, there are not enough elders in the trans community, even less Black trans women. She meant so much to so many people. She is absolutely one of the great giants on whose shoulders today’s leaders stand.

This video gives a good introduction to her.

Header photo by me of Monica speaking through a megaphone at a rally for Black trans lives at Creating Change 2020 in Dallas, TX.

Crowd of protesters facing sheriffs deputies and riot police

Challenging racism and saving souls in Alamance County

Ten months ago, I joined hundreds of Jews, immigrants, and our friends in Graham, North Carolina to say “no more” to the the cruel, racist, and unnecessary practices of ICE and to call out Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson‘s enthusiastic enforcement of their white supremacist agenda. I was arrested at that demonstration, along with nine other lovely human beings.

In the months since then, two things have become even more clear than before. One, our government has no regard for civil rights, human dignity, or democracy and will stop at nothing to promote the interests of the rich, white, and powerful at the expense of everyone else. And two, there are some people in and around Alamance County that will happily and shamelessly attempt to shut down peaceful dissent if it in any way challenges their racist assumptions about the world. (Alamance County is the home base of neo-confederate ACTBAC.) But we’ve also learned that there are even more people in and around Alamance that believe that Black Lives Matter and that protest is patriotic, and they’ve been bravely showing up in the streets of Graham for the past several months.

When I drove to the Never Again protest on November 24, I wasn’t aware there was a Confederate statue in Graham. I learned later that the Sheriff had sent his troopers to the town square to protect it from the imagined threat. Meanwhile, we were four blocks away attempting to peacefully march to the Alamance Detention Center so that we could say the Mourner’s Kaddish, sit shiva, and observe other Jewish rituals in remembrance of the many people who have died in ICE custody. Unfortunately, the racist Sheriff Terry Johnson would not allow this to happen. Ironically, once we were arrested we were transported by the county directly to the same detention center that they prevented us from walking to!

Ruby getting arrested in Graham, NC
Photo of me (Ruby Sinreich) being arrested by Officer Ellis of the Haw River Police Department at a protest against ICE and Sheriff Terry Johnson in Graham, North Carolina on November 24, 2019. Photo by Anthony Crider https://www.flickr.com/photos/acrider/49118904508/

As Jews we have a special responsibility to remember the horrors of government-backed xenophobia, the dangers of draconian law enforcement, and the nightmare of illegal incarceration and family separation. When we say NEVER AGAIN, we must mean it. We cannot idly watch the actions of federal, state, and local government as they gradually but steadily march toward fascism. Those of us with privilege are called to spend it now in many forms of resistance large and small to stop the gears of authoritarianism, save people’s lives, and in doing so, save our own souls.

This summer, nonviolent protesters speaking out for Black lives and against the Confederate statue were arrested on a public sidewalk. (The ACLU of NC sued the town of Graham over their anti-protest ordinance and won.) And in recent weeks, as we have learned about a tragic and predictable COVID-19 outbreak at the Alamance detention center, people speaking out for health and human rights were arrested for such nonexistent offenses as swearing in the presence of a police officer.

It’s now undeniable that Alamance County officials have a racism problem, and that elected leaders are not concerned about the health or human rights of their residents. Alamance has the biggest prison COVID outbreak in the state of North Carolina with over 100 cases (out of just about 400 incarcerated people), far surpassing big cities like Charlotte and Raleigh. Thankfully the wonderful people of Down Home NC are working to free as many people from this nightmare as possible by raising bail funds.

In this new context of weekly demonstrations for and against racism in Alamance County, the town of Graham’s reactionary attempts to squelch free speech, and the increasingly grim reality of living in an uncontrolled pandemic stoked by racism, toxic masculinity, and ignorance, the nine of us arrested in Graham last November are scheduled to have our second appearance in court next week! You can show your support for us by donating to the Alamance Mass Bail Out.

Never Again Action in Graham (2019 Nov)
Enjoy scrolling through this album of Tony Crider’s excellent photos from November 24, 2019 in Graham.


unbalanced rocks

Halfway between moral and immoral = nowhere

In There’s Nothing Virtuous About Finding Common Ground, Tayari Jones asks “When we revisit our shameful past, ask yourself, Where was the middle? Rather than chattel slavery, perhaps we could agree on a nice program of indentured servitude? “

Or maybe we can “compromise” on abortion and just let rich people get them? Yeah, NO.

As a Buddhist I must tell you that the “middle” is rarely the place of balance.

I strive to see the Buddha nature (good potential) in every human. Even the cretin in the White House. In fact, it’s not hard for me to see how much he is suffering from his own delusions and fears. But that doesn’t mean I have to see things his way. Understanding his motivations can be useful, but there’s nothing I can do to make people like him listen to me without severely compromising my own values.

Which brings me to the point of this work, making the world a better place. One of the reasons that most Democrats have been unable to win is that for the past 25 years they have been trying to sell themselves as friendlier Republicans. To win long-term they need a compelling vision that energizes voters and emphasizes progressive values (a la Lakoff‘s Don’t Think of an Elephant). Instead they’ve been letting consultants lead them by the nose to eke out marginal victories based on big money tactics. They occasionally win the battle for votes but they lose the war for hearts and minds. The Overton Window shifts ever rightward and now we are debating whether trans people have rights and whether migrant children should be treated like human beings.

Which brings me back to the strategic futility (as well as moral failure) of trying to compromise with people who want to annihilate us. I’m not saying to write them off. They are people too, and frankly they need help to come back to a place of love and humanity. But validating their hateful and counterfactual ideas won’t do that.

(I edited this post to add some thoughts that I wrote in response to en e-mail discussion of Jones’s article.)

Flippable districts according to Swing Left

We have to do a lot more than voting, but vote we must

The Washington Post writes today that a survey of battleground House districts shows Democrats with [a] narrow edge. But you know those elections aren’t going to win themselves. Thanks to gerrymandering, the votes of people like me who are packed into safe Democratic districts won’t make much difference. But there are potentially-swing districts in North Carolina. It’s a much more diverse state than the leaders of the N.C. General Assembly would have us believe, and there are still some districts where voters can chose their representatives instead of the other way around.

Flippable districts according to Swing Left

Flippable districts according to Swing Left

Look at all these places within driving distance of cities in NC where we can be supporting Democratic campaigns right now. 👉🏽

Indivisible/Flip NC is organizing canvasses in districts right here in the Triangle and I will be joining them to knock on doors next weekend (thanks in part to a nudge from a civic-minded friend). It’s not the most fun way to spend my free time, but I won’t be able to live with myself if we miss this opportunity to reduce the power of of the most greedy, craven, imperialist, chauvinist, white supremacist political party I’ve seen in my lifetime.

As I have been saying over and over: if one more person tells me we can vote our way our of this mess I am going to scream. Given extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression, Russian manipulation, billionaire megadonors, media complicity, nihilist Republicans, and feckless Democrats there is only so much that voting can do, and we have to vote circles around the Republicans just to win something slightly closer to representative. We have to do a lot more than voting, but vote we must.

Excerpt of "Home" by Warsan Shire

Home

Home by Warsan Shire, 2011

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here