November 27, 2009 - 10:33 AM
This time of the year always makes me think a lot. I love Thanksgiving so much: I love the food and the whole focus of the day, which seems to be eating and spending time with people you love. That's a day I can get behind with my whole self.
But it reminds me of so many things. Some are wonderful, like the people who have been so important in my life, and who I love so dearly. Some things I think of are just as important, but are less joyful. I think about the people for whom Thanksgiving is a less joyful time, or perhaps a time of true struggle or sadness. I think this is an important balance.
I'm back in Portland for Thanksgiving, enjoying a third year celebrating with my friend Maddy and her family and friends. I am so grateful to these people who have taken me in time after time, and who treat me as a part of their extended family. I'm always lonely for my home and family traditions during this holiday, but I have fabulous people here, with traditions I am beginning to think of as part of my own.
So I'm thankful to my family here.
I'm thankful for my family back home, for our health and wellness. I'm so thankful that my grandmother cooked Thanksgiving again this year: at 90 years of age, she's still alive and cooking up a mean turkey dinner! I'm grateful for the support and love of my family in Denver.
I'm grateful for so many of my friends, here and at home. I have an unbelievable assortment of people in my life: people who are remarkable for their dedication to affecting change, for their kindness and love, for their humor and happiness. I am so thankful for my family in Oregon: the group of eight friends who have been completely essential to my experience at the UO. I'm thinking about my friends at the Wesley Center and how I'm grateful for that place. I'm so happy to have the Inside-Out Program in my life, as well as the people at Volunteers in Medicine and No More Deaths and Food for Lane County. I can't believe my luck for the teachers and professors who have so shaped my life.
If life can be broken down into a series of relationships, then I cannot be seen as anything other than a person who has been incredibly blessed.
Now, a quick story. I drove up to Portland yesterday with a group of friends. The traffic was terrible, of course, but it did allow for a lot of time for thought. I thought most about the highway and the other times I've headed north in a packed car. I thought constantly about my trips to Salem with the Inside-Out Program, heading to the Oregon State Penitentiary for classes. First, I am so thankful that I had that experience: that I met all those people and experienced the power of education to unify and equalize people. But I can't help but wonder what Thanksgiving looks like in a prison. I'm sure there is special food of some kind, and probably some kind of special program. But... Thanksgiving is about celebrating friendships and family. It's about being with the people you love. I can't imagine the holiday season behind bars. And the families of those who are incarcerated: what of them?
So I spent a good amount of time just sitting with thoughts of the inside students I met through Inside-Out. I sent my well wishes and thoughts their way while passing the freeway exit, and again yesterday while eating dinner. I hope they know I'm thinking of them.
I cannot imagine this time of year without the overflowing of food and love that I have always experienced. It is a time of plenty. But not for everyone. That's not a morbid topic for this time of year: it is a recognition of the truth. There are many who do not have the means for a holiday. So I'm sending my thoughts out to them in the midst of my Thanksgiving happiness and thankfulness. I'm renewing my determination to work for equality and justice in the world, both here and abroad. I'm more certain than ever that this is my path in life: to ease suffering and combat injustice.
So, for all those I love and need and am inspired by: thank you. And let's be thankful for the wild serendipity that our lives have come together in this way. And for all there is to be done in the world: I am so grateful for this chance to effect change.
November 23, 2009 - 8:59 PM
"We need a media that covers power, not that covers for power. We need a media that is the fourth estate, not a media that is for the state."
Where you get your news matters. I belong to a generation infamous for its lack of information about the happenings of the world. Statistically, we're not paying attention. And, until the mid-term elections of 2006, we didn't vote.
Things are changing. You've got to believe it.
I've seen studies bemoaning our fascination with shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report. The older generations look at these newscasts with their fart jokes and blatant disrespect of authority and wonder what's becoming of the world. But here's the catch: Stewart and Colbert mock everyone equally. They're out to see some kind of truth come from their newscasts, and they aren't presenting each report as gospel. We know they're biased.
I am coming to believe that independent media is the most important tool in the world.
I don't remember exactly how I discovered Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! It was sometime sophomore year, and it honestly might have been an accident: I went through an excited discovery period with podcasts on itunes, and it is very possible that I stumbled on this newscast completely by accident. Now it's a part of my daily life.
Democracy Now! is a daily hour-long news broadcast available on independent TV and radio stations across the country. They are broadcasting on over 800 radio stations and are even available in several countries abroad, and provide the headlines in Spanish for any station to use. Every news report is an hour long, with about ten minutes of headlines, then 45 minutes of speeches, interviews, and explorations of the complicated topics and debates of the day. Through Democracy Now! I have arrived at an understanding of the healthcare debate. I have heard multiple sides of the economic crisis, of the environmental crisis to be discussed at Copenhagen, and a continued and dedicated coverage of such obscure and essential news as the coup in Honduras. These aren't soundbites. These are true explorations of the issues.
Imagine my excitement when I saw the front page of the Eugene Weekly, announcing that Amy Goodman would be visiting Eugene for a speaking event.
Yesterday I raced from one thing to another, running through downtown Eugene to the Wow Hall to see Amy Goodman speak.
It was a fabulous event. It was a little disorienting at first: this is someone's voice I hear for an hour five days a week. Even when I'm at my busiest, I listen to all of their headline segments, and catch up on the interviews as I'm walking from class to class. To actually be present as she ran through the information on Democracy Now! as she does every day was amazing. Plus, she's a great speaker: that's what she does for a living. She spoke for more than an hour, telling stories, speaking to the importance of independent media, and addressing some of the important issues of the day: health care, media integrity, military suicides, environmentalism, and the freedom of the press. She talked about being arrested while reporting on the Republican National Convention and about her experience with the health care system as her mother was dying just over a month ago. She told stories about the families of soldiers who have taken their own lives and the needs of our military personnel for adequate mental health services. She talked about a visit to Frederick Douglas's grave and his importance in American history and the depth of irony that the estate where he was sent to a slave breaker, Mount Misery, is now the vacation home of Donald Rumsfeld.
She asked us how Americans were supposed to understand complicated issues if the corporate media was unwilling to discuss most things for more than the 8-9 second sound bites. She told us that when she first started broadcasting, she was told that broadcasting whole speeches would be disastrous for her popularity because "young people don't have the attention span." The crowd yesterday was full of young people. We want to hear all of it, not just the most controversial three sentences. Even so, she found a way to explain a single payer health care system in less than five seconds: "Lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to the day a person is born." Here is a woman who is thinking through the issues: who sees what needs to be said and who is broadcasting it to the world.
Access to information is essential. It is the root of the power to affect change in the world. A democracy without a free press is unthinkable. But a democracy where the media is owned by a few corporate entities, and therefore acts as a mouthpiece for the interests of the few and powerful is a modern reality that is incredibly dangerous. I am so grateful to Amy Goodman and the whole array of people who work for Democracy Now!. I so appreciate NPR and Pacifica Radio. I love that I can access mainstream news and see the balance of information available through independent news as a measure for quality reporting. If you have never listened to Democracy Now!, I highly recommend it: it is available for download or for free on itunes podcasts. It is more than worth your time.
A parting thought: while information is power, it is also dangerous. To a certain extent, inaction is permissible if you can somehow claim ignorance. If you actually have access to the truth of the need for action in the world, you might be trapped into doing something about the injustices around you. Amy Goodman told us that "Obama's election opened a door in the wall of division in this country. Whether that door opens further or is slammed shut is up to us: up to the activist and the organizers." In my experience, to know the facts is to care about the outcomes. And that necessitates action. So listen, friends, and organize! Maybe this is our time.
November 22, 2009 - 3:04 PM
I love doing volunteer work. I always have. There's just something about it that makes me feel really awesome. I get into a semi-competitive groove and work like mad to get things done as quickly and efficiently as possible. That's how I feel when I'm at Volunteers in Medicine and how I felt on my mission trip in Belize, when we worked on the final stages of a pre school, putting up the ceiling, painting the kitchen, constructing and finishing desks, and generally getting things put together.
The summer after high school I volunteered at a food bank in Denver once a week, on the day that they had a produce and perishables distribution. I'd get there early and set up tables in an outdoor courtyard, a line would start to form, and then the trucks would roll in and we'd be drowning in vegetables and juice bottles and day-old bread. I loved that part: that every week we had some different combination of food to hand out and that we would have to frantically arrange things in the courtyard, put quantities on each food, and then usher people through and let them pick out their food. I felt like the Organizer Supreme, directing traffic and keeping the tables stocked. But I was also a volunteer speaking with people as they moved through the line, and week after week I would see the same faces and start to learn names. I wore a necklace one of the clients gave me consistently every week, and wear it still as a kind of rosary: it is a necklace of brown wooden beads on a black shoestring. I'd pull the beads through my fingers while working through food quantities or listening to people's stories from the past week. It was a fabulous job.
While I love the face-to-face time that I had in that position and at jobs like Volunteers in Medicine, I also honestly love the hard work that doesn't involve anything except moving things around. I love volunteering somewhere that my whole job has to do with sorting cans or stacking boxes.
Food for Lane County is a fabulous place for me. I wish I could spend much more time there than I do: there is such a variety of volunteer positions and opportunities. For any of you not from Eugene, Food for Lane County is a central food bank that supplies most of the food distribution around Eugene. They receive donations of non-perishable foods, as well as repackaging excess food from restaurants (especially the University of Oregon cafeterias), packaging and distributing bulk donations, running soup kitchens and packing lunches for school kids, and growing their own organic produce in volunteer-run gardens. They work with churches, schools, food banks, and other organizations. Social services around Eugene (like the women's shelter and homes for people with mental illnesses) rely on them for the food they supply their clients. It is a fabulously organized and incredibly beneficial place.
Last Tuesday I went with the Wesley Center [ link www.uowesleycenter.blogspot.com ] to volunteer as a group. This is the third year we've gone, and we are hoping to go twice more before the end of the school year. It's a fabulous thing to do as a group: you have time to socialize as usual, but it's conversation on your feet, keeping your hands busy.
Our job was repackaging a huge container of dry oatmeal into small bags that could be distributed to individuals. We went through two one-ton bags of that stuff. We labeled all the small bags and boxes with nutrition information with stickers, then scooped small bucketfuls into the bags, sealed them, packed them into small cardboard boxes, and sealed those. They were then taken into the warehouse, which is a huge room filled with food to be distributed.
I loved it. The whole thing. There's something so soothing about the kind of work that is just moving through a process. I spend almost all my normal life in heavy cerebral mode: studying, listening to speakers and the news, interpreting, writing, and on and on. Putting stickers on those bags was an amazing opportunity to do something I thought was important while also allowing my body to take over while my brain checked out. And I'm fast. It's sort of a silly thing to be proud of, but once I get moving I am the queen of the assembly line. Set it up, move it along. I might have even made some of my friends a little nervous as my suppressed Control Freak side stepped up and got everyone going. But man, we moved that oatmeal.
The other thing I appreciate so much about Food for Lane County is knowing that all the volunteers that work on each project add up to something that is hugely important and efficient. The end recipients of that oatmeal will get a box with my small contribution along with cans of vegetables, fruit, and protein, bags of dried beans and pasta, fresh organic produce, and milk. The oatmeal is just one part of it. But it's a part I laid my hands on, a part I moved along. And that is an incredible blessing, if you ask me.
Plus that good ache of having worked hard at the end of a day is such a great feeling. After weeks of the cramped ache of crouching over a computer or neck pain from bending over classroom notes, it's nice to feel like I've strained the arm muscles while getting someone fed.
This is the season, readers. I'm sure there's a Food for Lane County-type place somewhere near you. I highly recommend a couple of hours sorting cans. Drop off some non-perishables, go in and chop vegetables for a soup kitchen, work in a garden. It's good work, and it is work that is so worth doing. You'll feel better at the end of the day. I always do, anyway.
November 21, 2009 - 2:32 PM
Last night saw the end of a nearly year-long saga of Battlestar Galactica viewing. Beginning winter term of last year, I spent every Tuesday night watching at least two episodes of Battlestar with my roommates and another friend. The roommates have moved on, but the last two of us have soldiered on with the show, and it has finally come to an end.
Now Battlestar is about the nerdiest show you can possibly find. But be that as it may, it is also an incredible story about human society and the classic sci-fi commentary on social structures, human nature, and the relationship between human beings and the machines we create.
This isn't really intended to be a blog about Battlestar itself. You'd have to watch it to understand the true magnitude of the journey. But after hundreds of hours of watching this show and falling in love with the characters, I have arrived at the end.
It wasn't just another night of Battlestar viewing, either. Instead of cramming it into a busy weeknight, we watched the last two episodes in full form. We got Chinese food and drinks and spent the whole evening psyching ourselves up, watching the episodes, and then discussing the whole show in minute detail. That's one of my favorite parts of the show: the conversations that arise from the story are even better than the action itself. We talked about the limits of sci-fi, and the differences between novels and television, and the reasons that TV series so often seem to end without tying up all the loose ends.
The good news is that I've begun watching the series again, with another group of friends. Every Sunday we watch two episodes. It's amazingly similar to when I began watching the show: we get together in my house and my friends ask the same questions, freak out at the same moments, and make demands on my knowledge of the show's future while I smile smugly and say (in my old roommate's tone) "I don't know" or "wait and see."
One of the most quoted lines of Battlestar is a religious statement, often repeated in the show: "all this has happened before, and all this will happen again." Well...
To hit upon a final pinnacle of nerd-dom, I will be using Battlestar for my final essay in Comparative Literature 301. There's a fabulous moment in the final season when one of the cylons (machines that look like humans and who destroyed the vast majority of human civilization) is speaking about his human form. He is incredibly bitter about the limitations of the human body, which have been artificially imposed upon him by his makers. He complains about the limit of human vision, that instead of witnessing a supernova in all spectrums of light, he instead had to see the birth of a star only in the range of light visible to the human eye. He even complains about his "prehensile paws," the hands that are in many ways the ultimate representation of human biological potential, remarking that he could have been created within an infinite conceptualization of physical being, but instead has become ensnared in human experience.
I will be examining this scene using Freud's "The Uncanny." Science fiction has, for the last two hundred years or so, been ultimately concerned with the implications of our advancing technology that leads us to be more and more uncertain of the boundaries between human and machine. In Battlestar, the differences between human and cylon are virtually impossible to see, and there is the added threat of reincarnation and reproduction among the machines.
So there it is: Battlestar Galactica as social commentary, friendly gatherings, and literary criticism. You might be asking "what the frak?" But I tell you that "all this has happened before and will happen again."
So say we all.
November 15, 2009 - 2:39 AM
It's the middle of the night and I am wide awake.
It was a good Saturday night, with friends over to watch movies and hang out. It's been a good weekend: a mix of getting work done and relaxing, which is all you can ask for at this point in the term.
But after my friends left I decided to watch a movie in bed to burn a little extra energy. I raided my roommate's movie collection and came across the movie Crash, which I've been meaning to see for ages but hadn't gotten around to it.
This is the most amazing movie I have seen in a long, long time. I feel this inexplicable combination of hope and utmost pain, this reinforced understanding of how divided our world is, and how much damage people do to each other. The movie made me want to jump out of bed and start working: creating art, visiting people who need visiting, healing relationships and somehow moving my little corner of the world into a less-dark place.
Now, to clarify, my place in the world is an inconceivably bright one. I have such beauty and kindness in my day-to-day existence. But there is always more: more I see and more I pass by.
Crash is about race relations in LA. It's about privilege and violence and abuse of power and the hopeless convergence of coincidence and bad feeling can turn into meanness, violence, and a hatred deep enough to tear apart families and communities. It's about institutional racism, good intentions gone astray, and how good people can do bad things and vice versa.
Not a good bedtime movie.
I have been seriously committed to studying and acting for social change for the last five years. I came into social awareness at the end of my junior year of high school, based partially on personal experience, partially on a religious shift in my life, and partially because I was growing up. But this is the painful reality I came to understand: that my peaceful suburban experience was not deserved, was not a gift, was not something to be proud of. It was an astronomically unlikely privilege that I was born into the family and neighborhood and class and country and ethnicity that I was. I was born without physical disability. I was raised in a loving family. I was cared for by a vast social network of stable and kind adults and children. I went to fabulous schools. I have never been suspected of any crime or accused of wrongdoing of any kind, whether or not I deserved it. I have traveled widely based on the opportunities afforded me by my race and class, and those social positions allowed me to travel safely and with confidence.
I could go on and on and on. The subjects of the intricacies of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, religion (...) are enough to fill hundreds of books and classrooms and social movements. But here is the point:
Everyone arrives in the world with certain characteristics demarcated by biology, and others by sociology. And each of us shapes a small portion of the world as best we can.
Further point: my unique positioning means I can affect great change in the world.
As I was watching Crash, I was thinking about my work with Volunteers in Medicine. I was thinking of people without health care, and all the millions of intersecting reasons for a person to arrive in that situation. I was thinking of my work with No More Deaths, and the things I witnessed on the border, the stories I heard and the statistics I have memorized. I was thinking about Inside-Out and the prison population: of communication and collaboration, of ending the mystery and fear of prisons, and about how hundreds of other students (both inside and outside) have experienced the same form of transformative education that I did through that program.
I thought about my daily life, about who my friends are, what my plans are, and the hundreds of small interactions that constitute a life. I'm still thinking. What does my life mean to the world? I am my carbon footprint. I am my volunteer work. I am my friendships and my family relationships. That means I am the number of times I call my grandparents and the way I spend my winter vacation. I am my writing, my poetry, my thesis, my internship, my Saturday nights with friends, the gifts I make and the organic produce I buy.
I am also arriving at the end of my extended/privileged/modern American childhood, in which I was expected only to learn to live a loving life, to study hard, and to follow my dreams. Now I am arriving at a privileged/modern American adulthood, which means finally arriving at decisions I have been delaying all these twenty-one years.
Who will I be?
What I know for sure is that inaction is not an option for me. Inaction on any issue is in fact a vote for the status quo. And that status quo is so broken.
I don't know what to do with the inspiration that just arrived. At 3:00 in the morning on a Sunday, it's a little hard to go forth and change the world. But I'm writing, and that is something. This is a hopeful gesture: a way to remind myself again and again that I have purpose in life which I have to strive to deepen and expand. I am on the cusp of a new era of my life, one moving more and more profoundly into a realm of service to others. I want to run off this very moment: take to the streets, to the migrant trails, to rallies and soup kitchens and legislators' offices. There is so much to do! So much to be done!
Each stepI take matters. My choice of movie tonight obviously matters. Getting out of bed to turn down my heat and lower my electric consumption matters. The calls I'll make tomorrow and research I'll read and poems I'll write all matter. All of it.
The trick is to never forget. I might not be able to live every moment as aware and as inspired as I am right now. But the trick is to recognize the brokenness of a system, and live in as healing a way as possible, moving from one hurt to another until we somehow arrive at something better. Together.
That's a task for tomorrow. A task for my life.
A task that began when each of us was born.