Sunday, May 06, 2007

Oppression is not a Competition

I say, to a white man on stage,
rhyming about his suffering.

What i wanted
to say was: "the sea has no steps
like pain has no degrees,"
but it has been used before
to color sameness,

and this is not
what i mean.
But the man on stage
wants to lighten the mood,
get some attention, so
he says: "You girls, don't
work at Hooters, do ya?"
to me in the front.

No more will i play
silently the tune of your distraction.
But neither can i carve
up my identity in notches.

I've heard them. Seen their
effects on highschool, college
boys in Colorado, Virginia...
hunting women, shooting up life.

What can i tell you, but
we must find a different path
then this one, of notches
and belts serving as bullets
and rope.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

i never knew the color of your eyes,

mistaking them for mirrors,
i got lost in the mazes and corridors
which bridge-like led me
never straight but always forward
directly to an indescribable place

if it is indescribable why do you say it?
why do you hold me like a flag, raise me
in battle, who are you fighting (for)?

a dead self. indescribable because unknowable—
open. You had said once. Every word you knew of
love. It was not enough. They fluttered

out into the void.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

fear: i have to stop thinking of sadness and floating.
i am trembling worse than a leaf. i know this state.

my love: what is love? i keep thiking, but all i know is difference and similarity, both. stay. don’t make any sacrifices. i had plugged my mouth but you de-gag me.
gag me. i know there can be no ending. but death.
Funny, morbid.

suffer: i had tried to leave you, but i leave a trail. you are the trail. joy pales in reflection. i laugh at myself, too rarely, too futilely, too slyly…

i am too much here. in your eyes i leave a shadow. perhaps it is of joy, but…what is tomorrow? i am…and you.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Without Tomorrow

This is the cover of my first "zine." If you want a copy, click on the email link and put zine in the subject of your email. We'll go from there. All the photos in it are unphotoshoped photographs i took this summer in France.
Merry Holidays! Hugs.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


a penny for translation

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Practicing Theory

This is the talk i gave at MTSU on an activism/ business ethics panel, where i also got to debate one of my first "phil. teachers," Michael Principe.

When I asked Jason Bell what he wanted me to talk about for this panel, he said two words that I have been thinking about pretty much non stop: theory and practice. What is the relationship between theory and practice? Is it really as simple as we think? Does “theory” “cause practice?” If I attempt to answer these questions philosophically, I would already be privileging one of the terms. So, instead, I’m going to turn to the “philosophy” of a group called the CIW, which stands for Coalition of Immokalee Workers, since my work with them to “boot” Taco Bell off this campus was one of the reasons Jason asked me to speak here.
The CIW identifies as a “community-based worker organization” whose “members are largely Latino, Haitian, and Mayan Indian immigrants working in low-wage jobs in Florida.” I bet before I said Florida, some of you were thinking to yourselves: what does Immokalee, Latino and Haitian immigrants have to do with me? What does it have to do with business ethics? Well, it has everything to do with business ethics—and with everyone of us—because we eat.
There is a striking statement that Laura Germino, a CIW organizer, once made that I’ll never forget. She said: “slavery is what’s for breakfast.” I think Americans assume that slavery is this thing that has been over for decades, that it doesn’t go on here anymore, may be in some other “less developed, less democratic” countries, but not here, not now! (Is that what you think? Let’s see: who here thinks that slavery is happening right here in this country and we are benefiting from it?) Part of the CIW’s work has been precisely to expose “modern day slavery.” Of course slavery today is different because it is no longer legal, but that doesn’t mean that isn’t still institutional. In the past seven years, the CIW has played a key role in discovering, investigating and prosecuting five cases of modern slavery. In 2002, three crew leaders in FL were convicted of forcing 700 workers into slave labor in Florida’s citrus groves.
There are so many important things that I could tell you about the CIW’s work, but let me back up and talk about how I got involved with them. It was really so simple…I have a friend who was a member of Solidarity here, and he said to me and another of our friends: Hey, I hear there’s a cool organizing group in Florida who are boycotting Taco Bell, and they are having an informational food summit for Thanksgiving. Want to go? An informational food summit just meant that the CIW had put out an invitation on the website that said: come to us, we’ll feed you and house you, and you can learn about what we do. So we got in the car and drove to Immokalee, Florida. Some people say that there is a revolutionary moment, well I don’t know about that, but what I saw in Florida certainly changed the way I live. I often hear that so many people do nothing about the injustice all around them because they feel powerless, because they don’t believe they can have any “real” effect. But I think that has more to do with what they think an “effect” is. In a culture governed by consumerism, the standard for effectiveness becomes immediacy. So people think that if they can’t end all injustice now by themselves, what’s the point of trying? Real change takes time and effort. Here is the CIW’s formulation I promised you earlier, that I think sums up what I’ve been saying here:
Consciousness + Commitment = Change
That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? [Can somebody tell me what you think consciousness means?] I would formulate it like this: Consciousness means awareness, it means not blinding yourself with television so well that you can’t see that the janitors who clean up your university don’t make enough to support their families, for example. [What about commitment, who would like to give a definition?] Commitment means work, not doing something once, or twice, but incorporating action for justice into your daily life. Consciousness and commitment must interact, one doesn’t follow the other, you don’t learn everything first and then act as an all knowing being making no mistakes. No. You learn a little about a problem and you try to do what you can, let other people know about it, for example, then you learn more, then you act more and eventually things do change. I think one of the problems in an individualist society such as ours, is that we all have a hero complex. What I mean, is that we have designated super heroes and the rest of us can sit back and watch them act. But every change in history has happened because many people were committed to bringing it about. (For example: civil rights, etc.)
With this philosophy, if I may call it that, the CIW has accomplished unprecedented change for tomato pickers. On March 8, 2005 Taco Bell, owned by Yum Brands, who also owns KFC, Pizza Hut, A&W, and Long John Silvers signed an agreement with the CIW to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes. This means a more than 50% increase in wages for tomato pickers who have not received a raise in over 20 years; Yum also agreed to insure that this increase gets passed directly to the tomato pickers, to develop a code of conduct with the CIW, and to help get other fast food giants to do the same thing. Taco Bell agreed to all of the CIW’s demands. This is the world’s largest restaurant chain agreeing to the demands of migrant workers and students. Jonathan Blum, a senior vise-president of Yum also said that [and I quote]: under Taco Bell’s new labor rules “indentured servitude by suppliers is strictly forbidden.” This is from an article in the New York Times, where the author goes on to say that: “The need for a corporate edict against slavery in the U.S reveals just how bad things have become for farm workers.”
So, how did the CIW achieve this kind of change? The CIW began organizing in 1993 as tiny group of workers who met in a borrowed room and talked about how to better their lives. That’s thirteen years of hard non-stop work by many people, workers and students. The boycott of Taco Bell began in 2001, after the CIW had already done tremendous work to improve wages and conditions for farm-workers, when a business report named Taco Bell as a major buyer of Florida tomatoes. The boycott lasted for four years, during which Taco Bell refused to speak to the CIW at all, and when they did comment on the issue to the media, they simply said that the condition of farm-workers wasn’t their problem because they weren’t farmers. Well, it became their problem, increasingly because CIW’s boycott included a hunger strike in front of Taco Bell’s headquarters of over 75 workers and students, and the “boot the bell” campaign, where students demanded that Taco Bell be kicked off college campuses.
The CIW never doubted their success. We always knew that we were going to win for a simple reason: because we were not going to give up. We were committed from the start to keep going until we won, so our victory was a matter of time. And this commitment helped our resolve every step of the way. I think that Taco Bell understood that too, which is why they gave in.
So what I want to say about theory and action here, is that we don’t have to know the relationship between them in advance, which is a large and important question, and one which can only be elaborated in a way that facilitates change through engagement with both of them. We can’t wait for others to tell us how to think, nor can we wait to understand everything before we act. It is our constant responsibility to think and act, and change does come about slowly and often painfully as a result of both theory and action. I’m going to end with a formulation of a thought that I have not had time to talk about here, but that I think is another vital piece of change: “If your revolution has no space for dancing, I don’t want any part of it.”