Archive for August, 2010

August 31, 2010

Conferences

I go to a lot of conferences, and while they were What I Needed when I was in high school, I feel like I’ve grown out of them already.  There are ALWAYS things for me to learn, but so many workshops I find myself sitting there thinking, “yes, I know all of this.” and, what’s worse, is that I find myself getting annoyed at the “stupid questions people ask.”  Particularly when I have known the answer to that “stupid” question for years.  It’s not necessarily that I am sick of activism, that I think I’m better than others, or anything else.  It’s that I’m burnt out.

But I still love conferences.  I just want to go to conferences that aren’t political or activism focused.

My big problem?  I don’t have a fucking clue where to start looking for those.

Le sigh.

August 25, 2010

Inefficient Traps

So I went out on a lobster boat with a couple friends this week.  That’s a line, I can say with some certainty, I never expected to utter.  A lobster boat?  Like, on the ocean?  Isn’t that dirty and smelly and, um, well, mainly dirty and smelly?

The answer is yes, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, I was on a lobster boat.

I had a really good time.  The people I was with are funny and smart and we have a lot in common and it was nice to not only be NOT in my house at the moment, but not have the option of being in my house.  To not be able to run off.  Sometimes I need that.

Anyway, lobster boat.  Lobster traps are pretty cool things, if you ignore the bag of rotting fish hanging in it.  Here’s a diagram:

I am not sure what I was picturing when I heard “lobster trap” before, but it wasn’t that.  I guess something more like a mouse trap?  Or one of those fox traps with a box and a stick and something yummy?  I don’t know that I had any picture in mind, but it certainly wasn’t that.

Being who I am, and knowing that I was going to go out on a lobster boat, I did what any even mildly-tech-savvy 20-something would do – I went to wikipedia and typed in “Lobster Fishing.”

Wikipedia would like me to know that lobster traps are “inefficient” and, according to the article cited for that adjective, 94% of lobsters go in, eat, and leave.  Even the ones that are “salable.”

Thanks, wikipedia, for making my life so easy.

I don’t really think that lobster traps are “inefficient” though.  I think that the fact that the lobsters can get out is pretty cool.  I also think that they make a REALLY awesome metaphor.

I LOVE METAPHORS!

Sometimes I get to feeling a little stuck in Maine.  I don’t really know where I’m going next, I don’ t have any better offers of a place to live, I have a couple friends here… it’s certainly not bad.  I’m a lobster that struggled to get into that trap.  It was a bitch to get in, the food is OK, and considering how hard it was to work into this thing it hangs out for awhile before trying to figure out how to get back out.

We’ll ignore the part where the trap is pulled up from the bottom of the ocean, the lobster removed and tied with rubber bands, and then thrown into a bucket to be sold to be eaten.  It doesn’t work with my metaphor so… ignore the man behind the curtain.

But I CAN get out.  that’s the thing.  I can leave, and I can leave relatively easily.  I have the resources, the knowledge, the drive, and the determination to go off on awesome adventures.  If I want to.

Or I can hang out here for awhile.  Or a little longer than awhile.  My life has become something pretty amazing.  That’s another thing we talked about on the boat.  I was never supposed to get out of a gang riddled area of Southern California.  And look where I live!  Look what I have built for myself!  Look what I pulled off without the initial support of, well, anybody!

I can always scoot out of the trap for a weekend here and there; conferences, workshops, and maybe even one of those “vacation” things.  And I can come back here, to a place that I call home now.  To this “inefficient” trap.

August 18, 2010

Activism Brown-Out

I have been doing near full-time activism for over 10 years.  Right to choose, LGBTQ issues, immigration reform, and just general “get this person elected” stuff.

I’m tired of it.  I’ve lost a lot of my enthusiasm.  Sometimes it’s too hard to remember the enthusiasm I used to have for new and innovative organizing.  I find myself getting mad when people are too enthusiastic about something that I know is NOT a big deal.  I have no patience for small-town politics.  I’m losing patience for DC Politics.

My passions aren’t dead, but they are waning.  I want a new way to be involved in change.  I yearn for a way to be involved without doing the same things over and over expecting different results.  I want a way to make it less about the politics and more about the issues.  That is one of the reasons I really love the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, the group I went to Phoenix with.  It’s about LOVE, first and foremost, with the understanding that it is love that will win in the end.  Sure, we were in Phoenix to protest SB 1070, but at the core we were there to say “We love all people.  This is not OK.”

I guess what I really don’t like is anger, mean people, lies, deception, or having to hide your true values for political gain.  I am sure that Preside Obama really does support the Community Center/Mosque near(ish) Ground Zero.  I have a lot of faith in that man, and as a human I am sure he supports it.  But he has to hide that and say, “they have the right.”  He can’t state his true opinions on so many things.  That bugs me.  That is why I will never go into politics.

It’s not that I think everyone should or would want to be able to say everything they feel at all times.  But about some things, about moral issues, I just hate the idea of having to hide for X or Y or Z when X, Y and Z have nothing to do with your personal convictions.

So I’m taking a break.  From activism  I’m phasing it out slowly, keeping the stuff I’m in love with (hence brown-out, not black-out), and ditching what no longer makes me happy.  Eventually I will add stuff back in, but for now I am going to focus on my own development of myself as an adult who is just starting life.  I am going to focus on what makes me happy and what makes me feel good and what makes me feel like I’m making the world better, not just different.

August 8, 2010

Arizona Reflections, part 2

Whenever I return from any conference or workshop or big, social-justice-y event I sometimes forget that everyone else in the world wasn’t doing the same thing at the same time.  I will hear somebody say something to me or about an issue and I’ll find myself thinking, “what?  how can you say that?  what did we just spend the last 2 hours/weekend/4 days/week talking about??”

Doing social justice is putting yourself in the position of the educator, at all times.  I was talking to a friend about it.  There is no longer the ability to just read a book for pleasure – you read a book and you find all the xenophobic, homophobic, hegemonic language.  You can ignore it for awhile, but it is hard.  After awhile you have given up on most fiction.

Same for conversations.  You want to talk to people about things but find it hard to not correct everything they say, not to use jargon and explain why every one of their statements has been, in some way, offensive.  YOU try to explain why what they SAID is a problem, and all they hear is you saying that THEY are the problem.  And then nothing gets communicated.  So when you aren’t in the mood to educate about something?  You find yourself isolating yourself to the groups that you know hold the same views that you do.

And so it goes.

I got back from Arizona, told a few folks who didn’t know where I had been about what I had been doing in Arizona and even the people who are against the bill were using phrases like “illegals” and just saying things that were racist in their word choice and delivery.  And I’m sitting there thinking, “No!  No person is illegal you xenophobic jerk!”

Yes, my internal dialogue calls people xenophobic jerks.

The place of Constant, Unrelenting, Exhausting, and at times completely Useless education is hard.  It bugs me sometimes.  But I love it, too.  If I didn’t I wouldn’t continuously place myself in situations that require it.

I go to things to learn.  I love learning.  I love meeting people.  I love teaching.  I love talking to people.  I just wish that, sometimes, people “got” it more than they do.

I am doing a sermon on Standing on the Side of Love in Phoenix.  In planning this it has been suggested that I incorporate some of our local immigration stuff.  And it makes me want to scream, “no!”  Maine is not insular.  We do not need to bring it back home in order for people to “get” it or want to be involved.  I specifically don’t want to MENTION Maine in the service.  This is not about me, this is not about you, this is not about Maine.  This is not even about Arizona, or the US.  This is about treating every human with inherent worth and dignity.  Case closed, issue resolved.

August 5, 2010

Ministry

When I was 5 my mom had my little brother.  When I was 6 1/2 she had my little sister.  When I was 8 my stepfather, my siblings’ father, started becoming incredibly religious.  To the point that he was up late at night praying in the living room with candles lit, speaking in tongues.

Like I said.  Really religious.  Or insane.  Take your pick.  I won’t judge.

So we were going to church, every Sunday, every Wednesday.  I loved it.  I liked the community, the other kids, the adults who knew me.  I kept going even after my mom and stepfather split up.  He was picking up my siblings anyway, so it was easy for me to keep going.  I was a “Missionette” which is the evangelical version of a girl scout (my brother was, by contrast, a “Royal Ranger”).

And I went to youth group.  I loved youth group.  And good lord did I want to believe that everything was going to be amazing and fabulous and great if i just prayed enough, fasted enough, believed enough.  There was a lot of indoctrination.  We were told time and time and time again about all the teenage Christian martyrs.  The girl who was asked “do you believe in God?” by the Columbine killers and, when she said yes, they shot her.  Which turned out to be totally not true at all but makes for a great story for a bunch of tweens and teens trying to figure out this big old world.  We were asked, “would YOU have the courage to stand for God like that?”

I tried really hard to fit in.  But I always knew that I didn’t really believe what we were being told.  I did, however, really like the ministers.  The youth ministers, the guest preachers, and our minister.  His name was Rob and he was a good guy.  Looking back he was a total homophobic asshole but I did like him.

And more than liked them?  I wanted to be them.  It seemed like something I would want to do.  I loved doing the kid’s services and all of that kind of thing.  And though I really dislike myself for it now, I liked going into the community to talk to people about, you know, the love and eternal salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not what I’m all about anymore, if you hadn’t noticed.

But the point was that I liked ministry.  I told people that I wanted to be a youth minister or a missionary when I grew up.  I thouht that those high school and college students who went to other countries to do missionary work were The Coolest People Ever.  Seriously.

I was no longer welcomed at the church after I was 12 or so, and it hurt.  But I got over it.  I went to high school, to undergrad, I moved a few times.  Church wasn’t a part of my life.

And now it is again.  And in the past few months I have met more queer, young, vibrant, sex positive, feminist, enthusiastic, accepting ministers than I knew existed in any form.

I don’t know how I feel about any of this.  Suddenly that thing that I wanted when I was in middle school is vaguely an option.  I don’t know that it is what I want at all.  But it’s weird that it’s an option again.

August 5, 2010

Arizona – Processing, pt. 1

I want to state upfront that I am glad I went to Arizona, I am proud of what was accomplished, and I would do it again.

But I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong.  It was really hard for me.  There were not many folks my age and those who were close to my age were in, or going to, seminary.  I thought that there would be a lot more people there who were like me – socially active young adults.  There weren’t.  I am proud that so many of the people there were UU Ministers, but I just felt like there was a strange power dynamic in some sense.

The easiest example of this I have is the textblast we were all on.  For the uninitiated, a textblast is a way to text anybody who signs up to quickly get out information.  One of this things that they were sending out was when people were arrested or… more specifically, when ministers were arrested.  They announced a few lay people. but mostly the announced when ministers were arrested.  The ministers were the ones who went up to the mics to offer prayers.  I get that it was important and powerful that our ministers were standing there, but the fact remains that laity went, too.

I know I’m new to this faith tradition, but I am not new to activism, to organizing with faith groups, to speaking in front of groups, to being arrested, to any of it.  I know that this was not about me, but it was also hard for me to feel unrecognized.  I already feel like that a lot at my church, like I am young and unrecognized and people kind of discount me as cute but ineffective.  I just wonder if there is a place in this religion for folks my age.  There’s a lot of active youth stuff, and stuff for families, but what about the young adults?  I have tried to find some folks online, but by and large they just don’t seem to exist, at least not in any big, organized way.

It was an uncomfy feeling.

August 3, 2010

Arizona

This is the first in what I hope will be a few posts about my trip to Arizona.  I’m going to provide a rough outline of the trip here and then go more into depth on specific parts later on.

I got into Phoenix at 9-something on Wednesday and my friend Ellen picked me up.  We got lunch and while at her house we learned that the judge had issued a temporary injunction.  She took me to the church soon after that cos I wanted to figure out what was going on and whether this changed what we had planned.

So I showed up at the UU Congregation of Phoenix and was put to work folding info packets.  I LOVE having a kind of mundane task to do with other people because once you get into your groove you can ignore the task and just chat, but you do have that task to fall back on when things lull.  It’s one of my favorite ways to get to know people.

During that time I found out that I did know some people there, and a decent few knew people I knew.  It wasn’t surprising to meet people who knew the community minister at much church, nor our former minister, though lots of people did know them and told me when they saw “Unitarian Universalist Church of Ellsworth, ME” on my name tag.  The more random connections were cooler, though.  One time last winter I went to First Parish Cambridge with a good friend of mine and she was wearing a BAGLY sweatshirt.  After the service a woman came up to us and asked if we were BAGLY youth.  That woman was in Phoenix and she remembered us.  Another person came up to me later on that day and said “What’s your name?” and I said “Andrew” and she said “Where’d you go to school?” and I said “College of the Atlantic” and she goes “I thought so!  You did your internship at BAGLY, didn’t you?” at which point I”m thinking “how on earth did BAGLY lead me to knowing more people at a UU Event in Phoenix, Arizona than being a UU did?”  This girl turned out to be the sister of a guy I graduated with.

We finished up with some smaller tasks, and finally gathered in the sanctuary for worship, welcome, and planning.  I really do think that conferences need more singing in them in general.  Reverend Susan Fredrick-Gray opened in prayer, we sang a couple of songs, and we went into planning.  The afternoon was interspersed with more singing, and then we moved into a  Civil Disobedience training after we ate.

I’ve been through many a civil disobedience training before, and this was a good one, especially considering how many people were there.  Because of my job and my identity I was not willing to get arrested (and I felt like crap for it, thankyouverymuch) so I did the “I’m willing to provide a direct support role” stuff.  We were also told to find a buddy to check in with during Thursday.  My buddy’s name was Dara (hi!).

Then we gathered again, sang again, and somehow it was organized that we’d head back to our homestays.  My home stay was at a house in a gated community where the people weren’t actually home.  So it was a minister named Jake and myself attempting to figure out things like “how to not set off the security alarm”  and (more importantly) “how do you work the air conditioner?” We were marginally successful.  Jake had told me that he wanted to go to the 4:30am vigil and I agreed, so he arranged a cab.  I showered, checked email, and slept.  3:30am came WAY too fast.  Jake made coffee.

I. Love. Jake.

We headed out to the Wells Fargo Building vigil where people were vigiling for the 103rd, and final, day.  From there we eventually started marching to Trinity Cathedral where there was an interfaith worship service.  We sang, and a lot of people talked about Jesus.  There was one UU (Susan), an Imam, a Rabbi, and a. LOT. of. Christians.

I, ah, erm, maybe fell asleep a little.  It was early!  I was pretty thrilled when it was over.  Not that it wasn’t touching and moving and really cool to worship and sing with everything but I needed to be moving.

So we marched.  It was not cohesive at all.  I guess if I could plan it my big wish would have been that the UUs be more cohesive in our plans.  The group Puente had their chants and songs all printed up to hand out.  We just kind of walked together, vaguely chatting, and occasionally we had a half-hearted chant.  I wish we’d all planned “when we are marching tomorrow we are going to sing ___” or “here are 4 chants we plan to use: ___” or something.

We met in Cesar Chavez park and sang, rallied, people talked, and we drank a lot of water.  We were all subscribed to a text blast and one went out that said “People doing CD meet at the statue in the center of the park.”  So we did and that’s really when things started happening.  We participated in a quick briefing, and then the folks planning to get arrested went and took over an intersection holding a big banner.  I passed out water and made sure folks were doing OK.  At some point not long after they had started that I joined the first group to head over to the jail to help with the action going on there.  Reverend Susan Fredrick-Gray, and 4 other organizers, had chained themselves to the bus entrance to the County Jail.

And we just chanted and sang and offered water and words of encouragement until they were arrested.  I just have to say right here that Susan amazed me during this.  She was totally calm (at least externally), she was together, she was giving interviews and was well-spoken.  After the arrests people headed back to the church to debrief, but we mostly ended up napping.  A vigil of solidarity was planned, and most folks decided that they had no interest in participating in “Jailhouse Rock” which was some dance party thing that was going on.  It sounded miserable.

So we headed to the vigil around 8pm which turned out to be my favorite part of the whole Arizona experience.  Singing and praying with people from around the country.  There was no chanting, no screaming.  It was nice after the chaos of the day.  we were given a briefing by a member of our legal team and told that the people who had been blocking the jail would be mostly arraigned and released that night.  The local Fox affiliate filmed us to start off their 10pm news hour, and then most folks headed home.

I chose to stay and wait for the arraignments and releases.  The three YA folks cleaned up the street from bottles and trash, and then we all met up in the “court viewing room.”  It’s a bleak room where you can pay bonds, and watch arraignments on a closed circuit TV.  Nothing much was happening for the first hour or so, so I got to talking with seemingly the other other non-seminarians under the age of 30 that had come to this.  Eventually the people came in to be arraigned and we saw them on TV.  I am fairly certain that the people who worked there didn’t often have people cheering in the waiting room, but every time one of the protesters went up we cheered.  It was such a weird, surreal experience.  Of all of our people (protesters) arraigned that night, only 3 were given bond.  The rest were released on their own recognizance.

We then went around the corner of the building to wait for their release.  We had been told between 2 and 5 hours, and thankfully it was closer to the side of 2.  As people started trickling out we cheered for them, gave them food and water, and they started sharing stories.  Around 3am a big group was released that included most of everyone else and after a few minutes of excitement, a lot of hugs, and some well wishes, we started to head home.  I returned to my homestay around 4am.  Friday we were supposed to be at the church by 10:30 but I apparently didn’t make it on the shuttle list to the church, and eventually somebody came to get me around 11am.  We got to the church and everyone was already heading out.  I hopped in somebody’s car and we headed back to the jail and waited for people to be released again.  We did the same thing as the night before – water, food, do you need to call somebody?, do you want to go somewhere to sleep?.  It was hot, very disorganized, and since I had missed the morning briefing I had no idea what was going on with the rest of the day.

I ended up hanging out with a person who had been doing some CopWatch stuff and was a member of a different, local UU congregation (Valley UU).  I stuck with her and we ended up heading to Valley for the Taize service together.  I so don’t remember much about that aside from that the person sort of leading it, the music director, drove me mad with all these little hand signs she was doing for the songs that had some vague approximation to ASL, but not really.  They just irked me.  I refused to copy them like most of the congregation seemed to be doing.

And then?  Then they opened the microphone.  And it was basically UUs trying to out-profound each other with short stories of the last couple days.  finally Gini Courter stepped to the mic, said, “I’m holding this for someone.” and then Susan came to the mic and told us that Salvador Reza, the leader of Puente, had been arrested again.  A vigil was being organized for that night.  We finished up the service, organized to head out, and then stood around and waited.  I was trying to make sure that I would have a ride to the airport from the vigil.  And then I just kind of broke down crying with the stress and confusion and exhaustion of the past few days.  I ended up texting with a friend who I knew would say nice and helpful and sympathetic things to me.  Eventually we got in cars and vans and headed out.

At the vigil there was more shouting and screaming and chanting, but I joined a group in the middle, sitting on the curb, and meditating or singing.  And at around 9pm a woman from the local congregation drove two of us to the airport.  and thus commenced 15 hours of travel for me.

I don’t even remember Saturday.  I’m sure it happened.  But I don’t remember it.

So there’s a not so brief overview of Arizona.  As things come to me I will post more in depth things on smaller aspects of what happened and more reflections and analyze more.

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