usa

Why I’m happy about last week’s U.S vs. Belgium soccer match

No, it’s not because I’m a closeted Belgium fan, or particularly anti-American. Truth be told, I’m not that into soccer, or sports for that matter.

But I do like people.

So on Tuesday I joined my boyfriend, a buddy, and 50 others at a tavern for the last 15 minutes of the game. Belgium had just scored, and then scored again. It was not looking good for the U.S.

Most people in the bar were watching the screens on the west end of the room. The three of us were positioned under those screens so instead watching the TVs on the other side of the bar. This meant I also got to observe everyone’s faces as they stared just above our heads. I watched their eyes moan, light up, wriggle, rise and fall. When the U.S scored a goal, they erupted with more joy than I can remember seeing in a long time. Friends and strangers high-fived. Our elation built off each other and matched that of the players on screen.

Alas, with just 2 minutes left in the game, Belgium was still ahead. I felt pretty sure we could slip out the bar, get some dinner and not miss much. Shoulders drooped, eyebrows raised, knuckles clenched. Each attempt at a goal brought only momentary excitement.

And then.

“I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!” The refrain started, and almost immediately filled the bar. “I believe that we will win” with clapping and pounding. Being musically inclined, the rhythm caught me up and my words fell in sync. I watched bodies chant, eyes glued overhead. A distantly familiar feeling.

The last time I felt this was the night of Obama’s first election as we screamed “Yes We Can” and later “Yes We Did” and we danced in the streets of Oakland, high-fived and hugged everyone around us. That night we celebrated so much more than one man’s election. We celebrated all of us having made it where we were, that all of us did and all of us can.

Later, we wound up disappointed. We knew we would be. And we were disappointed on Tuesday night too when the U.S lost the soccer match.

But I was happy. I was reminded that we have a huge potential for hope. You wouldn’t often think it from talking to us humans. Many of us have already given in to the inevitability of climate change and environmental degradation, we’ve accepted that oppression runs the day and that isms like racism and sexism just are what they are. Even individually it seems many of us have decided our lives have already hit the peak, and there’s nowhere else to go.

But Tuesday night I saw the truth: we actually want to hope. Even with just a minute left of the game we were already losing, we wanted to band together, we wanted to clench fists, we wanted to chant and stomp, to sweat and grumble, to throw our arms around a stranger, and hope hope hope.

After Tuesday night it doesn’t matter that we lost. I believe that we will win.

miley-cyrus

The Un-Discussed Ism in the Miley Cyrus Scandal

Miley Cyrus has been making me sick. Her performance at the VMAs and her video of “We Won’t Stop” were both filled to the brim with racism, cultural appropriation, misogyny, and general unappealing weirdness.

Even so, I posted on Facebook my discomfort with the woman-hating that ensued. Miley’s performance was offensive, upsetting and nauseating, but she doesn’t deserve to have her butt compared to the backend of a turkey, or to have all kinds of slut comments thrown at her (especially when Robin Thicke didn’t appear to take much heat for his creepy rapey-ness).

Yes, Miley is an individual, and she has agency and a voice (and a fairly good one at that). She could stand up, take charge and refuse to propagate this bullshit. Instead she perpetuates it by saying she wants a “black” sound, using black women’s bodies and sexuality to promote her own coolness while never having to learn anything about black culture, history and oppression.

She could take a stand.  I hope one day she does.

But Miley is also being produced, marketed, engineered, managed and generally controlled by a whole lot of older people who are out to make a buck, and will encourage any wild antics if they seem like money makers.

If Miley says she wants to twerk, my guess is it gets run by a whole bunch of older men who eventually come to the consensus: yes, Miley twerking= profit.

This is sexism, capitalism and a whole lot of yuck in one seemingly small interaction.

But there is one other ism wrapped up in this that no one is talking about.

Adultism.

In my organization- Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA)- we talk about Adultism as the oppression of young people by older people. It is different from ageism (which is oppression based on age, and also targets the elderly).

Adultism is the way that young people get oppressed by adults and society because they are young. Adultism is adults who won’t think twice about screaming at children and teenagers to shut up and behave but would never speak to their peers that way. Adultism is stores that put up signs “limit 3 teenagers at one time” and no one calls the ACLU. Adultism is youth getting sent off to die in wars at the age of 18, but are not trusted to drink responsibly. Adultism is the way youth in most school systems get zero say in their education. Adultism is the way young black men get stopped, frisked, beaten, killed by cops on the street all the time.

Adultism doesn’t stand alone. It intertwines with racism, sexism, homophobia, able-ism, militarism and much more. It’s also important to say, as we do in JYCA, that the opposite of adultism isn’t treating youth like adults, but rather Youth Empowerment: helping youth see themselves as powerful agents of change. Just in the way the opposite of sexism isn’t “treating women like men,” but rather building rights and power for people of all genders. So too, youth empowerment and anti-adultism is about meeting youth where they are at and supporting their process. In fact, it would be adultist to try to treat youth like adults, rather than their actual age.

Back to Miley. And to me.

Miley, daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, famous country music star.

My parents aren’t famous on a Cyrus level, but they are both well known in some Jewish communities. I’ve spent much of my life with the name “David & Linda’s Daughter.” I dreamt of making a name for myself (of being Entirely Talia). I love my parents, and sometimes being their daughter gains me access to people and places that have given me enormous privilege. But the adultism of not being treated like my own person is hard. And I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids of big time celebrities.

At age 11 Miley became famous in her own right: a Disney Channel star, an immediate success with her role as Hannah Montana, a character trying to be a normal kid while leading a secret life as a pop star. Like all Disney stars she is sweet, funny, innocent, perky, pretty…

Miley is not the first Disney star to progress from lovely princess to sex-pop icon. Most notably, Brittany Spears went from Disney Mousketeer, to innocent schoolgirl seductress, to full-out sex kitten, to mental breakdown and back again. Christina Aguilera also ditched her Disney innocence for her “grown-up” image. It looks like Selena Gomez is right on track. Heck, even Justin Timberlake was eager to show off his sexuality post-Disney days.

So what’s going on? Is there some Disney conspiracy to create future sex icons?

Perhaps.

But I think this is also how oppression and adultism works.

These young folks with talent are taken from their lives, offered promises of fame, money, popularity, and then forced to promulgate a specific image of youth (that has nothing to do with their actual lives): a sugary image which then gets spoon-fed to the rest of the nation’s young people who will gladly take a break from their own lives filled with adultism, sexism, racism, poverty, boredom and whatever else. In these adult created Disney representations of young life, kids experience snafus, embarrassment, fights with friends or parents…. But they are well taken care of, well resourced, with a perfect rainbow of friends who never have to confront racism in multiracial friendships. They have crushes, but they don’t have sexualities.

So I admit it. I watched a few episodes of Hannah Montana when it came out. I watched because I was taken with her singing. She was this very young girl, and yet her voice was so mature. In fact at some moments, she almost sounded like an adult. Hmm. As if that’s what it takes for young people to get an adult’s attention. To sound like an adult. To act like an adult. To look like an adult.

Given Brittany, Justin, Christina and everyone else- I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised what happened.

In 2009 Miley came out with “Party in the USA” and was bombarded with accusations of stripper-ness. Disney refused to comment. Then- you know the rest, with her new “black sound” and scandalous performance. And now women are accusing her of being slutty, of not being a good role model. Youth are not supposed to talk about sex, even as they (and all of us) are being bombarded with it thousands of times a day.

These young Disney girls get set up to be fantasies. Whether they are the fantasies of young people wanting a better, easier life, or the sexual fantasies of older men with some healing to do, or even the fantasies of adults such as me, intrigued by something adult-like within them. Is it any wonder they rebel, partially by running in the other direction (“I’m not that innocent!”) but also straight in the direction they have always been pointed: deeper into fantasy land, taking the hidden sexual fantasy element of their stardom and making it fully public?

The oppressive cycles of adultism, sexism and capitalism continues.

I wonder what would happen if we could get Brittany Spears and Miley Cyrus to one of JYCA’s Youth Empowerment and Adultism workshop. If we could teach them about how Adultism is the first oppression that everyone experiences and how it conditions us to accept all other oppressions and eventually perpetuate them ourselves? If we gave them space to remember what it was like for them when they were young, all the ways adults controlled them and took away their voice even as they belted it out. Would they then go out to all the other young stars and say, “Hey, it’s okay. Oppression is real. I know. What’s it been like for you? What do you really want for yourself? For the world?” Maybe we could start an army of pop princesses, marching hand in hand right to the studio execs, to the 1%, to anyone who will listen and demand an end to adultism, to racism, to sexism, to the perpetuation of oppression.

By the way, if you’re a high-school aged youth in the Bay Area and want to talk about this stuff more, come to JYCA’s “Adultism and Youth Empowerment Workshop.” Sunday September 15th, 2013 at noon in Berkeley. Email Talia@JYCA-Justice.org to RSVP or for more info. (Open to all high-school aged youth)

For more info on JYCA and Adultism, you can visit our website, and follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr.  Contact Info@JYCA-Justice.org if you are interested in bringing the Adultism and Youth Empowerment workshops to your organization, workplace, circle of friends etc… (for groups of all ages).

If you want to hear my music (not my parents!), check out my Facebook, Reverbnation, YouTube, Twitter and WordPress.

And for more information on Adultism, also check out Paul Kivel’s website for lots of great resources.

On Self Care and the West Coast Port Shutdown

“Here’s where I’ve come to,” I explained to Paul Kivel (my activist mentor), “In the realm of Self Care.” Paul and I were checking in over the phone. I’d been going non stop from meeting with Jewish Youth for Community Action (JYCA), to board meeting, to music rehearsal, to Occupy assembly to Occupy protest… and so Paul had started encouraging me to sit down and do some reflecting on this illusive topic: Self Care. Two words that have haunted me for years (though “haunted” seems a little dramatic).

When I hear those two words I picture: wealthy women dipping manicured hands into luscious coconut cream and paraffin wax, cucumbers over their eyes, an unnamed person rubbing their feet, as a small breath escapes their lips forming a frozen comic book bubble above them reading: “I just needed a little Self Care.

I also picture activists who needed Self Care, who went inward, and then never seemed to return to the movement.

Capitalism tells me Self Care is going shopping, is getting drunk or hooking up with someone, is eating to the point of discomfort, is watching TV ‘til my brain feels like birdfeed and burnt out firecrackers… all because I needed to “let loose” and “have a little fun.” All because I just needed a little Self Care. When I look at it this way, I can’t tell how coconut cream, going inward and birdfeed equals the collapse of capitalism. Sounds more like collusion. Sounds like systems of oppression running just fine. I’m trying to bring this shit down, not fuel it.

The day before my phone check-in with Paul, the Occupy Oakland camp was raided for a second time, and there was a 4am call for support. I thought: I should go. Then I thought: I’m exhausted, I’ve been worried about getting sick and I have lots of work. I’m staying in bed. So I slept. It was later that morning when I finally took Paul’s advice and sat down to do some writing before giving him a call. I wrote, “I guess I made the Self Care choice by continuing to sleep…. But it seems like the Self Care choice for everyone should have been to stay home. How was 4am healthful for anyone? And so does the movement depend on some people not following Self Care practices? And then why should I be one of the people who gets to take care of myself if not everyone can? And how does Self Care make sense for a movement, when it depends on some people not actually paying attention to it?” I wrote and wrote, but could not arrive at an answer.

“Here’s where I’ve come to- in the realm of Self Care,” I told Paul on the phone.

“You have to see it as over a lifetime,” Paul said, “It’s not just one 4am protest, or one meeting, or one action. It’s the whole movement over a whole lifetime.”

We talked about the ebbs and flows of a movement, the ebbs and flows of our lives, and what each of us has to give. For some, being a parent is the top priority during a time period, and parenting in and of itself can build towards justice for future generations. And when their child grows up, the parent can refocus their energies to contributing in new ways. For others, creating posters for events and email blasting all of their friends is more healthful than actually going themselves. Self Care, Paul reminded me, isn’t just a bath and tea candles. Sometimes Self Care is actually showing up. For some, getting to support Occupy Oakland at 4am was completely thrilling. It gave them energy and passion. And maybe they even had time later to go home for a nap. For those folks, showing up was Self Care. When each of us thinks about our goals, passions, capabilities and roles, we get to show up at these Self Care times.

“Besides,” Paul reminded me, “The day before the raid, you were at Occupy Oakland supporting youth to lead an Adultism and Youth Empowerment workshop. Youth Empowerment is one of your main roles in the movement. That is what you are showing up for.”

And for me, youth work is energy-giving.

This past Monday was the West Coast Port Shutdown to show solidarity with workers’ rights and against the corporate greed that drives this hyper-capitalist system. There were two picket shifts: 5:30 am and 5pm. JYCA youth planned to have an evening contingent.

I spent a while thinking about that 5:30am shift. If one of my main roles is youth empowerment, then it was important that I be awake and energetic enough to bring JYCA in the evening. But as I thought, I kept feeling drawn to the 5:30am shift, to the idea of seeing the sunrise over the Oakland port picket line. And, I realized, I would have time to take a nap before 5pm. Could it be, in this case, that showing up at dawn actually was Self Care?

The night before the port shutdown I laid out my clothes. I set my alarm for 4:40am. I packed oatmeal in a Tupperware. In the morning I headed out towards BART, noticing how empty streets feel like an extension of my bedroom: my bed, my closet, my carpet, my front door, the cement broken by tree roots, the storefronts and their “closed” signs, the dirty white of the crosswalk, the ticket gates, the BART train… I arrived in West Oakland and found a friend with a nuzzle-able cheek. I clenched her hand and we started marching. Other faces, familiar from the past few months of occupying, early-morning fuzzed around me. Knowing smiles were shared as we groggily chanted: “We! Are! The 99%!” And the sun began to spill out over our picket line.

Later that morning, I did get my nap. As my toes thawed out under a blanket I started to dream. There I was, back at the port. The sun-spill even more golden than in real life. Our picket line circled and we chanted loudly: “We! Are! Fully Alive! We! Are! Fully Alive!”

Update 10/15/12 Just read this blog post by B Loewe at Organizing Upgrade that I think gets at some of the systemic issues involved with the feelings I was grappling with. Loewe’s point is a good one- if what we’re striving for in justice is a sense of community and connectedness, why would “self care” be the goal, instead of “community care?” But many, including  Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha at brown star girl, have accurately pointed out how this rhetoric privileges able-bodied people. What do you think?

Preamble: JYCA and Troy Davis (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

On September 21st, 2011 Troy Davis was executed after a long wait on death row and a decreasing amount of evidence. The day he was executed I spent hours glued to the radio. The night before I had made phone calls and signed petitions. I had contacted the youth in my organization (Jewish Youth for Community Action- JYCA) and asked them to do the same. When Troy’s time neared, all I could think was Oh My God, they are going to kill an innocent man and we are all just listening. I felt alone as I listened to the voice of Amy Goodman. Then they postponed the execution. I found a vigil at Plymouth Church and joined the group—a mix of passers-by like me, and church members. Together we held candles and rang bells while reading the names of the 700 people currently on death row in California. 700.

A few hours later I met with a group of youth action leaders from JYCA and just as I pulled up to the meeting, the Supreme Court announced they would do nothing to stop the execution.

I presented the youth with my original meeting agenda for the night. The plan had been to talk about the things that make us numb and get in the way of our core drive for justice. But we knew it didn’t make sense to talk about our general activism when injustice was happening at that very moment. Instead, we listened to the live Troy Davis coverage. We turned it off. We held each other and cried. We talked about how powerless we felt, how powerless the executioner must have felt. To simply act on their job like that. And then, though I too felt small and woefully under qualified to facilitate such intense feelings, I was somehow able to shift our conversation. If this is how disempowered we feel, then others must feel this way too, I prompted. So isn’t our role as action leaders to help people feel really powerful so that they stand up and act for a change? The youth thought about it. Yes, yes, that’s it, they said. They shared success stories, they shared goals. They couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the group the truth they discovered: that we are really powerful. And we do get to act for change.

What with the foreclosures, bank fees, bad mortgages, and also the murders of Oscar Grant and Troy Davis, we have been feeling hopelessness. We caught a glimpse of inspiration as young folks, from Egypt to Greece, Israel to Libya and all over, decided to stand up. And finally in the U.S, we caught on too.

Activism Awakened (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

At the first Occupy Oakland General Assembly on October 10th 2011, we assembled in groups with 4 strangers and shared who we were and why we were here. A few days later I ran into someone from my group while shopping at Berkeley Bowl. We couldn’t remember names, but we were thrilled to see each other.

The next day I headed over to Patelco Credit Union, to finally make a change from Chase. I had been intending to do so for years, and could never get it together. There was another woman there doing the same thing. Apparently she had also been at Occupy Oakland on and off. We high-fived.

As I walk through the streets I find I want to smile at everyone, to engage, to know how their life is going, to share about mine. Because for all I know anyone could wind up in a tent next to mine at Occupy Oakland.  I’ll want them to look out for me, and me for them. When your world is that close, you want to gather your allies.

As I have been debriefing the occupation with my friends, multiple have confided: “My activist self has been awakened.” Someone at Occupy Oakland told me “This has already changed us forever.”  And she’s right. We don’t know exactly where this is going. But we know we want change. And in each of us this is already happening.  As each new Occupy story unfolds, more and more people in my communities are turning out, pulled for any number of reasons.

I believe that we are all activists. As young people we can feel the injustice in the world on a deep level. We ball up our fists, we scrunch up our cheeks and we cry out It’s NOT fair!! And then. And then we see that the adults around us don’t get particularly outraged when things aren’t fair. We’re told That’s life. You’re young. You don’t know any better. And such we learn. But it’s in each of us, waiting to be awakened. The movement is already successful. The success lies in all of the activists that have sprung forth from within us, launching ourselves with hope towards our friends, our new friends and the strangers on the street. And this remains true, no matter what happens.

More on Human Connection… (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

Naomi Klein described the Occupy movement as “addictive,” that it’s not that people feel obligated to go to the protest or meeting, it’s just that it’s where they most want to be on a Saturday night. I think what she’s getting at is the pull towards genuine human connection.

With wealth privilege in my family, I was given my own room around the age of 7. I tried it out and quickly opted to return to the bunk bed I shared with my little brother. Later when I returned to my own bedroom, I refused to sleep with the door closed, and for many years would often convinced my brother to sleep on carefully lain out couch pillows on the floor of my room. Sleeping alone felt like a skill I had to learn in order to be a part of society. I used to think that everyone wanted marriage because it was the way you could at long last return to close connection with people.

The Occupy Together Movement is just that: occupying together. When you’ve tasted what it’s like to live in a community where the group is all working together to make sure everyone’s basic human needs are truly being met, and the human to human connection is palpable- how could you want nothing but to spend every minute there?

A Visible Jew (segmented)

The following post is a segment from a longer piece I wrote. The full version can be found here.

The morning of Sukkot, the 8 day Jewish fall harvest festival, my co-worker at JYCA and I set up a sukkah—an open, temporary shelter—at Occupy Oakland. We figured we’d put it out of the way, in a corner of the plaza. Several hours later we returned with friends and community members to finish decorating and to share a Sukkot meal. The following is the dialogue that ensued between us, the sukkah decorators, and other occupiers. I’ll use conversational quotes for what was actually said, and italics for what I thought of saying, but refrained from.

Person from Child Care Committee: “Hey, so we just had a meeting and we felt like it would actually be safest if the child care tent is where your tent is located. So we’d like to ask you to move.” My co-sukkah-decorators start to tense up.

Me: “Of course, we’d be happy to move, can we just change places?” Yes! An opportunity to prove that Jews can share land! Great!

We un-stake our sukkah, pull out the carpets, and—like a wedding chuppah—pick it up and move it over. Re-stake, re –put in the carpets, re-hang disheveled decorations.

Person from Crisis Tent Committee: “Hey so we just had a meeting, and it seems that someone told us that we could have the spot you’re in.”

Me: “Okay” umm…Someone? England?!

Same Person from Crisis Tent Committee: “Yeah, so we’d like to ask you to move. It looks like you just moved here and we hate to ask you to move again, but I think we need that spot so we can be near first aid. I’m not sure where exactly you can go, but I’m sure there is somewhere.”

Me: “That makes sense.” Somewhere? Like….Uganda?!

Crisis Tent: “Yeah. So, I don’t really know where.”

Me: “Well could we go there?” I gesture close by.

Crisis Tent: “I’m not really sure if that will work, we’d like to keep our options open for where we can go and where other tents can set up. But you look pretty mobile, maybe you could go one place and just be willing to keep moving?”

Oy. We ain’t doing this for 40 years, I can tell you that much.

Co-Sukkah decorator: “Well, I mean, we’d sort of like to settle somewhere.”

Oy. “Settle.” We didn’t mean it like that!

Me (determined): “Well I’m sure we can work together on this and find a place for everyone.”

And in the end we do. We pick up, re-shuffle, move about and wind up with a spot ring-side to the general assembly. All I can do is laugh.

I wish I could say that was the end of it. Spending a lot of time sitting in a Sukkah makes me very visibly Jewish. Visible in a lefty movement that has stood actively against homophobia, transphobia, ableism, racism, sexism and more…. But has not yet claimed anti-semitism either consciously (for not wanting to go anywhere near the “I” word…Israel) or unconsciously (for not having Jews or the oppression of Jews on their radar).  I have spent a lot of time sitting in my Occupy Sukkah, being as inviting as I can possibly muster, to prove Jews belong in this movement. This has meant some of the following things to people at Occupy Oakland:

- that I must immediately want to talk about Israel/Palestine

- that I should be careful not to attract the “AIPAC-type-Jews”

- that I am the exception among Jews as a radical

- that I am hitting on them (the passerby) and want to sleep with them and they should therefore hit on me

- that I am risking taking away from the movement by bringing my Jewish Stuff

- that I am doing a really great thing by both bringing Jews together and creating a peaceful space in the Occupy movement for all to come rest (in the only open tent on site)

As the last one suggests, there has been a lot of beautiful moments. Many people have thanked me for creating the sukkah, for sleeping in it, for being so welcoming to all. I have made many new friends by inviting strangers into the Sukkah. And it’s been hard too. The combination of wanting so badly to help Jews be seen as good and important to the movement, while simultaneously needing to not seem too welcoming so that men get the wrong idea… is exhausting. And it’s a familiar combination of anti-semitism and sexism I have experienced in my life. It has become clear to me that this must be when you call on your allies for support. And fortunately, there are many allies in this movement. And though I think many Jews could site individual incidents of anti-semitism, as a whole, this movement has not gone in that direction. This is quite a victory given that oppressive forces get set up to blame the Jews when things get hard.