Archive for racine

MLK Day shooting in FL, Shaun King and The Injustice Boycott

Posted in Anti-racism efforts, Black Lives Matter, Injustice Boycott, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by ndemske

MLK day is wrapping up again this year. It was a great day for me…..until I saw footage of a savage attack on people celebrating the holiday in Florida. If you haven’t heard about it yet, I am sorry to break the news to you. Video is below, though we’ve all seen enough of these images in the past couple years to not really ever need to watch one like this again. We get it. They’re all pretty much tragically and horribly the same. I encourage you to skip it if that’s what your self-preservation requires today…..though, if you are white, I urge you, especially,  to watch it.  The apathy of white folks is often only achievable, I think, through an active ignorance of–especially–black pain. Use your own judgment on whether or not to watch it, but I urge you to seriously consider it first:

Suffice it to say, the fight for civil rights and just human decency in this country is a fight still very far from over.

So these people in Florida whose lives have been rocked forever now are on my mind first and foremost. You all are in my heart tonight and I mourn with you from afar.

Having said that, I do want to honor the fact that in my small, personal world here–until an hour ago–it was a very fruitful MLK Day for me and I hope it was for you too. We need that in the face of horror. It was a day in which I had a few opportunities to continue my community activism and rededicate myself–in a longer-term sense–to committing to more community activism in the coming years. Though I’ve been to 5 MLK-related events in the past 3 days (yes, 5 events in 3 days–Racine is on their grind) and had the opportunity to hear several speakers…..some of them who, I admit, were really uninspiring at best……I want to share the words I found most impressive and spot-on this weekend. They come simply from a post my wife, Angela Malone, made on Facebook. I have posted it below in full.

Before I paste Angela’s post here, though, I want to say this: if you hear this news of tragedy and violence on Dr King Day and you find yourself righteously outraged and burning to see this country changed from its current, inexcusable state of racial hatred, I have two suggestions for you: 1) get involved in anti-racism initiatives in your local community and 2) get involved in The Injustice Boycott.

The Injustice Boycott is going to go down as a civil rights act at least as crucial as the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I believe. It is an amazingly wise and practical approach to large-scale community change against racial oppression (largely modeled after the wisdom of the bus boycott). Its leadership is impressive and its organization is clear and solid. The main figurehead of it is Shaun King, a writer and activist I hugely admire. He is scheduled to do many speaking engagements in the coming months. For those in or near the SE Wisconsin region like myself, he is scheduled to speak at Marquette University in February.

I’ll leave it at that–I won’t actually go into detail about what the Boycott consists of. You can do that work reading and clicking links yourself. I will just say that, if you–like myself–are devastated by a mass shooting on the day we celebrate the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and you are not sure how you can help stop this kind of demonic insanity in your country, look no further than The Injustice Boycott. Definitely be doing work in your own community first and foremost. But, in terms of a larger-scale, national solution-plan for these issues, The Injustice Boycott is something I encourage you to invest your faith in fully.

And Now, here are the words of my brilliant better half. May they further serve to spur you into action:

“Tomorrow is MLK day and that dude was all about the hard work of dismantling our biased systems (even tho he tends to be shamefully reduced to the more palatable message of “we’re all the same on the inside so let’s all just get along”).

Watch this video. Actually, you don’t even have to watch it, because the audio is what’s most telling. The beginning is unfortunately an all too familiar scene. A traffic stop of a black motorist and a bunch of cops. He gets out of the car and puts his hands up and tries to start explaining himself (not how cops like you to do it). They rush him, assuming he is an immediate threat based on information that only they have and all yell different things. They say “stop resisting” at him a few times (for the cameras) while he is on the bottom of the pile. They punch and knee him into compliance a little, still having not asked a single question. Etc. Etc. Etc. And shocker… it’s his car. It’s your textbook driving while black scenario, although usually they can find a bag of weed or a traffic warrant or an old picture of dude in a Biggie shirt to confirm that he made himself a target by being a scary black criminal type. This time they accidentally got a nerdy engineer who knows his rights. Oops.

Now to me, this video isn’t even about the cops. They most definitely look stupid here and like they’ve never handled a potential felony traffic stop. They all need retraining and disciplinary action and this brother needs to be paid. Quick, fast and in a hurry. But what disturbs me most and what I can’t get out of my head is the voice of the woman giving her statement to the police. I know this woman so well and she is the number 1 source of eyerolling in my lifetime. She was the caller and the reason for all the suspicion. She just watched what happened and almost begins to cry at what she caused. She says, unprompted with a shaky and sad voice something to the effect of ” I wasn’t trying to racially profile”. Right there. That is the moment. The perfect illustration of the lack of understanding of our own biases that constitutes privilege. She needs to ask herself some tough questions. The piece that I have felt is missing from these conversations about police abuse is the callers, the good samaritans rooting out crime in their neighborhoods by alerting authorities of suspicious behaviors. The problem with that is that suspicion is in the eye of the beholder. And police don’t give everyone the same assumption of innocence or benefit of the doubt. Now if you call the police on someone, you need to understand that and take responsibility for your part in it. You don’t get to wash your hands. To me, I can hear this woman being confronted with how her bias combined with the all too predictable bias of responding officers and how it may have almost just gotten a man killed for getting into and driving his own car or maybe he got locked out and was getting back in or he said something about putting something on the roof. I don’t know. Whatever behavior made her suspicious, it started with a biased premise. It started without the benefit of the doubt.

When I used to dispatch, I would get calls all the time from people reporting suspicious activity. Oftentimes they would use phrases like “doesn’t look like he lives in the neighborhood” and “it just doesn’t look right”. One time a patron in a bar called to report that there were a lot more black people in the bar than usual because it was “not that kind of bar”. He was worried that something was “going on”. I asked to speak to the bar owner and when I mockingly relayed his patron’s concern and confirmed that nothing was actually “going on” his response was “yeah there are a lot. I don’t know where they came from.” I politely confirmed that these were in fact paying customers simply drinking in his bar and informed him that no officers would be responding. But you know what? If I had put in a call for that bullshit, an officer would have actually had to show up to that bar looking like a racist idiot and if one of those customers had gotten understandably upset that the police had been called on them for nothing and that officer happened to be poorly trained or just a dick things could have gotten really bad. That’s the recipe. And the burden is always on the accused to stay calm (even though being upset is a completely understandable and highly legal reaction), be understanding and have an unimpeachable character so no one can say you deserved it. The bar is too high and I don’t think I know any white people who could manage it either. But this type of stuff happened constantly. And my point is not “look at all the racists. Aren’t they the worst?” My point is that part of being able to say you resist racism is doing the work of being aware of your personal bias. You’re not a piece of shit because you notice a lot more black folks in your bar. You’re not even a piece of shit when that makes you uncomfortable. You become a piece of shit when you decide that your discomfort indicates an actual threat. When you get defensive when that logic is challenged. When you blame people for making you feel that threat because you refuse to take responsibility. When you cry to an officer that YOU CALLED because you got a man roughed up and detained and humiliated for driving the luxury vehicle that he worked hard for and earned and that by all accounts has promised to exclude him from the racist stereotypes that haunt black men.

And I’m not setting myself apart. We all have prejudices and biases that we have to contend with and navigate in our decision making but the first step is admitting that to ourselves. And hating it and reminding ourselves that we can not believe everything we think.” —Angela Malone

Notes for Reversing the Apocalypse: Katharine Hayhoe, Years of Living Dangerously and Afaa Michael Weaver

Posted in Climate Activism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by ndemske

The last seven days have been…..very difficult.  That is an admittedly weak articulation of the reality, but it’s the sort of situation where it leaves one a little speechless.  Or it’s left me a little speechless.  Until now, maybe.

Now more than ever, strength is needed.  We create strength, sometimes, by deciding to be strong.  I am trying every day when I wake up to decide that I am strong.

Now more than ever, also–in a time where easily-disprovable lies are being rewarded…. and, I would say, worshiped–truth is needed.  That means spreaders of truth is needed.  Those willing to share the truth are needed.  We must not be greedy and complicit and comfortable in the truth, if we truly believe we’re privileged enough to be privy to it.  That is a privilege and it comes with a responsibility.  So every day when I wake up now, I am also asking myself “What am I doing to share what I believe to be true with others?  How am I sharing the truth today?” (a question that my friend Jenetta kind of asked me the other day that struck me like a bolt of lightning, for whatever reason).

These truths that I’m writing about–they’re not specific to any one topic.  From quantum entanglement to voter suppression to prison over-population and disparities in sentencing to the miraculous effects of mindfulness training or sitting meditation to the hidden histories of oppressive systems and designs in our cultures, the radical words of what Jesus actually said in the gospels versus who Jesus is represented as now by the church, the truth of the hidden science and history of racism and sexism and other modes of oppression in America which are still rampant today (which also have a great deal to do with institutions of religion).  All of truth

So here’s one place to start: the whole entire world.

President-elect Donald Trump has publicly described global warming as a hoax invented by the Chinese.  He is not by any means alone in his thoughts on climate and environment in this country–not at all.  So that is the truth as many people experience it here in this country somewhat ironically known as the United States of America.  However, there are many who experience this issue with a dramatically different reality.

Here is something a hero and poetry elder of mine (and of many), Afaa Michael Weaver, posted on Facebook the day after the election took place:

“Certain facts wait for all of us to face, no matter who controls the government. The northern ice cap is melting, and the southern cap is no better. Our petty squabbles over differences such as race will be the foolish music of a ship in a world full of chaos and hunger. Our economic system will not save us from the pressure it has put on the ecosystem. We will have to dig deep not for material wealth but for the wealth of compassion and honest embracing of realities. Now more so than ever, the lifting of a single finger by any of us affects the realities of all of us. Be haughty in spirit if you like. The planet will live, but its will to live will force it to do things few of us can survive. If we fail to understand love right now, we will leave an impoverished spirit for our children and the unborn to struggle with in a world of shrinking resources. An impoverished spirit is not a pretty thing for a national culture.”

Afaa is often considered one of the most influential living poets writing in the English language and his enormous skill with words is only matched by his capacity for compassion.

This is one version of the truth now.  A truth where the body of the planet, like our own bodies, is under assault by what we might think of as a disease.  And, like our own bodies, the planet will do what it has to do to wipe that disease out of itself, if the symptoms do not start rapidly decreasing soon.

Here is something else another hero of mine has put together expressing a similar truth.  Katharine Hayhoe, an Evangelical Christian Climate Scientist living in Texas, has begun a video series called Global Weirding.  Katharine is not only a brilliant climate scientist, but she is one of the most brilliant climate communicators I know of, too.  So check out the promo video below; it’s exactly 1 minute long.  There are only 4 episodes total now, and they’re each only around 5 minutes long.  So enjoy:

Lastly, one more expression of this version of truth around climate: the Showtime series “Years of Living Dangerously.”   You can watch the first episode of last season (Season 1) below.  The series features lots of Hollywood stars, including Don Cheadle and Harrison Ford, in this episode:

As luck would have it, my previously mentioned hero Katharine Hayhoe appears in this episode, as well.  She’s kind of a big deal.

There you go.  You have some tools for educating yourself today about those who are asserting Climate Change is impending and real.  Do with them what you will.

However, if you’re already educated on this and you’re wondering “What’s next… can I help?” I could give a million suggestions, but I’m only going to offer one here: join the group Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  If you’re near me geographically, you can join the Kenosha/Racine chapter which I am a part of (here’s our Facebook group page).  If you’re not, odds are we’ve already got a chapter near you.  The group is 40thou+ people globally and we’ve only existed for 9 years.

Have more money than time?  Give money to CCL.  They actually have a great fund-matching program coming up that you can read about at that link–an kind of enormous fund-matching opportunity that goes until Giving Tuesday (the Tues after Thanksgiving).  In fact, if you want to give money that would help enable CCL volunteers in SE Wisconsin lobby Congress around putting a price on carbon, feel free to be in touch with me and I will help point you in the right direction for that to happen, too.

Here’s what counts today: you and I alone separately don’t matter much and can’t change much–at least not in terms of systemic climate change solutions.  But you and I and all the other people we stand with–we can change everything.  And one thing we can change today is what we as individuals are doing to ensure Climate Change is reversed as soon as *humanly* possible.  So join us in that work however you’re able.  And please, feel free to be in touch with any of your thoughts on all this.

I love you.  Don’t forget that you are ridiculously strong today.

Hakim Bellamy Poem on POC Anonymity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by ndemske

Hakim at the DP Wigley Building, BONK! series, 2014

I’ve had some extra reading time with the extra days off this week and I wanted to post at least a couple of the really phenomenal poems I’ve been coming across over the next few days.  Today we’re starting with the inimitable Hakim Bellamy.

Hakim got a piece published by the White Privilege Conference Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Journal that knocked me out.  You can read that here (click on the “Download this PDF file” link).  And here’s an audio version of it, too.

The poem focuses on the phenomenon of black invisibility and especially on the effects of that phenomenon in law enforcement.  It’s not that people of color (and black males especially) are indeed invisible , obviously……but that the individuality and humanity of people of color vanish into thin air in so many situations, and are replaced by whatever demonic stereotype currently overwhelms mainstream media.  Since law enforcement officials deal with people in dire situations, the temptation to bypass the individual for their stereotypical counterpart is–as we’ve seen in this country over and over again–often too much to resist, apparently.

Hakim talks about “sticking out”–even if awkwardly– as a defense mechanism to ward off the horrors black invisibility can result in.  But he also talks about assimilation in newly crafted ways:

image found here

“We’ve worn these neckties for years
because we’re least threatening
at the end of a leash.

Speak jive only
as a second language,
because when in Rome
do as conquered people do.”

Later in the poem, in a parent’s voice, he instructs:

“Wear your culture
like a butt naked emperor.”

The poem meditates on how different people see things differently, especially based off their fears.  It reminds me a lot of a song the current Kenosha Poet Laureate, Brent Mitchell, played at the BONK! 100 Thousand Poets for Change event last September about the Tamir Rice shooting.  I’ll see if I can get a recording of that song from Brent to share with people.

And since Hakim is a BONK! alum too, I’ve added his video here (from 2014), just in case you want to get a better sense of his work.

Thank you, Hakim, for making such substantial work about such a under-discussed  issue!

I’ll try to drop another poem or two on here as the week goes on.  In the meantime, happy 2016 everyone.  We gonna ride this year to glory!

addendum (added 1.7.16) 

Here is the video of the above mentioned Brent Mitchell song for Tamir Rice:



New Chapbooks from Smoking Glue Gun Press/ Video of Joyful Noise for Walter Hermanns

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by ndemske

Hi my love,

A press I love, Smoking Glue Gun, is putting out two chapbooks very soon.  They have offered us the opportunity to fund said chapbooks through a crowd sourcing fundraiser campaign.  None of it is just donation–nearly no matter what amount you give, you’ll be getting one or both of the chapbooks.  If you get a little more, there’s a bunch of even cooler gifts from there that you’ll be receiving.  Read about the incentives on the site and watch the video and then, if you can, please contribute to their cause:  They’re less than $500 away from their goal of $2000, so let’s make sure they make their mark.

I had the pleasure of reading and writing a blurb for one of these chapbooks: Nate Pritts’s “Pattern Exhaustion.” And, I have to say, I absolutely loved that little collection.  I would recommend it to anyone, even a lot of people who don’t normally dig poetry.  I think I’m going to buy a copy for my dad…maybe some other people.

So go check this stuff out and support a great upstart press.  And thank you!

In other news, we recently had an event in honor of a Racine, Wisconsin, poet and amazing community member, Walter Hermanns.  The full video of the event is here for your viewing, thanks to our BONK! video homie, Peg Rousar-Thompson.  Thanks Peg, and thanks to everyone who came, especially those who performed.  I read a poem close to the very end and then the amazing Jackson Potter Barrow of one of my favorite young bands, The Barrow Band, plays a rendition he made of Amazing Grace.  The whole room was weeping pretty insanely.  It was beautiful.  I miss Walter every day.  We love you, Walter.  Rest in peace…in rowdiness…

Hey, thanks for visiting.  Have a great day.



Me, Wag

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2010 by ndemske

In preparation for a reading in Racine next month featuring Catherine Wagner, Travis Nichols and Anthony Madrid, I’ve spent the last 5 days with Catherine Wagner’s latest book, “My New Job” (a title I’m really fond of).  It has a lot of distinctive, idiosyncratic qualities to it that I really enjoyed getting to read.  As this wonderful video illustrates (and the person who posted it has almost 300 poetry reading videos on YouTube…thanks, guy), Catherine has a pretty great sense of both music and humor.  While the book heightens a reader’s conscious throughout to serious, species-wide tragedies, Wagner refuses to take herself too seriously, never assuming the easy role of a moral authority or any other such stereotype.  One of the book’s biggest influences and references seems to be Wagner’s son, Ambrose (whose work “Eek eek and eek” can be found here), and it feels this like this influence may be responsible for the book’s exacted balance of profundity and absurdity (in the same way that being an intellectual and a mother requires a tricky balance of the two).

What I find most remarkable about the book is that it seems to illustrate a very particular cultural moment or experience really clearly; being an Anglo, middleclass, American, heterosexual woman in the 21st century; an AMAHW in deuce-uno, if you will.  While the book teeters between opacity and such a personal directness that it’s risky, Wagner still never comes out and explicitly claims, “yeah, this book is about being an AMAHW in the deuce-uno.”  But, what at first seem like casual asides (she finishes one piece, for instance,  with the line “What a heterosexist poem!” which half sounds like disapproval and half sounds like Whitmanic celebration), start to add up through the book.  These moments never lose their comic value, but it definitely becomes a tragic humor and a self-aware humor–a humor that questions itself.  As a reader, I found myself confronted with my own laughter at the most fucked parts.  And I use that word very deliberately, because large sections of the book are devoted to analyses (huh huh…yses) of fucking in all its many connotations (see this interview with Wagner in BOMB for more).

Wagner’s consideration of the AMAHW in the deuce-uno is so significant to me because it’s a role in which the individual experiences a unique tension of privilege and oppression or, maybe more accurately, being the oppressed and the oppressor simultaneously.  In the title poem, which is also the last poem in the book, she asks,

“How can I         from inside this comfort

Represent          Hope to

No no

I am                   Too tempted

To think I                  Deserve it

Rigidly and with effort

know my privilege”

[the formatting is slightly different in the book]

These thematic sentiments take on a greater urgency as the book builds more and more momentum, especially, I think because her son seems such a central character to it, and the issue of how not to pass one’s fuckedness (comfort in the role of oppressor) demands urgent attention.  It’s a book super-relevant to our culture at this moment and I think its very existence bodes well for the future.

Come to the Reading, you silly geese! (see this link for more info)

(more info on the reading…not on silly geese).