Monday, June 25, 2007

Talk from the "Hijacking the Master's Tools" Panel at the Allied Media Conference

Stand up if you’ve ever talked to, pleaded with, yelled at or thanked a printer or copy machine.

Stand up if you’ve ever stolen office supplied or made non-work-related copies at your job.

Stand up if you’ve ever gotten away with something because of your good looks.

Stand up if you secretly (or publicly) dream of making a planetary impact in a very non-globalization way.

Stand up if you’ve ever lent someone a book with out expecting to get it back, because the conversation the book made possible was more important than owning it.

Stand up if you have at least one friend who makes you smarter just by being around.

Stand up if you KNOW that you come from a long history of BADASS women of color, even if you don’t know all of their names yet.

They say the trees hold ancestor spirits. And while not always in a position to knock on wood, I believe that. I believe that we release the energy of Audre Lorde, and June Jordan and Gloria Anzaldua and my grandmother, illegal and urgent with every stolen copy we make. This is our victory, dark lifeblood shaped down into font. They say the trees hold ancestor spirits, so of course they chop them down. But this, our triumph, is instantaneous. Our wisdom shredded thin writing paper cuts into skin can only be dispersed. It can never be destroyed.
Good afternoon! I have been imagining your faces for months, so thank you for being here. This talk is dedicated to our ancestors and elders who created networks of women of color as a means of survival. This is dedicated to all of what it means to stand up. This talk is dedicated to you; this talk is dedicated to us. Receive this offering.
My name is Alexis Pauline Gumbs and 6 years ago I founded a publishing initiative called BrokenBeautiful Press based on a simple insistence that freedom should be free, because freedom, like love and time is something that we make, together. Not something that we own, not something that we can buy or sell, freedom is always in the making. BrokenBeautiful Press achieves its simple mission of making love with you by offering worksheets, teaching tools, interactive anthologies, and flyers and stickers for free download (we suggest you print out our workbooks at work, our stickers are designed to be printed on mailing label paper...waiting to be liberated in a supply closet near you.) We offer a do it yourself couture fashion line that basically encourages you to write all over your clothes in permanent marker, but glamorously, we have an online writing group, a poetry exchange and a fundraising portal where community organizations can offer their collaborative publications in exchange for donations. Of course I encourage to go to and play around, and I encourage those of you have created zines, worksheets and teaching tools to make them available for free download publication through our site, but that is the NEXT step.
What made what I want to call the BrokenBeautiful breakthrough possible is basically two things. One, I happen to have friends who make me smarter just by being around and one of these friends is Serena and two, I with Serena am located in a community activated through the urgency of need to deploy every means, physical, emotional, spiritual, and cybernetic to raise a voice that was being slammed into the ground.
That is to say, before UBUNTU formed in Durham North Carolina to respond to one among many instances of women of color survivors of sexual assault being crucified for speaking our own truths I had no idea how to make a blog, how to post a link into an email, or how to make a pdf available for download, I hadn’t the first clue. I had completely abandoned the idea of a BrokenBeautiful Press website because the result of my many hours wrestling with dreamweaver had left me with a website so embarrassing and hideous that rather than direct people to it I would have preferred to ask people to call me on the telephone and write down in pen the full contents of every single publication we made while I read them out loud. This is how analog I am.
But the mass media and a number of independent defenders of white supremacy and patriarchy were sending a murderous message to me, to the women of color and sex workers in my community and to survivors of gendered violence and oppressed people generally. That message was podcasted, broadcasted, v-casted like airborne poison to still the blood. The message was a reinvokation of the shape of our daily pain. The message was so simple we already had it memorized. We recognized it from the lining of the nightmares of our mothers. And this message was everywhere from the hatemail sent to the family residence of a particular mother, student, dancer, black woman in Durham to the nightly news to Saturday Night Live to the campus newspaper and so-called jokes on t-shirts. The message was unambiguous. The message was not metaphorical. The message was this. If you speak, we will kill you.
But thank the Lorde we are not first. And by the Lorde, here and elsewhere I mean Audre Lorde. Thank the Lorde we come from a badass tradition of women who said silence is already a form of death SO IT IS BETTER TO SPEAK, remembering we were never meant to survive. Because remember or find out for the first time that Kitchen Table: Radical Women of Color Press was not founded because Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Gloria Anzaldua, Merle Woo, Gloria Hull and others wanted something to add to their CV’s. These women created a publishing movement because 12 black women were murdered in Boston within three months and both the police and the mainstream black community tried to say their deaths were inconsequential on the grounds that they may have been prostitutes. Let me be clear, the tradition of radical women of color publishing that comes to us in the forms of anthologies like this Bridge Called My Back and INCITE’s the Color of Violence more recently is NOT an academic surplus (though let me also be clear I am committed to siphoning off every resource from Duke University that they mistakenly give me access to)...the tradition of radical women of color publishing was created not out of professional privilege but out of what it means to be a women of color in public responding to massive routine and state sanctioned violence and facing death every time we speak.
So when UBUNTU hustles together to make a booklet about how to support survivors of sexual violence and BrokenBeautiful Press makes it available for pdf download so that you can print it out at you job and pass it out in your community, we are acting on the precedent that the Boston-based Combahee River Collective (a group of radical black lesbian socialist feminists) set when they made 12,000 copies of a pamphlet called “Six Women Why Did they Die?” and had it reprinted in a national feminist magazine. Because (1) you know they didn’t pay for all those copies so as usual, we inherit the hustle, and two they knew that women of color living outside of Boston needed their analysis, and their boldness as much as they did themselves.
We live in this precedent. I don’t know about Serena, but I personally have cried countless tears of joy because of those women of color, survivors of sexual assault, some of who are in the audience who said “I am a women of color survivor in Texas, thank you for posting the journal of healing that you made. I am thinking about starting my own healing writing circle for survivors here,” or “I can’t come to the National Day of Truthtelling” but I’m lighting candles on my altar because I am with you,” or “I wrote this poem about my process of healing” or just “Thank you. I hear you.” I would have asked those of you who have already viewed or sent comments to the BrokenBeautiful Press and UBUNTU websites or emailed us to stand up in the beginning with the other stand up statements, but I probably would have started crying and been completely useless for at least the 10 minutes of this talk.
The bottom line is that as UBUNTU and BrokenBeautiful Press we engage in web-enabled grass-roots publishing for the obvious reason: connection across space and time. We are committed to remaining tapped in to the legacies of struggle that we know about and those which we are still discovering and we are committed to using every means necessary to remind ourselves and you that we are a movement, we have each other. Our bravery in the face of repression is not sustained by our justified anger; it is sustained by the energy of our ancestors and our love for each other. I am not arguing for the internet as the new cooler, better way to be an activist, because just like the telegram the internet has it’s own limitations...and we are doing the same thing with blogs and web-rings and carnivals that our predecessors were doing with newspaper clippings in letters sent through the postal service in between conferences. I would never say that the internet is the place where the “real” radical girls hang out; because I myself am so analog it’s not funny. I don’t even know how to send a text message.... let alone make a podcast, but I am learning because I believe that sharing skills, fears, insight, and tricks with all of you is the only way to achieve sustainable revolution. I have decided that nothing, not hatemail, not 1000 miles, not the fact that I can’t connect to the internet in my home, not my ridiculous workload and low-tech sensibilities, I have decided that nothing will keep us apart.
So although BrokenBeautiful Press is nothing but a highly coordinated constellation of free blogs, I insist that what we are doing is more than blogging in concert. I insist that this is more.

We are planting trees.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Singing SisterSong

Greetings beloved community! Since I had to fill out this evaluation as a condition of the mother/daughter scholarship my momma and I recieved for the Let's Talk About Sex SisterSong Conference and 10th Year Celebration...I decided to post it for you verbatim...instead of writing a whole new reflection. Color me efficient :)

Name: Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Organization: BrokenBeautiful Press and UBUNTU
Age: 24 Ethnicity: Black/Afro-Caribbean
Gender: Feminine Sexual Orientation: Queer
Have you previously received a scholarship from SisterSong? Y/N No

Below are a few questions about your participation in and impressions of the Let’s Talk About Sex! Conference. Please feel free to be creative with your answers. Thanks for your participation!

What are the 3 most important things that you feel that you have learned through your experiences at the conference?

1. We are warriors and so we can not take life for granted.

2. We are healers and so we have what we need to sustain each other.

3. Midwives are everywhere!

What impact do you think your participation in the conference will have on your work, your community, your family, your self?

I feel spiritually opened by the wisdom that conference participants shared. I was especially inspired by Cara Page’s talk on the Myth of Population Control and her affirmation of our right to our own erotic transformation, our right to risk love. This work will have a direct effect on the ways that we are restructuring our community work in order to prioritize our spiritual and life giving resources over conventional (and explicitly capitalist) measures of success.

Related to this point, I was very struck in the workshop on Depo Provera to learn that many of the conference funders (i.e. the foundations behind our receipt of this very scholarship) were the same people who conducted unethical, violent, genocidal birth control research using the bodies of women of color in the Caribbean. This realization of my own complicity in the violence of capitalism...even at the level of alternative community building, has pushed me to stand for alternatives to foudation funding.

I was also inspired to see sex workers leading workshops on sex work as resistance. I plan to share a DVD that the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center gave to me about the international movement against the “Pledge Against Prostitution) with the other members of UBUNTU, so that our local work can be informed by international sex-worker led actions.

Have you ever been to any other event that was created by and for women of color? Y/N If Yes, what event? YES! My whole life has been created by and for women of color!

How was the LTAS conference different or similar to that event?

I appreciated the way that the LTAS conference gave intentional time to self-help, work among the audience, poetry, song, mourning and visioning. Processing Aishah Simmon’s brilliant film NO! with my mother (who was my self-help partner) really allowed us to move forward in our continual process of the sexual assault that I experienced when I was eighteen.

I love the way that SisterSong transformed the space of the hotel ballroom with visual reminders of our ancestors and our visual methodologies (quilts, batiks, etc). I love that there was constantly available food. I loved the Umoja village, and appreciate SisterSong’s intention in naming it in honor of the survivor-created village in Kenya. I also appreciate SisterSong’s financial support of Africa Loves Babies through the intention of the bags. I heard someone say “I have been able to build with more women of color in the last two days than in my whole life combined,” during the middle of the conference. I might not move to that level of hyperbole..but it was definitely a miracle to meet and be in the presence of so many beautiful brilliant and committed women of color. I cried tears of joy, loss, and new understanding throughout the event.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Divine Community: Some Words for Whispering

Okay. I was going to beg everyone to (re)read Bernice Johnson Reagon's "Coalition Politics: Turning the Century" (1981---it's the last piece in Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology...and in fact I still encourage you to read it....but M. Jacqui Alexander Pedagogies of Crossing: Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred is rocking my world:

“Can we see that a lotus can bloom in a furnace without losing its freshness? We would need to learn to make peace with contradiction and paradox, to see its operation in the uneven structure of our own lives, to learn sense taste and understand paradox as the motor of things, which is what Marxian philospohy and the metaphysics of spiritual through systems have in common: dialectics of struggle. Paradoxes of the Divine. Stil we know that living contradiction is not easy in a culture that ideologically purveys a distaste for it, preferring instead an apparent attachment to consensus. But we know as well that living contradiction is necessary if we are to create the asylums of identification and solidarity with and for one another, without which our lives will surely wither.”

“The fact of the matter is that there is no other work but the work of creating and re-creating ourselves within the context of community. Simply put, there is no other work....Spirit work does not conform to the dictates of human time, but it needs our courage, revolutionary patience, and intentional shifts in consciousness so that we can anchor the struggle for social justice within the ample space of the erotic.”

Let's just talk about this. Meeting wizard anyone?
love ,