Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Post-Crisis Poetics

This series began from the “desire for a poetics adequate to the present, the world since the 2008 economic crisis” (“Post-Crisis Poetics”). To continue constructing a network of practices and encourage discussion, that essay closed with an invitation for views of what writing can contribute to further investigating the post-crisis present.

Brian Ang, Writing the World-System          Olive Blackburn, The Summer of 1934: Art and Struggle in San Francisco          Dereck Clemons, In American Sci Fi Magazines          alex cruse, BODY NEGATIVE          Jeff Derksen, The Militant Word          Helen Dimos          Tongo Eisen-Martin, I Do Not Know the Spelling of Money          Rob Halpern, THE WOUND & THE CAMP, or VISCERAL SOLIDARITY: Some Notes toward a Radical Queer Poetics          Roberto Harrison, tecumseh republic          Carrie Hunter, Post-Crisis Poetics          Brenda Iijima, S + COP – E = Computational Topographical Fur          Josef Kaplan, Friends Forever          Nicholas Komodore, Lipos-polis (towards Amphi-polis)          Michael Leong, Towards a Disorientalist Poetics          Trisha Low, from Socialist Realism          T.C. Marshall, A Secret Agent, a Spaceman, & a Talking Bear: A Theory of Doubling the Stakes in Poetry          Chris Nealon, The Matter of Capital in 2016          Robert Andrew Perez, On Productive Ambivalence, Or Liminality, Or 27 Notes on Butch Kween Poetics          Mg Roberts, a zeppelin, a blossom          Oki Sogumi          Christine Stewart          Cruel Work: Chris Chen Interviews Wendy Trevino          Cassandra Troyan, from POSTSCRIPT FOR A FUTURE’S PAST          Jeanine Onori Webb, Stars, Seeds, Swarms: on the present and future of border-area action collectives          Steven Zultanski

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Steven Zultanski

I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “post-crisis poetics,” but that’s probably because you don’t intend it to have a single reference; I imagine it’s meant to be a suggestively open term designating a general condition (crisis) and a particular stance (anti-capitalist).

Personally, I understand the crisis in question as a series of multiple, overlapping, and illusorily permanent crises: the economic crisis (at a macro level the ongoing crisis of the global factory system and mass exploitation, and at a micro level the shocks of financial crises and the profits made off their management), the crisis of patriarchy, the crisis of white supremacy, the crisis of ecological damage and the extinction of species.

That’s to say that I understand your term, “post-crisis poetics,” to suggest a condition under which poetry is written—the condition of overlapping crises—rather than an aesthetics or methodology of rendering crisis.

Most of the poetry I read seems to address, represent, or politicize some aspects of this condition. Contemporary poetry is certainly not oblivious to or disinterested in crisis.

I don’t think there’s one way to approach this topic, or a special way, either as a poet or a critic. That doesn’t mean that aesthetics are meaningless, and that questions of form and style are subsumed by the sheer enormity of the crises. It just means that there’s a lot of different ways to figure various crisis-points, resistances, and tangents. Crises are deep and varied, and their effects are inscribed in a wide array of literature.

Maybe this argument for plurality seems fluffy.

That’s ok.

It is fluffy.

I like fluffy.

And I worry that a fascination with “crisis,” as such, as an idea, is a means of slipping back into a universalizing discourse at a moment when universalizing discourses are suspect. In other words: no one today would theorize a universal subject or a universal structure; instead, certain theorists hold up crisis as a universal condition, as a way of reestablishing a sense of critical omniscience.

That’s bad.

Of course crises are real, and urgent.

But they aren’t universalizable.

And there’s no poetics (or set of related poetics) with a privileged relationship to crisis or to politics.

And so a certain fluffiness seems appropriate.

The problem is that I’m not being fluffy enough.

Next time I’ll be fluffier, I promise.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Jeanine Onori Webb, Stars, Seeds, Swarms: on the present and future of border-area action collectives

“Nos querían enterrar, pero que no sabían que estábamos semillas”
[They tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds]
— popular slogan of resistance after Ayotzinapa

“the state’s actions often regulate bodies, in ways both great and small, by enmeshing them within norms and expectations that determine what kinds of lives are deemed livable or useful and by shutting down the spaces of possibility and imaginative transformation where people’s lives begin to exceed and expand and escape the state’s uses for them.”
— Susan Stryker, Transgender History

The power of resistance comes in unexpected ways. Resistance is not only the power to continuously confront. Resistance is also the power to elude, rebound, resound post-crisis. Resistance can be power which lives deep in the earth, underground, only to reemerge as green resilience after adversity and after life-giving rain. Resistance is the collective power that fights and stands and speaks truth and mourns and loves and welcomes and creates and yowls again after being beaten, raided, erased, singled out, silenced. Bodies that resist (materially, interpretively, categorically) evade, exceed and expand beyond and escape the state’s uses for them.

The time of resistance social movements from the 2009 California student occupation movements to the nationwide Occupy movement, from global occupation movements and global revolutions of the Arab Spring until the backlash and repressions of these movements from 2011-2012 is a time which has been called the Movement of the Squares for its focus on encampments and the space-taking of centers of cities and institutions: public squares, foreclosed housing developments, banks. In 2011, I wrote some about Occupy San Diego and the global implications of the Movements of the Squares here. Since this time, as occupation tactics have continued successfully on smaller scales to hold and preserve and reclaim autonomous spaces, much resistance has intentionally become less centered on encampments in public squares, but instead concentrated on the often more dispersed shutdown of capital flows and of racist structures of power: blockades and takeovers of freeways, airports, public transportation and roads, shipping and port shutdowns, strike actions, border takeovers, the takeovers and defense of entire cities and communities and regions by the oppressed, especially by people of color and by indigenous movements (see Ferguson and Black Lives Matter, direct actions in Detroit or the indigenous protectors who stand and hold indigenous landspace in encampments against the Dakota Access Pipeline) and the building of collective mutual aid networks to accompany these powerful direct actions.

If the time of previous mass social movements was the time of the Movement of the Squares, and centered, in the U.S., on a powerfully simple popular metaphor of class analysis (“we are the 99%” and its complementary corollary from the 2009 University of California student occupation movements, “we are the crisis”), we are now in the time of decentered, diasporic collective forms which emphasize the intersectionality of shared oppressions to oppose racism, fascism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism and policies and structures of the state which enforce these oppressions. These emergent collective forms take as their metaphors distributed forms of resistance collectively and communally. Right now, I’m particularly interested in the burgeoning influx of non-hierarchical action collective forms in San Diego and Tijuana as oppositions to a top-down hetero-patriarchal hierarchical society—the uses of reemergent poetic metaphors of resistance: the rhizome, the network, the constellation: the stars, the seeds, the swarm.

Counter-Crisis Resistances: Seeds

Candles light up a collective gathering in the Zócalo, Mexico City, October 2014, as part of youth rebellion post-Ayotzinapa, spelling out “FUE EL ESTADO” (it was the State)

But hold up for a minute. This account of the repression of the global Movement of the Squares creating new, dispersed forms of resistance to state violence and control from 2012-present is missing at least one crucial connection. We must also consider the evolution of resistance tactics in the Mexican Spring and how resistance in Latin America from 2012-present—particularly the ways in which indigenous movements in Latin America and resistance to Ayotzinapa’s “crisis of violence” (to borrow a phrase in a letter to me from Tijuana poet Jhonnatan Curiel) and to the Mexican state from 2014-present—has profoundly influenced the evolution of these emergent dispersed forms of resistance.

Jael Vizcarra, writing of the 2014 Southern California series of freeway takeovers in her article “Freeway Takeovers: The Reemergence of the Collective Through Urban Disruption,” (with contributions from collaborator Troy Araiza Kokinis) explicitly connects SoCal freeway takeovers in the wake of Ferguson and the police murder of members of working-class communities of color (see also in San Diego Victor Ortega, Alfred Olango) to a contemporary history of indigenous movements and post-Ayotzinapa resistance tactics, arguing that these tactics are interconnected with migrant populations:
All the freeway takeovers discussed have in common the following feature: they are popular acts that insist on reformulating a critique in a collective manner that seeks to bring attention to the historical and structural roots of the social ailments they address.
California protesters are not the first to target freeways as protest spaces. In fact, freeway takeovers are extremely common in Latin America. In September 2014, Yaqui Indians in Vicam, Sonora blocked Mexican Federal Highway 15 for multiple weeks in protest of toxins dumped in their water supply. Moreover, parents and students have used freeway takeovers to protest the murder of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico by the state and paramilitary forces. The frequent use of this tactic throughout Latin America at least serves as an inspiration for this recent trend in California. The tactic is extremely familiar to the many migrants who come from rural regions of Mexico and Central America. After all, contemporary migration from Mexico and Central America is largely facilitated by the displacement [of] rural peoples whose fates have been intertwined with the expansion of NAFTA and transportation of goods along highway systems. The use of this tactic by heterogeneous working class communities of color may even reflect a broader cultural contribution of the migrant population.
In addition, Vizcarra points out that “in SoCal, protesters have been using the freeways as a vehicle for protest and political awareness for decades.” She argues that this tactic is part of a broader history of resistance to gentrification in racialized neighborhoods like San Diego’s Barrio Logan and East LA, and is vitally intertwined with poetic and artistic forms of resistance such as East LA’s ASCO, a radical Chicano art collective active in the 1970s. A freeway takeover might be considered a use of the swarm as tactic. Media has often described these tactics in these terms: “Protests have swarmed bridges, highways, and city streets. Temporary die-ins and walkouts have interrupted business as usual...” And legal defense organizations such as Enjambre Digital [Digital Swarm] have emerged post-Ayotzinapa in response to the arrests of students and the attempted silencing of activists in Mexico. Finally, 2016 Anti-Trump and anti-fascist protests across the University of California system have frequently been described using fear-shot language against the swarm by the U.S. mass media. For example, in this article in The Washington Post: “Mobs of tearful, angry students protesting Trump victory swarm college campuses.”

As a response to this series’s theme of “Post-Crisis Poetics” I am thinking about the ways in which recent poetics and activism in Southern California border regions, in Latin America and the Global South more broadly replace a focus on post-financial crisis poetics with a focus on how to formulate a poetic response equal to permanent crisis as manufactured by capital, market reproduction and state violence. With the help of Vizcarra’s article which connects Southern California art collectives and the murder of 43 Guerrero Rural Teachers’ College students at Ayotzinapa in 2014 to the 2014 freeway takeovers, I want to consider some additional poetic reactions to this state of permanent crisis in relation to trauma, mourning and social movements in contemporary poetics. Tijuana-San Diego border-area poetics and social movements must be understood in the context of cartel and police violence, the disappearance and murder of 43 students at Ayotzinapa and poetic responses of Mexican and U.S. border poets to these traumatic crises of disappearance and to the surrounding associated insurrectionary direct action.

So why have the tactical metaphors of stars, seeds, swarms emerged as a “post-crisis poetics” in the San Diego-Tijuana border region and beyond in the time following the global Movement of the Squares as a response to an enforced state of permanent crisis? By tactical metaphors I am referring to metaphors that have been used by action collectives in the region as part of their public relations of resistance and as part of the formation of collective identities in struggle which inform material tactics (see also Jeff Conant’s A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency for poetics as one component of resistance). By “tactical metaphors” I am speaking of a formulation that would encompass not only the disruptive “wired” media tactics that Rita Raley describes in Tactical Media, but also all metaphors which inform and inspire and accompany forms of on-the-ground embodied direct actions and organizing tactics: strikes, blockades, divestments, takeovers, mutual aid actions.

Review/Backtrack: Post Financial Crisis Poetics and Mexican Resistance 2012-2014

In order to understand the crucial importance of the Mexican Spring to current post-crisis poetics and to the present, we must go back in time, and review the progression of the largely youth uprising. Because it has become clear to me that many otherwise-informed intellectuals and radicals in the U.S. aren’t aware of the history and the material context of the Mexican Spring, or how poetry and poetics figures prominently in the larger Mexican resistance that resulted, perhaps because of the language barrier, the quick succession of events, the lack of good U.S. media coverage during the uprisings, or because of Mexican state media censorship, let’s review. Like all histories, this will be incomplete and imperfect. In May 2012, in the run-up to the Mexican Presidential election, then-candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, former Governor, was on the campaign trail across Mexico. The name of Yo Soy 132 was initially a response to an attempted smear campaign against the students who protested Peña Nieto’s speech at Iberoamericano University in Mexico City, a prestigious private school. These students were opposing Peña Nieto’s role in the State’s response to Atenco (2006), an indigenous uprising of poor farmers and florists which Mexican police repressed with murder and rape and widespread detention, at a time when Peña Nieto was Governor of the state. Many expected that the largely bourgeois and wealthy student body of the elite private college would support Nieto; instead, the students, shouting “Coward!” and “Assassin!” basically chased the candidate Peña Nieto and his entourage off the campus after the speech, surprising many. After the protest of Nieto’s speech on the campus, an Ibero Professor claimed on the PRI-sponsored radio [PRI being the party of the dominant State, which still controls much of Mexican media] that the IAU demonstrators weren’t students but hired and paid to protest.

In response to the false accusations—a rhetorical tactic which will be familiar to anyone who has seen the “outside agitator” argument mobilized over and over in response to student protest of all types—the 131 students organized to make public photos of their school IDs in solidarity, creating a public website and a public campus response to correct the accusations. Their bravery and their faces as real young people can still be witnessed here. Over a million viewed their video. #YoSoy132 “I am [the] 132nd”—a conjunction or unity expression similar to the solidarity expression “I am/We are the 99%/we are the crisis” of U.S. Occupy movements repressed on a mass scale shortly before this time, and similar to expressions of Athens and Barcelona as well—became a rallying cry globally as the students demanded a new media, against the corruption and lies of state spectacle and state violence. But this initial protest in 2012 in Mexico, and its initial spread to other private universities, such as Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, ITAM, was to prove just the beginning of what very quickly evolved to become a much larger social movement involving scores of students in the public universities as well, and far beyond the universities, a popular uprising initially seeded in student action.

Enter: poets. Just about a week and a half after Peña Nieto is run off the Ibero campus, 20,000 people, inspired by the demands of YoSoy132, march in Mexico City against Peña Nieto and the PRI, demanding an end to state media corruption and spectacle, many also demanding direct democracy, the end of media censorship, the end of capitalism and class inequity. Students chanted “¡chinga la burguesía!” [fuck the bourgeoisie!] and “¡Si hay imposición, habrá revolución!” [if there is imposition, there will be revolution!] and the tongue-in-cheek chant (a reference to The Revolution Will Not Be Televised?) “¡Esto sí es noticia, que salga en televisa!” [Here’s the news, get it on TV!]. Like “anti-Trump” marches in the U.S. at the present time, these marches are referred to as “anti-EPN[Enrique Peña Nieto].” The poet Javier Sicilia marches alongside public university students of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), and other public Universities, in memory of his son who was assassinated in March of 2011, expressing beautiful intergenerational, antihierarchical, non-patronizing solidarity with the youth involved in the post-financial crisis student movements: “‘We are at a historical breaking point, a crisis of the world’s civilization. We are coming through the cracks in the state and the crumbling economy to build something new.’ The poet expressed his excitement, ‘They are the ones fighting for the present...They are not minors. They are our elders fighting for what we took from them, their present. It’s a marvelous lesson and we are here to support them.’” As with Occupy in the U.S., the Arab Spring beginning in North Africa, and global anti-austerity movements overall—the Movement of the Squares—the Mexican Spring was leaderless and anti-partisan in its character and ethos: “‘We are party-less. We are not favoring any political party or candidate and we want the media to open up, to stop lying,’ said a student at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).”

As gathered public university UNAM students occupied Mexican television station headquarters, smashing televisions, the young UNAM poet Sandino Bucio recited a poem/communiqué against state-manipulation and ownership of media. As we will see, later abductions of poets by police in Mexico, including Bucio, and the abductions and murder of students at Ayotzinapa were to create an environment which vitally and critically informs current transborder collectives’s work. Here I include a small part of Sandino Bucio’s poem/communiqué read during Mexican students’s television station takeover/occupation of pro-PRI TV Azteca and mass media company Televisia in opposition to state media corruption and spectacle during the farcical “election.”
We want a television with skateboards, lizards, arcades.[...]with rhymes, discoveries, the
fantastic. We want a television with codexes, artisans, dragons. We want a television with
fabliaux, galaxies, peyote. We want a television with beats, essays, marvels. We want a media with animations, colors, geographies. We want a media with documentaries, adventure, psychedelia.
We want a television with magic, beauty and poetry. We want a television of art, science and soul. We want an intelligent television, modern and human. We want a truthful television, dynamic and free. We want a new television, rare and wise.
We do not want any more shit in Mexican television. We do not want television which misinforms, which thinks only of money. We don’t want a television which contaminates, which scams. And, even less do we want a television which tells us how to think and how to vote. We don’t want one that enforces an embezzler, a killer, a homophobe, an ignoramus, an entitled rich kid, a figurehead, a joke for a President.
We don’t want your marketing to convince us or to determine our future. The television is ours, we rule the truth. The television is ours! [No queremos que su mercadotecnia nos
convenza y decida nuestro futuro. La televisión es nuestra, nosotros decidimos qué ver. ¡La televisión es nuestra!] [excerpt: my own translation.]
Original here:

Review: The Poetics of Resistance to Permanent Crisis in Mexico: 2014-present
“...we are the color // of moreno burnt brown tacos // somos la luz de la cruz // somos los perdidos los desaparecidos // malhumorados enchilados // picosos saladitos astronautas // sometimes i feel we’re lost in the closet silence of printed work // amid the screaming vehicles passing by // we are undocumented by the scent of yerba buena // somos los que se atreven a cantar // we are the voiceless... // we are all that is // that is all we are // we are taqueros.” From the spoken-word collective, Taco Shop Poets, in their Manifesto from Chorizo Tonguefire, Calaca Press/Red CalacArts Collective, San Diego, c. 1999
If we regard reemergence of the de-centered and plural collective as response to a state of permanent crisis enforced by the state and capital, we can witness the reality of multiple fronts of resistance against the enforcement of this permanent crisis state. The border-area poetry and politics groups Colectivo Intransigente and Cog•nate Collective have confronted state and cartel violence against poets in the Mexican and San Diego-Tijuana border region of the last several years. Writings and political actions by poets in the collectives express a current poetics of social and insurrectionary movements against state violence, in relation to the politics of mourning as pathways to keep alive as well as mourn the memory of the disappeared.

If the 2012-14 YoSoy132/Mexican Spring mass youth rebellions in Mexico were focused on confronting state spectacle along with class inequities which added to this obscurantism, with the state and cartel murder of 43 young student-teachers of the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, a majority Leftist school, came a new or renewed focus to the youth movement. The politically-motivated “disappearances” of the 43 which occurred after some students of the College had planned to commandeer buses to protest at an upcoming march in Mexico City on the anniversary of the 1968 massacre at Tlatelolco were originally blamed solely on cartel violence by the State which had also perpetrated the terror. In response to the terror and obscurantism of the State and the police, resistance chants began to emerge and spread, demanding the truth: “Fue el estado” [It was the State], “Con vida los llevaron, con vida los queremos!” [They were taken alive and we want them back alive!]. Resistance direct actions across Mexico, such as the strike at the Women’s Rural Teacher’s College, were accompanied by demands for the return of the 43. Again the poet Javier Sicilia marched in Mexico City in support. The words on many lips were “¡Ya basta!” [Enough!] In June 2015, thousands of Oaxaca teachers of the CNTE teachers union marched to Mexico City, demanding the return of the 43, burning ballots as a gesture of no confidence with the government, blockading gasoline deliveries and declaring an indefinite strike. In October of 2015, on the anniversary of Tlatelolco, and against the killing of the normalistas, many resistance groups, a swarm of about 15,000, marched to the Zócalo (central square) in Mexico City on the Governor’s Palace and some attempted a siege, setting the vehicles outside aflame and trying to bust in the door with a massive improvised battering ram fashioned from a barricade.

A debate surrounding insurrectional violence arose when the masked poet Sandino Bucio was identified in a widely-circulated photo throwing molotovs back at the police during the November 20th, 2014 General Strike actions, which blockaded Benito Juarez International Airport on the centennial of Día de la Revolución (Revolution Day) in the wake of Ayotzinapa. Even some former allies derided him or critiqued him for engaging in these actions. A week later, the poet was abducted by police, tortured and threatened with terror along with 10 other detainees. They were eventually released after outcry in early December of 2014.

Border-Area Seeds

That the international media has tended to focus what little it has reported on the entanglement of poetry and resistances in Mexico post-Ayotzinapa on several individual male poets is also significant, and border-area poets and poetry collectives have responded critically to the limitations of this focus. For Aurelio Meza Valdez, in “On Poetry After Ayotzinapa,” writing shortly after and “in the middle of” the massacre, which some like José Manuel Valenzuela have argued is part of a larger pattern of massacre of an entire generation of youth by the State in the post-financial crisis era (“Juvenicido”), poetry was dead and impossible in some sense after this atrocity:
...decolonizar los saberes...Todo lo demás son chaquetas mentales. No escribas para que todos vean cuánto te importa Ayotzinapa, escribe porque quieres destruir ese sistema podrido de intercambio de adjudicaciones (positivas, como cuando te dan like por postear “¡Basta Ya! Justicia para Ayotzinapa” o negativas, como en las acusaciones de complicidad entre Peña Nieto y López Obrador) en medio de una masacre. Abandona tu posición de privilegio a través de tu escritura.
[decolonize knowledge...All else is mentally masturbatory...Do not write to show everyone to show them how much you care about Ayotzinapa, write because you want to destroy the rotten system of exchange which rewards (positively, like giving a superficial ‘like’ on a post of “¡Basta Ya! Justicia para Ayotzinapa” or negatively, like the accusations of complicity between Peña Nieto and López Obrador) in the middle of a massacre. Abandon your privileged position in the course of your writing.] [Thanks to Raquel Pacheco for her help with translating this passage.]
However, even at this time he sees the tactical metaphors of “semillas,” (seeds) as compelling and also describes the national anthem of Mexico as a form of regressive and ideology-enforced poetry, the knowledge of which enables Mexican citizenship, preventing one from being identified as “illegal immigrant,” and he calls for poetry that would confront nationalism, anti-nationalist poetry which goes beyond parody but reaching into a “symbolic-ritual enaction” which can help create the conditions for real change, a poetry that would enable a new way of collective being in the world, not only of working alongside the people, but “Abandonar el yo y el ustedes para finalmente hundirse en el nosotros” (“Abandon the I and the you in order finally to plunge into the we”). Of Javier Sicilia he reminds us that he is one individual poet projected into the public sphere, while the normalistas were a collective group, part of a highly-vulnerable population of a rural school.

Imuris Valle, who identifies herself as “student, activist and mother” chronicles her firsthand
poetic-critical-activist account of October 2014’s march in the remarkable and moving piece “Mar
de luces por Ayotzinapa” [A sea of lights for Ayotzinapa]. Divided into 43 theses or separate
observations from the march, the piece records flashpoints in the swarm in motion, blending realism
with flights of eruptive and moody sociality in vibrance. As if recalling Meza’s exhortation in his
essay to plunge the I and the you into the we, Valle’s piece takes motion. “10. - It begins to darken outside and we are in Angel. Suddenly I hear a shout: ‘today we light candles/tomorrow barricades.’ I turn and look curiously at the statue of the Angel of Independence, feeling that he/she is one of those who animates me to chronicle the events unfolding at his feet.” Her #11 begins: “The torches are lit, it is the time to share fires.” She describes as well the scabs in the march who hide their walkietalkies in their jackets as if preparing notes to write for The Infiltrator, the punks who offer to assist old ladies at busy crossings, deeply listening to the accompaniment of Mercedes Sosa, a “collective intelligence” working at a “Gordian knot” [“because we are so many and we are leaderless”], the “shhh” of a motorcycle, the chants “fascist government you slaughtered the normalistas/but here we are/shoulder-to-shoulder” and she sees the march as actually three different but parallel marches, each with their own separate rhythms. “Lo grito a ritmo de rap” she spits with a rapper’s verve. The immensity of the Narcoestado, the narco-bureaucracy. “But I believe in art and in culture/against dictatorship/that’s why I quit my job this Wednesday…”

In any place where speaking the truth in public, or simply saying the ‘wrong’ thing, can get one killed or “desaparecido” it is of course the case that, as June Jordan says in Life As Activism, “poetry is a political act because speaking the truth is a political act”—In a strange paradox—aren’t we all?—poetry, as well, tells its truths through artifice, as in Jhonnatan Curiel’s poem “El levantón” [The abduction] which imagines the scene of capture, abduction, disappearance at a time when in Mexico several young poets had been abducted for speaking up and engaging in political action.

El levantón

El día que suceda el levantón
voy a estar arriba de mi hamaca emocional
estaré tranquilo con todos y con todo
no voy resistirme a sus armas
no voy perturbar a mi conciencia tranquila

El día que suceda el levantón
cuando me violenten les devolveré una sonrisa
y sabré que jamás odié ni me dejé comprar
y por eso
me sentiré dichoso

El día que suceda el levantón
estaré listo pues todo lo que pude hacer lo hice
amé con oleadas pasión
sufrí como las ramas en el árbol seco
aprendí a dar pasos en la sangre

El día que suceda el levantón
tomaré un profundo y blanco respiro
y sabré que me dirijo hacia una muerte segura
yo mismo subiré a la cajuela
yo mismo me pondré la capucha

El día que suceda el levantón
cerraré los ojos como jamás los he cerrado
cerraré todo el cuerpo como un párpado
dejaré que me cubran las sombras
tendré miedo pero hasta el último de mis
momentos sabré
que todo lo que tengo es lo que soy
y todo lo que soy me basta
para dejar de existir.
The abduction

The day of the abduction
I will be on my emotional hammock
I will be gentle with everybody and everything
I will not resist their weapons
I will not trouble my contented conscience

The day of the abduction
when they turn violence upon me I will return a smile
and will know that I never hated and did not sell out
and for that
I’ll feel privileged

The day of the abduction
I will be ready for everything I could do—I did
I loved with waves of passion
suffered like branches on a dry tree
learned to take steps on blood

The day of the abduction
I will take a pale, profound breath
and I will know death awaits me
I myself will get into the trunk
I myself will put the hood on

The day of the abduction
I will close my eyes like I have never done
I will close all my body like an eyelid
I will allow shadows to overtake my body
I will be afraid but know even in my last moments
that everything I have is what I am
and everything I am will be enough
to cease existing.
Translated by Francisco Bustos, Sonia Gutiérrez, Olga Garcia and Jhonnatan Curiel

This poem certainly confronts its own privilege with a enacted abandonment, as if to also respond to Meza’s call to use writing to abandon privilege. But early on the irony in the piece hints at the impossible and comforting fantasy of this gratuitous self-abandonment in the face of the machinery of state violence, as if it were also a form of privilege, the hammock of presumed choice, or of those who judge other activists secondhand for not resisting according to an ideal. But another remarkable thing happens: where the poem arrives is not at all where it started. It is as if the poem has finally begun to let a tiny bit of the sincere vulnerability and reality and even resistance into its consciousness, even as the I melts away in the knowing fiction. If the lyricism of the poem arrives at the “we” it is in the collective translation of the poem, it is in the way that the poem’s stanzas recall so many who are mourned in real life, it is in the embodied poet who may speak this at a gathering knowing that it could be any of them facing this tomorrow. The poem confronts the messiness of human experience which is the implicit reality that it draws upon, while expressing a sort of compassion in its rewriting of the scene of capture, and it challenges us to each think about how we might judge others’ actions. Curiel’s performance for the series LETRAS POR AYOTZINAPA [Letters for Ayotzinapa] makes for an embodied, heart-pumping experience of the rhythm of blood, the sound of blood “son de la sangre” using imagery of the living and the dead, manifesting in trance-like rhythm and performative imagery at times invoking Pre-Columbian indigenous practices. By invoking the rhythm of blood, bodies, earth, fire, the heart within the body, out to the planets, Curiel’s poem draws our attention to the violence of memory and also confronts with a resistant and defiant sense of rage in mourning.

Tijuana-San Diego poet and science fiction writer’s Pepe Rojo’s creative-critical hybrid-genre poetic project, “AYOTZINAPA: A Piece For Facebook Nation” also confronts differentials of privilege and complicity in Mexico, social media perceptions vs. on-the-ground activism, strange moments of humor along with deep mourning. Rojo narrates his journey to Ayotzinapa, five months after the normalistas went missing, and documents past visits, interspersing memoir, political history and images of the place. I cannot read this generously honest work without crying; there is something about the understatement in it under which deep pain resides, and the willingness to face uncomfortable feelings and complexities on the part of the author. The piece engages with visual representation of the tragedy and with continuing resistances in this place, along with what it means to be a writer and a person (a parent, a Leftist, a child once) amidst such a history.

If resistance is also that which can evade, reemerge and resound beyond the state’s uses post-mourning and post-crisis, how do we prevent forgetting, how do we respond after what seems like an endless repression, when the heart fills with pain in a world of war, how do we hold and share light? To quote Imuris Valle, “The torches are lit, it is the time to share fires.” To quote Pepe Rojo, “So I’ll use that feeling.”


unveiling a deep universality of the cosmic web [of galaxies]. Visualization by Kim Albrecht. Astrophysics

In Kumeyaay cosmology or My Uuyow (Sky Knowledge), the Milky Way is regarded as the Spine of the Sky. In Japanese and Chinese mythology, and in the writing of some classical poets (Du Fu and Li Qingzhao in particular) the Milky Way represents a great cosmic river. The latest visualizations of the known universe in astrophysics have unveiled “a deep universality of the cosmic web” of interrelated galaxies. Fredric Jameson, who wrote what might be considered the seed of his 2005 Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions while at UC San Diego: his essay “Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture” (published in Social Text, 1979, and well worth a re-read) argues against some prevalent Leftist notions of its era, critiquing the limits of Adorno on mass culture, stating “We therefore need a method capable of doing justice to both the ideological and the Utopian or transcendent functions of mass culture simultaneously. Nothing less will do, as the suppression of either of these terms may testify” (p. 144). Since this time, Jameson has maintained the view that utopian and revolutionary desires are a necessity in the face of the age of global capital, and in Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, uses the metaphor of archipelagos to envision a de-centered and decolonized radical past and present in which islands in the stream become nodes of resistance equal or greater to the powers of the mainland: “In this spirit [which considers the non-communicability or antagonism of its component parts] I propose to think of our autonomous and non-communicating Utopias—which can range from wandering tribes and settled villages all the way to great city-states and regional ecologies—as so many islands: a Utopian archipelago, islands in the net, a constellation of discontinuous centers, themselves internally decentered.” (p.221)

During the University of California San Diego 2016 inauguration day J20 (January 20th) wildcat strike, after an all-day march on the picket, in which students shut down roads and blockaded parking lots and the administrative complex on-campus, three women of color in the STEM fields and members of the Lumumba Zapata Collective, an intersectional, anti-fascist, antiracist, multiracial, anti-capitalist collective, read from a collectively-written poetic statement which invoked the metaphor of the stars: “Science fact! Did you know that people are made of stars?/These burning clusters of gas collapse under their own weight,/exploding into new elements/Creating the moon, the Earth/the atoms that shape our bodies.” This tactical metaphor of stars, collectively authored, becomes also a way of speaking of the intersectionality of multiplicities of identities and struggles, internally decentered:
We are STEM
And we also are made of stars.
We also are brilliant and we also are women
and we are black, we are brown
and we are Asian, native, Muslim, Jewish, Christian
We are trans, queer, straight,
We have disabilities of different visibilities
And we deal with insecurities
And we each
contain multitudes of these identities.
In their use of the constellation and cosmic metaphors, these students, writing poetry for the first time in many cases, joined a long tradition of radical thought and radical poetics. In their oblique reference to Walt Whitman’s “Song Of Myself” [“contain multitudes”] they reference an always-transforming work written by a working-class and queer author which at its best legendarily embraces the swarm by decentering the idea of the self outward to encompass multitudes of the collective, including slaves, women, and the poor, to counter the tradition of American individualism, while retaining individuality of expression. In their statement, these students of the Lumumba Zapata Collective foregrounded climate change and denounced scientific complicity in militarization and environmental destruction. Playfully they continued their straight-up science fact poetics against the ethical and social limits of empiricism: “So we must not work LOST in thought but FOUND by answers,/not WITHIN reason but elevated by it./Rational/is not passion, y’all./Empirical/is not the same as ethical/Statistics/are NOT individuals.” To some experimental poets and academics, this might read simplistically, but this clever internal slant rhyme and idiom-play expresses one half of the critique of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, as if the better parts of Adorno and Horkheimer’s philosophical argument were made popularly accessible, warmer, feminist, and decolonized!

Our radical tradition’s long history of stellar metaphors also includes those who fought back during the 1969 Stonewall riots in resistance to police, such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, civil rights activists who founded STAR in 1970 (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries). The metaphor of dispersed power which escapes and exceeds the state’s uses in the form of seeds of resistance is expanded outwards to constellations of islands in archipelagos and outward still to star systems and galaxies scattered like infinite seeds throughout the universe: “our universes extend well beyond the university.” This is a form of universality and solidarity which recognizes interconnection and encourages cooperation of allies while simultaneously recognizing “we are not all positioned equally,” striving for horizontalism in collective organization, against the formation of hierarchies, as difficult as this can be to prevent. The Zapatistas themselves also famously invoked the “Encuentro Intergaláctico” [Intergalactic Meeting], “invitó a todas las formas sensibles de vida de otros planetas en la galaxia a participar en el evento. ‘No sé si realmente vinieron al primer Encuentro Intergaláctico,’” [inviting all sentient forms of life of other planets in the galaxy to participate in the event] and the bemused addition, [“I don’t know if they really came to the first Intergalactic Meeting. At least, they never identified themselves”].

In their use of stellar metaphors, border-area collectives are invoking this long radical tradition of imagining decentered resistances, demonstrating an always-awareness that seemingly disconnected nodes of resistance actually can represent what Niall Twohig, in his UC San Diego dissertation, Revolutionary Constellations: Seeing Revolution Beyond the Dominant Frames (2016), calls “an undeniably interconnected planetary community”:
When we look deeply at the flashpoints of revolutionary life that burn against the backdrop of the historical universe, we reach the same insight. Their physical collapse is never their end. Rather, the ripples of revolutionary life continue beyond the death of the body or the collapse of the movement...Once we break our view from [dominant frames of liberalism], we will be able to reconnect the revolutionary dead to their named and unnamed kin who are scattered across time and space. We will be able to form a constellation from them spatially and temporally to see that they are never alone, that they are never merely a footnote from a dead page of history. (p. 17)
In figuring time and space in this expansive way in a radical cosmology and a living history, we can see beyond the limitations of the dominant view of social movements to a sense of solidarity, community and radical time without sacrificing a complex understanding of difference: a red shift which allows for parallax.


Freeway protests on Highway 5 near La Jolla, CA in San Diego circa Dec 2014, original photo here

Because so much has been said and resaid on the negative valences of the swarm, in the sense of its dystopian character and potential, I am much more interested in the positive valences of the swarm as the movement of resistances. I am much more interested in considering the ways that the real movement of “swarms” as spontaneous diverse collective formations are described and proscribed and determined by fears around race, class, gender and invading “hordes,” and how collectives have embraced and mobilized the swarm.

In her book Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune (Verso, 2015), Kristin Ross argues that for Marx, during and after the Paris Commune, one of the things that the swarm comes to represent is a “possibility of multiple paths to socialism” (p. 26), the “‘buzzing hives’ that were the revolutionary clubs of the Seige”(p. 14). In her chapter in The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune titled “The Swarm,” Ross regards the crowd’s “swarm-movement” as a sort of network which, as Donald Bruce and Anthony George Purdy in their Literature and Science note “resembles a capillary network and contains many elements of unpredictability,” concluding that for Ross, the communal “mixed, chaotic (and spontaneous) constructions” of the swarm include both “barricades” and “vagabondage,” as well as spontaneous crowds (p. 163). Importantly, in a chapter of Communal Luxury aptly titled “Seeds Beneath the Snow”—a metaphor that perhaps not entirely coincidentally echoes the popular Mexican resistance slogan after Ayotzinapa “they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”—thinking the present toward the future, Ross also asserts that “A strategic position based on non-alignment, one that implies a slavish commitment to neither anarchism nor Marxism, and on association over sectarianism, may well be worth considering today.” (p. 111)

In their coauthored article “Arte, literatura y acción colectiva en Tijuana-San Diego” [Art, Literature, and Collective Action in Tijuana-San Diego], which considers political-poetic collective actions in the San Diego-Tijuana border-area, Tijuana poets and writers Ana Lilia Nieto Camacho and Aurelio Meza Valdez reference Deleuze and Guattari’s figuration of the rhizomatic swarm of the collective: “lineas de fuga” or “lines of flight,” the collective swarm’s multiple paths through the liminal border cities.

Meza and Nieto interview representatives of multiple border-area collectives—including Curiel of Colectivo Intransigente and Misael Díaz, who, with Amy Sanchez, founded the artistic and political group Cog•nate Collective. Members of these collectives affirm the importance of “poética politica” gestures and actions as catalysts for larger social movements and for change. For Díaz, one role of poetry is to move the intimate and personal to a place which not only acknowledges and respects the other but serves as a tool, an artefact [artifact, perhaps punning on “arte” or art en espagnol and on “fact” in English] or device for doing so in the “social and political sphere”:
En un momento cuando influyentes pensadores miran con sospecha la producción artística contemporánea, algunos creadores han dejado de cuestionarse hasta qué grado sus actividades pueden considerarse artísticas. Una prueba fehaciente es la inclinación hacia lo político en Intransigente, la “poética política” de la que hablaba Curiel en entrevista con Misael Díaz. Las acciones de Intransigente, dice Díaz, son “not just a reminder, but a call to action, a demonstration of their fervent belief that speech—as writing, as poetry, and/or as debate—can catalyze change” (Díaz, 2012). Ese es el gesto que motiva acciones como las Intransigencias o Anastasio Catarsis, pero el público medio no las parece comprender en ese sentido. Y es así como Díaz comprende el camino que llevó a la conformación de Intransigente, en el que la poesía se convirtió en un artefacto para entrar en contacto con otros: […] poetry begins as a way of understanding the self, but ultimately transcends the individual and becomes a tool to understand and better recognize, respect, and acknowledge the other. In this way, poetry moves from the realm of the personal and intimate, to the social and political sphere (Díaz, 2012).
Meza and Nieto also refer to Colectivo Intransigente’s action Anastasio Catarsis, a poetic-political action including a march and a sonic component which the Collective organized after the death of Anastacio Hernández Rojas, an undocumented worker murdered by la migra/border patrol agents at the San Ysidro border in 2010. Colectivo Intransigente “takes its name from the Spanish word intransigencia, which Curiel explains as signifying both a refusal to compromise and the capacity to transgress, to go beyond”: intransigency, transborder, transformative, etc. Colectivo Intransigente’s poetic dérives go into public spaces: roads, bridges, borders. They travel on buses, creating collective performances together. Cog•nate Collective’s Border Line Broadcasts/Borderblaster Transmissions, called “Poetic Dérive,” “Open Address” and “Mixtape for the Crossing,” variously, involve a moving reading and a mobile soundsystem, with Tijuana and San Diego poets traversing the border. This work examines the economic, social and cultural flows of the border and differentials of meaning within these transborder spaces.

Karen Marquez reading at Cognate Space. Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz

Borderblaster: Listening Station playing Transmission 4, “Poetic Dérive” to pedestrians waiting in line to cross into the United States. Photo: Courtesy of Misael Diaz

The Present

Linking arms in a circle, against the privatization of water and the deregulation of gasoline, in which government subsidies are being removed, and against Peña Nieto and the Mexican government, after news that Mexican government officials had received massive bonuses at the same time and gasoline vouchers, and that cartels would benefit from the general misery, protesters have shut down the border for at least seven straight weekends at the San Ysidro San Diego/Tijuana Border Port of Entry since January 2017. A little of the electric energy can be felt at this documentation of one of the earlier border blockades here.

Las Patronas are a collective of women who provide food and water to migrants crossing North on trains to the U.S. This direct material aid is radical, highly organized, and has been going on for nearly 20 years. Since the implementation of Operation Gatekeeper after the beginning of NAFTA in 1994, an estimated nearly 10,000 people have died trying to make the perilous crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. Now with the U.S. Executive Order and the threat of a further border wall, more than ever border-area collective resistance is needed to this repression.

Undocumented migrants reach for bags of food and refilled water bottles thrown at them by the women of the border-area collective Las Patronas. Water bottles are strung in pairs for easier catching.

The last two years in San Diego have seen not just the freeway blockades, airport protests against the Executive Order and border blockades, but also the creation of an swarming influx of collectives which engage in direct action and mutual aid, many of which work together. Lumumba Zapata Collective, previously discussed, is one of these. Other student collectives include LitAction, in its activism against UCSD’s Literature Building cancer cluster and other structural actions, the Che Cafe Collective (great short documentary by students here), a radical non-hierarchical music and organizing space saved after a four-month occupation of the building by students while under threat of the San Diego Sheriff who threatened to remove students “by any means necessary,” the radical bookstore Groundwork Books and its Books for Prisoners, Black and Pink San Diego, the UCSD Faculty Collective, the transborder art action collective Collective Magpie, the seed-bombing, past-future transborder experiment Tierra y Libertad (“all of these gestures are planned to be undertaken with a group of friends in your neighborhood. that’s our anarchist nature.”), the Electronic Disturbance Theater collective and its material gestures of disruption of the space of the border, such as the Transborder Immigrant Tool, utilizing “burner” phones, and many others. This rhizomatic swarm of border-area collectives is characterized by a merging of poetry and poetics and art with radical politics, with the current generation embracing cross-border, transnational and multiracial, intersectional resistance.

The structure of many of these recent collectives blends communal vision with autonomous praxis, striving to avoid a situation of control, hierarchy or an enforced adherence to an ideological party-line:
Cada miembro no está condicionado por ninguna atadura ideológica al colectivo y aunque compartimos ideales en común, cada uno conserva su criterio e individualidad con respecto a los demás. De manera individual cada quien es responsable de su formación artística así como el desarrollo de su propia obra. [Each member is not conditioned to any ideological attachment to the collective and though we share ideals in common, each retains their own opinions/discretion and individuality with respect to the others. Individually everyone is responsible for their artistic training and the development of their own projects.]
The collective at its best is a space of radical belonging, not defined primarily by exclusion. It is also, at its best, a space of productive division, not sameness, a space of imaginative possibility, vital, fluid and open to new ideas.

During the LZC wildcat strike on the U.S. Inauguration Day, at UC San Diego, one participant carried a sign: “Toward an Anti-Fascist University”; another bore a quotation from former UCSD student Angela Davis: “Racism Cannot Be Separated From Capitalism.” A raging resistance dance party developed in the midst of the pouring rain, one of fiercest SoCal storms in many years. Participants danced to songs from a Collective Playlist. One of the most memorable moments came when a circle dance formed, participants dancing to what is arguably set to become one of the most powerful protest songs of the last 10 years, the song “Hell You Talmbout” by Janelle Monáe, Deep Cotton, St. Beauty, Jidenna, Roman GianArthur and George 2.0. This song speaks the names of people of color killed by police, repeating the refrain, “Say his name/Say her name” in order to create a manifestation of remembrance. Ricardo Dominguez, along with MFA artists Lisa Korpos and Grace M. Huddleston, developed a gesture for the event, a performance in which the dancers of the march could elect to be tied loosely in the same red web, red thread which connected all of them continuously, making visible these lines visible and invisible that connect the constellatory nodes of the collective swarm. So we found ourselves dancing beside our old and new friends and compas, and some we did not know, with red webs loosely entwining us in an interdependency. “Dance close,” Dominquez intoned.

That many of all of these disruptions were performative, symbolic and short-lived does not take away from their power of defiance in a climate of disappearance, or as a poetics of against, or in recognition of, the replicating crisis states that capitalism both creates and inflicts. Poetry intersects with the material dialectic of history insofar as praxis around poetry and poets become lived experience. Making art together (poetry and other art) can be not simply “symbolic” in a collective but can be a form of mutual aid, especially when done in cooperation with other forms of material support and political action. In her “Mar de luces por Ayotzinapa,” [“Sea of Lights for Ayotzinapa”], Imuris Valle quotes a chant still relevant and pressing now, in an age of growing totalitarianism and the multiple decentered material resistances to its oppressions: “Si el presente es de lucha, el futuro es nuestro”; “If the present is struggle, the future is ours.” They tried to bury us: but they didn’t know we were seeds. They tried to bury us, but didn’t know we were seeds, stars, swarms.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


                              A telephone rings
                    I answer it and a woman’s voice tells me
                                        “I can’t leave if I don’t break
                                        with the enemies that I’ve

                    I hang up the phone and walk across the street
                    to a boarded up liquor store
                              above it is an apartment building
                              with blown out windows
                              I climb the fire escape ladder
                              to the top floor and crawl inside
                                        and shed my fear

                                        The room is full of women
                                        we talk and laugh
                              planning        discussing
                                        some in a corner of the room
                               fucking            but not separate
                                        as they add to the conversation

                              This is the reality of participation—
                              how to be separate   but not a spectacle
                              how to be included but not a spectacle of appearance

                                        We all feel the threat of narrative
                                                  the weight of our bodies
                                                  the not          that holds our
                                                            ecstatic refusal
                                           held by a stress       unbearable
                                        an anxiety produced       in waiting
                                        resonant querulous reports
                                                  small family groups
                                                  scuttling        their soft vocalization
                                                            WHERE are YOU?

                                        We wish we knew of better ways
                                                  to help each other
                                                  of better ways to fight
                                                  what is this social truth
                                        we know formed by the absence of life
                                        a caricature of resistance
                                        we dance around
                                                  we talk about the weather
                                                  its pheromones undetected
                                        afraid to destroy this one space of recognition

                              Our body sinks down to a radical emptiness
                              dread wells up around          this production
                                        to counter     we learn configurations
                                        we use our force with each other
                                                  in a skillful balance
                                   of resistance                and capture
                                                            how to destabilize
                                                  but we never put it to use
                                                  against each other
                                                            to hold each other in
                                        a tender suspension of violence
                                                            compelling meaning

                                        We place our bodies
                                                            on each others
                                                  they are full of erotic potential
                                                  redirected rather than ignored

                              How to build without producing
                                                    each day   another set of obstacles
                                                  linked into commonality
                                                  a pleasure shared
                                                            to never be alone again
                                                            to cross it all out

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Cruel Work: Chris Chen Interviews Wendy Trevino

This is the second part of an interview published in The New Inquiry.

Chris Chen: I wanted to ask about how you see your writing navigating an often unacknowledged and sometimes quite stark divide between what could be called a politics of culture versus a culture of politics. Your recent chapbook seems committed to puncturing the myth that the collectivities organized by and through race are politically homogeneous—an assumption that’s partly the legacy of older cultural nationalist movements in the US. You write, “So much violence/Changes relationships, births a people/They can reason with. These people are not/Us.” Nevertheless there’s a transient, migratory “we” that’s threaded through the poems and seems to flicker in and out of view. Could you talk a little bit about that “we”?

Wendy Trevino: I think it’s important to understand that the racial categories we’re talking about are historically a European colonial imposition first and foremost, a “we” defined not by us—who might have less in common than not. These categories made “us” legible to colonizers, slavers, capitalists, the state—whoever or whatever enforces this “we” from the outside and often through violence. I can’t help but think about how the transatlantic slave trade abducted groups of people who spoke different languages, with different religions and traditions, and imposed on them—those who survived, that is—a single identity that didn’t exist in that form before the trade.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. This “we” is also negotiated by us, too. In 2014 when Latinos in Salinas, CA rioted after police killed three migrant workers in three months, and other Latinos representing local unions and nonprofit organizations responded by forcefully suppressing even anti-police slogans in an attempt to control who and what was represented—these are the kinds of negotiations I’m talking about. For those on whom a particular identity is imposed, “we” will encompass people with shared and opposed interests, friends as well as enemies, and intra-group relations of power. All of this plays a significant role in determining who represents “us.”

So “we” is negotiated internally within groups, but these negotiations are tied to externally imposed categories and expectations that change in order to maintain existing relations of power. I think culture can often obfuscate the politics of those negotiations. This is a serious problem if our aim is the eradication of racism.

CC: Cristina Beltrán has recently argued that older attempts to organize Chicanx politics around a vision of pre-political cultural unity has often come at the cost of painting political disagreements within the movement as the result of contamination or tokenization by whiteness. “In the Chicano movement, feminists were consistently accused of representing a destructive force coming from outside the community,” Beltrán writes, “In other words, Chicana feminists were not simply wrong about gender relations—they were falsas (false ones), no longer legitimate members of the community. Accused of being cultural traitors creating conflict and fragmentation, Chicana feminists were often on the defensive.... The belief that shared culture could produce a unified political perspective was compellingly inclusive, but it turned disagreement into betrayal.” Beltrán is writing about 60s and 70s-era US political movements, but I wanted to ask for your thoughts on how you see literature and art as a site of conflict around the promotion of racial authenticity as a political ideal.

WT: Recently, a mural featuring gay, lesbian and trans Chicanxs was destroyed by arson in San Francisco’s Mission District. On social media, one of the arguments against the mural was that it was an appropriation of Cholo culture, downplaying the homophobia earlier expressed with posts like “Keep that shit in the Castro” and attempting to delegitimize the Chicanx, Los Angeles-based artist, even as the Chicanxs online used words like “n***a” the way Latinos in the Valley use the word “guey” to refer to each other. I think there were good arguments to be made against relatively upscale art galleries as a leading edge of gentrification and the artists who agree to show work in these galleries, but those were not the arguments that were being made here.

CC: This raises the question of the role that art, literature, and music might sometimes play in “artwashing” gentrification or commodifying past social movements. The closing of the nonprofit art space PSSST in the Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles after a coalition of locals mounted a campaign against galleries that, despite showcasing Chicanx art, were seen as driving up rents in the area—a process some have called “gentefication.”

WT: I think a little background on Galeria de la Raza, the art gallery that installed the Mission mural, “Por Vida,” might be helpful. The gallery has been around since the early 70s and rumor has it that it is currently having trouble securing a new lease. I don’t mean to suggest that the gallery is incapable of facilitating gentrification or commodifying political movements. I just mean to say the position of Galeria de la Raza is different from that of The Broad and PSSST. At least in the sense that the latter are new to the neighborhood so to speak and well-funded—in the case of The Broad, by a real estate mogul and in the case of PSSST, by a “secret investor” suspected to be more interested in real estate speculation than art.

I also want to point out that paintings, sculptures and installations in art galleries are quite different, in terms of how works of art are owned, displayed and preserved, from a mural in a neighborhood. It’s a lot easier for a person who lives in a neighborhood where there’s a mural she finds offensive, to appreciate or destroy it, while there may be artwork in a neighborhood gallery of which the person never becomes aware.

I think you could say that what happened to the “Por Vida” mural in the Mission demonstrated a refusal to think about or consider gay, queer, and trans cholos. It is sad to me that the idea of gay, queer and trans Latinx (specifically Chicanx) being part of cholo culture was so offensive that a person would burn representations of them and be supported by so many in doing so on the grounds that there are no gay, queer or trans cholos. And that there would be this assumption that “obviously” the artist must have appropriated cholo culture. Nevermind that cholo culture has roots in Southern California, where the muralist was from. Nevermind that the appropriation of Latinx and Chicanx culture in the form of food by establishments like the Taco Bell and Gracias Madre, both in the Mission, which exploit mainly nonwhite workers—almost all Latinx in the kitchen. These establishments pay them nowhere near enough to live in the neighborhood, but this hasn’t yet resulted in them being burned down.

CC: Finally, I wanted to ask about what you’re reading, watching, or listening to these days. Also, are you working on any new writing or publishing projects?

WT: I’m currently working on a manuscript for Krupskaya Books called Cruel Work, after a 2014 conference, by the same name, at Mills College. Like Brazilian, the entire manuscript is made up of sonnets, but this time, the sonnets focus on feminist organizing and racism and there will be multiple sequences. I’m also reading books like Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg and S/He by Minnie Bruce Pratt. I keep coming back to Lucy Parsons.

I’m still not done with the kind of reading I was doing for Brazilian. I still want to read The Return of Comrade Ricardo Flores Magón by Claudio Lomnitz, for instance and I’d like to learn more about the 21st century border, which involves the cartels in a way it didn’t in the 90s when I last lived in the Valley.

I read contemporary poetry pretty regularly. I’ve really enjoyed the work of Tongo Eisen-Martin lately. What he does with the “city poem” is incredible. I’m lucky enough to be friends with Oki Sogumi and Laura Martin—their work “speaks to me” in a way that always makes me want to write back. I feel similarly inspired by my friends in general—there are too many to name here. Also, I really liked Daniel Borzutsky’s Memories of My Overdevelopment, Diana Sue Hamilton’s Universe, Raquel Salas-Rivera’s oropel / tinsel (especially the title poem) and Jasmine Gibson’s Drapetomania. Hannah Black’s Dark Pool Party is really really good, I must say.

Finally, me, Oki Sogumi and Josh Baltimore have been talking about starting a press for the last year and we are finally getting started. The name of the press is Spoilsport Editions. We have a few manuscripts that we’re looking to publish including work by Josh Baltimore and Laura Martin. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Christine Stewart

Dear Brian, you wrote that you were interested in my perspective on the post-crisis period from Treaty 6 Indigenous territory and wanted to know more about what I “feel like needs to happen” as I wrote following our seminar. As you state, connecting various territorial perspectives is a motivation for the series, and so you are interested in my question: “What does it mean to write about a post-crisis poetics from Turtle Island, from Treaty 6? The Arab Spring, the European ‘movement of the squares,’ and the Wisconsin occupation are inextricably part of our context, but do not manifest here with us in the same way.”

I want to address your invitation by considering the labour required for being here, on colonized land, and how might people who are not Indigenous work inside Indigenous intellectual and legal systems, and not only within Eurocentric concepts of resistance and liberty? That is, when colonial governments and rebellions function, as Hupa, Yurok and Karuk scholar Cutcha Risling Baldy writes, in total “ignorance to Indigenous intellectualism and thought” how can we acknowledge and work within Indigenous systems of law, and learn what is required of us to understand where we are when we say we are here?1

I accept that Jeff Derksen’s concept of sincerity as an existing social relation between people might help us work through this ignorance,2 and I am curious why it is that, as Rob Jackson notes, so many North American Marxists don’t see the immediacy of local Indigenous issues as sites of struggle that are also struggles against capitalism and colonialism and as places in which life as a site of existing relations is affirmed.3

I have always wondered about this, but especially after moving to Edmonton, and engaging in the Occupy (2011-2012) movement. Why was Occupy such a white movement? It did not tend to attract other activists who otherwise had a history in socialist activism. It did not, for example, attract the Indigenous activist who so fully engaged and animated the subsequent Idle No More (2012-2013) movement.

What kinds of relations are required here? What kind of militant sincerity? If, as Papaschase scholar Dwayne Donald says, colonialism is the denial of relationship than how might we affirm relationship?

Outside of Peterburough, in Eastern Canada, in the province of Ontario, on Pigeon Lake, on Anishinaabe land, there is a wild rice harvest each fall, and settler cottagers in the area attempt to disrupt the harvest. In response to this, Hayden King, a Gcgi’mnissing Anishinaabe writer posts on his twitter feed on Aug 29th, 2016, the latest billboard by the Reclaiming Renaming Project OgimmaMikana: Anishinaabe manoomin inaakonigewin gosha #OgimaaMikana.4 It translates into “wild rice is Anishinaabe law.”5

Thinking through what it might mean for wild rice to be law is difficult from a Eurocentric perspective. But it might be true that until we can, until we are willing to exert the unthinkable labour that learning a very different legal system requires, we cannot know where we or what is expected of us when we are here, and we cannot help but embodying and reproducing the violence of colonization.

Here, where I am, there is no wild rice. There is a different material reality. There is sweet grass, and a few buffalo. There are different nations, and here on Treaty 6, I need to understand different forms of law. This is not social work. It’s not charity, and it’s not community service work. It is paying attention, and being differently educated, listening hard, creating difficult alliances, igniting rare and sometimes awkward moments of solidarity, expending exhausting labour in the hopes of creating new, sometimes, usually, fleeting social subjects.

In my teaching I work collectively with nêhiyaw Elders, knowledge keepers, young Indigenous students and artists and scholars from some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Edmonton. The nêhiyaw make up one of the nations of this place. Their people were at the table when Treaty 6 was negotiated in 1876, and, in 2016, Treaty 6 still matters to the nêhiyaw people—because of housing shortages, incarceration rates, homelessness, endemic illness, high rates of suicide, land theft, water theft, unmitigated resource extraction, poverty, hunger, police brutality, genocidal provincial and federal administrative policies and the ongoing revanchist gentrification of the city of Edmonton that criminalizes the long standing street communities.

As a settler person, living in Edmonton, I need to understand what it means to live on Treaty 6 land. It is a question that I often get asked, do I know that I am on Treaty Land, and do I know what that means? I mostly hear it downtown, outside of the hospitals from folks smoking cigarettes in hospital gowns, from people out on the street, bumming change, from folks who live in the local shelters.

In particular, I am asked to understand the meaning of Treaty 6 as it was negotiated and agreed to by the nêhiyaw, Nakota Sioux, Dene, and Saulteaux—not as it has been interpreted by the Crown (the relationship of the Métis people to treaty is a matter of some debate. See Adam Gaudry’s “Are the Métis treaty people?,” for example). As I have learned, Treaty 6 was and is understood as a necessary nation-to-nation relationship of reciprocity and sharing. According to nêhiyaw oral and written history, there was no surrender of land to the Crown. The treaty negotiations in 1876 were made with the understanding that land sharing and close kinship connections were both possible and essential at that time in history.6 And the nation-to-nation treaty proposed by the Indigenous nations of the area with the Crown is based on thousands of years of treaties that existed between the Indigenous nations.

But I don’t know much, and what I do know I have learned from different elders, knowledge keepers, scholars, students and colleagues. I am indebted to their guidance, and I am grateful for it. From them I have been slowly learning the extent of my obligations to the land I live on. Through them I have been learning about my treaty obligations.

I am learning slowly and painfully that upholding the Treaty agreements is as much my responsibility as it is of the nêhiyaw, Dene and Nakota Sioux nations. I am learning that it is my work to give back what has been taken, to restore the kinships, and the balance that is necessary for all life. I am asked to understand how I continue to contribute to the injury and displacements of Indigenous people here and elsewhere, and how I might instead become a good relation, a good ally to the complex communities of this place. And I am only coming to understand the extreme labour required in this task, that it is uncomfortable work, impossible, painful, necessary and infinite.

I have been taught that the human-to-human Treaty 6 was founded on the original treaties, agreements that existed between the human and the non-human or more-than-human world, agreements on which important legal systems were based. That is, as nêhiyaw Elder Bob Cardinal relates it, Treaty 6 is based on the original agreements of reciprocity that were made and that have existed since the beginning of time, agreements of reciprocation that were made between humans and animals, between humans and air, between humans and water, humans and plants, humans and rocks.7

For Elder Bob Cardinal, this is the most important thing we can know when we begin to consider treaty. That is, that these original treatise are the basis for the survival of all life on this planet, and they lie at the heart of the treaty making process for the nêhiyaw people. That is, that all subsequent treaties between Indigenous nations with Indigenous nations are based on these original and sacred covenants formed by humans and their more-than-human relations.

These original treaties hold the blueprint for all subsequent treaties.

As a result, when it came to the Treaty 6 negotiations with the Crown in 1876, the Indigenous nations were well versed in treaty making and in maintaining the complex and extensive familial alliances that treaties required.

nêhiyaw lawyer, Sharon Venne’s article “Treaties Made in Good Faith” reflects this, and nêhiyaw lawyer and founder of the Idle No More movement, Sylvia McAdam’s description of the negotiations for Treaty 6 illustrates this history and the fact that those primary relationships are embedded in Treaty 6. In her recent book, Nationhood Interrupted: revitalizing nêhiyaw legal systems, McAdam describes how integral the okihcihtwâw iskwêwak, the nêhiyaw women lawmakers, were to the treaty process. She notes how the British representatives could not conceive of women as lawmakers and so the women were not invited to the Treaty 6 negotiations, but that the nêhiyaw men continued to bring the treaty terms to the women for their approval. According to McAdam, traditionally, the women lawmakers made all the decisions about the community. They had jurisdiction over the land and the water. And so the Treaty 6 negotiations could not go on without them. McAdam’s description of the women’s role in the process of Treat 6 reminds us of the original human-to-more-than-human-treaties and their integral role in the more recent process of making Treaty 6.

She writes this:

“During the time of the treaty negotiations, a ceremony was conducted by the women law makers for four days and four nights asking the âtieyôhkanak (spirit keepers) what must be done. During this time the women prayed and some fasted, as is the custom. An understanding was made and was taken to the men.

Further, during the ceremony âtieyôhkanak entered the lodge the women. There were many who entered but five made a declaration. The first âtieyôhkanak that came was pîsim (the sun). The sun told the women, “I will bear witness to this exchange and I will stand by it for all time.” The second and third was the âtayôhkan was the the nipiy (water), but it was the male and the female nipiy that came in and they too stated, “We will bear witness to this exchange and we will stand by it for all time.” The fourth âtayôhkanak was the wihkask (sweetgrass); the grass told the women, “I too will bear witness to this exchange and I will stand by it for all time.” The final âtayôhkanak was the grandfather rock, who stated, “I too will bear witness to this exchange and I will stand by it for all time.” The grandfather rock is the pipe used to seal the exchange in what is now considered a covenant.”8

McAdam explains that this is why the saying “as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows” from the numbered treaties is so critical.9

Here, in amiskwaci,10 by the river, kisiskāciwanisīpiy,11 on this bend that has always been a meeting place, as a settler person, I am expected to know this story of the treaty and of the story that lies behind the original treaty. I am expected to honour this river and its history, to consider the significance of the river to all life and to this particular place. Despite the shrinking Columbia Glacier that feeds the river, despite the heavy traffic that surrounds it, despite the shit that runs into it, the river flows, and as long as it does, the Treaty holds.

nêhiyaw lawyer Sharon Venne shifts this a little to say that she has been taught that the water refers to the birth waters—as long as the birth waters break, as long as women give birth and the birth waters flow, the Treaty holds.12 For Venne, this is how we are all bound to the totality of water, through our bodies, through our mothers. Its life is our life, and our obligations to it are simple, and infinite.

This understanding of the treaty suggests that if I don’t honour these integral relationships, I am not abiding by my treaty obligations, and I am putting important, life sustaining and familial relationships at risk. That is, I am here illegally, outside of nêhiyaw law, and outside of the original sacred agreements made by humans and the more-than-humans.

In “A phenomenology of the vanguard,” Sara Ahmed argues that “[w]e have to walk differently: it is not that those behind come to the front, but that staying back gives you the time to question, to ask rather than tell. A politics of the rear is still a movement.”13 And here, on Treaty 6 land, non-Indigenous people have been asked to walk differently, to be quiet and to listen to entirely different systems of law.

The Elders and the knowledge keepers of Treaty 6 stress the importance of paying close attention to the extended and particular systems of kinship within which we are imbedded. They stress two central nêhiyaw terms that express these concepts of kinship: wiichitowin and wahkotowin: wiichitowin expresses a human-to-human connection/kinship and miyo wiichitowin means good relations. wahkotowin expresses a wider sense of kinship, one that extends to animals, air, water, rocks, plants, stars. miyo wahkotowin means to be in good relations with all of your relations.14 miyo wiichitowin and miyo wakkotowin also reflect the original treaties and are radical and rooted concepts of respect, interconnectedness and balance.

Here, in Treaty 6 territory, I am called on to be in good relations with these extended kinship systems on a local and global level. I am asked to be rigorously attentive to where I am and how I am here. This requires a rigorous engagement with and respect for Indigenous legal systems across North America and beyond. This is what is being asked of us at Standing Rock.

Without a militant sincerity, without a commitment to these legal systems, any acts of resistance will always, at the very least, reproduce and perpetuate current and devastating systems of colonial violence.

1 “Coyote is not a Metaphor: on decolonizing and renaming coyote.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, Vol 4, No 1 (2015), 6.
2 Jeff Derksen, “Militant Sincerity.” Toward. Some. Air. Banff Press (2015).
3 Email (May 2016).
5 Hayden King,
6 See Sylvia McAdam’s Nationhood Interrupted. Revitalizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems. Saskatoon: Purich Press, 2015; Sharon Venne’s “Treaties Made in Good Faith.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 34.1 (2007): 3-16, and Jim Kâ-Nîpitêhtêws ana kâ-pimwêwêhahk okakêskihkêmowina: The Counselling Speeches of Jim Kâ-Nîpitêhtêw. Freda Ahenakew & H.C. Wolfart eds. Winnepeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press (1998).
7 Elder Bob Cardinal, in conversation (Oct. 17 2014).
8 McAdam 57.
9 Ibid.
10 Edmonton.
11 North Saskatchewan River.
12 Sharon Venne, “Treaties Made in Good Faith.” 3-16.
13 Sara Ahmed, “A phenomenology of the vanguard.” Last modified December 1, 2013.
14 These teachings are from different sources across Treaty 6: Elder Bob Cardinal, Papaschase scholar Dwayne Donald, nêhiyaw lawyers and scholars Sylvia McAdam and Sharon Venne, Elder Pauline Paulson, nêhiyaw instructor Dorothy Thunder, Papaschase knowledge keeper Reubin Quinn and nêhiyaw knowledge keeper Gary Moostoos.