J: AMC Follow-up – thoughts on grassroots publishing as a response to sexual violence

26 06 2007

At the AMC this weekend, Lex and I ran a workshop called Wrong is Not My Name: Poetic Healing as a Response to Sexual Violence where we shared our experience creating our interactive anthology Wrong is Not My Name: A Tribute to Survival Via June Jordan. Here’s a description:

This hands-on workshop will highlight the theory and practice of grassroots publishing as a response to Sexual Violence. Participants will learn about how this form of media fits into the work of UBUNTU, a women of color/survivor-led coalition committed to replacing gendered violence with sustaining transformative love. Based in Durham, NC. UBUNTU is practicing a model of community creation centered around healing, expression, sustainability, internal education and awareness raising. Participants will experience the UBUNTU model of community creation, through the production of a group publication during this workshop.

In the course of preparing to lead the workshop, we had some really interesting conversations about grassroots publishing in the context of our work – I wanted to share some thoughts from these as well as some things I learned about zines and resources for exploring further.

Grassroots publishing (by which I mean to include a wide range of mediums that allow writers to share their words without going through commercial publishing institutions – independent presses, zines, community newsletters, booklets, brochures, blogs, etc.), can be a powerful resource in the context of personal and community healing because:

The process of creating and writing – ‘coming to voice’ on paper – can be an accessible and concrete way for survivors to engage in healing. For some of us, the processes of emotional and physical healing can feel intimidating (big, mysterious, painful) and we often cope by avoiding and shutting down emotionally. Survivors of sexual violence are sometimes silenced by feelings of isolation, shame, self-doubt, and fear. Talking through experiences of violence or their aftermath with another person or people that we trust is a crucial element of the healing process (click here for information on supporting a survivor of sexual assault). Writing is no substitute, but healing is an ongoing process and putting things down on paper can be useful at any point along the way. Writing – journaling, poetry, freeform, essays, or really in any form – allows us to acknowledge and express feelings and thoughts at whatever pace and time feels right. When it is just us and the paper (or the screen) we don’t have to worry about being judged, or blamed, or disbelieved. We can share our truths, or not share them – either way, in writing we learn to hear and honor our own voices.

    …and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard
    nor welcomed
    but when we are silent
    we are still afraid

    So it is better to speak
    we were never meant to survive

    Audre Lorde
    ‘Litany for Survival’

    When we publish our writings (on blogs, in zines, or elsewhere) it is a way of meeting the world as a part of healing – this is important because we honor eachother’s humanity by speaking our truths, and because as Lex reminded us, “silence is already a form of death.” Speaking truth is also a powerful and transformative act of resistance within the context of a rape culture that demands our silence. Research tells us that there are an estimated 21 million survivors in this country today, and that every 2 1/2 minutes someone is sexually assaulted – yet, too often people speak about rape as though it were a rare occurrence and isolated to back alleyways and “other” people. When survivors speak up, we challenge popular misconceptions about rape. We also make it easier for other survivors to do the same.

      Being part of a writing community within UBUNTU has allowed us to connect to other survivors, to support and celebrate eachother. And in sharing our stories and experiences with eachother we are able to bring our analysis of sexual violence to a systemic (rather than individual) level. When we observe the commonalities between these experiences, we can clearly see the structural roots of sexual violence and understand rape culture as situated within the context of interlocking racial, gendered, sexual, and class-based oppressions. Taken as a body of work, the writings of survivors (in UBUNTU and elsewhere) speak to and document the prevalence of sexual violence and to the physical and emotional costs of rape culture for real people – both survivors and our loved ones. In this way, these writings are also a political resource or tool that can be useful in educating and calling for change. Through the use of grassroots publishing methods we are able to share our writings quickly, easily, and widely with little or no overhead costs – making the process accessible to all who know ‘it is better to speak’.

        What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
        The world would split open.

        Muriel Rukeseyer
        ‘Kathe Kollwitz’

        Birth of an UBUNTU blog…

        30 04 2007

        With all the pride and joy that accompany moments of new birth I am pleased to announce the newest member of our UBUNTU blogging family ~ and her name is Love!

        Loveispower created hay que luchar – the home for radical love – today. She is a:

        lover, fighter, and friend who believes that self-love and compassion for every person on this planet are both necessary and possible.

        Welcome! Because as Lex said:

        when you speak
        we listen.
        we are so glad that you
        are here, of all places.


        Loveispower’s beautiful beginnings:

        i begin today.

          a survivor a womyn a lover of laughter i take my time
          to say
          now now now now now now now now now
          waiting takes too long
          and i’m done
          i say “NOW”
          let’s speak NOW
          let’s dance NOW
          let’s say i want it or i don’t want it or i want it like this NOW
          let’s say i’m true, i’m searching, i’m knowing, i’m questioning NOW
          let’s say i’m precious
          let’s say i’m right
          let’s say i’m forgiven
          let’s say i’m r/evolution
          let’s say i’m beautiful
          let’s say i’m what the universe needs
          let’s say it loud soft with voices and hands and feet and eyes and hearts
          let’s say love forever starts with me
          and let us say these things now.

          yesterday i participated in the national day of truthtelling here in my adopted home of durham, nc. through the streets we marched, watching faces of folks on the sidewalks, peering out of doorways and in cars in the adjacent lane. they smiled, they strained to read, spoke on cell phones and gave peace signs as we passed. we marched on like the world we envision free of sexual violence had already come, we marched with the faith that it would. we clapped hands, chanted our demands: end rape culture…si, se puede! and our truths: i am that survivor. we marched with love for our bodies, with appreciation for this moment, with a newfound value for our selves and our power.

          as we passed the house where a womyn was gang raped last year, a womyn whose case was dismissed from the criminal “justice” system like almost all of the cases of survivors i know who have reported their sexual assualt or rape, i felt layers lift from my self like you would peel layers from an onion. i felt new, listening to my sister’s and my brother’s pain, audible cries that broke the silence and traveled to the corners of our hearts.

          by the time we reached the w.d. hill center on fayetteville street and i sat down with my rice and lentils to watch the capoeira performance i felt that even the way i ate my food was different. the day reminded me that i could move my body however i wanted because it was mine. take up space. swing my hips for peace. raise my arms for truth. eat with my fingers for connection. all up to me. ya see? every moment is this moment. life eternal requires such urgency, such desire to push right now for what you want forever to be.

          i give this fight my whole life.
          for this fight has given me life.


          Take a moment to go celebrate her arrival!

          From Lex: “wishful thinking” or “what i’m waiting to find in our email boxes”

          20 04 2007

          (with Mendi and Keith Obadike–www.blacknetart.com in mind)
          dedicated to the black women at Duke and North Carolina Central especially

          …a collection of wished messages that I have decided I deserve to hear…as a start to what a world free from sexual violence could be full of….

          1. you wake up each day
          as new as anyone
          there is no reason to assume
          you would be supernaturally strong.
          there is no reason to test your stregnth
          through daily disrespect and neglect.
          you don’t need to be strong.
          everyone supports you.

          2. if you say ouch
          we believe that you are hurt.
          we wait to hear how we can help
          to mend your pain.

          3. you have chosen to be at a school,
          at a workplace, in a community
          that knows that you are priceless
          that would never sacrifice your spirit
          that knows it needs your brilliance to be whole

          4. your very skin
          is sacred
          and everything beyond it
          is a miracle that we revere

          5. we mourn any violence that
          has ever been enacted against you.
          we will do what it takes
          to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
          to anyone.

          6. when you speak
          we listen.
          we are so glad that you
          are here, of all places.

          7. other women
          even strangers
          reach out to you
          when you seem afraid
          and they stay
          until peace comes

          8. the sun
          reminds everyone
          how much they love you.

          9. people are interested
          in what you are wearing
          because it tells them
          what paintings to make.

          10. everyone has always told you
          you can stay a child
          until you are ready to move on

          11. if you run across the street
          naked at midnight
          no one will think
          you are asking
          for anything.

          12. you do so many things
          because it feels good to move.
          you have nothing to prove
          to anyone.

          13. white people cannot harm you.
          they do not want to.
          they do not do it by accident.

          14. your smile makes people
          glad to be alive

          15. your body is not
          a symbol of anything

          16. everyone respects your work
          and makes sure you are safe
          while doing it

          17. at any moment
          you might relive
          the joy of being embraced

          18. no one will lie to you,
          scream at you
          or demand anything.

          19. when you change your mind,
          people will remember to change theirs.

          20. your children are safe
          no one will use them against you.

          21. the university is a place where you
          are reflected and embraced.
          anyone who forgets how miraculous you are
          need only open their eyes.

          22. the universe conspires
          to lift you

          23. on the news everynight
          people who look like you and
          the people you love
          are applauded
          for their contribution to society.

          24. the place where knowledge is
          has no walls.

          25. you are rewarded for the work you do
          to keep it all together.

          26. every song i’ve
          ever heard on the radio
          is in praise
          of you.

          27. the way you speak
          is exactly right
          for wherever you happen
          to be.

          28. there is no continent anywhere
          where life counts as nothing.

          29. there is no innocence that needs your guilt
          to prove it.

          30. there is no house
          in your neighborhood
          where you still hear screams
          every time you go

          31. no news camera waits
          to amplify your pain.

          32. nobody wonders
          whether you will make it.
          everybody believes in you

          33. when you have a child
          no one finds it tragic.
          no map records it as an instance of blight.

          34. no one hopes you will give up
          on your neighborhood
          so they can buy it up cheap.

          35. everyone asks you your name.
          no one calls you out of it.

          36. someone is thinking highly of you
          right now.

          37. being around you
          makes people want to be
          their kindest, most generous selves.

          38. there is no law anywhere
          that depends on your silence.

          39. nobody bases their privilege
          on their ability to desecrate you.

          40. everyone will believe anything you say
          because they have been telling you the truth
          all along.

          41. school is a place, like every other place.
          no one here is out to get you.

          42. worldwide, girls who look like you
          are known for having great ideas.

          43. 3 in 3 women will fall in love with themselves
          during their lifetime.

          44. every minute in North Carolina
          a woman embraces
          another woman.

          45. you know 8 people
          who will help you move
          to a new place
          if you need to.

          46. when you speak loudly
          everyone is happy
          because they wondered
          what you were thinking about.

          47. people give you gifts
          and truly expect nothing
          in return.

          48. no one thinks you are

          49. everyone believes
          that you should have all
          the resources that you need,
          because by being yourself
          you make the world so much

          50. any creases on your face
          are from laughter.

          51. no one, anywhere, is locked in a cage.

          52. you are completely used to knowing what you want.
          following your dream is as easy as walking.

          53. you are more than enough.

          54. everyone is waiting
          to see what great thing
          you’ll do next.

          55. every institution wants to know
          what you think, so they can find out
          what they should really be doing,
          or shut down.

          56. strangers send you love letters
          thanking you
          for speaking your mind.

          57. you wake up
          new as anyone.


          Dear MaMa Harriet

          12 04 2007

          How do I wade through streams of thick nothing
          Gather pieces I no longer feel
          Knowing he stole, ripped, ravaged, raped
          Something precious
          Stole, ripped ravaged, raped
          Something pure
          Wade streams, cross paths, step over
          Resembling me
          Watching him savor the final blow
          How do I wade MaMa
          I am tired
          I am alone
          How do I wade MaMa
          Where do I go
          Open mouth silent cries…
          impenetrable trees border thick streams
          I can do nothing more than think you now
          Leave a message on light dew
          Evaporate through clouds to find you
          Can you hear me MaMa
          Begging you guide me through, this place where I can’t breathe
          Thick air MaMa
          Feel my fear MaMa
          And he is here MaMa
          with bodies resembling me
          I struggle to breathe
          Cause the air is so thick with nothing
          and the bodies too many to step through
          Where are you MaMa
          I am so close to dead…

          And I hear you MaMa
          And I feel you MaMa
          And I Breathe you MaMa
          And you push through
          Clearing pathways to womb
          And you whisper…
          And I hear you MaMa
          And I feel you MaMa
          And I Breathe you MaMa
          And you push through
          Clearing pathways to womb
          As I wade to you

          For June Jordan – in thanks for the reminder that ‘Wrong is not my name’

          11 04 2007

          I am the history of rape
          I am the history of unspeakable truths – spoken and disbelieved
          I am the history of unrapable women – raped and surviving

          I am the history of a Justice whose blindfold never concealed the brownness of my skin

          who always seemed to see that I could not afford a lawyer

          and never missed the fact I am lacking a dick

          and thus the ability to say anything that matters

          I am the history of a body whose services pay for pampers and formula

          a body whose services kept roof overhead

          and the lights on at night and shoes on baby’s feet

          a body whose services you confused with permission to act on the perverse fantasies of your bigoted imagination

          and your will to re-call how it felt when your forefathers violated my foremothers

          as my forefathers picked the cotton for your t-shirt

          the history of a body whose services still cost me far too much

          I am the history of a changing account
          I am the history of an inconsistent story
          I am the history of insufficient evidence

          insufficient evidence of my humanity

          of my value – my right to exist and give my consent or not give it

          I am the ‘lying whore’ you mark your respectability against
          I am the DNA-dripping slut who makes you a ‘lady’ by contrast

          I am the history of thunderous testimony to my own worthlessness and insufficiency and tangle of pathology

          I am the canon of expert knowledge proclaiming my limitations and disabilities and mental deficiency and moral poverty

          I am the science of mongrels and abominations

          I am the history of a world that would rather forget I am someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s daughter, someone’s beloved

          I am the history of a world that would rather if I just shut up and stop being so angry all the damn time while they go about their business of keeping me in my place and bending the backs of my daughters and locking up my son – while they kill and rape and torture and silence people in every direction who coincidentally are brown just like me.

          I am the history of your shackles and the future of my creation

          I am a person of note

          My eyes have borne witness to the history you will into oblivion and my body holds secrets I cannot forget

          In my ears there are whispers of transformation and from my heart I’m unearthing my truths

          I stand as a Survivor among millions

          …and we are remembering our names.

          – Serena

          A Spelling Lesson

          11 04 2007

          for this and every survivor

          is a four-letter word
          an instruction after catching fire
          a movement behind stop
          a command we must memorize
          and tell ourselves
          if we would be safe

          is what we do to the kids
          at school, at practice, at auntie’s
          training for a next that will keep them (running)
          warning that they will not be at home anywhere
          treason required by our other jobs

          is what the dj plays
          what the hypeman says
          the entrance of the beat(ing)
          stretching our skin like a place to call
          drowning our knees like a new heartbeat

          and today
          is what my stomach does
          is a frame for the rain
          is the shape of the blood
          that would seek to be the last word
          as if we weren’t students as well

          but we know how to spell

          so when i see D-R-O-P
          dropped open in front of me
          like it was new(s)
          all i do is add you
          all of bright breaking you
          all of impossibly speaking
          light leaking

          and the next word is yours


          love always,

          From Lex @ kitchen table: women of color pressed for knowledge

          local event: readings by the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective

          2 04 2007

          yay Ebony! yay poetry month!

          Writers Present Reading at Parkwood Library

          From 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, on Saturday, April 14, 2007, the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective (CAAWC) will present a reading and discussion of their works at the Parkwood Branch of the Durham County Library, in Celebration of National Poetry Month. Writers participating include L. Teresa Church, DeLana Dameron, Ebony Golden, Raina León, Lenard D. Moore, and Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson.

          Founded by Lenard D. Moore, during 1992, the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective is a workshop and readers’ group comprised of poets, fiction writers, critics, essayists, journalists, playwrights, editors and others. Members meet monthly to critique each other’s literary works, read and discuss books by African American authors, and discuss information about the literary scene. The group’s members are featured in numerous anthologies and national literary magazines, including BMa: The Sonia Sanchez Literary Review, Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, Fertile Ground, Catch the Fire, Valley Voices, MiPOesias Magazine, The Ringing Ear, storySouth and Electronic Poetry Network.

          The Carolina African American Writers’ Collective has been featured at Page One Festival of Books, North Carolina Literary Festival, Bimbe Festival, Zora Neale Hurston Festival, Obsidian II Literary Festival, Virginia Festival of the Book, United Nations Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry Event, National Black Arts Festival, and at libraries, cultural arts centers, schools, colleges and universities throughout North Carolina and elsewhere.

          The Parkwood Library is located at 5122 Revere Road, Durham. North Carolina. Admission to the reading is free and the public is cordially invited to attend.