#DailyResistance: A 2017 Challenge in Taking Action

I’m tired already and it’s only been 2 weeks into 2017. 

President Obama is on his way out. Vice President Biden’s bright eyes will no longer light up my laptop screen unless it’s when I go through all the hilarious memes of him and President Obama’s brolationship.

But in all seriousness, we’re facing some seemingly insurmountable challenges with the incoming administration. Speaking as a progressive feminist and as an Asian-American womxn, I’m fearful of what the next four or more years will hold for myself and my loved ones.  Honestly, there have been a lot of moments when I just wanted to hide under my blankets, laptop fully charged, and stream Broad City until the sun comes up in 2020.

Then I realize, my electricity bill would be out of control and I don’t know what I would do for food.

Really though, there’s a couple other things holding me back from falling into a deep and dark despair.  The main thing is the hope and tenacity I see in a lot of my peers, from those who work with undocumented youth to those who work in the healthcare field.  There exists an incredible amount of energy and almost limitless ways for people to roll up their sleeves and get the work done. 

But with so many opportunities and an onslaught of media coverage about what we can do or what we should do to uphold justice, it seems…daunting.  I mean these are some gut-wrenching questions around what the hell should or could we do because there are too many options and things we care about to even start.

So in 2017, I thought I would keep track of the ways I am doing one of three things:

  1. Resist
  2. Advance
  3. Support

Now these are super broad terms, but what this is getting at is how can we take tangible action that moves beyond ranting on social media.  Because while social media is incredibly useful for spreading information and getting our frustrations out, it often times becomes an echo chamber of our beliefs with like-minded individuals.  And there’s always a need for spaces where we feel like we can be heard and understood. This is not trying to demean the importance of that.  But, what my hope is for practicing #DailyResistance is to move beyond thinking and discussing—to get into the practice of using our voices to stand up for what we believe in.  

And at the end of the year, it will be nice to be able to see what things I’ve personally accomplished, so I can say, “yes, I did what I could to make my community more inclusive and more loving.”  So, it’s a little bit self-congratulatory, but I think I know myself enough to know that I legitimately won’t get anything done if I don’t have some sort of self-induced reward system.  It’s like when I reward myself with a snack for writing a paragraph of an essay. It just gets things done.

But instead of snacks, it’ll be a huge colorful jar where I write on paper the things I’ve done each day to resist, advance, or support justice (as broad of a term as that is).

So, if you’re interested in joining me on my journey of #DailyResistance in 2017, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

As I’ve said, I’m going to try and do something each day that falls into one of three categories.  I’ll try to flesh out these terms more fully below.

  1. Resist – Resist acts of oppression, both state-sanctioned and personally mediated. Get trained in civil disobedience and nonviolence.  Call out harmful language when you hear it in conversations with friends, family, at work, or in classes.  Attend sit-ins, teach-ins, and protests.  Write to your congress people.  Call for their attention. Boycott corporations that get into shady business dealings or support policies that are harmful.  Let things get uncomfortable and be okay with being the only voice in the room who speaks up because others will follow.
  2. Advance – Advance my own ideas about justice and work on using my voice & being more confident/taking ownership of my beliefs.  This can take the form of writing more blogs for my own site or submitting pieces for alternative media.  Become more aware of how to use my voice and not apologizing for taking up space or speaking out.  Speak on panels or in classes or at meetings and forums.  When possible, uplift others to use their own voice and help advance their ideas too.
  3. Support – Support existing movements and organizations that work to advance justice.  Write about the work they’re doing, donate money when possible, volunteer your time. Call your legislators when they’re doing work you believe in.  Write letters to people and organizations to express your support.  We all need affirmation, but we don’t always express it enough.

These are just some of the things we can do to resist, advance, and support one another in 2017.  Let me know if I’m missing any ideas!  

With all the negativity and very real threats to our civil liberties, doing this challenge will hopefully make me feel a little more in control of my life and my role in everything. 

I’ll be updating with my progress on #DailyResistance —maybe it’ll keep me more accountable if I write about it every week.  

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My act of #DailyResistance for 1/12/17:

My act of #DailyResistance for 1/13/17:

Magic Mic: On Language Choice & Why It Matters

I’ve had a dilemma of sorts for the past couple of years when engaging in and outside of social justice circles, and that is the dilemma of language and word choice.  And I specify word choice, because the English language is vast and dynamic, and still we collectively make the choice to use terms and phrases that disempower specific groups of people.  It’s infuriating because we have, for example, about a dozen ways to describe a “womxn”, but some choose to say “bitch”. Now, there are some who state that it’s simply a reclamation of terms, but that’s a blog post for another time.

 

Some cite our newfound language awareness and complaints with the use of some terms as “political correctness” or language policing. And in some ways, it is. But, I don’t necessarily see those things as fully negative.  Why shouldn’t we try and inform our political system to be cognizant of the emotions and beliefs of all people, especially minority groups who don’t often have full representation within the government system?  And why shouldn’t we attempt to hold ourselves and others accountable when we all say things that make other people feel vulnerable and shitty?

 

The issue is that a number of people believe language policing isn’t our job. And it isn’t really because people can say whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean our language and continued usage of that language doesn’t come without consequence. When we call out people who speak in ways that are harmful for ourselves and those we ally with, we are providing a form of engagement that gives others who are not as well-versed in specific theories or modes of thinking an opportunity to learn about why language choice is so crucial to liberation for vulnerable communities.

 

Another form of contention in and out of social justice spaces is the idea that language is a minor issue in comparison to the immense, physical realities faced by disenfranchised or underrepresented people. In a sense, policing language is not as important to critically engaging with policy and lived experiences. Why should we focus on the use of terms that may make people uncomfortable when we could be dealing with housing segregation or the gender wage gap,or whatever other social issue that needs to be reworked?

 

While I see the merit in such an argument, I think the problem I have comes from the idea that we as activists or allies or whatever you define yourselves as can only focus on one thing at a time. Can people who are decent human beings not call out language that is problematizing AND advocate for structural changes? Because the fact is that language impacts us in profound ways, whether we like to admit it or not.

Language has the power to uplift communities in times of need. And conversely, it has the power to bring us down and remind us of the oppressions we have endured time and time again.  It can make us angry, overjoyed, withdrawn.  To overlook the true power of language is to overlook the very nature of how we choose to engage in our world.

We shouldn’t dilute the importance our language choice has on our experiences and how we interact with one another.
 I don’t think we should have to police our language and hold back on saying things that matter to us because we’re afraid of being call out.
But, having a more heightened awareness of the impact our word choice has on those around us is imperative to creating a space that is inclusive and diverse in a way that goes beyond surface-level forms of inclusion and diversity initiatives found within corporate, academic, creative, and even social arenas.

 

Because if we can’t reflect on co-opting terms and phrases that marginalize some people while it benefits or privileges us, we’ll just keep furthering ourselves from physically creating a better, more just society.

 

Magic Mic background image created by Elena Nuez.

Magic Mic: Why Do Womxn Never Have the Rights to Their Own Bodies?, or “What Happens in Vegas Definitely Does Not Stay In Vegas”

Don’t get me wrong.  I love being a womxn and I am lucky that I have strong role models who taught me that being a womxn of color is beautiful and uplifting.  But, that does not mean that I don’t hate some of the things that come with being a womxn in this society.  These are things that combat our own identities as full, self-sufficient human beings, and ultimately undermine any sort of fight for equity in public spaces.

I think it is plain to see that we as womxn are often subconsciously, and sometimes very consciously, seen as objects or prizes to be won in chauvinistic expressions of dominance.  And let me say, it is exhausting to be both a human person with human emotions and an object at the same time.  It is a paradox I no longer want anything to do with.

Part of such a paradox is the age old male pastime of catcalling.  Can you just imagine how catcalling worked in the Shakespearean period? “Oh, wench, behold at thy forks!”** I don’t know if I’d laugh or just stare in confusion.   However, there are numerous, much more serious and well-written articles and videos about womxn getting catcalled.  I don’t think I have to write something else explaining how shitty it is.  A popular video campaign illustrated just some of the reactions men have when they see their mothers being catcalled on the street.  It’s shocking to me because you can see the discomfort for the men at watching their mothers objectified.  And yet, these men will never fully understand what it means to be living in a body coded as womxn.  Catcalling is just one awful side effect of such a truth.  And while catcalling is serious, disturbing, and oftentimes, fear-inducing, what happens when people go beyond verbal abuse and seep into the physical?

In Las Vegas, the “City of Sin”, the lines between catcalling and physical violations blur quite quickly.  The city’s motto of “what happens here, stays here” is an atrocious ploy to convince people of all genders that you can be on your absolute worst behavior and get away with it.  Now, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, as I’m sure not all of Vegas is that terrible, but the essence of such an environment negates any real semblance of control a womxn has over her own space.  A person’s body, whether you identify as a womxn or not, should belong to you; you, and no other party, should get to decide what happens to your body.

Let me clarify for Las Vegas’s sake.  I do not think it’s wrong to go to a club, to want to dance provocatively or sexually.  Hell, I’ll admit that dancing around in sparkly outfits to R&B tunes is one of my favorite pastimes, minus the sparkly outfits, because glitter always gets on your face.

It is not wrong or unusual to dance with other people, if that is what you choose to do.  The key here is the choice.  Some womxn choose to grind up on other people or be grinded upon (I don’t really know the terminology), and they shouldn’t feel bad or feel the need to justify that choice.  When the dancing is a consensual act between people, it’s fun, albeit maybe a bit awkward if you’re not a great dancer.  But, when a person, usually a man, grabs your ass as you walk by or refuses to remove himself from your person, a part of your humanity as a womxn withers away.  You’re humiliated.  You think that this should have been anticipated in such a situation.  You lose the expectation of respect for yourself that you know you deserve.  And you’re reminded again that you are object, then womxn.  Never womxn by itself, period, end of story, human.

I will reiterate this as a reminder for myself and for womxn everywhere.  The location you are in has no bearing on whether it is okay or not for someone else to infringe on your space and your body.  Whether you’re in a club or in a pub eating burgers with your friends, it is never an okay thing for someone (read: a man) to implant himself, take up space, and prove his male dominance at your expense.  Being in Las Vegas or in any party-setting is not an excuse for them to “cut loose”.  If you’re a person who thinks it is okay to violate another’s space, to infringe on a womxn’s body in certain contexts, I don’t want you in my life in any context.

Because although I wish that what happens in Vegas would actually stay in Vegas, the dehumanizing, physically visceral experiences faced by womxn happens in rooms and on streets of every city in every part of the world.  We can no longer chalk it up to situational occurrences of bad judgement or issues of self-control.  Your body is yours and as a womxn, I will fight for our collective right to be safe and protected in our bodies, regardless of place.

 

**I literally typed “Oh girl, look at your legs” into a Shakespearean translator.  I’ll admit I spent a lot of time on it afterwards.
* Magic Mic background image from Make & Tell

Magic Mic: When [Immigrant] Womxn Are Loud and Unapologetic

I’m transfixed by a line I’ve seen drawn multiple times, in varied angles and tones, for girls and young womxn.  On one side, I have experienced countless examples of strong, multi-dimensional womxn who were and are vocal leaders.  But sometimes, those womxn also veer into the other side.  And why shouldn’t they?  They are human, after all.  But, it is troubling that the side that often wins out in times that matter is the one that tells us that our voice may matter, but it doesn’t matter quite as much as someone else’s [read: a man’s].  We are told more times than not to be strong, vocal, and fearless only to an extent–to not let our bravery and strong-will frighten or emasculate a man.  Because if our voices are too loud, they’ll be unappealing.  This has been reinforced in both subtle and very overt ways. It would be naïve of me to conclude that my cultural upbringing has no bearing on how such a paradox exists.  I feel like if I want to understand this constant struggle on a broader level, I then need to look internally and at my immediate surroundings.

As a child, I don’t recall a time when I was ever told by my parents that I couldn’t do something because of my gender.  They never said I couldn’t wear a certain color or do a certain activity or play with a certain toy because I was a girl.  And while they never sat me down and said outright, “Christina, you should be able to do or say whatever comes to mind because you are a smart, capable girl,”  they told me in little ways that what I thought and what I had to say mattered, even if I didn’t think it might.

This nurtured me into a pretty confident womxn.  Not to say I was or am fearless, because fear is a wonderful motivator.  But, I became motivated despite fear.  The womxn in my family taught me to be that way.  Not because they are self-proclaimed feminists, but because I think their very survival depended on their confidence and motivation.  Womxn, especially immigrant womxn, are taxed with an incredibly difficult responsibility to nurture, cultivate, and defend.  And they do all of this while instilling a strange sense of traditional patriarchy.  It is a constant source of confusion for me.

My maternal grandmother raised her children nearly on her own, coming to the US without her husband to raise my mother and her siblings.  She worked odd jobs, isolated and unable to speak English.  Her determination and tremendous sacrifices taught us all how important it is to value yourself, your family, and your education.  My mother was raised, essentially, in a very matriarchal household dominated by womxn.  And yet, despite such an upbringing and sense of strength, I believe that culturally, we were still taught that for womxn, speaking up too much or talking too loudly shouldn’t be done often, if at all.

When I visit home and see my grandmother, we can’t exactly understand each other due to language differences, but we understand our tone and we understand the past.  We talk about expectations, or rather she tells my mother about her expectations of me as a womxn and as a granddaughter.  In one instance, my mother translated that my grandmother said my voice was too loud–like thunder.  It would, in essence, detract the right kind of company.

And it’s funny to me, because here is this womxn who had to be thunderous and loud and prove to everyone that she could raise her children on her own and protect them from the perils of the world.  Several months ago, I would have taken much more offense to her remark.  But I think I get it.  She had to fight to be heard, to support our lives here, to just be.  She had to be this way in order for us to survive–why would she want that kind of fight for me?

But, what I think she and many other immigrant mothers and grandmothers fail to understand is that having a voice like thunder has helped us more than hindered, and it can continue to help us. We should never apologize for being loud, for protecting our right to be heard.  And although they fought and yelled to be heard, it doesn’t mean we have to stop there.  I don’t think womxn should just be heard.  We should be validated and consulted and included in everything having to do with us.  And maybe my grandmother is tired, as any womxn who has gone through her struggles might be.  But, her being tired motivates me even more to speak more loudly, more clearly, with more conviction.

So instead of thinking my thunderous voice is a weakness or a criticism, I will say thank you.  I will smile and tell my grandmother in broken Cantonese or via my mother that my loud voice is a tribute to her and the sacrifices she never wanted to make, but knew she had to.  And if she ever saw thunder* strike the sand, like in that scene from Sweet Home Alabama, she would know that womxn like us create beauty out of our strength and through our voice.  And that is not something I will ever want to change nor would I ever apologize for.

*technically in Sweet Home Alabama, it was lightning, but who’s really keeping track?

 

Magic Mic: On Community Organizing as Art

I have been reflecting on the words of Melissa Harris-Perry as of late.  When she came to speak at UCI several months ago, I didn’t think her words would still be floating over and under the thoughts in my mind.  She posed the question, albeit a rhetorical one, of why schools cut funding for art and music first out of every other extracurricular.  Why is it that those forms of expression, of truth telling and soul-baring, are the first to go in any underserved community?

From my limited experiences and exchanges with those entrenched in the struggle against multiple forms of oppression, I am convinced that organizing and activism are artistic expressions—that living and being, surviving, in the skin and body we are born in is in itself an act of art.  And like any form of art, there is always competition, always a battle of what group is more oppressed, what group deserves to take up this space and why.  But those who work in the struggle, who dirty their hands and engage in unpopular, unpretty forms of art, are true testaments to why we continue to do what we do.  This form of art is no competition and we have to remind ourselves that we are not like typical artists who battle for spots in museums or amphitheatres.  We are always the painter and the painted, the oppressed and the oppressor, the survivor and the ally.  We do not exist in vacuums or in antigravity chambers.  We remain hopefully grounded and groundedly hopeful.

It is my understanding that our very voice and body is the only thing we have control over.  And as such, in any struggle, we have to reaffirm our own abilities to create art, even when the powers at be refuse to acknowledge our talent.  And, like any good artist, we have to know when our space needs to be given to another.  We have to know when to step down, hand the brush over, and let someone grow into their own form of expression.

That form of expression is not, does not have to be, happy, carefree, understandable to everyone.  I don’t know any artist that isn’t unhappy at times, displeased with status quo or commenting on the state of society.  Organizing is no exception.  One of the most frustrating things that I come across when explaining resistance and the struggle is how people perceive movements as unhappy: too serious, too dramatic.  One response I have is that oppression is dramatic, living is dramatic.  If you can’t understand that, then you don’t understand art.  But more than that is the simple fact that organizing and resisting is a loving act for and with communities.  That those who continue to struggle for justice and acknowledgement of their very humanness must seek joy in the darkest of places and times.  That when we fail to do this, we fall into a darker place than whence we came.  If art is about a reflection on life and survival, then we in the struggle are all goddamn Van Gogh’s and Picasso’s in the making.

Because I don’t care what form of injustice you are fighting against.  I don’t care if you’re bad at drawing or painting or singing or dancing.  You are an artist.  You are survival and joy and anguish wrapped into one.  You are deserving of painting your life on a canvas, even if that canvas is the street and your paintbrush is a marker on poster board.  And if anyone, ever, tells you differently, know that the only form of art they’ll ever understand is one they have to pay for. And that is not your fault, they are not your audience, and you should never apologize for your right to exist as an artist, activist, human being.

Magic Mic: On Periods and Policing Women’s Bodies

Weekends give me a lot of time to think and gather my thoughts about the host of issues we have in our world. Magic Mic Mondays is an opportunity to share my perspectives, vent frustrations, and cultivate discussions.

As a teenager, I got my period pretty late in comparison with my peers. And just like the time I said I wanted glasses because I thought they were cool, me wishing to get my period was one of the silliest things I could have wished for.

Despite mandated health classes in late elementary to middle school, no one really explained how periods work or why they’re important.   And even if they did, the information definitely did not stick. All I knew was that as soon as it happened, I’d probably get boobs. And that was the dream. Then, I’d grow armpit hair and be able to have children and maybe a boy would fall in love with me. Thanks, societal standards of beauty, for messing with my little kid brain. Things were a lot simpler then…or maybe just I was simpler then.

Anyway, even though I wanted a period before I got one, I am definitely not a fan of periods now. And it is not just because the idea of blood rushing out of my body scares me, even if it only is several teaspoons worth. But because what it means to get your period and the lack of discussion about menstrual cycles in general is extremely troubling to me.

I will wholeheartedly admit that I myself am part of the problem. I don’t even know if I have ever called a period a “menstrual cycle”, much less had an in-depth discussion about it with people who didn’t identify as women.

In public, I say “my aunt is visiting”.

You know, there goes Auntie Flo, at it again, with her inconvenient timing and “hanger”-inducing irritation.   I know women who refer to their cycle as a “dot” (pardon me, but it’s more like a flood or river coursing through…a dot just makes it sound so easy to deal with). And I know other women who just don’t speak of it altogether.

The feminist in me just thinks periods are like the patriarchy. It impacts literally everyone and we still don’t talk about it. And because of that, it holds every single of one us back.

I really would like to be like the women who celebrate their cycles and Mother Nature & the moon for what periods represent –the ability to create life. As joyful as it would be to just embrace being a woman and hopping on the “treat yourself” bandwagon with all of it’s period subscription box glory, I just don’t think periods are representative of that anymore.

And I think it’s problematic when that’s the only solution people can come up with. I mean it is great that there are companies who target women and want to make their periods easier to deal with. I think that does say a lot about where we are going as a consumer-driven society. Yes, we make a profit on women during some of their most vulnerable times, but at least we give them options!! Pads with wings, tampons, pantiliners, pads with no wings…the options are really endless. I’m bashing on those companies a lot, but really, I do think the availability of those companies and having others invest in them is important and it tells me that women do have more a voice in the marketplace.

But, being a feminist, and an inclusive one that at, means listening to other narratives and needs. And when menstruation holds young girls back from attending school*, is used as a tool to control and trivialize incarcerated women**, and shame women into thinking they’re not good enough at home or in the workplace, I don’t think it’s enough to simply say you should be proud to be a woman, buy a subscription-based box of menstruation goodies, and move on.

See, we’re quick to talk about the magic and fragility of birth, but get embarrassed or upset at the mere mention of a vagina.

And we’re quick to protect our unborn children, but not the vessels they grow in. (And the simple fact that we refer to women’s bodies as vessels is proof enough that we devalue women at every opportunity we get)

And even still, we make women pay a ton of money for feminine hygiene products, but give condoms out for free.***

So what can we do as a community to help alleviate these issues? How can we tell young girls not to be ashamed of their periods or empower women to believe that they too are deserving of access to safe and healthy ways of caring for their bodies? How do we stop belittling and humiliating women because their time of the month is gross and you just don’t want to think about it?

There is no one answer, but it’s about time that we started the discussion. Auntie Flo wants to stop being yelled at every month. She’s tired of being the scapegoat, and I’m tired of calling her out.

——-

*While menstruation and inadequate access to feminine hygiene products does heavily impact girls’ education around the developing world, it is not a quick-fix issue. Gender politics and women’s rights, in general, need to be discussed and handing out free pads to girls around the world is not going to be what solves gender-based discrimination in the education system and workplace.

**Dehumanization of inmates in prison, especially for female incarceration, is done through a variety of means. I could have an entire series of Magic Mics on the “criminal justice” system in the US and privatization of prisons. Withholding feminine hygiene products is just the cherry on top of a system that contributes to self-deprecation and hatred. A prison inmate in the link above describes it perfectly: “Prison makes us hate part of our selves; it turns us against our own bodies”.

***This is not to say I don’t think condoms should be free or not free. I think having fair and equal access to contraceptives is very important and completely necessary. But, the issue is that condoms often are accessible for free whereas feminine hygiene products (pads, tampons, menstrual cups, etc) are not and are, in my opinion, much more of a necessity.