Magic Mic: On Community Organizing as Art

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.

Nationality and Nationalism: Oppressive Forces?

Nationality and Nationalism: Oppressive Forces?

I’m sitting on my bed finishing some class readings for my intro course on race & ethnicity–my last political science lower division course I need to finish my degree.

And by now it should be pretty basic and easily understandable, considering I’ve taken several courses on race, ethnicity, and social oppression.

But, I feel like I’m still learning new things.  Learning new things is always a great thing–especially for someone who considers herself an avid learner and appreciator of knowledge.

Here’s the issue I’m having though.

I thought I was pretty well versed in forms of oppression: economic, race, ethnicity, gender, species, sex, mental and/or physical disabilities, and a variety of other ones that I could spend my days discussing.

But in this one chapter I’m reading, the author nonchalantly mentions how race can be linked to other forms of oppression like gender and nationality.

Gender, I understand completely.  But, nationality?  I never even thought that you could consider nationality a form of oppression.

And then, all of a sudden, it really is making me think that, yes, of course nationality is an oppressive force linked with race, ethnicity, and geographic oppression.  It deals with issues of immigration and what country is better and why?

It’s really making me think about how our frame of mind is shaped by the nations at the pinnacle of our global society, these so-called “first world countries” or “developed countries”.  And what makes them “developed” and others “developing” or “undeveloped”? Why do we consider certain nationalities better than others?  Is it pride or misinformation from our government and education system? Or something even deeper than that?  Can we even begin to dismantle nationalism as a form of oppression?  Are nations and countries even the same thing?  And if not, which is more valid–does it even matter if one is more valid than another?  And why is nationalism or nationalistic sentiment always seen as a positive?  Why are vehement individuals that display their nationalism through flags on their front porch seen as dedicated and passionate, while others are discredited as backwards or over-emotional?

I have a lot more questions than answers.  And this new insight is definitely something I will be trying to explore further.

Maybe nationalism works to benefit us, but right now, it appears like it does nothing but divide us into hierarchical positions of power and prestige, which is another issue entirely.

All I can say is that I have a lot more to do if I want to learn more, and that is not always a bad thing.