Saturday, October 30, 2010

Are You for Fannie Lou?: The Campaign for Her Statue

One of my besties is from Jackson, Mississippi. I met her in college; and despite our immediate bond, when she invited me to her home in the "Deep South", I was entirely horrified. Me, with my New York City entree into the world and my still Northern, Pittsburgh upbringing, having viewed the film, "Mississippi Burning" in the not-so-distant past? Let's just say the invitation gave me pause.

However, I love to travel so, instead of saying "No, Thanks" to her Thanksgiving invitation, I just sunk lower and lower in the backseat of the car as we sped our way into the state that would forever change my life. I expected that we would be pulled over and slaughtered on the roadside, just like so many of the persons I had read about, not just Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney but that which the nameless, faceless of history, had experienced. I didn't verbalize these fears, as I thought it might be rude, not that my honesty would be met with any level of compassion. Indeed, the tighter I held onto my pillow and peeked over the dashboard onto the highway, the more uproariously my car mates (and so called friends) would point at me and laugh.


It's the state we all come to learn how to spell. It's also the state Nina Simone damned to hell.

But I've come to love Mississippi because, over time, I have learned more about its history and how African Americans organized and inspired more Americans to fight for human rights and, subsequently, changed the world. The WORLD. Now, although we have won some battles, the war is not over. Today, Mississippi has the most African Americans in elected office; but it's the poorest state in America.

We have only just begun to thoroughly (and critically) engage and understand the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in America. It's amazing to think that, as recently as 1960, African Americans were still sharecropping and living in stunning poverty in the South---the worst of which was in Mississippi.

So, imagine, a woman such as Fannie Lou Hamer, a resident of Ruleville, MS, being approached by a young organizer from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and asked to come to a meeting on Voter Registration, whereupon she was so overwhelmed with and enamored by the possibility of being free from oppression that she was willing to sacrifice everything (including her home, employment and family as a sharecropper on the plantation) to do so?

"We didn't fight this hard for you to stay home and not vote in November!"
And imagine, that after having walked off of the only livelihood she knew, she became a community organizer, singing church songs such as "This Little Light of Mine" (her favorite) and not only inspiring more persons to take charge of their lives by voting and being engaged in the political process; but also becoming one of the leading spokespersons and representatives of her people?! Amazing.

Lawd knows my feet hurt but I ain't no ways tired...gotta represent for the people!
These days, many of us take voting, Black political representation and, certainly, Black women's roles in political power, for granted. But if it weren't for supreme organizer, Ella Baker encouraging young people to create their own organization (since they didn't want to be the youth wing of the SCLC, ahem) and the young people creating the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for themselves; and their decision to focus on voter registration (and obtaining the power to exert control over their lives); and Fannie Lou Hamer going to that meeting and not only joining SNCC but becoming one of its most passionate figureheads and organizers; and SNCC helping to form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to further influence the Democratic Party at the National Convention in 1964 (just like the Tea Party is doing within the Republican Party in 2010, ahem); and the racist, Dixiecrats so determined to maintain the system of white supremacy that they left the Democratic Party and joined the Republican Party, thereby focusing on a "Southern Strategy" to get disaffected, angry white men to join in on the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement (and subsequent Women's Rights Movement), championed by the likes of Ronald Reagan (whose harsh policies helped give birth to Hip Hop) and George Bush, Sr. and George Bush, Jr. (who practically destroyed the country), causing a tidal wave of young, disenfranchised Americans fed up with racism, classism and sexism and birthed on Hip Hop to the point where they wanted to get out and vote---there would be no President Barack Obama.

President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama
And that was a stream-of-consciousness, historical rant. Oh yes, President Barack Obama owes much to a poor, Black woman in Mississippi named Fannie Lou Hamer. There's a bit of irony here, since he also owes much to a woman who grew up as a poor, Black girl in Mississippi, named Oprah Winfrey. But, for now, let's give it up for the OGs, Pap and Fannie!

Sharecroppers and Citizens, Perry "Pap" and Fannie Lou Hamer

"And you know, I'm not hung up on this thing about liberating myself from the black man, I'm not going to try that thing.  I got a black husband, six feet three, two hundred and forty pounds, with a 14 shoe, that I don't want to be liberated from.  But we are here to work side by side with this black man in trying to bring liberation to all people."
I know that's right, Mrs. Hamer! Speak on it!

Notice that she didn't say she was trying to work behind her husband either, so get it right, Fellas! And get it right, feminists and Africana Womanists! You see, this is what an organization built upon participatory democracy can do. It is one that allows space for women and everyday citizenry to speak for themselves. According to Historian and Civil Rights expert, Dr. Tiyi Morris of Ohio State University:
SNCC offered the centrality of grassroots activism on behalf of regular citizens and stressed "letting the people decide"...this is the foundation upon which Barack Obama worked as a community organizer and the philosophical tenets of his campaign.
Brilliant, Dr. Morris, especially when I think about the manner in which these central tenets were combined with top-notch technology and social media to tilt the world on its axis. The election of Barack Obama was not the change, in and of itself, but (as he has said many, many times), "the opportunity to make a change." I believe that because my consistent mantra has been that Barack Obama is the Activist's President. You bring him the pain to his door and his administration will open it. Make him do what you want like Fannie Lou Hamer, SNCC, the MFDP and those young activists made LBJ sign the Civil Rights Act and change American and World History, forever.

When Fannie Lou Hamer spoke truth to power in Atlantic City at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, she told harsh truths about being Black in America that were a far cry from a young Senator from Illinois being invited to take center stage in 2004. But one could not and does not exist without the other.

You see how this picture shows her all heroic and fierce and telling her oppressors off as she gives her testimony?

Testifying before the Credentials Committee and televised before the world.
 We do love that... but look closer now... do you see those tears in her eyes?:

(an "emergency broadcast" interrupted Mrs. Hamer's speech on television) Emergency, indeed...
THAT was Fannie Lou, too.

I do not know her kind of pain---and I am so thankful. But since she fought for me, I figure I can fight for her, you know? Listen to her give her narrative and read the transcript and a bio here.

This is also why I support Melissa Harris-Lacewell (now Perry), in this interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, as she insists that President Obama acknowledge and address the role of Black women's political activism---the legacy upon which he stands:

(as an aside, doesn't MHP look just like the woman on the old book cover of For Colored Girls...?)

Today, in Ruleville, Mississippi (where Fannie Lou Hamer broke the rules of oppression), sits a beautiful Memorial Garden created on the "Freedom Farm" Mrs. Hamer purchased to further assist poor, Black people in becoming self-sufficient and having a place to grow their food, despite leaving (or getting kicked off) the plantations upon which they were sharecropping---just as she had experienced.

When I first traveled to Ruleville with The Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy at Jackson State University and sat at Fannie Lou Hamer's grave, I simply had not ever heard of "Freedom Farm" and found myself astonished, ashamed and angry about that which I did not know. Mind you, this was after college and after graduate school---and African American History is one of my specialties. #FAIL

I'm feeling mighty unworthy and, yet, grateful...

Thus, when I visited again this year, I learned that the National Fannie Lou Hamer Statue Fund Committee (organized by Patricia Thompson of ROAR) had been collecting money to erect a statue of Ms. Hamer right there at the Memorial Gardens. They needed approximately $125,000 and, as usual, it was a small, committed group of veterans of the Civil Rights Movement and their friends who had done all of the leg work and had launched the campaign. When Patricia Thompson first encountered Fannie Lou Hamer's grave, the grass was up to her knees and she cried in the middle of the field, vowing to make things right. It reminded me of Alice Walker's search for Zora Neale Hurston's grave and what she found. So, Ms. Thompson and others got to work. They chopped down the grass, then they took Freedom Farm from this:

To this, the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden:

The Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden, Ruleville, MS

Go ahead and give them a standing ovation right now! In your living room, office, at your desk, give them a hand! Now, somebody please tell me why we cannot meet this goal post-stat?! I mean, it's sort of embarrassing, isn't it? There are many more pictures and much more information on the website. Please check it out!

But I am 'sick and tired' of us not properly honoring the persons who sacrificed so much for us---as Black people, as Americans, as women, as Democrats, as elected officials, as human beings who stand up for our principles and each other's rights.... Fannie Lou Hamer was thrown in jail and beaten severely for her activism. Later, she would die (and way too early, she never made it to 60 years old) as a result of heart disease, diabetes, living a hard life on the plantation and, yes, the beatings she suffered in jail.

But she couldn't do a whole lot of crying in public. She had things to do and young people to continue to inspire, which is why this intergenerational picture means so much to me:

Yes, that's Stokely Carmichael aka Kwame Ture in the back and Ella Baker on the far right.
It is because of her activism that I could write a comedy about going to jail but I also did so because as much as folks love Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail", it is largely without the socio-political commentary that I tend to like in my art, even though "For Colored Girls" may provide it. Nevertheless, I decided to flip the script---literally...
In "Dr. Goddess Goes to Jail: A Spoken Word, Musical Comedy (Unfortunately) Based on a True Story", I chose to create an intergenerational celebration of the Civil Rights Movement. And, although this came pretty natural for me (after years of unlearning & reconditioning), it is also a Feminist/Womanifesto, which stars "four little girls". And, in my own brand of satiric irony, the hit song in this production about activism and commitment is "Neutrality", a song that revels in fence-riding, apathy and immobility, in which I sing:
But what about Rosa? What about Rosa? / What about Rosa, Ella Baker and Fannie Lou?
If I were any one of those women, / What would you say? What would you tell me to do?
What about them, folks? Can we put our hands together and get this Fannie Lou Hamer Statue up?

Let a Sista know. . . Are YOU for Fannie Lou?

And if you want to get uber-supportive, write anything that inspired you about Fannie Lou (or just share the link to this blog); and put this picture and this code up on your blog:

It won't take long to raise the money. We want everyone to have BUY-IN, so your small donation is actually preferred ($10 - $100 is perfect!)

We're also using Chip In to keep track of our progress and donations!:

Chip In uses PAYPAL and you can PRINT a RECEIPT!

These persons have ALREADY raised $20,000, so chip in!
Anything over the amount goes to the Education Fund & Maintenance of the Memorial Garden.

And I thanks ya kindly in the Hamerly way!

U.S. Highway 49, Ruleville, Mississippi
We'd also like to further show the City of Ruleville, MS (a population of approximately 3,000 persons with a median income of $23,036), that the National Fannie Lou Hamer Statue Fund has a lot of supporters who intend to see Fannie Lou Hamer get her propers. So, stay tuned!

Euvester Simpson is pictured on the cover. Dr. Tiyi Morris is her daughter.
By the way, the bestie who invited me to her hometown and laughed at me, mercilessly, on the ride there? Well, she did pull over on the way back and allowed me to pick some cotton up off the side of the road. And, as it turns out, her mother, Euvester Simpson, was just a young, woman, Civil Rights worker when she shared a jail cell with Fannie Lou Hamer, the same day she was brutally beaten. I had no idea, when I decided to visit Mississippi during Thanksgiving Break, that my life would never be the same because of the women and men who paved the road for me to arrive.

Are You for Fannie Lou? Well, Me Too!

Support us on our Facebook Page, Facebook Group and Follow us Twitter!
@FannieLouHamer @HamerStatueFund @FannieLouWho 
Use the hashtag #fannielou

Special Thanks to: Patricia Thompson, Repaying Our Ancestors Respectfully (ROAR), the National Fannie Lou Hamer Statue Fund Committee and the National Black United Fund (NBUF) for serving as our fiscal sponsor!

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Personal is Political: No Wedding, No Womb Pt. II

I'm a fan of Ashley Judd and Marisa Tomei (who got her start as "Maggie" on "A Different World"), so naturally, at some point in 2001, I didn't turn the channel when a movie entitled, "Someone Like You" aired, since they appeared on screen. Unless they're of the Jerry McGuire or Bridget Jones variety, I try not to consume hoards of romantic comedies centered on white people. And you know why, including all the intelligent white folks reading... I'm trying to maintain a high level of self-esteem, a somewhat healthy body image and the hope that Mr. Right will show up with a Malcolm X fedora, a Morpheus trench and set of shades and wearing flip flops like "Black Jesus". We shall see...

In any event, "Someone Like You" is, well, this review is so doggone good and gets right to the point, so let's just read it aloud together:
Consider Someone Like You, in which heroine Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) is summarily dumped just before embarking on a live-in relationship. This so devastates her that she begins compulsively poring over psychological, anthropological, and philosophical tomes, all in an effort to make sense of the inconstant way the male animal conducts himself. Eventually she alights on a possible explanation in the natural world -- the reluctance among bulls to mate with a given cow more than once -- and less-than-scientifically projects this characteristic across great swaths of the mammalian kingdom to conclude that unfaithfulness is inherent to the male gender, regardless of its species.
Her research for this theory, which she dubs the "New Cow" theory, takes for experimental subjects not only Ray (Greg Kinnear), the aforementioned ex-lover, but also Eddie (Hugh Jackman), a womanizing coworker with whom she must move in after her falling out with Ray leaves her homeless. As Eddie brings home one sex partner after another, Jane psychoanalyzes him relentlessly -- culling information for a monthly column she eventually begins writing for a men's magazine, yes, but also trying, by proxy, to distill Ray's actions into an abstract principle. This will let her turn her recent breakup into an inevitable act of nature and she can thereby avoid the unthinkable alternative, the possibility that something in her identity leaves her singularly susceptible to rejection: "If this theory's wrong," she wails to Eddie later in the movie, "men don't leave all women -- they leave me."
The "New Cow" theory was bunk and, ladies and gentlemen, such is the case for the "No Wedding, No Womb" campaign. By the way, if you're thinking of any words that begin with the letter "H" right now, I'm judging you---and me.

As I explained in Part I: Sloganeering and Slacktivism: The No Wedding, No Womb Campaign, organizer, Christelyn Karazin, was so ashamed of her symbol of unprotected, premarital sex---pregnancy---that she bought a cubic zirconia ring and wore it on her wedding finger to protect herself from the ridicule and judgment of strangers. I guess she didn't like it, so she put a ring on it.

Is that a ring you're wearing? Look, Bish, don't judge me!

But without a general understanding of Women’s History and previous attempts at policing women’s expression, in general, and their sexuality, in particular, delineations and reformations of the Victorian-era-derived “Cult of True Womanhood” will continue, in spite of itself. This is why the dichotomy continues and why, even in Black Christian churches, various choirs (hilariously) reformulated Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and turned it into some type of spiritual hymn (or Deacon remix), curiously wagging the finger (like Mother Wisdom) at single women in the congregation.

What? Y'all think I waited? I'm way too flexible for alla that!
And, yet, if my understanding of the song, “Yes” on the “Dangerously in Love” album is correct, one could easily conclude that Beyonce had sex before and during her premarital relationship with Jay-Z. Perhaps if she spoke more about their (obviously) effective use of birth control, as opposed to pretending as though “Sasha Fierce” only gets down on the dance floor, then “Single Ladies” might be understood in its proper context. But we can’t blame Beyonce’ for other peoples’ misinterpretations of her lyricism and imagery or how she manipulates the confining dichotomy she didn't create. That's probably why this Saturday Night Live skit with Justin Timberlake always leaves me in stitches. But I digress...

Uh uh Oh, oh oh oh oh oh ohhhhh...

I find myself usually alarmed (and then quickly annoyed) whenever I see attempts at moral suasion without any substantive, socio-political analysis or inclusion of social justice or any form of direct action. For example, listing the many statistics which showcase the results of “single parent” and/or “fatherless households” relative to education, crime, poverty, etc., is important but short-sighted, especially when the focus is placed upon people of color---and No Wedding, No Womb, is nothing if not focused upon African American women who have the highest rates of female-headed households in the country.

This is What an Effective Campaign Looks Like *side eyes* NWNW

We all have concern for our families and children in America. But to deny or otherwise diminish the role of the system of white supremacy, the impact of structural inequality, poverty, discrimination against the working poor and to exclude any direct action (or even moral suasion!) against the injustices of ongoing segregation, disinvestment from public education, the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison industrial complex upon people of color, in particular, is wholly irresponsible and ultimately, as Christelyn, participants in “No Wedding, No Womb” and many others have seen, ineffective and irrelevant to the daily realities of our lives---despite seemingly good intentions.

Why would I talk about the system of white supremacy, structural inequality and the relationship between that and the condition of Black families? Because in 1960, many of our families were in tact, not only as nuclear families but extended as well (yes, the African village some wish to deny exists). But something else happened in 1960 and it was the dramatic, climatic rise of an extraordinarily successful campaign that would further ignite the Civil Rights Movement. I'm going to get to that in my next post.

Y'all see all this hate? Whatev, I'm not turning back the clock! I'm not your Auntie!
Suffice it to say, the Conservative backlash to the Civil Rights Movement's successful display that separate was NOT equal, was intended to make Americans think that the reason why equality (measured in equal results) isn't necessary is because there is something inherently wrong with Black people and Black culture. Thus, if the country is "separate", it's because Black people separate themselves from real, hardworking Americans who value education and family.

It's a white supremacist idea, rooted in economic competition, disguised as a "New Cow" theory. And too many people have fallen for it, including too many persons in the Black Church. Mind you, George Bush's Faith-Based Initiative checks helped, didn't they, Eddie?

"You like my cologne? The secret ingredient is holy water. Praise Him!"

Another such person who seems to be entirely ignorant or in deep denial of what's happening here is Christelyn Karazin. But she has many in the Black blogosphere who unconsciously, unknowingly and unfortunately harbor and perpetuate these notions as well. Quite often, they appear as a brigade of intelligent Black women (and they are) whose painful life experiences with Black men and their clear inability to understand or counter the system of white supremacy has led to the "Black men ain't sh*t" messaging of internalized racism. In some ways, they beckon my compassion, as we have all been hurt, but like Ashley Judd's character realized in "Someone Like You", the "New Cow" theory is not the solution to our problems; and neither is internalized oppression. Instead of theories, take a look at the facts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention on parenting, especially non-marital parents (thanks, @saigrundy).

We don’t need a professional, Black, Bristol Palin who feels the need to prescribe an abstinence to which she didn’t subscribe. The fact of the matter is, had Sarah and (ex-patriate promoting) Todd Palin been pragmatic about their daughter’s curiosity and engaged in full sex education and birth control (even with an emphasis on abstinence) as opposed to turning a blind eye to the realities of a teenage life in America while preaching abstinence-only, then we would not have to suffer through seeing her on “Dancing With the Stars” or Levi Johnston’s pitiful run for Mayor or his interview with Lawrence O’Donnell but no, they didn’t spare us, so I won’t spare them.

"Hmmm, how can I get out of this and still shame other women to please my Mom?"
And as much as I might like to, I can’t spare Christelyn; because when she appeared on Michael Dyson’s radio program, she would not even own up to her own campaign. Despite being the organizer, she insists she’s not the leader. Despite focusing upon African American women in her own narrative, she denies that the focus on fatherlessness leans disproportionately towards Black men. And she insists that despite having intense shame about being a single parent, “No Wedding, No Womb” has nothing to do with shaming single mothers today. She even went so far to (hilariously) suggest that she doesn't even really mean "wedding", per se, but to simply be "wedded" to the children. Oh Christelyn... please immediately head over to the stellar Co-Parenting 101 Website and free yourself.

On the NWNW FAQ page (which she tweeted to me), in answering the question, “What gives you the right to do this?”, she responded: I’m a baby mamma’ LISTEN TO MY MISSION: [which was a plug to the theme song] I do this for my daughter, and my daughter’s daughter, and all the children of our future.” I find this more than interesting because a “baby mamma” is actually a woman who has a child and is not married. According to Christelyn, she found a man who happens to be white, they fell in love and he accepted her and her child as a package deal. So, technically speaking, she is NOT a “baby mamma”. But what would make her say such a thing? Being plagued by having been one…

I should note that almost 24 hours after having written a large portion of this post, I asked Christelyn a few questions on Twitter and she never responded. I was extremely respectful to her (see below). My questions were:

Start from the bottom and scroll up. That's how Twitter works.
And she blocked me. I learned shortly thereafter that she had blocked many others who questioned or disagreed with her point of view in any way, shape or form. Way to go Christelyn, excellent campaign strategies you have there…

There is just too much that doesn’t add up and there are tons of other ways to support children, create a more egalitarian society and provide holistic education about safe sex, the realities of parenting and available options for birth control (including abstinence), that can and will continue despite a campaign that cannot sustain the shame upon which it is founded.

I'm amazed at this album cover. It's brilliant!
I love Salt N Pepa's fun, sexy and outspoken feminist imagery, so when “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Do You Want Me?” debuted on their “Black’s Magic” album, released December 8, 1992, it was perfect for my burgeoning sexuality and, apparently, many others’. “Let’s Talk About Sex” became the anthem for a number of different campaigns more than happy to have a theme song that would allow parents and guardians to more comfortably enter into conversations about sex and reproduction with their children. After all, we couldn’t rely on Grease’s “Reproduction” and the characteristic bass line, “I’ve got your pistol right here” forever.

Let’s talk about sex, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that can be
Let’s talk about sex
Let’s talk about sex!

Notice how we have a great song which invites open conversation and learning without shaming or placing a heavier emphasis upon the female body? You had no idea Salt-N-Pepa were this deep, hunh? On this same album, “Do You Want Me?” provided an anthem that helped me decipher man-speak and manipulation and gave me a phat beat with which to jam as well:

You said it loud / and I heard ya
Never tried to hurt you
Some say I’m old fashioned
I like to take my time and do it slow, you know?
But don’t try to rush it
So, ride it like a horse / and let nature take its course
Get to know each other
Be my friend, no just my lover
Share your thoughts with me
Love my mind, not just my body, baby!

Do you really want me, baby?
Let me know
Cuz if you really want me, I suggest you tell me so
Got no time for playing games, that ain’t even why I came
Cuz I may be / the kinda guy you like

Those lyrics became an anthem. I was not ashamed to say I was old fashioned and I loved how the question was posed to the man, asking "Do You Really Want Me, Baby?" while rejoicing in the phat beat that could make our booties shake but did not require us to give them up.

“No Wedding, No Womb” does actually have a nice theme song (which is why they call this a multimedia campaign) to which I promptly did the snake and began gyrating my pelvis:

So maybe, like other artists, this campaign should stick moreso to its singing than anything else.
We must be ever vigilant so that we do not end up evaluating each other using a standard of measurement created by white supremacist thinking - bell hooks
Jesus Be Solange’s Womb Producing Julez.

Special Shoutout to Saida Grundy @saigrundy for her excellent timeline, @alvinthethird for the bell hooks quote and Twitter's continued elucidation on #NWNW