a quick reflection on my 28th year

Since I was little, I thought being 28 years old would feel momentous. It’d be the year that I’d finally be a Big Proud Adult that Knows What She Wants and Is Comfortable in Her Skin and Her Voice. I turned 29 last weekend, and I’ll just say that… I’m still working on all that. Though the fact of my age did compel me to do some big things.

I took an intense 6 month art class that challenged me to push my aesthetic sensibilities and taught me how to play and experiment with visual media.

I quit my job. I left EFF after four and a half years of working on international policy work, mostly advocating for the public interest in the copyright/access to knowledge domain. The timing all happened to align perfectly so that I felt good about leaving—the TPP, the thing I was fighting for most of my time there, got finalized and signed, but it was finally in a political rut that made it seem unlikely to get passed and binding on the signing countries (long story short, because of the presidential elections). I was sick of fighting the symptoms of a broken system, and wanted to pursue a different, more productive path towards change-making.

I realized that I’m already an “adult”, in the sense that I feel a level of responsibility for things that feel intrinsically tied to my identity. Though I have no fucking idea what I want, I know how I’d like to grow. My goal is to reconcile these feelings of responsibility with my hope to do and try more.

I had a set vision for what I might be like when I was 28. Though it was wrong in a lot of ways, it was right in that I’d finally be comfortable with myself. I can at least be proud of that.

 

is this what a revolution looks like?

I don’t want to pile on to the huge op-ed-fest regarding the phenomenon that is the rise of Trump and Sanders’ sudden rise in popularity in the presidential race, but I blog on my website for my own sake and I need to jot down some quick thoughts and reflect on what’s going on in this country for the sake of my own sanity.

(For the hands down best piece on Trump and his popularity, you should read this piece by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone if you haven’t.)

We’ve already been this frail…all that’s happening now is that the symptoms of our disorders are finally appearing.

Our political and economic institutions have failed the U.S. majority for so long. It might’ve been only a matter of time before something like this would happen.

The masses hitting back at the wealthy elite and their establishment that have ruled through their a puppet democracy for at least a generation. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are catalysts for the latent frustration and despair among the low- to middle-classes that are finally fed up with watching this charade.

There’s obviously major ideological differences between the movements growing behind these two candidates, but central to both is a drastic re-questioning of the economy, government, and the relationship between the two. All the mainstream political discussions about wealth inequality, corporate money in politics, trade agreements, etc. to me signals a beginning of a popular movement to upend entrenched systems of power.

Whatever ends up happening with the presidential race, I don’t think this popular rage and discontent could ever be bottled back up. People—both left and right, bigot or moderate—are starting to articulate widespread problems in a way that is going to make it almost impossible for establishment officials to try and sell their current scheme of governance to the public. Only people who feel comfortable within this current paradigm could say that the current system is fine. Most people are NOT fine, and enough people have now realized that they’re not alone in this, that this is a systemic failure.

So this feels to me like the beginning of a revolution. Trump’s brand of it is horrifying and bigoted, but alongside that is Sanders’ fiercely optimistic and cooperative vision for America. So who knows what’s going to happen, but at least these long overdue conversations about our society and how we want the government to work people is finally happening. That’s gotta mean power in this country is going to shift in a huge way, and very soon.

 

some of my "extracurriculars"

I’ve been spending most of my non-work time on classes and projects lately. It feels great and fulfilling and they’re each activating different skills n interests of mine. Here are the main ones:

* art class *

The first, major thing is my art class. I’m a third of the way through the course (it goes til June) and it continues to be enlightening, sometimes frustrating, and intense overall. The main thing I’m getting out of it is the practice of reflecting on personal habits and patterns of behavior, and allowing myself to be curious about whether they hinder richer experiences in my life. It’s all done through the lens of “mark making,” but it’s affecting even the smallest things about my daily activities– whether it’s to change up my bike route to/from work, my cooking, or the style of my writing. If I have a lull at any point, I sometimes force myself to resist reaching for my phone, and instead try and observe the environment and things around me so I’m more present.

The drawing below just happens to look like a person, because our mark making is only meant to capture our reaction and feelings in response to the poses the model makes before us. But I like it, and it’s a good example of how far we’re going in this class to deconstruct our creative processes. For the most part it’s enjoyable, but as I said, it can be frustrating at times. It takes a lot of effort to try and resist your habits, and to challenge the comfortableness with new ways of doing and experiencing can be, well, uncomfortable.

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* everett alumni foundation*

It’s been slow to start, but things are finally rolling forward with the Everett Alumni Foundation, which is a non-profit I incorporated to network the alumni, partners, and friends of the Everett Program at UC Santa Cruz and to give financial grants and mentorship to students. We got out our first newsletter a few days ago and will be fundraising in the coming week. woop!

* dance *

I’ve been getting back into dance. I finally made it to Dance Mission Theater right next to the 24th St. BART and took a West African dance class with live drumming, which has been one of my favorites at other studios. I love the dance from that general region because the movements tend to be big, energetic, somewhat ~sensual~, and feels natural in a way that ballet (for me at least) totally doesn’t.

* flash mob theater *

Then I’ve also started working on choreographing another piece for my protest flashmob group, Get Up Street Theater (GUST). We have one on the environment, called Toxic, and another on militarism/law enforcement/lack of accountability in government, called They Don’t Care About Us. The new one is going to be about surveillance. The common complaint among people has been that there’s too high of a barrier to participate because they need to learn all the choreography, so this time we’re mixing in a good amount of other theatrics with it so anyone who shows up can decide to participate. Pretty excited about this one.

I've made a six-month commitment to artmaking

There’s one resolution that I’ve kept on declaring new year after new year: create/draw/paint more. And year after year, I’d largely neglect it. Every time I tried, I’d freeze up, get terrified, and end up torturing myself to make something. The judgey asshole side of my brain made all of it seem too forced, pointless, and lost. I couldn’t escape the grip of it every time. While I managed to sign up for two art classes in the 8 years since taking one in college, drawing/painting had turned into something like taking a shit while constipated. But even though I started to dread that feeling, I kept having an itch to make visual work. It was a ceaseless, awful nagging.

So I finally signed up for a new class. Not just any class. This is, according to the instructor, a “creativity” class. For the next six months, we are going to draw as if our life, the essence and meaning of it, depended on it. It’s all going to happen within the bounds of one subject, a model, and three materials: compressed charcoal and a white eraser on newsprint paper. The instructor has been teaching this class in his home for the last 24 years, and he is intense about shedding and kicking away creative barriers.

I cannot be more excited. >_<

Below are the highlights from my first class from today. All of these poses were less than 30 seconds long and were told not to care at all what ended up on the page.

chacoal_sitting

 

charcoal_facedaway

 

charcoal_crucified

charcoal_butt

a quick life update – Dec 2015

in lieu of something more substantial…

HEALTHY AGAIN

I was sick for a week and a half—a cold turned into strep throat. I pretty much was in bed for three days straight after I managed to fly to Pasadena for the holiday and totally missed Thanksgiving. Clearly my body/immune system was in rough shape, maybe because of the East coast trip and various other stress factors. Anyway I’m starting to finally get completely better so yayyy.

GOING TO INDIA

Moar traveling. I’m going to New Delhi this week for the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest and to meet with other folks working on fighting over-restrictive copyright/patent policies. I’ve never been to India before so I’m pretty excited to explore the few days I have free. The flight is a brutal 19 hours each way with stopover so I better have some productive things to do on the plane.

DIVING INTO LINUX

I finally got around to buying a new laptop and I’m stoked about installing Linux on it. There’s been all kinds of things with Macs that’s been frustrating for me for a long time from a UX perspective (that it’s a walled garden, is a DRM enabler, etc.) but I also just want to be libre-rated from the restraints of proprietary software. It sounds like it’s not going to be an easy peasy experience but I’m okay with that—freedom’s supposed to take work right?

why do street protests?

As government officials grow depressingly less accountable to the public they’re supposed to represent, we have to resort to  other means to get them to pay attention and set them straight. Going out on the street en masse to air grievances is obviously one of the oldest tactics in the book. Sometimes, it works. It works when it grabs press attention, when it catalyzes others to take action, or when it’s really big and it causes officials to shake in their boots and actually change their course.

But most of the time, it doesn’t do any of those things…and if so, is it just a waste of time?

I thought about this a lot when I was in Washington D.C. for protest actions against the TPP this week and as I went to my third march yesterday in Oakland to perform with my protest dance flashmob group. I spent a pretty significant amount of time and energy preparing for the D.C. actions in the weeks leading to it, getting other organizations to endorse them and invite their members to come out and join us. My goal was to have as many people on the streets at the main action on Monday afternoon as possible.

And we did get a good number people out there (I first said on Twitter that I thought it was at least 1,000 people but given my knack for being horrible at guesstimating large numbers or sizes of things it was probably pretty off). I think it’s safe to say that we had 300~400 people when it was at its largest when we marched through downtown D.C.—apparently, that’s not too shabby for a protest action on the Hill. We had Flush the TPP lanterns shaped like rolls of toilet paper, some big light projections on nearby buildings, and actual rolls of toilet paper with facts about the TPP printed on them that we used to TP trees and statues along the route.

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On the following morning, we had another action to march to each of the 12 embassies of the countries involved in the agreement. It was way smaller (about 60 people) but we definitely made up for it in theatrics and props. We had a big Mr. Monopoly puppeteering the flags of the TPP countries and a massive blow-up globe that four people had to carry on their shoulders.

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Popular Resistance did an incredible job at organizing everything that happened last week. Not only did they plan out a dozen or so separate activities, they coordinated with people who came from all over the country, figured out how to house and feed 30+ people in a church which was our planning HQ, and most impressively of all, kept up their energy and had a positive attitude the entire time. The folks at Popular Resistance were the most impressive organizers I’d ever worked with.

Really though, I think it came down to that: the people you meet at these events. Obviously the goal of doing this kind of thing is to enact some real change but it’s really hard to quantify and measure that kind of impact. But if during the process, you meet and connect with people who share a common goal of resisting oppressive, backward government policies, I’d still say that’s a success.

It’s empowering to get together with a group of total strangers who come from entirely different backgrounds from you and recognize that you’ve got each other on your team. Protests and rallies are just as much about taking up space and creating a spectacle to call attention to an important issue as it is about celebrating your community.

I can say that I definitely needed the inspiration and hope that we still have a chance (see previous bleak blog post for reference). It was an intense few days with the several dozen people who stayed at the church HQ and were involved in all the action.

There was the kindergarten teacher-turned-activist in her 60’s who got teary-eyed with me as we both ranted about how hard it was to make more people care about the TPP. She said she starting doing activism when she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of her kids’ futures in the world the way it was.

There were the 20-something-year old brothers from Michigan who run an organic farming business on their property. They were there because they’re against GMO’s (which we disagreed about) and think Monsanto is an evil company that should not be empowered any more than they are already are (which we agreed about).

Then there was the guy who flew all the way from Washington, from the northern most county in the state. He’s an organizer who managed to turn his entire district Democrat with his grassroots work to rally thousands of people to turn out for local elections.

These and the other people I met this week are, in their various communities, doing whatever they can to be an active participant in re-shaping the future for the better. I hope they went back feeling as pumped and re-energized as I did. We got a pretty good team going, but to win in the long term, we’re going to have to keep building this community bigger, stronger, and with more love and common respect.

Having said that, I think I’m good on going to any more street actions in the near future… 😛

the shadowy incessant dread

i’ve been staring the TPP in the face for so long, the details of its horrifying features fade away sometimes. numbed to the shock and anger, the thought of it morphs into a shadowy incessant dread. it’s hard to make it go away, even when i’m supposed to be relaxing.

the negotiations ended two weeks ago, then the Intellectual Property chapter leaked a few days after that. that bit is pretty much as bad as we’ve always thought it’d be. we haven’t even seen the other 29 chapters.

but the specifics don’t matter if the whole thing’s rotten.

At the National Lawyers’ Guild Convention where i spoke this morning, someone from the audience got up to say that with social and economic justice work, we’ve all been painting and fixing the roofing on the house when its entire foundation is caving in beneath our feet—that, the entire edifice of democracy based on common public interest (at least the hope of a universal, inclusive kind that many are trying to build) is crashing right before our eyes.

the TPP, and other trade deals TTIP and TISA, is representative of a longer trend of policymaking that’s based on myopic priorities of “economic growth” at the expense of ALL other considerations—be it human rights, economic/gender/racial equality, etc. it seems like we’re nailing ourselves into the coffin of neo-liberal, corporate-sovereignty-enhancing international regulations.

on the whole i’m optimistic that we’ve got a chance to kill this thing, and make room for a larger dialogue about how we ought to be making good, solid policymaking that’s not driven by an elite of private wealthy interests.

but sometimes, here and there, i let the immensity of it get to me and i just want to roll up in a ball and cry at the indifference, the greed, and the powerful toxic insecurity that drives it all. the insecurity of corporate execs who fear the diminishing growth of their companies and will do anything to curb it. the insecurity of U.S. officials about whatever threat BRICS countries poses to its current hegemony (and similarly for countries that take advantage of the United States’ current geopolitical standing ::cough:: japan ::cough:: australia ::cough::).

years of sending trade delegates back and forth across the world meeting at expensive luxury hotels to make a giant deal based on a screwed up agenda, with the guaranteed sugarcoating by officials who’ll do anything to make it all seem palatable to the common person…it’s so goddamn frustrating that we’re wasting so many resources doing this when we actually have real problems to solve.

i just want to take Obama by the shoulders and shake him and yell “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS.” he, more than anyone else in this world, is in a position to pop this bubble of madness. he used to be critical of all this… at least he claimed to….

anyway. i’m exhausted. i feel somewhat better having dragged this rant out of me. tomorrow i have to wake up and think optimistically about all this or else i’ll never want to get out of bed.

 

centering & creating opportunity out of crisis

First, it was at an event put on by the Asia Foundation where I was speaking. I met a leading feminist and human rights organizer from Mongolia who put on the first production of the Vagina Monologues there (and to much controversy).

Later that week, I spent three days with two fellow digital rights nerds in the Sierras. We cooked, explored, chatted, and made sense of our community with each other. Both of them incredibly hard-working, passionate, hilarious, and thoughtful people.

With them, I visited and slept in an old schoolhouse of a ghost town recently purchased by a woman my age, who was one of the most gorgeous, elegant people I’ve met. She’s re-building this long deserted town into a sustainable community centered on organic farming. So far it’s inhabited by a dozen or so happy humans, dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens.

I had lunch with one of my colleagues who I consider an influential mentor. She almost single-handedly built an international project to create legal principles that would guide surveillance policies so that they could fall in line with international human rights. It has been too long since we hung out and talked about life.

All of this came after spending the last few weeks reading the entirety of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. The book blew my mind in its comprehensive explanation of why climate change is an urgent crisis that must be addressed immediately, but in the same vein, an opportunity to re-think many aspects of governance, the economy, and the ideologies that underpin both social structures. She manages to make someone, like me, who has peripherally cared about this issue into an evangelist for direct action against carbon-based fuels and demand subsidies for renewable energy programs.

These past few weeks, I’ve encountered these and other inspiring women who are putting their all into fixing this broken mess of a world in varied but individually stunning ways. Despite how fucked things seem lately, thinking about them and their work help me shake off the despair and get to work. Just as Naomi would say, we can take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Whether or not they’d admit themselves, these individuals are doing this through their day-to-day work and are committed to making things more just and sustainable.

I’m preparing myself for a busy few months as TPP negotiators may announce tomorrow morning that they’ve concluded this sprawling trade deal once and for all. If they do, I’ll be laser-focused on killing this agreement dead because it goes against everything I believe in. I hope to soon do more work that involves building towards positive, equitable institutions, rather than having to fight this bullshit neo-liberal/private-interest-captured policies. But in this crisis, I’ll be looking for new opportunities. In this work, I’ll try and emphasize ways of organizing that will make people feel more connected and responsible to their society and global community. Who knows what the hell that looks like but I’m gonna do my darnedest and I’ll take a cue or two from these bad ass women who’ve come into my orbit.

stream of consciousness: aug 9 '15

Another stream of consciousness—wherein I write whatever comes to my head and I only go back to correct for grammar and formatting.

I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a story about a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who comes to the U.S. as a student and becomes a blogger who comments on her racial experience as someone who “became” black only once she came to the States. There are about 20 of the character’s blog posts in the book, and it contains some of the best writing on the experience of intersectional racism/sexism of black women. The story that encases this commentary is a love story which isn’t bad as far as those go. Adichie’s writing is beautiful too, with just enough descriptive flare to suck you into certain moments in the story but not too much to be tiresome.

Anyway I definitely recommend it.

~

Very much into ibeyi right now. They’re twin sisters, 19 or 20, of French-Cuban descent and are the daughters of the percussionist from Buena Vista Social Club. Their music is just gorgeous and soulful and…Mmm!

>> Youtube video of their show at KEXP Seattle <<

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Random thoughts about trade policy/innovation still swimming around in my head that I can’t nail down.

I’ve started three different long pieces trying to make sense of them and I keep scrapping them. Can’t tell if it’s just a bunch of obviousness, that I’m just saying something someone else has already said but then I know that if they had, I probably would have read it or known about it.

~

That’s it for now. bleh.

mood: intellectually, creatively constipated

 

 

 

the drought is no joke.

 Bass Lake, June 21 2015my friends and I came here four years ago and kayaked around this meadow when it was still underneath a lake. we were shocked to see Bass Lake more than 3/4’s empty…this was the first time the drought felt so visceral and real to me. 

 floating docks sitting un-used.   
a small stream feeds into the lake. houses that once sat on the waterfront are now hundreds of feet from the water.