Celebrating Woman’s History Month, International Women’s Day
I hadn’t realized the date was upon me, but I do recall being happy March 1 to be celebrating two women I love, Hafsa and Tomyé. It was Tomye’s birthday and Hafsa, having lost her mother that week and a husband, not to death, but divorce, was rededicating her life to herself—the cleansing sage symbolic of her new path, the melodious thikring (an Arabic term referencing a chant where one remembers Allah's greatness, mercy and forgiveness) guaranteed light at the end of a long tunnel, and the circle of sisters, trees in her forest. It was a beautiful afternoon of poetry and tears and hugs and love. Tomyé’s birthday party, later that evening, for me, was a gift for all present at her party. Guests were invited to bring cloth as motif for their relationship with Tomyé: love in the shape of hearts, imported...and shimmering…
The following week, my college class and I went to see Cynthia McKinney at the Women of Color Resource Center’s second annual “Speaking Fierce” event. McKinney, former congresswoman of Georgia, now Green Party nominee for President of the United States, spoke at length statistically about the state of this union and why we all need to stand for something—passive rides over. McKinney was in a reflective mood as were many of the presenters and performers that evening from poets Climbing PoeTree whose work was affirming and encouraging, and Bushra Rehman whose work reflected her life in New York, a child of Muslim immigrants both anecdotally and interpretive—she didn’t have a chance this assimilated citizen of the new land, to Sgt. Eli Painted Crow of SWAN who is still suffering from her tour of duty in Iraq—one can see it in her eyes, a representative from TEMPO a program sponsored by WCRC that teaches women to do media work, both radio and film. A clip from a program on sexually exploited teenage girls was shared. Congresswoman Barbara Lee wasn’t able to be there but she sent Tina Flores who gave me something to look forward to on the fifth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Lee’s townhall.
This was the context of an evening that ended so fittingly with Jennifer Jones, whose mother was in the hospital as she sang her well –-“my mom’s not dying; our women are like the Ice Age,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
As McKinney and Robert H. King hugged and then caught up with one another’s news,I looked around the sanctuary at First Congregational Church of Oakland, a place I have so many fond memories of. I remember seeing Yolanda King here at the end of the Season of Peace, April 4, the anniversary of her father’s death. I recall the concert Jennifer Jones’ mentioned where she sang for the last time with the Oakland Youth Chorus…I remember the many “In the Name of Love” events there, Media Alliance’s celebration where Alice Walker and Amy Goodman were in conversation. I can’t begin to recall all the excellent author events. Such fond memories. McKinney was seated alone and we just kind of invaded her space—the perfect public persona she took pictures with my students and I, as she put on her buttons: Free SF8 and one with Martin Luther King Jr.’s photo. I thought about Alice Walker again and her home state, Georgia, a state reflective of a country that was not ready for Cynthia McKinney. Barbara Lee’s letter, read by Tina Flores, spoke of how “women held up half the sky,” McKinney was holding up more than that, if one considered her involvement in setting the record straight on Capitol Hill. She is the one that introduced legislation to impeach the president, his secretary of state, Rice and Vice President Cheney. She led the New Orleans tribunal and if you remember, the fact finding inquiries into the electoral fiasco in Florida and Ohio. “Black men between 16-64 make up half the unemployed in that state.” She said stated in a litany of statistics masquerading as a speech. That’s Clinton’s state, I thought. “In Chicago, it will take 200 years,” according to the State of the Dream Report (c/o United for a Fair Economy), “before black Chicagoans quality of life equals that of its white residents.” That’s Obama’s city, I thought. Hum.
“Don’t let them cut your tongue out—you are the diamond, not the one mined but the one in the sky,” Climbing PoeTree said just moments earlier. “It’s time to move like water.”
McKinney mentioned Jena, Louisiana, where black boys were charged for their retaliation to the nooses hung on the tree at their high school, but the hate criminals were allowed to walk freely without consequence. She spoke about political power and the power of positioning oneself in the gears of mechanisms until they grind shut. (She also mentioned that the new WCRC executive director Anisha Desai comes from United for a Fair Economy—there are no coincidences.)
The former congresswoman said references to Obama’s religion and Clinton’s cleavage were diversions to keep the public distracted about the issues of governance. Will either nominee take control of the car and park it while they contemplate alternative transportation?
Eli Painted Crow said, “We forget to stay connected to real relationships. She said she was for peace and that we would not have peace as long as we were always fighting against something—the very nature of protest is violence. She told us about 13 Grandmothers for Peace and the medicine of the drum, a drum created by women for men. “Now women are taking back the drum.” She said. We created the drum to teach men to respect women, to respect the earth—this is the story left out. We were born with power and despite the protests by some men and women to women drummers, we have taken it back and they will get used to it. Eli Painted Crow said as she invited us to sing a song with her as she held the circular instrument and mallet in her hands and sang.
“We are drumming for peace,” she said as she recalled meeting a soldier in Iraq from Ireland with a drum. “We all have drums in our culture. (These) songs are my prayers…and I added dance is my worship. The grandmothers are supporting this drumming for peace movement which will happen again this October in Washington. She invited all of us to stand and raise our vibrations, to get up and stand for something.
“The revolution starts within,” Climbing PoeTree said in the poem before Jennifer Jones came on.