Saturday, February 21, 2009

A libation for Brother Malcolm

44 years ago to the day, Malcolm X also known as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz and Omowale, was ushered into the ancestors by assassins bullets. There are many ways to honor an ancestor but I thought it important that I honor the legacy of Brother Malcolm by calling on some of his most important lessons in the names of three recent ancestors lost: Oscar Grant, Adolph Grimes, and Robbie Tolan who were all recently assassinated.

Spiritual Exploration

Self-Determination: This is arguably the greatest thing that he left behind to us. While everyone will not be an electric speaker, a mighty intellect, or a compassionate parent, all should and can participate in self-determination. In the many changes that Malcolm underwent, from hustling to lecturing at Harvard there was one thing that remained common in him, a commitment to determining his position in society in a way that was beyond the views and wishes of others. For African people, and most oppressed people, our life chances, locations, and expectations have been set by communities that we do not belong to, but are subject of. Malcolm, lived and died by the idea that only we can set the pace of our struggle and the terms of our liberation. Through his own renaming, through his insistence on not asking buy demanding civil and human rights, and his empowerment of people globally, Malcolm set a tone and example for personal and social revolution.

Spiritual Exploration- Now this is the one that usually trips lefties out. How can we talk about religion or spirituality when Marx identified it as, "the opium of the people." Well, while I don't think Marx was wrong and in many ways Malcolm would agree, the quest for deeper understanding and higher power is not inherently blind-sighted. From his days as the child of a Baptist minister to his conversion to Sunni Islam, Malcolm was always humbly seeking something greater. For me, my quest for social justice is deeply informed by my spiritual ideals of justice, equality and fairness. The special way that Malcolm used his religion to inform his ideology and ammended both toward the end of his life demonstrate that a true seeker of deep knowledge, be it political, personal or spiritual, must be willing to "be wrong" and work to "be right." In the end, Brother Malcolm taught us that righteousness is a journey, not a destination.

Voice- There is nothing on earth like a liberated person speaking. The conviction and clarity that Malcolm spoke with came from being free of bondage. His historic split with the Nation is a key moment when you begin to see that Malcolm knew that his voice was his vehicle. Even the autobiography that we have from him was transmitted orally to Alex Haley. While many people today believe themselves to be free and critical, in reality we are often bound by the people we work for, want to work with, or the fear of our own voices. While Malcolm was far from perfect, he was always willing to speak up in spaces and give voice to the voiceless. This voice was not just one of vindicating African peoples, but one of correction for African people as well. As we think of what leadership, resistance, and oration mean in 2009 I wonder who among us is willing to speak, do, and think as freely as Omowale.

Thank you El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz for providing a legacy and a challenge to live by. Though he was taken from this planet, he will not be taken from our hearts and struggle. Ase

Friday, February 20, 2009

Obama's "Good War"

Obama’s short-sightedness in simply opting for a ‘surge’ in Afghanistan-Pakistan – now being considered by US military planners as a ‘single theatre’ of war – will possibly be his undoing, his Vietnam as surprisingly the mainstream Time magazine put it. It’s a shame that Obama is speaking to every military and intelligence official under the sun about the efficacy of this shift in policy, but not to the man who actually carried out such a ‘surge’ policy in the 1980s, and saw his superpower country crumble as a result of it: former Soviet premier Gorbachev.

One call to Gorbachev should have been sufficient to persuade Obama that he can quadruple the number of US troops – with less and less troops from other NATO countries because they have come to realize, like the British generals, that Afghanistan is an “unwinnable war” – and the killings, chaos, and insurgency will only intensify. A simple lesson that should be learned from all colonial adventures, past and present, is that occupations always breed resistance, the two go hand in hand. And ugly occupations don’t always breed the prettiest of resistances. The problems in Afghanistan-Pakistan are profoundly political in nature, and will not be resolved by a trigger happy US-NATO-Pakistani military high command unleashing its lethal toys from 50,000 feet in the sky, or by soldiers on the ground sheepishly believing themselves to be ‘rescuing’ and ‘liberating’ Moslems (especially moslem women)…from themselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The More Things Change...

So, clearly, with the historic election of an African-American to the highest office in America, we can really begin to move beyond the ugly history of racism in this country, right? Right??? Uh...yeah, not so much. For all those people who equate Obama's election to the fulfillment of the visions of Martin, Malcolm, Chavez, etc., for a more just, equitable society that finally began really distancing itself from xenophobia...sorry. Progress has been made, but nothing has been overcome yet. Thanks to the New York Post for reminding us of that today.

No matter how they slice it, putting two white cops shooting a chimpanzee dead that wrote the stimulus bill is unbelievably racist. Yeah...there's no legacy of equating black people to apes in America, right? And wasn't Obama the main champion of the stimulus bill? Interestingly enough...he's got some skin pigmentation! And white cops shooting brown folks dead? Never happens.

Am I overreacting here? I mean, maybe they're just having fun with the Connecticut chimpanzee story, along with the battle that the stimulus bill became. Okay, sure...but there is no way you ignore the links here. No way. Not with the legacy we have in this country. You just don't put a chimp in for Obama, along with 2 white cops shooting him dead without some conscious notion of what you're doing. They'll claim freedom of the press (just like those racists in the Netherlands claimed about those hateful cartoons that rightfully inflamed Muslims all over the world - though, you know, instead of burning Western establishments, they should have just placed unilateral sanctions on the Netherlands and those who supported them until they got a real apology...alas, most of their leaders are Western-backed despots, so that wasn't really possible - I digress!) and say people are overreacting. Whatever. You don't put something like this out without some serious racist intentions. One of the three things, maybe. But the white cops, the chimp, and a shooting? Please. And even without the obvious racism, the cartoon is also basically saying, we don't like the stimulus bill, so we'll just shoot the person who wrote it. And the "we" are supposed authority figures in society, the police.
Plus, we get a pretty graphic image...3 clear bullet holes in the chimps' chest and a pool of blood underneath. wtf is that about??? Overt racism, straight up political hit jobs....this cartoon has so many issues on so many levels. And how is it even remotely funny or witty?

So for all those who thought that electing one man was going to make everything different...yeah, no. But it is up to you to give the Post hell about this cartoon. Call them up. Email them. Write them letters. Tell your people to do the same. As "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski would probably say, this kind of racist aggression won't stand, man. Make them feel it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Making the Cynic Smile: The Movement Behind Obama and the Possibility of Change

Let me get this out of the way. I do not buy into the hype about Barack Obama. His grand, sweeping speeches each become less detailed than the prior ones, and this rhetoric will do little to change the conflicts in the Middle East, South Asia, the Caucuses, or improve our rapidly deflating economy. Much to the chagrin of many of his supporters, Obama has become more of a politician every day, from the populist progressive Illinois state senator in 2002 to the centrist US President in 2009. Yes, he is a brilliant man, an inspirational voice, and someone who has experienced a life filled with much more reality than most silver-spoon politicians. Given his progressive history (especially earlier in his political career), the tumultuous failure of the neoliberal and neoconservative agenda suggesting the need for serious political change, and the massive level of public support, it is not hard to see why many believe Obama could be the greatest US President in history. That still does not change the fact that he is ultimately part of a government structure that gravitates to the status-quo and punishes leaders who push for big-but-necessary change. He will undoubtedly be constrained. However, after experiencing inauguration with millions in DC just a few weeks back, I saw firsthand the greatest weapon Obama has to actually create the kind of change he promised in his campaign: a legitimate movement, united behind the notion that the Washington status-quo is no longer acceptable.

Did you see the photos of the Mall? Did you watch the overhead shots on TV? Were you out there? The sheer numbers out at the inauguration events were simply incredible. The level of positive energy and political engagement was remarkable. It felt like we were in a different world. People made pilgrimages from across the country to witness the end of the nightmare that has been the Bush administration. More importantly, they came to show America, the world, and President Obama that they were there to support a new, different, and better America. This was no ordinary occasion. It was a profound moment – profound because close to 3 million people from all walks of life came together to brave the weather and the crowds to proclaim their allegiance to ideas of justice, equity, and peace. In the end, the mass of people, more than Obama, is what made the days so remarkable, and what provided hope for a better future.

It wasn’t just that people came in large numbers, though. It was how they came. It was not a conglomeration of self-congratulatory people. Yes, some had the bumper-sticker attitude, that a black man becoming President would, by itself, somehow change everything. Some did naively believe that Obama’s election wiped the laundry list of American ruthlessness at home and abroad clean. However, the vast majority had no such illusions. They held close to the (albeit vague) policies Obama had promised changes on. They understood that actions spoke louder than words, particularly in these tough times, and were willing to be the voices that pushed the Obama administration to make the right decisions. This was not a group of people basking in yesterday’s glory; they were there to push for tomorrow’s redemption. This was indeed a movement, a massive and diverse one at that.

As such, the feeling of community amongst the sea of strangers was not surprising. People were joyous and peaceful. They spontaneously sang, danced, chanted, cried, and hugged everyone in sight. The spirit was infectious. They pulled you in and kept you with them without hesitation. This is what movements do, of course. People in movements find ways to connect to each other almost instantaneously; they share goals, dreams, and beliefs, which help create a kinship with others. Despite having to walk many miles, wait in lines for hours, and deal with bitterly cold temperatures, this movement converged in full force on the congested DC streets during inauguration week.

For me, it started on the 18th, the Sunday before inauguration. I planned to meet three separate groups of friends at the “We Are One” concert on the National Mall, but that soon proved to be impossible. Not only that, but cell phone lines were jammed, so it was virtually impossible to try coordinating anything down there. Like thousands of others, though, this proved to be no problem. People found new enclaves and groups of friends on the spot. I spent the entire show hanging out with a large group people, none of whom knew each other beforehand. We sang, clapped, and cheered together. In-between performances, we talked about our political views, our own stories and backgrounds, and our reasons for being in DC for inauguration. It was remarkable how much depth and overlap there was in their responses. Over the course of the concert, we all managed to connect on a deep level.

The same environment was in place the next day. Thousands of people flooded the streets, yet you could easily have long conversations with complete strangers anywhere. Spontaneous musical performances broke out everywhere, and crowds swarmed to sing and dance together immediately. Everyone wanted to connect with each other, tell their stories, hear your stories, and share thoughts about the future. The discussions were hardly superficial. People talked about the economic stimulus package, the rule of law, education, and US foreign policy – there was almost no conversations centered on vague ideas of “hope” or “change”. These millions were not blind followers at all. Even late into the night, the conversations persisted on substance. DJs were spinning Obama speech clips into their sets into the early morning hours – and not his standard cliché-filled clips, but ones with real passion and fire. People were energized and excited, even though we all had to wake up in just a few hours to get downtown for the inauguration.

The crowds on inauguration day were hard to describe. Despite severely mismanaged security that caused some ticket holders to be denied entry to the Mall, and many of us to wait hours only to be told they were changing our gate and we had to walk three miles to get to where we needed to be, despite the fact that most people had slept for only a few hours, and despite the fact that the temperature at dawn when most of us departed for downtown was in the teens, over two million people showed up. The Mall was packed, from the Capitol Building all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial. Like the previous two days, people were joyous, excited, and engaged. We ended up by the Washington Monument, where the wind gusts were quite brutal, leaving most of us numb after a few minutes. After introducing ourselves to each other, the group around me had a spirited discussion about the greatest crimes of the Bush administration and the most urgent policy matters for the Obama administration to address. Many of them were not overjoyed with some of Obama’s picks for key roles, and were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for only a short period of time – again, these were not blind followers by any means. We even talked about what to do when Bush came on stage; a few wanted to stay quiet, but the vast majority were in favor of booing. People cheered and hugged when both Biden and Obama were sworn in, and everyone listened intently to Obama’s address. It was a powerful few hours, seriously reflecting on the political future of our country with millions of engaged people standing with you. In the end, there was a great sense of satisfaction in the crowd, not so much because Obama was in power, but more because we made connections to so many new people, and we felt all of us would play a role in shaping the direction America took under the Obama administration.

Later that night, at the Inaugural Peace Ball, Amy Goodman made the same point resoundingly clear. Even though many of us disagreed with some of Obama’s choices and decisions thus far, there was actually potential for a progressive agenda. She noted that Obama frequently stated that the public would have to do its part and force him to do the right thing, echoing Lyndon Johnson’s words to Martin Luther King, Jr. Barack Obama might play a centrist on TV, but it seems unlikely that he has actually internalized those norms and shifted from the openly progressive views he held until he began positioning himself for his presidential run. Unlike most politicians who talk about the other side of the tracks while having no idea what marginalized people’s lives are like, Obama actually came from, and worked to improve, those communities. He spoke out against US militarism when it was dangerous to do so. He was serious about alleviating poverty, providing affordable and quality health care to millions of uninsured, limiting the impact of lobbyists in Washington, and restoring the rule of law to the land. He may have shifted his public stance on these and other issues, but that may have been a response to the structural constraints of being a Washington politician. With widespread public pressure, something he seems better positioned to generate than any other US President, Goodman suggested that Obama might be able to transcend the restrictions of the Beltway and actually make the right calls from the Oval Office.

This is why the movement behind Obama is so crucial, and why inauguration week was such an inspiring moment. Washington is a town of extreme entrenchment. Ideological politicians, powerful lobby groups, and corporations make the status-quo a very difficult thing to overcome. Without major public pressure, it is hard to imagine President Obama being able to make many of the changes his masses of supporters want to see him enact. This was something many of us were wary of, the Obama supporters who mainly voted against Bush instead of for Obama, and those who aren’t critically engaged on issues and are unwilling to push the new President – the Obamamaniacs, if you will. If these camps comprised a large share of the population voting for Obama, we would probably be in trouble.

Admittedly, its just one sample, albeit a large one, and there certainly were people who I met who fell into either of these categories, but I would not categorize the vast majority of people who I crossed paths with during inauguration week in either of these camps. The diverse masses with whom I huddled in the freezing cold, waited in lines with, cheered with, danced with, and became friends with were well-versed on complicated political issues. And these weren’t all policy analysts, researchers, or other “intellectual” types. There was the middle-aged construction worker from Alabama who spoke to me in detail about why Obama needed to end the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan immediately. There was the high school junior from Delaware who wanted to see President Obama push greater accountability in the TARP rescue plan. In fact, every person I met had at least one issue in mind that they thought Obama needed to change his policies on. This held true across race, class, gender, and geography – in fact, the Midwesterners and Southerners I met may have been more adamant about these issues than us northeasterners!

This was the most remarkable and hopeful part of those few days. The populace was not a flock of sheep in any way whatsoever. This meant a lot to me in particular, considering the fact that I had several near-altercations with people immediately after 9/11 over their complete ignorance about the impact of US foreign policy on the Arab and Muslim world, and their militarism and xenophobia. I couldn’t help but smile every time a stranger launched into a diatribe about some issue of importance to them. The norms of political engagement in America seemed to have changed dramatically – and not a minute too soon! Seeing this firsthand will be one of the most inspiring moments in my consciousness. I was not in the presence of millions of people. I was in the presence of a movement that was ready, willing, and able to push President Obama to do the right thing.

And make no mistake about it, President Obama is going to need this movement to be strong, to give him hell, and to make him pursue his campaign promises. He is no progressive superhero. While he has made some commendable moves in his first few weeks, he has also pursued some questionable policies. He launched a unilateral air strike in Pakistan [1], a move that was greeted with anger by the weak Pakistani government, and a strategy that may cause more harm than good.[2] The movement has work to do to push Obama towards a less-militaristic policy towards this increasingly important state, as the military option threatens to create major fissures in Pakistan. Obama has also remained relatively silent on the carnage in Gaza, continuing his policy of appeasing the Israeli-Right, something he started during his presidential campaign. Majorities in both Israel and Palestine, along with most people throughout the globe, support a 2-state solution, and the movement will need to pressure President Obama towards taking an even-handed approach to the conflict, something the US has not done for a long time. In perhaps an early indication that he might indeed opt for this kind of approach, he appointed George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy, as opposed to the usual suspects among Democratic Middle Eastern “experts”, none of whom are thought of as even-handed in any way.

There are also concerns that the President is trying to compromise too much with Republicans to pass the stimulus package, an issue considering the fact that their policies helped lead us into this economic mess we have right now.[3] There is rising alarm that the package that will eventually come out may sacrifice actual economic stimulus for bipartisanship.[4] This will be a crucial test for Obama’s leadership, illustrating whether he will side with the compromise, or push for the bigger stimulus package, something the movement behind him and top economists are calling for. In addition to pressuring the President, the Obama movement could also push Democrats and Republicans in Congress to abandon failed policies and opt for the most effective stimulus package, one with more spending and less tax cuts than the version circulating now that is causing panic. On the other hand, Obama does seem to be more in-line with the movement on this issue, evidenced by his strong comments the past few days about the need to avoid failed policies in order to gain Republican support. This is a positive sign.

Millions gathered and spontaneously formed communities on tiny segments of the National Mall, highly informed, passionate, and energized communities determined to see actual change and not just rhetoric. These communities, encompassing over 2 million Americans who gathered in the bitter cold to be part of the inauguration a few weeks ago, represent a movement that offers us greater hope than any president. On top of that, President Obama himself has offered us glimpses of passionate, fiery, progressive ideas in years past. At heart, he is probably still one of us. I remember being inspired by his strong words against the Iraq War in 2003, and do not believe the man in the Oval Office today is a fundamentally different person. His administration is also less ideological than the departed Bush administration, meaning that effective pressure from the populace could actually lead to policy changes.

This movement arose in response to war, militarism, widening gaps between the haves and have-nots, racism (Katrina, anyone?), and a lawless government. Given his own background, Obama was able to effortlessly tap into it. This explains the never-ending crowd that congregated on the National Mall. Obama’s success is due more to the people who latched onto him than it is to the President himself. The movement around him was the reason he pulled off an upset in Iowa last year. It toppled the mighty Clinton political machine and carried him to a huge win against McCain. Its members trekked to DC from all over the country, waited in long lines, braved freezing temperatures, walked for hours, and functioned on minimal sleep. This mass of people embraced those around them as their own family. They came with joy, with passion, with hope, and most importantly, with knowledge and determination. This was no ordinary group of people. This was a community, a movement the likes of which I’ve never seen. Any successes America achieves over the next four years will be due to their efforts. There will undoubtedly be trouble ahead, but they are ready to do their part and create pressure to force their leader to do the right thing. It is indeed a time to celebrate, because there is real potential for change in Washington. Using public pressure to make that change a reality will be the way to celebrate. That was the ultimate message I took from the movement during inauguration week, and it was enough to make a hardened cynic like myself smile the entire time they were around.

1. “Deadly missiles strike Pakistan.” BBC World News, January 23, 2009. Available online:
2. Ahmad J, Pervez F. “The US War on Pakistan.” Left Turn Magazine, December 16, 2008. Available online:
3. David Sirota and Thomas Frank on Bill Moyers’ Journal, January 23, 2009. Available online:
4. Nichols J. “More Bipartisanship, Less Stimulus.” The Nation, February 7, 2009. Available online:

Sunday, February 8, 2009


As the clock struck midnight and November 20th rolled in I thought about how 1.20.09 was emblazoned in my memory. I recall seeing bumper stickers years ago that had the date and "Bush's Last Day" proudly marked. I waited for the date and was glad to see it arrive. I was in DC for inauguration weekend, so like many others, I was out partying. I knew that I had to get up at the crack of dawn, so I left my celebration and attempted to hail a cab to my residence. The weather in DC was a bitter, bitter cold, but I didn't worry because as I approached a major thoroughfare I saw an ample number of cabs. I saw people hopping in and out of cabs and raised my hand to hail one. As I stood with my hand out, buzzing from the revelry of the weekend, taxis buzzed past me.

I then, being strategic decided to switch my location because maybe I was not in an ideal place for them to stop. I tried the corner, then the middle of the block, then another intersection. Finally, I ran up to a cab that was dropping off a fare and the driver informed me that he was a Virginia cab and he could not make DC stops. At that moment I thought, "Oh, cab culture and rules are different here" and he informed me which cabs could make DC stops. I then returned to my mission, newly informed and with renewed hopes of getting out of the cold. Unfortunately this hope was dashed as cab driver after cab driver, White and Black, buzzed past my outstretched arm and picked up the other fares on the block, who were White. As I watched another fare get out, I rushed to a DC cab and he locked the door as they exited. I tried the handle, he cracked the window. I told him my destination, he paused looked at me and said, "I'm not going that way" and sped off. At that moment I nearly lost it.

I began calling my friends from DC frantically, because I was sure I didn't understand how to get a taxi in the city. To my chagrin when they answered my queries that told me, "No, you're doing it right." After another few minutes in the cold, I walked up to a cab stopped at a light and motioned and requested he roll down his window. Initially, the driver, an Ethiopian man, wasn't making eye contact with me but then looked at me and cracked his window. I told him my destination, he looked me up and down and then unlocked the door.

As I sat in the back of the cab I fumed. I texted friends, updated my statuses on twitter and facebook, and prayed for serenity. One of my friends called and I quietly explained my frustration with hailing a taxi. I didn't want to offend the driver who picked me up, so I didn't discuss it in much detail. I really didn't want my inability to get a taxi to weigh me down, though it was. As I paid the driver and thanked him, he said, "You know, I heard you on the phone and I know you're mad." I prepared myself for the, "It's not because you're Black, it's because ________." However, I was shocked, he said, "I know exactly what you're feeling." I listened, "I've been driving a cab for years and it's really unfair. People see a Black person and just don't stop, like there are only Black criminals. I've been driving long enough to know there are Black and White criminals and people know that but they'll let one bad incident or idea spoil them." He continued on, "I even get it. When my taxi was in the shop and I needed to get a cab and drivers passed me by and I watched other people get picked up." He confessed, "I only got picked up because my friend was driving by in a taxi and saw me." At that moment, my eyes began to well with tears.The driver's honesty and courtesy resonated with me. He said, "It's a shame we have this beautiful celebration and a Black president, but still this happens."

The incident didn't end up souring the 20th of January, but it really demonstrated to me the frailty of being Black in America. While we celebrated the arrival of our highest ranked political official ever, the way that race is lived in everyday may not shift much. I am overjoyed that the Obamas challenge stereotypes and have seeped through the pores of seemingly non-porous barriers, but that doesn't often mean much for how we get along each day. Seeing race is not the issue, the system of racism is. Racism will continue to impair our interaction and ability to trust each other until we really begin to grapple with its pernicious nature. While the world turns it attention to the its new Commander-in-Chief, I wonder when it will turn its attention to challenging our own prejudices and stereotypes.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Top 25 of IMAN's Community Cafe in NYC

Since everyone on Facebook has some kind of egocentric bug, to restore balance, I'll write 25 nice things about something other than myself. I choose IMAN’s Community Café, held at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Cultural Center on Saturday, January 31, 2009.

But first, a bit of background:

Muslim students, community residents and leaders formed IMAN in 1995. They wanted a response to the pervasive symptoms of inner-city poverty and abandonment. IMAN sought to create a community organization driven by the spiritual ideals of community service, social justice and human compassion. IMAN’s services, organizing, and arts agenda stem from spiritual convictions about community service, human compassion, and social justice, particularly for marginalized people of color.

Community Café is IMAN’s bi-monthly space for artists, entertainers, and activists. IMAN uses Community Cafe to open discussions about organizing around a broad range of social justice issues.

IMAN and Community Café are currently based in Chicago. New York City will hopefully, inshaAllah, be the location of IMAN’s second chapter. The Community Café on 1-31-2009 was a kick-off/triage event.

For more information on IMAN and Community Café, please visit

Now, for the 25:

1. The Venue. The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial & Educational C the lives and legacies of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. It is the renovated site of theenter honors sacrosanct Audubon ballroom. Programs at the center promote human and civil rights through knowledge of the history and culture of the African Diaspora. The most gorgeous mural you’ll ever see commemorates El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

2. The Shabazz Family. The carbon copy of her Father, we were honored by Sister Malaak Shabazz and are very grateful to her and her sisters for allowing us to benefit from their most honorable legacy.

3. The Elders. Imam Talib, Imam Amir, Sister Ayesha, Sister Amina, Dr. Umar, Sheikh Sharif, Sister Ashura, Sister Robina, Sister Debbie, Sister Khadijah, Sister Dowoti. May those who I’ve forgotten forgive me; my memory limits me. These are our beautiful parents who fought against racism, assimilation, oppression, and immigrant Islam-o-centrism. They are truly giants and our debt to them is immeasurable and can only be paid back with lifetimes dedicated to service.

4. The Sophia Kizilbash. Organizer extraordinaire, beautiful and intelligent, Ms. Sophia rocked the house—no, she rocked the entire planning process. While wearing the hottest black and white outfit, she maintaining her cool and remembered every detail. She seamlessly navigated a City still new to her, and, well, she is just awesome.

5. The Volunteers. Energetic and welcoming, they inspired every person at the event to become an active participant in IMAN and a volunteer at the next event. Among massive crowds, they showed great patience.

6. The Artists . Every. Single. Performer. Was. AMAZING. DJ K-Salaam, Brother Ali, Pop Master Fabel, Three Generationz, New York Gnawa Ensemble, Revise CMW, Ali ShaheedMuhammed, and my personal favorite, The ReMINDers, created sounds and energies better than I’ve ever heard and experienced (and I used to help organize the Hip Hop conference at the University of Wisconsin, a huge event that draws crowds of 20,000+).

7. EthnoSis AKA Suad Abdul Khabeer and Capital D AKA David Kelly. Professionals by day and badass emcees by night. They were so smooth you’d think they were part of the artists’ crew. Incredibly eloquent and confident, they gave the event a very solid foundation.

8. The Standing Room Only. It’s so great to see Muslims pack a room for a positive, cultural, musical event!
9. The Price. It was right. Suggested $5, no one was turned away for lack of funds, seating was first come, first serve, there was no hierarchical ish, no VIP section, no tiered sections, nothing. It was one community, one spot, one price. Naturally, and as it should be, elders sat in the front, kids in the front on the floor, and everyone in between stood if they couldn’t find seats. And no one complained.

10. The Crowd. Diverse in age, race, geography. People came from all over NYC and all over the east coast. A few even showed up from California! Thanks May!
11. The Chicago Crew. They knew the value of being on-site to make a successful event; distance planning just isn’t the same. Better than that, they acted as consultants and allowed New Yorkers to really take ownership. True leaders build leaders.

12. The Evaluation. Having surveys was a sign of dedication to this program’s sustainability in NYC. Data is the key to funding.

13. The Food. Halal fried chicken, cornbread, and tossed salad from The Soul Spot in Brooklyn was delicious. Supporting local businesses is always the right thing to do.
14. The Registration Process. Very Obamaesque, organizers collected every single attendees email address and phone number. Excellent way to build a database of future IMAN supporters.

15. The Program. The artwork was great—New York centric with a skyline and subway sketches, and of course, hand drawn images of the emcees, performers, and Malcolm.
16. The Security. Besides being necessary for crowd control, Security was cordial and added the “this event is that hot” feel.

17. The Green Room. Food and extra water awaited the performers and volunteers as they sought moments of refuge from the high-energy crowd. Media also had access, allowing interviews to happen throughout the night.

18. The Mini-bazaar. This was great because the artists that brought CDs were great. I love an opportunity to support good people.

19. The Intention. IMAN has it right—put service and art at the center of a Muslim-American identity. Music is what’s going to bring together the 2nd generation immigrants and indigenous folks. Service is our joint responsibility.

20. The Collaboration. Several NYC organizations came together to make it happen, from all disciplines, all missions, all neighborhoods, all populations. Thank you Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, NYU Islamic Center, Turning Point for Women & Families, Islamic Relief, CAIR-NYC, Muslim Consultative Network, TriState Muslim Media, Arab American Association of NY, Arab Muslim American Federation, American Muslim Law Enforcement Officers Association, Muslim Public Affairs Council-NY, and Muslims in Hip Hop.

21. The Cleanup. Swift, efficient, plenty of people helped. No one sat idle (except me; I sat on the floor, shoes off, eating fried chicken because it was that good).

22. The Fashion. Muslimahs, Muhajabas, MashaAllah! Everyone was at his or her urban best. Colors, jewelry, hats, boots, in retrospect, there should have been a runway as well.
23. The Photographers. Conspicuously captured every moment. And had awesome cameras! Next time, we should have a mini-red carpet where everyone can take pictures in front of a giant IMAN sign. Think of the exposure and press possibilities!

24. The Move to NYC. It’s about time! New York City is ripe and ready for the righteousness that is IMAN.

25. The Bright Future. I see full functioning IMAN chapters in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Oakland, DC, and Houston. I see Community Café travel, opening “special editions” everywhere from Milwaukee to Richmond to Charlotte to Albuquerque. This is what our tradition is all about. Service to all, starting with the most marginalized people. Our Prophet, peace be upon him, was an orphan, illiterate, and poor for much of his life. It’s in his honor that we humble ourselves and give of ourselves.

**For more about the artists, visit their websites:
Brother Ali
Three Generations
Pop Master Fabel
New York Gnawa Ensemble
DJ K-Salaam
Live Art by Revise CMW
Capital D
Ali Shaheed Muhammad

***Images courtesy of:
Jameelah Shukri

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Inauguration Week Running Diary II

Saturday, January 17th, 2009.
The situation in Gaza is always enraging and frustrating but this time around, there’s extra rage and extra frustration. Because this time around, we almost have a shiny new president who has the potential to make a difference even if it's simply altering the laughable pro-Israel rhetoric. But he hasn't yet. It's becoming increasingly difficult to continue defending my support of him to my people. I hear, "My presidential candidate is on a boat trying to deliver medical supplies to Gaza. What's yours doing?" So I prepare for my trip to inauguration with mixed feelings. Don't get it twisted; I am not expecting President-elect Obama to do everything right. Nor did I vote for him because of his policy on the Middle East. But I guess I did get wrapped up in that HOPE business and expanded it beyond our borders. I spent the day making 2000 copies of bright red signs that say "I (heart symbol) Gaza," for another New York City rally that I will not be attending because I will be in DC to welcome the new president. Oh, and yes, I DID make the copies on the man's dime. Not reparations this time, but redistribution of the taxpayer dollar.

Sunday, January 18th, 2009.
We get to bed by 1:00AM after planning for the morning. The bus leaves from Port Authority at 8:30AM. The line waiting for this bus is inspiring and I start to get excited. It's like all the people of color in NYC are heading to DC. There are 54 people ahead of us (I did a quick count and got made fun of for having stereotypically good math skills) and dozens more behind us. Traveling with great friends was mad fun, relaxed, the perfect trip. We spent half the time trying to figure out how to add one another to blackberry messenger.

At the Greyhound station in DC, waiting for my cousin to pick us up, we decided to eat. I looked at the menu and realized that the fish sandwich was the only thing I could get. I was in the presence of great friends and I am an adult now...but I didn't want to order it. I was sure someone would make a comment. I haven't felt this way since we took that field trip to the Milwaukee Zoo in 8th grade and made a stop at Burger King for lunch and I was with all those white kids that insisted on calling me “Fat mama the Saudi Arabian girl that doesn't eat non-Kosher meat.” Idiots. I've been ordering fish ever since without any problems, but for some reason, I was nervous today. Nervous of being made fun of, nervous of it taking longer to make than everyone else's food. There was that time Dad took us kids to Burger King (8 of us cousins) and ordered 8 fish sandwiches to which the cashier responded, "You know it's not Friday, right?" Funny how long emotional hurts from childhood can stay with people. How dare people question the effects of human tragedies on entire and continuous generations? I ask my buddy what he's going to order, he says, "the fish of course," and I realize that eighth grade is long gone. Not surprisingly, the cashier says, "that's gonna be at least 20 minutes." TWENTY MINUTES? We order 1 fish sandwich for me and 1 chicken sandwich for him and we are confused as to why they can't just deep-fry both pieces of fish together hence taking 10 minutes for both.

The cashier gives my friends a hard time with their credit card receipt. "Sign so that every letter in your name is legible." Who signs their name like that? She then turns around to her coworker in the kitchen and says, "I love my job. I can tell people to do whatever I want." Of course my immediate reaction is, put your fist up woman! Good for you, take control of whatever power you have and own it. I love my friends because they instantaneously corrected my perspective and reminded me that the woman's mind was colonized into thinking she had any power at all and this was another one of the man's games to keep us all down and in dead end, apathy building, motivation killing jobs. It was the delusion of power.

We head to the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial and traffic was a mess. We assumed we'd be able to park at GWU because my cousin is a doc there, but they were not letting anyone in the area. Apparently, medical personnel had been told on Friday that even ambulances would not be allowed on the streets and sick people would have to be carried in! WTF.

It's amazing the effect crowds can have on individuals. It makes me think that claustrophobia is another invention of the oppressor. Think about it. Those in power fear crowds. Crowds signify unity of purpose. Masses and masses of people were moving through the streets around the National Mall, trying to find an entrance onto the grass and in front of a jumbotron because they sure as hell weren't going to get anywhere near the stage at this point. There were over 500,000 people already assembled to hear this star studded musical extravaganza. My mom kept calling me with random facts she heard on CNN, one of them was that there were more cops in DC this weekend/week than soldiers in Afghanistan. Security is serious.

I was slightly weirded out by the energy; the unity and celebratory feeling was a bit off. For example, hearing Bon Jovi sing "A Change Gonna Come," was just weird. Bon Jovi sang it just fine...I think the whole concert had a bit too much of that post-racial feel and that was freaking me out. Yes, yes, Bono gave a shout out to Palestine. But he also gave one to Israel. No, I don’t think he HAD to do both; no one HAS to do anything. I am not going to be sooo thankful to Bono for saying what he did. Go rebuild bulldozed houses in Jenin buddy, and then we can talk about the “Israeli Dream.” As we walked out, there were so many "We Have Overcome" signs floating and "Yes We Did," signs. The "Yes We Did" has recently left me uncomfortable because it feels too much like the colonizer giving independence to their colonized nation; we put this man in office, without us, he never would have gotten there, we are now open minded, we have ended racism. I get upset when I hear white folks say "Good Riddens Bush," not because I don't agree (because I definitely agree), but because shouldn't we be focusing on "Welcome Obama?" President OBAMA. I started to say that in my head over and over and over again as we walked from the mall to the Metro and all the feelings from November started to come back.

Monday, January 19th, 2009.
President OBAMA. President Barack Hussein Obama. My cousins and I go for lunch at a South Asian restaurant in Arlington and it feels different. The usual immigrant pride is not there. The usual, "we are better because we pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps," is not there (or at least I can’t feel it today). Ethiopian cab drivers come in and out grabbing kabob sandwiches and bottles of mango juice and everyone is friendly to one another. Helpful. Open. Yes, Ethiopians are immigrant and not indigenous. I hear mutterings, "His middle name is Hussein," "Ha, jee, his father was Muslim," "Ha jee, he is one of us." Internalized oppression is so frustrating; oppressed people will scrounge to make even the most distant connection with the most distant symbol of power. I’m upset because I feel like my privileged South Asian folk are trying to lay claim to someone they would’ve joined in on hating if he wasn’t about to become the most powerful person on the planet. On the other hand, it's cool that everyone can feel a connection to this man who is about to become the most powerful person on the planet.

So many people are in town that we are able to have reunions! I met up with my peoples from the University of Wisconsin at the Chi-Cha lounge in wildly gentrified Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights (not sure which one) and it was fantastic. All these wonderful activists, people who had transformed my thinking, made life livable on campus. Together again after 5 years, for an event so historical, that we didn't even reminisce about the days we drenched ourselves in red paint and laid down on University Ave for anti-war demonstrations; or the days we held secret meetings that required passwords to get in plotting the takeover of student government; or the days we watched the Chicano studies program turn into a full fledged department. No, we talked about the future; about our kids growing up watching a Man of Color fly around on Air force One; seeing the media go crazy over 2 little African-American girls; having a F A B U L O U S Blackamerican woman be the role model for American women. The University of Michigan reunion was at The Science Club. It was less intimate, more club-style, but still fun. It was great to see my fellow organizers as we had all come together around this man, this event.

Tuesday, January 20 2009.
On 4 hours of sleep, I wake up at 4:00AM. My cousins, the most hospitable people on the planet, have made halal burgers for my friends and me. There weren’t too many people at the Courthouse station. In fact, it was eerily quiet. But when the train approached, it was standing room only. New Yorkers are so good at navigating crowded trains. DC/visitor folks were just confused. I got off at Federal Triangle. I waited on the street for about 20 minutes for my friends who were 5 blocks away. They called, stuck in crowds, and told me to go on. We never ended up meeting up because they were continually being blocked from entering the mall, moving to other possible entrances, only to be blocked again. DC had no idea how to control these crowds. Freeways had been opened up to pedestrian traffic, streets as well. I now truly understand what “sea of people” means. I entered the grassy area by the Washington Monument. There were thousands of people; since I was by myself, I was able to quickly maneuver my way through the crowds. When I got stuck, I would move left, jump a fence or two, and swiftly jog forward alongside the wall of port-a-potties. Good Lord I’ve never seen so many port-a-potties. I kept picturing someone tipping one over resulting in a massive, disastrous, tragic, hilarious domino effect and giggled as I continued to head to the front of the non-ticket holder section.

I made it all the way to the front and had a good view. I could see the capitol building directly ahead of me and there was a jumbotron within eyeshot as well. It was 530AM and freezing. People are singing and dancing to stay warm. The Electric Slide, the Cha-cha Slide, the Soulja Boy, and some white folks were singing and dancing to Stayin’ Alive. I’m calling my peoples; phones are working intermittently. I think I remember reading somewhere that phone towers were going to be jammed to reduce interference with satellites that are somehow connected to the security honing devices sewn in the President’s suit. I’m starting to feel a bit nervous that I might end up experiencing history by myself.

Two older, extremely sweet African American gentlemen introduced themselves to me and we got to talking about why we are here so early, how we got there, our life stories, etc. You know, the usual conversation one has with strangers at 5:30AM at the National Mall waiting for the first Black President to make his appearance. They had both been friends for 20 years and were watching the concert on TV Sunday night back at home in LA when they turned to one another and said that they would never forgive themselves if they missed this. They booked tickets Sunday night for Monday morning, flew from LAX to Reagan, slept in a car Mon night and find themselves here, now.

Spending the day with them was the best possible way I could have spent inauguration day. I learned about their involvement in the campaign, their kids, their parents, how much this whole thing means to them. It was a strong reminder of why I voted, campaigned, and admire President Obama. Yes, the international condition of my people abroad sucks. But the national condition of my people of color also sucks. I cannot stress enough that we are not in a post-racial society. Ward Connerly is still an idiot. But there is something to be said for young Black high school students in Brooklyn feeling like they can be president some day. When the men and women of the civil rights struggle can feel redeemed. When the babies being born this year will grow up watching a Black man lead this country of white people with a history of slavery, the KKK, and institutionalized racism. I was reminded of the GED graduation ceremony on Rikers Island. I was honored to address the graduates. I can’t remember everything I said, but I ended it with, “this GED is only a stepping stone for you. When you get out of here, I want to hear about each and every one of you as you become lawyers, engineers, doctors, architects, writers, and hell, President of the United States.” Lets just say the cheers in that small auditorium in the decrepid prison-industrial complex of NYC paralleled the booming reverberations of 3 million people in Washington DC on January 20, 2009.

“But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways…But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.” President Barack Obama, #44.