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“Burn the house down”
Meditations on control and power
Dearests. I usually write this newsletter a week or so ahead of time and schedule it to send on the exact moment of the full moon. On Friday, I finalized this post on the leaked SCOTUS decision. But when I learned of the anti-Black massacre in Buffalo—one of several shootings over the weekend, including an anti-Asian shooting in Dallas—I decided to pause on sending it. To breathe. To mourn. To feel. I considered not publishing this at all, but in the end, I am doing so because it is all connected. This weekend’s violence is linked to the banning of abortion. I write below of how the desire control people’s bodies is inextricably linked to white supremacy. And in fact, the anti-abortion movement has joined forces with white supremacists in many ways, including those who believe in “replacement theory.”
I am holding all of us in rage and sorrow and also with great tenderness and love in this moment. This post from poet Chen Chen on gentleness and generosity, and “Meditations in and Emergency” by Cameron Awkward-Rich say some things on this better than I can. I honor the ways that each of us survives and moves toward compassion, accountability, and love.
Thank you for being here.
In Tending the Soil, Lessons for Organizing, artist and organizer Ricardo Levins Morales shares a teaching from Chinese martial arts: the enemy will advertise their vulnerabilities. This lesson has us looking at where “the powers that think they are” are protecting themselves. (I’m borrowing this phrase from artist brontë velez as I did in March’s post. Here, I mean wealthy white men in judicial and political power in the U.S. and those helping to advance their agenda) It asks us to see where are they pouring their resources and examine what they are frantically trying to distract attention away from. Where they are most aggressively trying to suppress stories, weaken organizing, siphon off the heat of transformation?
It’s not hard to find those hot spots. From the right’s rabid scapegoating of what they erroneously call “CRT,” to the slew of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, we see how “the powers that think they are” are advertising their vulnerabilities.
Over the last few years, all sorts of people—not just organizers, not just radicals—have been talking about reckoning with the colonialism, genocide and slavery that are the founding systems of the U.S. All sorts of people are invested in the liberation and freedom of trans and nonbinary people, Black folks, immigrants, and women. Despite the strong backlash following the 2020 summer of uprisings, people are still organizing around abolition, still calling for de-funding the police and putting those resources into Black communities. As the economy continues to harm more and more people, folks are thinking about what we can do to transform capitalism. And more and more people are recognizing that gender is fluid and that there’s a whole universe of sexualities.
These movements and trends are vulnerabilities for those who hold on to power right now. How would the mega wealthy wield their economic and political might in a society whose economy is based on care, mutual aid, and cooperation? How would white folks’ power shift in a society where we’ve grappled with the racial harms of the past, made reparations, and acted every day toward accountability, racial justice, and equity? How would cisgender men keep their grasp on control in a society where gender is recognized as fluid and where loving relationships are expansive and diverse? In such a society, wealthy white cisgender men would only have a fraction of the power that they have had since, well, before the constitution was written in this country.
And so they are holding on, scrabbling to keep their power by all means possible. The leaked draft decision by Justice Samuel Alito is very much a part of this attempt. It is an assertion of power by the land’s highest court to advance abortion bans when the majority of people in this country—across religious beliefs—think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Author Sherronda J. Brown, in an brilliant essay titled, “Criminalizing abortion isn’t just about controlling ‘women’s bodies,’” examines why and how abortion bans are part of a much larger attempt to keep white supremacy and capitalism in place:
Abortion is a means of freedom that a white supremacist, capitalist state cannot allow, because controlling reproduction is key to controlling so much more. Abortion bans are meant to keep poor people trapped in poverty for generations. More births means more workers, more productivity, more cogs in the capitalist machine. More people living in poverty means more people to fight wars, more people to help maintain colonial and imperial rule. But criminalizing abortion is first and foremost about obedience, about creating docile people and bodies, and enshrining the ability to control people’s bodies as property of the state. For the state to have total power, it must control the production of state subjects. It’s physiological and psychological warfare, intended to hit the already most marginalized the hardest. The wealthy will always have access to safe abortions, just like they will have access to clean water, and healthy food, and safe neighborhoods, and healthcare, and ways to lessen the blow of climate change on their lives. Abortion bans are about maintaining that kind of power.
In the days following the leak of Alito’s draft decision, I fluctuated between outrage and grief, between feeling powerless and feeling vengeful, between anger and sorrow. When I read analysis of the leaked decision, I was particularly upset by the far-reaching possibilities of it—how Alito’s spurious reasoning could be applied to other decisions, including Loving v. Virginia and Lawrence v. Texas: decisions that have a direct bearing on my existence today. My parent’s interracial marriage would have been illegal before the Loving decision. My ability to live freely and fully as an out queer person is contingent in part on Lawrence. I felt the weight of oppression heavy in my multiracial, queer, female body.
I meditated, went for walks, danced in the kitchen with my love, Patti, as I sought ways to connect and hold on to compassion and hope. But more often than not, anger and fear crept back in.
Then, slowly and quite surely, I started to encounter reflections and wisdom from mostly women of color who offered perspectives I desperately needed. It began with this episode of The Slowdown, which featured Brionne Janae’s poem “Against Mastery.”
Poet Ada Limon’s reading of the poem and her meditation on power and mastery helped me begin thinking about this leaked decision as a desperate power play. Janae’s poem re-oriented me from feeling powerless to feeling out how I might move through these times from a place of integrity. She writes:
"… let me face the ones I harm with open palms and let love be the method and measure of my worth keep my heart with my people and the coal glowing beneath my feet"
Yes, I thought. I want to live without mastery, I want to move with curiosity and love. I commit to and want to be held accountable to break laws, break norms, to burn the house down.
I also read an essay in Sarah Faith Gottesdiener’s Many Moons Lunar Planner on owning our worth: “Many of the people who can make revolutionary change—the sensitives, the sweethearts, activists, and witches—must own their own worth,” by which she means “inherent worth: that which cannot be bought and sold, only cherished and shared.” It helped me reconnect with my own essence, my own power, inherent in me no matter what the over-culture or the law says.
And finally, Patti tipped me off to this post by adrienne maree brown, who prompts us to not “let terror take our time.” brown reminds us that we have what we need in our kitchens and gardens to take care of each other. She recalls for us that Black feminists have been preparing a long time for this moment. And there are people across the country who, for decades, have been doing the work to make abortion available, even as access to this medical procedure has been steadily encroached upon.
All these reminders settled into my body. Their messages helped me lift the heaviness I felt in my limbs. They gently re-opened my eyes and heart to the movements upon movements of people committed to struggling together toward freedom in the form of abolition, reparations, trans and queer liberation, building communities of care and equity. These wise folks asked me to stand in my own power. Helped me remember no court decision can take away my innate worth, my right to exist, to love who and how I want to, to have ownership of my body.
This is where my power lies, and it is where our power lies collectively. If we—the swirling, angry, loving masses of queers and trans folks, BIPOC folks, poor folks, women, disabled folks, all people committed to a different society, a different future—if we reside in our power without grabbing or hording that power, if we take care of each other, if we commit and hold ourselves to burning the house down—what a blaze we can make!
And what a garden we can grow from the ashes.
Before you start this prompt, you may want to go back to the March prompt to do a Tarot drawing or journaling on your power. Then:
Read and/or listen to “Against Mastery” by Brionne Janae, in The Slow Down
Choose one or two values that resonate for you from this list
Choose one or two values that you feel strongly opposed to from the same list
Freewrite (write without stopping) for five or ten minutes on each value
Read through your freewrite and circle or underline words and phrases that have the most heat for you
Write a poem, essay, or story that examines a value that you want to live into and a value that you want to live away from. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with a phrase that you circled in your freewrite. You may want to follow Janae’s structure, using repetition of the negation of the phrase “let” to illustrate how you don’t want to live (i.e.: “let me lord over no one and nothing”), and “let me” to illustrate how you do want to live (i.e.: “let me learn from the babies”).
Here’s a beautiful shared document on many ways to take action to show up for abortion access.
A deep dive into what we mean when we say Black women have been leading th on this issue for decades, this reproductive justice syllabus from the Black and Asian Feminist Solidarity project is 🔥 .
In addition to the articles and posts that helped me reconnect with my power and purpose, linked above, this song also showed up:
I asked my friend (and friend of the newsletter) who works at National Abortion Access Fund (NAAF) where folks should donate if they are looking to do so. She encourages people to check out their local abortion fund and donate there (especially if you are outside the Northeast or West coast). NAAF is also also having a general Fund-a-Thon, which closes at the end of this month. You can which funds need the most love and chip in as you wish!
Thanks for reading all the way to the end! I’ll be back in your inbox on June’s super moon on the 14th! Until then, sending many blessings and support for residing in your power.