The dust of yesterday’s growth
on glass
in water.

Scales of life
by roots,
dangling above.

normally gripping—
but suspended
twisting threads of green,
loose and haphazard.

tight and purposeful
as the base of the thing of usual focus—the least interesting of things.


I recently went to practice meditation for a weekend at Deer Park–a monastery in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. In this tradition, everything from eating to working to walking is a chance to connect with your breath and practice mindfulness. There are also teachings called “Dharma Talks.”

One of the talks consisted of a video of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching about different types of consciousness, specifically “mind consciousness” versus “store consciousness.” Mind consciousness is described as our conscious thoughts, those that occupy us as we’re thinking about the past, worrying, and planning. Store consciousness, on the other hand, is the body of information a person has taken in and stored away. One’s store consciousness is often accessed unconsciously. It’s the part of your consciousness that gets you home when you’re driving but distracted in your thinking instead of focusing on the road.

Later that night, I sat up rereading Hanh’s book “For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings.” The mindfulness trainings are guidelines of sorts for living according to Buddhist principles. The fifth mindfulness training emphasizes the importance of mindful consumption–not just the things we put into our body, but also the things we put into our mind (our “store”), including the kinds of books we read, movies we watch, and conversations we engage in.

At one point in the book, Hanh begins talking about how to be with someone who is dying. He recalls visiting a friend who was dying and in a lot of pain. His friend’s pain eased when his visitors helped him recall happy memories. Hanh explained that he massaged his friend’s feet because often when people are dying they can’t feel parts of their bodies and that massage can be very comforting.

I had read this book in November of last year, the last time I spent a weekend at Deer Park. When I got the word that my Grandma Aimee was dying, I did not remember reading this passage. However, as soon as I heard she was dying, I felt compelled to get to her and–granting that I made it in time–massage her feet. On my way to airport, I stopped and bought a bottle of jojoba oil and a bottle of orange essential oil with the description “cheering” written on it. I did make it before she died and gave her a foot massage that night.

She lived for another day and a half and during this time visitors streamed in and out of her room and she received them all graciously. I saw that Grandma Aimee was consoled by the happy memories her loved ones shared with her and comforted by the traditional Catholic prayers said at her bedside. Several times I pulled out the orange essential oil and just let her smell it or rubbed some on her shoulders and she would light up, smiling at the familiar, happy scent.

As I reread Hanh’s words about comforting the dying after her death, I was struck by how I did not remember reading this and yet as soon as I heard that my grandma was dying, I knew what to do. I’m so grateful this information was in my “store.” xoxo

P.S. Here’s a link to the eulogy I wrote for Aimee.

i got life

The name of this blog is taken from Dar Williams’ song “After All.” She sang:
“And when I chose to live
There was no joy
It’s just a line I crossed
It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost
So I was not lost or found.”

But lately when I choose to live, joy is involved. This song in particular lifts my spirits, lulls me to sleep, gets me outta bed, gets me outta the house …

My place in the world is right here.
On the back porch of a house in Detroit:
A breeze stirs from time to time, cutting through the June air.
It catches the wind chime. I close my eyes and hear: clinking glasses, the hum of a Tibetan singing bowl still carrying on after contact.
The sun lights up the leaves at the top of a young tree.
One of my feet touches the ground.
The other is suspended a few inches above, as I sit one leg crossed over the other.
My place in the world is right here.

The above is excerpted from a free write on the first day of the Allied Media Conference. I had just been at the UAW Constitutional Convention and was feeling a little disjointed from switching from one gathering to another and anticipating a third: the US Social Forum.

The AMC was a totally new experience for me. I’ve wanted to go for several years and finally got to.

I was immediately grateful to be in a space where “we spend more time building than attacking” is one of the core principles.

I moseyed through the AMC, pacing myself and resting. I started out by participating in make/shift’s collaborative editing workshop. Collaborative editing is one of the ways make/shift practices feminism(s).

Next was the workshop on radical m/othering, parenting, and childcare collectives. I appreciated the tips for how to be more inclusive of parents and children in meetings and community gatherings. These were simple things, including: saying up front that children (and the sounds they often make) are welcome, offering childcare is helpful to parents even if they opt not to use it, acknowledge children, and offer to hold them or play with them if their parenting is occupied.

Poor magazine schooled us all on “poverty scholarship” and the difference between research done by academics outside the community and the “we-search” that they do. The folks at poor magazine take media-making and research into their own hands.

Finally, in a workshop focused on responding to violence in our communities outside the formalized police state, we explored the “middle path” in responding to violence: community accountability. The Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System uses a step team to raise awareness and do outreach. Always a Safe Space (ASS) hands out guides on how to pick people up in safe and respectful ways in the bathroom lines at queer clubs. And Community United Against Violence hosts a fun “safetyfest.” One thing that the person from CUAV said that stuck with me is that isolation is one of the major things that contributes to people both being harmful and being harmed.

At the USSF, a lot of the things I participated in were with UAW. At a discussion on labor, faith, and community activism, the new UAW president, Bob King, said that unions are strongest when we’re active participants in our community. He said that over the years we’ve done a good job building up great contracts for those we represent, but haven’t done enough to protect other workers in our community. He said that unions must fight for everyone in society. I couldn’t agree more.

The next day we marched to Chase bank in protest of Chase’s role in the foreclosure crisis that Michigan is experiencing and their bankrolling of JR Reynolds which is currently denying its workers decent wages and working conditions.

One of the evenings, I caught some of the art programming outside at the amphitheater. A poet talked about non-cooperation in two specific ways that resonated with me: 1. not believing the lie that you are not good enough and 2. challenging our over-consumption. Of course, these two things are very intertwined.

In this section of my dissertation, I discuss the origins of modern policing in the United States. Policing in the U.S. emerged at first to control the movement and behavior of slaves. From the enforcement of slave codes to black codes to Jim Crow laws, policing in the U.S. is closely tied to the maintenance of racial stratification and inequality.

U.S. historians tend to agree that around the mid-1800s is the period when police forces throughout the States came to resemble the systems of policing in place today. This telling of the history, however, leaves out “an entire branch of the American police family tree”: City Guards in the Deep South (Williams 2007:35-36). As early as the 1780s, paramilitary municipal police forces were put in place primarily to control the slave populations in Southern cities (which often had black slave populations that exceeded the white population) (Rousey 1996; Williams 2007). These City Guards were “armed, uniformed, and salaried; they patrolled at night but kept a reserve force for daytime emergencies. In most respects, they resembled modern American police departments to the same degree as did the London Metropolitan Police of 1829” (Williams 2007:36). So, while modern forms of policing did not appear in the Northern states until the mid-1800s, modern policing emerged much earlier in the Southern states.

The difference in the timing of the emergence of modern policing between Northern and Southern states is most strongly influenced by slavery, the preservation of which necessitated white control over the black population (Hindus 1980; Williams 2007). Control over the black slave population was legislated through slave codes which restricted the movement and activities of slaves, including prohibiting the gathering of slaves in groups of more than four or five without whites present (especially religious gatherings) and forbidding slaves from learning to read or write (Websdale 2001; Williams 2007). Slave codes also enabled (and in some cases, required) enforcement by the entire white population (Websdale 2001; Williams 2007). “In such a racially stratified society, with few legal rights afforded to the black man, every white person, by virtue of his skin, had sufficient authority over blacks” (Hindus 1980:37-38). During the development of these codes (the mid-to-late 1600s, early 1700s), white supremacy empowered the average white citizen to act in lieu of an established police force and it wasn’t until the early-to-mid 1700s that formal slave patrols became a regular fixture in many Southern cities (Williams 2007). The transition between private enforcement and the regulation of the enforcement of slave codes through either the militia or the courts was slow as,

Each colony tried to cope with the unreliable nature of private enforcement, first by applying rewards and penalties, and later by appointing particular individuals to take on the duty. Volunteerism was eventually replaced with community-sanctioned authority in the form of slave patrols. (Williams 2007: 41).

Although slave patrols emerged in the rural plantations, the provided a model for urban patrols. “The growing numbers of black people in the cities were of obvious concern to the white population” and the control of black people—slaves and free—became just as much of a priority in the cities as it was in rural U.S. (Williams 2007:41). City guards went through a similar transition from private to public regulation of black codes, which, like slave codes, restricted the movement and activities of the black population. Black codes included curfews for slaves and free alike, pass systems requiring blacks to carry papers indicated they were free, and bans from the use of public spaces, such as parks (Williams 2007). Some codes were spelled out very specifically the ways in which blacks should interact with whites (e.g., a black person should step aside if a white person walks toward her/him, black men are prohibited from using a cane in the style of a Southern gentleman, et cetera) (Websdale 2001). Other codes were less specific, allowing for the punishment of “disorderly behavior.” The closely related “vagrancy codes” were often extended to lower class whites and whites who associated with blacks or advocated on their behalf (White 2008; Williams 2007).

Slavery was made illegal in the U.S. with the North’s victory of the Civil War and the adoption of the Thirteen Amendment (ratified in 1865), yet many black codes remained in place and new laws to regulate blacks were created (Alexander 2010). Eventually black codes were overturned and in the period following the emancipation of slaves, known as the Reconstruction Era, a slew of legislation was passed which strengthened the rights of blacks. In addition to the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, these laws included the first Civil Rights Act (1866), which extended full citizenship to emancipated slaves; the Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1868), which affirmed the citizenship of all individuals born or naturalized in the U.S.; the Fifteenth Amendment (ratified in 1870), which granted men the right to vote, regardless of race; and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (aka the Ku Klux Klan Act) made it illegal to conspire to deny citizens of their equal protection under the law, including interference with voting or the violent denial of one’s civil rights (Alexander 2010; Websdale 2001). While these civil rights gains provided a serious challenge to white supremacy, they were largely symbolic for a number of reasons:

Notably absent from the Fifteenth Amendment, for example, was language prohibiting the states from imposing educational, residential, or other qualifications for voting, thus leaving the door open to the states to impose poll taxes, literacy tests, and other devices to prevent blacks from voting. Other laws revealed themselves as more an assertion of principle than direct federal intervention into Southern affairs, because enforcement required African Americans to take their cases to federal courts a costly and time-consuming procedure that was a practical impossibility for the vast majority of those who had claims. Most blacks were too poor to sue to enforce their civil rights, and no organization like the NAACP yet existed to spread the risks and costs of litigation. Moreover, the threat of violence often deterred blacks from pressing legitimate claims making the “civil rights” of former slaves largely illusory—existing on paper but rarely to be found in real life. (Alexander 2010:29-30)

In addition to barriers to the enforcement of laws discussed above and the violent resistance by whites to legal protections for blacks, legal challenges were mounted against civil rights legislation (e.g., the 1883 overturning of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had outlawed discrimination against blacks in public facilities) (Alexander 2010; Websdale 2001). Two years before the Supreme Count nullified the Civil Rights Act of 1875 on grounds that it was unconstitutional, Tennessee passed the South’s first Jim Crow law, which mandated the segregation of railroad cars by race (Websdale 2001). Such laws were supported by the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), where justices of the Supreme Court voted 8-1 to support the segregation of rail cars, allowing for accommodations to be “separate but equal.” The separate-but-equal doctrine remained unchallenged until 1954 when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that separate was, in fact, unequal in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Still, Jim Crow and vagrancy laws provided the basis for the state-sanctioned harassment and punishment (including brutality that ranged from beatings to death by lynching) of the black population in the decades between emancipation and throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

Just as Southern legislatures had passed black codes in response to the early steps of Reconstruction, in the years immediately following Brown v. Board, five Southern legislatures passed nearly 50 new Jim Crow laws. … The Ku Klux Klan reasserted itself as a powerful terrorist organization, committing castrations, killings, and the bombing of black homes and churches. NAACP leaders were beaten, pistol-whipped, and shot. (Alexander 2010:37).

From slave codes to Jim Crow, blackness had become conflated with criminality (Hindus 1980). The linkage of blacks to criminality helped maintain a system of slavery despite abolition. The Thirteenth Amendment allowed for one exception to the abolition of slavery—slavery was legally allowable as a punishment for crime. Convicts were in essence slaves of the state (Alexander 2010). The U.S.’s first prison boom occurred during the Redemption Era (1877-1896) (Alexander 2010). This era is characterized as a period of declining federal intervention in the Southern states and when “the political forces that backed the Confederacy and the traditional racial hierarchies of slavery reassumed control without restoring the formal mechanism of slavery” (Websdale 2001). During this time, the convict population grew at ten times the rate of the general population and prisoners “became younger and blacker, and the length of their sentences soared” (Oshinsky 1996:32).

The policing of African Americans in the era of Jim Crow and vagrancy laws was shaped by the bleed over and cooperation between police and the Ku Klux Klan (Williams 2007). Williams argues that the actions of vigilantes and the police during Reconstruction are often indistinguishable and, moreover, connected. Examples (cited in Williams 2007) include:
• In 1866 a group of black veterans in Memphis kept police officers from arresting two of their friends. In retaliation, the police led white mobs through the city’s streets beating blacks they came upon and torching the homes, schools, and churches of the black population. The rampage lasted four days and resulted in the deaths of 48 people (46 of whom were black) and the burning of 91 houses, 12 schools, and four churches (Berry 1994).
• Police in New Orleans led an attack against a convention of Union loyalists in 1866. A fight broke out between the group of approximately 100 black convention delegates and the 1,000-1,500 whites after, by most accounts, a white policeman fired at the group. The group of delegates returned fire and quickly made their way into the convention building where they were followed by the mass of whites who broke down doors, fired at the crowd, and clubbed the black delegates. There were at least 38 (mostly black) casualties. Despite the fact that a Congressional committee determined that the attack had been planned by a group of police comprised mainly of Confederate veterans, no one was prosecuted for the carnage (Rousey 1996).
• In 1868 the sheriff of Camilla, Georgia deputized the entire white population to prevent a political procession of blacks. A military investigation of the sheriff found the he made no effort to control the deputized whites and “was party to the wanton and unnecessary destruction of life which subsequently ensued” (Hennessey 1978:129).

Even the last known lynching in the Northern part of the United States (the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana in 1930) involved the cooperation of police. This lynching occurred when a mob of white people broke into the jail with sledgehammers, dragged the men out, beat them, and then hung them. The men were accused of robbing and murdering a white man and raping his white girlfriend, but had only been arrested the previous night and had not stood trial. A friend of the men was also arrested but spared from the lynching (Cameron 1993).

Legal authorities who did try to enforce laws meant to protect the civil rights of blacks and stand up to those who terrorized the black population became targets of terror themselves and were only successful in areas where the Klan was politically weak (Trelease 1971).

When Klan-type violence occurred, arrests were unusual, prosecutions rare, and convictions almost unknown. The attitudes (and sometimes involvement) of officers and sheriffs certainly impeded the enforcement of the law, but this was only one of the many obstacles standing in the way of convictions. Prosecutors were unwilling to press such cases, and magistrates were often glad to dismiss them. Klansmen frequently dominated juries—including grand juries and coroner’s juries. Witnesses and victims … were intimidated and refused to testify while Klan members were eager to swear false alibis on one another’s behalf (Williams 2007:80, citing Trelease 1971).

Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York and London: The New Press.

Berry, Mary Frances. 1994. Black Resistance, White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in America. New York: The Penguin Press.

Cameron, James. 1993. A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story. Baltimore: Black Classic Press.

Hennessey, Melinda Meek. 1978. To Live and Die in Dixie: Reconstruction Race Riots in the South. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, Kent State University, Kent, OH.

Hindus, Michael. 1980. Prison and Plantation: Crime, Justice, and Authority in Massachusetts and South Carolina, 1768-1878. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Oshinsky, David M. 1996. Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. New York: Free Press Paperbacks.

Rousey, Dennis C. 1996. Policing the Southern City: New Orleans, 1805-1889. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Trelease, Allen W. 1971. White Terror: The Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy and Southern Reconstruction. New York: Harper and Row.

Websdale, Neil. 2001. Policing the Poor: From Slave Plantation to Public Housing. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

White, Pete. “Safer Cities Unplugged.” Pp. 71-75 in The CR10 Publications Collective (eds.) Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle against the Prison Industrial Complex. Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Williams, Kristian. 2007. Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

before you start

At one of the intersections at the university I attend, there is a sign that says, “Think! Accidents are avoidable.”

A few weeks ago, I burned myself badly–a burn that resulted in a lot of pain, blisters, a trip to urgent care, and skin that has (thankfully) mostly healed, but is still red in the spot that got the worst of it. The accident happened while I sitting in the passenger seat of my aunt’s car. I was taking some time off, but thought it was important to be part of a conference call for work. So, my aunt drove me about 10 miles until my phone could get reception. The nearby coffee shop was packed, so I decided to take the call from the car. My aunt went inside and, after a few minutes, delivered a steaming hot cup to tea to me. The tea was on the dash of the car, the phone to my ear, and the laptop across my thighs. After about 5 minutes on the call, I lost reception, so after a few failed attempts to reconnect, I started an email to my colleagues to let them know what happened. I shifted in my seat a bit and the top of my laptop sent the cup full of tea flying–scalding hot water splashed across my wrist, seeping in and though the sleeves of my jacket, and finally landed on the side of my leg and across the keyboard of my laptop.

I frantically turned the laptop upside down, hoping the water would exit it as quickly as it entered, and made a dash for the restroom of the coffee shop to run my terribly burned wrist under cold water.

This was a painful lesson in mindfullness. I could have looked at the placement of the tea and anticipated that an accident may result. And so it goes with many things in life. In a hurry to meet a friend the other day, I had way too many things in my hands. I dropped my wallet and the contents scattered across the ground, slowing me down considerably.

In his recent LA Times review of books about slowing down writer Nick Owchar had this to say about Thich Naht Hahn’s You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment:

“This book, slender as a breviary, elegantly describes the very act of breathing as an art, and he shows us ways to apply our full concentration, our ‘mindfulness,’ to everything we do during the day–walking, sitting, driving your car (‘the red light is not your enemy,’ he assures), drinking a cup of tea. The point of all this, in the end, is to measure the depth of one’s commitment to that moment. ‘When you are holding a cup of tea in your hand, do it while being 100 percent there,’ he advises. Maybe if you did, you wouldn’t spill so often.”

I went to Deer Park Monastery for a weekend retreat in February. Along one of the paths was a sign that read, “Before you start, stop.

Forgive me—
my preference to see things unobstructed.
The seagull breaking open a mussel,
dropping it on the cement path below,
sand piled by a tractor comb;
the pier’s cleaning stations caked with scales and dried blood.
Forgive me—
my over-analysis of process and grit:
time spent contemplating the color of water;
the sky when overcast, sunny.
These details are my burden, my joy.
Same with living in this body:
a freckle’s slight raise;
hair soft and missed; short and returning.
The smile that escapes.
Words too,
“Forgive me, I do not apologize for myself anymore.”

This is a rewrite of this. Thanks to those who provided feedback on the first draft. I’d love suggestions for a new title.