Vote By Mail November 3rd! (A Photo Essay with Instructions)

Making your voice heard this year is critical. There are active attempts to limit access to safe voting and to suppress voting by Black and Brown voters, in particular, as is common in our great nation. Not one of us is going to get the $100,000 treatment that the outgoing president received to fight COVID-19, so make a plan to vote by mail in our General Election, this November 3, 2020. Here’s how:

The United States Postal Service has been operational since 1775, when Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General.
Reform society with your votes for Measures and Propositions. Learn about your choices from a trusted news source. I’m in Los Angeles, so I used Elections 2020 Voter Game Plan from LAist and recommendations for electing judges from the LA Times.
Your local city, county and district elections are printed on separate pages. Simply mark your choice clearly to avoid a misread of your ballot.
Sometimes, there is no good choice. It is acceptable for a voter to abstain. When votes are counted, there will be a discrepancy between the number of votes in the district and that particular race. Everyone will understand that some voters were unhappy with the choices.
The Presidential Ballot is the last sheet and clearly identifies all the official candidates, but allows write-in candidates. Once you decide on your vote for president, you’re ready for preparing your Official Return Envelope.
The Official Election Mail is clearly marked, and does not require postage.
Clear instructions are provided on both sides of the Official Return Envelope, a very recognizable and large article.
Signed, sealed and soon to be delivered by the trusted and proven USPS.
The pride of our nation, our historic USPS has delivered election ballots, Christmas gifts and stimulus checks have been sent and received with little-to-no incident for hundreds of years. USPS is as American as it gets!

Educator and activist Edissa Nicolás-Huntsman works to ensure democracy and has voted by mail since she lived overseas two decades ago. She’s safe at home, social distancing and exercising her right to vote.

Social Justice and the Mindfulness Bell Go Together

Please support the Plum Village Community with a purchase of The Mindfulness Bell Autumn 2020/Issue 85 and read the Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s guidance for cultivating “Peace, Love and Happiness” during these challenging days. Plus, you can read my contribution, “Peaceful Warrior,” about how I’ve coped with COVID-19 in my new city.

Breonna Taylor and The Blue Wall of Silence

Courtesy of Life Matters by Pexels

All over the country, in cities like Louisville and New York, there have been mass protests regarding the decision to charge one cop involved with the shooting of Breonna Taylor. Many Americans were shocked to learn the charges were for “wanton endangerment,” and not of Taylor’s, or her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker’s life, but the lives of three people next door. 

Strengthening Misperceptions

While no one’s life should have been in danger, this case raises many questions. No one can deny the reluctance by high ranking officials such as the police commissioner of many cities to discipline law enforcement when the protocol is not followed, with people losing their lives as a result. Although honest, professional law enforcement abound, decisions like this strengthen the public perception that there is an impenetrable blue wall of silence.

Unfair Justice

In other words, if there were three cops involved in the shooting, why is only one cop being charged, and not even in connection to the actual crime? Why is only one official being charged with endangerment, which carries a maximum sentence of five years, while Breonna Taylor’s family grieves her absence permanently? The uproar caused by such charges asks the question: why is it so difficult to maintain clarity during times like this? 

Understanding the players

The coming weeks ahead will continue to flare up with protests and retaliation from both sides. Constructive dissent is crucial, but we also have to continue to fight with our votes on a local level, as well. We have to know who our district attorneys, police commissioners, mayors, and district representatives are, and take an active role in not only choosing them but also holding them accountable for their decisions. 

Maintaining Our Stories As We Fight Injustice

Every day is an opportunity to make history — and to study it. Human existence is cyclical, and it is important as we move forward that we are aware of the behaviors we have and that of those around us. Jacob Blake’s 2020 shooting will undoubtedly be reported in detail in the news media, with the usual public personalities weighing in on what has happened.

Changing representation

Let’s look at the past for a second. Whydah was a major slave port in the kingdom of Benin, as well as the namesake of the pirate ship Whydah Galley.

According to one European, who visited in 1692–1700, Whydah exported some thousand slaves a month, mainly taken captive from villages in the interior of Africa. According to records, ten traders would round up 100 or more slaves at a time as cargo.

Currently, the Whydah is a museum found in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The site focuses more on pirate history than its deep involvement in the African Holocaust.

While it is commendable that it is a museum at all given this country’s history with maintaining African artifacts and narratives, the glaring absence of narratives concerning the slaves and their families, save for a few, is a concern.

Truthful, consistent media

In the present day, the officer who shot Blake, the city in which the incident occurred, and other specifics have all been named. For the next few weeks, pundits and politicians will offer their take, and citizens will righteously and angrily protest what happened that fateful day.

What happens in the future? Contrarians may begin their common refrain: he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Why did he take this course of action or that?

Some time may elapse, intersecting the relationship between truth and sanity — alternative theories arise, and discussions about minutiae begin to blur the lines of honest conversation. Because so few answers are provided for each incident of horrendous police brutality, every report is met with hysteria, instead of sobriety and solutions.

After the hysteria has died down, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be manipulated and told that we were just imagining things; it really wasn’t that bad, and we believe the wrong information. It is here where an alternative timeline of events is introduced, and we begin to think that maybe we were crazy, after all.

Owning our story

It is as critical to bringing swift action to injustice as it is to be outraged about it. Brainstorming actionable steps and then working them also brings radical change. We have to tell our own stories and represent ourselves, for ourselves.

Get Uncomfortable! (Unlearning Oppression: Lesson 20)

Another week, another inexplicable shooting of a black person. And still it is very difficult for many White Americans in the United States to accept America’s racist foundation–as old as our country. The simple, difficult truth is that that our government invested long ago in the myths we unconsciously live by. But, like a concentric circle, our actions ripple through time and touch lives in myriad ways that we may never understand. Even so, we can begin to awaken from the stupor of willful ignorance–abandon the dark caves and step into the light of day. We don’t need to dwell in the past, to acknowledge it.

We all know it happened. Slavery happened. So did a whole bunch of other unfortunate historical events. Even if our grandparents did something, we don’t need guilt or shame–just awareness and consciousness about the legacy we’ve inherited. Denial won’t change the truth. On the other hand, Radical Acceptance can help us come to terms with the total and complete truth of our collective and personal histories. In fact, a contemporary, unapologetic approach to truthfulness allows us to recognize and reconcile our personal truth with those of our community. This can bring healing and restore lost trust and hurt where we need it most: In our hearts.

Lesson #20: Watch the documentary, The Uncomfortable Truth with your accountability, church, sangha or reading group. Discuss how the legacy of slavery has impacted all of our lives. Explore how individuals in your group confront their personal and ancestral truth in a healthy and safe manner.

The work of creating a just society requires a commitment from all of us. If we each own our own stuff, take responsibility for our words and actions and tell the truth, we’ll have a roadmap for a new dawn. We deserve that. Our children deserve that. The truth matters– no matter how uncomfortable it may be.


Featured Photo by Jason Reyes for Living Artist Project

Contributing Writer Edissa in her home art studio, thinking of ways to connect to her neighbors with compassion and kindness.

Five Traits That Interfere with Social Awareness

As voters get ready to approach the booths this November, concerns ranging from healthcare to education to government fiscal responsibility will be on voters’ minds. With a historic election on the horizon, it is critical to remain level-headed as everyone casts their ballot. Still, there are five traits that could potentially hold citizens back from getting a wonderful government and the most out of their relationships with others.

Moderation 

This is a strategy that some individuals use to “moderate” or control social interaction. It includes censorship, defining others’ experiences for them without their permission or not accepting their narratives, and telling those you interact with that they are not allowed to choose the method and the regularity with which they communicate their concerns. Moderation is great when deployed during a roundtable discussion or some other formal circumstance to which all parties agree, but can tread dangerous territory when it harms instead of help.

Solipsism 

Solipsism is defined is Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as:

a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing.

The problem with solipsism is that it rarely, if ever, leaves room for new ideas and other perspectives. If one thinks their experience is the only one to be had, then it is hard to respond to social issues in a responsible manner. One of the most common results of solipsism is an inability to reach an agreement with others, resulting in a tug-of-war.

Definition

In this case, definition is the act of defining others’ identities, rights, concerns, needs, wants, and narratives on their behalf, particularly when they have not asked for assistance. It is important to hold authentic space for every voice — by due process and due diligence.

Fear

Most, if not all of these habits come from fear. Fear can manifest as the inability to introspect and see how alienating certain behaviors can be, making choices from an impoverished mindset, and questioning rights granted to deserving, otherwise unprotected groups. Fear foments hate organizations, dismantles critical thinking, and drives a wedge between factions that would otherwise interface with each other.

Intellectual laziness

In the 1970s, 60% of 12th graders read a book or a magazine every day — in 2016, the statistic was only 2%. Asking questions, reading, listening — these are all tools in your arsenal against being fearful and dogmatic. Even if you do not agree with the subject discussed, learning about other opinions and facts can help you refine your stance on certain topics. Examine your cognitive biases and steer clear of logical fallacies when listening to or making your arguments. 

It’s On Us… (A BLM Essay)

There is so much to be said and there is so much being said. Lack of efforts are not a good enough excuse ignorance and silence. Black people deserve to live full lives. They deserve to have joy, love, shelter, food, and opportunities… and if you (a non black person) continues to believe that they have the same opportunities as the rest of us, you’re still not listening. You’re still asleep. Policies need to change! We need to ensure protection for black humans.

🙏🏽 Join your city council meetings if you haven’t already done so. 🙏🏽
Policies need to change. We need to protect black people. We need to protect black trans people. We need to protect black women. We need to protect black children.

This painting has gone to a beautiful interracial family who just announced the birth of their first baby. I hope the future is a safe space for her. It is our job to ensure the future of all black children, children of color and queer children. The painting represents the strength, resilience, innocence, and beauty of black girls and women in all kinds of relationships–be it siblings, parents, and friendships. It represents the bonds and communities they create and all the curious and magical ways they continue to uplift themselves.

We don’t deserve them, but they continue to forgive and love us.

Untitled by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

Christina Xu, is an artist and muralist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a Living Artist Project Contributing Artist since 2014. Find her work at www.christinaxu.art or follow her on IG @ChristinaXu_.

Reclaiming the Self: A Return to Ancestral Wisdom

The Black church is currently experiencing an exodus of its millennials who are seeking community and spiritual fulfillment elsewhere. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center stated that four out of ten millennials are likely to claim no religious affiliation (Cox, 2019). It is assumed that those who are leaving the church are becoming atheist or agnostic, however, this is not necessarily the case. As the church experiences an exodus, many millennials are finding their genesis in traditional African spiritual systems and the wisdom of their Ancestors.

What are African Spiritual Systems?

African spiritual systems are those that predate the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and were practiced on the African continent prior to European colonization. While the spiritual tradition varies dependent upon where one is on the continent, two that are most widely known throughout the diaspora are Ifá and Vodun. The practice of both systems has been vilified throughout history, but particularly after the Haitian Revolution because during the Haitian Revolution, an important Vodun ceremony took place at Bois Caimen that helped assist the enslaved Africans defeat and drive away their French colonizers. The vilification and demonization of these systems has helped ensure that diasporic Africans remain disconnected from their Ancestors, and therefore themselves. Though the systems may vary, there are a few key elements that translate between them.

Ancestral Veneration: It is often assumed that in African spiritual systems, people are worshiping those who have transitioned. To venerate means to pay homage to and show deep respect for someone or something. The Ancestors are given a high level of respect because they are their descendants’ first line of defense, and a connection to the spiritual realm. They are able to help guide and direct their descendants, as well as keep them from harm or unwise decisions. It should be noted that all cultures have a form of Ancestral veneration but may not realize it. For example, when going into an elder’s home, you may see that they have a collection of obituaries on their mantle, and photos of the transitioned all throughout their home. Though they may balk at the idea of setting up an Ancestor altar, they are engaging in a form of ancestral acknowledgement. Additionally, when one “pours one out for the homies,” it is a libation used to honor those that are no longer physically present. Elements of the African worldview and thought process are syncretized into modern day practices, often without a true understanding of where the traditions originate from.

Belief in a Divine Creator: African spirituality is often viewed as polytheistic due to the presence of Orisha (Ifá) or Loa (Vodun), who practioners can work with and call upon. However, there is still the belief in a singular Divine Creator who is not assigned a gender and is considered to encompass both genders.

Divination: In Christianity and Islam, one of the primary tenants is faith. However, African spiritual systems include divinatory abilities. Practioners do not have to guess if they are in alignment, making good decisions, or moving in purpose. With the ability to divine on a matter, practioners are able to move throughout the world in a more effective manner with a certainty that what they are doing is correct, or that what they are doing will lead towards harm.

“Bevier Pot” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

Why is Returning to Ancestral Wisdom Important?

2020 has shifted everything, including worldviews and ideologies. This time of quarantine and social distancing has allowed many to sit with themselves for the first time in years, or first time ever. During this time of sitting with oneself, many have come to realize that the ideologies and expressions of self they were taught to hate and fear, might hold the key to their wellbeing. The Ancestors are our first line of defense, as such, it is necessary to be still and listen to what they are trying to teach us. We cannot claim to be their wildest dreams if we are not taking heed to their advice, or diminishing their practices. It’s not enough to rally against systemic anti-Blackness if one does not address internalized anti-Blackness that is present through the demonization of one’s own traditions. Regardless if one chooses to participate in an African spiritual system, it should be understood that there are alternative epistemologies, and wisdom to be gained.

Barriers to Black Voter Turnout in 2020

While discussion continues about law enforcement and its practices, other factors make this year a very critical one for Black voters. Here are some things to consider on the way to the polls come November:

Proper Allocation of Resources

Redlining, a term popularized in the 1960s by American sociologist John McKnight, has been long practiced in the United States. It has kept Black people away from the voter ballot and has dismissed their concerns. What makes redlining particularly painful to voters is the fact that it perpetuates generational wealth, medical, and food disparities, and those areas deemed “unsafe” 80 years ago are still low to middle-income today

Less money means more voter suppression and less political reach through lobbying and other means. While there are some well-heeled Black people in the United States, Black people as a class do not have wealth that is on par with other groups.

Imbalanced Use of the Census

Another example of this institutionalized segregation — illustrated in Christian Farias’ 2019 article Is There Racist Intent Behind The Census Citizenship Question? — wherein Farias explores how the ethnicity and citizenship information is gathered by the Census and used. 

Everyone is supposed to count, but that hasn’t always proved to be a positive experience. Because of this and other factors, there is public distrust of the Census Bureau, as the Census has been historically used to funnel resources away from areas that happened to have high populations of Black people. 

Health Concerns

Media discourse around COVID-19 threatens to discourage the use of voter participation as a way of biological redlining. With COVID disproportionally affecting Black people, voters have to remain engaged in political conversation, distancing or not. The rub here is that many constituents expect this to happen but will not respond accordingly. 

So what can we do to be prepared for months coming ahead? Some simple steps are:

  • Start or join a healthcare sharing group.
  • Find out more about the Census.
  • Research ways to become financially literate, or if you already are, share that knowledge with those in your community.

Why I Support Black Lives Matter (Youth Speak Out Series)

2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but change is happening. The passing of George Floyd, a black man brutally murdered by a police officer by the name of Derek Chauvin. This sparked the outburst for the protests of Black Lives Matter (BLM) with sayings of “Defund the Police” or “I can’t breathe.” Police brutality has been going on for years and has unfortunately been targeted toward the black community.  

Innocent black citizens across the world have been murdered by the people who are sworn to “protect and serve” their country. Protests have hit the streets, as of now, all 50 states have protested Black Lives Matter, and it is still happening today. For people saying “If someone breaks into your house, who are you going to call if you defund or abolish the police?” We aren’t saying defund or abolish the police to get rid of police as a whole, but to change the cement and the base of what the police force is built on. Back in the Civil War, the police force was a “slave patrol” and had every intention to find, capture, and return escaped slaves to their masters. Sometimes it went as far as killing slaves. Yes, we may call 911 for a missing person, domestic violence, etc., but we expect someone that only needs six months of training, a high school diploma and has a lethal weapon with NO de-escalation training to help us? There’s bound to be some sort of problem.  

There is also a saying, for the other side that Blue Lives Matter, but I, personally do not believe that saying. In Black Lives Matter, the black community is born with their skin color, and could/is afraid of them getting killed because of the color of their skin, instead with Blue Lives Matter, cops aren’t born with anything that could make them be afraid of anything. They are given a blue uniform, putting them in Blue Lives Matter. It’s unfair for people to turn around and say Blue Lives Matter if police can’t get killed due to the color of their skin. Yes, police could be afraid of their daily job, putting their lives in danger, but they signed up for it. They knew what they were going into. If you look down on the other races, why abuse your power and go out of your way to kill an innocent person due to the color of their skin? 

 A person I am about to talk about was killed by the color of his skin. Elijah Mcclain, say his name. Elijah was killed in August of last year but his case is just now opening back up. Elijah was 24 when he was killed by police. Elijah would stop by his local pet adoption center and would play the violin for the cats so they could fall asleep. One night, he was walking home. He was wearing a ski mask, and dancing/listening to music. A neighbor called the police, and had said they didn’t think that Elijah was doing anything suspicious, but to just check up on him. That didn’t end well, as Elijah was held down as paramedics injected an overdose of ketamine, a medication used to sedate someone. Elijah is one of the hundreds, of thousands, of black people killed by police. I feel horrible for Elijah and his family, Elijah probably had a better heart than me but was killed for the color of his skin.

So, in light of recent events, I hold my fist up high and will scream Black Lives Matter as loud as I can, so police brutality, and racism as a whole can end. There are plenty ways you can help support the movement. You can protest, sign petitions, and donate to cooperation’s that will help with the movement, and discuss the movement with friends and family. 2020 is a tough time, but we will get through this united.  

Black Lives Matter. 

About Rachel O.

Hello! I am Rachel. I am a young person who seeks to see change in the world through my writing. Although I aspire to be an actress on Broadway, I still love to write and love to inspire and create worlds of my imagination through my writing. I am very excited about this, as it is all very new and exciting for me, as it can help me grow and form into a strong independent person in the future.
Image from Taylor Madu