A Clear-Cut Fight: Battle of the Biscuit Forest Heats Up

BY SUSAN CHENELLE

A 30-foot tripod erected in front of the Forest Service’s regional headquarters brought mid-day traffic in downtown Portland to a halt on March 30. The apparatus suspended a pod 20 feet above Second Avenue bearing an activist named “Pax,” and a banner reading, “Burned Forests Are Alive-Stop Biscuit Logging.” This direct action by Stumptown Earth First! was the latest confrontation in an intense few weeks that have seen 49 arrests in the two-year battle to save the trees of southern Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest.

During the Biscuit Fire of 2002 approximately 500,000 acres of the Wild Siskiyou River area burned to varying degrees. Though Forest Service scientists stated that the fire was beneficial to the overall health of the forest, the Bush administration responded with the so-called “Biscuit Fire Recovery Project,” a plan to cut down 20,000 acres of trees—the largest single logging project in Forest Service history. This includes approximately 9,000 acres of latesuccessional reserve (LSR), or old-growth trees previously safeguarded by the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. The project is based on two premises: that it’s simply a salvage operation to cut down dead trees, and that removing the burned trees will help prevent future fires. Activists contend that fires are a necessary part of the life cycle of a forest, that many trees are burned but not dead, that even dead trees serve important functions, and that logging will make fires more likely, by removing relatively fire-proof older trees and leaving easily combustible branches and younger trees behind.

As Laura, a member of Wild Siskiyou Action, told The Indypendent, using “salvage” as an excuse, this project is the first to threaten the inventoried roadless areas, land that had been protected by the Roadless Rule enacted during the final months of the Clinton administration. In order to “salvage” the trees within the 13 square miles of roadless areas included in the Biscuit timber sale, the Forest Service must build access roads within the area. As a result the area will no longer be roadless and, by definition, no longer protected by the Roadless Rule.

Two lawsuits questioning the legality of this timber sale are underway. The first, filed by the Siskiyou Project, the Sierra Club and others, argues that the project violates the National Forest Plan and the Roadless Rule. The second, brought by the Cascadia Wildland Project, National Forest Protection Alliance, Native Forest Network, and Klamath Forest Alliance, charges that logging protocols have been violated and pertains to the entire Biscuit region, not just the oldgrowth areas. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request for a temporary restraining order on March 25; the plaintiffs are now seeking a preliminary injunction to halt logging until the trial begins.

In the meantime, logging continues. John West of the Silver Creek Timber Company said he hoped to have half the trees on the ground before the end of March. Since the Fiddler Mountain timber sale began on March 7, activists affiliated with Wild Siskiyou Action, the Oxygen Collective and other groups have staged numerous rallies, roadblocks and tree sits that have blocked logging trucks for several hours at a time. As Laura of Wild Siskiyou Action explained, these disruptions make the timber sale substantially more expensive for the Forest Service and the logging companies. She claims that some loggers are already refusing to work in areas where there have been protests.

To reinforce their own skills and to bring in new faces and ideas, Wild Siskiyou Action held a skillshare camp from April 1-8. The camp featured workshops on non-violent philosophy and direct action, rope climbing, road blockades and more, and culminated in a direct action.

And they are already looking beyond the Fiddler Mountain sale. “Beyond Fiddler, there are five other LSR timber sales that could be logged,” Laura explained. “I was just out on the coast, hiking those sales, and there hasn’t been any activity yet, but we’re keeping an eye on that. If they start going into those other sales, we’re going to be there.”

OREGON WOMEN’S BRIDGE BLOCKADE
BY SUSAN CHENELLE

On March 14, 20 women were arrested for blocking the Green Bridge over the Illinois River. Among those arrested was a nine months pregnant Stacy Williams, supported by her midwife and birthing team. For Harriet Smith, 85, Dot Fisher, 76, and Joan Norman, 72, it was their second arrest of the week. While they stood on the bridge, Becky White hung below them, suspended on a small platform by a rope system that blocked the convoy of logging trucks for nearly seven hours.

Most of the women were released within 24 hours; however, Norman refused bail and remained in jail until she was given an emergency medical release on March 29. Norman says it wasn’t just her multiple medications and the special breathing machine she requires that made her too much trouble to be kept locked up, it was that she was counselling her sister inmates to stand up for their rights as well.

“Now is one of the most desperate times, and someone has to sit down and say no. We have to use our civil liberties. They’re the only ones we have left,” she insists. “Timber companies are only doing what we created them to do – make a profit. We need to make laws to regulate companies or we become their slaves. If I have to go to jail, so do they.”

Originally published in the APRIL 6-19, 2005 THE INDYPENDENT

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No Quiero Taco Bell

Originally published in the March 16, 2005, issue of The Indypendent.

Supermodel Safari

by Susan Chenelle
Originally published in the Fall 2003 issue of Bitch.

Among the small handful of New York Times articles covering Africa on any given day, on April 22, 2003, international editors found this gem to be newsworthy: “In Remotest Kenya, a Supermodel Is Hard to Find.” As Marc Lacey reported, Elite Model Management scout Lyndsey McIntyre “had visions of the supermodels Iman and Alek Wek in her head when she arrived in this remote village near the Somalia border, where she had heard the girls were tall, slim and striking.” The object of her safari was “a new African supermodel with a breathtaking new look[,] a slinky figure [and] straight white teeth.”

This was no easy task. McIntyre, whom the article describes as a 37-year-old British blond, had the highest of standards to meet: ”If I’m going to pull someone out of the bush, she has to be the type who when she walks into a room people’s jaws hit the floor.” However, she faced not only aesthetic challenges (lazy eyes, girls “tall but far too plump for the runway”), but the locals’ wariness. In the predominantly Muslim area McIntyre was visiting, parents worried that their daughters’ images would be used to sell alcohol and tobacco. Others “believe that photographs steal their souls or take years off their lives.” If they only knew.

While Lacey doesn’t completely condone the worldview that motivates McIntyre, he never hints that this “opportunity of a lifetime” might be anything but glamorous or liberating. Rather, he assumes a supposedly objective perspective from which he can pit the absurdity of the supermodel search against the backwardness of the local culture in an amusing “The Gods Must Be Crazy” culture-clash anecdote that makes all of its subjects look fairly ridiculous. He thereby misses what might actually be a worthwhile story and an illuminating discussion of race, sex, and international cultural politics. Instead he invites the reader to join him in his “above-it-all” position from which they both can shake their heads condescendingly at the article’s subjects, without implicating themselves in any part of the political and cultural dynamic portrayed, nor admitting the sexism and racism that informs their own assumption of superiority.

CAFTA on the Skids

BY SUSAN CHENELLE

Mary Sandoval immigrated to the United States 10 years ago “to improve [her] life” and find better opportunities. Before she left Guatemala, she had studied business administration and worked as an accountant. For the last eight years she has made dresses and suits for Leigh Max Fashions in the Garment District, and has seen the effects of so-called “free trade” firsthand. Now that Congress is considering ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), she is speaking out.

“If CAFTA passes, we will lose more jobs,” she says. “Factories will get richer and workers will be exploited. Here in New York, we won’t have jobs, so we won’t be able to help our families back home.”

CAFTA is similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed 10 years ago by the U.S., Mexico and Canada. CAFTA lowers trade barriers between the seven signatory countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and the U.S. The agreement was signed in May 2004, and Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have since ratified it, but it has languished in the U.S. Congress amid increasingly contentious debate.

RACING TO THE BOTTOM
When NAFTA was being debated in the early nineties, opponents predicted an ugly “race to the bottom” in which factories would exploit both workers and the environment in order to cut production costs and to keep their contracts with brand-name multinationals like Nike and the Gap. With tariffs and trade quotas eliminated, corporations would be able to move production wherever it was cheapest. Ten years later, it has become clear that this is exactly what has happened.

With so much textile manufacturing already having moved to China and Southeast Asia, Central American factory owners welcome CAFTA in hopes that it will allow them to compete a bit better, due to the comparatively friendlier terms they will have with the U.S. However, critics warn that the trade agreement will simply give owners greater incentive to exploit workers while flooding Central American markets with U.S. agricultural exports.

Sandoval herself fears that the conditions in the textile factory in which her sister-in-law works in Guatemala will get worse. Workers there are already compelled to work 12-hour days with no overtime, she says, because the factory doors are locked at 7 a.m., and not opened until as late as 7 or 9 p.m. Unions are forbidden, and workers receive no benefits.

Congressional Republican leaders would like to get CAFTA ratified by the end of June, but it seems increasingly doubtful that that will happen. Supporters will not introduce a ratification bill until they are sure they have enough votes to pass it. They currently face opposition from Democrats who criticize the lack of labor and environmental protections, as well as from Republicans from states that depend on the sugar and/or textiles industries.

Many of these opponents are historic supporters of trade liberalization, so the switch might seem like a sign of the influence of the growing global movement against such agreements. However, activists are well aware of the likelihood that politicians may be just holding out in order to cut side deals to mitigate the effects of CAFTA upon their constituencies.

GOING ON THE RECORD
Burke Stansbury of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) said the group’s strategy now is “to get as many people on the record” as possible with their opposition. Rep. Charles Rangel, whose district includes Washington Heights, condemned the version of CAFTA pushed by the Bush administration in a May 27 statement: “The Administration refuses to include even the most basic standards of common decency and fairness for working people.”

Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx issued this statement on his website on May 20: “All of us want to help develop the economies of Latin America, but DR-CAFTA promises to do more damage than good, both for workers and the national economies of the United States and the Latin American nations affected.” Congressman Gregory Meeks of Queens has said that he remains “decidedly undecided.”

Business interests have been sending busloads of people to Washington to lobby in support of CAFTA. The New York Times weighed in on May 31 with an editorial urging ratification. In a recent speech, Gov. George Pataki expressed his fears that CAFTA would not be approved.

Mock mark-up in the Senate Finance Committee is scheduled for mid-June but it remains unclear whether or not the legislation will make it out of the committee with a positive recommendation. Observers believe that CAFTA proponents are about 30 votes shy in the House.

Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua are unlikely to move toward ratification until it passes in the U.S. Congress. They do not want to risk the protests that have rocked Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador over ratification.

Many politicians have bemoaned the agreement’s lack of environmental and labor protections, and some have demanded that certain contentious provisions be removed. However, such calls are mostly hot air, since Congress can’t revise the agreement and may only vote “yea” or “nay” on the deal. If CAFTA does come up for a vote, the moment of truth will be when its current critics show whether or not they are willing to stand up to globalization’s powerful proponents and vote against it.

For more info, see: stopcafta.org

Originally published in the JUNE 15-28, 2005 THE INDYPENDENT

Interviews With Camilo Mejia and Kathy Kelly

Originally published in the June 28, 2005, issue of The Indypendent.

Interview With We Got Issues! (November 2006)

We Got Issues! isn’t your average spoken-word tour. It’s rather a “performance and civic participation project” conceived and undertaken by several women artists and activists – including Rha Goddess, Jennifer Calderon aka J-Love, and Phakiso “Kiki” Collins. It not only showcases the talents of its artists, which have included Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai and yvonne fly onakeme etaghene, but works to engage and empower the voices of its participants as well. We Got Issues! follows an “artists in residence” model, where the performers spend between one and four weeks in a city, conducting workshops, community dialogue sessions and performances. This year WGI has visited Denver, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Oakland, and has stops in Amherst, MA, planned for December, and in Chicago, Atlanta, and Miami for 2007. We Got Issues! A Young Woman’s Guide to a Bold, Courageous, and Empowered Life, a book based on conversations with more than 1,000 young women, was published this fall. Let’s Do It on the Road caught up with J-Love and some of the other participants via email midway through the tour. Photo by Jason Lew.

How is the tour going so far? How do you choose the cities you go to?

Jennifer Armas: The tour is going well thus far. Each city’s organizers have faced different challenges depending on the lay of the land and the usual glitches: making sure the word is out for community events, trying not to stretch ourselves too thin, holding space for the participants that roll through.

Cities are first targeted around who has contacts. For example, J Love is from Denver so it was a given that we would be heading there. From there, the seeds are planted and folks reach out to community organizations, performance venues, funders, local artists, etc. and see if and how we can support each other.

Please tell us about the Red Tent and what kind of environment you create in each city in order to facilitate these workshops.

Adeeba Rana and Marla Teyolia: The Red Tent is a sacred storytelling and healing place for women to gather, share personal herstories, release emotions, laugh, cry, and be in circles with other women. In ancient times, the Red Tent was the menstrual tent or the womb tent. It was a place where women gathered during their moon cycles to share stories, eat, release emotional pain, transmit culture, and essentially be reborn. In this spirit, when we create a Red Tent in a host city, the facilitators work diligently to transform the environment into a symbolic womb-tent. Red tapestries are hung on the walls. A red net is hung from the ceiling, candles are lit, a water element is brought in that can take the form of a bowl filled with floating flowers or a soothing fountain. Soft music and incense greet the women as they enter. And it is amazing to witness how something ancient, ancestral is activated in each participant as all of her senses are reminded of this sacred journey.

What is your most memorable moment of the previous tour or the present one?

Kibbi Dillon and Monica Pineda: The most memorable aspect of touring with WGI! has been the personal connections I’ve made with the local women. In every city I’ve been approached by women who thank us and appreciate the work that we are doing, recognizing the need to speak up and act up. As soon as I ask them about their lives, I often hear that they wear many different hats in their community as well. They are organizers, educators, activists, mothers, artists, social workers, and writers who juggle these roles because it is what a lot of us do. It has been an empowering and inspiring exchange and a beautiful reminder of the collective work and awakening that is happening across the country.

Who are some of the women who have inspired you in your life, art and activism?

Jennifer “J-Love” Calderon and Jennifer Armas: Definitely my mother and grandmother. They each had three children, worked their asses off to provide for their family and always instilled the need to give to your peoples- whether it’s your friend down the block or to a local church. I come from a very matriarchal household; Mom also drilled it into my skull to always remember her name and her family’s story, not just those of my father. And seeing my grandmother get older I learn more and more each day about letting go of needless things, forgiving, and telling and showing the people in your life how much you love them- as cheesy as that may sound. There are a myriad of other sisters who inspire me- from my students who I’ve seen grow up into young men and women (and are sharper and more intelligent than 99.9% of the people I went to college with) to more well known figures like Audre Lorde or Iris Morales.

What have you learned through the course of these tours? Does anything still surprise you?

Chelsea Gregory: What I have learned first and foremost is how necessary this work is. I have learned how universal our struggles are as women, as young people, as low-income folks, folks of color, folks of alternative ways of life, etc. I have learned that no matter where we are or what we look like, the experiences and aspirations that we share far outweigh the ones we don’t. I now see that we are doing the world a disservice if we don’t continue to build community on that common ground, and continue to strengthen and expand this network.

As an individual, I have learned an incredible amount about my own capacity to connect with people and create and hold space for beautiful, powerful work to be done. I have discovered and re-discovered my own voice through the voices of the women we have been blessed to connect with through this work.

What still surprises me at this point is the amount of love and openness we experience in each and every place that we go. It never ceases to amaze me the ways that women in each city come together and use our project as a catalyst for their work on the local level. Women everywhere are waiting with dreams in our hearts and blueprints in our hands, and sometimes all it takes is a project like WGI! to remind us just how powerful and capable we are. That realization is at the core of We Got Issues’ commitment to building feminine-centered leadership.

To find out more about WGI, visit: www.wegotissues.org.

Interview With Tara Betts (July 2006)

I recently had the great pleasure of hanging out one sunny Saturday at Brooklyn Botanic Gardens with two of New York’s most incredible poets: Tara Betts and Rich Villar. Tara and I had arranged to meet to talk about her upcoming tour of the DC area and her work, so Mr. Villar quietly listened (some people reading this might find that hard to believe, but it was true! … and those of you who don’t know Rich should check him out and Acentos, the poetry series he hosts in the Bronx), while we talked about seeking out new people, places and experiences to feed your art, dancing with Assata Shakur in Cuba, and women helping each other to articulate their experiences and to find better paths through life.

A native of Illinois, Tara moved to New York recently, bringing an impressive set of accomplishments with her. She has performed in the National Poetry Slam, and has appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and on jessica care moore’s “Spoken” on the Black Family Channel. Her work appears in several anthologies, and her poetry was recently featured in Essence Magazine. She is the author of the chapbook SWITCH. You can find out more on her website: www.tarabetts.net. Photo by Dorothy Perry.

What drew you to New York? What differences do you see between New York and Chicago?

TB: There’s a lot of differences, other than food and having more space. I would probably say for me, I felt like I needed to have the room for my career to go and expand a little bit more, and just have different opportunities. Even though I think Chicago was really good in terms of shaping my work ethic around being a working artist and a teaching artist. It was also a very small community.

That’s kind of what it ended up being. There’s so many things [in New York] if you want to do anything with television; if you want to do anything with publishing or freelance write for major magazines that are nationally known; if you want to do voiceover, which is some of the stuff I’ve been wanting to get into, then this is a good place to be. … Just some different exposure, I just wanted to be in a different place and to see if I could make it outside of Illinois, because I grew up in Illinois and I’ve never lived anyplace else.

In Chicago, you co-founded a workshop called Girlspeak. Could you talk about that a bit?

TB: Girlspeak was a project that I helped start at Young Chicago Authors. We wanted to start a program that was more inclusive of having girls speak up and articulate their issues, but also to do that through writing and presenting work. We noticed that there was kinda this schism in representation: You have more girls in writing classes, but there are fewer girls who are performing, fewer girls who are articulating what’s happening with women.

I had one student, and she was saying when she saw me read, “Wow, I really admire you, I don’t feel like I could ever get up in front of people and say things. You say things that talk about stuff that’s happening in my life.” And I was like, “Yes, you can, and you need to!” We kinda developed a friendship from there, but it’s like I don’t think we always get that from older women. I know I’ve looked for it a lot too. I thought that was important, even if you were strong in where you stood, you wanted to have somebody who was kind of a mentor. That’s kinda what it stemmed out of, all of those things.

So you’ve tried to do that and provide that for younger girls?

TB: And they have a lot to say too. So many writing classes are full of women, but it’s that need to feel like you need to speak up. Yeah, you speak through the writing, but it’s like do you just keep it to yourself? Is this just you processing, getting through things that you’re going to experience or have experienced? If it’s not just that, how do you make people aware of what you’re trying to say?

What do you get out of these workshops? What do they teach you?

TB: I think sometimes it forces me to explore my own process in writing. It keeps me aware of how other people see the world. It pushes me to just challenge myself a little bit, and continue to be involved with different communities. … How do you start to bridge these communities and say such and such does this and they do that? I kinda like doing that. It’s like some people think activist work is all these different things, but sometimes you need people who connect other people to each other, and that’s a valuable tool to use and to be.

You recently wrote on your MySpace blog about Assata Shakur and a poem that appears at the beginning of her biography. What about her biography and the poem speak to you?

TB: I think that book when I read it hit me at a very valuable time. I was just recovering from surgery. I had surgery ten years ago for a tumor that was behind my heart that was the size of my heart. And it was pressing against my heart, and I had chest pain. It was a really traumatic experience to go through that. But I had to take a semester off from school. I’d always been really curious about black history, so I started digging up these books. I found a copy of Huey Newton’s “Revolutionary Suicide,” Bobby Seale, George Jackson. I was feeling like, where are the women? I had read Elaine Brown, because when I was in high school she came out with “A Taste of Power.” And I was like, who am I missing?

I went and I read Assata Shakur’s biography for the first time. It was like, she said all these things; she’s not writing for art’s sake. She’s one of these people where it’s like there’s some craft in the writing, but you can tell she’s exploring these situations that some black people have experienced, or even some of them may feel like for a lot of kids today like they’re set in the past, but it feels a little bit more immediate than the Civil Rights Movement. It feels a little bit more immediate than say talking about the Jim Crow era, which I find a lot of kids, particular students of color, who are like, is that all that ever happened to us? Nobody ever fight back? It feels kind of empowering to read something like that. It’s funny, because I have the same copy that I originally bought, and took it Cuba and read it again, so I’ve read it like three or four times. When I was teaching at the juvenile detention center, I had kids read it. At least three times, kids borrowed the book, and I always got it back.

It engendered respect and a need to pass it on to other people.

TB: I think if you can do that with your writing, that people feel like it’s important enough to share, then you wrote something that was really valuable. For me, I feel like I needed to see a woman’s narrative. I needed to see something that embraced the artist. Even though I think it is a serious skill to write a book, for her to put poems in the book would draw people in who might not feel comfortable right away. I think it’s a very effective device for her to use as a writer, because most of those books are heavy in the jargon, heavy in the propaganda-based language. I think hers is just very well-spoken, but just easy to read in some respects, and not in a way that talks down to you. I feel like a lot of times when we talk about activist work, or working in communities, or being politicized, we think we have to use these big words, but when I talk to my mother, I don’t say “hegemony,” I don’t say “patriarchy.” What do we say when we talk to our family and our friends, who aren’t necessarily embracing that type of language.

How did you end up in Cuba, and what was it like reading Shakur’s biography there, where she is still exiled?

TB: I think it was me romanticizing a little bit to read the book in Cuba. I ended up going for a writers’ conference that’s no longer happening. It was called “Writers of the Americas.” They brought together writers from the United States who applied to the program with writers who are based in Cuba. It was one of those experiences that really shifted my thinking about a lot of things, because like I said, I’ve never really left Illinois very much. I would tour within the United States some, but going to Cuba was this whole other experience, because I’d never been anywhere internationally. Going there, and recognizing, wow, there are black folks who look like people I see on the South Side. That’s a really altering experience for a lot of people who are from the African-American community. For me it was. I knew it intellectually and I had read about all these different communities, but to see it and experience it, and realize how much things were the same in a lot of ways, was a beautiful thing for me. To kinda soak up a place, be a little uncomfortable, and realize that America can be a little bit too much sometimes, not in all the bad ways, but in terms of the excess. There’s a lot of people who do with a lot less, and still manage to be joyful, to create, to do something.

Every place has it’s problems, but I really loved being there, getting to know some of the people, seeing how the artists can create almost anything. It reminds me in a lot of ways of hip-hop; I’m not surprised that there’s such a vibrant hip-hop culture in Cuba, for that very reason. If all you got is this, you gotta make something out of it. We did a reading in this one set of projects that are like the some of the biggest projects in the world, but they have artists and performance galleries in the base of the projects. So they have artists live in the studios and they do stuff there. We went and we read there, and we were hanging out with all these people, and they were just making up songs. Maybe somebody got a pair of claves, they pull out a table and they’ll make beats, and make songs behind each other. And you’re like, I like this, this feels like something I’m into.

It was also weird to be reading Shakur’s biography, to be in the hip-hop club, and she just walks in. And you’re like, hold up! What happened? You’re real! My friends, they realized, OK, she’s Assata Shakur, yeah, yeah, whatever. But I think for black people in America, we realize that sometimes you aren’t going to live if you say anything. And you probably won’t if you really look like you might be a threat, and that’s why she can’t ever come back. What is it like a million dollars on her head still? She travels with bodyguards and stuff, but she’s in the hip-hop club with us, and still like rooted and talking to people and friendly and just beautiful. She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. The only thing I could say to her when I met her, was I hugged her and I was like, “I’m glad to meet you, I’m so glad you’re safe.” That was all I could say, and then we were like dancing, because they were playing Tupac and Lauryn Hill, and we’re like, “Hey!” It was kinda like one of those strange moments that just seems a little surreal.

Getting back to teaching, what happens when you go to teach poetry in a detention center? What kind of exchange happens there?

TB: I don’t think the kids are much different than the kids you meet in a regular school. I think sometimes, if anything, they want to talk and they’re more eager than kids who are outside the system, in part, because sometimes these are kids who don’t always get a chance to talk. They’re usually disciplined out of school, for one reason or another, or they’re from marginalized communities, or they’ve been abused, particularly with young women, there’s a lot of cases of sexual abuse. One day in class I asked the girls, how many of you are in here for carrying something for your man? More than half of the hands shot up in the room!

I think for me, it was the mental wear and tear of being there that made me pull back from it some. I still think it’s a valuable thing that needs to be done. My partner that I used to work with there does some amazing work with young people, and he’s always trying to bring in poets and writers, male and female, just to kinda expose the kids to new ideas and encourage them to get their thoughts out and vent things that they’re going through, and to look at the world critically in as many different ways as they can, to maybe get them to consider other options when they leave. That’s what education is supposed to be anyway, a tool to dismantle things that can harm you, or empower you to act in a world that’s more beneficial to you and to other people.

I was reading your poem in your chapbook “Switch,” about that last night. It’s an incredible poem.

TB: Thank you. Oh yeah, “Women Writer’s Workshop” [click on “Poems”]. That was when I was doing the workshop at Cook County, which was adult women. It’s a different vibe. It’s heartbreaking. There was a lot of times I ended up going home and I would just cry. It was so painful to be there and know, wow, once you’re an adult it’s almost infinitely harder to recover and just be in the world. Especially when there’s not resources for when you get out. If you’re poor, which is most of the people who are in jail, then it’s like, ain’t nobody going to put you in therapy and counseling or make sure you have a safe place to live. More often than not, you go back to the same community where the abuse was, your economic hardship was, and the violence was, all of that stuff. It’s a weird world we live in. We think it’s corrections or rehabilitation, but I think it’s a misnomer, or a bad choice of words.

What have you learned about yourself/the world while on tour and performing in new places?

TB: It teaches you I think to be flexible but to still have things that are nonnegotiable. Kelly Tsai is always saying, “I have to have this. It’s just nonnegotiable!” I think it’s really true though. A lot of times poets get put at the bottom of the artist barrel. People think they don’t have to pay you. People think that you don’t need to eat, that you don’t need transportation. Part of you needs to be flexible, because travel’s just crazy like that. And then a part of you also has to be like, how much is it worth to you to make this trip? I think I learned that.

I’ve met people I wouldn’t normally meet. I’ve been in situations I wouldn’t normally be in. Not necessarily bad, but just like, oh, OK, so this is what Baltimore is like in the middle of the day. This is what it means to walk around Sacramento and everything looks like an old-fashioned Western town. I think it’s good to kind of feed the potential landscapes that can be in your work. Just hearing from people and meeting people who have different influences than your own. It’s also feeling like you can forge bonds and friendships not just where you find your home, and I think that’s good for me too, because I’ve always felt like I wanted to have a broad landscape of people who I can share the world with, across cultures, races, genders. I think I’ve done pretty good with that. I wish I could get all of my friends from different circles to come to a party together, because it would just be amusing to watch, to watch people look uncomfortable and then have a good time maybe. That would be fun.

What are three essential things you have to bring on tour with you?

TB: Arm & Hammer Baking Soda Peroxide toothpaste, my journal and I would either say, a black ink pen or MAC lipstick.