Please forward widely…

For all those who know that “it is better to speak…”


Creating a World without Sexual Violence
National Day of Truthtelling

April 28th, 2007
Durham, North Carolina

For all who ARE survivors of sexual violence…
For all who choose to BELIEVE survivors of sexual violence…
For all who KNOW WE CAN end rape culture…

…join us on April 28th, 2007, in Durham, North Carolina, as we come together—across divisions and disempowering silences—to create a world full of the safety, possibility, dignity, justice, and peace that we all deserve. Stand with us as we dare to imagine a world free from sexual violence and ALL forms of oppression.    

Meet us in Durham to speak, teach, learn, demonstrate, and tell the truth.  Together, WE can make this world a reality!!!

Questions?  Contact us at or check us out on My Space at

This event is being organized by:  the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Ubuntu, Men Against Rape Culture, SpiritHouse, Raleigh Fight Imperialism Stand Together, Southerners on New Ground, Independent Voices, Black Workers for Justice, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization/OSCL.  

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”

– From: “Kathe Kollwitz” by Muriel Rukeseyer


dear ones,
here is a request asking you to please hold me in your thoughts.
got a call late last night. my cousin, sandeep, calling me from an
international calling booth in kerala, india. called to say our
grandmother had just died the day before. he had been trying to reach
me, but i had been on my way to knoxville from atlanta, and out of
range. talked to my father, who was boarding a plane from bombay to
get to eravankara, kerala, the village where we are from. he explained
that she had a heart attack. he sounded so sad, but he reached out to
calm me. he will participate in the cremation this morning. her
children casting her ashes in the river, her soul will be put to rest.
talked to family members, talked to a friend. i’ve been searching for
flights to durham this morning- need to get home to durham before i
can begin to think about how to get home to kerala. flights out of
knoxville are painfully expensive, though. my dear friend roberto has
intercepted my search. he says, ‘let me drive you to durham’. of
just the day before, roberto had been talking about mama nina, the
cook at highlander center, and how she was endlessly generous and
hard-as-nails, the quintessential appalachian. i said: yes, just like
my grandmother, my ammooma. this morning when i told the news to pam,
the director of highlander, she said: “when we lose a family member,
it changes the terrain we tread on.”
that thought resonates with me. the earth under my feet is trembling,
and even before the earth cracks open, my knees are apt to give.
i feel so lost here, so far from my communit(y/ies). no one knows her
here. here, hardly anyone even knows me enough to understand why this
is so heart-breaking. feels odd to think of taking space for
bereavement when i’ve only worked at highlander for three weeks so
ammooma asked me to write letters to her once i returned to the u.s.:
“nee ennikye cathe erithanam”. why was i so afraid to write to her,
simply because i couldn’t write in malayalam? i told her that i was
illiterate, and she told me that my mother’s malayalam was beautiful
and i should get her to scribe. i held off on asking my mother for
this favor some time because of the emotional complexities of the
request, and when i finally did ask, i discovered that mom had asked a
family friend to scribe for her. ha! i wrote to my grandmother in
english, once, and asked sandeep (he is just a bit older than my
sister anjali, and when we were little, we would play together in my
ammooma’s yard, among the banana plants and fig trees, mangoes,
cashews, jackfruit, cockscomb, drumstick, hibiscus, swinging in the
uunyaal to the clouds) to read it aloud in malayalam for her. but i
was ashamed, then, of my coarse handwriting, and was nervous to write
once the rental car company calls, we will drive into the mountains to
highlander, and then onward, five hours, to durham. i will try and
figure out the money for a flight to thiruvananthapuram? bombay? when
i get there.

our trip to kentucky was wonderful. i’m still working on my writing from that quick journey. last couple days have been a whirlwind. if i were to pause to notice, i’d say last couple weeks have been a whirlwind. this morning, i paused. after coming home from breakfast with the participants of the black-brown unity meeting, and packing for our trip to atlanta, i curled up in a bubblebath with meridian by alice walker. i read until quite late last night, so i’m almost through. it’s a slim, brilliant, relentless read. uneasy. it has me thinking hardandcritical about relationships i’ve been in with men, especially my interracial relationships.

now i’m heading down to atlanta with roberto for steph guilloud’s birthday.

tonio and i stayed up hella late making adorable individualized artistically wacky valentines for everyone on highlander staff. now tonio, elandria and i are headed to whitesburg to see my buddies the carolina chocolate drops play and meet with an amazing organization called appalshop. i gots to hurry. in lieu of writing my own sour treatise on love, i’m passing on an article by brilliant and hilarious claire tran (i pulled this from,en/ with claire’s permission). the article is called ‘loving in the movement: revolutionary task or unity crusher?’

by Claire Tran   
Sunday, 04 February 2007
I want to talk about love this month not because the corporate holiday is coming up but because it is a little summed-up experience that has a big impact on our movement. I draw here from both theory and practice. I am in no way an expert on dating or love, with my limited experience of it, but my mother always said that the people who struggle make the best teachers. She was talking about math as an example, not the struggle, but I think you can apply it to both. In either case, I think I might make a good teacher.Revolutionaries need love is the point here and we need to share love with other in our circle in good principled ways. Of course the conditions we live under — hegemony, oppression, patriarchy — affect all of this. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes, or Lenin’s if you prefer…

How Revolutionaries Did It: Historical Perspective

Of course we do not know much about many of the old school revolutionary leaders’ relationships, like Marx or Lenin, because their political work was the focus. What we do know is that women played a strong role in the political work, both in support of their revolutionary lovers and often as leaders in their own right. I would venture to guess that these women helped to develop the political thought of their lovers, since many of them served as their editors and were directly involved in revolutionary organizing.

Most revolutionaries know that Karl Marx was married to Jenny Von Westphalen, an educated daughter of a baron. They lived in poverty and had seven children. Only three of them survived childhood. Dude, please tell me that Marx was not a deadbeat dad! Of course Friedrich Engels was playing sugar daddy at the time. Jenny was the editor of Karl’s books.

“Secret lovers, that’s what we are…”

Vladimir Lenin a player? Lenin may be someone to draw from in terms of What is to be Done? in order to build a working-class revolutionary strategy, but I’m not sure about his qualifications in terms of relationships.

First married in 1898 to Nadezhda Krupskaya, who he met while in exile, Lenin was later rumored to have had an affair with Inessa Armand while he was exiled in France. Perhaps we can cut him some slack, since being in exile sucks and one tends to get lonely.


Nadezhda Krupskaya. So sexy when she’s angry! (Wikimedia Commons)

These women in Lenin’s life were bad-ass socialist fighters and both took strong stands on women’s rights. In 1917, along with Clara Zetkin, they both pressured Russian officials to sanction International Women’s Day. Did Lenin already have these ideas about women’s rights and women’s role in the movement, or did these women influence him?Nadezhda, his wife, was a writer, educator and Secretary of the Bolshevik Faction of the Social Democratic Party, advisor to Lenin, and later the Secretary to the Board of Iskra. Read more on the role of women in Nadezhda’s preface to The Emancipation of Women in The Writings of V.I. Lenin.


Inessa Armand. It’s not her fault she’s a hottie! (Marxist Internet Archive Gallery)

Inessa, the rumored lover, was the Secretary for the Committee of Foreign Organizations, established to coordinate all Bolshevik groups in Western Europe.So, I don’t think I’m gonna find the great example of revolutionary love here. Also, I don’t want to only think of love as monogamous romantic relationships. Let’s get into the real juicies.

Where Is the Love?

In general, in the US we live in a culture that lacks love, that lacks community. We need to pay attention to love and our treatment of each other as a group, not because I’m advocating for another “peace and love, baby!” type of movement, but because of the hegemonic culture that we live under in the United States.


I love Antonio Gramsci!

The political ideology of capitalism is in every part of this culture, including the ways we relate to each other. The way it plays out is through our not looking out for each other, not sharing what’s going on in our lives, and prioritizing our individual needs and desires over the community’s needs. For the last point, I’m talking on a personal level. It doesn’t count if you are working very hard on your mass work, and you say, “I do this work because I love my community,” and then you don’t ever call your mother. (Revolutionary mothers everywhere are gonna love me!) Maybe you generally like your mother, and she’s not some homophobic, right-wing Christian. Then you really have no excuse! In my book, you are a backward individualist.It comes down to the fact that we still view our relationships in a patriarchal and/or individualist way. In a lot of cases, folks are relying on one partner for support, and when that doesn’t work out you’re just S.O.L. (shit outta luck).

I don’t really want to live in a big dirty co-op house and have to make decisions collectively about every little thing, adding on one more weekly meeting to my schedule. I also don’t want to rely on just one person for support who’s probably just as fucked up as I am and may not be able to deal with my shit too.

As I look around, though, (I’m about to turn the big 3-0) everyone seems to be gettin’ coupled up, movin’ in together, having unity or commitment ceremonies or whatever, never to be seen again! Okay, I’m a little dramatic. A little…

Creating a loving community may seem like a foreign idea, because it is a foreign idea — most of the world doesn’t live the closed-up lives that we do! I’m not a Luddite, but right now I’m surrounded by people in a café mostly not interacting with each other at all! We are all either listening to our iPods or working on our laptops.

Take into consideration that I’m in San Francisco with a different set of conditions. Hopefully there are some regional differences in people’s experience with loving communities in other parts of the US. In addition, there are folks who are practicing their traditional cultures and resisting the hegemonic culture.

Inside or Outside Dating Strategy?

I’m not a complete hater. I do think there is a place for romantic love, bitter and jaded as I am. For revolutionaries, we have some considerations to make — inside or outside strategy?

Does the person have to be a hard-core Marxist-Leninist for you to love them, or is anarchist, or simply anti-capitalist, enough? Really, though, you probably know most of the folks in your revolutionary tradition. Which is why rebuilding the left and working toward larger revolutionary organization that includes the social movement left and the organized left may also help with your dating pool. For more info on this concept, check out Freedom Road’s new strategy.

Do you need someone who understands the difficulties and isolation of being red-baited, or would you prefer someone whose life is not consumed by revolutionary work but who maybe just doesn’t like oppression? Or maybe you believe that we don’t choose who we fall in love with, it just happens. Are you secretly crushed-out on George W? Ewwwww, get a hold of yourself!

Well, if it’s romantic love you’re looking for, my advice is two-fold. For folks who want to date inside your revolutionary circles, try doing other things besides meetings, rallies, study groups with your comrades. If it’s outside your revolutionary circles that you’re looking, it would also be good for you to have more of balance in your life and get into a hobby or extracurricular activity with other folks — I recommend theater. Folks are always hooking up in theater groups! Also, your partnered comrades might make good matchmakers. They have a tendency to live vicariously through single people. Just be clear with them about what you are looking for.

Now That We Found Love What Are We Gonna Do With It?

Once you find loving relationships, either from community or from romantic relationships, remember that we live under a system of oppression and all of this can easily play out in our relationships both internally and externally – in patriarchy, gender binaries, heterosexism, homophobia, and racism to name a few. Many of us came to this work because of the oppression we have faced, and that pain may still be there for us individually.

Since these dynamics are in every part of our society, it is not unnatural that they could also slip into our personal relationship, as well intentioned as we may be. When dealing with conflict among comrades, I recommend reminding oneself of what the person’s intention is in the conflict.

Sometimes we get in the mode of thinking of our comrades as the enemy when they do something that hurts us. We may even treat them worse than those in charge of the system we are trying to fight and spend more time fighting them than we do the people who are in power. What we can do is reflect on that and try to support our comrades in individual change as well as social change.

Some people apply practical tools to dealing with relationship conflict and interpersonal dynamics — tools such as criticism/self-criticism or developing “community agreements” like the ones folks develop in their mass base groups. Within the Maoist practice of criticism/self-criticism it is often said that you criticize the work not the individual, and in this case I do think you could expand it to your practice within a relationship. There are some helpful tools Mao could offer you and your lover, such as “no investigation, no right to speak.”

The important thing to remember in all cases is that the person is someone you love or once loved. They are probably not intending to take power from the people or cause oppression (though they may be doing so). Please be very kind to each other even as you raise your criticisms in a principled way.

I have seen the breakup of relationships ruin organizations. If we don’t have good ways to deal with our individual pain, our individual dealings with oppression, we will have difficulties building a movement that is truly mass. The building of a movement starts with one-on-one relationships. Lead with your heart.

Claire Tran ( \n This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ) is looking for someone who: enjoys dancing cumbia, wants to collaborate on revolutionary film-making and is very kind. She is a member of the National Executive Committee of Freedom Road, a youth organizer, a cultural worker and a cutie.

last night, tonio and i lived at the ocean. in my dream, i rolled out of bed and walked to the open doorway- no hinges, no door. i could pick out tonio’s silhouette at the water’s edge. he was gliding along the shoreline in thick fog. he spotted me and headed back towards our house. a line of pelicans divebombed the water for fish, iridescent dark cyan-green birds- the gasoline color of fly exoskeletons- with enormous scoop beaks. interlude: here’s a poem i wrote a while ago.

If you don’t want the glint of gold leaf parchment light on the surface of the waves and the gathering swell of the waves’ enormous skirts carrying you to the shore, and the sway of sea oats, and the smart of salt in your tired eyes and the catch of salt in your throat, and the silent perfect plummet of the pelican and the taut discipline of a row of pelicans overhead and the rude cacophony of gulls, and the teem of spot, flounder, shark, stingray; if you resent the humbling you feel at the ocean’s sheer enormity; if you don’t want this girl’s eyes swimming with love and longing; if it feels like too much, it’s time for you to go.

continuing the dream, one pelican split from the formation and headed towards me. i stepped aside and it flew into the house. tonio was ascending the porch stairs. i cried out to him that the pelican had flown into our house! he responded with the same detached, shruggingandsmiling warmth he offered when i had once complained that our frying pans had uneven bases so things didn’t cook symmetrically. his response: ‘maybe it’s us who are asymmetrical’. right. so i ran in and waved a cloth, coaxing the bird back out the door. and then i awoke. i called out to tonio from my bedroom that he had been in my dream and he said i had been in his.

he dreamt that we were trying to make a treacherous passage atop precariously tall canes, but they kept bending and cracking as we stepped from one to the next. we realized that if we just slid down them,  we could walk safely on the ground. i like this genre of problem-solving dreams the best.

i checked in with anasa and elandria, both of whom have had dear friends pass away in the last two days.

i spent the morning typing up notes from the southeast regional planning meeting for the u.s. social forum. i’m still not done! this is why i should always type notes during meetings and email them to folks immediately rather than writing them by hand in a journal. it’s so bloody time-consuming to do it this way, and so tempting to do tons of research to flesh it out into a masterpiece.

since i returned to highlander, there have been three things i’ve fixed with the slab of smoked bluefish my mama sent up with me:

  1. spring rolls, with julienned ginger, thin strips of carrot, and shredded bluefish, dipped in a sauce made with rice vinegar, tamari soy sauce, chopped garlic and ginger
  2. omelette, with finely chopped shallots, tomatoes, and bluefish
  3. rotelle pasta, with sauteed pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, strips of bluefish, parsley, red wine vinegar and spicy olive oil

the third dish, along with a small salad of strawberries and oranges, was my lunch today.

more work at my computer, and then we had teatime at the library, masala chai with tonio’s nana’s homebaked biscotti. mmmmm. i taught susan, elandria and tonio the verb ‘mook’, which is malayalam for dunking things in your tea. very important verb. 

i met with elandria and susan briefly to plan the next chunk of work, and then roberto, tonio, elandria and i took a group of about thirty college students on a tour of highlander. they were in the bonner scholars program. we had discussions about popular education, highlander history, undoing social justice hero mythology and, most fascinatingly, the changing societal role of social change music. guy and candie carawan told stories, played and sang with the group, and then we all went down to dinner.

guy and candie were originally from california, but they met at highlander over thirty years ago. i believe they are the only people left who have been based at all three of highlander’s sites (monteagle, knoxville, and new market in TN). they are cultural organizers carrying forward the tradition of southern and appalachian music in social movement-building. guy is most famous for helping spread the song ‘we shall overcome’ throughout the south. kids in india still learn that song in school.

guy explains that the lyrics come from the original gospel song ‘i’ll overcome some day’ (charles tindley, 1900) and i’ve read that the melody derives from the 19th century spiritual ‘no more auction block for me’, a song pre-dating the civil war. early highlander cultural worker zilphia horton put these lyrics and melody together, and changed the words to ‘we will overcome’. guy says that pete seeger was the one who suggested that ‘we shall overcome’ sounded better when sung. guy plays banjo, guitar and dulcimer, and candie is a singer and a potter. now all the royalties for that song go to the highlander center’s we shall overcome fund and support cultural work benefiting southern african-american communities.

tonight i am making anar-kissed valentines with tonio and roberto for the other highlander staff. i love that roberto sings aloud in the office after the rest of the staff go home. snehal said that reading this journal has convinced him to write daily, and that makes me smile.

cruising the web for mole enchilada recipes, i didn’t find vegetarian versions which sounded remotely tempting. my non-veg mexican comrades, particularly paulina and roberto, are probably chuckling at my vain search, but i’m coming right back at them with a simple little recipe i wrote, playing with various recipes and adapting:

mole poblano enchiladas

  • mole paste (i don’t know how to make mole from scratch. when i once asked amal’s roommate, carlos, how to make mole, he said his mama always bought it in a jar. i think the brand i like is called sabores aztecas. do you know how to make mole? will you teach me, please?)

  • vegetable broth

  • corn tortillas (roberto was sorely disappointed with our tortilla options at kroger in
    knoxville, but the tienda was closed)

  • garlicky sautéed vegetables: red onion, scallions, corn kernels scraped off the cob, spinach, roma tomato, green and yellow bell peppers, maybe zucchini, parsley or cilantro. at the end, a pinch of mexican oregano, pinch of cumin, pinch of cayenne pepper.

  • scrambled eggs (only if there are eggs left over after baking tonio’s birthday cake)

  • mexican cheeses

in a saucepan on medium heat heat a large dollop of mole paste until it bubbles. add broth and whisk. add a bit more mole paste and broth in turns, stirring and simmering and drinking in the spicy chocolaty wondrous fragrance. turn the heat to low. fry the tortillas on both sides one at a time in a ¼” of oil. the crisper side will be on the outside of the enchilada. immerse the happily fried tortilla in the mole sauce while you slide its unfried friend into the frying pan. mole-coated tortilla lies down on a plate and you fill it with vegetables, scrambled eggs, cheese and roll it up. mmm… messy. i vaguely recall that rajeev’s opera-singing sweetie, cecilia, sticks a toothpick in each enchilada to hold it in rolled-position while it waits for the others to help fill the baking dish, but i may be making that up. she and her classical guitarist sister, flame, made yummy spinach enchiladas for our family once. pour the remaining warm mole sauce over the enchiladas and top with more queso. to be ridiculous like me, put a smidge of sour cream and a sprig of parsley on each serving.

i’m listening to meshell ndegeocello’s ‘bitter’ and the coup’s ‘pick a bigger weapon’ as i write tonight. i can’t get over the lush brilliance of these two albums. it’s good to be back at highlander this evening. quiet. for the last three days i’ve been in atlanta for the u.s. social forum planning meeting with my co-worker, roberto. if you and everyone you love aren’t registered yet for the u.s. social forum (june 27- july 1 in atlanta, georgia), do it now! i returned from the meeting feeling ecstatically hopeful about this opportunity to party, mingle, learn, and strategize with tens of thousands of people from across the country, and maybe the world.

friday morning, i finally washed my laundry and (bam!) unpacked my things. i’ve been balking, continuing to live out of a suitcase. i’ve been unwilling to admit i’ve left durham, even for a few years, even for a few weeks. i had to unpack, or i was going to pick up my things and board a greyhound to durham. kim diehl sent me a heartening postcard today:

Hey there! Been thinking of you & wanted to send a big hug all the way from the tropics [she lives in Miami] up to the mountains of Tennessee. I know you’re going to be a kick ass asset to the Highlander & will be rockin’ with your New Market neighbors in no time. Feel free to give me a holler anytime. I’m here. Much ♥, Kim


kim and i used to work together at southerners on new ground (SONG) back when she was the co-director with pam mcmichael (highlander’s current director). kim works with critical resistance and the women’s fund of miami-dade county. she’s the best tennis player i know. she wrote a piece in the last issue of left turn mag about black labor (look in the same issue for the piece isabell and i wrote about intergenerational organizing in the south) and she has a piece in the book outsiders within: about transracial adoption.


roberto and i enjoyed our drive to atlanta. after checking into the hotel, we met up with paulina and had a long, delicious dinner at the vortex in midtown. i had a black-bean burger, soaked in hot buffalo wings sauce and spotted with jalapeno sour cream. paulina and roberto get so hilariously giggly when they’re together. robert-john, coya and brandon arrived late to the hotel.

the meeting was long and productive. about 30 folks from incredible southern grassroots organizations, with a sprinkling of folks from regional groups like highlander and project south, as well as a handful from the national u.s. social forum committee. steph guilloud is an awesome facilitator and she moved us adeptly through consensus decision-making about vision, and how to engage the southeast region in the u.s. social forum. my role was primarily to represent highlander and future 5000’s involvement in mobilizing youth towards the forum.

after the meeting, deepali, will and will’s boyfriend jonathan took us to a dinner spot where i could devour tilapia tacos. saturday night, we went to the sex workers art show and witnessed a fantastic, deep, scandalous, humorous series of performances. i ran into bree carlson, an old friend who used to live in durham. she’s a dismantling racism trainer. i had hoped cara page and her partner kai would be there, too. i skipped out on dancing (this is rare) and headed to the hotel for a steaming bubble bath. 

the next morning, we met for a few more hours, set up a process for further decision-making, outlined our tasks, took pictures and bid farewell. paulina took our crew to beaufort highway where the immigrant groceries and small businesses are. we went to a latin@ mall called plaza fiesta and ate delicious things in their food court.

i drove the whole way back to knoxville. i talked with joseph, my first sweetheart, for the first time in a long time. something i’ve been longing for, but nervous about.

when roberto woke up, we planned tonio’s birthday dinner (probably mole poblano enchiladas; calabaza; salad; something involving kumquats and strawberries; juice; pina colada; and mexican chocolate with peppermint schnapps). we topped off our plan with sparklers and little firework lanterns. i stayed at roberto’s big beautiful collective- the chickamauga house- and woke up cold, even in my down sleeping bag.

today elandria, susan, tufara and i met over the phone with people from SOUL, CJNY, and reflect and strengthen about the national youth organizing training institute.

tonio ended up going to asheville for dinner with another buddy for his birthday, so we’ll fix dinner for him on thursday instead.

great news! my little brother rajeev is a semifinalist for the unc thomas wolfe scholarship. i’m awful proud and keeping my fingers crossed that the judges will be the sort who can recognize literary genius.

i miss him! i remain tired, homesick, and disconsolate. maybe sit-ups will get me to chin up. or baking a mango buttercream cake for tonio. or watching hema malini dance. sad about her joining the fascist BJP. my girl monica, the one who dances bollywood-style with me, the one with the dazzling smile and the dumpster-diving spunk, she has drawn an image of an equation: broken heart plus lightning equals whole heart. the lightning is her.

around these parts, i am still searching for:

  1. a house to move into in three months close to or on the mountain
  2. a car
  3. an old-time fiddle teacher
  4. a radical therapist, like my friend stephen hawthorne back home
  5. a good massage
  6. the nearest farmer’s market
  7. some friends
  8. a trustworthy can-opener
  9. capoeira

last night i blended a curry paste to pour over rice noodles with these ingredients: kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, chili-garlic sauce, garlic paste, fresh garlic, ginger paste, fresh ginger, tender lemongrass stem (remove the outer husk), ground coriander seed, cayenne pepper, garam masala, rice vinegar, turbinado sugar (just a spot), sea salt, shallots, thick coconut milk. i diluted it with some water and marinated the tofu pieces (which had been frozen and thawed, to burst the cell walls and make it more absorbent) for about an hour. i fried the tofu, sauteed it with mustard greens, and mixed the remaining curry with the cooked rice noodles.

we had mango with coconut sticky rice for dessert. if you want to fix some for about four people (or one tonio), you just soak 1 and a half cups of thai sweet rice overnight. heat a cup and a half of coconut milk and dissolve 1/4 cup brown sugar (or palm sugar, if you can find it), 1/2 teaspoon salt. drain the rice and put it in a bamboo steamer sitting in a wok of boiling water for 25 minutes (when i had neither a bamboo steamer nor a wok, i used a cheesecloth in a metal mesh colander inside an ordinary pot. you just have to be careful that the bottom of the rice doesn’t touch the water). i usually wrap the rice in a cheesecloth to keep it from sticking to my bamboo steamer, but then you have to eat the sticky rice that attaches to the cheesecloth. oh, attachment! let the steamed rice soak up the coconut milk mixture in a bowl for 20min or so. i cubed the mangoes and poured mango pulp over them, and just spooned this over the mounds of sticky rice. hedonistically, we drizzled sweetened condensed milk over the top.

it would have tasted better if this were mango season. better yet, if we had mangoes from india. yashna told me that mangoes from india are coming to the US soon. sigh. this means we will have our beloved devgadh alfonso and gujarati kesar mangoes here in the us (at like $6 a pop) but it will mean that india’s mango market will jet the best of the season here, and leave the sub par mangoes for the people of the subcontinent. here is a quote from a feb. 8 2007 boston globe article about patel brothers, the largest indian supermarket chain in the US: 

Swetal Patel , who serves as company spokesman and works on its distribution side, said he’s excited about the prospect of selling Indian mangoes. When President Bush visited India last year, he signed two pacts — one on nuclear technology and the other lifting US import restrictions on mangoes. It’s clear which was a bigger deal to Patel.

“It’s like a nuclear bomb exploding in your mouth,” Patel said of the mangoes, which he hopes to stock by October. “There’s no comparison for an Indian mango. You cut one on the table and the whole kitchen starts to smell” of it.

wow. nuclear technology and mangoes, the worst and the best this world has to offer, all in one easy signature.

woke up heartbrokenbomesicksore, through earlymorningsleepyfog mom called, told me about my friends jagmeet and peter visiting our house in chapel hill yesterday. she talked about missing me, and the lump in my throat was too much to speak. met with susan and elandria at the library to begin planning the twenty-somethings and young-thirties programming for the fall. spent the day desultory, got some things done, left most undone.

and then i had three important, potentially transformative conversations. felt somewhat better then.

went with elandria to a house party for the appalachian community fund with speaker kevin jennings, founder of GLSEN, the gay lesbian straight education network. he wrote mama’s boy, preacher’s son: a memoir of growing up, coming out, and changing america about his relationship with his mom, who grew up appalachian poor. i saw conrad honicker there, one of the rad seeds of fire teens, and one of my heroes! suzanne and renee were there. some highlander staff- tonio, roberto, pam. tonight, tonio and i watched the movie fargo. it was great, so now tonio and i are speaking to each other in charming midwest accents.

i cried last night about the little petty frustrating things. i was laughing as i cried and talked with tonio. he’s a great listener with a mammoth heart. revelations that emerged from talking with him, roberto, and our next-door neighbor, anasa troutman: humans have been sent to earth to get over ourselves. people will try to shoot you in the mouth, but not because you needed to be shot in the mouth. they do it cuz they’re mouthshooters. so you can’t take it personally. mmm-hmm.

in the morning i met with elandria. some somewhat random questions surfaced:

1.      How do we have one organization that holds multiple generational tracks? How do we move the board to reflect our intergenerationality? What is our vision for intergenerational work and how do we want to make it happen? How does intergenerational work look different in
Appalachia and other parts of the South? How does youth organizing look different in the South?

2.      Many of us running youth programs are young adults ourselves. We rarely go through some coming-of-age ritual, but we take on a mighty amount of responsibility. How do we change that transition, so we bring our youthful wisdom about how we want to be treated over into adulthood? How do we support other young adults as visionaries?

we completed some things we needed to write. i helped rajeev edit his UNC-chapel hill transfer application during lunchtime. it’s excellent. i fixed myself a purple onion and cherry tomato omelette and savored it with my mother’s kadumanga (mango pickle) for lunch. chatted with jessamyn about repping future 5000 at the u.s. social forum meeting in atlanta this weekend and with ivan about him coming to highlander’s upcoming ‘interpreting for social justice’ weekend workshop. jona plans to come, too.

the education team and the 75th anniversary planning team had a meeting today about the website. elandria and i had a million ideas about how we wanted to make the youth program website pop. differences arose about whether to prioritize hot design and an amped-up website, for fear that the money that would take would pull from the program and development time and resources. we all agreed that highlander is about touching people’s lives and strengthening southern organizing. we had differences about how important it is to brand that concept and make it attractive to participants, donors, e’rybody. we had a quick break after that meeting and then the whole staff came together to debrief how this year on the new health care plan went. i had to cut from that meeting early to help rajeev wrap up his UNC application and send it off.

the staff spent the afternoon calling donors to thank them for their 2006 contributions. i had a couple interesting conversations. one was with a woman who used to work at the university in knoxville. she started a field program at highlander back in the day. she is older, and she said that she reads the newsletter with great pleasure. i asked her what she thought of the website. she said she doesn’t think anything of the website because she doesn’t visit websites. wow. my life is so web-dominated. many of my bonds with friends across the country and across the world are sustained through internet missives, myspace/ friendster/ facebook/ mybloc shoutouts. in between real life visits, i check out friends’ websites and blog postings to learn what’s the latest with them. as soon as i wonder the definition of a word or the best recipe for anything or what was that deejay’s first album, i go to my favorite websites. back to the conversation- she asked us to keep the newsletter strong, because there is a readership for it who will likely never touch the website.

i also called an older fellow who wasn’t eager to talk until he realized that i really just called to thank him for his earlier donation. he shared an amazing story about sitting on the porch with myles horton in 1961 and grieving when the workshop center and library were padlocked by the state. here is an excerpt from highlander’s history about the incident:

Highlander’s civil rights work provoked a vicious backlash among southern segregationists. At its 25th-anniversary workshop, held on Labor Day weekend, 1957, Highlander came under attack from the press. Aubrey Williams and Martin Luther King, Jr., both speakers at the event, were blamed for the racial strife that was growing throughout the South.

Soon afterward, the Georgia Commission on Education published a sensational piece of propaganda called Highlander Folk School; Communist Training School, Monteagle, Tennessee. Featuring pictures from the Labor Day event, including one of a black man dancing with a white woman, the publication proved to be an effective tool for organizing white supremacists against Highlander.

Billboard showing Martin Luther King at Highlander, identified as a Communist training school.
Billboard showing Martin Luther King at Highlander, identified as a “Communist training school.”

The campaign against Highlander culminated in 1961 in a move by the State of Tennessee to revoke the Folk School’s charter and confiscate its land, buildings, and other property. Despite the support of people such as Eleanor Roosevelt and United Nations Under-Secretary Ralph J. Bunche, the Tennessee Supreme Court was able to manipulate the law to shut down Highlander.

Anticipating the inevitability of defeat, leaders of the Folk School took action to preserve the idea and work of Highlander by securing a charter for the Highlander Research and Education Center. The new Highlander relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1961 and remained there until 1971, when it moved to its current location.

it is such a pleasure to be 26 years old, to be born in time to talk with elders like the ones i got on the phone today, remembering the details, making them come alive.

this evening tonio and i are making thai tofu and vegetable curry with rice noodles and mango with sticky rice for dessert. eager to curl up with a book.

this morning was so cold! after walking on the sidewalk in bare feet in durham this weekend, today was barely bearable. the education team met at the horton house, the highest house on the highlander land. it was my first time there, and the view from the porch over the shadowy ghost edges of the appalachians was incredible. i didn’t mean to eat a glazed donut for breakfast, but roberto offered it to me, and that fat shiny halo looked so scrumptious to my sleepy self.

we came together to plan the intergenerational new leadership institute and to prepare for the u.s. social forum southeast regional meeting in atlanta this coming weekend (roberto and i are repping). we looked over notes from past meeting, set our goals and some basic how-we’re-getting-there. i enjoyed mapping out organizations in the deep south, appalachia and immigrant communities we will be working with on this. elandria and i asked the group for some thoughts about protocol and reflections about what it means to rep highlander. we made a neat, clear list of expectations (my favorite kind). spent the late afternoon with elandria and susan filling our hungry brains with some more orientation.

the highlights of my evening were a conversation with jonathan (because we haven’t talked for days) and a completely unexpected conversation with wendi o’neal (because we haven’t talked for years!). wendi o’neal is a breathtaking wonder of a woman. she was borne to highlander as a SNCC daughter, and she was the coordinator of the youth program when i first came here years ago. though i haven’t seen her for years, she has been so present in my memory, from her warm wisdom, to her tart humor, to her all-inclusive facilitation. when wendi gets a room singing, the walls crack open and sunlight just pours in.  

organized papers upon waking. made tea- apricot for me and smoky russian tea for josh reynolds, our guest from knoxville. more paper organizing. scrounging for comestibles while waiting for mom: cinnamonraisinbagel&orangehalves. josh cleaned out the car and filled up gas for our trip home while i organized some more papers.

rajeev and mom arrived hungry, so we hurried to a restaurant on main st. called fishmongers. we had sweet potato fries and batterfried pickled jalapenos. josh: pinto beans, sugarsnappeas, spinach. rajeev: oyster po’boy. mom: catfish basket. manju: triggerfish sandwich on such yummy seeded bread. the food was delicious, absurdly fresh, pure edible pleasure. the owner of the restaurant, gary bass, an older white man with an under-the-chin-beard came out to serve us our meal himself. we asked about which fish we were eating were locally caught and we were plunged into an incredible conversation about the relationship between race and eating patterns in the South, sustainability of fishing, the differences between texas and north carolina barbecue, and more.

we discussed the impacts of pollution, overfishing and global warming on ocean ecosystems. we bonded, talking about all the small businesses that have been in the area for the last 23 years (he has been there in brightleaf square for 25). we asked mr. bass why he doesn’t serve hushpuppies, and he talked about wanting to serve good food with substance. he bemoaned how the corporate/ chain seafood restaurant/ distribution network has destroyed people’s appreciation for carefully-prepared, local, sustainable cooking like his. i doubt that a fried triggerfish sandwich would ever make the cut for a nutritionist-approved “healthy diet”, and certainly an earlier, more vegan manju would have railed against the idea. but there’s more to that conversation…

after a couple months with the national fishworkers forum in thiruvananthapuram, kerala, working on the world fisherfolk forum back in 1998 (97? 99?), i discovered a newfound love for the craft of artisanal fishing. i decided i was vegetarian when i was twelve. for the first time since then, i had fish in the tiny fishing village of valiathura. like the fish from fishmongers in durham, these fish were caught by local fisherpeople. the fisherman filled a newspaper packet with their shimmering silver bodies, right out of his hefty catamaran. jerome achacha, a communist union organizer, showed me how to dig a pit in the sand and build a fire, clean the fish, and make a rich, spicy, malayalee fish curry. he was the one who taught me that if you wade your feet in the sea, she (kadalamma, the goddess of the waves) will seize your sorrows and wash them away. in an article by michael pollan that tonio shared with me (, pollan discusses how the whole pleasurable experience of eating food the way your human ancestors showed you can ensure a healthier diet. mom and rajeev had read the article, too, and we talked about people’s rapidly changing, increasingly unhealthy relationship to food.

it’s complicated. it’s hard to come to grips with the suffering that i am directly causing (and ingesting) when i eat fish. what has happened to me, that my desire for comfort food trumps my compassion? and when there is so much unsustainable fishing in the world, any consumption of seafood contributes to the problem. still, eating fish resounds with me on a deep emotional/spiritual/cultural level, in a way hard to explain to people who aren’t from kerala. for my childhood, up to age twelve, i ate some variation on fish and rice (or cuppa, what people call yuca or cassava here) nearly daily. it tastes like home. malayalee fish curry, if it doesn’t make you sob for the fiery flavor, will make you weep for the intensity of emotion it evokes. it’s what mom makes and sits on the kitchen floor to eat with her hand right out of the big black pot.

gary bass and mom were nearly eating out of each other’s hands by the time we left. mom was smelling the foods and parsing out the ingredients so she could replicate the recipes at home. mr. bass fell over himself to bring us samples of his homemade mequite-smoked bluefish. it was delectable, and mom bought me a slab to eat back at highlander. mr. bass explained the bluefish migration patterns, and explained how he caught them off the carolina coast just when they were at their fattest. he had the kitchen send us fried calamari with curry sauce. on our way out, we saw a photograph of gary bass on the wall, dressed as a sailor type with a sailor pipe. josh’s quote was “if there is an example of a revolutionary fish restauranteur, gary bass is it.”

i spent the late afternoon finishing packing and organizing papers. roberto, josh, paulina, caitlin, jules, and i met up with coya and brandon at blue corn cafe: southern queers in a lesbian-run establishment. is there no limit to wonderful dishes you can make with plantains (or delicious sauces you can dip them in?). we talked about making real plans for long-term revolutionary co-parenting in durham and other amazing things. seeing coya after months was such a blessing. i still have some healing to do after the fairness for all families campaign experience, and only the handful of folks who were at the heart of it can understand why.

we drove to tennessee afterwards. good music, no traffic, arrived at 3.30am and crashed until the education team meeting this morning (yes, i showed in my pajamas, and clutching my mug of banana-lychee tea).