Frank Ocean and the Politics of Heartbreak

As you may be aware, singer/songwriter/wolf gang member Frank Ocean recently posted a moving story to his tumblr about his first love, a love that didn’t go the way he wanted it to and left him brokenhearted. The person with whom he was in love is a man.

First I want to say to Mr. Ocean: thank you. Your candor and bravery is inspiring. You give me hope. You have just done a wonderful thing, hopefully for yourself as well as your fans, the music community, and everyone else who may be affected by the door you opened for us into your life.

Frank Ocean is young and his career is hot. It’s still rare for anyone in the public eye to openly discuss homosexual relationships while the pressures of emerging stardom are so strong. Much has been said about the importance of Ocean being an R&B singer who works within hip hop, since hip hop is supposedly so homophobic (something I read today referred to it as a “last bastion” of homophobia, which is a pleasant–if dishonest and racist–way of viewing things.) It is a big deal that a(nother) Odd Future member is open about being gay/bi/queer/pansexual/whatever label Ocean may or may not publicly claim. This will be a very good thing for hip hop, where homophobia, misogyny and other evils are overly tolerated and woven frighteningly deep into the fabric of the culture. This will be a very good thing for the world wider than hip hop, where homophobia, misogyny and other evils are overly tolerated and woven frighteningly deep into the fabric of the culture.

How often to young stars who seem to have not yet reached the height of their fame share that they are not straight? Not counting the kids on Glee or other very explicitly for-the-gays entertainment? Not many. Lance Bass didn’t come out until Backstreet’s heat had had a decade to disperse, Johnathan Knight waited even longer. Now, these boy bands were in their prime back when queer visibility in mainstream pop culture was even lower than it is now, by a lot. Not many would have batted an eye at Ocean-collaborator Tyler the Creator’s constant stream of “faggot” back in the New Kids day, when flagrant homophobia tainted tons of teen entertainment (go back and watch The Breakfast Club and other progressive-ish faves if this doesn’t ring a bell.) Still, I don’t see anyone out in One Direction or other present-day boy bands, despite the obvious marketing coup possibilities. Ditto most other pop genres. Let’s not pin closeting and homophobia on hip hop, hmm? Let’s pin it on a broader fucked up culture, and look at the specific ways it manifests in different cultual locales.

I’ve seen a bunch of sophisticated, metropolitan online commenters claim that Ocean’s sharing is “not a big deal” because of some combination of 1. It’s supposedly not a big deal to the person claiming it’s not a big deal, and said person is clearly the arbiter of big-dealness, not Ocean, grateful fans, the rest of the music industry or the hordes of homophobes now calling for his head (go googling, if you really want) and 2. other (young, even!) hip-hop/R&B stars are out. Maybe. Like Nicki/Azealia Banks/Kreayshawn/did I miss anyone? Didn’t think so. Now, without getting into whether Nicki at least is “really” bisexual (she’s been quoted contradictory ways), it is worth noting that it is more common for women in pop music to at least flirt with “same-sex” desire than for men. It is true that there is a space, however limited, for bisexual/bicurious/queer/whatevs women. Generally a sexy/artsy space, that can turn on a dime into a slutty/devious/flaky space, in keeping with the misogynistic (and homophobic) tropes of biphobia. Women are allowed to express desire for other women sometimes, to a point, because that’s hot in a mainstream, male-oriented porno context which maybe cultural gatekeepers are dismayingly ready to imagine at any given moment. Men can’t express desire for other men because having sex with a man makes you less of one. A woman with queer experience has not necessarily made herself Not A Woman, though she has probably made herself Not A Wife. Witness any horrible debate on bisexuality (bisexuality has to be debated as we don’t yet know whether it actually, really exists, which is cool cuz I often feel in this world like I don’t really exist and I ID bi, so it keeps things consistant.) and you’ll see men saying that yes, they would date a bi lady cuz whoa hot, amirite bruh, they just wouldn’t marry her. You can’t get serious with that kind of girl because she’s a strumpet who will cheat on you and possibly kill you with an ice pick.

Men, on the other hand, who like both men and women are either secretly, truly gay (women aren’t secretly gay as much under patriarchy cuz they need to be available to have sex with the men, who are the center of the universe and reason for all things) and/or going to give their female partners The AIDS. But why would any woman want to be with them anyway, because men who have sex with men are not real men. In fact, they might be a little like women. EWW!

One of the cool things about Frank Ocean’s tumblr post is the conversation it’s provoking. People who may not have thought that much about the reasons behind cultural policing of gender and sexuality now have a great opportunity to unpack the misogyny in homophobia, the sexism of acceptable queer roles for women, what we actually mean when we bandy about pejoratives for gay or queer but don’t mean them that way. Hopefully these conversations may lead more to question categories like “real man” or “real woman”, question their own (sometimes unconscious) homophobia, biphobia, misogyny, transphobia. To recognize how far the toxins spread when we allow cultural policing of sexuality and gender based on hate, fear, disgust.

Discussion around the post also winds around the inadequacy of mainstream-legible sexuality tags, how stifling it can be to carry around an IDENTITY, especially one that was forced on you. Ocean does not call himself gay, bi, or anything else other than loving, hurting, and healing in his blog post. This has not stopped the internet from declaring that he’s either gay or bi (or both), even declaring that Ocean declared the same this in his post. I’m not dredging up links, but google these words and you’ll get an avalanche. Ocean may well identify as bisexual, or gay, or queer, or pansexual, or a combination of these or something else entirely. I’d like to wait to slap such labels on him and let him choose. Or not. He shared an autobiographical story of homosexual love, one that may prove revolutionary regardless of whether he continues to date women or never loves another man again. That’s what’s important. At least to those of us who aren’t Frank Ocean or a potential date.

Part of what’s so huge about Ocean’s post is that it’s so relatable, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or preference. How many of us have been left confused and wounded by love that is not returned, or is but cannot be named? How many of us, LGBTQ or not, have suffered through the ecstatic highs and soul-crushing plunges of mutual affection where one or both of us is in deep denial of what we are really feeling? That we’re not “just friends”? It’s a nearly universal experience, one Ocean powerfully evokes in very few words. So many of us out here can relate to his experience. Hopefully this relating will open a door to imaginative identification, to empathy.

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Select Links:

Thank You Frank Ocean: Great, insightful letter from Dream Hampton.

Some retrospectively more hilarious Odd Future lyrics.

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Posted in Hip Hop, LBGT, Media, Music, queer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nicole’s Favorite Movies of 2011

This was a great year for movies. I saw so many that excited me! Scott Tobias wrote a year-end wrap up with which I largely agree, particularly about the role of mystery and ambiguity in many of the years best films (I also adored the end of Martha Marcy May Marlene and felt that the closure others were upset at being denied would have been inappropriate to the film.) There’s a thread running through many films I loved this year of comfort with ambiguity, a rejection of the kind of patronizing over-explanation to which movie fans have grown accustomed, a refusal to sew up loose ends that are better left alone, a faith that a portion of the audience will be ready and wanting to do a little work rather than being spoon-fed every point they might get from the film. Thank fucking god.

There are many films that I’m sure are great that I haven’t seen (A Separation, Sleeping Beauty, The Possession, and Margaret all come to mind as potential contenders, not to mention TODD HAYNES’ MILDRED PIERCE OMG which maybe could count as a movie), but these are my favorites of those I have.

Ten Movies I loved (not really in order):

Le Quattre Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
Four interconnected life cycles empathetically depicted in an excellent example of blurred lines between fiction and documentary. The famous goat segment is one of the greatest sequences I’ve seen ever. (Now streaming on Netflix)

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
Pioneers get lost in the vast, dusty west where death by disease and dehydration hovers near at all times. Meek’s Cutoff is a slow and rewarding corrective to Hollywood’s mythic construction of westward expansion, featuring a particularly strong performance from Michelle Williams (as usual) as one of the womenfolk whose vision is obscured by a big, floppy sunbonnet as she tries to overhear the crucial and confused conversations amongst men. (Now streaming on Netflix)

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
In what might be the emblematic plot for this year of ambiguity, opera singer William Shimmel plays a British writer in Tuscany for a talk on his new book, an argument for the irrelevancy of authenticity in art. Juliette Binoche plays a French antiques dealer who attends, is enthralled, and ends up spending a romantic and emotional day traipsing around with him while we puzzle over their unclear relationship: are they two strangers who’ve just met or an old couple playing a game? In what ways does it matter? Binoche gives a transcendant performance in one of the most unexpectedly moving films of the year. (Now streaming on Netflix)

Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
Two sisters have a difficult relationship and then the world ends. Kirsten Dunst is fantastic as Justine, one of the most painfully realistically depressed film leads ever. Charlotte Gainsbourg matches her perfectly as the more-together, caregiving Claire, who understandably starts to fall apart at the prospect of, you know, the world ending. The contrast between the two is fascinating and revealing and true. The last shot is fucking amazing.

Pariah (Dee Rees)
Adepero Oduye is great as Alike, a Fort Green teenager who’s only half-hiding her lesbianism from her parents, their own denial does the rest. Alike’s camaraderie and conflicts with best friend Laura (Pernell Walker, in a particularly nice performance) and supposed Good Example Bina are nuanced and true. Alike’s journey of self-discovery is handled with admirable subtlety and grace, making the quiet conclusion a much more deeply satisfying than that of most coming of age flicks. The whole thing is shot with ambitious courage and aplomb by Bradford Young, providing striking visual manifestations of interior turmoil, joy, and discovery.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
Elizabeth Olsen impresses the hell out of everyone as a cult escapee staying with her sister and brother in law, in another of 2011’s best-rendered damaged sibling relationships. Olsen’s fractured emotional and psychological state feels frighteningly real, her failed attempts to act like she’s okay while not even understanding what’s wrong are heartbreaking. Nothing gets fixed, everything just breaks more and more, like it tends to do. Good look getting John Hawkes to play the charismatic cult lead, he’s scary and fantastic.

Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune
Solid, long overdue doc about one of my favorite song writers. (Now streaming on Netflix)

Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard)
Honestly, this is on here in part because I got so much delight from how angry this movie made so many people. It looked amazing. It had Patti Smith being absolutely captivating as she wanders around a huge cruise ship. It includes fragments of a world history collage for viewers to examine as they will, preferably with an eye towards myth versus truth and the meaning of concepts like liberty and equality. It made me very happy.

Beginners (Mike Mills)
I think some (straight identified male) critics were worried that is they didn’t mock a movie in which the male protagonist frequently talks to a cute dog without constant accompanying dog-shit jokes, they might be gay or a lady. People talk to their dogs and project responses onto them. The dog doesn’t actually talk back. The fancifulness of the dog subplot has been way overstated. The movie is very real and moving.

Scream 4 (Wes Craven)
It’s been a long time since I saw such a thoroughly enjoyable horror movie. It was much better than Scream 3. This is worth a lot to me. Also, the central characters may have the most enduringly interesting relationships in horror.

Special Prize of Dishonor to:

The Help (some dude you’ve never heard of for good reason)
I expected to be offended by the racist plot, but I didn’t know the film would be so incompetent. The writer director (in far over his head) squanders a cast that is truly an embarrassment of riches in an overly-long, though seemingly hacked to bits revisionist slog through the civil rights-era south. Plot lines are introduced and left undercooked, or jettisoned for time despite the mess they leave behind. Segregation is focused on as the core evil in play at the expense of other forms of institutional racism and white supremacy, a sick trick that allows the humiliations and violence to which the film’s black characters are subject to remain safely In The Past, never to intrude upon white audiences masturbatory smugness. Such contortions are particularly galling in a film that is at least pretending to tell the Real Story of domestic workers, a demographic that remains under protected by labor regulations today. This film should have powerfully, painfully connected with continuing struggles, instead it’s a fakity-fake “feel good” film in which the nice people (who don’t die) triumph, the bad guy is punished, and society moves forward towards progress and Obama and out of our shameful racist past thanks to the bravery of one spunky white lady YAAAAAAAAAYS!!!

Protagonist Emma Stone is given some crappy development as the spunky white lady who thinks racism is bad and wants to write a best selling book about it–she’s a good actress, and she finds a vein of humanity in what at root is just be an appallingly pandering Mary Sue. Others are not so lucky.

Against all direction, Jessica Chastain does some nice stuff with a role in which she was apparently told to exaggerate the two notes given to her sweet/trashy/dotty character into cartoonland, which speaks well of her skills despite the generally bizarre tenor of her performance (it was particularly distracting that, for a time, her character is always introduced by a close up on her feet. Because her last name is Foote. Really.) Bryce Dallas Howard does less well with the one note assigned her villain. Dude seems to have directed her like this: “you know the bitchy way you read that line? Do that again. For every line. Yes! That’s it! You totally still sound like a bitch! For real! Oh wow! Oscar ahoy!”

The black women in the movie have it worse: not only do they all have to play stereotype-infused maids, but these maids aren’t even given the dignity of a backstory (let alone the personal lives and romantic entanglements bestowed–however haphazardly–upon all the white characters.) The writer/director doles out one personal fact per character–this one has a kinda-surprise dead son! This one has a daughter! This one has a daughter that’s going to be a maid! Oh, all the personal details were about having a kid, either living or dead? Oh. Viola Davis heroically builds a compelling character out of the cliched shrapnel she’s been dealt, and Octavia Spencer similarly manages to wrangle a person out of a two-dimensional caricature. Cicely Tyson basically wipes the floor with every other performance this year (no pun intended!) in a thankless, abject role as Emma Stone’s poor old beloved maid who suffers and dies and that’s about it. For the love of god, can these women be in a movie together without having to all play white ladies’ maids?

Otherwise, the film was well shot. Really. Pity the writing, directing, editing, and premise are all such a fucking mess.

Luckily, there were a lot of other movies this year.

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Nicole’s Top Albums of 2011

My 5 Favorite Albums.

5. Wild Flag
It was a really good idea to put Mary Timony’s guitar and Janet Weiss’ drumming  together.  The combination is heavenly.

4. Lupe Fiasco – Friend of the People: I Fight Evil mixtape
Download for free

Lupe dropped this on Thanksgiving. I was having a hard day and then, BAM! This was happening. This is great. I listened to this on my way to work and school like every day for the rest of the semester. The opening song, Lupe Back, piles great lines on top of great lines into one of the more inspiring statement of purpose I’ve heard in a long time, concluding with the seasonally appropriate:

I fight evil, every day I’m living
Rest in peace to men, women, and the children
And middle finger to the pilgrims that killed them
Friend of the people, Happy Thanksgiving

The End of the World is wonderful and gets me choked up, what with “This one dedicated to the soldiers/Throw up peace signs in the face of bulldozers” and whatnot. Double Burger with Cheese is also fantastic, and it’s a much weirder song: Lupe runs through a kind of greatest hits moments of ’90s “hood movies”, weaving them together into one big, epic, tragic coming-of-age fable that provided a filmic backdrop to many real kids’ childhoods and teenage years.  It’s not only fun and nostalgic, it’s moving and thought provoking.  Someone made an apparently Lupe-approved unofficial video for it that’s also pretty great:

I

3. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

I was listening to this a lot while reading The Hunger Games. They went together fantastically well. I feel sorry for people who think the lyrics on “The Glorious Land” are too heavy-handed, are they ever missing out! Over a warped nationalist military anthem, Harvey sings with chilly pep that occasionally veers towards hysteria of land plowed by tanks and soldiers, “its fruit is deformed children”.  Harvey has made a lyrically meticulous, musically inspired album serious about nationalism and war, and these lines are earned, appropriate, and actually kind of scary in a teenage-jesus-ear Lydia Lunch kind of way. Or a Hunger Games way. Have I mentioned how The Hunger Games fucked my shit up?

Here’s one of my favorite tracks. There’s a well made video for it, but I like it better without visual accompaniment:

This is my favorite PJ Harvey album since To Bring You My Love.  I think I may like it better, even.

2. Watch the Throne

Long time readers already know my overall thoughts here. I listened to this album more than anything else this year (except my #1 choice) and Jay-Z talk me more about screenwriting than any other single source (it’s all about the depth of images and emotion he evokes with careful, economical lyricism.) I put Why I Love You on repeat more times than I care to remember, as that song comes from such a place of pain. It’s a great example of Jay’s artistry that he taps so cleanly into the near-universal through such extreme specificity. I’ve never built up a hip hop empire only to feel back-stabbed by Dame Dash et al, but I found myself taking comfort in this song more than almost any other.

1. Jean Grae – Cookies of Comas mixtape
Download it for free

This. This resonated with me more than anything else this year. I don’t know what I did before I had Jean Grae in my life. She’s the perfect rapper–hilarious, heart breaking, fantastic narratives, complicated rhyme schemes and intricate word play for days. I was thinking I might do a “top ten lyrics of 2011” post, but I should really just do a “top ten Jean Grae lyrics of 2011” post, cuz I’m sure at least 80% would be her. Whether rapping about isolation in rap-dom (“with Kickass and Hit Girl/Lonely ovations” may be the deceptively simplest, best line of the year imho), the breakdown of trust in a relationship, or wearing a Boba Fett helmet on the red carpet, Grae hits the nerve, over and over.

Here’s the video for Uh-Oh, a track featured on CoCs, as well as on Talib Kweli’s Gutter Rainbows, another fine album this year:

You can download a fantastic in depth interview with Ms. Grae here, which includes discussion of this video and its problematic masks as well as drunken injuries provoked by Australian racists, plans to dress up onstage as Princess Leia, and making the art you want to make, whether or not everyone likes or gets it.

Happy end of 2011, all. Not a bad year for music. Hope 2012 is even better.

Posted in Alt Rock, Hip Hop, Music, Nicole Solomon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On journalism and activism- drawing lines and acting accordingly.

A long time ago, back before I was occupying, I fancied myself a writer. I spent hours a day typing away, blogging or free writing or adding pieces to the long list of Google Docs that probably I’ll never do anything with. I have a book contract that I have been quietly plugging away at throughout all of this occupying; I’ve been published here and there from time to time. Occupying has taken up all of my time and energy lately, but my brain is still the same writer’s brain that it always has been. I tweet constantly now, simply because I only have tiny snippets of time during which I can do that which I naturally feel compelled to do. That said, I’ve never thought of myself a journalist, not by a long shot. I considered following that career path many long years ago, but I knew that journalism wasn’t something that I could handle. I have been an activist for more than half of my life now, meaning that there’s an inherent bias and lack of legitimacy to any sort of neutral reporting that I could do. Also, for whatever reason, I tend to lack the ability to remain disengaged or impartial when collecting, studying, and reporting facts. (For all of you who wonder why I’m not a facilitator at general assemblies: there’s your answer. Within ten minutes I’d quietly drop the mic and walk off the stage.)

Over the weekend a member of Occupy Boston called a meeting to be held Sunday night. The meeting was expressly private; all recipients of the email were BCC’ed, and we were asked only to share the information about the meeting with people whom we personally trusted and knew to be interested in discussions about the general topic at hand. This meeting was not an Occupy Boston-sanctioned event. It was never mentioned at general assembly; it was not called as part of any working group. A decision was made at Sunday night’s meeting to hold a follow-up meeting on Monday, and the guidelines for this meeting were the same as Sunday’s. Both meetings were held at a private off-site location, and was semi-private: not invite-only, but not exactly public, either. It was sort of a “tell your trusted friends!” sort of a deal. The best analogy I can come up with, as odd as it sounds, is that of a Saturday night house party: bring some friends, but don’t bring the guy who gets too wasted and pees in closets.

At this juncture of my post, it is important for me to explain both what autonomous action is, and what its place in the Occupy movement is. Autonomous action is the notion that someone can take an action as part of the movement, but that it doesn’t speak for or on behalf of the movement. What the Occupy movement is up against is huge, and involves focus that must come from a vast number of angles. Different people are passionate about different issues; an occupier can use their values and skill set independently in order to achieve important goals (another key movement buzz term: “diversity of tactics”. Look it up). Therefore, autonomous action is considered by many of us to be a key to our continued and eventual success. It isn’t an easy concept to endorse, as it sometimes means going against our own individual tactical or political beliefs, but it is important. Occupy Boston expressly supports the use of autonomous action. For example, on the first night of our occupation, a group of occupiers marched around downtown, culminating with a spontaneous occupation of the plaza in front of the Federal Reserve. Many of those of us who had remained at Dewey Square freaked out, wondering what exactly was going on as blue lights flashed all around us. It took many difficult discussions about the intersections of autonomous action and diversity of tactics before we felt fully comfortable with them. Now the practices feel like old hat (to me, anyway).

The meetings that were held on Sunday and Monday were both autonomous actions. They were called by one person, and were eventually attended by forty to fifty people (the people in the crowd weren’t the exact same ones each night). I won’t discuss what was discussed at those meetings, out of respect for the people there. That said, I will say that plans were made. This was a planning meeting- a non-“officially Occupy Boston” planning meeting (there were some unfamiliar faces in the crowd, according to “regular” OB-ers), but a planning meeting nonetheless.

During the second meeting, it was made apparent that a member of the media, Ariel Shearer from The Boston Phoenix, was in attendance. Word about this traveled through the room pretty quickly, and a vote on media presence was placed at the top of the agenda. Members of the media were asked to be transparent about their presence. Ariel identified herself. A vote was taken, and by show of consensus, she was asked to leave. She did leave, after making a statement about her notebook being “this is what democracy looks like,” and was followed by some men who had come with her. In her blog post (more on that later), she seems to claim to have been supported by shouts of “Ariel Solidarity!”, but no one I spoke to who attended the meeting heard anything of the sort.

After some tweets that I interpreted as being snarky, one of which was factually incorrect in multiple ways (she said that the meeting was a general assembly- definitely untrue, as GAs are open to anyone- and that it was about “eviction,” which isn’t exactly correct, plus could be misinterpreted as though we were facing immediate eviction), today Ariel added a blog post to the Boston Phoenix blog. The post is riddled with factual errors (all of which I will address directly), and seems to show a grave misunderstanding about the general function of the Monday meeting, our processes, and how Occupy Boston functions, as well as why she was asked to leave. I’m going to address factual errors first, so that there is clarity for readers who may not be familiar with the inner workings of Occupy Boston.

1. In her post Ariel neglects to divulge the location of the meeting, saying only that it was “at a Chinatown location.” On Twitter she refers to the space as being “a public space.” Due to the vague description of the location, a reader could assume that the meeting was held at our Dewey Square encampment, at a park, or at a restaurant: some space that is legitimately public. The meeting was held at Encuentro 5. E5’s status may be confusing to Ariel, as they hold many public events there, but it is not a public space: it is private. The facilitators of the Sunday and Monday meeting asked permission from Encuentro 5 to hold the meeting there, and were granted that permission. The meeting wasn’t held at Dewey Square precisely because it was a semi-private meeting between certain individuals. The meeting could have just as easily been held in someone’s home, had the meeting been smaller.

2. The first sentence of Ariel’s post reads, “About 40 members of Occupy Boston met in a working group last night at a Chinatown location to discuss strategy.” There are three factual errors in this sentence. One, not every person in attendance could be confirmed as a member of Occupy Boston. Two, there was no “in a working group.” On a semantics level, we never describe ourselves as meeting “in a working group”; we would say “a working group met,” or “there is a working group.” The meeting isn’t the working group; the working group is having the meeting. Three, this was not a working group meeting. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make this clear. There was no working group that called this meeting. As far as I know, new working groups very well may form as a result of this meeting, but that is something that could happen long after the fact, not a cause of the meeting itself. Ariel saying that this was a working group meeting indicates that the meeting was officially sanctioned by Occupy Boston. As I’ve said before, that is not the case.

3. Ariel claims that she was asked to leave the meeting “20 minutes into the discussion.” According to seven different people I’ve talked to, this is not true. As is often the case with activist meetings (and meetings in general), everybody sat around shooting the shit for awhile before starting the meeting so that latecomers wouldn’t feel left out. Once the meeting began, media presence was the first item on the agenda. The discussion about Ariel’s presence happened pretty quickly. She may have sat there for twenty minutes, but the meeting itself didn’t begin as soon as she sat down.

4. The title of Ariel’s post is, “This is what a journalist getting evicted from an Occupy Boston meeting looks like.” First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, this was not an Occupy Boston-sanctioned meeting. Also, Ariel was not evicted from the meeting; she was asked to leave. She freely admits in the article that she left of her own volition. Using strong language like “eviction” makes it sound as though she was forcibly removed. For those of us who are a part of Occupy Boston, this is an especially harsh term to hear thrown around. We have successfully evicted exactly two people from our movement- Paul Carnes and Sydney Sherrell– and it was a difficult, complicated process. We have never evicted anyone from a meeting, nor am I certain that we have the power to do that. Even meetings like these that aren’t officially about Occupy Boston don’t contain evictions.

6. This isn’t in response to a specific point in the post, but it’s an overarching theme throughout: the piece makes it sound as though Ariel’s identity as a journalist was clear to everyone in the room. This is not the case. She did not identify herself as a journalist until she was asked to do so. In fact, many people with whom I spoke after the fact were shocked to learn for the first time last night that that Ariel is a journalist (one did so publicly, via Twitter). Ariel is a familiar face at camp, but lots of times she’s hanging out with people in an apparently social way: no notebook, phone, or press badge. The fact that Ariel wasn’t transparent with some other occupiers about her job (not with me, for the record; she has always been up front with me) is seriously troubling to me. Every time a journalist approaches me at camp, they make their reason for being there known, either via a press badge or by openly identifying as such, often followed by them handing me a business card. My guess is that either Ariel is having a hard time figuring out which side of the fence she is on (journalist vs occupier), or that she is engaging in stealth journalism. If it’s the latter, we are a very transparent group of people, and many of us tend to grant interviews pretty freely. There is no reason for her to engage in that type of behavior. I seriously hope that isn’t the case. If it’s the former, then she needs to be transparent about her struggle in her blog post. She identifies solely as journalist there, which seems to me to be misleading. However, if she does identify solely as a journalist, she needs to follow the same ethical guidelines that every other journalist covering Occupy Boston has.

Because she is such a familiar friend-type face around Occupy Boston, my guess is that the group of people who walked out with her did so as friends, rather than in solidarity with her as a journalist. I’d love to hear their side of the story; I know at least one of them considers her a friend. This dynamic, I understand, is tricky. I don’t say this easily, but I feel like there are a few journalists who cover us that I’ve become friends with. I didn’t anticipate that happening at all. That said, I am careful to hold these journalists’ work and their behavior separate from who they are as people, and I feel that they do the same with me.

Now, onto the general points Ariel raises in her article. She states that the meeting attendees “were engaging in a form of censorship” by asking her to leave. This is a problematic choice of wording on her part. For one thing, no one forced her to leave. She was asked to leave, and freely did so. The meeting attendees did not ban her speech, or black out anything that she wrote. For another thing, as I’ve expressed throughout this article, the meeting was private. Referring to the act of asking members of media to leave a closed meeting as censorship walks a very wobbly tightrope. If I have a small, vaguely Occupy-related meeting in my living room, am I required to invite members of the media to attend? If I don’t invite media into my home, am I censoring them? Similarly, as Ariel said at the end of her article, am I participating in “an effort to prevent the free flow of information”?

My response: no, no one censored her, and no, we aren’t required to invite media into private meetings that are held in private, offsite locations. Sure, the line feels blurry; with a movement as different as ours is, LOTS of lines are blurry. That said, as individuals and as groups of individuals, we deserve to maintain some privacy. In these past few weeks, we have given up a LOT of our personal privacy for the sake of Occupy Boston, and we have heard no complaints from members of the media who’ve happily gathered and disseminated that information. But to be perfectly honest, this is starting to feel a bit like a situation where we’re giving a lot of ourselves, and now we’re expected to keep giving beyond a reasonable expectation. No one is saying that we should shut off the complete movement transparency that we’ve managed to maintain. What we are talking about here is individual privacy. By describing the consensed-upon feelings of individual members of a meeting as “censorship,” Ariel reveals either a lack of understanding of how our movement works, or a very deep lack of humanity. As individuals, we have a lot of reasons for not wanting media to show up at our private meetings. Some people who consider themselves part of Occupy Boston never come to camp and to GAs because they fear losing their jobs or public housing, being deported, facing arrest. They come to private meetings because there’s some modicum of safety there. Some people who voted to ask Ariel to leave simply felt uncomfortable having a discussion with media present. Ariel never mentions these very human aspects of the consensus vote in her article, leading me to presume that they never occurred to her.

Another important point: when Occupy activists ask you to leave our private meetings, we aren’t keeping secrets from you. Rather, we just aren’t telling you what is happening YET. Believe me: everything that was discussed in that meeting will  be seen and known eventually. But why would we tell you our tactics now, rather than let you see the results of them? We are still telling you the story, and are maintaining transparency. We merely want to choose the narrative. It is our narrative, after all, and we have the right to create it. Hypothetically speaking, how would it help anyone to have Ariel write down all of our plans for protests and publish them, meaning that they’d immediately be thwarted by the city and/or the police? Journalists: what is it that you want to report on, actually? Do you want to watch us sitting around in a room eating Gummi Bears and shooting the shit about direct action events, or would you rather watch them unfold in real time? Which is the real story here? When you choose the former- specifically, when you cross the line, interfere and prevent our actions from happening- I can’t help but wonder whether you’re participating in “ooh lookie at me, I got the scoop first!” journalism, rather than genuinely covering our movement.

Whether it’s expressly clear or not, the transparency of the Occupy movement is in direct response to the glaring lack of transparency that we see on Wall Street and in our government. I’ve participated in hundreds if not thousands of political actions, and have definitely attended thousands of activist meetings. The Occupy movement has been much more transparent than any other activist work I’ve ever been a part of, despite the fact that we stand the most to lose, and despite the fact that this thing is literally bigger than the accumulated mass of everything else I’ve done in my life. Some of us have been called out by name by police officers, followed around downtown, and even to our homes. We are risking a lot for the work that we are doing, and we deserve a level of basic human respect. Our very real fears for our safety should be taken into consideration, not played for manufactured outrage.

Lots of journalists seem to understand the interconnections between our movement’s transparency and the sad lack of it in our economy and government. I notice that many more journalists have begun working to dismantle the deep levels of secrecy that our political and financial institutions maintain. Similarly, most journalists understand that above all else, we are people, and that as individuals we have literally put our lives on hold in order to effect change. On a personal level, almost all of the journalists that I’ve interacted with have treated me like a human being who is deserving of dignity, and I thank them for that.

If Ariel is so upset about a lack of transparency being “one of the biggest systemic problem[s] choking our democracy,” I can give her a long list of story topics. For example, Mayor Menino secretly gave JP Morgan/Chase a 3.5 million dollar tax break, but he continues to complain about a much lower (and likely inaccurate) supposed cost to Boston created by Occupy Boston. If she’s worried about true censorship, perhaps she can write about police departments’ refusal of journalistic access to the front lines during various Occupy raids, as well as police brutality directed toward and arrests of journalists covering those stories. Perhaps that isn’t as easy as writing a short, factually inaccurate blog post about being asked to leave a meeting related to various means of drawing attention to, uncovering, and stopping awful things like that tax break, but heck: good journalism is never simple. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this movement, it’s that as much as I enjoy consuming it, being a journalist is ridiculously difficult. I’m glad it’s not my job.

I’ll continue to direct the best stories at camp toward the journalists who understand the peculiarities and intricacies of all of this. You folks who take the low road and write blog posts like Ariel’s: maybe y’all should consider covering something else.

Posted in activism, Robin Jacks, social media | Tagged , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Lupe Fiasco: Friend of the People

The other side of being the enemy of the state…

Your favorite rapper’s favorite #Occupy-er (or at least long-time supporter) dropped a free mixtape just in time for US Nakba  Turkey Day. And you can have it!

Download here!

I promise we’ll have new original content soon.  Shit is cray.  But we have a wealth of half-written posts just begging to be finished whenever either of us has more than 5 minutes to spare. XO

Posted in activism, Hip Hop, Music, Nicole Solomon, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Goodbye REM

I have taken so little time to reflect on REM’s break up in the midst of recent chaos and upheaval.  They were that band for me, the one that set me on a particular path at an impressionable age.  Because I saw this video on MTV:

I was in 7th grade and had just turned 13. I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard in my life, and I needed to hear it again.  And again.  It was a physical craving.

I bought Out Of Time on cassette and wore it out.  It then became the first album I’d own on CD, back when they came in longboxes.  REM had attempted to counter the environmentally problematic waste of the long box by including a postcard on theirs which purchasers could cut out and send in to…whom?  About what? I can’t recall.  Demand and end to longboxes, perhaps?  If you remember, please comment.  It was something kind of political, and I liked that.  I liked that Michael Stipe was vegetarian, like I (almost) was.  I liked that talked about condoms, because that was against AIDS and also exciting.  I liked that the cracks in his lyrics could hold so much of my angst.

So post-REM I was alt, and there was no going back.  I was (temporarily) through with pop: goodbye Paula Abdul and Milli Vanilli.  My musical tastes became self-consciously anti-mainstream, and from my musical tastes I forged my adolescent identity. I amassed REM’s entire back catalog. I started listening to the college radio station.  Soon I was also obsessing over They Might Be Giants and The Pixes and anything catchy and weird and exciting.  By the time “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit I’d been primed, and jumped from Nirvana to Riot Grrrl almost immediately, and all this music made high school more bearable and helped to radicalize my politics, and that’s a different post.

It all started with REM and a beautiful, sad song.

I like Collapse Into Now.  I liked that they were always there, somewhere, working on something that would in the very least have moments of intrigue.  Yes, I’m partial to their work up through Monster, but the later years had their moments.  Wonderful moments. All those Patti Smith collaborations in particular, they do my heart so much good:

Like Al Jazeera, I was also partial to 2003’s single, “Bad Day”:

Here are a few more hastily chosen from amongst my favorite REM videos:

Fittingly, for this 20th anniversary month of Nevermind, and for me personally, I’ll end with REM’s Kurt Cobain tribute/mourning song:

Thanks, guys.

Posted in Alt Rock, Music, Nicole Solomon | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lupe Fiasco & Erykah Badu at the BET Awards

#OccupyAwardShows?

Check it out. That’s all. It’s late. No further comment needed now. We can talk later. xo

(More Lupe. Some Occupy performances.)

Posted in activism, Award Shows, Hip Hop, Media, Music, Nicole Solomon, Palestine, politics, Racism, Television | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment