Suggestions for Response to the Brooklyn Zine Fest

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Edit:
I've brought up and expanded the list of places to donate proceeds and/or volunteer. If you are at the fest, please consider these locations!
  
In response to an email I received, I want to make clear that the choices below are suggestions - different folks were asking me for options on how to respond, and so I have chosen to collect them in a list. Please choose which one(s) makes the most sense for you.
 
- Consider donating part or all of your proceeds to an organization working to end police violence or volunteering/getting involved with their work (suggestions below).
Safety Beyond Policing
Audre Lorde Project
Brooklyn Movement Center
War Resister’s League
Radical Social Workers
Cop Watch NYC
Disarm NYPD
Artists Against Police Violence 
Women's Prison Association
FIERCE (LGBT youth org)
Sylvia Rivera Law Project
You can find more suggestions and links to donate directly to the families of victims of police violence on FergusonAction

- Give up your table, do not attend, and tell them that you disagree with the choices made by organizers around the Black Lives Matter panel and/or their response to the statement on POC erasure from the space. This is only if you feel like you can take the financial loss and/or willingness to do so!

- If you table, make signs for your table and print out the statement (or your own statement) regarding this issue. If you attend, make sure that you are aware of the issue - read the statement, talk to tablers who are in support.

- If you have a resource - such as a venue, a publication, a reading series, etc. - (or a request for such resources) share that on this Google Doc, so that we can offer other spaces to black artist/activists and non-black POCs in solidarity.

- Apply to speak on the Black Lives Matter panel - strategically! Make sure that panelists are paid since **other panelists at the fest receive a stipend** and make sure that there is a donation jar set up so that folks can donate to organizations doing anti-police violence work.

I want to emphasize that this panel does not do the on the ground work of eliminating police violence. The real work is being done by activists on the ground. This panel was meant to have a discussion about how arts and activism come together around a particular political moment, the Black Lives Matter movement. The aim was (and still is) to elevate black artist voices and give the audience ideas/methods about how to engage in this work in their own communities. A panel is not an ideal format, yet giving a platform to marginalized voices was how I saw myself in solidarity. Finding ways to best be in solidarity is hard, but it's absolutely necessary. Find ways you can do so amongst your own people. Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions!

White Out: Erasure of the Black Lives Matter Panel and People of Color from the Brooklyn Zine Fest

Friday, April 17, 2015

My name is Jordan Alam and I was formerly the panel coordinator for the Brooklyn Zine Fest. I had to quit my position because the main organizers chose to remove a panel on Black Lives Matter zines, which communicated to me that black and brown voices were not valued in the space. Below is my experience.

I proposed 4 different panel topics for consideration – on intergenerational zine making, writing on uncomfortable topics, the prison industrial complex, and Black Lives Matter zines. As a non-black zinester of color with the opportunity to elevate black zinesters, I saw solidarity as giving them that space. After my proposal went out I was asked to join the two main organizers, both white people, for a meeting.

I prepared a list of potential panelists and topics of discussion. I brought the zine Black Women Matter as a way to show relevancy. But when we got to talking, it became clear that these documents would not move them. I was surprised at first, but my surprise quickly hardened into a stubborn discomfort as I saw where things were headed. They first struck out my idea for a panel featuring zinesters who write about incarceration or are in communication with incarcerated folks. They cited that they wanted to keep the panelists to the people who were tabling, which narrowed my options considerably.

The last panel we talked about was on Black Lives Matter zines; at that point I had not seen the full tablers list, but I was still pretty confident that there would be people who could speak on the movement. One of the main organizers said straight out to me that they consider this fest to be an apolitical zine fest, and that the language of my email made them feel that a Black Lives Matter panel would be too political. I could feel my heart pound as I made my arguments about the importance of this political moment. I had made very clear that this was the panel I was most invested in – in my head, I had resolved that if the panel did not happen, that I would quit being panel coordinator.

The coordinators also mentioned feeling unsafe because there had been an undercover cop at the Anonymity panel that I hosted the previous year, a fact I didn’t know until they told me at this meeting. I wasn’t sure why they brought this up – the most vulnerable people in that room would have been the speakers, especially those who talked about anti-police riots. Yet their panel was somehow seen as “apolitical” enough to be included in last year’s fest. I could only conclude that because the panel was composed of mostly light-skinned or white presenters that it passed the test. Finally, the organizers drew the connection that hosting a Black Lives Matter panel would invite potential violence by citing an unrelated incident at the 2013 Anarchist Book Fair (long before Black Lives Matter was a familiar movement).

By then I was doing all I could to hold it together and keep a professional tone; I was gripping the arm of my chair the entire time. I caught on a comment they said about having been criticized previously for hosting a mainly white zine fest: “they just didn’t know where to find the non-white zinesters.” I switched tactics to talk about how having this panel would help invite people of color in by showing that there is space for conversations that matter to them. The organizers didn’t bite.

Instead they said if we “took the politics out of it” and made the panel “Black Zines Matter” – an appreciation event of black zinesters – that it could still go on. I left that meeting feeling tokenized and angry. I walked home from the museum, stumbling along in the snow. But I resolved that this compromise would allow me to at least shape it to my liking. I was hoping to change it to a #BlackBrilliance panel because that seemed at minimum less tokenizing (I had seen this hashtag being used on Twitter and it came from black folks themselves), even if it still felt problematic and complicated.

A week or so later, I realized I had made a mistake: I had double booked myself the day of the Brooklyn Zine Fest panels. I emailed both parties to see whether I could change around the dates, but it wasn’t possible – I would have to get moderators for at least some of the panels. However, the organizers took this as a moment of opportunity:

“So, since we won't have you to run things like a well-oiled machine at BHS [Brooklyn Historical Society], we'd like to cut the number of panels down to two.  This will give us time to work with each of the panel moderators/leaders to make sure they're set and comfortable, without having to pack too much into one day… Out of the ideas we've discussed, we really like the "How I Came to Zines / Generations of Zine Makers" and the "Writing About Uncomfortable Topics" the best.

You can guess which one they cut. I sent my resignation email a few days later and have not yet received any reply.

This was perhaps the least slick way that I have seen someone exclude black and brown voices from a conversation aside from direct removal. I am upset that I had to quit because I know that now there is virtually no chance for my community to be seen at the Brooklyn Zine Fest, but I refuse to work with people who keep narrowing my options to create space for black and brown experiences until they are non-existent. White DIY circles, no matter whether they perceive themselves as alternative, have made it clear that they do not see us, and that to them it undermines their work to have us appear as we are.

Too often, in both ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ creative spaces, the voices of people of color are excluded or must be made palatable to white audiences. In spaces where we make our own media, it is even more hurtful – zines are meant to be a form where we control how we are portrayed and are on topics that we care about. To be excluded yet again because our narratives make white people uncomfortable, and implying that political discussions invite violence, is yet another injustice against us.

Our bodies and lives do not have the privilege to claim that they are ‘apolitical.’ By our basic existence, we must contend with the very politicized assumptions placed upon us, black people most of all. Shutting us out from programming is a choice to align with the dominant racist and anti-black culture.

I ask that you support our campaign to add another event to the zine fest lineup. We will use this platform to share anti-racist zines/materials and discuss active ways to resist racism in alternative communities, with a focus on black voices. Please share my statement, email the organizers at brooklynzinefest@gmail.com, and post on their Facebook and Twitter the following letter (or come up with a message of your own):

Dear BZF Coordinators:
Apologize for your removal of the Black Lives Matter panel and open up space for anti-racist discussion at the Brooklyn Zine Fest. I do not support the marginalization of black and brown zinesters.
Signed _____

If you are tabling, consider making a sign for your table saying 'Black Lives Matter at the Brooklyn Zine Fest' and if you have been asked to speak on a panel, please state that you do not agree with the removal of the Black Lives Matter panel. If you are interested in participating or helping with the alternative event, please DM me on Twitter @thecowation.

[EDIT]

I am including the text of my resignation email to the Brooklyn Zine Fest, as their response characterizes it as "aggressive," which they say is the reason for their not responding until today's statement. For the record, we discussed and I offered to get another moderator for the panels day-of if I were unable to make it in person. Below is the email, sent March 14th:

Matt & Kseniya,
I unfortunately cannot continue to work on the Brooklyn Zine Fest panels this year. Since your last message, I have been thinking a lot about the erasure of black and brown bodies in DIY spaces. Though it may seem like a benign omission from your standpoint, taking the Black Lives Matter and/or Black Zines Matter suggestion off the table reminds me about how often I personally and my communities systemically have been excluded from and erased in spaces that are meant to be 'alternative'.

Particularly, I take issue with the idea that an 'apolitical zine fest' can exist or should be encouraged. Your tablers and your audience do not exist outside of politics, and the only people who can ignore or deny that they participate in systems of oppression are those privileged enough to have power supported by structural inequality. When we met, you alluded to violence at the Anarchist Book Fair and an undercover cop making things 'uncomfortable' at the last zine fest. Bringing up these examples assumes that having a discussion highlighting the structural inequality around race - whether through celebrating black artists or actually talking about violence against them - will invite violence, or at the very least unease. But your decision to remove that conversation altogether does not create safety or comfort, especially not for those artists or other artists of color impacted by these systems each day. Instead it makes it harder for us to collaborate with you, knowing that the things most important and integral to our lives will not even be given a 1 hour time slot.

I feel let down that an event meant to create space for unique ideas to thrive will not allow space for marginalized people to speak on their own experiences. I can no longer collaborate on or contribute my work to an event that does not have room for that discussion.

Regretfully,
Jordan A.

Failing Gloriously

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wood-floored hall of library (specifically Poets House in NYC)
 
If I had known anything about teaching interviews, I would have bowed out. Or at least that's what the talking head version of me, filled with hindsight, says from on high. I had aced the first interview, I thought. They were enamored with my writing and the previous teaching jobs on my resume. But this is a story of the second interview.

My second interview was in a windowless gym separated by rolling dividers for the three grade levels. I walked to the back where there was a table set up with a few older-looking folks who were the teachers, two folks who were kind but didn't pay me much attention. The 'classroom' itself was a bunch of circular tables where a few teenagers were stationed, the majority black and Latino.

I was meant to facilitate the warmup activity. There was a game we'd played in a summer program I facilitated where kids are divided into three groups, line up, and they get to write one word of a sentence on a big piece of paper on the wall. The game is timed, and you have to pass the marker to the next person - you can play it where the firs team who finishes 'wins' or the team with the best/funniest sentence 'wins'. I should have known when the paper kept falling down from the dividers that this wasn't going to go well.

Trying to get them into a line was the first thing that failed. And then there was the passing of the marker; most folks were more focused on their phones and I am a terrible disciplinarian. 'Clap once if you can hear me!' and 'Would you put that phone away?' don't really work when you're nervous. I must have looked panic-stricken when I turned to one of the other facilitators; to their credit, they tried to bail me out.

I realize now that there was no reason for them to trust me. I didn’t look like them and I didn’t come from their neighborhoods. And since I was a newbie, they could do whatever they wanted without much consequences. Picture the most sitcom-like experience you could have as a teacher – a substitute teacher at that.

I burst out onto the darkened street afterward, my toes curling in my shoes from embarrassment. It was the first time I felt like I had gone out of my body to watch myself tank so badly. But something about it was also hysterical to me. When I got on the train, I couldn’t help but smile. It went so badly it was funny. There was no way in hell that I was going to get the position. And yet the world hadn’t tumbled into a fiery abyss behind me. I had only metaphorically died of embarrassment.

I’ve felt like I spent a whole year and a half unlearning the idea of perfectionism. During college, it was a prized skill no matter what group I was in – even amongst artists and activists, achievement was highly correlated to your value. And before that it was a survival tactic: if I did a lot of stuff, it meant I didn’t have to be at home very often. But after school ended and I couldn’t get a job for five months, I had to find a new strategy.

I’m still not all that great at appreciating my failures but now it’s easier to see them as experiments, moments that I can put in my back pocket for later. When, later that year, I attended my first birth as a doula, I tried to keep this experience in mind – though I may have been embarrassed or unprepared, I did all that I could with what I had. Even if I was failing, I wanted to fail gloriously. And be easier on myself in the process.

Incidents and Inspirations

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I've had a bit of downtime from working on events -- the last major one was the huge success of the Feminist Zine Fest (you should definitely check out the photos and interviews with our rock star zinesters that I put up). It's taken me a few weeks to recover from having worked on an event where we estimate that, conservatively, 350+ people showed up and there were 40+ tablers, two readings, and a workshop to wrangle. I'm going to miss the team this year while I'm out traveling! They're really the ones that made this whole thing possible.


Apart from being wiped out though, I have been going through old notebooks to look for the gems of my writing that I might want to craft into stories. I write a lot. A lot. Looking through my old files on my computer and the number of notebooks I go through in a year, hardly any of it actually gets processed into useable work, for the obvious excuses: I don't have time/energy/interest or this is hard/I'm not a good writer/someone's said this before/[insert predictable self-doubt]. But the exercise of going over things has brought to my attention that I actually, sometimes, like my writer voice. And that I actually have one, something that my teenage self couldn't really imagine.

It's brought up a lot of interesting memories as well. Like the time when I printed out nearly 170 pages of written material and presented it to my middle school English teacher for his review. The man asked me "what themes do you have?" When I couldn't answer him, he smiled, gently took the binder, and I never saw it again. But I was undeterred. That same year I had the audacity to send out big tan envelopes with the manuscript (unedited) to agents and editors, all of whom I'm sure thought I was quite cute to at 14 be sending a novel in for review.

I'm interested in getting some of that confidence back. The unintended consequences of having grown up and gone through a creative writing program at college means that I study my words carefully. I worry about things that don't really matter. Essentially, I stop myself before I start.

Lately I've been trying to force myself into genres that I don't particularly like because they seem 'more important' somehow. Sure, I'm an activist and do a lot of other great work for the world, but I realized that even if I got paid to write about those experiences, it would still come out closer to fiction. But sometimes it feels like there's a huge pressure to have my work be useful for society, as LuLing Osofsky says so well in this episode of The Rumpus' Make/Work podcast.

Other people do critique well. And it's fine to not be them. There is space for all of us out here.

Aside from FZF, it seems like this past month was the Month of the Interview for me -- check out the Barnard Center for Research on Women's podcast where I talk zines alongside my lovely zine co-conspirator Jenna Freedman. And also take a look at this video from the a fundraiser I participated in called Colors of Healing, a self-care bazaar where we sold our handmade things to send young queer/trans people of color to the INCITE conference this year.

Come to the NYC Feminist Zine Fest on March 7th!

Monday, March 2, 2015

It feels like it's been eons since last Monday. Last Monday, I was attending a birth and still adjusting my sleep schedule from being a creature of the night back to being a creature of the day. I was also running around trying to respond to a subpoena from the Bronx juror system (more innocuous than it sounds) and fix my broken phone all while doing my regular duties. But! It all got finished and we had a lovely event on Saturday that made up for all the madness.

Organizers of the NYC Feminist Zine Fest really want you to come join us - our creepy hands and all.

Last weekend we had a successful zine reading at Bluestockings with all the organizers of the Feminist Zine Fest, which is coming up this weekend (yes, I did somehow manage to get a draft of my zine down on paper and to keep up with the organizers' tasks!). You can find me, my new zines, and a crew of amazing tablers and organizers there; here are the deets in case you want to check it out:

Saturday March 7th from 12-6pm
Barnard College, 4th floor of Barnard Hall (main building when you walk in)
We have zine readings, workshops, a library tour, and (of course) our tablers! Check out further info at the FZF NYC website.

The Relieving Rejection

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Saturated image of South Asian woman's back, in bikini, as she jumps into oncoming ocean waves.

I wish sometimes that it were a coffee shop revelation – the camera pans away from me as I enter my favorite spot (probably a bookstore café, probably crowded but with a conveniently placed open table waiting for me), where I sit down and start leafing through a bunch of books or magazines. There’s a close up of me looking longingly at those other lives, mostly ones that I wouldn’t want to have but that still inspire some sort of wanderlust. Then there’s a cut scene, and when we come back I’ve run out of the café, dramatically calling my workplace to say “I quit!” right there on the street and booking the next flight to Dhaka.

My brain’s a little melodramatic.

Whether it turns into a television drama or not, I’m leaving NYC at the end of April. I’m taking the year off to move first to Seattle, then to visit Europe, and finally to spend the better half of this year in Bangladesh - where I’ve been trying to go back to for the past two years but haven’t yet succeeded!

My decision started as a little voice nagging at me, whispering “go.” I could not ignore it. But I also couldn’t make the decision myself. I had applied to several grants – ones that would help the move to Bangladesh, ones that would root me in NYC – and held my breath. I waited on emails for weeks and months, and one by one they trickled in. We really appreciated your application… We’re sorry we cannot offer… We look forward to your... Everyone’s gotten at least one of these in their life. For almost all of last year, as I went through waves of un- and underemployment, they made me question my worth and the quality of my work just as much as the cover letters that never seemed to elicit any reply.

I made it through last year, but it was an agonizing experience (stick around for when I tell you about Roachpocalypse). Even when I felt like I was fully committing to the work I wanted to be doing – training to be a doula, organizing zine events, working with domestic violence survivors – money was still a hovering issue. Or rather, the insecurity that I wasn’t “making it in NY” was the issue. If I wasn’t putting in all my time to either monetary work or meaningful work, then what was I doing? I didn’t let myself relax for a second; I made to-do list after to-do list. I loved New York and I resented it.

Then I received an email in January. Oddly, this was at the point when I was most stable – I was paying all my bills with a job at a clinic I enjoyed working at – but my plans were set. The form letter was familiar, but my reaction had changed. It relieved and released me in a way that felt necessary.

My life since quitting my job and working freelance again as I prepare for my trip has not been TV-worthy. Mostly its involved sending a lot of emails from my couch and attending fabulous but unexciting meetings. But there’s also an ever-present excitement underneath that I will really and truly be doing something different with this year. People (my sister especially) have been telling me not to make everything a goal, so I am resisting the urge to draw up an image of the person I want to be this time next year. I am, however, getting an excellent crash course in trusting in other people. More soon!

One of the first things I’m doing this year is crowdfunding to go on a somatics retreat called Oppression in the Soma – it uses a set of body-based healing practices to restore and make you aware of how you move through the world. If you have a few dollars to support, I’d be grateful if you visited my Razoo page. Sending lots of love and gratitude.

I've also gotten something new published over at The Rumpus! It's a short story called Traditional Healing, and you should check it out.

Human Contact

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Brown dog with ears up peering out of shadowed doorway.

The skin of my hands; the skin of her back; the beat in my chest; the long pause. Her breath, shuddering.

There are so many things I found impossible to put into words last year. I massage a woman’s back with a feather-light touch as she labors, her body straining with contractions. On the television, the news anchor describes “riots” in Ferguson. This was in the fall – after Mike Brown’s death, before the non-indictment announcement. My stomach twists into knots, but my anger and grief are not useful here. I look over at the woman, still hooked up to too many machines and switch off the monitor.

We breathe together, then separately. At the height of her contractions, it is like no one else in the world is there. I love the feeling of a woman’s hand crushing mine as the rush moves through her; that’s when I can feel her energy engulfing mine, like two soap bubbles merging.

When I am out at a protest, several months later, I go alone. I want contact, but the energy of the protesters has some other quality to it – a buzz rather than a hum. I feel like I am bearing this weight inside that cannot be shared in language, so I march. Onto the pavement of darkened streets and over barricades and finally onto the West Side Highway where they turn off some of the streetlamps as we continue to move uptown. When I finally peel off, I see from afar that the group is shrouded in darkness, occasionally lit with an eerie purple from the mixed red and blue of the cop cars’ lights.

I feel useless. I babble to myself when I get home, and I cut off all my sentences midstream. To listen to me is unintelligible – metaphor, image, plot, concept, but no character. No contact. The skin of her back; the skin of my palms. I think about the philosophical things. I think about what would be useful to say. I want to write something that would heal my incapacitation, the deep sense of hopelessness I feel while watching the news. The beat in my chest; the long pause.

The baby arrives in the early morning, when we are all just about ready to take a nap. My co-doula and her husband have arrived, and we all take shifts, sleeping on hard wooden chairs. It’s when a new doctor arrives that we are all jolted to attention. She’s funny, and actually looks the mother straight in the eye, rather than keeping her gaze trained between her legs. It seems like in no time at all she’s fully dilated and a head covered in hair is spilling out into the doctor’s arms. I let go of the mother’s leg and the doctor places the baby on her chest.

I have to rock back and forth on my feet to stay awake when we are moved out of the labor and delivery ward; our bubble of shared energy has burst and I have started to feel how heavy my own limbs are. When I arrive home, I collapse into a deep sleep and do not write about it for months.

Everything has a gestation period. I’m seeing it in the actions we’re taking against anti-black racism, and I’m seeing it in my writing. I tend to agree with Lynda Barry: I write not to escape this world but to be able to live in it. And damn, did I want to do some escaping. Then I think about that woman’s shuddering breath, the one that called us to action and I remember. This is about making contact.