Year End Giving

Although I try to invest in organizations doing great work throughout the year, each December is also a time to make year end gifts.  If you are looking for someplace to donate to here are some suggestions:

Catalyst Project. Catalyst Project is a center for political education and movement building that is committed to anti-racist work. They aim to deepen anti-racist commitment in white communities and building multiracial left movements for liberation.  As a member of their grassroots funding team, I am especially impressed with the fact that they receive NO grant funding.

COLAGE.  As a former staff,  and always a constituent, I really believe in the power of COLAGE. It’s  the only national network of people with one or more lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents.  Not only is it the only organization representing this constituency of creative and passionate young people. But they also train their youth leaders to become powerful advocates for diverse and just ‘family’ values.  Donate now.

Ella Baker Center.  Specifically, you can sponsor my participation with Team Ella Baker Center. Read all about it. 

Femme Collective. If you donate right now to the Femme 2012 Conference, your gift can be made in honor of a very special femme in your life! In doing so, you’ll not only be thanking the femme you’ve chosen to celebrate, but will be helping the Femme Conference continue its mission of building femme community and power across differences and experiences. What better way to honor femmes everywhere?

Any other suggestions?

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Best Books of 2011

This year has been stellar for good book finds. Not all of these books were written in 2011; however, I read them in the past year.  In fact, I loved more then the ones on this list.  But Each of these received a five-star rating when I reviewed them on Goodreads.

The  Warmth of Other Suns:  The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Beautiful creative non-fiction. By capturing the oral histories of three individuals who experienced it, Wilkerson paints a captivating picture of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the Southeast US to Northern and Western cities. She used an interesting circular storytelling style that in less adept hands may have been repetitive. For me it just kept placing and re-placing the main characters back into the lens of history.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

This is another mind blowing piece of creative nonfiction. Henrietta lacks was a poor Black woman in Maryland who unknowingly had DNA/cells taken out of the cancer growth that killed her. Those cells, called HeLa in the science world, have been used in a majority of modern cellular science-earning thousands of dollars for labs and companies, and putting an indelible stamp on scientific history. yet, the family that Henrietta left behind had no idea that their mothers cells had played such an important role in history. Furthermore they were never  compensated in any way. This book blends Henrietta’s history with the story of her cells, and the lasting impacts on her family. Super accessible. Super interesting. And super awesome.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

At the time that I read this book, my entire review was that I found it stunning. The main character and his stories captured my heart similar to the main characters of The History of Love.


This book successfully uses a 5 year old boy as the narrator in a way that you really get a sense of his voice and his sense of self. Definitely had a hard time putting this book down- its alternately suspenseful, sad, touching, funny and compelling.

The Lacuna By Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver manages to bring together years of history from two sides of the US/Mexico border with ruminations on art and its connection to politics, and a critique of media sensationalism in an engaging and beautiful way.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I remembered seeing this on all the “Best of” lists last year and kind of assumed it might be overrated. So I was pleasantly surprised when it was funny, touching, and even included an element of dystopia-fueled fortune telling.

 Honorable Mentions (books I gave 4 stars)

Freedom by Jonathan Frazen. I’ve seen a lot of others call this book too depressing. And in a way, I can see that. I read it during my own bout of down-in-the-dumps-ness. But it also felt real/honest in a way I appreciated.

Blame. A story about the mistakes people make and how to move through them. Some of the secondary characters were pretty great.

Mary Ann in Autumn. By Armistead Maupin.  Not sure if this deserved four stars or I am just always happy to return to the Tales in the City universe.

The Other Wes Moore. by Wes Moore. Race and class analysis meets memoir.

Did I miss any of your favorites? Help me make a list for 2012!

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If it hurts one, it hurts all.

As long as I have been politically engaged, I have watched how almost any protest or direct action somehow ends up with an element of vandalism. Sometimes, small potatoes- graffiti here or there. Ranging to more serious acts such as the window breaking and big scale distraction at a few sites during the Oakland General Strike.

Already, groups of Oaklanders are taking it upon themselves to clean graffiti and vandalism around Downtown. And during the Strike, many activists and union folks actively intervened to prevent such incidents. These realities are inspiring, but for me, it’s bringing up a larger conversation.

Whether it’s anti-war protests, justice for Oscar Grant, the Occupy movement, or even feminist, pro-Choice rallies, it seems that “a group of angry, ‘out-of-town’ anarchists dressed in black” somehow always make it into the mix. Is it just a matter of a few bad seeds? Or, as I have been reflecting today, is there a larger conversation to have?

To make a gross generalization, though even the mainstream media often portrays them this way, those who participate in the notorious Black Blocs are most often white, male presenting, and younger. How can we engage these folks in understanding that collective liberation means doing no harm?

If I found myself suddenly in dialogue with people who strongly believe that vandalism is part of the solution, I imagine these are a few of the things I ask:

1. Who has to clean up the mess? Often those tasked with removing graffiti, clearing broken glass, and other clean-up are working class people of color. When they have to scrub off spray paint or sweep up glass, they aren’t being paid anymore to do so. You are making the job of someone who already has a very difficult job to do harder.

2. Are you trying to be media hogs? It may be sad, but it remains true-in the media, if it bleeds, it reads. While I was actually impressed by the range of mainstream media I have seen about yesterday’s Strike, of course every single story and TV blurb also had to mention the distraction and vandalism. If you believe in the work of the movement and want to stand in solidarity, then you wouldn’t do something that you know will generate “bad press.”

We have a lot of work to do for mainstream media to portray  political protest and social change efforts in a positive light. The more negative attention that political actions get, the easier it is for whole segments of the population to write off social justice as something that is not about them in something they have no place in. But the point of defining the movement as the 99% is that we need everyone if we are going to change the laws that oppress our communities and impact our lives. And using the media as a tool for outreach is a part of that.

3. Who gets caught in your mess? Whenever police are present, there are people who stand to lose more. And history tells us it is not younger, white men. If you want to stand in solidarity with people impacted by oppression, it’s important to think about the safety of those you are protesting with and for.

Many times yesterday, my friends and colleagues and I commented on how little of a police presence there was. There were thousands upon thousands of people in the streets, and we sure didn’t need the police to keep us safe. In fact, most of us felt safer not having OPD around. When did the police show up? I bet you can guess.

Furthermore, let’s say a crowd of protesters-people with of all races, backgrounds, genders and abilities are near you when you make the decision to break some windows. It is going to lead to police intervention. And way too often, the unfortunate reality is that police intervention ends up being police violence and brutality. And when police violence takes place, or arrests are made- people who are undocumented, folks on parole, transgender folks, and people with disabilities are going to be impacted more than you will be. Just think about it.

4.  What is your revolution about? Mine is about collective liberation.  So what hurts one, hurts all of us. Liberation is not just about the liberation of people. It is also about our earth. Isn’t there something awfully wasteful and un-sustainable about tearing shit apart, when it will have to be replaced?

I am surprised that across the years I have seen little real conversation about this. The tendency is to write off or ignore the “anarchists” and keep on keeping on. I totally understand that instinct. But is it working, or is it time to have a larger conversation?

So what can else we do? I truly believe that people, united, can stand together and make change. And that there is a place for every single person in the work of social justice. I saw that crystal clear in the streets of Oakland yesterday.  We will only be stronger when the news can report that our peaceful protests were peaceful to all beings and buildings. So let’s get the conversation started.

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On our last night in Napa, we dined at the restaurant in this very cool and funky boutique hotel called Bardessono.  I am so delayed in writing up the meal, that this won’t be much of a review. Sorry. But I’ll still share my photos.

The meal began with an Abuse Bouche of a chilled watermelon soup.

Next. My dad ordered the Caprese for the table.  We might have had some version of Caprese in every single meal of the weekend.

It was the height of heirloom season after all. And I can only imagine (with distant, painful memories) what the tomatoes are like in Illinois. The photo, sadly, is not awesome.

This is a poached halibut. With pole beans, torn herbs, cucumber salad, and a vinaigrette. I really should poach fish more. For some reason it always seems more difficult than baking. But the result, when I try it in restaurants, is also such perfect fish.

Okay. This soup ruled. Going back through these picture reminds me we should definitely try this at home. It’s English pea soup. With a little toast of parmesan flan. And mint foam. I’ve watched enough Top Chef, that I distinctly remember being excited about the foam.

My last photo is of BELLWETHER FARMS (Jealous Rae? Sorry) Ricotta Gnocchi. There was garnish of radishes and thin slices of meyer lemon.

Overall, this meal was delicious. And they had Merry Edwards Sav Blanc which we ordered a bottle of… Of all the places we dined, this one was, however, a little pricier. The hotel looked pretty cool for those whose Napa vacations have a large budget.

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Let’s take about Farmstead in St. Helena. It’s connected to Long Meadow Ranch and the whole grounds has a very farm-like feel. And the food was awesome.

We began with some starters for the table.

First- a salmon rilette with a lemon-y cream. If this was readily accessible to us, I am pretty sure Ainsley would spread this whole mixture on every bagel he could find.

And an heirloom tomato salad. I am pretty sure the cheese was Buratta.

Ains decided he needed to try these meatballs with caramelized root vegetables.

And then he decided I needed to try the meatballs. And he was raving SO passionately about them, that I did. A tiny little bite. It was tasty. I’m still not into the texture of meat though after 18 or so years of being a vegetarian and now pescetarian.

More photos:

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Over Labor Day, I went with my father, step-mom, and sweetie to Napa Valley. Decadent meals aplenty ensured. The first night dinner (Ains wasn’t with us yet) we went to Bottega. Dad and Kathy had found this restaurant on their last trip to Napa and wanted to return.

Chef Michael Chiarello runs this place which is in a brick building in downtown Yountville. It’s one of those places that has a brick oven, or at least enough fireplaces that the whole building and even the pathway to it smells smoky and inviting.

My dad made our starter decisions and we had:

Burrata Caprese creamy whipped mozzarella burrata, golden bear ranch heirloom tomatoes, toasted bruschetta, basil oil & balsamic caviar

First, might I just say how relieved and happy I am that heirloom tomato season finally arrived? I mean, even in California where we usually have a nice long season, it’s been pitiful in tomato land since last October. Until now.

The tomatoes were perfection. The burrata was a perfect mix of creamy and milky, and the little “caviar balls” of balsamic added little bursts of goodness.

We also had a special that featured Swordfish:

It’s kind of hiding under all the arugula and caramelized onions. But it was tasty.

For my main, I had pondered a whole fish but then my dad decided that’s what he was getting. And he had ordered a really delicious bottle of red wine, so I looked for something that might be complemented by it and ended up with:

Angry Tomato Strozzapretti summer heirloom tomato sauce, calabrian chili, crispy basil & orange essence

If it mostly looks just like pasta with red sauce, that’s because that’s what it was. Again a relief to be enjoying actually ripe and quality tomatoes. The one part that made it stand out a bit more was the crispy basil. Not sure how they got it crispy but it won me over.

Side note, the wine – a Zinfandel from the Chiarello Family Vineyard which doesn’t distribute its wines anywhere other than their restaurants was excellent.

Dad, indeed had the whole fish: Wood-Oven Roasted Whole Fish with Meyer lemon, coal cooked fennel puree, fresh fennel dressing and roasted sunchokes

I couldn’t capture it very well but the slight lemon-tinge meeting the fennel situation definitely was a success.

Kathy had Potato dough Raviolo filled with spinach and ricotta, black truffles, farm fresh egg yolk, sage browned butter

I’m not gonna lie. It was awesome. I contemplated some move in which I traded meals with Kathy.

For dessert we got the souffle, and Dad was very clear that his standard for such desserts is high. He wants it to “bleed chocolate. Bleeeeeed.”

Sad to say, it did not live up to the bleeding chocolate wish. As dad told our server, “this was good but the one at Roy’s bleeeeds chocolate.”

All in all, an excellent meal to start of our Napa weekend.

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Rally the Troupes- Now that’s some Sparkle in Motion

I am a blogging slacker. Or at least a Sparkle Motion slacker since I actively blog for work on Ella’s Voice. Sure I can blame it on the whole buying-a-house-and-moving thing. Or I could lament the recent and ongoing flare ups of my litany of repetitive stress injuries. But no matter, I am returning to the blog to write about Rally the Troupes.

Rally the Troupes began as a vision of the Transformers, a Bay Area drag king boy band, that I used to be a part of, to bring social justice issues and an anti-oppression lens into a celebration of queer performance. I am honored to have been in all six of the previous Rally the Troupes shows and have gotten to use this unique show to explore everything from global warming to racism, grrrrl empowerment to Corporate/Politician Bedfellowship.

Too often, I have seen drag and burlesque used to reinforce misogyny or play out cultural appropriation or be just plain racist.   Some might say that I lack the fun gene that lets me see “all art as good art.” I just like to think of myself as someone who wants to use performance to imagine a world with more justice and less oppression and to inspire audiences rather than offend them.

That is part of the reason why a show like Rally the Troupes is SO meaningful to me. It is a rare place where I know I’ll take to the stage with “my people.”

This year, for the first time, Rally the Troupes is coming to Oakland. We have quite a knockout cast of characters cooking up all sorts of social-justice-inspired magic using drag burlesque, dance and multi-media. I invite you to join us. Get your tickets online now! (Or at the door but using cash only). It’s a show that will make you laugh. Turn you on. AND make you think.What could be better than that?

Here’s all the info:

Drew Montana, Kentucky Fried Woman and Starr 69 invite you Back to School for:
Rally the Troupes VII:The Revolution Will Include Glitter

Friday, September 16th, 8 pm
Mills College- Littlefield Concert Hall, 5000 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland

For the first time in its 7 year history, Rally the Troupes is coming to Oakland! Join us for an evening of inspiring and sexy queer performance.

Featuring politically savvy performances by:
Brock Cocker
Brush Arbor Gurlz
Chan Dynasty
Charleston Chu & Jai Arun Ravine
House of Glitter
Keshet Crew
King McQueen
La Chica Boom
Let Me Out
Lil Miss Hot Mess
Project Monochrome
The Dangers
And More!

$15- 20 Sliding scale. Buy tickets online at Limited tickets available at the door.

Posted in Anti-Oppression, LGBTQ, Oakland and the Bay Area, Performance, Pop Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment