Dear Dad, Here + Now
After my letter of rage to you, I'm finding myself on a path of transformative healing leading me to abolition.
A note: This post talks frankly about rage, San Francisco Police Department, family, and love.
This autumn my dad asked me to start a project with him. I suggested we write letters to each other based on how he used to write me cards as a kid. We’ve sent a few back and forth. It’s been beautifully healing.
We’ve both agreed to share them publicly. We feel it may bring some insight for others.
Below is a letter I wrote. My dad can no longer write me back.
More will come.
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The last time I wrote you I was raging, which set me down a path of transformative healing. My rage sparked attention and action, forced me to really listen to my whole body—the one that is both physical and spiritual. I had to ask myself:
What is the true origin of my rage, and how can it be part of my path (rather than take me off it)?
Every emotion seemed so close to the surface it felt difficult to fully answer that question. And everywhere I turned there was some other horror happening. I needed a bit of distance to gain perspective. So I turned off all news, tuned out all politics, and tried to simply be. I made a choice to pay attention only to the moment I was in, and when I found myself wandering back to rage I reminded myself to notice something about the here and now that I could feel or observe, rather than the past or future.
Over the next few days my focus began to narrow. Saturday was spent at a virtual writing conference produced by Barrelhouse, a literary non-profit. I had a one-on-one appointment with the Monica Prince, Editor of the Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly and author of How to Exterminate the Black Woman. I shared my letter to you about my rage. She saw its call to action so clearly and reflected back how righteous rage requires action, and that action can sometimes be unknown.
There was also a lot of time spent with John staring at walls or ceilings or clouds. He’s taught me so much about how to turn off, tune out, and just be. I wish we had lived a bit closer to you because I think he could have taught you a thing or two about how to manage all your anxiety. His wisdom regarding grief, anger, and envy is deep, and it’s his ability to clear his mind that’s been most profound to me. I am in awe that I get to spend all my days with him. He’s made me such a better human. (I know you saw that too.)
John and I went to the Free Farm Stand in our neighborhood on Sunday. It has been going for decades—longer than I’ve been here, in fact. My friend Mark reminded me of the Stand. John and I had been there before, back when I was unemployed due to the economic crash of 2008 due to the over-inflated housing market speculated on by Wall Street. I am, again, unemployed, and while the Free Farm Stand is for everyone, I am in need. It felt remarkable to be in a line with other neighbors—some who are in more dire circumstances and others who are in better ones—and all of us receive the same bag of greens, cauliflower, citrus, rutabagas, and bread collected from neighbors and farms who freely gave their crops.
I also spent lots of time making art. I posted my Psychedelic Video Test 1 on Monday. I don’t think you’d like that one. It’s probably a bit too weird. You would have loved that I had loads of fun making it. I also went In Search of Light and captured some of it in photos. I think there’s a few in there you’d like.
There was loads and loads of time with loved ones, family specifically. My sister Margaret. My uncle Bob. My cousin Crystal. My brothers Dan and Tomas. My cousin (the other) Dan. Mom. One of the things I love most about being queer is how expansive family is, how it means family of blood and of choice. I am making a commitment in 2021 to choose more family.
All along this journey over this last week, I have tuned out news and, instead, have chosen the present moment. It does not mean I have not paid attention or found myself involved in actions that liberate my self/selves and the peoples who are my family, comrades, and neighbors. It means I have refused—let me be clear that I have to actively refuse it and not just turn off my phone or close my computer—to let “the news” be that which dictates emotion or action. I have turned off that receptor in my heart and my brain, at least temporarily. I am choosing to listen to my body/bodies instead of what is being manufactured and forcefully fed by mass and social media.
image description: a digital flyer that reads, “ABO Comix Monthly Birthday Card Writing, 2nd Thursday, 6:30pm PT. Email jason [at] queerlycomplex [dot] com for more info” in bright red, yellow, and cyan colors against a black and white version of ABO Comix logo.
Part of my being is and always will be taking actions that liberate and heal. At the start of 2021, I made a commitment to myself that I would explore abolition in a sustained and committed way. It is a word that is familiar to me, but not one that courses through my blood and bones (yet). I see it reflected in my work in San Francisco middle schools, where I had implemented a strict “no expulsions” rule for all youth, even when my staff were triggered at the use of homophobic language and demanded certain young folx be “kicked out”. I see it in the flat, peer-run, consensus-based artist, educator, and organizer circles I’ve co-created and been a part of. I see it in my previous work with “system-involved” young folx teaching poetry and politics.
Abolition is close to me; it’s just not what I’ve called what I do, make, create, be. I want that to change in 2021.
In 2020, I had the incredible fortune of supporting two Youth Media Fellows in an intergenerational, cross-geographic conversation centered on the question, “How do we abolish police in media and arts institutions?” I also participated locally in numerous public meetings demanding the defunding of San Francisco Police Department with 1000s of my neighbors. I started monthly birthday card writing to TLGB folx in prisons and jails with ABO Comix. A few artist-comrades and I got together to talk about abolishing all white institutions in San Francisco. It was a year of being invited into conversations about abolition, and its contours becoming more familiar on my tongue and in my head and heart and hands.
I made a decision to create an “Abolition Week” for myself once a month in 2021 and start it in February. In reflecting on 2020, I saw three sustained ways I could deepen my commitment. The first was attending San Francisco Police Commission meetings once a month to become more familiar with mechanisms of supposed accountability. The second was to continue supporting ABO Comix in monthly birthday card writing and expand upon my understanding through reading essays from Captive Genders with other ABO comrades. The third was hosting a monthly gathering for comrades striving to abolish all white institutions.
This is my first “Abolition Week” for 2021, and I am fully present for it.
image description: a digital flyer that reads, “Abolish All White Institutions. 2nd Fridays, 4:00-6:30pm PT. Come for all of part. Virtual Event. To attend: please email jason [at] queerlycomplex [dot] com. A monthly gathering for comrades striving to ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS,” in neon lettering against a cosmic purple, navy, and magenta background.
On Monday, I (mostly) finished up the January Birthday Cards I had started for ABO Comix and sent them off. I was late getting them out the door, and my guilt and rage had made action seem so impossible earlier in the month. I gave myself leeway to just feel as much as possible after your death, Dad. And I knew honoring your life meant honoring my commitments. Still, grief made card writing seem especially difficult.
Monday, though, card writing came with incredible ease. I knew I wanted most of the January birthday cards done before tonight’s card writing and reading group. After a weekend of presence, what felt most present was staying true to my word. I turned on some news, got to work, and finished eight of twelve cards. Through all, I kept my mind on the ink as it traveled across the white, blank paper. The news was simply background chatter.
Yesterday was the San Francisco Police Commission meeting. After a day spent with John laying in Dolores Park and then starting our taxes, the Police Commission was the furthest thing from my mind. Still, a commitment had been made: attend one Commission meeting a month. I tuned in via my phone just as it started. First up was public comment.
I had not intended to speak. I just wanted to listen and observe, to get to know more about the Commission and Commissioners.
Emily Lee with San Francisco Rising was first to speak. She spoke about cutting the San Francisco Police Department budget and urged the Commission to not approve the current budget by SFPD. She spoke specifically about how SFPD disproportionately polices and uses force against Black and Latinx neighbors. It seemed I called at a moment when the Police Commission was considering the police budget. I had to comment, and I did.
I continued listening to the Commission meeting, including a report by Center for Policing Equity that documented (yet again) all of the disparities and inequities of SFPD in policing and using force against Black and Latinx neighbors. The data came from 2016-2018, and few recommendations that haven’t already been implemented were suggested by the experts at Center for Policing Equity. This fact was pointed out by Commissioner Elias, and she asked if they had analyzed the data from the other report by Dante King that found rampant anti-Black bias with SFPD. They had not, and for about an hour there was a public dance about inequities and disparities that never once mentioned terminating officers, reducing police budgets, or reigning in use of force and instead talked about learning history and voluntary compliance.
Public comment for this specific item came up, and I found myself compelled yet again to speak. For decades officers have ignored Direct General Orders issued by the San Francisco Police Chief, and there has been little to no consequence for not following orders. Anyone who’s lived in San Francisco and ever worked in a public school or within a public agency knows there are disparities and inequities within SFPD’s policing of and use of force on Black and Latinx neighbors. In fact, it is why 1000s of San Franciscans called all summer long demanding the defunding of SFPD. We know they are the problem. In my comment, I mentioned that these grifters from Center for Policing Equity have said absolutely zero, and that any money spent on them is money that could be saved. We do not need to pay experts to tell us what we already know. My comment ended.
The Commission noted that Center for Policing Equity was donating their time to the effort, and my comment was laughed off. They did not recognize the hours of paid SFPD staff time that went in to working with Center for Policing Equity as money spent towards zero outcomes. In fact, we spent an hour of our time listening to them just last night, and that was time and money ill spent.
Tonight, I continue “Abolition Week” by hosting Card Writing for ABO Comix. There’s about 20 folx signed up to write cards and read an essay about Miss Major Griffin-Gracy from Captive Genders. I don’t know most of the folx joining me tonight. This is the first open session, and I am excited to meet others trying to figure out what abolition means to them and how we can more fully practice it in our lives and communities. For me, it can only be truly built when we build and sustain bonds across borders, territories, and lines, including (and essentially) between those on the “inside” and those on the “outside”, whether prisons, jails, detention centers, mental institutions, labor camps, ….
I wrap up my week with Abolishing All White Institutions Happy Hour tomorrow. This started as a semi-cheeky way for me and my artist-comrades to talk about how we can better link efforts between calls for defunding / abolishing the police and @ChangeTheMuseum. We had all experienced the ways in which art, especially in San Francisco, is wielded as a tool of gentrification and White Supremacy, even as it diversifies its expression. We hosted a few gatherings, and then it kinda fizzled out. I am picking it back up as a space for any comrade anywhere striving to ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS from police to jails to Hollywood to academia to museums. I don’t know what it will yield, only that I desire to hold this space.
Since writing my letter to you last week, Dad, I’ve been more present to the here and now. Thank you for receiving my rage and guiding me to this moment. I still feel it course through my blood for my righteous rage is a gift inherited from you. It also isn’t quite as overwhelming. I have family to thank for that.
You also taught me a lot about family of choice without ever calling it that.
In holding and telling your story to your community of communities, I saw how unconditionally you were (and are) loved. I am so grateful that you were so beloved. It makes me feel all the love from all of my family of blood and of choice so much more intensely. It pulls me back into the here and now.
In love and rage,
image description: an animated gif that reads, “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS” and then flashes, “insurance, pro-sports, land ownership, corporations.” Then flashes, “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” Then, “philanthropy, the USA, museums, foster care.” Then, “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” Then, “banks, Hollywood, police, mass media.” Then “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” Then, “classic lit., prisons and jails, Wall Street, the Justice System.” Then, “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” Then, “celebrity, I.C.E., academia, Silicon Valley.” Then, “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” Then, “insurance, pro-sports, land ownership, corporations, philanthropy, the USA, museums, foster care, banks, Hollywood, police, mass media, classic lit., prisons and jails, Wall Street, the Justice System, celebrity, I.C.E., academia, Silicon Valley.” Then, “ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” Then, “insurance, pro-sports, land ownership, corporations, philanthropy, the USA, museums, foster care, banks, Hollywood, police, mass media, classic lit., prisons and jails, Wall Street, the Justice System, celebrity, I.C.E., academia, Silicon Valley.” Finally, it ends on, “Abolish All White Institutions. 2nd Fridays, 4:00-6:30pm PT. Come for all of part. Virtual Event. To attend: please email jason [at] queerlycomplex [dot] com. A monthly gathering for comrades striving to ABOLISH ALL WHITE INSTITUTIONS.” All of the lettering is in various, bright neon colors set against a purple, blue, and magenta cosmic background. The aesthetic is reminiscent of the, “Now that’s what I call music” compilations popular in the 1990s and 2000s.