Fifty people were sitting in a circle July 8, talking about what was weighing on them that week. And the weight was heavy. Poverty, violence, addiction, racism. Crushed by debt, foreclosed and evicted. Seeing family members deported, imprisoned, and killed. Continued repression of the Ohlone and other Native peoples. After telling her story, Vivian Thorp said she got together the money to seek medical treatment.
“So I go to the doctor,” she said. “And they tell me, you’ve got anxiety. I go, no shit.”
The others in the circle understood. This was the second day of Healing the Hood, a weekend of workshops, art, cooking, biking, spirituality, and communtiy building. The Poor Magazine project is aimed at resisting corporate control of food, medicine, the environment, and other survival necessities.
For many of the people present, "anxiety" doesn't quite describe the oppression caused by abuse and violence, by fear of police and prison, by having not enough money to feed their families, by injuries and stress incurred by working for that money. No pill can cure that anxiety, even if you can afford it.
Healing the Hood is supposed to be some part of the real cure. Day one was spent in the Mission district, where Poor Magazine has it's office. Day two was in East Oakland on a plot of land that Poor has purchased as part of its Homefulness project.
I arrived around lunchtime. In the hot East Bay sun, Needa Bee was preparing a salad while teaching a workshop on food. As she chopped the lettuce and carrots, she talked about how Monsanto and other agricultural industry giants control most of the food that’s available in supermarkets. She discussed resistance movements to Monsanto, telling of farmers in India and China who burned their GMO fields lest they infect other plants. Her lesson ended at the same moment that she topped off the salad with sesame seeds and coconut vinegar.
“This is all fields, backyard, street, Halal markets, Southeast Asian markets,” she said of the feast, recommending those sources as places where GMOs and factory farmed products can be avoided.
Tiny Gray-Garcia, Poor Magazine’s co-founder, smiled as 50 people lined up to eat. Gray-Garcia helped bring together the many sages present at Healing the Hood. The event is steeped in a deep yearning to preserve and teach cultural and medicinal knowledge, made all the more difficult because, as Gray-Garcia put it, people must “try to do it within this capitalist society, whose oppression is in everything, even our food.”
The weekends teachers were more than cooks; herbalists and nutritionists, gardeners and mothers, poets and dancers. After the food demonstration, nutritionist Tanya Henderson and Poor Magazine scholar Estrella gave a presentation on native herbs and foods and their medicinal properties. Next, youth from 67 Suenos, an organization that rejects not just attempts at harsher immigration laws but the colonial notion of borders in the Americas itself, led a discussion.
“Borders aren’t real. They’re a construct. They’re part of the plantation system,” one of the members said. The group supports the concept of a path to legalization for young people embodied in the DREAM Act, but takes issue with policies that would help successful students-- “good immigrants"-- while still allowing for families to be torn apart and ignoring the reality of students who are delayed in their success, often by that very fear of deportation of themselves or family members.
“Sadly, no one’s talking about a path towards legalization for every undocumented person in this country,” one of the members noted, recalling protests in 2006 and 2007, when many groups demanded “legalize all.”
Luis Rodriguez, one of the weekend’s special guests, is an author and poet based in the Los Angeles area. He was in town partly to promote his new book, It Calls You Back, and will soon be heading to El Salvador for an event celebrating a gang truce that has more than halved the country’s homicides since it was brokered.
“Earth Mother” Iyalode Kinney, founder of the Richmond urban gardening project Communities United Restoring Mother Earth, passed around leaves of comfrey and sprigs of fragrant German chamomile, plucked from her garden that morning, explaining their medicinal properties. Attendants rode bikes and recited poetry as the sun set.
The Healing the Hood initiative didn’t end Sunday. Poor Magazine will be meeting again August 5 to plant the Pachamama Garden as part of Homefulness.
“We as poor peoples and indigenous peoples are in constant struggle to survive and resist the violence of poverty, racism and colonization and if we are to not only survive but thrive, we most focus some time on healing our bodies, minds and spirits with out lives and ancestral knowledge not tied to the Western Medical Industrial complex, big pharma and corporations,” the Healing the Hood event descriptions reads.
In their many publications and its everyday work, the folks at Poor Magazine speak a sort of revolutionary language. The US is Amerikkka, deals that gentrify and displace are devil-opment, and Mama Scholars and Poverty Scholars spread their knowledge while the merits of establishment “akkkademia” are questioned. It’s a the language of a culture of empowerment and resistance, whose people have found violence and destruction in the things most valued in capitalism.
Rodriguez closed out the healing circle. He said a prayer to the Earth, and each attendant named a suffering or dead loved one as he and ceremonially spilled water on a newly sprouting plant.
The preservance, the survival, the regeneration. The suffering and the healing. As Rodriguez said as he closed it out, “Capitalism can’t reconcile with this circle.”