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“New York is Baltimore”

In the span of 3 hours, I witnessed 9 arrests by NYPD, made some new friends in solidarity, nearly lost my voice, and oscillated between deep elation over a people united, and inexplicable anger at the irony of continued police injustice during the very march to abolish it. This was the Million March NYC in response to the Baltimore uprising and the death of Freddie Gray.


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The beginning of Million March NYC on April 29th.

Within five minutes of our march, we were stopped by police blocking the road ordering us to return. Peaceful protestors initially turned around to march back until some inevitably began to push and shove while dodging aggressive police. Forced on the sidewalks, we watched on. One policeman hoisted a loud speaker projecting robotic messages to disperse the crowds and “maintain order.” This degree of militarized policing was rare even for seasoned protesters. For a moment, it felt as though we were transplanted to an unfamiliar warring state.

In the next ten minutes, the police exerted power and control by making at least 6 unnecessary arrests of peaceful protesters who may have been unlucky to stand and chant near the cops. We chanted even louder, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Watch the video here.

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Fragmented, protesters gathered in smaller groups and marched on with our message: New York is Baltimore, and Baltimore is New York. A marching band joined with musical accompaniment that made the heavy chants and solemn mood a bit lighter. We chanted on, “This is what community looks like! This is what love looks like!” Intermittent celebrations of our collective solidarity served as a good reminder to take a look around and appreciate the power of organizing.

In spite of police intimidation, we spilled into the streets as a form of disruption. Civil disruption and its intended inconvenience mean that we are capturing attention, even if momentarily. It is a short sliver of time for the otherwise voiceless individuals to claim a few moments to be heard: “Black lives matter!” Stopped cars waited patiently while protesters encouraged drivers to get out and join. For every annoyed, head-shaking driver idling on the road, just as many smiled in delight, enthusiastically honked their horn, and chanted along in support. We took over Broadway from Union Square to City Hall, and back to Times Square.

Photo credit: Saif Alnuweiri

A protester stood with his hands up as police charged forward.

In their most subdued state, police guarded behind us or next to us to keep watch. On several occasions, the police not only stood assembled, blocking the way, but charged towards us to get us out of the streets and onto the sidewalks. If you were the unlucky few who got caught on the street chanting, you may have been arrested. During one of the altercations, the leading “Black Lives Matter” banner was torn off its posts while an excess of nearly 9 policemen charged to arrest one man. I couldn’t take my eyes off the giant mound of cops excessively piled over a single protester faced down. Others plead with black policemen and women, urging for understanding and solidarity in place of aggression and authority. In response, most turned away with no words, exposing their conflicted positions. The more the police tried to control, the more we marched on. The now bare banner posts marched on, too.

Photo credit: Saif Alnuweiri

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In The Mood to Pause

“The mindful transitional pause can take many forms. For some, it can be a period of reflection that helps them understand how their life has unfolded. For others, it can be a period of adjustment, where new values based on recent changes are integrated into daily life. Just because you’re not headed swiftly to a final destination doesn’t mean you should assume that you have lost your drive. The stage between journeys can become a wonderful period of relaxation that prepares you for the path that will soon be revealed to you.”

I’m in a transitioning state right now, and these can be uncomfortable. I liken my discomfort to those long months waiting anxiously for college admission letters, or the fresh wound of a loss or separation. (Mine is quite accurately a little bit of both.) Though it’s intuitive the discomfort is not permanent, the current state of uncertainty remains palpable. In this state, it is too easy to snow ball into a spiral of negativity.

Fear. Anxiety. Insecurity. Guilt. Sadness.
Spiraling swiftly into self-doubt.

Here is a perfect opportunity for a sound reminder to pause. Pause to re-engage in my abilities and my values. Pause to re-establish the reasons positioning the current situation. Pause to reaffirm decisions already made. Pause to recall warm memories and reignite the excitement to embark on new adventures. Pause to thank the most important people in past chapters, and enjoy the energy of new relationships.

Be in the mood to pause.

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Dialogue: Race in America

Following my recent article in Huffington Post – Guide to Getting Uncomfortable With Race – I’m hoping we can open a space for reflection and dialogue. “The uprising we’re witnessing in our digital and physical communities should be the impetus for engaging in some real discomfort with our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues. To truly move forward, we have to move within ourselves to have some uncomfortable conversations about race in America.”

Wherever we are in our racial exploration, we all can move a bit forward each day, whether it’s in reading an article or becoming aware of a racial bias, then having a conversation with a friend. Everyday, we can move forward, however small our steps.

Here are a few questions to consider to help deepen our exploration and dialogue around race:

  1. What racial biases did you realize you hold?
  2. How are you committing to unlearning your biases each day, week, or month?
  3. How have you empathetically engaged someone in a race conversation?
  4. This #BlackLivesMatter uprising is unique in that it doesn’t necessarily operate around a single objective, but a broad and multi-faceted problem of a racist system. Do you think we need a singular objective to move forward? If not, why?
  5. In your experience, how have you successfully combated naysayers who don’t believe in the cause, are quick to blame the victim, or complain about protest-related inconveniences?
  6. Are there good examples in other nations that we can learn from as we gather power and strength to combat a racist system?
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A Revolution Cannot Be Without Art

“This is the 21st century and we need to redefine revolution. This planet needs a people’s revolution. A humanist revolution. Revolution is not about bloodshed or about going to the mountains and fighting. We will fight if we are forced to but the fundamental goal of revolution is peace. We need a revolution of the mind.

We need a revolution of the heart. We need a revolution of the spirit. The power of the people is stronger than any weapon. A people’s revolution can’t be stopped. We need to be weapons of mass construction. Weapons of mass love. It’s not enough just to change the system. We need to change ourselves. We have got to make this world user friendly. User friendly.

Are you ready to sacrifice to end world hunger. To sacrifice to end colonialism. To end neo-colonialism. To end racism. To end sexism. Revolution means the end of exploitation. Revolution means respecting people from other cultures. Revolution is creative.

Revolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. Revolution is sexy. Revolution means respecting and learning from your children. Revolution is beautiful. Revolution means protecting the people. The plants. The animals. The air. The water. Revolution means saving this planet.

Revolution is love.”  –  Assata Shakur

Photo Credit: Start Now Studios featured muralist Kristy Sandoval and her story behind the Assata Shakur mural in Pacoima, Los Angeles.
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Amidst Ferguson Unrest, DC Comes Alive

Washington, D.C. came alive in response to the verdict to Mike Brown’s case – the police who shot the unarmed Mike Brown dead will not be indicted. An estimated 11,000 demonstrators piled into Mt. Vernon Square on November 25 at 7pm and began the march through downtown DC in solidarity with Ferguson.


Some motorists were caught in the middle of the march on New York Ave. While stuck waiting, some drivers raised their hands up and chanted with us, “hands up, don’t shoot.” A few marchers greeted the immobile motorists and apologized for their delay.

The march even paused outside of and occupied the newly opened Walmart on H Street in a display of continued protest against Walmart’s low wages. No laws were broken, nor was anything stolen while Walmart was briefly occupied. Walmart workers and shoppers expressed solidarity by throwing their hands up.

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Marchers chanted “hands up, don’t shoot.”

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Marching through DC Chinatown.

Marchers gather at Portrait Gallery in DC

Concluding the march with a gathering on the steps of the Portrait Gallery and singing songs.

Throughout the walk, many marchers encountered familiar faces and shared hugs and stories, lamenting on what the Ferguson decision meant to them. Amidst a passionate call-and-response of “no peace, no justice!” or the popular hashtag “black lives matter!”, marchers remained courteous, peaceful, and showed nothing but love. The Asian American community represented with signs that read “Yellow Peril Loves, Supports, and Protects Black Power,” and “Asian Americans in Solidarity with Ferguson.” Some chants were repeated in Spanish – “Que queremos? Justicia. Cuando? Ahora!”

The march concluded with a gathering on the steps of the Portrait Gallery while some marchers sang. Crowds dispersed around 9:30pm, about 1.5 hours after the march began.

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The Beijing Rule: Bullying Its Way to Unity

Six months ago I had a dream about Hong Kong. The city of my birth appeared in great disorder. A dust blanket covered the cityscape as people shuffled through war-torn streets in panic, searching for family, or planning an escape. From above, vivid aerial views of Hong Kong showed indomitable skyscrapers, scattered among them, armies of people drowning in disarray. Six months later, I worry if I had predicted the future.

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong – endearingly dubbed the Umbrella Revolution for protestors’ pragmatic use of umbrellas as a defense against police violence – hit home tremendously. Free, democratic governance is a value that runs deep in Hong Kong society, and the threat of removing it is not taken lightly, as demonstrated by the ongoing civil disobedience in the dense city of 7 million.

As the number of protesters thins and the reality of stalemate nears, “business as usual” brings no relief to the ever-increasing threat of Beijing control since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997. Like a broken record, Beijing’s blatant and brutal practices to maintain “control” of its people and eliminate “threats” to its values play over and over again. It occurred to me that Beijing reminded me a great deal of a documentary I recently watched.

The documentary Bully portrays powerful stories illustrating the often-permanent damage of bullying on children. My childhood memories of being bullied, though difficult, made me particularly curious to understand bullies, and undoubtedly make October’s National Stop Bullying Month personally relevant.

By definition, bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. Bullies use their power to control or harm others, and their harmful behaviors are often repeated. Bullying comes in many forms, certainly among children, but also between children and adults, among adults, and in Beijing’s case, between a government and the people it seeks to control. Here are 5 ways Beijing bullies its people:

Taiwan.

Beijing’s ambiguous authority over Taiwan poses a great threat to the Communist Party of China (CPC), in particular because of Taiwan’s repeated interest to declare independence. As the quiet rebellion continues with no clear move from either party, Chinese politicians are beginning to worry. To strongly discourage Taiwanese independence, Chinese officials planted and aimed 1,600 missiles directly at Taiwan, in a loud, unspoken declaration of threat and power.

Tibet.

For more than 60 years of Chinese control, the once-independent kingdom of Tibet suffers palpable tensions with Beijing. Tibet’s declaration of independence in 1912 was ignored when the CPC planted troops in the region in 1950 and in effect arranged for Tibet to cede sovereignty to China, against their wishes. Tibetans’ wish for independence motivates further insecurity in Beijing, where the government repeatedly denies Tibet’s desire for autonomy. Instead, the Chinese government intentionally encourages Han Chinese businesses and people to live in Tibet, resulting in multiple accusations of “cultural genocide” and religious repression. Justifications for the exploitation of Tibetan land and people is the hope “to even out inequality and tap into natural resources to support growth back east in the Han Chinese heartland.”

Falun Gong.

A discipline born out of the qigong practice of slow movements, meditation and a peaceful moral philosophy, Falun Gong suffers unimaginable acts of torture and abuse in China. A group with no history of violence or terrorist activities, Falun Gong is listed as the number one most active cult in China. In reality, it has become one of the biggest critics of the CPC. In attempts to quiet the growing Falun Gong supporters, the CPC effectively arrest, detain, and coerce Falun Gong members into labor camps. Worse, members have been reported to be tortured through organ harvesting, electrical burns, and beatings. Falun Gong practitioners join many other groups of artists, intellectuals, and reformists as ideological threats to Beijing control.

Uighur Muslim Minority.

A lesser known conflict between the largest minority group in the Xinjiang province and the CPC continues to boil – with nearly 92% of the Chinese population belonging to the Han ethnic group, it’s not surprising that we don’t hear much of the Uighur Muslim minority of China. Similar to Tibet, the autonomous region of Xinjiang frequently sees imprisonment as a means to suppress the Uighur community’s vocal resistance against religious and cultural suppression by Beijing. Recently, a Chinese court sentenced an Uighur academic to life in prison after the CPC accused Ilham Tohti of promoting separatism for his effort to gain respect for Uighur and Xinjiang’s regional autonomy laws.

Hong Kong.

In a familiar attempt to gradually move Hong Kong toward its socialistic ideals, the CPC introduced the highly controversial “national education” to “teach” patriotism. Since 1997, Hong Kong has been operating as a “Special Administrative Region” (SAR) under China. The democratic city’s freedom to vocalize resentment toward Beijing influence in their education system successfully deterred implementation. Two years later, protests erupted this month in the busiest Hong Kong neighborhoods in direct opposition of Beijing’s attempt to eliminate universal suffrage. During the protests, Beijing was accused of hiring thugs who violently harassed peaceful protesters and sexually harassed women.

BEIJING, CHINA - APR 6: Tiananmen sunrise on April 6, 2013 in Be

Only 25 years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Beijing threatens to bully again.

Not soon after the Hong Kong protests gained global attention and support, Beijing warned Hong Kong of “unimaginable consequences” should protests continue. Just 25 years after the painful Tiananmen Square Massacre, we are again reminded of who we are up against – a forceful bully, threatened by ideological deviation, driven toward a “unified China,” by any means necessary.

Getting Involved.

During the writing of this piece, I met a young man, a student at University of Maryland, College Park, who is leading the Ride to Freedom effort in the Washington, DC area. Ride to Freedom is a global effort to save children who are persecuted for practicing Falun Gong in China. On July 1, 2015, young people will gather in Los Angeles and commit to a cross-country bike ride to Washington, DC. Those who are not able to participate in the ride are encouraged to log their personal bike time in solidarity with and in support of Ride to Freedom riders.