“You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.” —Grace Lee Boggs
Change is the act or instance of making or becoming diﬀerent. Change as a person (like single mother and soon-to-be-lawyer Marcella Jayne p. 62), change in time (like Chicana punk icon Alice Bag on p. 9), change in community (like human rights activist Grace Lee Boggs on p. 34), change of perception (like NASA planetary scientist Carolyn Porco p. 14), or change of mind (like menstrual activist and outspoken feminist Kiran Gandhi p. 48). “In 2016, an activist can and should be many things like writer, artist, teacher, or leader. Their work is not relegated to the literal sidelines. Instead, they maneuver through roles, adapting their goals, through practices and skills to better align with the needs of an increasingly fractured world,” writes Britt Julious of National Public Policy Chair at Black Youth Project 100 and PhD candidate at the University of Illinois Chicago in Social Work, Janae Bonsu (p. 42). As women, we have to constantly adapt or push back within the limits of our societies. By definition, we are catalysts of change. We dedicate this issue to anyone that’s ever challenged the status quo.
With love, Meg & Amanda
THANKS TO Anna Lian Tes, #BossBabesATX, Bonnie Wachter, Celeste Prevost, Chris Young at Prolific Group, Guernica Magazine, The James and Grace Lee Boggs Trust.
is an Illustrator and Art Director based in Los Angeles, CA. Her work takes cues from punk flyers, trading cards, and printmaking techniques, creating finished pieces that are bold, contemporary, and nuanced in texture. Clients include, MouthFeel Magazine, Converse, Becks, Protein UK, Luaka Bop Records, and Sterling Publishing. arielcrisis arielroman.biz
is a printmaker, illustrator, and muralist living in Denver. Heavily influenced by abstract storytelling within alternative comics and zines, her work derails the common narrative of insecurity as a right of passage into womanhood. Through female portraiture and a personal lexicon of symbols, her work calls into question the psychological training of doubt that undermines those working to gain agency in determining their futures. moldybongs mollybounds.com
Beth Hoeckel is a multidisciplinary artist from Baltimore, Maryland and is currently a full-time freelance artist creating collage and mixed media works for arts’ sake, as well as for a variety of clients including Rookie, Wired, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic, and more. bethhoeckel bethhoeckel.com
Kat Thek is an Autumn, a Carrie, and a Libra. Her inventions have been featured in Paper Magazine, Jezebel, Vice, Fusion, Refinery29, and on the local news. She writes and does improv in NYC. thekfast katthek.com
is a journalist and essayist. She currently writes the Local Sounds column for the Chicago Tribune and is a staff writer at THUMP. She contributes regularly to Esquire, Pitchfork, and Vice magazine. Beyonce is her spiritual advisor. britticisms
is a design researcher and strategist with a hyperactive public engagement practice. Katie is recently launched out of five years of grad school and plans to sweat it out in NYC for the time being, bridging media and design to make things in the world more awesome. thingsfromplaces katieedmonds.com
Emily Simpson is a writer, illustrator, and book-lover living in Brooklyn, New York. She’s one of four publishers of the South Slope-produced feminist zine Planet Bitch Squad. Follow Emily and PBS. srrrslyemily bitchsquadzine
Karolin Schnoor is a German illustrator living and working in London. Bright flat color, pattern and a love of screenprinting inform her work. Previous clients include The New York Times, Target, the V&A and WRAP magazine. karolinschnoor karolinschnoor.com
Lauren Denitzio is an interdisciplinary artist and musician. They were a founding member of the For The Birds Feminist Collective and Distro and regularly contribute to Razorcake, the country’s only nonprofit DIY punk fanzine. They are also the vocalist and guitarist in Worriers. Denitzio lives and works in Philadelphia.
Kelly Thorn is an illustrative lettering artist, graphic designer, and general ham currently working and living in Brooklyn, NY. jellythorn kellythorn.com
Girls LAZY MOM
is a collaboration by New York-based artists Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma. Based on an imaginary mother who spends her time arranging groceries obsessive-compulsively instead of preparing meals for her family, the project explores the simplicity and complexity of modern food. lazymomnyc lazymomnyc.com
is a Brooklyn-based writer and perpetual student. She is a former bike messenger, bookkeeper, farmhand, personal assistant, and bubble tea barista. She currently works at the Remarque Institute. sampaulsampaul
Malaika Dower is an old-ish woman and a new-ish mother. She hosts “How To Get Away With Parenting” a weekly podcast where she asks different guests all the questions she probably should have asked before she had a kid. htgawp htgawp.com
Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times and Dissent magazine, and associate editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of “Asia Pacific Forum” on Pacifica’s WBAI and Dissent‘s “Belabored” podcast, and studies history at the City University of New York Graduate Center. meeshellchen
Taylor Emrey Glascock is a photojournalist who loves animals, toy cameras, paperback books, and the color red. She currently resides in Chicago with her 15-pound cat, Leroy. tayloremrey katieedmonds.com
Whitney Blank is merely from a long line of procreators but had the honor of photographing F.L.O.W. nonetheless. whitneyblank
Natalie Snoyman is a PhD candidate and archivist living in West Virginia. She researches color films from the 1920s and 30s by day and resurrects her childhood ballet obsession by night. waitingdogs nsnoyman
Ness Lee is an illustrator/artist based in Toronto. Her Illustrations have been chosen for award publications such as American Illustration and The Society of Illustrators. nesslee nesslee.com
09 Alice Bag is a punk icon
14 Carolyn Porco is Madame Saturn
22 Childbirth are nasty girls
26 Feminist Library On Wheels literally mobilizes media
34 Grace Lee Boggs is a small rebellion
42 Janae Bonsu fights the powers that be
48 Kiran Gandhi knows the future is female
62 Marcella Jayne
56 LAZY MOM
makes utility of trauma
78 Meredith Graves doesnâ€™t care what you think
Alice Bag Interview by Lauren Denitzio Illustration by Ariel Roman
Alice Bag grew up in East Los Angeles during the 1970’s in a working-class Mexican home, listening to rancheras and soul music, learning style and attitude from the cholas at her high school. Discovering punk during its transition from glam and fronting one of the first bands in the Los Angeles scene, The Bags, Alice came of age alongside contemporary concepts of DIY and before the narrative of punk as a boys club. While The Bags released only one single, they are considered a staple of the early punk bands in the U.S. and are featured in Penelope Spheris’ iconic punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. After the Bags split up in the early 1980’s, Alice went on to perform in bands like Castration Squad (featuring members of Red Kross, The Go-Go’s and Nervous Gender), Las Tres, Goddess 13 and Cholita (a collaboration with genderqueer performance artist Vaginal Davis). After taking a break from music to help raise her three daughters, Alice returned to music in the early 2000’s with the band Stay at Home Bomb, followed by the release of her memoir Violence Girl
in 2011. Referred to as a Chicana punk icon, she has also spearheaded the Women in LA Punk Archives, highlighting the many contributions made by women to the first generation of punk. As if there were any doubt of her own contributions, in 2015 Alice released a book of diary entries called Pipe Bomb for the Soul from her time working at a school in Nicaragua in 1986 while the country was under Sandinista control. In recent years she has also participated in multiple Women Who Rock conferences and the Chicas Rockeras camp in Southeast LA. Despite being a prolific performer and writer, none of Alice’s bands formally recorded or released a full album. For the first time, Alice released an LP on Don Giovanni Records on June 24, 2016. Joined by friends from the LA scene, the rock record shares her opposition to institutions like Monsanto or unjust U.S. immigration laws. The feminist powerhouse spoke with me about her activism, rewriting the inaccuracies of punk history and maintaining a relationship with music during parenthood.
Alice Lauren Denitzio I’m really interested in the transformative power of music. How do you relate to that as a singer or as a lyricist? Alice Bag Well, what happened to me was when I first got on stage I had an experience that really changed me. I remember being on stage and looking out into the audience and the first few rows usually have light from the stage and then the back is dark. As I was singing and feeling the energy of the audience with me I remember looking out and thinking, “If I slow down, they’re gonna slow down. If I do a certain thing, they’re gonna react to me.” So I felt a connection with the audience. But then, as I looked out into the darkness I realized that it could be infinity. I could be singing to the universe. I had this epiphany where I thought I could change the world. I could steer the course of the future. I could really change things and the way I do it is by connecting with other people, which is what I was doing on stage. So it was going through music, but really it was that music is what got me on the stage. But it was the connection that really changed me. Lauren You recently donated some of your recent pre-order sales to Peace Over Violence (a domestic violence prevention center). Are there specific causes or other issues that you’d like to raise awareness around through performances or record sales? Alice I think domestic violence is up there on my list of concerns because it just doesn’t seem to get a whole lot of attention, or not the attention it deserves. I feel like we think of ourselves as a society that’s so advanced, yet there are still people trapped in relationships where they feel that they can’t get out for whatever reason. It could be the relationship itself, it could be a co-dependent relationship, it could be because of financial reasons, it could be because there are children that would be displaced. There are so many reasons why people feel compelled to stay in a toxic relationship and we as a society need to provide some kind of support. I mean, we do it with our friends, but some people become isolated when they get into these relationships.
& That’s part of the process by which an abuser controls the person that he or she is abusing. They actually take them out of the community and out of the relationships that they have and make their relationship the center of that person’s universe. So I am concerned that we don’t pay enough attention to domestic abuse. Lauren You’ve mentioned that when you had your first daughter, you had a hard time balancing music and being a parent. I’m curious now that you’re much more active in music again, if you separate your family life from your identity as a musician at all, or if there’s a good way you’ve found to balance the two things. Alice The easiest answer for that is that my daughters are much older now, they’re not as dependent on me as when they were younger. As soon as all my daughters were in school, it became easier. But again, another area that we as a society need to have a conversation about. A mother, or father, or any kind of single parent that is trying to do it all, trying to work, trying to provide a home, needs support, and we often don’t provide any. I wasn’t a single parent but my husband worked all the time so I really felt isolated. I wasn’t close to my family. My parents, by the time my daughter was a toddler, had both passed away. So I didn’t have that support. I suppose it’s about finding a situation where you can have some creativity because if you don’t find that...it’s like deciding I’m just going to give all my food to my kid and not feed myself. Now eventually you’re gonna shrivel up and die. You have to take care of feeding not only your body but your soul. You have to take care of yourself for your child. Lauren I totally agree and I think I’ve seen a lot more conversation around that in the past few years in terms of supporting parents who even just want to go to shows, let alone be a musician. Alice Yes! Lauren I’m also wondering about your project the Women in LA Punk Archives. I think it’s such a valuable project from a historical preservation standpoint, so I’m curious what motivated you to
The Bags (photo courtesy of Alice Bag)
Alice Bag start that and if there’s anything new coming up with that project? Alice I’m always trying to approach women and remind women to do interviews that I send them. A lot of times I end up talking to old friends and I send them an interview and they say, “Oh yes I’d be happy to!” but then they forget. So I have a new one that I’m trying to finish up, so hopefully that will be up soon. I can’t say when, because it’s not up to me! But what got me motivated was the fact that over the years there started to be this writing about punk rock in a way that excluded or diminished the role of women. There was a lot of focus on the male players, and I felt like it was another taste of women being erased from history. I really think the LA punk scene would not have happened at all if it weren’t for women. The Masque that was pretty much ground zero for LA punk, it was supposed to be a rehearsal studio and the women in the band Backstage Pass
and ethnicity and gender, all of that was second to the fact that you were a punk, first and foremost. You were somebody that was creating your world, creating your reality, creating your environment, and challenging the system. Challenging the status quo. Just by being yourself. You didn’t even have to try to do it, you were doing it by just being yourself. Lauren I feel like this must be endlessly frustrating to read about a scene that you were a part of and knowing that there’s so much left untold and that women are being left out of it for no reason. Especially a lot of the behind the scene stuff that you were talking about, it ends up looking like a boys’ club when really not many people were even thinking about whether or not women were involved. Alice I don’t think anybody did. I think at the very beginning, when glam was transitioning into punk. Because a lot of people who were
I really think the LA punk scene would not have happened at all if it weren’t for women. actually signed the lease on that. They weren’t Brendan Mullen but they’re never written about in the same way Brendan Mullen is written about. He booked the bands but they actually signed the lease because Brendan wasn’t a US citizen and for some reason he could not get the space without a co-signer, so the ladies did that. They helped create that and the same thing with the bands. Most of the bands had women in them. Clash magazine had women writers, women photographers, and people making zines, a lot of them were women. You had Generation X, different zines that were being put together by women. Women roadies. Everything. Every role that could be played by a guy was played by a woman as well. There wasn’t this whole sense of gender roles, which was refreshing. You could just be a person. You could just be: I am a punk. Which was nice, because the whole idea of class
getting into punk were transitioning from glam. I think at the very beginning I was coming at it and a lot of my friends were coming at it from the background of glam. And glam was pretty sexist and the role of women in glam was much more of a myth. So when I wanted to form an all-girl band, I was coming from that glam place. Seeing someone like The Runaways or hearing about Suzy Quattro, those were our role models, but then there were also the groupies that were being glamorized in rock magazines. So there was a whole different way of looking at your role in rock. When punk came along, suddenly you didn’t have to be the sexual kitten. You could be a powerful entity on your own and I felt like punk really just allowed us to be people. We could choose to show the side of yourself that we felt like showing at the time. I could wear something that might be seen as masculine or feminine
on any given day. I remember one time, here’s another example of Backstage Pass, where Genny Body, one of the members of the band, had drawn a line through the middle of her face and one side was very feminine and that side of her was dressed in feminine attire and the other side was very masculine. I thought that was amazing and I loved that. Showing that hey, I’ve got more than just…I’m a whole person. Lauren I know that you were also coming out of an era of music that had people like David Bowie and that you had seen Patti Smith perform and that was a way to express that side of things. Alice Seeing Patti was huge. I loved glam, I grew up with it, and all the weirdos were into glam, but I have to admit that the roles of women in that were very limited. Seeing Patti Smith was really a game changer for me. She was the first woman that I had seen that had a real sexual presence on stage that wasn’t that sort of cliché I’m gonna wear high heels and a push up bra, big hair, not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, by all means, I love that too. But I loved that she could just be this woman in a tshirt and jeans that would convey all this intense sexual energy. It didn’t feel like she was trying to be sexy, she was just, I don’t even know. She was just powerful. Lauren She presented another possibility. Alice Yes. Lauren Your new record came out on Don Giovanni, a fiercely independent label. How would you compare working with a current independent label with how things worked previously, with The Bags or your earlier bands? Obviously so many things have changed, but it seems like Don Giovanni is a great fit. Alice I think Don Giovanni is a perfect fit for me. Perfect. Everything I discuss with Joe, I feel like he’s reading my mind. He’s right there with me, he’s ready to support me, I feel like it’s perfect. My other experiences, I only have a single that I did with The Bags when I was 18 years old. So I really didn’t pay too much attention to the workings of it. I was just glad to have a record out. Years later the record company sold the rights to other
labels and it has been reissued countless times. Some people have taken the time to ask me for my input, some people have given me records, and some people have just ignored me and not asked me for my input or paid me. But I never set out to do music for that, I was pretty ignorant as a young recording artist. My stance is vastly different with Don Giovanni. I feel really lucky to put the record out with them. We’re labelmates! Alice Bag’s first solo album was released in June 2016 and is available now on Don Giovanni Records.
Carolyn Porco Interview by Amanda Stosz & Katie Edmonds Collage by Beth Hoeckel Photos courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Carolyn Porco, planetary scientist, Imaging Team Leader for NASA’s Cassini mission orbiting Saturn and member of the New Horizons mission, has been dubbed a rockstar in the science world and it’s a title well earned. When New York Times editors insisted their journalist ask Porco why she never married, Porco, in retelling her experience during her StarTalk Radio interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, gave them two options to print: “Just tell them I have a diﬀerent man every night and I like it that way,” or “There are no high maintenance items in my house of any kind - pets, plants or husbands.” As someone who studied in the sciences and imaging and has always maintained a love and curiosity in continuing to learn and follow new discoveries I was already enthralled with Carolyn Porco’s intelligence and her life’s work, but her wit and humor that comes through in her talks, interviews and social media presence sealed the deal on becoming a full on fan girl. Growing up attending Catholic school in the Bronx, Porco’s existential questions led her to study spirituality and religion, but she ultimately dedicated her life to answering those questions through science by exploring space and
discovering exactly how we got here. After finishing her dissertation focusing on the spokes in Saturn’s rings and earning a Ph.D from California Institute of Technology (home of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab), Porco joined the Voyager mission’s imaging team where she collaborated with her friend and colleague, Carl Sagan, on the famous Pale Blue Dot image. Porco was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal for her eﬀorts with promoting public understanding and enthusiasm for planetary science. In 1990 Porco was selected to lead the imaging team for the Cassini mission, which has been in Saturn’s orbit since 2004. Her work with Cassini has contributed to many discoveries, including the discovery of a habitable environment on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 62 moons. She has taken the public along for the ride by journaling Cassini’s discoveries and images through the Captain’s Log on her team’s website, ciclops.org. Although we wish we could follow Carolyn around and bug her with a million questions for as long as she could stand, we’re grateful she obliged us by answering some of our questions about her life, career, missions and the science community.
Carolyn Amanda Stosz & Katie Edmonds You’ve said in other interviews that you were attracted to planetary science as a way of approaching your own existential questions. What made you seek out math and science as the place you’d find those kinds of answers? Carolyn Porco I loved science, which is, for me, a deep involvement in the natural world around us, from the very beginning. And math came along with that. Both allowed an objective, precise way to arrive at the truth. I found that enormously appealing…that there was actually a means, almost like a secret code, for separating truth from falsehood.
A & K We’d really like to know what your social life was like in high school and when you were deciding to study at SUNY. What were your friends considering for their futures? Carolyn I was not then, nor am I now, a person with a vibrant social life. I’ve always had just a few, close friends, never liked partying with big groups (though I did love dancing), and spent a lot of time alone. I only had one high school friend who liked science; she ended up becoming a chemical engineer. I was pretty much on my own. And my parents, being Italian immigrants and therefore very ‘third world’, expected that I’d get married and have kids. My mother died
My existential musings led me to the study of the cosmos…astronomy…because I figured I would first need to know where we were in relation to everything else to know how we came to be. And I was right! A & K You didn’t come from a family of scientists. Were your questions about existence something you talked about at the dinner table growing up? After school with your friends? Carolyn Certainly not at home. I did have a friend with whom I shared the wonder of science. But I don’t recall discussing my longing to know the meaning of my own life with anyone else. Maybe I did, but if it happened, I don’t remember it.
disappointed, I believe, that I never did. I’m just very glad I was a rebel and found my own way through life. A & K How did you evaluate your options and ultimately decide to study planetary science? Carolyn The period of time when I was deciding which graduate school to go to was 1973/74. The Apollo program had come to an end, but the robotic exploration of the solar system was underway. By that time, I had decided to specialize in the study of the planets because I knew we’d actually be able to study the planets up close. And I chose Caltech for graduate school because it operated the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which ran most of the planetary missions. That was a critically important juncture in my life
and I chose well. It turned out even better than I had planned. A & K You credit part of your success in the field to having grown up in a household full of brothers and learning how to argue. Can you walk us through a moment when this came in handy? Any instances where you’ve met some controversy or opposition? Carolyn I’ve met so much opposition and resistance and controversy, it isn’t funny! I can’t think of any one particular instance. It’s just been a backdrop to my professional existence, and a major feature of my job as the imaging team leader on Cassini…comes with the territory. A & K Science as a professional field was and is male dominated with a large gender gap. Yet over time there have been improvements as more women have entered the field. To what do you attribute those improvements? Carolyn Persistence on the part of those foresighted people years ago who pushed for equal opportunities for women. And legal infrastructure that made it illegal to deny women access to education. A & K Do you feel there is anything that still stands in the way of women entering the field? Carolyn The very basis of the scientific culture is criticism. It is the job of a scientist to be on the lookout for what might be wrong in the assumptions or methodology of an offered piece of research. This very often descends into the personal arena and becomes combative. It’s not supposed to but it does. That can turn off someone who is not used to ‘hand to hand combat. A & K Our core mission as a publication is to pursue Anne Friedman’s concept of shine theory. Basically it’s an alternative to competition between women. We pursue relationships with women we admire instead of being jealous or competitive. Is that happening in your field? Is there a formal platform for it, or does it ever happen spontaneously? Carolyn Some of the worse opposition I’ve gotten is from females who were resentful and jealous of my success. Not to say I didn’t get
opposition and ‘dissing’ from males, but it surprised me how other females behaved...maybe because I assumed they’d be allies and they were the opposite. That ubiquitous conflict between expectations and reality gets us every time. It’s not gotten better in my age group, but I see it improving for the younger generation of women in science. And I think because of that, their more cooperative attitudes will change the ‘scientific culture’ which is now based on male behavior. A & K What advice do you have for girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)? Carolyn I’ve said many times as have others: You have to love what you do. If you have that, and of course a good analytical mind and respect for the truth and a personality that doesn’t fold in the face of adversity , you’ll make it and be able to make great contributions to your chosen profession. There’s nothing more gratifying than that. A & K You worked with Carl Sagan to help create the famous Pale Blue Dot image of Earth photographed from the outer solar system, appearing as only an insignificant dot in a sea of black and stars, as Sagan put it, “A very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” Using Cassini’s more advanced cameras you concepted the photograph The Day the Earth Smiled as a sort of remake of The Pale Blue Dot, but this time around you announced the exact moment the image would be taken, calling for people to smile for the camera. Why did you add this public participation component? Where did the idea come from? Carolyn The idea just came to me. I wasn’t even thinking about adding anything special to the Pale Blue Dot re-do when I started it.. But as I was planning the image it occurred to me that instead of doing what every mission since Voyager had done—ie, take a picture of Earth from afar and tell the world about it afterwards—I thought ‘why don’t we tell the people of the world in advance and invite their participation’. I realized
Madame immediately it would be a way to get people truly thinking of themselves as cosmic citizens, and as fellow creatures living on Planet Earth. A & K What outcome were you looking for? Carolyn I wanted people to feel the cosmic love! I wanted them to feel a connection with every living thing on Earth and to appreciate the rarity of our home planet among those that orbit our Sun, and to revel in the magnificent achievement that this interplanetary salute between robot and maker represented. And it worked. It was a great success. I was very pleased. A & K Your goal starting out as the Cassini Imaging Team’s leader was to create beautiful images that also have scientific purpose. When I look at Cassini’s images, I often see imagery that rises to the level of fine art. Do you think of yourself as an artist? Carolyn From the beginning I had in mind to make our images beautiful and artful, as well as getting as close to true color as possible. I wanted also to take the public along for the ride…and for them to feel like they and we, the scientists, were on-board the spacecraft together and physically there at Saturn. I remember that at our first imaging team meeting, way back in 1991, I said to my team that wherever possible, we were going to take video
clips of any and every moving phenomenon we could capture. We made a lot of video clips, too... of moons in orbit around Saturn, shadows moons moving across the rings and the face of the planet, clouds coursing through Saturn’s atmosphere, eclipses, occultations, and on it goes. We have a Theater webpage on our website, ciclops.org, featuring all our videos. It allows an immediate, almost primal way to like feel like you’re there and not just looking at a picture. A & K Have you studied art, in any capacity, to inform your work? Are there any artists you look to for inspiration? Carolyn No, I’ve never studied art, though my mother was artistic. I must say that I’m tremendously inspired by astronomical artist…those individuals who capture,in their art, visions of alien worlds and astronomical phenomena. I just love that genre because it can take you places that can only be imagined. I have devoted a whole section of our website to the works of these space artists. I hope your readers will go have a look at ciclops.org/ art_index.php. A & K Do all of the images serve both artistic and scientific purposes? Carolyn Oh no. Not at all. The vast majority are for science. I must here give credit to my team members who shared fully in the planning of all our Cassini images. Their goal was to take those images that allowed them to conduct their research. But some of those turned out to be beautiful. Those ones were pretty obvious and we chose those for processing and release to the public. A & K You’re working on a project that could prove life exists on Enceladus [the sixth-largest moon of Saturn]. What would happen if you found it? Carolyn Whether a second genesis of life has occurred beyond Earth is the most exciting scientific question before us at the moment, and we’re very, very close to being able to actually do it. And should we ever find life that is chemically distinct from life on Earth, it would be a
Saturn staggering find. Scientists would be all over that one in a heartbeat…examining what the two life forms had in common, what was different, trying to figure out the differing conditions under which each emerged and of course extrapolating that to the universe at large and wondering, ‘Could there be more than two?’ It would be utterly tremendous and usher in a fascinating time in the history of science. It would also be the kind of result that would, once again, allow us to put ourselves and the ‘garden of Eden’ we have here on Earth into a clearer cosmic perspective. And that would bring me full circle to my original quest of wanting to know the meaning of life. I hope I live to see it! A & K Cassini’s mission is scheduled to end September of 2017 by way of crashing the spacecraft into Saturn (which is both sad because it’s the end and this amazing tool is being destroyed, although necessary to avoid contaminating the moons, but also pretty badass, like a rockstar smashing their guitar on stage). What comes next? What are some of your upcoming projects that you’re most excited about? Carolyn Well, I’m part of a group writing a proposal to go back to Enceladus to look for evidence of life. I’ve been hoping for this ever since we discovered the geysers on Enceladus (here’s just on example: pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/ life-on-tiny-moon.html ) And of course, I very much intend to continue studying Enceladus with Cassini data. After all, I’ve spent 25 years making sure we collect all those images, it would be a waste to not spend my ‘out years’ enjoying the fruits of my labor. But I’m also eager to learn more about other fields that I’ve long had a curiosity about: energy, population growth, microbiology, oceanography. The list goes on and on. Finally, I am looking forward to being able to write and lecture and maybe do TV documentaries. I have so much I want to say! With Cassini over, I’ll hopefully have the time to say it!
A & K If you had any such thing as free time, what would you do? What kinds of hobbies would you pursue? Where would you go on vacation? Carolyn See above. As far as hobbies, learning about other areas of life would be my hobby! And vacations? I know that I feel drawn to want to see more of the natural beauty on this planet. I’ve seen enough cities and human-made structures and things. It’s the Earth I want to come to know intimately before I leave it. I see road trips in my future, deep into northern California and the Pacific Northwest. And overseas too. Too numerous to mention. A & K What do people assume about your job that is totally not true? What is your day to day life like? Carolyn I think that people usually assume the leader is the person waving the baton and not doing any of the real work. Well I surely waved the baton for the last 25 years, or maybe (some might say) cracked the whip. But for the vast majority of my time as the Cassini imaging team leader, that was decidedly not the sole thing I did. For many years, even after getting into orbit in 2004, I was in the trenches with my staff, sleeves rolled up and designing software, doing science planning, running software to generate observational sequences, participating in (endless) teleconference calls, writing press releases and figure captions, directing the
processing of images and videos, writing scientific papers with my team members, and on and on it goes. To really do this job well, the way I wanted to see it done, required a complete clearing of the decks, including any semblance of a normal life, to make it work. And it went on for years. A & K We’d love some ammunition at the holidays directly from a planetary scientist! What would you say to climate change deniers at the Thanksgiving table? Carolyn I’d say, ‘You have been proven completely wrong. Shut up!’ A & K Because this is a publication that highlights women we admire and who inspire us, we’d love to know if there are any women who you have admired and been inspired by? Carolyn I’m inspired by many. Jane Goodall comes to mind. She’s so elegant and pure in her devotion to save her beloved chimpanzees. I often say, ‘Thank the stars for Jane Goodall’. I love Michelle Obama, a woman with perfect pitch and great poise and equanimity. I admire Taylor Swift for her values, and her rejection of the female ‘sex object’ chanteuse and becoming outrageously successful anyway. I admire Cher (yes, THAT Cher) for doing it her way, being a survivor and so fearlessly forthright and saying unedited just what she means. [In the late 1980s, I was trying to look like Cher (see attached picture). ] Of course, there’s The Queen of the Deep, Sylvia Earle, who is a *real* explorer and so committed to the most unique part of our planet, the oceans. She and I bonded recently over our concerns for the growing human population and what its doing to the biosphere and oceans (see attached pic). And I love so many professional young woman today that I meet in the course of my speaking engagements who are so outrageously smart, competent, oozing confidence and clearly making a difference. Even though they are younger than me, they make me feel good. A & K You were a character consultant for Jodie Foster’s role of Ellie Arroway in Contact, consulted on J.J. Abram’s Star Trek and you’ve given talks advocating for the portrayal of science in Hollywood films. If you could make a movie, what would it be about? What story would it tell? Carolyn I know exactly what it would be. But I can’t say it because then I won’t be able to do it myself. So, you’ll just have to wait and see.
@carolynporco carolynporco.com ciclops.org saturn.jpl.nasa.gov
Interview & Photograph by Kat Thek
The first time I heard Childbirth, I felt like Oprah had made a vision board just for me and that it all came true, in the form of a Seattle punk band. Childbirth is a supergroup of three women: Julia Shapiro (Chastity Belt), Bree McKenna (Tacocat), and Stacy Peck (Pony Time). They’re deeply irreverent, immensely clever, and they perform exclusively in hospital gowns.
acclaim, but both of Childbirth’s releases (It’s a Girl in 2014 and Women’s Rights in 2015) have been met with well-curated applause. To boot, All Things Considered premiered their song “Nasty Grrls,” which means that the lyrics, “we never wash our bras” and “we dip everything in ranch”, are forever part of the NPR archives.
Their lyrics take on topics such as doing cocaine at a baby shower (“Baby Bump”) and tolerating mansplaining in exchange for access to HDTV (“Tech Bro”). That might sound too punk rock for mainstream
Stacy Peck, who drums furiously and is responsible for packing the hospital gowns while on tour, answered some questions while on the road for Childbirth’s East Coast tour.
Kat Were you always interested in music? What was your first music purchase? What was your first concert? Stacy I always loved music a lot. My mom and I would watch MTV all day when it first came on and listen to records. The first tape I bought was the Metallica black album. I listened to it when I mowed the yard. My first concert was Peter Noone of the Herman’s Hermits at the Cattle Congress fair in Waterloo, Iowa. It cost two non-perishable food items to get in. Kat Which of your songs do you think would be best parodied by Weird Al? Stacy: “I Only Fucked You As a Joke.” Kat Who are your favorite comedians? Stacy I really like Tig Notaro, Jen Kirkman, and Janeane Garofalo. Kat Do you set out to make social commentary or is it just how your sense of humor operates? Stacy: It just happens naturally. Kat Have you ever met another band like Childbirth? Stacy I think all of our other bands are similar minded but Childbirth is definitely a precious snowflake. Kat Do you have any recurring Halloween costumes? Stacy In elementary school, I was the devil for four years in a row. Kat What percentage of your writing/practice time is effective? How do you get your best ideas? Are there any rejected ideas that you can’t quite shake? Stacy I think when we can actually find the time to get together and practice we are extremely effective. The songs come fairly easily with time to spare for gossip. I’ve had a song title I’ve wanted to do for like two years now, “Can You Get Pregnant From Being a Bitch?”. We’ll see if it ever happens. Kat What’s the dumbest thing that you find to be very funny? Stacy I have this stuffed baseball with legs and a face that a friend won for me in the claw machine for my birthday. I named him Kwackers
and I have a little voice for him. I like to do his voice and have him describe my Instagram feed. It’s hilarious to me: “Here’s a dog, here’s some buildings, here’s a record playing, here’s a flower...” It really takes social media to the next level. Kat What’s your dream/doesn’t-have-to-makefiscal-sense Childbirth merch? Stacy Actual babies. [note: their current, not actual baby merch is still pretty great. What other band will sell you a t-shirt of Patty Hearst shooting a fetus out of a speculum?] Kat If you could do an alternative score for any film, which film would you score? Stacy Two Weeks Notice starring Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. Perfect movie besides the god awful music. Kat If you weren’t in Childbirth or your other bands, what would you be up to? Stacy I’d probably be a successful investment banker. Kat What are you up to now? Any more songs/ videos on the horizon? Stacy I have an idea for a House Hunters tribute video. Kat Which Looney Tunes character would you most like to fuck and why? Stacy I feel like it would be extra rude to cheat on my girlfriend with a cartoon character. Kat If you could Being-John-Malkovich anyone, who would you Being-John-Malkovich? Stacy Rhea Perlman Kat If there was a porno parody of Childbirth, what would it be called? Stacy “Siri, Open Tinder.”
Feminist Library On Wheels Interview by Natalie Snoyman Photos by Whitney Blank
The Feminist Library On Wheels (F.L.O.W.) is a node of the Womenâ€™s Center for Creative Work in Los Angeles, California run by Jenn Witte and Dawn Finley. A multimedia collection of feminist texts, artifacts and ephemera made available to as diverse an audience as possible, by bicycle.
F.L.O.W. Natalie Snoyman What led to your decision to take the trike out as your method of spreading F.L.O.W.’s message? Dawn Finley The trike wasn’t actually part of the original plan. When Jenn and I first met to talk about the inspiration she had that eventually led to F.L.O.W., her idea was to build a very adaptable trailer that could be hitched to a regular bicycle. Jenn Witte Growing up we had a sit-up trailer that attached to my mountain bike and I used to haul my little sisters and groceries in it. It was tiered and was super easy to ride. My original thought was for something cascading like my sisters’ trailer that would hold probably no more than thirty books at a time. Dawn We reached out to a few people in the L.A. cycling community but no one seemed to understand what we had in mind; there were also concerns about weight, balance, hills and proper gearing, etc. Then a friend of mine referred us to Joe Crennen, of Pedal Positive in Colorado. He’s built several unusual bicycles for individuals, but also book bikes for public libraries. I asked him if he knew anyone in southern California who might be able to help, and he immediately offered to build something himself. He suggested a tricycle with a customized compartment in the back, something that would both hold plenty of books and serve as a convenient way to display them; the shelving unit was salvaged from a thrift shop, and the compartment beneath it was his wife’s idea. Everything accelerated very quickly: we had an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to build the trike; Joe designed and built it; and we had an event sponsored by the Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) during their residency at Echo Chamber in Echo Park, where we invited people to come together and help us assemble it. Jenn All of that came together in two month’s time! Dawn Although we’ve learned that a vehicle with slightly better gears, maybe with an electric assist, might make getting around the hilly areas of town easier (we did end up getting an allpurpose trailer too), there are a lot of wonderful
things about the trike. The scale is more human, homey—we usually take a small rug Jenn made, sometimes a small spider plant, a tiny bedside clock, little touches that make it feel more like being in a friend’s living room and less like being swallowed up in a giant institutional structure. Taking feminist texts into the world for people to see up close and in person makes feminism literally accessible—you don’t need any technology but sunlight to read a printed book. Showing how much we can carry on the trike is fun too, as a way of reinforcing the message that cycling is as powerful a tool for liberation as feminism itself, and has been, for individuals as well as for whole communities. Libraries around the country are increasingly turning to book bikes (most often customized trikes similar to ours) as a means of more directly reaching out to their communities, and of supporting cycling as a healthy way to navigate and enjoy shared landscapes. We’re proud to be part of that movement. The feminisms, library, and wheels in F.L.O.W. all evolve and thrive together in very natural, organic, sometimes surprising, directions. Jenn The growing number of Little Free Libraries around seem to help people click when they see us, recognize that we’re approachable, sharing, and not trying to sell them something. It just takes a moment to explain the main differences between F.L.O.W. and a Little Free Library— that we keep track of our collection and the books are circulating (though there is no strict return policy, we hope to get our books returned so that we can continue to share each book as many times with as many people as possible), that we are a mobile library with branches and dropoff locations, and that we are specifically feminist. Natalie How do you approach sharing your ideas of feminism to those who might find the F.L.O.W. trike with little to no knowledge about it? What has been your most surprising interaction? Dawn We try to be very ecumenical about feminism when talking with people, and to meet people where they are. All the texts are donated,
so they represent a crowd-sourced definition of feminism, and people understand and respond to that right away. I suspect it helps put more wary visitors at ease. At any given time there may be texts on the trike that directly contradict each other, or that at least represent very different approaches. That plurality is vital to F.L.O.W., and I wish it were even more pronounced (that we had more texts in languages other than English, for instance, and more books for young readers). One of the things I most value at events are conversations with men. Last year at L.A. Zine Fest, a man approached the trike and began asking me the usual questions (where do the books come from, is it free, how do I get a library card, etc.); then he shared a bit about himself. He said he was raising a young son who was biracial, and that he felt comfortable talking with him about “race privilege,” but, he said, “I have no idea how to talk to him about gender privilege.” He kept thanking me, and although he didn’t want to take a book with him that day I gave him several resources to look up, and I’m sure he did. I’ve had
several conversations with men who are curious, engaged, and thoughtful about feminism, and that encourages me about the project. Jenn It makes me happy to be able to offer the library as a very open and friendly resource to that person taking a closer look at feminism for the first time. We get to provide small encouraging moments, like when handing a person their new F.L.O.W. library card and saying, “Now you are a card-carrying feminist!” We get to help them help themselves, show them things they maybe haven’t seen before, perhaps find something they identify with, or something that makes them angry, and give them free access to as much information as they’re willing to carry home that day. As soon as a person seems to be comfortable with the trike, I prefer to step back and let them explore. Natalie How do you determine which titles you’ll bring to events / on the trike? What kind of curatorial decisions are made between the two of you? Dawn We try to take a variety of books out each time, to make sure there’s a diversity of
F.L.O.W. voices represented—where diversity means not only the identity of the author but the genre or type of text, the presumed audience, the date of publication, and the donor who passed it along to us. We have had a couple of very large donations, so it’s been helpful to remember not to let them do all the talking for us, so to speak. Now our collection is so big that it’s easy to more naturally choose from any number of different donations. I always try to make sure there are a handful of texts I’m comfortable with discussing as well, so that I know I have something to say if I get a more specific question or request for a recommendation. Jenn Now that we have our entire collection housed and sorted in a room at the Women’s Center for Creative Work, it is easier to walk through and pull a few things from every section. It used to all be stacked in tubs in our garages and the act of “curating” meant exploding all over the house and transferring things into grocery bags. I will add that I try to maintain that balance and diversity that Dawn mentioned, specifically because I want to avoid curation, or censorship, and offer a selection that is representative of our crowdsourced catalog. Dawn Since we haven’t talked about this in a while, I’m curious about what you mean by avoiding curation, since when we go to events we do have to choose a group of texts to take. Jenn I mean it in a very simple sense— I am not trying to pick the books that I think people will like so much as I’m trying to pull as much of an even spread of what we have as possible. I try to be careful not to think, “Oh, this is Zine Fest, I’ll pull the punkiest things we have.” I know we do that, but I’m not totally comfortable with it.
Dawn Sometimes as a basic matter of the physical space available and the total weight we’re carrying, but there are always more texts that can go than texts that can’t. I can see how the process of making those selections could be described as curatorial, the way a museum curator chooses which paintings will go on the wall in the room of a rotating permanent collection. Of course it’s not a neutral choice, but since we take just about every donation we get into the collection, I don’t think we’re ever actively censoring anything in a larger sense, even if we can’t take all 3000+ items with us everywhere we go. Natalie Based on the donations you’ve received and the people with whom you’ve interacted at public events, how have your own ideas about feminism changed since you’ve started F.L.O.W.? Dawn My feminism probably hasn’t changed all that much, but F.L.O.W. has revived and refreshed it, maybe made it a bit more radical. I left academia in part because I felt that feminism was not valued enough, or seen as fully legitimate or relevant. My cisgendered, white, male colleagues didn’t bother reading or even thinking about feminist work in a discipline that was supposed to embrace many approaches to social justice and political analysis. The business end of academic life also felt increasingly disconnected from tangible feminist practice, drifting ever further from doing anything to create change. F.L.O.W. has become a means of embracing feminism again by letting it go, one book, one library card, at a time. Jenn F.L.O.W. was part of my coming out as a feminist, and it has expanded my awareness of histories, feminisms, conflicts, and possibilities. I’m still formally very new, even though I’ve
come to realize the ways in which my upbringing was special and subversive and feminist. I’m pretending that my superpower is the fact that I am learning, just like many people who encounter our collection—I try to transform my ignorance into openness. Natalie How have you approached the idea of reimagining the library? Especially after spending some time working in more traditional library / bookstore environments? Dawn This element of F.L.O.W. has definitely been the one that’s caught me most off guard, and it’s probably fair to say it’s been the source of the most conflict between us. My experience has primarily been with academic libraries, both public and private, in the U.S. and in Europe. They are interesting creatures, because at the same time as there can be a radical commitment to making knowledge available, there are also elements of classification and organization which replicate all sorts of oppressive, marginalizing bias and exclusions. Since we’re not subject to overbearing institutional pressures, nor the drive to sustain ourselves by turning a profit, we have a unique opportunity to take a completely different approach. That’s at the heart of the basic message of accessibility that drives F.L.O.W.—that feminism is for everybody, as bell hooks says. You don’t need a degree to read the heavy theoretical tomes on our shelves, you don’t need to know the secret handshake to find the cool graphic novels, you don’t need to call yourself a feminist to sign up for a library card. I like the idea of building something pedagogical, inviting, changeable, and friendly, something that celebrates the visibility of difference and doesn’t perpetuate fear around any kind of literacy (basic, linguistic, cultural, theoretical, feminist, etc.). No one should ever feel they’re uncool or uneducated enough to get what they need from F.L.O.W. Jenn Exactly. I have little to no experience with Academic libraries, so I get to pull the ignorance-assuperpower card here. We get to start from scratch. Dawn We have a basic logistical challenge in that making our organizing principles open and
transparent, and inviting others to participate in that process with us, can make it hard to do the basic work that needs doing. So far we don’t have a finding aid or any other kind of statement or guide that informs how we sort or classify the books physically or in our online catalog. Once we moved into the main branch at the WCCW, Jenn and I made time to go through the books together, putting them in big piles around the room with labels we talked about together. It meant a lot to me that we were able to do that, and I think it helped us see we had more in common than perhaps we thought in our conversations about what to do. Jenn Our entire catalog is online and searchable through librarything.com. A person can find if we have a title, and if it is available or checked out. We are working on tagging each book in the catalog with as many relevant categories as possible, to help with browsing and making connections between books. Our shelving is a little more fluid, so it is harder to represent exactly where a book can be found in our main branch, but we are brainstorming some sort of tagging system that echoes our labels on the shelves in the main branch. The challenge is that a book really could still be anywhere because it goes where the person shelving it decides to put it, and any user on any given day may take it off of one shelf and return it to a totally different one. It is radically different from an inventoried bookstore, or an institutionalized library in that way, and I’m happy with that. Dawn We’re swiftly outgrowing the space we have. Finding more branches might help force us into building some more stable infrastructure for how we manage the collection (at the same time, increasing our programming, taking the trike out to events more often, would mean checking out more books, and making more shelf space that way). We’ve also had a lot of interest from local library professionals in helping us come up with systems that are workable and practical. Jenn I honestly think the best thing we can do is to stay on top of inventory, changing the
status of a book in our catalog to “checked out” or “returned,” and make a note if it is at a smaller branch. If we can reliably tell a person that we have a book, and it is available at the main branch, that’s enough. Knowing exactly where it is on the shelf is less necessary, I don’t mind the hunt, and when books are on the trike they are more random so it seems truer to our roots. Natalie I personally see quite a few similarities between feminism and biking, but each is certainly met with their fair share of critics and are somehow quite difficult for many to accept. First, I’m curious whether or not you agree with that statement, and second, have you dealt with any blowback from the community at large? Dawn Certainly feminism has a robust and increasingly vocal pool of naysayers, and you don’t have to ride a bike for long in an urban area to discover how unpopular you are in the eyes of some drivers. Every time I go to check our Facebook page, there’s a moment when I fear today will be the day the trolls have crept onto our page. So far, we’ve been lucky. There have been a couple of small negative posts, but we’ve been able to handle them quickly and painlessly. I started to glance at the comment section on the online version of the article in the Los Angeles Times about us, but quickly stopped on the advice of my partner; that there was absolutely nothing to be gained from engaging with those aggressively negative commenters. I’ve also seen some notes online from people who have misunderstood what we’re doing—some have assumed we’re a mobile bookstore, seeing the trike as part of quirk-inflected gentrification in East Los Angeles. That criticism is one I think we’re addressing more indirectly, by simply doing what we do, and repeating that we are a free, mobile, lending library of donated feminist texts. Anyone can sign up for a card, check out books, offer us a donation, or invite us to an event. The longer we show people that’s how we work, the more goodwill I hope we can build. Overall, however, I’ve been pleasantly surprised—we’ve been met by substantial generosity and warmth
by all kinds of people here in Los Angeles and around the world. One of our early messages on Facebook came from a young woman leading selfdefense classes in Armenia who wanted to tell us she thought F.L.O.W. was rad! Jenn I ride my bike to work fairly regularly and have become accustomed to the scary dance you
do with drivers in the city. I will say that when I’m riding the trike on the same streets, with this big bookshelf behind me with “Feminist Library on Wheels” painted on the back in bold letters, drivers have been very respectful and make way. It is a totally different dance on the trike. People honk and wave and so far it has never been in protest. I’ve only had fun and supportive responses, pretty different from how they react to me on my regular commute. Natalie What has been the most rewarding aspect of this endeavor for each of you, and how has that impacted what you see in F.L.O.W’s future? Dawn F.L.O.W.’s future is a little mysterious to me at this stage. We’re at a place where we really need more resources to grow—the biggest of those is time, which is hard to find while you’re working overtime at a regular job to make ends meet. I have so many ideas for things we can do— publications to edit, events to host, blogs to write,
volunteers to recruit and train, collaborations to encourage—but it’s a struggle to make those things happen. This work has done so much to inspire me, and the inspiration continues. In the video we made for our Indiegogo campaign, I said that working on this project was like waking up each morning to a beautiful gift. I’d unwrap it and marvel at all the new ideas and questions that emerged, so thrilled at the way each revolution of our wheels seemed to produce still more dynamic and more multidimensional possibilities. That feeling persists, it’s just increasingly challenging to balance it against the gritty stuff-of-life. Jenn It is so freeing to put in regular hours at a job that is completely divorced from capitalism. I split one day of work each week between my bookselling job and F.L.O.W.’s main branch. It always takes me a moment to transition into F.L.O.W., into sharing and away from certain pressures. I really hope that my future includes a lot more time to serve in this way. I hope that F.L.O.W. can sustain a lot more sharing in the future. My goals are maybe a little humbler than Dawn’s, but I won’t stand in her way and I won’t stand in the way of anybody who wants to volunteer and make cool things happen. Natalie Do you have any advice to motivate people to go start their own projects? Dawn Wouldn’t it be exciting to have more F.L.O.W.s?! Once Jenn had the brilliant stroke of genius for our name, and once we started talking about it, enthusiasm grew fast. I would say this project is the kind of thing that could emerge organically in any number of places and in any number of ways. The biggest piece of advice I would give is to start sharing your idea with people around you, and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to think big and reach out. When we first began working on this I emailed the League of American Cyclists, blindly looking for guidance; that turned into a phone call with the head of the women’s initiative there, who gave me an incredible amount of great advice, and wrote a blog post about us. Our first press was national press! At the same time I’d also recommend
carefully evaluating your resources and thinking about what you can realistically give and do, and for how long; it’s easy to get so lit up and ignited by a project you love that you burn right through the fuel you’re using to sustain it. Jenn I guess I’ve never really shaken off my childhood belief that I could try to do anything I wanted. We were poor, some good odds were stacked against me, but I was a smart kid and I knew that I could try and learn anything. I mean, to a five year old what was the difference between learning to ride a bike and learning everything you needed to become a veterinarian? But like in that Sarah Silverman joke, “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake, not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them that they couldn’t.” Maybe I wouldn’t say, “You can do anything!” instead. I hope that our project is a good example of following through on a good idea. I distinctly remember choosing our twitter name as @losangelesflow because I was hoping that it would allow for a network of other names like @boiseflow, @atlantaflow, @kansascityflow, @detroitflow. I’ve thought that was a possibility all along.
Small Rebellions Words by Michelle Chen Photos courtesy of The James and Grace Lee Boggs Trust Illustration by Ness Lee
Detroit is a city whose rise and fall has paralleled the tragic arc of America’s industrial history. In a few generations, the capital of Big Auto’s empire has crumbled into an urban wreck, strewn with rusted factories and suﬀering from political decay. It’s a city associated with deep stagnation. So it might seem surprising that it claims as one of its most esteemed public figures Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American philosopher who has been refusing to stand still for nearly a century, mobilizing alongside various freedom struggles from civil rights to climate change campaigns.
Born on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, the daughter of a Chinese-American restaurant owner and philosophy doctorate steeled her political analysis translating Marx’s treatises and palling around with Malcolm X. Today she cites Hegel and 3D printing among her cultural muses. Boggs arrived at the Motor City in the 1950s, settling with her husband, activist and auto worker James Boggs, in the early days of the civil rights movement. Around that time, she also collaborated with C. L. R. James and other radical theorists in the leftist intellectual group the Correspondence Publishing Committee. The Boggses spent years organizing with the Black Power movement and the Black Panthers, as Detroit turned from an American boomtown to a wellspring of social insurgency and then to a ground zero for post-industrial collapse. In the early 1970s she and James published Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, a sweeping historical text that explores forms of Marxist revolution through uprisings in China, Russia, Vietnam, and contemporary community-based groups. Since then, Boggs has become something of an American cultural icon, a mentor to a new crop of activists who are building, in her view, a new revolution. They’re not protesting so much as they are cultivating systems of
Reprinted with permission from Guernica Magazine (guernicamag.com)
Grace homegrown production, promoting selfreliance as a way to heal. Detroit’s budding urban agriculture scene is serving as fallow ground for testing a theory of social change based on communalism as resistance to materialism. Boggs recently helped found a small social justice-themed charter school in the community, the James and Grace Lee Boggs School. In her latest book, The Next American Revolution, Boggs reimagines revolutionary politics as a project of holistic transformation that is both integrally connected to global and historical transformations and intimately embedded in the individual soul. Her life has spanned numerous human catastrophes, from the Great Depression and the atom bomb to the incineration of Vietnam. But what keeps her optimistic is the fact that she’s also lived through “the great humanizing movements of the past seventy years,” including the black freedom struggle, the antiwar campaigns, and other historic mass actions. Detroit is now at the vanguard of an even more massive transition, she argues, evolving a new way of organizing society that focuses on self-reliance and a rejection of material excess.
Michelle Chen How do you define what you call the “Next American Revolution”? What does it mean to you historically, as well as in terms of today’s politics? Grace Lee Boggs I think that most people don’t think in terms of an American revolution, they think in terms of a Russian revolution, or even a Ukrainian revolution. But the idea of an American revolution does not occur to most people. And when I came down to the movement milieu seventy-five years ago, the black movement was just starting, and the war in Europe had brought into being the “Double V for Victory” [campaign]: the idea was that we ought to win democracy abroad with democracy at home. And that was the beginning of an American revolution, and most people don’t recognize that. The image of blacks usually is one of people who are suffering from hunger, unemployment, and poverty. The idea of them as agents and activists—as starting revolutions—does not exist in most people’s minds. And I think it’s very, very important that folks understand how much this country was founded on the enslavement of blacks, and how the resistance of blacks to that enslavement has been the spark plug for so many important developments. Michelle Did being part of a minority play a role in your radicalization? Grace I think at the time, my radicalization was not through growing up Chinese, but through the role that the black people were playing at the beginning of World War II, when they had started the “Double V for Victory” movement—for democracy at home as well as abroad—and the “March on Washington” movement led by A. Philip Randolph had forced F.D.R. to issue Executive Order 8802 banning discrimination in defense plants. And that really started the American revolution. Michelle Around the ’70s is when the AsianAmerican movement crystallized. Do you remember witnessing the rise of that movement, and were you involved with that at all? Grace The Vietnam War was taking place, which was raising all sorts of questions in
the United States, and it was forcing AsianAmericans to stop thinking of themselves as model minorities and to identify themselves more with world revolution, which was very important in my development. We’re at a great transition point in terms of population, demographics, and what it means to be a human being. Michelle How is immigration informing new social movements today? Is it giving people a different perspective on what national borders and national identity mean, as they relate to a new, more global sense of social change? Grace I think the mass expansion of the AsianAmerican population, particularly the Chinese population, is having an impact. I would not be surprised if [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio was challenged by a Chinese competitor in the next election, because the Chinese population in New York is so huge. New York has become almost a third-world country. When I was growing up it was mostly a Euro-American country. And it wasn’t until LaGuardia was elected in 1933 that Italians were even considered Americans. We’re at a great transition point in terms of population, demographics, and what it means to be a human being. Michelle Do you see Detroit as a seedbed for the next American revolution that you hope to bring into being? Grace Well, I think of what’s happening in Detroit as part of something that’s much bigger. Most people think of [the decline of the city] as having to do with African-Americans and being in debt, and [all the issues like crime and bad housing]. But what happened is that when globalization took place, following World War II, Detroit’s role as the center and the symbol of industrialization was destroyed. It wasn’t because we had black citizens mainly or a black mayor; it was because the world was changing. And the standardization and specialization of industrialization was being undermined by globalization. When people in Bangladesh could produce things much more cheaply than anybody
could produce them in Detroit, we no longer were the world capital of industrialization. In my husband James Boggs’s book [The American Revolution: Pages From a Negro Worker’s Notebook (1963)], what he saw happening in the Chrysler plant where he worked was how the automation, how high tech, was eliminating so many people on the line, that it was creating “outsiders”—and was raising the whole question of how we should work. Is industrialization the high point and the aim of all societies, or is it the end of a certain epoch? I think Detroit shows that we’ve come to the end of the industrial epoch and have to find a new mode of production. And that also is being created in Detroit. It’s a community mode of production, which essentially [uses] 3D printers. I think when every household in almost every neighborhood can produce what it needs without going through the market, we’re going to undergo a huge change in the elevation of the community to the center of the city, and the elimination of the factory. Michelle: What are some of the universal lessons you can take from some of these very localized projects? Grace I think most people do not imagine how things can change. In Detroit, there are community gardens that are only an indication that the country is coming back to the city. And that is something that actually is necessary to stop the real imminent danger of the extermination of our planet. When I came to Detroit, if you threw a stone up in the air it would hit an autoworker on its way down. A few years after that, if you threw a stone in the air it’d hit an abandoned house or a vacant lot on its way down. And most people saw those vacant lots as blight. But meanwhile during World War II, blacks had moved from the South to the North. And they saw these vacant lots as places where you could grow food for the community. And so urban agriculture was born. And that came about not because anyone planned it, but because the vacant lots, produced by abandonment, created the opportunity for
Grace bringing the country back into the city, and actually saving the planet in the process. Michelle You’ve talked about what “work” really means—the difference between a job and having work that is truly productive. But we do live in a world where wage work is still how people get by, and where workers depend on this system for survival. How do we get past that? Grace Well, wage work is also disappearing. I didn’t make the jobs disappear, but they have disappeared. And people are forced to be looking for other alternatives. One of the things that’s very important, when you’re an activist and an organizer like me, is to understand that when things happen of that nature, some people become immobilized and other people begin to find solutions. And Detroit is the kind of city where we begin to find solutions.
I think people look at the revolution too much in terms of power. I think revolution has to be seen more anthropologically, in terms of transitions from one mode of life to another. Michelle What do you think of Detroit now being seen as a kind of experimental ground? Do you fear that it might become kind of commodified that way, or that the city might become a spectacle? Grace Some people are afraid of gentrification, but what I see is young people want to live in a different world. And they see possibilities here. They see that rents are relatively cheap compared to places like New York and California. And they see the opportunity of being pioneers and blazing new trails. And it’s very wonderful to watch it happen. Michelle Looking back on your experiences with the civil rights movement and other radical movements in the ’70s, where are we today?
It seems like there has been progress in many respects, but some people don’t necessarily see it that way; they see the last few years as almost a setback, particularly in terms of racial divisions. Grace I think the trouble is that most people tend to look for quick solutions. When I joined the movement back in the ’40s, the idea that the American revolution could take place was impossible. People thought revolutions were going to be like the Russian revolution. But what was happening was the revolution in the US was beginning already, because blacks were beginning to struggle for jobs. And A. Philip Randolph formed the “March on Washington” movement and forced F.D.R. to issue Executive Order 8802, and that started a whole trend of events. And so what’s happened is that people who were seen mainly as victims very often become the agents of change. And that’s what’s happening now in the United States. Michelle It seems that some people think of the ’60s and ’70s as a far more radical time than our current one. Grace People in Detroit aren’t just urban gardening. They’re starting a new mode of education. They’re trying to give children the education to be “solutionaries” rather than people who are going to get jobs in the system. And that is a huge change, a cultural revolution. The things that are happening in Detroit would amaze you if you’re [used to] only looking at statistics, and only thinking of blacks as sufferers and not as activists. Michelle Where do people draw the power that they need to seize in order to start this revolution? Grace I think people look at revolution too much in terms of power. I think revolution has to be seen more anthropologically, in terms of transitions from one mode of life to another. We have to see today in light of the transition, say, from hunting and gathering to agriculture, and from agriculture to industry, and from industry to post-industry. We’re in an epoch transition. Michelle Do you feel that talking about power and conflict might take away from that, or
Grace with her husband James Boggs
distract people from that focus on longterm transition? Grace It does. Because when you think of power, you think the state has power. When you look at it in terms of revolution, in terms of the state, you think of it in terms of Russia, the Soviet Union, and how those who struggled for power actually became victims of the state, prisoners of the state, and how that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. We have to think of revolution much more in terms of transitions from one epoch to another. Talk about Paleolithic and Neolithic. Michelle Given the fact of increasing government intrusion into our lives, it seems like it would be difficult to ignore these power structures. Grace Just think of Obama and think of how powerless he is. I think we have to understand that the nation-state became powerful in the wake of
the French Revolution, whereas the nation-state has become powerless in light of globalization. It’s really important that we get rid of the idea that protest will create change. We don’t realize that kind of organizing worked only when the government was very strong, when the West ruled the world, relatively speaking. Michelle What are some strands of philosophical thought that guide your thinking on how people should make change in the contemporary world? Grace I was very lucky that as a graduate student at Bryn Mawr College, I studied Hegel’s Phenomenology. He talked about how we do not reach freedom like a shot out of a pistol, but rather that it takes a lot of labor, patience, and suffering. And I’ve seen it happening. I’ve seen how it takes time for change to take place. But then when huge changes are taking place,
they are extraordinary. And it requires a kind of philosophical thinking, thinking in terms of epochs. Michelle Do you feel like that kind of intellectual inquiry is missing from today’s education system? Grace Well, I think that education today is a form of child abuse. The natural tendency of children is to solve problems, but we try to indoctrinate them with facts, which they are supposed to feed back, and then we fail them. And that’s child abuse. And you should never raise children that way. You should cultivate and encourage their natural tendencies to create solutions to the problems around them. We have a school in Detroit that’s founded on that idea—the Boggs school. They have wonderful teachers who create solutionaries. Michelle How important is it for a movement to have a charismatic leader, or iconic slogan or image? Grace I think it’s really important that we get rid of the idea that protest will create change. The idea of protest organizing, as summarized by [community organizer] Saul Alinsky, is that if we put enough pressure on the government, it will do things to help people. We don’t realize that kind of organizing worked only when the government was very strong, when the West ruled the world, relatively speaking. But with globalization and the weakening of the nation-state, that kind of organizing doesn’t work. We need to do what I call visionary organizing. Recognize that in every crisis, people do not respond like a school of fish. Some people become immobilized. Some people become very angry, some commit suicide, and other people begin to find solutions. And visionary organizers look at those people, recognize them and encourage them, and they become leaders of the future. I think that rebellions arise out of anger, and they’re very short-lived. Michelle Based on your earlier experience as an activist, what are things that you would warn younger organizers against? Grace It took me living in Detroit and watching what happened, as we faced vacant lots and
abandoned houses and devastation, to see the differences in how people respond. Really, people are not a school of fish. Finding the leaders of the future is a question of recognizing those people who give leadership in a crisis. Michelle How would you explain the distinction between rebellion and actual revolution? Grace I think that rebellions arise out of anger, and they’re very short-lived. And a revolution has some sense of a long time frame, millions of years that we’ve been evolving on this planet. We have to think in a very different sense than the way we think now. We think in terms of quick fixes, that solutions will come out of a few protest demonstrations, and calling upon the government to do something. And we can keep trying to do that, and it won’t work. Michelle Do you still see nonviolence as a key organizing principle, to be incorporated into any revolution?
Nonviolence is essentially based on recognizing the humanity in every one of us. Grace You know, when I first joined the movement, we talked about violence and nonviolence mostly in tactical terms. But over the years as I’ve grown older, I’ve thought more in philosophical terms. Nonviolence is based on recognizing that all of us are human beings. And at a certain point we begin to learn that you don’t gather very much by making enemies out of people and not recognizing their humanity. Nonviolence is essentially based on recognizing the humanity in every one of us. Michelle Do you still invest any hope in things that may seem pretty mainstream, such as voting or electoral politics? Or do you think those things are just corrosive to the values that we should be upholding? Grace I’m not calling for a boycott on voting. But I think it should be very clear that just voting is not going to solve our problems. And
Grace circa 1950s
we need to undergo a very radical revolution in values. And we need to think about what it’s like to have become so materialistic that we think having a good job, and consuming like crazy to compensate for the dehumanization of the job, is living like a human being. Michelle What kind of impression do you hope to give to future generations? Grace I have been amazed by the number of people who leave [the film screening of American Revolutionary] with tears in their eyes, thanking me for giving them another view of revolution. Because I think people know that we need some very fundamental changes, and up to this time, they thought those changes took place by seizing power, the way they did in 1917. And we know how that ended.
Michelle When you see people thanking you for inspiring them, do you feel like they’re just searching for some kind of validation for what they already felt? Grace I think so. I think people are really looking for some way whereby we can grow our souls rather than our economy. I think that at some level, people recognize that growing our economy is destroying us. It’s destroying us as human beings, it’s destroying our planet. I think there’s a great human desire for solutions, for profound solutions—and that nothing simple will do it. It really requires some very great searching of our souls. Grace Lee Boggs died in Detroit, Michigan on October 5, 2015 at the aged of 100.
Janae Bonsu Interview by Britt Julious Photos by Taylor Emrey
In 2016, an activist can and should be many things like writer, artist, teacher, or leader. Their work is not relegated to the literal sidelines. Instead, they maneuver through roles, adapting their goals, through practices and skills to better align with the needs of an increasingly fractured world. Consider Janae Bonsu. In addition to serving as the National Public Policy Chair at Black Youth Project 100, Bonsu is also a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois Chicago in Social Work. Bonsu calls herself a prison abolitionist and in her work, she aims to investigate and eradicate the systemic causes of intergenerational incarceration, particularly in the black community, and the societal repercussions of that incarceration. “Incarceration is the 21st century version of slavery,” Bonsu said. “I feel like my role living in the 21st century is the same as those abolitionists
who were alive during the slave era, like the Harriet Tubmans and the Frederick Douglasses.” The prison system hinders active freedom (especially for women and queer people, the focus on Bonsu’s work) for many within and outside of its walls and Bonsu’s focused studies in social work looks to radically alter that cyclical environment. The prison system hinders active freedom (especially for women and queer people, the focus on Bonsu’s work) for many within and outside of its walls and Bonsu’s focused studies in social work looks to radically alter that cyclical environment. “I feel like in order to achieve freedom, whether you’re talking about sociopolitical or economic freedom, the carceral system is a crucial institution to attack, because it withholds freedom in a very literal sense from a lot of people,” said Bonsu.
Britt Julious It seems like this is an ongoing, expansive problem. Janae Bonsu Yeah, that’s where my interest in incarceration comes from. I’m specifically focused on women and queer folks because, especially now, we’re in a state in history where incarceration rates are, at best, leveling off. They’re not rising in the way that they were during the war on drugs. There’s this kind of shared notion that oh, maybe prisons aren’t as effective as we thought they were, we’ve got to save money, right? Which is great, but some arguments are for the wrong reasons. Even though that’s good, there’s still this hyperfocus on men in terms of numbers. Granted, they make up most of the criminal justice system, right? But even though women make up a small percentage of that, they’re still there. They still exist, and their challenges, their needs, their whole profiles, are totally different from men and males. Men don’t menstruate every month. Men can’t get pregnant. Men aren’t subjected to the same level of trauma that could come with a strip search as women. Britt Just being in that position and not having that kind of power. Janae Yeah, and prisons and jails being like these sites of—they can be hypersexual, in the sense that most correctional officers are males that work in female prisons. You know, COs have the license to do whatever the hell they want to do. You see a lot of instances of women having to acquiesce to whatever COs want to do in exchange for leniency, favors, things like that. There’s so many dynamics that are true for women and females in prisons that aren’t for males. I think there needs to be way more focus on that. I think since my becoming a member of BYP100, I’ve been politicized in a lot of ways that I wasn’t before, and one of those is this black queer feminist lens that we talk about so much. It’s through that same lens in which I organize with BYP100 that I apply to my scholarship. I could easily propose a study about COs or just about females in general or women in general,
Project but for me to intentionally talk about masculine identifying women, I want to look at queerness in the broadest sense of the term. I think that’s super important because I think that’s also relatively absent in academic spaces as well. Taken together, I think that’s what brings me to where I am. I think my work in school would look totally different if I were not an activist and organizer outside of school. Britt Why do you say that? Janae Because my work in both spaces usually reinforce each other. Because I do not ever want to be an academic for just academics’ sake. I never want to be a professor or just do research for the sake of doing research. I feel like it’s my identity to leverage educational privilege and the power of research in a way that furthers my vision for the world I want to live in.
Men don’t menstruate every month. Men can’t get pregnant. Men aren’t subjected to the same level of trauma that could come with a strip search as a women. If the implications of what I find doesn’t lead to a stronger case for why this prison should be closed or a stronger case for why this alternative to incarceration should be developed, then I don’t need to do it. You know what I’m saying? It’s a waste of my time. I see community organizing and transformative public policy work, which is what I do with BYP100, as complementary to social work research. Britt Absolutely. Janae Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, there were no activists or organizing happening that I could see, even though there was so much evidence of racism and white supremacy and all that fuckshit. And so I never really knew what to do to change things that were systemic. I had a really good understanding of what individual-level helping looked like, so I was a
psychology major. Yeah, so I had this master plan that once I graduated from undergrad I was going to go straight to a PhD program in clinical psych and live happily ever after. But I didn’t get into the PhD program that I applied to. I was initially really, really devastated. I didn’t have a plan B. But I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I’m thankful today that I did not get in. I had moved back to New York to take a job in this social policy organization in New York. I learned more about policy and had a more nuanced understanding of the systems that I was really confused about changing. I thought, ‘I don’t know if psychology is it, because it has this really narrow view. It individualizes problems a lot and doesn’t really look outside a person to see what is influencing the presenting problem.’ So I was looking into other options for continued study because I knew I didn’t want to stop where I was at, and it was in this search that when I came across social work I was struck by the profession’s commitment to social justice. Social justice is explicitly in the social work code of ethics, like it’s a professional goal, and that is not the case for any other field of study. I thought that was dope. Britt Why do you think Chicago has been such a good place for you in terms of BYP 100 and yourself ? Why do you think it’s good in terms of your activist work? Janae Chicago has this history of making things happen. When you look at social movement history and the history of organizing, a lot has taken place in the city over the years. I mean, just recently we celebrated the 50th anniversary of when King was here in Chicago fighting for a lot of the same things we’re fighting for now. But you know, Chicago, of the people in it, it’s just been this site of constant oppression-andresistance, oppression-and-resistance. You look at folks like the Daleys [ed: an American political family from Chicago that is deeply entrenched in the vast political machine system of Illinois], especially the first one, and how complicit he was in the
racism of the Chicago police department. You look at the redlining and the housing segregation and all of the madness that is Chicago. People have constantly, consistently resisted against that. But at the same time, there’s so much beauty in this city, I think it goes under-noticed from the outside looking in. But being here, and being able to see the resistance and what collective power has and can achieve, it’s just been really transformative for me and has made me really drawn to this city more so than the place where I grew up. There were just so many instances of complacency that I just got frustrated with and Chicago just blew my whole mind. Britt Do you think the work you’re doing here can be applied to where you’re from or even just to other cities as well? Janae I don’t know, I don’t know. I think there are some lessons to be learned in the coming months and years, especially as BYP100 grows into the south. I think that I’ll soon see what organizing looks like specifically through a black queer feminist lens in places that are pretty damn homophobic and more so white supremacist than more urban and metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York City, where we have chapters. Britt When you first joined BYP100, did you have goals in mind for what you wanted to accomplish or see for yourself ? Janae Not concretely, no. I had very broad and vague ideals, but I didn’t know enough about what it meant to organize at a grassroots level, or what it meant to run a campaign. I was just happy to find a space where other folks had goals that I could learn from. To this day, I learn from someone else in this community every day. I just knew that broadly, I wanted to work toward less reliance, and this is still true. I want to work toward less reliance on systems of punishment and eventually obliterate those systems. More community resources and, like, black joy. Along the way I’ve definitely seen personal transformations. Particularly in regards to my leadership—before coming into this work, I
I feel like in order to achieve freedom, whether you’re talking about sociopolitical or economic freedom, the carceral system is a crucial institution to attack, because it withholds freedom in a very literal sense from a lot of people.
would not have considered myself to be a leader. And to this day, I’m only really comfortable with defining myself in that way or referring to myself in that way because I’ve heard it so much by other people. Britt Leader is a loaded word, it can have positive or negative connotations... Janae Yeah, but my perception of leadership is really fluid. There are times when I can see that leadership is needed and I will step up to the plate to fulfill the leadership that is needed in that moment, and there are other times that I will fall back, because I know that my skill set or knowledge base or whatever doesn’t really fit the criteria of leadership needed for that moment. I think leadership is something that’s in everybody. That’s one of the major conceits that I have with the Civil Rights Movement and all of the leadership deference that was given to MLK, and even like Huey Newton for the Black Panthers.
That push and challenge has moved me away from being that person who would have a tendency to make myself small in spaces. I was always that person who would sit back and let others talk because I might say something that didn’t make sense or sounds stupid or whatever. My confidence was really low when it came to putting myself out there and being seen. I’ve definitely become more comfortable with it, but it’s still something that I battle with because I’m that introverted person who you would have to say hi to first in order for me to talk to you. I’m definitely seeing my public versus private self, because who I am in front of a rally or on a panel is not, it can’t be that same person that doesn’t like to talk to people. Organizing definitely has developed my social skills, my leadership skills, all types of stuff. It’s crazy how transformative social change work can be on a personal level.
Kiran Gandhi Interview by Emily Simpson Illustration by Karolin Schnoor
For Kiran Gandhi, musician, consultant, touring drummer for M.I.A., and all-around badass, the fruition of her Madame Gandhi solo project represents a radical intersection of her music talents and equality messages, bolstered by killer business know-how. In April 2015, she ran the London Marathon while free-bleeding on her period, sparking global dialogue about empowering women, especially during their flow.
Kiran Emily Simpson What has your 2016 looked like so far, creatively? Kiran Gandhi It’s been completely amazing, because I’ve wanted to work on this music project that I have for so long now, and finally I have the time and bandwidth, and sort of a mini-business model to actually execute it. The project is called Madame Gandhi and it’s basically a drumselectronics-vocals music project where I take a lot of the thoughts and ideas that I’ve had both on modern feminism and gender equality but also on just sort of notions of liberation for everybody, and fuse them with my music and the music that I love to make. Actually, I’m in London right now, I just landed, working on my EP all week with a producer named Neil Comber who I really admire. It’s been really cool to kind of get all the five songs on the EP, you know, ninety percent of the way, and then bring them to him and have him add sort of the final touches. And then it’s also been amazing because my drumming has gotten better, I’ve met a lot of other fellow creatives who are pushing the boundaries with tech. I’ve been able to think about how to incorporate what they do with my music. I think with all art everyone always just wants to have a home for what they do, so, by that I mean, like I play the drums but you know, the drums, unless they have a home like playing for M.I.A. or playing with somebody who I admire, they don’t go anywhere. And I think artists just want a home for what they do. Even for me, knowing that maybe my music can be a home for somebody else’s visual work or for what they do, it’s just super inspiring. Emily What’s it like balancing your solo work and shows between touring work, such as with M.I.A.? Kiran Actually, with most musicians, what we all do—and I’m doing the same—is you take on jobs that are for other people because they pay the bills and then you use that and funnel it back into your own project. So right now I’m fronting the money for my own E.P. Madame Gandhi by using the money that I make from doing other
session work or from speaking, or for different types of consulting work that I do. That’s been amazing. I think you basically take the jobs as they come, because any job that’s fun and that can pay you is worth it. There’s been probably only two jobs this year that I’ve rejected, either ‘cause aesthetically they don’t match up with what I do, or because I actually fundamentally disagree with them [laughs] but besides that, most people who approach me are pretty familiar with my work, and with my passions, so it’s usually a good fit. Emily Can you talk about the development of Madame Gandhi as a project or persona? Why “Madame Gandhi” instead of simply going by your first and last name? Kiran Yeah! So even since I was young, when I was living in India and I was eight years old, I remember this one experience where someone kind of made fun of me for having such an opinion like an adult did, and they were like “wow, what does this young madame want?” or “what can I do for you, young madame?” and the idea was just like, that a madame’s personality is someone who knows exactly what they want, you know, isn’t afraid to go and get it, and articulates that. I think unfortunately we teach a lot of young women today to not be like that and instead to apologize if they have an opinion or ask their opinion as a question instead of a statement. I feel like I know so many of my fellow peers who are super powerful, talented women who have told me that, you know, they knew that they wanted to do something or they knew they had an opinion but because the other person dissuaded them or overrode their opinion, it went in a different direction and that it wasn’t the right direction. And they knew better but they weren’t in an environment maybe where the opinion was welcomed in the same way a male opinion was welcomed and so to me that’s the personality of a madame—someone who is fearless enough to say what they believe without worrying what other people think. For me it’s sort of the persona that I want to be a hundred percent of the time, but I
think in reality is still a work in progress of my own personal journey to be that madame and be fearless enough to always say what I believe. Actually one more point on that is, my EP will be called “Voices,” which is about the human voice and finding your own voice and how powerful it is especially in an age of social media and digital and where everyone feels like they can weigh in on a conversation. I actually think that has hugely positive ramifications for gender equality in the sense that more people may feel that they can nurture and cultivate a voice online, which then maybe helps them in person. While the counter-factual to that is that teenage bullying is also growing, is increasing, because of the internet. I hope that there’s a positive there as well. Emily Many people skew one way or another between left brain and right brain tendencies, but you’ve got this unique combination of quantitative and qualitative ability. How does your mathematical area of thought play into your creative side and vice versa? Kiran Well, you know one of the best things is actually as an artist getting to wait much longer than maybe most before finding a manager or a producer or a booking agent or someone to handle the finances and the business because, I have all of those skill sets. So I’ve been doing it a hundred percent for myself which obviously then saves the project money, and also makes me better at what I do. But the flip side is that, then sometimes, being the business can oftentimes taint the creative if you aren’t able to switch those brains on and off, so I think part of my mission right now is knowing how to really toggle between the two and actually only letting one take over when the other one is sleeping. If you try to be both at the exact same time, then when you’re creating it actually gets tainted by the business side because you’re like, “Oh well, maybe these lyrics are more marketable than those lyrics,” or “Maybe these lyrics would lend themselves well to a social media campaign,” or something and you know
with that, that’s definitely not how you should make your art, it should come from a pure place. Emily You’re a role model for women (and humans in general) who want to simultaneously realize personal dreams and be impactful on their geographical and societal communities. What do you make of distinctions between how we treat impact between the sexes? For instance, a musician might be lauded in the press as a “phenomenal female bassist” instead of a “phenomenal bassist.” To what extent is the distinction helpful or harmful?
My being female is so number one. Kiran Okay, right, so I have a lot of opinions on this, but I think I’ll keep it short and explain one activity that I did in business school the first year, which was called ‘What Salients Your Identity,’ and in this activity weirdly we were given a list of social identifiers, things like race, gender, socioeconomic status, et cetera, and we had to rank in order from one to ten or whatever what was most salient to our identity. This was such a weird activity because for most people we’re like, “We’re all of these things,” but they forced us to do it, and in that moment I realized that for me, my being female is so number one, and it comes out in everything that I do whether it’s my drumming, my speaking, or my music. For other people their gender is less important to them, and maybe the fact that they’re black or they’re from Iran or the fact that they are a musician or the fact that they are a coder, like any parts of their identity might be more important than their gender, so for everyone it’s different, and that really helped me because when people ask me, “What’s it like to be a female drummer?” I don’t see it as an insult, I’m happy to talk about it, but for the next woman over who doesn’t want to talk about her gender and that her gender has not been necessarily hugely informative on her work, that will really frustrate her because it sounds
The like an insult. It’s like, “I’m just a drummer, like I’m not thinking about my gender in that way.” So that’s why, you know, the best thing is for the interviewee and for the person who’s writing the piece to pay attention to what that person unto themselves cares about and then ask the right questions, so for me I’m happy to speak about the experience being a woman in the music industry or in general because I pay attention to it but for somebody else, they might be more focused on what it’s like to be a black person in the music industry, or a trans person in the music industry, and that’s way more important. So that’s how I’d answer that question. It’s dangerous only when the person doesn’t care about it and it feels like it’s disconnected from their actual experience. Emily A slew of high profile press outlets
It’s really important that we feel the confidence to ask for the money that we are deserved to be paid. covered your London Marathon free-bleed. How do you think your message was received by different global communities? Kiran Well, it’s been a completely powerful year where we actually put period stigma really on the map. It’s something that I’m seeing around the world that people are caring about, and I’m noticing both in the global north and the global south more development money is going to initiatives that either provide reusable cups to different communities or things like AFRIpads which are washable pads, and that’s never been the case, because most people think of period stigma as a not life-or-death issue and so therefore it’s not that important, but the more we combat stigma, the more we’re able to show people around the world that actually, unfortunately, period stigma marks the beginning of most women’s economic disenfranchisement, that A) it’s financially burdensome to buy all these products, but also B) for girls in places like Uganda, they drop out of school at age 13 or
Future 14 because they’re so afraid of having a leak and the mortification of being seen without those products is worse than just staying at home. So many of them don’t get the same education as the boys which renders them in a lot of the poorer positions that we see them. The story in the beginning obviously shocked a lot of people and had a very polarizing response, but the very fact that it was polarizing is what made it effective, and so I’m very happy that it was polarizing because it jump-started the conversation into something that we now pay attention to globally. Emily I read on your blog entry for the race that you trained for a whole year before the marathon— a radical commitment to selfdiscipline. Had you put similar preparation into the possibility of free-bleeding, or was that a passionate choice just before the race? Kiran No, it was totally a passionate choice to free-bleed at the start of the marathon. I mean it was really a completely pure decision. I was just… like many of us who have been caught on our cycles unprepared, I just started going through my options, you know? I was like, okay a pad? No way, because you chafe really badly when you run a marathon, everyone says that, and I don’t wanna do that. A tampon—same thing with the chafing and then also I didn’t want to have to carry a second one for 26 miles and I also didn’t want to have to worry about stopping at some sort of random Porta Potty along the way. There’s no privacy on a marathon course, so none of those options just seemed that good and I didn’t exactly know if I would show, like I didn’t think that maybe it would bleed through my pants to the extent that it did, but because I knew that choosing to do this was radical unto itself, because we are so afraid of women’s menstrual cycles, I knew it was radical and it made me want to do it even more, and combat stigma for myself. The thing that gave me the confidence to do it was truly because I was running a marathon. I was like “how can anybody make me feel bad?” I’m literally about to do this badass thing, like this is
Kiran (center) with Ana De Sousa (right) and Meredith Baker (left) after completing the 2015 London Marathon (photo courtesy Kiran Gandhi).
Kiran Gandhi the one thing that can actually protect me from the shame of other people. So that’s what happened. Emily I love how you described London’s marathon as particularly fun because of the mass support runners experience. Do you think this support ballasted the positivity of your freebleed? Do you see differences in how England treats periods, versus how other western nations like the U.S. do? Kiran No one on the marathon course actually gave a shit. No it’s all the same. There’s problems in the global north and the global south. I definitely don’t think Europe is any better than the United States. I think obviously the global north is better because we have access to products
thing we can each do for ourselves is just be really open about what we’re experiencing and have any ways of taking care of ourselves on our cycle that we really, you know, love, you know a certain kind of chocolate or a certain kind of brand of medicine, or a certain kind of food or any of these rituals, really be open to share them with each other instead of being awkward when it comes to talking about it. Maybe come up with other words like I used to use the word “my flow” instead of saying “my period” because “period” is still super awkward. So saying things like “my flow, my cycle” that de-stigmatizes things a little bit and makes it easier and normal to talk about. And then in terms of reaching out to other communities, well there’s just lists and lists of
I want to live in a world that is collaborative, that is emotionally intelligent, a world in which we don’t use, “Don’t be such a girl,” as an insult. to take care of ourselves, so that makes it a little bit better, but I actually don’t think we’re that much better when it comes to the stigma compared to the rest of the world. I think this is a global issue, which is why it’s actually been a very amazing cause for people who actually care about gender equality because it’s something that all women, or people with periods can bond over. It cuts through race, socioeconomic background, culture, age, all these different things. It’s pretty remarkable actually, and I wish it was more of a source of bonding as opposed to a source of fear and discomfort. Emily What can average women who have access to menstrual care supplies and the privilege of relative societal acceptance of their periods do to help their sisters in more oppressive circumstances? Kiran That’s a good question. So the question is what can we do to help those who are in more oppressive circumstances. Well there’s definitely layers, like I do think each of us internalize our own oppression to a certain extent, even in the most privileged of settings. And I think the first
different organizations out there that are helping low-income or communities in the global south access the care they need. So I think donating, doing fundraisers for these communities, going online and seeing what they specifically have asked, donations, helping to sew the reusable pads, there are all sorts of ways to get involved if you want to. Emily I’m intrigued about your work advising music outlets like Spotify in guiding them towards mutually beneficial practices for artists, labels, and services. Did that work directly utilize principles from the GrammyU competition business plan proposal? Was there any modeling or existing research you could use as a predicate, or was it super new-frontier work? Kiran Regarding my consulting work, literally what I did was I just said I worked in the music industry for two years, I’ve done so many projects at business school about the music industry, I’ve worked at Spotify, I’ve worked at IDEO. I have this passion for gender equality, and most music industry companies could do better to sell to women. So I think there’s a business
opportunity there as well as something that makes women feel more supported. For example, one consulting project I just wrapped up was working for D’addario, which sells drum and guitar products, and we asked, “How can we get more women playing the drums?” That was one way that I combined my skill sets to help them out. So I think something that anyone can take away from this, which is if you have a bunch of skill sets, think about how you already can be an expert at them and help somebody else. And that it’s okay to ask to get paid for that help. I think a lot of times women, we just want to give and help each other out, and also people expect us to do that more so than they expect men, which is why I think more women end up doing things for free when their male counterparts probably wouldn’t. And it’s really important that we feel the confidence to ask for the money that we are deserved to be paid because that also combats things as we get higher up, or we see women paid less for the same job all over the world. Emily What’s your dream project, musical or otherwise? Kiran The dream project is Madame Gandhi. Drums, vocals, DJ, party, dance, projections, dancing to sounds of gender equality! Emily There are several places online where you can be found wearing the slogan, “The Future is Female”. What does that mean to you? Kiran “The future is female” means that no longer will we live in a world in which male qualities are still held above female qualities. I want to live in a world that is collaborative, that is emotionally intelligent, a world in which we don’t use, “Don’t be such a girl,” as an insult. To me, “The future is female” is accessing femininity for everybody, so instead of teaching girls how to be more like the boys, to actually teach the boys how to be more like the girls. That way you end up celebrating what are considered female traits instead of downplaying them and insulting them.
LAZY MOM is a collaboration by Josie Keefe and Phyllis Ma
This photo series is inspired by Beyonce’s latest visual album, “Lemonade.” The still life images depict the aftermath of a party gone awry, with feminine cups, foods, and flowers destroyed by passionate overconsumption, a metaphor for the intricacies of female emotion. Objects are placed in formations that appear like a hot mess from afar, but upon closer examination, they create a multifaceted expression of power, rage, lust with equal parts beauty, tenderness and humor.
Marcella Jayne Interview by Malaika Gordon Photos by Amanda Stosz
The path to motherhood is almost always rocky. But somewhere along the way it becomes apparent that even though everything is not perfectly mapped out, and we feel like sometimes we should have turned left where we actually turned right, the adventure is in the journey itself. I spoke with Marcella Jayne about how her journey to motherhood began and where she and her daughters have been. More importantly, she tells me how her past experiences have shaped her parenting choices.
Marcella Malaika Brower I want to hear your whole story. I’m a mom to a 13 month old and I’m fascinated with how other mothers do it. Especially single mothers. So, I might be asking for tips along the way in case me and my husband ever break up. Because I’m somewhat of a fatalist and I believe in, “don’t get ready, stay ready.” Just kidding. But, I do want to know how you’ve done what you’ve done. So can you tell me from the beginning? What was going on when you had your first child? Marcella Jayne I have friends who’ve purposefully been single parents. I’m more typical of most single parents because that was definitely not my plan. My kids have different fathers. I was 20 and my first daughter’s dad was very abusive, and we had a horrible relationship. And being a single parent in that case was kind of like, a relief because, I couldn’t parent with him. Malaika So you made that decision pretty early? Marcella I wasn’t seeing him. I was living with my mother. But she had their fears that I was still talking to him. I was pregnant with her when my mom and my sister filed a petition with the court to have me sectioned – which is, to be incarcerated for a period of time. And the other thing is because I had a history of drug use. And, this is one of those things that just kinda sticks with me. I did not have drugs in my system when I was detained by the police. And their tests confirmed that I did not have drugs in my system. But the judge, basically saw the fear of a pregnant woman using drugs and being in a relationship with domestic abuse is substantial enough to warrant being sent away.
And it’s complicated further because Carmelina, my first daughter, her father is Puerto Rican and, I haven’t talked to him in years, obviously, but at the time he didn’t speak English. He’s got an arrest record that you can just roll out like toilet paper. So I think this complicates it too, this racial dynamic. They see me as a naive white girl with this scary dark man. They think, “he got her into bad stuff.” But I’m good at getting myself into bad stuff, or I was. So, I knew I was going to be a single parent with her. There’s no legal way I could parent with him. If he was around, there could be warrants to remove her. Malaika Now you’re sectioned and pregnant. What was that like? Marcella Yeah, I went through that when I was pregnant with her for 30 days. It was really heartbreaking to go through that pregnant and feel so alone. And you know, you just think of the little things. When I went there, I didn’t have a change of clothes. I didn’t have a change of underwear because the police just took me. I went in there when I was about five months pregnant. That day, we had a hearing and they took my coat from me. You know, I didn’t have anything. I get to this facility, I guess, this is the really hopeful and inspiring part of all this. So I get there, I have nothing. I don’t have shampoo, I don’t have, any kind of – it’s not jail per se, but it’s anl institution that’s locked down with barbed wire fences and no windows. And I don’t have money for – and I’m pregnant – I don’t have money to get anything out of the vending machine, I don’t have – you know, I have nothing.
Jayne And the inspiring thing is, wherever I went, and I went to a lot of places like this through my younger life – is that people took care of me. And, it doesn’t take a lot, really. I guess people watch TV and think like, oh you have to be tough in these places. These women are tough. I’m just like, no, you know, they’re just like me. What ends up happening is that people end up taking care of you. People who have just a little more than you who are willing to say, alright, you’re pregnant, you want to split this honey bun, or whatever it was? And also in Puerto Rican culture, you’re never supposed to deny a pregnant woman. And it just happened that most places I went had a lot of Puerto Rican women and that was their feeling. Even women who did not like me, which there were. And even though they did not like me, they were like, here eat this. That was a good part. I always made friends, I always had a good laugh. That was another way of surviving I like to do impersonations. So whoever was the most hated counselor, the most hated officer, I would learn to walk and talk like them and do impersonations. And we would laugh about it. Malaika When you came out did you think, okay now I’m going to make a fresh start with me and my baby? You made the decision to parent on your own already because it was an abusive relationship. But now there’s so much more at stake. Did that make it easier to keep away from him? Marcella Well, it’s hard to say because I think in a lot of domestic abuse situations you kind of make these decisions over and over again. What happens is an abuser will alienate you
from your support system. So when he’s gone, actually I have, I had nothing. I had no friends left, and I had no strong family connections. And my parents are not, you know, they were sort of absurdly dysfunctional. I mean, my dad – he’s a veteran, he broke his back at a rubber factory, has been addicted to painkillers since I was a kid. And he’s not anyone who can be helpful. And my mother, has struggled with her mental health and alcoholism, and her home was not a good environment. And she was kind of a hoarder. So it was this messy, chaotic environment that’s not just messy and chaotic superficially, but also emotionally. Malaika Wow. So going home to your parents wasn’t a great choice really? Marcella: Yeah. So actually, going to the shelter, even though at the time I was really hurt because I’m in this locked facility, getting ready to go. You know, I’ve jumped through all their stupid little hoops. They could have let me out after 21 days. But I didn’t make a collage I was supposed to make. Malaika What? Are you serious? That’s what stands between you and your liberty, a fucking collage? Marcella Yeah. I’ve spoken before at different colleges and events before. When I worked for the Prison Birth Project, to tell this story of being incarcerated while pregnant. And I tell this story and people are either laughing or so pissed off they want to cry. Now I’m laughing about it because it is so fucking dumb. [In the facility] they were like, “You haven’t completed your recovery collage yet.” And I’m like, “Fuck you!” You know, you have to find ways to rebel in these
situations to keep your spirit alive. But you also have to comply with this bullshit or you won’t ever get out. So everyone did these collages and on the right side stuff was “bad.” The left side is good stuff. And they cut out words like sadness, depression, and then on the positive, future side, it’ll be like shrimp, and a nice car. Malaika Shrimp and a nice car! The good things in life! Marcella I was like, “Fuck all of this.” So I cut out this silhouette of a pregnant woman and filled her body with images of the city and images of
whatever spoke to me. Where her heart was. I was like, “I’m not, I’m going to express myself and I’m not playing into your thing.” But then, I got to be released. Malaika Where did you plan on going? Marcella: My family didn’t want me to stay with them anymore. So, during this time of getting released, they’re calling, “Where are we going to release you to? Why don’t we put you in a program?” And I realized right then – and like I said, there was no drugs in my system when I entered. But as far as cementing in me this idea of never wanting to do drugs. Never being involved in that type of street life. It was because I cannot stand having these people have control over me. I think I’m smarter than them. I think these people are assholes. No matter what I have to do, I’ll do it so that I never have to be under them, I’ll do it. I’d been to so many programs. I will not go to a program. I’m not going to have people tell me when I can go to the bathroom. I’m not going to have people hovering over me, telling me how to parent. I’m talking about having every second of your life controlled. Institutionalized. I’m not going to raise a kid like that. Malaika That’s totally understandable. Marcella: They said, “Well, we called your mom and she said you can’t stay with her.” So I had to go to a shelter. I was very heartbroken and angry. She mailed me a letter. She mailed me stamps to write back to her. And I just neatly shred up the letter, put it back in the envelope, and put one of her stamps on it and mailed it back. I was hurt. I was very hurt. Malaika Are you still pissed off about it? Now that you are a mother? Because, now that I have a
kid – you know, I would turn my skin inside out for this kid. I would do anything for my children. And are you pissed off on that basis alone? Like how could you do this to me as my mother? Or maybe you were this young twenty year old rebellious kid and, “goddammit, she should have just done what I wanted!” Marcella I have a lot of perspective on it as a parent now. Some people think, you’ll be more empathetic to your parents once you’re a parent. And that’s one thing that can happen. But the other thing that can happen is, you become less empathetic. You can say, I have a kid now. I don’t care if I have to stab someone. My kids will never go hungry, they’ll never be humiliated! They’ll never be treated like they’re just a burden, and I was angry because I look at my mom and I say, you’re upset because whatever. I turned out this way. But what the fuck did you expect? Malaika You set me up! It’s like, I was set up in an environment to - I’m not saying you or me, but we all are. We’re setting up environments for our kids to hopefully help them make good choices about their future. Marcella Right. For example, I always loved to learn, took it very seriously to be a good student. And when I came home, there wasn’t even a flat surface that was clear enough to do homework on. Because of the hoarding and stuff. We were left for weeks at a time because my mom would be in the hospital because of her alcoholism. Sometimes, we’d get left and the electricity would get shut off, or the hot water. We wouldn’t be able to take a shower. Just being left for long periods of time. I had a lot of anger. I felt like – your response to your fear, or what you think is your love for me, is to traumatize me. But I’ve already been through enough trauma. And that’s what any type of incarceration usually does.I don’t think of it as therapy. I don’t think you can force fix other people. No matter how much I love someone, I can’t fix them. Someone wants to use drugs, I can’t make them clean. If someone is in an abusive relationship, I can’t get them out of it. All I can do is be a support. And you know, I was doing this alone.
Malaika Jesus! So you’re on your own, pregnant with this baby. Then you move into a shelter. Shortly after that, you give birth. Marcella Yeah, it was pretty horrible. Her birth was pretty horrible. I had an unplanned C-section after I got induced. But, she was perfect. Malaika What did you name her? Marcella: Carmelina. Malaika That’s a pretty name. It’s melodic. What did you guys do from there? Now you’re a team of two. Marcella Carmelina’s dad wanted to see her and he came to the hospital, and I had just had a C-section. What am I going to say, sorry you can’t come? I didn’t want to anger him. I was still in that cycle. So, he came, and he held her. And I always hoped that he would like get it together, figure it out, and he had a horrible life. Not to excuse his behavior, but he had a horrible life. And he needed, you know, I don’t know wherever he is now, but he needed some kind of help. His mother died when he was two. His father was an alcoholic who couldn’t care for him. So even when I hate him, I can’t hate him all the way because I know why he’s like that. But at the same time, you keep yourself safe, you keep your daughter safe. Malaika I get that. Marcella So he came in the hospital to see her, and I was just gonna you know, let him see her and hopefully maybe seeing her will motivate him and when he was there seeing her, the hospital staff called the police. They arrested him, and then a social worker decided to open a case against me for letting him see her in the hospital. And I was just like, “Fuck you. I can’t walk! How could I stop him?” So for a year, they wanted me to do weekly drug tests. Even though that wasn’t what they charged me with, but I had to do it. And you know, it’s like, hot as hell summer walking uphill to this clinic with a new baby. Malaika You have to play their game all over again. Marcella And now in retrospect, I know I didn’t have to do any of this bullshit. But I was low-income, so I guess I sort of had to. But now,
Marcella knowing what I know, if they said, we want to open an investigation, I’d be like, “Good luck, I’m not going to fucking help. I will not speak to you. And figure out what you can figure out on your own because I don’t get paid by the state to do your job.” And that’s what wealthy people do, and that’s why wealthy parents never have their kids taken away. The problem is, when you’re poor and relying on any public system, and you’re living in a shelter, and people working in the shelter are mandated reporters too, then you better believe that they’re going to hold that over your head, and you have to comply. We’re in a position where we have to comply. If anything ever happened like that now, I mean I don’t have to comply to shit. So it’s like, go fuck yourself. Let me know how the investigation goes. But I had to then. Malaika It sounds so intimidating. Like they intimidate poor people because they know they can. Marcella Oh, it totally is. Every little thing about it is. So we finally got this apartment in public housing. And, by then, that was sort of when I knew, I wanted to be a lawyer for sure. because all this bullshit I’ve been through. I needed to find a way to be powerful. But I didn’t tell anyone that because they probably would have laughed at me. I just said that I’m going back to school. But in my mind, I knew I was going to law school. I don’t know how, but that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m not foolish enough to tell anyone that and be mocked or laughed at. Malaika That makes sense. You just wanted to keep your dreams to yourself and quietly do your thing. Where did you and Carmelina live after she was born? Marcella I brought her home from the hospital to the shelter. Then we got an apartment in public housing. That was, it was so intense. We finally get called upon this list. They brought us to see this apartment and the back windows are shot out. Malaika Oh shit. Marcella And I say, well what are you going to do about that? She said, “Oh yeah, we’ll fix them before you move in.” Okay. We go upstairs and this is like speckled linoleum, there’s no fridge,
no stove. And she shows me the bathroom, and there’s rust all the way around the bathtub. I said, is anyone going to fix that? And she said, “You take it or you leave it. Somebody else will take it.” So we take it. In the beginning we didn’t have a fridge or a stove. We had to buy our own fridge. They did put in a stove a few weeks after. So we’d make formula with tap water, or breast feed. And to feed myself, I’d get a bodega sandwich once a day with food stamps. I just had a little clock radio, and we’d listen to NPR 24/7. The weird thing is, even though it felt like it was a shitty place, it still felt like, I wasn’t sure if I deserved it. I was scared somebody was going to kick us out one morning. Like, this is too much for you. It was a two bedroom apartment, and I had never lived in a space that big on my own. And, once again, people helped me. We looked at it like, they gave us the bare bones, so we’re just going to make this apartment awesome, no matter what it takes. Malaika Nice. Marcella And that’s where Carmelina started to grow up. And the only good thing that came from this state investigation is that they provided a childcare voucher. Then I could go back to community college, I’d been there a little bit. So that year, after we moved out of the shelter, I finished my associate’s degree, and then I was able to transfer to Mount Holyoke. Malaika Wow. You made that happen after all the stuff you’d been through. How did you even study? Marcella It was a crazy trajectory. Extremely unlikely. I got this acceptance letter from Mount Holyoke and less than two years ago we lived in a homeless shelter. I was crying. I tried to share this moment with my mother. I remember calling her and telling her, I was so excited. She said, well how are you going to pay for that? And that’s when I started to realize that there was going to be a point where we were going to rift really hard because it doesn’t serve my mother’s psychological needs to have a successful child. Malaika That’s a really huge realization.
Marcella It serves to have a dysfunctional child. Because that’s a way for her to be a victim, that’s a way for her to get sympathy from people. I have this crazy kid, I’m trying to help her. For her to say, I have this kid who’s successful that I didn’t help become successful, that doesn’t serve her psychological needs. That’s where that rift really started to come between us. Because I realized at this point, they’re not proud of me anymore, they’re resentful. Malaika Wow. Like how dare you. Marcella Yeah. You think you’re better than us. And I do. And that’s the honest part. Malaika I mean, that’s the reality. You also have to separate emotionally from your parents, and be like, I cannot be you. And maybe there’s this element of pity or resentment; it’s so complicated. You’re still, you know, the daughter of your
mother and you want her approval and blah, blah, blah, but then to be able to say, nope I have to break with you because I cannot be you. That’s hard and I can’t even imagine. But when you become a mother you go into this hyper overdrive. Everything is so much more critical and crucial. You’re like, nope, nope, nope, nope. I’m not going to take this bullshit, I’m not going to handle that bullshit. Like there’s just shit that I’ve come up with myself that I’m just like, if someone talks to me the wrong way and I’m like, – Marcella: You’re talking to my kids’ mother the wrong way. Malaika Yes, exactly. Marcella Especially don’t ever do it in front of her. Malaika If someone ever fucking talked to my daughter like this, I would never – I want to raise my daughter not to put up with this. I do it for
her. I am Lucy now. If someone talks to Lucy like this, I want her to say, nope not good enough. So I mean yeah, you think you’re better than your parents, because you’re parenting better. You’re already making way better parenting decisions than they’ve made. And any good parent would want their kids to be better parents than they were. You want things to be better with each generation. If it can’t be financial, it had better be emotional. I’m going to go off on a tangent. But, that’s why I love talking to other mothers, because it gives me such, good energy to be like, yes, we’re doing this right! Where were we? You just got into Mount Holyoke. Marcella Carmelina is one and I brought her to my interview. There’s two women, Caroline and Kay. They’re directors of the Frances Perkins program, which is for non-traditional students at Mount Holyoke. So Carmelina went right up to Kay. And these are very regal, older white women, you know, and I mean like, pearl necklaces. Carmelina goes and sits on one of their laps – oh
look, that’s cute – and she just reaches her hand and grabs the woman’s breast. And I was like, god, why did you do that? But of course, you know, she was breastfed at the time. I was like, you blew it kid, you really blew it. But then anyway, in the acceptance letter, I’m reading it off my wall. I framed it. It says, “We are eager to welcome you and your cutest baby to our community. Hope to see you in April.” So they understood but I thought that was sort of funny. Malaika My daughter does stuff like that all the time. She tries to kiss people on the lips. They are so all over the place at one. How the hell did you balance having a one year old and going to college? Marcella At first we started with half-time. But by the end I was full-time and working two jobs. That first semester was very lonely. And it was hard. For sure. And you know, there are times when you’re like, I wish my professor could see this right now. I’m trying to get this baby to bed so I can read all night. No, I can’t go to that lecture. I can’t afford childcare. So I’ve got to get a voucher so I can attend class. That’s a different experience than the other students. My hope someday is if I ever have money, is that I can do something to make it easier for the next generation of student parents because I could not be involved to the degree that my classmates could. That first semester was really, really hard. Malaika I bet. But did you feel like, well, I made it this far on my own so I know I can keep on going? Marcella I felt like an imposter. I felt out of place. I actually admitted that to one of the Frances Perkins directors. I said, you know, I have this fear that you guys made this mistake and I’m going to get a letter revoking my admission. And she said, “Yeah, that’s a thing. That’s called imposter syndrome. It’s normal. You’re going to feel that way. But you’re just going to have to get through it and prove it to yourself – not to us, because we already think you’re great. We wouldn’t admit you if you weren’t great. We know you’re great, but you’re going to have to prove
it to yourself.” That semester was rough. In my Constitutional Law class, there was this girl. Her dad and her mom and her grandfather and her great grandfather were all lawyers, for a million years. And she said to me one day, “Just so you know, if you want to cut it here, you’re going to have to change your class participation.” And she said that as we were getting out of class. And I said, “I got admitted just like you did, because I’m good enough to be here. And just so you know, not everyone agrees with you, most notably the professor, who complimented my class participation.” She said, “I’m not trying to be mean, or say that you don’t deserve to be here, I’m just saying, if you want to cut it here.” I said, “I am cutting it here.” I had this moment, you know you have these moments where something higher in your spirit takes over and it does the job. And I was strong and I looked her in the eye. Other students witnessed this because the class was clearing out so they saw it, but then after, I went to the professor’s office and I was just crying. But in that moment, I was strong. It was like that thing about, no one’s going to talk down to my kid’s mother. You’re not going to talk down to my kid’s’ mother, so I’m strong and telling you this. But then I go to the professor’s office and I just break down crying. I tell him what she said. And he says, “She’s here because her parents want her to be here. You’re here because you fought to get here. I have a lot more respect for that.” Malaika So your professors were seeing who you were and why you got in. Did that give you more confidence? Marcella As I stayed at Mount Holyoke, my self-esteem grew. I got better grades every semester. The first semester I worked really hard for a B and a B plus, and that was the last B I ever got. I made friends and I argued with people. Whenever people would say something classist or act like my reality didn’t exist, I would just blow them up verbally. Then random students would find me after class. Like a girl who looked pretty normal, never noticed her, would come up and be like, “Hey, I just want you to know that
I’m glad you said what you said. My mom works in a factory and I feel out of place, and I want to say those things sometimes and I don’t. But I’m really glad you said it.” Every time someone ever said something like that to me, it’s almost like a videogame where you get juices or whatever. Giving me life. In those moments, I feel awkward and alone. But, I’m getting this feedback that maybe I’m not just speaking for myself, I’m speaking for a whole perspective that’s not getting in and it’s my job – it’s my job. It’s also taxing. Because I’m one of the only people who lives in the public housing project who will ever walk through these gates, and the price I pay, which I’m happy to pay, is that I have to say some things that are going to feel awkward or uncomfortable. I have to say them. Malaika Definitely, that’s something that I mean, most black people have to deal with, most women have to deal with. And it’s like, multilayered depending on which part of the margin you’re in.
Marcella Jane Marcella And it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to be there. Not to say it’s undeserved, but I’m not the most deserving person to walk through those gates. There are other people who deserve to be here who will never get here for whatever cosmic flaw or unearned privilege gave someone else the spot. For whatever dumb luck, I’m the one who got in here. So it’s like, reverence I pay to those who don’t get in. I have to say whatever I have to say, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it is to throw a wrench in someone’s analysis of the world. Malaika It seems like you had so much to prove to the world while you were at Mount Holyoke. And you were busting your ass to do it. And while you were there you had your second daughter? Marcella Yeah, I had Valencia while I was in school at Mount Holyoke. Malaika So what was it like being pregnant in college?
Marcella Not at all. I mean obviously, I had some friends that were the exception. But mostly, I feel like people were kind of disturbed or disgusted. There was also a thing of like, maybe it had to do with classism or whatever. But it was like, “Oh, we don’t have children in our twenties. And we don’t have children when we’re in college.” Malaika Where did you find support? Marcella My professors were great. I had one professor. He ended up being my thesis adviser. And I’ve stayed in touch with him since. He’s one of my favorite people I’ve ever met. I never mentioned that I was pregnant. But it was obvious. And the classroom was kind of small and I remember I had this huge belly, kind of shoving my way between people. Trying to pull up a chair and participate a lot. And that was Race and Urban Political Economy. It was one of my favorite classes. So I’m getting more and more
I’m not going to be able to survive because I feel that it’s a culmination of meaningless suﬀering. But if I look at it like utility and say, I’m not grateful it happened, I wish it didn’t—but I made utility out of it nonetheless. Marcella It was intense. It’s a women’s school, and it was like wearing a scarlet letter. There were people I had taken lots of politics courses with, who just did not say hi in the hallway anymore. But you have to have a sense of humor about it. There was this girl who was in a lot of politics courses with me. She hadn’t said hi to me in months. She was president of the Young Republicans Club or something. So she’s giving a tour to these ultra WASPy looking people. And I’m just standing there. I’m only 5’1. Both of my kids were born late, and they were both large babies. So my belly was like a cannonball. I say, “Hi! How are you? Taking any other interesting politics courses in the fall?” And she’s like, agh, ugh. She can’t even deal. Malaika That’s so funny. I’m surprised because you would think at a women’s college it’s going to be this warm environment of support.
pregnant and then, finally I’m like, shit, I have to say something to him because the baby is due soon and I don’t know what to do. So I went to his office hours and was like, “Hi, Professor Smith,” and he was like, “Yes, come in. What do you want to talk about?” And I said, “Well uh, I don’t know if you noticed but I’m pregnant.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I noticed. I was wondering when you’re going to have that thing!” “So um, the baby’s due date is like tomorrow or maybe next week. I don’t know when I’ll give birth to her. So I might need an extension.” He was like, “Yeah, you got it.” He was cool about it. They were great professors. Malaika That’s probably even better than getting support from your peers. They’re the ones saying you deserve to be here. Now you’re going to have a baby and we’re going to support you for that. You can have extensions. Do you think that
helped keep you going when maybe you felt like quitting? Marcella There was not even a thought about quitting, really. You know, it’s interesting – working class women throughout history just expect more of ourselves. Because we don’t have a choice. When second-wave feminism is like, “Can you have it all?” You’re like, “My mother worked, her mother worked – what the fuck are you talking about?” Malaika Yeah. I mean obviously, that’s something that black women feel like white feminists missed in those first couple of waves of feminism. We didn’t get to vote until after them. And a lot of black women saw it as a luxury to have to question: Do I stay at home? Do I go out and work? Maybe now that there’s been generations of college educated black women it’s more of an option for us. But when middle class white women were struggling with that choice it just seemed absurd to a lot of other women. Marcella It’s implausible for me still. Malaika It is totally unfathomable for me, too. And so, you’re right. I think there’s a whole classist issue with that. Working class women are like, what do you mean, can you have it all? I just do it all. I don’t have anything. I’m just doing everything. I don’t know what you mean. So that’s where you’re coming from. I’m pregnant and I still have these assignments due. Marcella Right. And my professors, especially my thesis advisor, just got it. He’s from a black working class family in Chicago. He got it. And also, I thought, what is making these other students uncomfortable? it’s not a hatred toward me. They’re uncomfortable with their own childbearing capacity. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with being confronted with their own biological limitations. My pregnancy is raising an issue to them that’s uncomfortable. They don’t want to be a jerk to me. Malaika It’s also your audacity. How dare you not fit this poor stereotype? How dare you have children in the prime of your fertile years and continue to go to school, and be totally
unapologetic about it? It’s really a revolutionary act to be all of these things at once. Marcella I was just like, we’re going to do this. So then, we have Valencia. Her dad stayed home with her when she was a baby. I breastfed her at night. I’d be writing my reading responses and breastfeeding her while I’m on the computer typing with one hand thinking, if the other students could see me now, or if my professor could see me now! Malaika Oh my god, it’s a stark contrast to what other 20-something college students would be doing at that time. And you had a toddler too. Marcella: Yeah, most of my college experience was with an infant and a toddler. And there were always little things like the car that always broke down; or our slum landlord was always trying to evict us; he was always taking me to court. Malaika Holy shit. How were you coping with it all? Were you in any type of therapy, or were you trying to do any type of emotional work? Marcella No. That’s another interesting thing. A lot of people in recovery communities think that you need to stay away from triggers, just like in trauma. Avoid triggers. But I had no other choice of where to live. One of the most helpful things I’d ever heard were not things that were emotional, and not religious, but when people talk sort of scientifically about trauma and addiction. Those things are the things that have stuck with me. And someone said, the more you’re exposed to a trigger, the less powerful it becomes. So I used to say to myself, this is like boot camp. I don’t feel anything about this anymore. It’s not triggering because I live here every day. We don’t have the luxury to be triggered or have trigger warnings. You know? I mean, there was a man who was shot to death directly in front of our apartment and Carmelina was like right there. She doesn’t remember because she was too young, she was maybe less than two. And this guy was just shot to death in broad daylight, right in front of our door. And we couldn’t use the front door, it was taped off. You know, there was no trigger warnings about drugs or substance
Marcella Jane abuse. Forget it! There was drug dealing going on in front of the house, behind the house. People walking around looking like Night of the Living Dead because their bodies were just shutting down. Malaika How do explain shit like that to your kids? Marcella I always answer my kids honestly. Carmelina would ask, “Why are all these needles on the ground?” I’m like, “People use those to do drugs.” “Why do people use needles to do drugs?” I’m like, “Oh because the drugs enter the bloodstream quicker.” Did I really just say that? You know, I’m being honest with her. People use them to do drugs. “Are drugs bad?” “Drugs aren’t bad or good. If you’re in a hospital, a drug could save your life. A drug could also kill you.” The shootings and some of the violence we’ve seen are harder to explain because they’re also harder to understand as an adult, from my perspective. There were two murders that happened right in front of the house on Father’s Day. It’s really hard to explain it to them without scaring them. But, the brain is really powerful so all these triggering, horrible things are happening. And something in my brain is like, you’re just going to keep on going. Malaika But your brain also holds on to everything. It’s sometimes too powerful. Marcella Yeah, I feel the impact of these things more now than I did then. The past year, I’ve had more trouble dealing with it because I’m in a safer place. I’ve gotten a therapist at the school to talk about these issues. The way she explains it is your brain is not going to bring them up unless you’re healthy enough to process them. So we can look at it as a good sign that I’m so healthy now that my mind feels that it’s the appropriate time to address this horrible thing that happened four years ago. These murders. This domestic violence. All the horrible things we experienced and witnessed. The mind is so clever. We’re designed to survive. Malaika I hear what you’re saying. So when you’re in total survival overdrive, your brain telling you live live live live live through this, live
through this. Work through this. Be alive. And now that you’re safe and calm your brain is like, what happened back there? What was that about? Marcella Exactly. This is when it comes up. Even with the hunger I experienced in childhood. One of my law school classmates is a millionaire and he invited me out to dinner with him and his wife. We went to this restaurant at Lincoln Center. I ate the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. We had cigars and they were so good. We had aged scotch and it felt like I was drinking a 200 year old hunting cabin. We had great conversation, and it was a lovely night. When I got home, and all of sudden it was like, it almost feels supernatural, having this kind of flashback, I guess. Maybe that’s what people call it. I don’t know if that’s the right term. This heaviness just enters the room and all of a sudden I’m so disturbed. I’m having this moment where I’m remembering childhood hunger. Malaika Oh, after eating this beautiful meal.
Marcella: Right. And it can’t be fixed by eating this beautiful meal. And it doesn’t matter if every day for the rest of my life I’m eating filet mignon. It’s never going to fix the childhood hunger. It’s always going to be there. It’s always part of who I am and I can’t edit it out. I can’t fix it. I can’t erase it. It just boils up so much pain. The sirens are on. They’re saying to run, and there’s nowhere to run to and I have to talk it out. You are so healthy now that your mind is letting this happen. Your whole life you’ve experienced this trauma of growing up in poverty and not having enough to eat. And being ostracized for not having new shoes or being physically uncomfortable most of my life. I mean, we lived in New England and we don’t have heat in the winter, or we don’t have hot water to take a shower. Your clothes smell bad because your parents are not doing the laundry. Maybe the water’s off. The electricity’s off. You’re getting picked on in school. All of this trauma never before has my mind been able to pull it out and my mind’s like, now you have to deal with this. Now you’re eating this fancy food, and I’m going to tear that shit open and remind you of something that you need to remember. That is what I feel now. The violence and a lot of things that happened in those housing projects. I feel it now. I didn’t feel it then. You know? I had my blinders on and I was going to be somebody and now I feel it. Malaika Yeah. Now you’re in law school at Fordham and you live in this great apartment in New York City so your brain is like,” what the hell happened back there? Remember that? What the fuck was that about?” And also, I’m not a therapist, but it seems like it’s also a technique to work through potential future trauma. Like hey, what happened back there? Let’s figure this out. So that if it ever happens again, we know what streets to go down, and what roads to take. Because we can’t do that shit again. And I love the way that you’re framing it too. You’re saying it’s because of the safety that shows how secure I am now that my brain can bring this up. But goddamn, I bet it’s crazy to deal with.
Marcella Yeah, it can be. And with kids, the interesting thing about being a parent is, I get to re-address all this through my experience with my kids. You know? It’s a way of healing for me. Every meal we eat, is mending. It’s pulling a stitch through the fabric. Because they’re never knowing that hunger. I don’t need them to know it, this feeling of childhood poverty, maybe as a way to justify some of – but there’s nothing there that is justifiable. That’s my opinion. Reprehensible, it’s not worthy of justification. I want my kids to be grateful and have perspective, but I don’t want them to be, you know – I don’t want them to touch it with a twenty-foot stick. I still want them to know they are not undeserving of food, or undeserving of a hot shower, or undeserving of a clean blanket. I don’t want them to ever touch it. Malaika Right. I’ve known some people who’ve suffered trauma like this and they swear they are glad it happened because it made them stronger. But the way you say it, I think it’s so crucial that when we tell these stories we also say we don’t want to repeat this. Nothing about this is justifiable. My children’s childhood will be nothing like mine. Marcella Well, it’s kind of magical because I see Valencia sometimes and she looks so much like me. And we’re talking about these moments from my childhood. I’m thinking of my life when I was her age. You know? Now, I’m realizing what a five year old really is, and what I was like when I was five. I’m seeing this little girl who is the same except her hair is lighter. Basically, she looks exactly like me. And it’s this magical chance to sort of correct what’s uncorrectable. And to fix what’s unfixable. When I was her age I was cooking ramen noodles for myself. Malaika Right. You can see that this is unfixable, for your history, but it’s fixable for her future. And that’s intense. Marcella Right. The other thing is the idea that when I see her, I see that she’s already great. She doesn’t need to be taught these painful lessons to see these truths.
Malaika Experiencing abuse and trauma doesn’t teach people lessons. Overcoming it might. But it’s never really gone. It’s a lot of work to get okay. Marcella And joy is a very hard thing to accept. Like yesterday, I was with a friend I made when I came to New York. She’s a lawyer who has three kids. She’s older and very successful. She’s a politician. She took to me and she realized I was alone in the city and had kids. She’s like, let’s hang out, let’s do family stuff. You don’t have a family here, and I just want to be supportive to a law student who’s a mother. So yesterday we went to the science center and she took us to Coney Island and we had a beautiful day. We watched the sunset in Brooklyn on the beach. I get home – and also we were listening to opera in the car, and I love opera, and I was like, am I allowed to feel this good? Malaik Wow, yeah. Those moments when life is awesome. Life is great. I’m with this new friend who’s supporting me, and then it’s like, but how is this okay? How does this compute with the rest of my life? Marcella Exactly. I can look at my bank accounts and know that I have thousands of dollars in my checking account but when I go to swipe that card, I automatically fear it’s going to be declined. It doesn’t matter how much money is on there. I always have this fear it’s going to be declined. Malaika Yeah, those are the lasting effects. Marcella It’s not like, once you fix these outer circumstances and everything falls in line. It takes a lot of work. It’s my life’s work. That’s why I picked law. It’s a way for me to make utility of the trauma. Because if I feel like all this trauma was just random bullshit that serves no purpose, I’m not going to be able to survive because I feel that it’s a culmination of meaningless suffering. But if I look at it like utility and say, I’m not grateful it happened, I wish it didn’t – but I made utility out of it nonetheless.
Meredith Graves Interview by Sam Paul Photos by Meg Wachter Lettering by Kelly Thorn
Meredith Graves went from seamstress to touring musician in the span of a few weeks, but hers isn’t necessarily a Cinderella story. From the start of her career, Graves has been pointedly, sometimes scathingly, vocal about her opinions in both her writing and her music. In kind, she has sometimes been met with hostility and violence. She is in so many ways a creative force, but at times sees herself and is seen as a destructive one. But Graves manages to be a great many things all at once. She’s the front woman of hardcore punk band Perfect Pussy, a solo artist, and the founder and manager of her record
label, Honor Press. She’s a writer and cultural critic, who has addressed things like the need for Planned Parenthood and misogyny in punk in a variety of publications. She’s had a baking column, and has written food horoscopes. Most recently, she has taken on the job of MTV News anchor, a role in which she delivers pop culture reports and comments about police brutality in the same breath. We met in her sunny Brooklyn apartment set atop a funeral home to talk about the uselessness of goals, what it means to be a woman who doesn’t care to be liked, and the ultimate squad goals.
Sam Paul Punk seems to have been a huge part of your life for a long time. What was your entry point into that world? Meredith Graves My dad. My dad is an avid music fan and introduced me to punk. There was not a formal introduction—it just was the music he listened to when I was a kid. He also listened to a lot of jazz. The first few bands I remember hearing other than, you know, Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman were like The Clash, Husker Du, some hardcore, always fringe performative acts. Sam When did you start performing in bands? Meredith About age 14 or 15. I played drums in a band when I was in high school for a while. I’ve played guitar since I was like 11, but in bands in late high school and early college. Sam I know you were in quite a few bands before you were in Perfect Pussy. What was it like when you started to realize that the band was
Sam What was your life like before that? What were you doing for work? What was your day-today? Meredith I was a seamstress at a gown store that primarily catered to teenagers looking for prom dresses, but also did some bridal—mother of the bride, bridesmaids, stuff like that. I would work in the store during the day and help women pick out gowns for special events. Then, at night, I would take the gowns home and hem them, and alter the strap length, and take the bust in. Sewing, sewing, sewing. I was also a very avid gardener. I had a very large garden. And prior to that, I was helping to coordinate a DIY space out of an abandoned office below my apartment building. So, I was booking shows, helping to run a venue, gardening, doing band stuff here and there, and then sewing all the time. Sam I know you had the Village Voice baking column and you’ve talked a lot about baking, and
Even when I was 8 or 10 years old, I knew I was queer. I knew abortion should be legal. I knew that women deserve the same rights as men. There’s never been a time where that wasn’t a huge part of who I am and how I live. catching on, and it was something that was being recognized, and people liked? Meredith I didn’t really have the time to start to recognize it; it very literally happened over night. I woke up one day and there were e-mails from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone trying to get in touch with me. I didn’t have a choice. It just went from nothing to my career. There was about a month gap in-between the first Pitchfork contact and when I was quitting my job to go on tour forever. And then we stayed on the road for like two and a half years. You know how they boil lobsters? You can’t put a lobster into a pot of boiling water. You have to put the lobster in and heat the water up slowly. I was a lobster thrown into a pot of boiling water. I didn’t really have a choice. There was no adjustment period. It just happened to me.
you were sewing and gardening, and doing kind of a lot of these very stereotypical female things, when in a certain way that seems very different from the kinds of things you’re doing now. Meredith I don’t really see it that way. I really don’t. I find it kind of offensive. Not you, but it’s really damaging to me when people talk about cooking and gardening and sewing that way. We codify them culturally as women’s activities, but most of the rich fashion designers in the world are men. Farming is traditionally a male task and women are kept inside. And cooking—the highest paid chefs in the world are men. It’s something like 90% of James Beard Award recipients are men. Men are the lauded figures, and women’s efforts in those areas are diminished because when it’s done on a communal level it’s considered women’s work, and when it’s done in the public eye it’s
Meredith considered men’s domain. So I don’t actually feel that way at all. I don’t think it’s incongruous with my gender identity or my career. Sam I’m sorry. I think I misspoke. I was just trying to think about the connections of them being stereotypically female activities and how we view those things. I know you’ve talked about the trope of the girl with the bake sale at the punk show and how that played into part of your identity when you were younger, and I found that interesting. It resonated with me. Meredith No, don’t be sorry. That, in my mind, is a shock because in my mind baking is very much men’s domain. Most of the bakers I’ve worked under were men, including the baker who I watched make bread, which got me into baking bread. A lot of the head bakers I know are men. My biggest role model in baking is a woman, but the people I learned baking from were men, and the people I read to learn about gardening and urban farming were men, and hardcore is predominately male dominated, too. So, for me, I always saw those things as men’s work, and I thought of myself as kind of vanguard for being this woman who was in this men’s domain, which is the reason I’m like, you know, specific to say that I don’t see these things as women’s work, because I learned everything in all of those disciplines from men. Save for sewing. The two sewing teachers that really guided me to a place where I could be self-sufficient and have my own business were women. I’ve never sewn with men. In tailoring and alterations, there’s a gender mix, but fashion design is primarily for men, I think, at this point. It’s culturally really odd, I think, for baking to be gendered, or for food production to be gendered. Sam It is. Were those kinds of zines and the things that you were reading at that point also the way that you found activism and feminism? Meredith No, I was raised in a very political household. My father’s a journalist, and my mother and her sisters and her mother were very strong female role models. I never had like a “come to Jesus” moment, you know? I learned. I
continue to learn more about feminism all the time, but I never needed to be taught because I lived with parents who were fantastic examples and still are. Sam You said you were living in an abnormally sexist town. Being one of few female performers, what was your experience like in that way? Meredith I’ve talked about it until I’m blue in the face and gotten death threats as a result of it. It was a different life. I have been lucky enough to have the experiences that I’ve had since then. When I was the most riled up about the way that I was treated by a cabal of men in my hometown, I tried to strike back with some sort of vengeance, and I was met with incredible violence and incredible resistance, and that was really all it took for me to be able to let go of it—seeing them fumbling around like meerkats, not knowing how to react to being called out on being really horrible. Once I saw how desperate they were and how inferior they felt when someone came at them for their gender, I lost interest in speaking about it. It became then less of an experience that was unique to me and more academic. I could see it at a greater distance when I saw that it was similar to experiences other women have gone through historically. I realized my suffering was not unique to me. It was part of a larger picture and that helped me distance myself from any personal pain. Sam You’ve spoken out about a lot of these things. You’ve talked about the violence in the scene, safety issues, and how women establish their authenticity. What drove you into writing and speaking out as an activist in that way? Meredith Again, it’s just something I’ve always done. Writing and music are the only things I’ve ever done. They’re the only two things I’ve ever been even a little bit good at. My father’s a writer, and my mother’s a singer, and I wrote my whole life. I finished my first manuscript when I was in college. I actually went to school for writing. There’s never been a point in my life where I wasn’t very, very outspoken about my feelings and my beliefs and my politics. I’ve grown
into them. They’ve become exponentially more intersectional, but even when I was 8 or 10 years old, I knew I was queer. I knew abortion should be legal. I knew that women deserve the same rights as men. There’s never been a time where that wasn’t a huge part of who I am and how I live. Sam Now you’re working at MTV and doing this television thing. How does that play into all of the other things you’re doing and your other goals? Meredith Well, if there’s one thing that this whole experience, and I guess my life in general, have taught me is that I have never really had a predictable time of things. Things just sort of happen to me. It’s just another exciting opportunity. I guess it’s part of the continued obliteration of anything I have that could resemble goals. If you have goals, they get shot to shit when MTV calls you and says, “Do you want to be on television?” And you go, “Okay, yeah, I do.” Just like I said yes when Rolling Stone called me for an interview. Just like I said yes when Talk House offered to publish my first essay, which led to all of the writing jobs I had in the year directly following. You don’t need goals. You don’t need to set goals if you live the way I do, which is very open-ended and forgiving, I think. I’ve never really had goals. I’ve never really been too passionate about much of anything, and I’ve always kind of had the sneaking suspicion that if I just continued to be kind and work really, really hard, that things would just happen, and I could continue moving. So, yeah, I guess all the last three years have done is prove me right to me, if that makes sense. Goals are for people that can stay on task, and I can’t. I have to be doing a thousand things all of the time. MTV fits really nicely into that because I am writing for web; I’m online streaming; I’m on television; I’ll be producing radio. I will possibly have my own show at some point. I’m doing live stuff and charity work. It really is seven things a day, and writing my own scripts, and working with production teams, and going to development meetings. It is really good for my brain. It’s really
good to be in a position where I can bounce from task to task. It feels really healthy, and very consistent with the way that I get things done. I like it a lot, honestly. It’s really fun. Sam Well, that strikes my goals question. Meredith Sorry. Sam No, that’s great. Meredith I just don’t see the world that way. You can’t have expectations of anything because you’re gonna get shit on, and everything you love will be destroyed. I learned that really young. Don’t trust anyone, and don’t expect anything. Life will be much, much kinder to you if you just follow what you think is right. Having goals is a surefire way to get hurt, or to continue having diminished selfesteem in a world that already wants you to hate yourself. Don’t require anything from yourself other than an open heart and, like, unceasing faith in yourself. Don’t expect anything. It’s not safe for humans and other makes me think that it’s just me, that something about me just forces people away. I have a tendency to sort of be a destroyer of worlds. I don’t know. Ever since I was a kid. I was born with colic. I grew up screaming and being loud and being invasive a nd monopolizing people’s time, and monopolizing conversations— unintentionally. I was a child. I didn’t know. And it carried over into some unhealthy neuropathways into my adulthood, and has led to this omnipresent view of me societally as a very destructive force. Like someone who comes in and upsets people, and says things that people don’t agree with and someone who picks fights, and calls people out, and is just sort of an agent of chaos, rather than someone whose presence benefits a relationship, or benefits a space. That’s why I spend most of my time alone. But it’s okay to be like that. It’s okay to be a person like me, and there are more people like me, and there’s a ton of pressure on people—especially women—to be sweet, polite and well liked. And I have tried to force myself into that pattern consistently since I was a child and it’s never worked. It’s like forcing your feet into shoes that
are a size too small. It doesn’t fit and it isn’t me. So,that’s all I can really do at this point. Also, obviously, I’ve experienced some form of success just being who I am, which makes me think were I able to surmount my narcissistic, violent, controlling, paranoid tendencies that I wouldn’t be working for MTV or I wouldn’t have played a show to thousands of people in New Zealand. You know? It’s a lot. I don’t mean to mythologize myself under any circumstances, but it reminds me it’s kind of like a burden of the ages. It’s kind of like Melisandre from Game of Thrones, like she’s carried hundreds of years of death and guilt and destruction. It’s like I was incarnated into something that no one could ever really love, but could accomplish a lot, and it has been useful for me to identify that because it helps me to cut a clear path through the woods. I know who I am, and I know what people think of me. I know how people react when I try to talk to them at parties. I know how people feel about my writing. People’s opinions of me are absolutely transparent. People aren’t afraid to make it known that they don’t like me, and it has taken years off my life. But it also helped me to live in a way that is more authentic than most people I know. Sam That’s a lot. Meredith It is, but there’s also no point in lying about it. People don’t want to hear that. People just don’t want to acknowledge that you can achieve some sort of success and still be well liked. And especially for a woman to be successful at all, it’s almost guaranteed that ity of those kids will grow up to be well-adjusted lovely adults. I’m sure of it. And, somewhere in there, there might be a couple of kids who are like me and hopefully they see that they are not alone. Sam I think that that’s more important than a troll at the end of the day. Meredith Oh yeah, of course. It’s also not just trolls. I haven’t read a comment on an article written by me or about me in three and a half years. I made it two months into my career as a musician and then I realized that whether people were talking about how they hope I get raped or
not, I was still going to have to play the show, do the tour, make the appearance. It was trial by fire, and I quit reading the comments and never looked back. It’s not the trolls that I’m worried about, it’s the people that I admire who don’t care about me or have not made an effort. You can’t be everyone’s friend, but it does hurt to know that you’re never going to be. It’s not the trolls. It could never be some basement masturbator throwing my career off. It’s the people who craft your image in the public eye, which is why I try to be so careful when I write about other people. I’ve been forged in words that other people have written about me, which has led to me being sort of an anomaly and a scape goat and being viewed as this really not fun person that people don’t want to be around. Be careful when other people try to tell you who you are; it can get weird. But it’s not guys on the internet. It’s not ever gonna be that.
Be careful when other people try to tell you who you are; it can get weird. Sam I guess to kind of step away from the heavier things that we’ve talked about, I always make a point to ask, because we’re a publication about women talking to the women they respect and admire, who are some of the women that you respect and admire? Meredith Historically or currently? Friendships? Sam People that are doing things that are motivating, or people who you looked up to in the past, or now. That can be intimate people in your life. Meredith Sure. One of my best friends is the author and editor, Amy Rose Spiegel. She is one of my biggest, most consistent inspirations in life. Her first book comes out in two weeks, it’s called Action. It’s a book of essays about human sexuality. She’s the person who hired me at Rookie. We went on to very, very quickly become best friends. Our second dates with our respective boyfriends were a double date. She and I had never met in person. Well, we had met once at
karaoke, but years previous. And she was wearing a Tinkerbelle costume, and I had just come from a show and was wearing a big, white fur coat and was sober, singing Bjork standing on a table. We didn’t see each other for a year, and now she is one of my best friends. I have three best friends that are women. My three closest friends are Amy Rose Spiegel, and a woman named Jesse Amesmith, who is the singer of a band called Green Dreams, whose record I’m putting out on my label in the months to come. She is a brilliant guitarist, and also a yoga teacher. We’ve been friends for years. She’s from Rochester, NY, and so I would see her at shows in Syracuse and we finally became friends. My other best friend in the world is a woman named Shauna Roloff, who is a nurse. She’s an RN and also does palliative care. She helps people die, and she wants to eventually become a rape crisis nurse. She is one of these people who would bake with me at these bake sales at the venue. She was my next door neighbor in the building where we all ran the venue, and she was always incredibly active, but not in bands. And now she’s playing bass in her first band, which is a band called the Nudes. Those are the three women I’m closest to. But I’m so, so fucking lucky. I have so many amazing women in my life, whether it’s writers that I work with now at MTV, like Jessica Hopper, Doreen St. Félix, to the designers whose clothes I wear, Samantha Pleet, Nina Egli’s Family Affairs, to the women whose work I admire as artists. Jenny Holzer, Tracy Emin, Barbara Kruger, are three huge big artists for me. Writers like bell hooks and Luce Irigaray, visual artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo, contemporary Fashion Designers Claire Barrow, Simone Rocha, my friend Emily Costello, who is an avant-garde hairstylist in Philadelphia and travels the world teaching people how to do movement-based, scissor only, radical fucking haircuts. Every woman that’s ever lived, basically. There are a lot of really cool women in the world. My mom is dope. My mom’s really fucking cool. When I was born, she was a musical theater
actress and then had random jobs when I was a kid, and then became a substitute teacher, and in a span of about ten years she went from being a substitute ESL teacher to the principal of my high school. She got her teaching license and became like a grunt-work 9th grade English teacher, then became an AP teacher, then the head of the English Department, then the Vice Principal, then the Principal in ten years. Now, she’s the principal of my old high school. Crazy. My mom is a great role model, especially for women who don’t care to be well liked. My mom has always taught me to put business first, and to always make sure that whatever you do results in you being taken seriously. A lot of women. Pema Chodron, the Western Canadian Monk, who runs an abbey and is an author of a lot of books on spirituality. She is amazing. I could go on. The whole interview could just be a list of women I like. Durga Polashi, the writer. A lot of women. Sarah Sophie Flicker is a huge influence on my life. I’m proud that I’m now her friend after admiring her work as an editor at large, and an aerialist, and a feminist activist for years before I met her. Melissa Auf der Maur, Marina Abramovic. You know, squad goals.
Meg Wachter boss-babe-in-chief
Amanda Stosz creative director & principal cat-petter
Molly Bounds coloradan cover arist
Bonnie Wachter mother of Meg, mistress of grammar
The Prolific Group printed this in Canada
Interwebs gotagirlcrush.com @gotagirlcrush #gotagirlcrush #readaboutwomen
Alice Ba g Carolyn Porco Childbi rth F.L.O.W . Grace L ee Bogg s
Janae B onsu Kiran G andhi Lazy M om Marcel la Jayne Meredi th Grav es