Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Embrace It, Let It Go: Happy New Year!

Embrace It, Let It Go: Happy New Year!
Originally uploaded by ojodorado (Happy Holidays!)

Goodbye 2008. It's been a challenging, though ultimately rewarding, year for me personally--walking across the U.S. with the Longest Walk, then messing up my arm and shoulder and spending far more time than I would have anticipated recovering from that--which ultimately forced me to focus on my health in a good way.

A friend recently sent me an astrological report on 2009, predicting a real roller coaster year. But I don't think we need astrology to tell us that--we have a new president, a collapsing economy, yep it looks like we are in for it.

The astro report indicates we'll be able to ride it out if we let those things dissolve that need to dissolve, and trust that there will be something left over. In fact, we may discover that we had more than we thought we did all along.

Best wishes to y'all in the New Year!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Good morning, new America.

"Is there too much hope?' A journalism student asked the woman next to me at the Obama headquarters celebration last night.

There is, of course, never too much hope.

Now, the question, as Obama himself as asked is, "What do we do with it?"

More than anything, as I was standing in the cheering crowd last night, I felt like all the battles that I and others had fought over the past several decades had piled up to reach this tipping point--this visible African-American face, this multiracial global man who symbolizes our hope for a new America and a new world. Memories came flooding back to me--my father standing up to the white city council in the San Fernando Valley over integration and civil rights, the tense and shattering day Martin Luther King was shot and how the huge crowd of us, black and white junior high school students, marched to downtown Berkeley, the battles for women's rights in the 70's, the organizing against Anita Bryant in the Castro, the chaotic and cathartic times in Argentina and Bolivia, it all filled my bones as I was watching Obama speak and made me feel, yes, all of us who have fought those battles have helped make this change happen.

Of course, he will prove himself not just a symbol, but a human being. He will make mistakes. He will disappoint us. And we of this celebrity-driven country will have to learn that we are still the ones, ultimately, that need to make the change continue to happen.

But yesterday, as I was looking at kids here in Oakland who are four, five, six years old, I was thinking: they ARE growing up in a country different than the one I grew up in.

In the polling place, a group of light-skinned black kids were sitting on chairs talking while the rest of us voted. "Who would you vote for if you could vote?" said one. "Well I'd vote for Obama of course," said the other. "Why?" said the first. "'Cuz he's younger." said the second.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Painted Legs, How Berkeley Can You Be Festival

Painted Legs
Originally uploaded by ojodorado

I remember doing this in Berkeley when I was in Junior High.

Some things never change.

Monday, September 29, 2008


Yesterday I went to the "How Berkeley Can You Be?" Festival and watched the crazycostumed Berkeleyites dance and prance around MLK park. (Photos forthcoming)

Ah yes, it's good to be home...

After dancing and prancing around a bit myself, I sat down on a wooden bench and had some needles inserted into my ears.
I'm great at giving advice to other people about getting acupuncture, but have yet to try it myself. And yes, it works....!

My energy is returning, my arm is healing, and my unabashed photo passion continues. I'll get back to more "serious" writing eventually--or I won't---but for now, I'm having fun.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From California: Flickring

The recuperation process from my injured arm and shoulder--and perhaps from the Longest Walk as well--as been longer than one would expect. My whole body has been exhausted.

So instead of travelling I have been Flickring...putting my photos on Flickr, sending them out into the world, and armchair travelling by looking at photos of people from all over the world.

Once again I am reminded of how much art heals, whether or not you are an artist. There also seems to me to be something globally healing about people connecting to each other uniquely through images. Here, it's easier to find our commonality--I don't know what a particular photographer's politics might be, or what an a-hole he or she might be away from the camera, but with the image we can share a part of our soul and our life in a simple, direct and beautiful way.

Here is one of the Flickr community's current favorites.
You can see more here

Entonces Un Dia Se Fue

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Dennis Banks Says Goodbye

After the walk, longtime Native activist Dennis Banks passed on his staff to younger leaders, made a speech, and walked away, symbolically retiring from being an active organizer.

One Long Walker gave him a mock bow on his way out.

Longest Walk in DC Photos


Two days before The Longest Walk was to arrive in DC, I slipped while I was coming down a ramp, broke my arm and generally messed up my shoulder. I did manage to get to DC and walk with everybody else, but have spent the last 4 weeks recuperating, one week in DC and the last three here in Los Angeles.

Wow. This has really given me a new appreciation of our bodies and how much we take them for granted when they are working. I found myself watching people bicycling, walking, carrying things,dancing, going about their business, watching how elegantly their two arms functioned together without them really thinking about it, wondering if I would get that ease of movement back.

The doctor warned that I may lose mobility in the injured arm, but I am aiming for having that blissfully unaware ability to move both my arms together without really thinking about it again. In the meantime I have been VERY conscious of the injured arm---you realize that arms are also about balance for the rest of you,and you don't really think about your ability to roll around at night when you are sleeping until you can't. My awareness of others in public spaces also changed for awhile--I was hyper aware of the people bustling around me and their ability to send me into excruciating pain just by bumping into me the wrong way. (No cast--just a light shoulder sling.) So generally, I didn't go out much.

Also, I was exhausted, and slept a lot. I checked out some blogs from people who had broken bones and found that this was not uncommon. I guess your body wants you to rest.

Except for the lack of mobility, it is now doing much better--I can type with both hands, scratch my nose with my left hand, put both earrings in, put on my shoes--all sorts of activities that I was incapable of just two weeks ago. Having to ask other people to do simple things for me--ohmigod,not a lot of fun, but certainly a lesson in interdependance. Still can't get my arm over my head to put my hair up or anything like that.

This has also given me a tremendous appreciation for people who end up with lifelong changes to their bodies because of injuries--people like Christopher Reeves, Ram Dass---or someone like Jack, a Navajo guy on the Longest Walk who walked from Arizona with an artificial leg.

Also, as I am big on the symbolism of how we manifest accidents and diseases, I have to ask myself why my left arm has been screaming for attention, and what that says about the balance in my own life.

We must take nothing for granted.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Reflections On The Longest Walk, Three Weeks After

During The Longest Walk, some of us reflected that we would bettter appreciate and understand the walk after it was all over.

That has proved true in my case--but then, I've always been a slow learner, seeming to need a fair amount of reflection time after important events.

The walk was challenging, physically, emotioally, and spiritually. Up every day before 4AM, on the road by five, seven miles before breakfast, sixteen to twenty total, maybe showers maybe not, maybe a bathroom, maybe the woods, a diverse crowd of people thrown together from different cultures, sunburn, sunstroke, tics---and walkinig on land all across the country that held some painful hisorical memories. I wondered at times if we were actually doing any real healing with our walk and ceremonies or just scratching he wounds.

But now that it's been over for nearly a month, I feel more than anything a deep gratitude for the people I met on the walk and
the moments we shared. Ron from the Houma Nation with his New Orleans accent that made him sound like he was from the Bronx, Gilberto the Afro-Cubam Buddhist monk who WAS from the Bronx, Addie with the adopted dog Booger trailing along behind her, or pulling her along, Margaret from the Chumash Nation with her quiet and steady self, Christopher AKA Sunshine with his golden hair and spirit, quiet Kana from Japan who reflected that all the emotional turmoil we were going thru on the walk was like the laundry spinning to get clean, "All the Way Ray" doing sixty push-ups after the walk, Tony with his amazing plugalong car, and so many others....

Would I do it again? No. Am I glad I did it this time? You bet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Longest Walk Update

From Mebane, North Carolina--

Back on the Longest Walk. Still difficult getting internet access and getting on the blog.

Stayed with great folks at the Ocaneechi-Saponi reservation. The last full blood there died in the mid 1700's, so these folks look more like light skinned African Americans than full blood Indians. But they have recreated a traditional village, and are reviving their 'extinct' language. They also cooked up some seriously good fried chicken.

Interpersonal conflict continues on the walk, but it seems to be getting aired more, and resolved. People who took off for the NOrthern Route say conflicts are rife there too, and that visitors from the Southern Route did not feel very welcome.

One friend here, a Navajo, said he thought there was so much interpersonal conflict because of the work we were doing healing Mother Earth and the Native history on this continent. It's as if with every step we take we are soaking up her wounds and the historical wounds of the people we encounter. So naturally that's going to play itself out among us.

Other people have complained of the chaos and lack of leadership. The people who have taken on leadership positions are or have seriously burned out. Today and yesterday our extremely competent Japanese translator and finance coordinator blew her stack. Another walker stepped forward and asked Dennis to lighten up on the walkers, that everybody was burned out.

But the same Japanese woman led us in a hula dance and song today, which we all did. I didn't realize the hula was actually a martial art. You can see in the dance and song that it incorporates light and dark, and is nothing like the Hollywood versions of it I have seen.

These moments of song and dance as well as people's honest expressions of how they feel seem to have helped the mood of the walkers.

Dennis Banks has returned to the walk after being away with the Lumbee and Tuscalero people. He tried to get them both to join us, but word is that since the two tribes do not get along, when each one heard the other was going to be on the walk, they both cancelled.

Indian Country Today has run a good clarification story of an incident between walkers and police in Columbus, Ohio.

We are nearing the end of the walk, and will be arriving soon in Washington DC.

A medicine man in Peru once said "How you arrive is very important."

I am thinking a lot about that as we near DC.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


"Lighten up! Reduce, reduce, reduce!" Nate keeps yelling at the Longest Walkers.

Nate is the Longest Walk's sargent at arms, the one that keeps us organized, wakes us up in the morning, gets us into morning circle, convinces us to help load and unload the huge weight of luggage we carry in trailers from town to town--
the backpacks, the sleeping bags, the tents.

Nathan is tall and has a big commanding voice and perhaps because of this is not loved by certain people. "Oh shut UP," mutters one woman after Nathan has barked another set of orders.

But he gets the job done. And he has reminded me, with his latest order to 'reduce', of how much baggage I carry around.

I realize that one of the reasons I am on the Longest Walk, aside from my desire to bring more respect to Mother Earth and Native sacred sites, is to reduce my baggage, in both the physical and the metaphorical sense.

When I am walking, I can feel every little extra ounce in the canvas bag that I carry strapped around my shoulder--oh why the hell am I carrying that stupid comb, do I really think I will suddenly want to whip it out while I am walking and comb my scraggly-ass hair that hasn't been combed in a week?

I feel, as I put one foot in front of the other towards the seventeen miles a day that we walk,, a letting go, a freedom and focus. There is nothing that is important but my feet, the road, the land, and the rest of the people I am walking with.

With none of the tempting baggage of my past around me--no house, no car, no job, no history, I am free.

Free to invent new baggage.

I did what Nathan "suggested", unloaded some of my winter stuff from the trailer and sent it away in a brown box.

Afterwards, I promptly went to Good will and spent $12 on 3 new skirts, which of course will fill up the hole left by my old baggage.

Mending The Hoop

In the warm Alabama night, I join a Native man* as he sits with two light-skinned local Cherokee men who are wearing traditional dress.

Usually easygoing and friendly, he flares up when I sit down.

"Yes sit down," he barks, "You might learn something. "

The atmosphere is already thick when I sit down, so I wonder what's been going on.

"You can't prove you're Indian," he eventually says to all of us, taking out his tribal enrollment card from his back pocket and waving it around.

"That's right," I say. " Which is why I call myself an ally and not an Indian, even though I may believe the family oral tradition of Indian blood."

"Well I'm working on it," says the younger of the Cherokees.

"I can not only prove I'm an Indian," he continues. "I've lived it. All you can talk about is the Trail of Tears," he says to the two Cherokees.

He is getting angrier, his voice rising.

Actually, he is a mixed blood, and has spoken of being discriminated against by both whites and Indians.

When the two Cherokee leave, he continues on.

"Why did you go to South America? It was guilt, wasn't it?"

I feel like he is pushing all his pain towards me, wanting me to feel it.

"We are victims," he says. He knows I'm half-Jewish and begins to tell me how much more victimized his people are than mine. I know that the story of my relatives has been told and heard and that the story of his still needs more telling, but I am reluctant to fall into the "my people are more victimized than yours" trap, one that I have heard before from friends on the Left and one that I feel ultimately leads nowhere.

"Yes you are," I say. "But now what? What can be done now?"

"There is nothing to be done," he says, "the hoop has already been broken."

Instinctively, I recoil from this level of despair, even though I have seen it in the eyes of Indian men before.

I'm finding it difficult to write about the walk, because there seems to be so much pain that flares up between all of us--between the races, between the generations, between full bloods and mixed bloods. Several people have made final angry speeches in morning ceremony and left the group. Others have pleaded, "Why can't we all just get along?" and "We all bleed red."

The same stories that are played out in the country, and in the world, are played out here.

"I know why they whine, I know why they cry," said one Native guy while we walked together. "They are human beings."

Like human beings have been doing for centuries, we turn on each other, we blame each other, we talk behind each other's back, we throw our pain at each other.

But we keep walking.

Then suddenly, we are stopping in a new community and people are showering us with welcome and praise and appreciation, and we remember why we are doing this.

And maybe the hoop can be mended.

(*I am deliberately leaving out details like name and tribe to tell the story but maintain the privacy of the people involved.)


Very big trees.

Ma Da Go Cafone: The Secret Language of the South

When I was in junior high school in Berkeley, an African-American friend named Gwen, took a trip down south to visit some relatives.

"Damn," she said when she returned, "I couldn't understand hardly anything they said."

"Like what?" I asked, stuffing my clothes into the gym locker next to hers.

"Like Ma Da Go Cafone." She said.


"Ma Da Go Cafone," she repeated. "It means 'my daughter went to California."

I thought Ma Da Go Cafone was so cool that I used it as a powerful mantra to torture my younger brother, repeating it over and over and telling h im I wouldn't let him know what it meant until he turned 13. I kept my word, but he was probably disappointed.

White or black, people here in the South talk differently than I do.

A pale skinny guy on the Greyhound bus from Alabama to Tennessee began to make conversation with me while I was trying to catch up on my writing.

"Ahm gon ta Paduca tagit me a truck." he said.

Oh lord, I thought, some redneck that has nothing better to do than make conversation that I don't understand.

"Hmm," I said, staring intently at my writing pad. Scribble, scribble.

Eventually he began to make so many semi-intelligible comments that I was forced to put down my pen and listen.

And I found that the guy had a lot to teach me. About what it's like to be a truck driver in Alabama, for instance, when all the small and middle sized trucking companies are folding because of the price of gas, and the big companies are cutting back on salaries and benefits.

"Everythang's gon corporate, " he said. "We're losin that human touch, we're just numbers ta them."

Well, I thought, this is a language that a lot of people in this country seem to be speaking.

I learned about his passion for genealogy--something we share--and about how to speak Southern.

"Yont." he said. "Mayonaisse."

"What?" I asked politely, wondering if he might be trying to tell me about his daughter going to California.

"Yont ta come with me ta Paduca? Mayonaisse a lotta people on this bus!"

He laughed, then admitted that he had stolen a lot of his lines from a famous Southern comedian who makes jokes about rednecks.

But it was new to me, so I laughed too.

"When ah wuz up North, "he said, "ev'body loved the way ah talked. They jus kept asking me over and over to say something, anything."

The countryside we were passing was green, with rolling hills. Alabama was much more beautiful than I expected.

"That's my town," he said, "just over that hill. Not much to look at, just simple country living, but it's where I'm from. I love it. Wouldn't want to live anywhere else. "

I had put my writing pad down. He was actually a pretty interesting and good hearted guy.

At Nashville, the bus stopped, and I got off, wishing him goodbye and good luck.

He said something in response that sounded like a mouthful of cornbread, but which I now recognized as the secret language of the South.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Southern Discomfort

Coming into "The South" for a northerner (or better said, a Westerner) like myself, has felt like visiting a foreign country.

I have, quite frankly, approached Alabama and Mississippi with more trepidation than when I travelled into the Amazon jungle.
The names of the cities here are not just city names to me--they are syllables that evoke particular images from my childhood: Birmingham, Montgomery, Hattiesburg translate for me into "rabid white crowds, dogs, hoses, George Wallace, lynchings." As we walk through these cities, walkers and locals say: "This is where two black men were lynched," or "this is where a rabbi was murdered."

Is there really a New South? I have asked people along the way.

The response has depended on who is speaking. "Well, you know, the old-timers, they have a hard time changing," says one.
One of these 'old-timers', a white guy in his sixties who was a police officer during the Civil Rights demonstrations, says he thinks there is more racism now, exacerbated by affirmative action programs which are resented by whites. He is one of those people who thinks the country will collapse to the point where everyone will be protecting their own with big guns.

A black woman in a tiny country store in Mississippi, when asked if the KKK is still around, says "Oh yeah, they still around."

The cheerleading squads on the University campus in Hattiesburg are practicing when the Long Walkers walk onto the campus..they seem neatly divided into white and black. Professors on campus say that progress is still slow, though most of the young generation doesn't seem to suffer from the blatant racism that their elders have.

What amazes me is when a couple of different professors--at two different universities--tell me that many of their students come into their classes with no knowledge of the history of the Civil Rights movement here in the Sixties. One prof, after having shown a documentary on that era, was asked by his students: "Why weren't we told about this sooner?"

Trail of Tears? For most young people, it's also not in the history books. Unless you are one of the many people around here who want to rediscover their Cherokee roots.

I did go on a couple of Plantation Tours... an interesting way to learn about the colorful people who lived in these Southern plantations, and some of the history of the area. My friend Melinda, who writes a column on old plantations here in Tennessee under the name "Auntie Bellum" says she has only been on one tour that described the life of the slaves on these plantations.

There definitely seems to be a kind of Southern Discomfort going on with southerners and their history.

And with me. I am both fascinated and repelled by the South, which after all is a big chunk of our own American history,despite their efforts to secede. I have ancestors who fought and died for the Confederacy--some who may have lived in those big plantation houses and some who themselves picked cotton.

In Alabama, a carfull of teenage yahoos (no not the internet yahoo) drove around and into our camp yelling stuff about 'hippies' and 'little bitches'. We managed to chase them away, but not before one of the male walkers whispered, "It's the Klan" and a young woman admitted she was scared to death.

And yet, on the Longest Walk, we have met some incredible people here in the South--warm, hospitable, generous, thoughtful people, white, black, Native and all the combinations thereof.

(photo caption: One of the warm, generous and progressive people we met on the journey was this professor from the University of Montavalo in Alabama, (right), shown here speaking to two people from the Longest Walk. She traded the mask to the guy in the middle for his t-shirt, because the mask was originally from his people in Mexico.)