Friday, August 31, 2012

On going on

On a whim, I asked devorah to send me some of her new poetry...

The tears had to come tonight
They would only accept poetry
Or else lay buried under the frost
Of going on...
In this time of
    He's gone now
      And the bed requires me
        To sleep with my baby's stuffed elephant
          But still I don't sleep
In the big, dark silence

I remember things that we created
Together when we were excited
To just be

I've been telling my friends
I'm doing okay
    I'm done
      I've grieved enough already
All these months
Of living inside his ambivalence
All the days and nights
Rocking nursing crying
Hoping sadness
    Would not seep into
      My perfect child
Who's joy is so contagious
It makes other people glow

These are the days of going on
Watching my baby become a little boy
    Now when he plays hide and seek with the cloth napkin
      He covers my head too - both of us inside the secret
        And smiles at me with such shining knowing

I wonder if he knows his papa doesn't live here anymore.

His body is getting so long as he falls asleep in my arms
Arms that are really just extensions of my heart that has spread into them taking over

I asked her to send me some poems tonight
I must of known I needed to cry.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If I Can't Dance, I Don't Want to Be Part of Your Revolution

This is an interview written by the amazing Kelpie Wilson of Truth Out...about the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. Interesting to think about all the things we learned back then and how the Occupy Movement comes out of those heady days, in ways that are seen and unseen...For instance, "mic check" wasn't called that then, but it was how we communicated vital info during the mass arrests in Seattle. History isn't a circle, its a spiral...


Alli Chagi Starr: If I Can't Dance

 Alli Chagi Starr: If I Can't Dance
 By Kelpie Wilson
 t r u t h o u t | Interview
Sunday 14 August 2005

    Alli Chagi-Starr is a founder of Art and Revolution. An accomplished dancer, she has spent the last fifteen years on the road catalyzing creative demonstrations against war, racism, and destructive economic and environmental policies.
    I got to interview Alli when she came to visit her mother, Kayla Starr, who lives here in my town. Kayla is an amazing activist herself and has been a strong defender of forests and an outspoken peace activist. Alli got her first taste of activism watching her mother take on nuclear disarmament issues when Alli was in high school. Now Alli is deeply involved in doing her part to pass on the torch of creative, community-building activism.

    Kelpie Wilson: Alli, your first love was dance. Tell me about your dance career.
    Alli Chagi-Starr: I grew up as a ballet dancer and then as a modern dancer and worked professionally in the modern dance community in San Francisco for seven years or so, but ultimately found the dance world to not be speaking to the issues of our times enough, and I wanted to figure out how as a dancer I could have more impact in the world and be more responsive to my community and the global community.
    KW: So is that where Art and Revolution came from?
    ACS: Well, it was a bit of a progression - I started organizing arts benefit events for social justice and environmental issues starting in about 1989. The first one was a benefit for women and children living with HIV, and then a year later we did a big anti-war event around the first Gulf War. Then in 1994, I teamed up with David Solnit, and we started putting our skills together. He had a background in anti-nuclear organizing, non-violent direct action and carpentry.
    KW: So a dancer and a carpenter got together and what was the result?
    ACS: Art and Revolution! Both of us are die-hard organizers, so we were sort of a formidable team, and we were asked to go to various actions around the country to work on anti-nuclear issues, homeless issues. And I had been doing anti-racism work and learned about Mumia Abu Jamal, and I got David interested in that, so we inspired each other. We traveled all over the country in 1995 and '96, and then in '97 we held an event called Art and Revolution Convergence with some other artists.
    KW: Was that like a conference?
    ACS: It was a training, a conference, a gathering. 250 people showed up on some land just north of Seattle. We had series of workshops on dance, giant puppet building ...
    KW: The giant puppets are wonderful. You see them everywhere - is that your doing?
    ACS: Well, not exactly. Bread and Puppet from Vermont has been doing them since the Vietnam War era. And Wise Fool here on the west coast makes beautiful, elaborate puppets, but we got very good at doing them at the drop of a hat, bringing them to the front lines of critical social movements. We'd go to Kinkos and blow up an image and then put it on cardboard and paint it and make a quick costume - sort of puppets on demand, for the campaigns and actions that were cropping up. In that way, Art and Revolution revitalized political movements right before the turn of the century. We had a big role in re-inspiring people to come out to demonstrations.
    KW: Right, like all the lead-ups to the WTO meeting in Seattle. Tell me about the different actions and action trainings you did.
    ACS: Well, we did multiple trainings all over the country, and people who came to Seattle came from all over the country. We did two giant convergences in '97 and '98, not knowing that we would be in Seattle in '99, but then we did a pretty elaborate road show in October '99 - we went to cities all up and down the west coast recruiting people to come to Seattle. And everywhere we went, at first people were saying "what's the WTO?" and by the end of our 20 minute theater piece that talked about the Caribbean banana farmers that were getting screwed out of their livelihoods and talked about the dolphins getting caught in tuna nets and all these other assaults on people and the earth, people were saying, "How can we get to Seattle?"
    One of the things that's unique about our road shows is that we don't just perform, we also do hands-on training. We keep the performance short so people don't get tired and have to leave, so afterward we immediately break up into trainings - for giant puppets, non-violence, or more information on the issues, singing and dance, hip hop, anti-racism class, whatever the community needs. So the thousands of people we interacted with up and down the coast were already trained in non-violence, creative action, before they came to Seattle and could speak in good sound bites about the WTO. So there were a lot of people who got prepped in a way that was magnetic and powerful.
    KW: You could really feel that when you were there. And I was amazed at the time, at the energy around it. As the veteran of many demos, I thought, wow, there's a real buzz around this one!
    ACS: There was a real hundredth monkey feel to it, where all of a sudden arts activism caught fire. You could not look in any direction on those days in the streets of Seattle without seeing puppets or dance or amazing costumes. Of course the media didn't catch much of it.
    KW: There were many different groups involved in organizing the Seattle demonstrations, but Art and Revolution sent out a postcard calling for people to come and shut down the WTO. Why?
    ACS: We had $300 left in our bank account and we spent it on that postcard. And people wanted more, so they sent us money, and we printed thousands and thousands. Our feeling was when these boys get together, bad things happen in the world. People die. Species are threatened. People's incomes and livelihoods are destroyed. We felt strongly that we could not in good conscience allow these people to meet and make decisions that are going to have such a global reach and terrible impact. So we should do whatever was needed to make sure that meeting could not happen successfully.
    KW: What is the impact of the creativity, the dance and music, when you are in a really tense situation with the police? What changes when you have a call and response singing group or a dance routine?
    ACS: At one point in Seattle I had a steelworker to my right and a nun on my left, and there were thousands of us singing Amazing Grace, and the police put down their weaponry and backed off from a crowd that they were about to advance on. Art and performance are inherently disarming.
    One of the first protests I remember going to was about the dumping of toxic nuclear waste on Native American land in Ward Valley, and we were all holding these little signs in this designated area away from where Clinton was visiting, and I thought, no way am I going to stand in a little pig pen with my sign. So I asked my group of 12 people to form a circle. And I did some choreography where we each did our own gesture - now I call it Dances of Democracy - everyone makes up a gesture and we meld them together and it becomes a theater piece. We decided to take it out of the pen and into the streets and the police did come up to us and tell us to leave, and I said, we're almost done with our dance, and he said well finish up then, and next thing I knew we were on Channel 4, Channel 7 - so we went to the next corner and got on some more television channels, and we just kept moving and doing our dance, and we became provocative and media-worthy at that point. So that's what we saw in Seattle and what we are seeing in our movement - that we are using dance and creativity to become more magnetic, and ... it's just funner!
    KW: It's funner! Like Emma Goldman said ...
    ACS: "If I can't dance I don't want to be part of your revolution!" Art is one of the deepest emanations of what it means to be human. It's one of the most beautiful parts of us. Violence is also part of us. We can at any moment choose one or the other, but I think art is an antidote to violence. We can create a community ritual instead of a riot by transforming the energy and the police don't have to get out their tools of violence. We create a performance spectacle and the police can step back and witness something they weren't expecting.
    KW: So that spirit of fun is something you are trying to give to other people. It's kept you going, and now you're trying to pass that on. Tell me about your Art in Action Camp.
    ACS: We have to pass on our skills and wisdom to the next generation and know that the next generation is going to improve on those. We started the camps five years ago, as an effort to take these arts activist skills and get them into the hands of young visionaries and new activists. We're generally working with low income youth from the inner city. Our commitment is to work with at least 80 percent young people of color and youth who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to go to summer camp at all. We work together for ten days and develop a theater piece together. It's very powerful, and it transforms lives - in some cases, transforming lives of violence into lives of art-making and community building. It needs to spread, and our goal is to have a budget big enough that we could do these camps in cities all over the country.
    KW: Is it challenging for you as a white woman from a privileged middle class background to be a role model for underprivileged youth of color?
    ACS: Well, I work with nine other facilitators, so I am in a racial minority within my collective. I step back a lot. I help with the fundraising and help catalyze bringing people together. But when it comes to teaching, I help teach the dance part, but I step back from a lot of the other workshops. What the youth see is a model of collective leadership where there is a majority of people of color and a majority of women. So that's how I approach my goal of passing skills on to people who have less privilege than I do. I think it's important for white people who have privilege to use it to help those who have less.
    KW: How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the action camps?
    ACS: They can check out And you can get an application at
    KW: And you have a new book out?
    ACS: I'm in a new book edited by Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans called Stop the Next War Now. It's full of inspiration, ideas and strategies for actions. My article is called "Lessons from the Field: Igniting the Spirit of Joy." It's an amazing group of essays they've collected.
    KW: I have to say this is an incredible book. It has a forward by Alice Walker and an introduction by Arundhati Roy. It has essays by Cindy Sheehan and Camilo Mejia.
    ACS: I was honored to be included in it.
    KW: Alli, do you have one more thought you'd like to share with t r u t h o u t readers?
    ACS: One of the things I keep coming back to, over this past fifteen years of building bridges between art and social justice movements, is that artists and visionaries need to be at the table from the start. We need visionary thinkers at the planning table when we are strategizing our campaigns. It can't be an afterthought: "Oh honey, did you remember to call the poet?" One day before the rally.
    And, I think that artists need to step up. We don't have a lot of time to play with right now. We're really on the brink here, and I think it's really critical for artists to get out of their insular worlds and start responding to the crises of our times and provide inspiration and creation and reflection. Cultural activism is the wave of the future. Creativity and addressing privilege are the two pieces that have been missing from the progressive movement, and when we finally get that, we're going to really amplify our effectiveness.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Even Empires Down

 Here's a piece I wrote for my crew, Dancers Without Borders. We choreographed a dance to a recording of this poem in spring 2005.

Even Empires Down

Shhh…Can you hear it?
Something buried is rumbling
Something brittle is beginning to break
No matter the clever clutchings of attachment
A sinister myth, pridefully perched
Is finally falling under its own weight

Gravity must love even empires down
Her pulling is nameless
She doesn’t know words like evil
Or greed or separate
She cannot help but answer precisely
To the weight of neglect
The drilling, driving, scurrying, scraping
Of disconnect.

Shhh…Can you see it?
Her ice melting
Her oceans rising
The inevitable capsizing of an era
Is nothing compared to her boundaryless, watery embrace.

Fear is not as blind as we think
But is near-sighted
It makes up small stories
Obsesessed with the microscopic
Absorbed by the minutia
While ancestors of the millennia dance alone
We look away from the swelling tide.

Open wide…can you taste it?
Cold metal between your lips
(The centuries grumble with boredom and distaste, "Aren't you done with that yet?")
Genocides past are not so silent
The soil and rock never forget
Guns and crosses and blood
Time is a silent scream…
If you could hear it, you would cover your ears.

But now, thinly-veiled masks are peeling back.
Some will do everything to hang on to the lie
They will create media mazes and monsters
And try to bring it on
Saying that God will come
And carry them up
They will stop recycling
Delight in wars
And believe they are saved.

She smiles patiently at all of this desperate, hideous hiding
She whispers urgently to those awakening from the dream

Shhh…can you feel it?
Out of the debris something naked and raw is stirring
Something beating has always been there
Something breathing still stands
And courageously awaits the change.

Monday, December 26, 2011


There is a root descending from the hearth
This is an invitation
A journey into darkness.
The layers of light are not jailed by time
But rather freed
She teaches us how not to fear death
To judge not the fullness of nothingness
She silently reminds us
We are all children
My self a leaf
Which ripens and will one day fall
Making way for other leaves
An existance divined in the rot of earth.
We are all invited to return
To darkness
When we were nothing but a memory
She was holding us
Remembering our Mother
We come home

Friday, December 16, 2011

At the gate at Harvest Time
The fields are full at this crossroads.
The pond, covered with green scum, has its private life
No one coming for dinner here, except those who know the true power of algae
The sun belts a rebellious yell before fall descends
My child nurses at my breast as I write
Devine sacrament of all the ages of animals
We think we are not of them, with our motors and ink and ideas
But its milk that sustains.
Generation after generation of goats and pigs and humans
My son is here, and by goddess, he will drink
Sister bee comes calling again as we sit in a pile of grass and earth
I can still smell my blood and sweat and tears
Its only been six months, but you have made me a woman
Your little being, a harvest every day
You teach endurance and the endless ache of love
You are the lion I didn’t know was coming, but now can’t imagine ever being apart from you
You are my teacher. A reminder of flying things and sacrifice and god
We melt in the sun together under an unjudging sky
You touch the pages yet unwritten
Everything goes in the mouth.
Everything gives thanks
I give thanks, little one
For you, and all this is
I give thanks.