Tag Archives: writing

WOMEN MOVE FROM MARCHING TO ACTION

This is part two of a blog about my experience in attending the Women’s March October Convention in Detroit. At the Convention, leaders of the historic January 21st Women’s March shifted into forward gear to reengineer the D.C. March into an active resistance movement that includes both urban and rural women from all over the country.

Women aren’t in a waiting mood. They are stepping forward to become the change. The results of last Tuesday’s election wins in VA, NJ, FL and WA were in part, a direct result of commitments made at the D.C. March and suggest that women are in this for the long haul.

What I experienced at the Detroit Convention was a shift in strategies that transform the current women’s movement from one of spontaneous action into strategic programs to sustain us in a new age of struggle. This evolution will demand much more than just showing up. We need to bring our full-selves to this work. Although there were women of all ages at the event, the Convention was largely conducted by young women of color who see the urgency created by our current political conditions and have the skills and talent to lead us.

Packed Convention Workshops

Convention work groups took up bold new themes that are emerging in our society as we witness an alarming resurgence of white supremacy and state sanctioned violence. We have finally begun to openly discuss the role that race plays in our society. The ideology behind the efforts to move forward is new to many and requires a rethink of how we understand the role that race plays in our day-to-day lives. To begin this conversation, there is an increasing need for white people to understand the concept of white privilege and how to become an ally of people who have been oppressed in our society. We must support these daring discussions.

Since the time, white men landed on our shores, white men and women have taken their supremacy for granted. Yet, the white Anglo-Saxon tribe was only one of many cultures that existed across the world. Throughout their history in the new world, whites have sustained an aggressive culture that conquers, takes resources, and controls others by isolating them from the economic and political systems necessary for equality. White children often grow up believing that the white race is normal and that all other cultures are deviations from the norm. Women are now taking the lead in forging a new vision for our future.

In addition to the training at the Women’s Convention, there are a number of local seminars emerging on the topic of white privilege. I recently attended a frank discussion between whites and women of color, called “Get Your People” at Detroit’s Historical Society. I also note from the Convention literature that a group called Allies for Change www.alliesforchange.org will be offering seminars “Doing Our Work” across Michigan in 2018 to further expand these discussions. Some of the Indivisible groups are also having discussions on these topics. Indivisible, largely made up of women, has more than 5,000 groups across the country with at least two in every state.

If we are to move forward together, it is imperative that we do the deep work that is required to embody an anti-racist identity and learn how to develop relationships of accountability to people of color, interrupting the pervasive racism in our communities, our work lives and even in our family relationships.

If we don’t want to live in the kind of world we see emerging from the shadows of our new government, we must take responsibility for acting on our beliefs. In addition to educating ourselves, the following actions were recommended at the Conference. Several were suggested by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967.

  1. Contribute to groups like the ACLU or the NAACP that have a track record of doing good work in this regard.
  2. Be thoughtful about where you shop. Support minority businesses.
  3. Put your money in black banks or credit unions.
  4. Volunteer in your communities. Change will not come from our government but from the ground up.
  5. Vote like your life depends on it.

WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: LESSONS FROM A GRASSROOTS ACTIVIST

By Joann Castle   Coming soon…

I invite you to “follow” my blog by clicking on the follow button at the top right. You will receive notices of new posts and can keep updated on my book publication timeline.

Thanks for reading!  

ME, MAXINE AND 4,500 WOMEN CREATE A FOUNDATION FOR ACTION

Reclaiming our Time was the theme of the three-day Women’s March Convention held last weekend at the Cobo Center in Detroit. The agenda was a call to action launched nine months after the post-inauguration D.C. March that drew millions of women across the world into the streets to protest Donald Trump’s election. (You can place your own significance on the nine-month time frame.) The Women’s Convention was organized by Tamika Mallory, Carman Perez and Linda Sarsour, who also organized the D.C. March. Well done, my friends. It was totally inspiring.

Detroit’s expanded and updated Cobo Center proved an excellent venue. Its main hall easily accommodated the 4,500 women attending, with ample room to house the 176 action-oriented workshops included in the program. The nearness of Cobo to the Detroit River and the realization that Canada was so close was a pleasant surprise to many of the women who came from out of town. I was also pretty happy that I could walk from my home to the convention and grateful that they gave me a scholarship so that I could attend. One third of the women attending did so through scholarships.

The convention’s overarching theme was the creation and fostering of an intersectional feminist movement led by people of color, which encompasses issues of race, class, gender, immigration status and disabilities, acknowledging that we are all going to rise together or fall together. We live in a society that deliberately segregates us and pits us against each other. If we do not organize across these sectors, we risk becoming oppressors of others who are also fighting for liberation.

My personal hero, Maxine Waters, the outspoken 79-year-old, Congresswoman from California, was the keynote speaker and minced no words in calling out the role of men in positions of power who abuse women through sexual harassment and assault but also through the general degradation of women, especially women of color, in the workplace, on the street and many times in their homes. While there were chants to “Impeach 45,” Donald Trump’s name was seldom used. We were all about building and not tearing down.

Congresswoman Waters was joined by Senators Kristen Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Debbie Stabenow. Senator Gillibrand reminded the crowd not to depend on congressional leadership in Washington: “The only time our democracy ever works is when regular people just like you, stand up and demand it.” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List shared that since the presidential election, 20,000 women have contacted Emily’s List to express interest in running for political office. They have trained 1,900 women and have short term goals of taking back the House and the Senate. It was gratifying to see many rural women attending the conference and sharing common cause.

One of the most popular workshops at the conference was, “Confronting White Womanhood.” The session focused on helping white women understand how white privilege functions as a barrier to resolving race relations. The response to the workshop was so overwhelming that it was repeated and required a room that seated 500 people to accommodate all the white women who wanted this training. One of the co-creators of the workshop noted: “We live in a world where some people have power and some people don’t…white supremacy is the problem that white people need to fix.”

(My report on the conference will continue in next week’s blog. Stay tuned.)

WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: LESSONS FROM A GRASSROOTS ACTIVIST

By Joann Castle   Coming soon…

I invite you to “follow” my blog by clicking on the follow button at the top right. You will receive notices of new posts and can keep updated on my book publication timeline.

Thanks for reading!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LET’S TAKE A WALK AROUND MY BOOK COVER (Literally)

Last week I wrote about my book’s title, Today, I invite you to move one step deeper into my work by taking a peek at my book cover. At the moment, my book cover looks like ‘Flat Stanley’ (a character familiar to kindergartners and their parents) because the innards are not yet bound.

I’m feeling impatient as I wait for the printer. Why don’t you join me and we’ll explore my story through the photographs on the cover. You will be opening the book from the right. So, let’s begin there.

  • The first photo was taken by, my then 12 year old son, Ken Castle, when the Detroit Anti-STRESS contingent went to D.C. to protest at Richard Nixon’s second inaugural ceremony. If you look closely, you can see me in the lower right of the photo. STRESS (Stop the Robberies; Enjoy Safe Streets) was a brutal undercover police decoy unit that was entrapping and murdering young black men in Detroit. The unit’s military ‘search and destroy’ tactics were approved and conducted under the leadership of Police Commissioner John Nichols.
  • The second photo, also taken by my son Ken, shows me moderating a Control, Conflict and Change Book Club (CCC) session. The book club was conceived and founded by Mike Hamlin and me in the early 1970s. We began our organizing effort supported by the Ad-Hoc Action Group Against Police Brutality and Blackstar Bookstore, a black printing operation funded by the Black Manifesto. We benefited from Sheila Murphy’s talents and influence among both black and white radicals in Detroit and participation by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. Ultimately, the CCC Book Club became an extension of the Motor City Labor League and the Black Workers Congress.
  • The next image is a still shot from the film documentary, “Finally Got the News,” a Blackstar Production. Mike was a co-founder and the director of Blackstar. The film was originally conceived by John Watson from the League and created by California Newsreel. If you want to understand the atmosphere in Detroit after the 1967 Rebellion, take a look at this film on YouTube to give you a sense of the period: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=finally+got+the+news.
  • The 12th Street rebellion photo on the book’s spine, along with the photo of Father William Cunningham, Pastor, Church Of The Black Madonna, are from the Detroit News Collection, courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

    Back Cover

  • Father Cunningham mentored me into the Civil Rights Movement in 1965, at the intersection of the brutal police actions at Selma, Alabama and the murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Detroit. An informant for the FBI, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, confessed to the murder but no one was ever prosecuted.
  • The photo of the cops on 12th Street is from the Detroit Free Press and is in the public domain.
  • The photo of the Castle-Hamlin children on the lawn of the Boston House is from my private collection. It had to be photo-shopped to get all my children in a small frame to fit on the book cover.
  • The photo of Frank Ditto and the crowd at the Hourglass demonstration was also taken by Ken Castle. Hourglass was an organization launched out of our home just a few months after the 1967 Detroit Rebellion. The purpose of the organization was two-fold: “to support [pressure] the Catholic Church to contribute funds to programs fostering black self-determination and to destroy racist attitudes in the white community.”

Thank you for taking this walk with me. I am working hard to get this book in your hands. Book publishing is a very complicated business.

WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: LESSONS FROM A GRASSROOTS ACTIVIST

By Joann Castle   Coming soon…

Please click “follow” at the top right of this document and keep up-to-date on my publication time-line. You won’t want to miss this.

If you missed any of my weekly blogs, you can catch up by scrolling down this page.

ONLY LEFT HANDED PEOPLE ARE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND (words on my lefty son’s favorite tee-shirt)

So, why, since I am right-handed, did I choose to name my book: WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist?

You can attribute it to the anthropologist in me. Or you can attribute it to a brainstorming session with my editors in a search for a unique book title. In either case, you would be correct. And it fits, you see, because during that period I was a foot soldier using my left hand to advance social justice and my right hand to love and sustain my family.

Throughout our known history, cultures have ascribed meaning to the symbolism of right and left handedness. These distinctions about right and left appear in science, nature, the writing of our various languages, and in our politics.  Chris McManus has written a fascinating book titled: Right Hand, Left Hand: The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures (Harvard University Press, 2002) and suggests “that our asymmetric bodies, which emerged from 550 million years of asymmetric vertebrate evolution, may be linked to the asymmetric structure of matter.” The book is a bit of a heavy read but engaging throughout for all you science junkies.

We know that the majority of people are right handed but evolutionary studies cannot yet tell us why. We do know from the study of medicine that the left side of our bodies is controlled by the right side of our brains. This brings me back to my son’s favorite shirt; his right brain controls his left handed function.

Right and left hand are deeply embedded in nature as well as  our cultural and sociopolitical structures. We know from the study of physics that tornadoes spin counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere and clockwise in the southern hemisphere. We know that European writing goes from left to right, while Arabic and Hebrew go from right to left.

The meaning of right and left was formalized in western politics as early as 1789. In France, radicals pressing for change were seated on the left hand side of the legislative chamber where they could be ignored, and conservative nobles were seated to the favored right of the presiding officer. This historical practice contributed to the evolution of the terms we use today to identify the political progressive left and the conservative right in western politics.

Today, we are facing a leadership crisis in our country. It is time to resist. The political left needs to arm ourselves for the emerging social justice struggle with knowledge of our history and lessons learned from the past. My book contains lessons learned in 50 years of struggle and an “Activist Survival Guide.”

“These are days when no one should rely unduly on his “competence.’’ Strength lies in improvisation. All the decisive blows are struck left-handed.”

–Walter Benjamin, German philosopher, 1882-1940

WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: LESSONS FROM A GRASSROOTS ACTIVIST

By Joann Castle   Coming soon…

Please click “follow” at the top right of this document and keep up-to-date on my publication time-line. You won’t want to miss this.

REVISIONS! REVISIONS! #%!!@

I felt my manuscript was finished. I had been searching for an editor for months. Suddenly and unexpectedly things fell my way. A friend in New York contacted me. “It’s possible, but not certain,” she said, “that I can connect you with an esteemed editor. Cross your fingers.” A week later, she called back. “I think we’re good!” My stress factor went from zero to ten in a nanosecond. I needed to have everything in order.

The editor was coming to Detroit on business and we arranged to meet. I frantically prepared. I had a full manuscript, a cover and a title: Between Two Worlds: A Mother’s Battle Against Injustice. All I was looking for was a professional finishing touch but I wanted it to be perfect and I was willing to work for it. I felt that I had drafted the perfect query letter, through-line and book description, and I had worked on my chapter summaries for months. We sat at a Detroit restaurant. I was nervous as she looked me over. My right leg was going numb.

“I brought,..” I began, pulling out my folder of perfect documents. “I don’t want to see those today,” she responded. “I want to talk about you.” Well, the “talking about me” was extensive. We chattered at dinner and followed up by phone. She would be sending me a personality test and wanted to know about my writing habits. I literally was applying for the privilege of working with her.

Once my tests were analyzed, we discussed the results. “Joann,” she said, “I will agree to work with you on two conditions: that your story be brought up-to-date pertinent to the times we live in, and drop the Catholic guilt thread about being too busy for your children that runs through the pages.” This was just the beginning.

One day, she asked me to read my manuscript again and tell her what I thought. I perceived it in a totally new light. “It’s like a sailboat, skimming across the water.” “Exactly,” she said. Now, let’s fix it.” Since that moment, I have spent almost two years revising, deepening, and using closed eye voice-recordings to assist in documenting events that I found difficult to write about. Then I transcribed and boldly placed these in my story. Throughout this period, my editor requested essays about pertinent topics to better convey the depth of my personal journey.  I’ve worked intensely, writing and rewriting.  In the process, I have grown as a writer and as a person.

My story was almost ready last fall, totally reworked and redirected and then, Donald Trump was elected. I was flailing around in disbelief and dismay that my work had become outdated, that I had missed my opportunity. I was too late. My editor responded: “This is a gift to your writing. Teach people how to resist, and so I revised again working over these additional ten months and through the horrific loss of my husband. I persisted; I revised and revised again. When it was all said and done, I chose a new title consistent with my reworked manuscript.

My manuscript is more pertinent, more focused and deeper, due to those REVISIONS. #%!!@

WHAT MY LEFT HAND WAS DOING: LESSONS FROM A GRASSROOTS ACTIVIST

By Joann Castle   Coming soon…

Please click “follow” at the top right of this document and keep up-to-date on my publication time-line. You won’t want to miss this.

WHAT MY WRITING ROOM LOOKS LIKE

Last week, I wrote about plotting my story at the beginning of my book effort.  Today, more years later than I like to admit, I am assessing what has survived to the end. As I await the  final draft of my manuscript for the approval that will send it to the publisher, I have time to look about me and consider a question from a curious reader, “What does your writing room look like?”

Usually, I try to avoid this topic because my answer may be a bit depressing to an aspiring writer. There’s no beauty in my writing room, no scents, no music, no comfy writing chair. My my writing room looks like me: serious, hard-working, no frills, no comforts. But I am possessed with a dogged-determination to succeed. We feel it here: Detroiters never quit.

In front of my computer is a black, hard-backed, folding chair that I like better than those soft office types. I’m sitting there now and I invite you to look around with me. I will begin our tour to the left of my desk. At the far left, on the floor, are three large plastic tubs containing reference materials. Many of them are copies from Mike’s and my papers that are on file at the Walter Reuther Library Archives at WSU. Along with these essentials are stacks of journal articles, book reviews, and a file box of contacts and contracts. Books are scattered about.

Moving clockwise around the room one will notice that on the wall, I’ve taken down my plotting paper and stickies, which were the topic of my last blog, and replaced them with a piece I wrote on becoming an activist. It is pasted on the wall in a plastic sleeve, and begins: “How My Story Will Contribute to Understanding…what an activist is, how an activist operates, makes decisions, and pays the price,” followed by ten bullet points. And ultimately, “What I have learned in the process.” These were always on my mind, and in front of my face, as I wrote.

In a pile to the left of my computer are major documents that I consistently refer to. These include my book description, the table of contents and a copy of the vows I wrote for Mike’s and my re-commitment ceremony on our 35th wedding anniversary. My book is, after all, also a love story. Finally, there is a copy of a poem my editor sent me, titled: “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk” by Portia Nelson. It reminds me that I’m not the only one who keeps making the same mistakes over and over.

To the right of my computer are folders holding consent forms signed by those who graciously permitted me to cite their pertinent written work or photos. Somewhere buried in this pile of papers are copies of difficult sections that I tried so hard to get right, a book listing my computer passwords that I can never remember, and a fat folder, marked “expenses.” At the far right, forcing me to stand up to retrieve documents, is my printer. My phone is also placed across the room. Without these mandates to move, I would turn to stone.

My attention moves again clockwise to the couch, where my corrections and proof-reading notes, all coded by color, are filling my husband’s empty seat. This is where he watched TV and listened to me banter and rave when I couldn’t get things right. He also functioned as my first-line proof-reader, and he could spell any word in the dictionary. Mike was my most ardent supporter in getting this book done. I’m trying to refocus after losing him.

After staring at the computer screen, I pause to blink and look out the window. There I see Detroit’s aging main post office, the undeveloped West Riverfront Park, the Salvation Army, the Sixth Street ramp, the infamous train station and several boarded up buildings. In the distance are the spires of St Anne’s historic church and the entrance lanes to the Ambassador Bridge. That’s it, that’s Detroit, and that’s me. And that’s what my writing room looks like.

I would love to know what YOUR writing room looks like. Please “leave a reply” at the top of this page and share your experience.  

MY NEW BOOK IS COMING SOON                            

What My Left Hand Was Doing: Lessons from a Grassroots Activist.

Click “follow” at the top right of this page for updates on publication.

MARTHA ALDERSON PUT STORY STRUCTURE ON MY DINING ROOM TABLE

I didn’t begin my life thinking that I would be a writer. I was always much too busy for that. But after my kids left home, I began to write some small articles for newsletters and I found myself keeping a journal. I felt empty with everyone gone and it gave me comfort to commit my thoughts to paper. Over the years, my urge to write kept growing. I started writing stories for my friends and they encouraged me to write more. The idea of writing a book seemingly started without my consent but the words kept waking me up at night. Writing was taking hold of me.

As I struggled to make sense of my bedside notes, I learned of a writers’ group at Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology, called “Adventurous Writers.” It was there that I began to learn the trade: developing a theme, learning how to plot a story, the elements of the hero’s journey, and the importance of through-lines. After the basics are in place, you top it off with a “hook,” a cherry on top of an ice cream sunday, something to immediately capture the readers’ interest so they can’t put it down.

We studied many different approaches for mastering story structure. My favorite book that taught me how to write was The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master by Martha Alderson (Adams Media, 2011).  In the text were diagrams of plots illustrating elements of the universal story, prescribing how many pages should be devoted to the beginning of the story, exactly what page should end the beginning and when to move the story upwards in intensity towards the crisis. Once your hero is over the hump and just when you thought everything was going well, she is thwarted by another barrier, the climax, which quickly unfolds into the resolution. All stories follow this same plot structure. Think about it when you are watching a movie or your favorite TV show.

As I took hold of the ideas in Anderson’s text, I dutifully made a trip to the butcher at Eastern Market and tried to explain why I needed a long piece of butcher paper. The butcher looked puzzled but he gave me the paper. I started my plot-planning on the dining room table, minimizing our eating space to my husband’s chagrin. I used red sticky notes for hot emotional scenes, blue for the cooler transitions, and yellow for the lessons I was learning. As the story grew more involved, i needed more space and I moved to the to the living room floor, blocking access to our front windows and my husband’s favorite easy chair. After a spousal chat, I withdrew to the wall next to my computer but the story moved on.

My confrontation with the archbishop was my first chosen hook, but as my story evolved and I worked to get its elements in the proper places, the archbishop got replaced with J. Edgar Hoover’s counter-intelligence program, COINTELPRO. You will want to meet the characters in my upcoming book:

What My Left Hand Was Doing:

Lessons from a Grassroots Activist

by Joann Castle

Coming soon: Click “follow” at the top of this page for updates on publication.