2016 Recap/Best Of

Since it is the Winter Solstice, a time for reflection and contemplation, I thought I would write about the past year, just like every other writer is doing right now! On a personal level, 2016 was a successful year for me. Waiting for the Dead to Speak was published with NYQ Books and earned a lot of reviews. I am especially grateful that the book is out there. I got to read in different pockets of Pennsylvania and NYC, Jersey, Boston, Philly, and elsewhere. Connecting to the larger poetry community maintained my spirit post-election, especially after spending months canvassing and phone banking for the Hillary campaign. For me, the election also changed the urgency of some of the poems. I’ve already commented plenty on the state of world affairs, and I don’t want to do that much with this post. I will say, however, that I have been inspired by the mobilization I’ve seen post-election. Even yesterday, I attended a rally in downtown Scranton, in front of Sen. Pat Toomey’s local office, urging him not to repeal the Affordable Care Act or vote to privatize Medicare and Medicaid. For a rally that was put together in about a week, it drew 50 or so people, many with personal stories about how the ACA or Medicare have impacted them personally. I predict a lot more direct actions taking place nationwide in the coming new year.

Shortly into 2016, I met Daryl, and we’ve had a wonderful relationship since. We also adopted a cat last March, Giselle. The cat photos have been endless!

Following in the tradition of other end-of-the-year posts, here is my list of my favorite films and books of the year. Last year, I included music on this list. However, I made fewer trips to the record shop this year than last, and, unfortunately, I didn’t listen to a lot of new music. I plan to change that in the new year.

Favorite Books:


An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz: Okay, so this book came out last year, but I just read it last month. It is the most comprehensive book of Native American history that I’ve read. It begins with the early European encounters and concludes with the present. It is a must read for anyone interested in American history, specifically Native American history. In light of the Standing Rock protests, now is the time to check this out.

White Trash: A 400 Year History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg: This is also quite comprehensive, and it primarily begins with the Puritan era and ends shortly after the Bill Clinton era. My only real gripe with this book is that it only focuses on the white-working class, more specifically the Southern white working-class. Like An Indigenous People’s History, White Trash is a book that should be required reading for the times that we live in, especially if one wants to understand some of the anger that drove the Trump campaign.

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance: Vance was a poster boy for the white working-class during the election cycle, with frequent appearances on CNN and columns published in major newspapers. Vance’s book doesn’t cover the broad history class because Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir centered solely around Vance’s experience growing up poor in the Appalachian states.  Vance gives sound insight into why people he grew up with often vote against their best interests.

The Philosophy of Horror: Edited by Thomas Fahy: Okay, so this book came out about four years ago, but I didn’t read it until this month, in preparation for a Horror Literature and Film class I am putting together for next fall. This is one of the strongest collections of academic writing that I’ve read on the horror genre. It is, in large part, a reaction to Noel Carroll’s writing on the horror genre, mostly his theories that horror stems from the supernatural, such as ghosts and demons, thus it is easier for us to return to our everyday world after the horror ends. The essays in this book, however, address the idea of horror in the every day and focus on the gritter, realistic horror films, such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, and Psycho. The writers find Carroll’s definition of horror too limiting. There is also a fascinating essay on Kubrick’s The Shining that sees the film as commentary on white imperial power and genocide against Native Americans and African Americans.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: Winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction, this novel follows two runaway slaves as they visit different states in the South and encounter various forms of slavery. It is a book I am seriously considering incorporating into my African American Lit class, and I consider it a must-read for the year.

Wild Things by Jaimee Wriston Colbert: This linked story collection is devastating in that it focuses on towns where industry has dried up, its residents are down on their luck, and on top of all that, the stories address the perilous state of our planet.

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo: Richard Russo remains one of my favorite contemporary American fiction writers. Everybody’s Fool is a sequel to his breakout novel, Nobody’s Fool.  It again follows the plight of Sully, who is ten years older as the novel opens. Like the rest of Russo’s work, Everybody’s Fool brilliantly captures the struggles of the working-class who are stuck in crummy situations. This book, however, also depicts the crushing power that the wealthy and corporations can have on a community, a new aspect of Russo’s work.


What Blooms in Winter (NYQ Books) by Maria Mazziotti Gillan: Maria’s work is always beautiful and moving, and in this book, she sticks to one of her most-familiar themes, the immigrant experience. Fewer books felt more poignant for me this year, juxtaposed with Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Cooper Canyon Press) by Ocean Voung: Believe the hype surrounding Ocean Voung. This is a wonderful debut collection, and the young poet deserves all of the credit he is getting.  The heart of this collection centers around the immigrant experiences, Vietnam, and family history.

The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press) by Daniel Borzutky: I don’t think any collection of poetry better captures this current autocratic moment than this one.

Favorite Films: 

Manchester by the Sea: This is my favorite film of the year. Casey Afflect deserves an Oscar for his role as a janitor who is emotionally disconnected after losing his children and divorcing his wife. The film is textured, layered, emotionally complex, and heart-wrenching. It is not without its humor, however.

Moonlight: I have never seen a movie that deals with black masculinity as well as this one.

Captain Fantastic: This movie follows the story of Ben Cash, played by Viggo Mortensen, who raises six kids off the grid in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, making them endure rigorous physical and intellectual tests. The film isn’t afraid to make fun of leftist purists, but it also has a lot of heart and laughs, while critiquing some aspects of 21st Century America, namely rampant consumerism. Check it out. It’s uplifting.

What am I looking forward to in 2017? I am hoping that world will break from its drift towards authoritarianism and nationalism that we saw in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere in 2016. I hope that we are kinder to each other and don’t treat those different from us as parasites who don’t belong in this country. I also feel optimistic that we will continue to see mobilization to counter some of the nasty geopolitical uprisings that occurred in 2016, fueled by a dangerous nationalism.

So, that is it, farewell, 2016. Be safe everyone. Take care of each other, and enjoy the holiday!






Where the Revolution Goes from Here and How Bernie Lands the Plane

Following a string of victories last night in New Mexico, New Jersey, and California, Hillary Clinton made history by clinching the Democratic nomination for president. Less than a 100 years after women earned the right to vote, she became the first female presidential candidate of a major political party. Despite one’s feelings about Hillary, this moment deserves its spotlight. Following the wins, Clinton said, “It may be hard to see tonight, but we are all standing under a glass ceiling right now. But don’t worry, we’re not smashing this one…It’s the first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee.”

She also noted that her mother was born on the day that Congress passed the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. She then remarked that the first convention dedicated to women’s rights happened in the state where she stood that evening: New York, at Seneca Falls in 1848.

Browsing my social media accounts, I noticed that some Sanders supporters griped that Hillary was anointed the nominee and did no win it fairly. Putting the super delegate issue aside, Clinton had a few more million votes than Sanders, and for that matter, she earned more votes than any of the presidential nominees thus far, including Trump. The question now becomes where does the Sanders campaign go from here? Last night, he vowed to keep fighting until the convention in Philly at the end of July, and I’ve said all along that he should do so. At this point, Sanders has no chance to be the nominee, other than the very remote possibility that Hillary will be indicted over the e-mail saga. That said, Sanders’ campaign has been about remaking the Democratic Party, so that it resembles the party of FDR or LBJ rather than a party led by the DNC or Clintons. So far, Sanders has had some major successes. He got the chance to appoint five members to the DNC platform committee. Clinton appointed six, and the DNC appointed four. His picks have included African American scholar Cornel West and environmental activist Bill McKibben. On the campaign trail, he has forced Hillary to make income inequality a major part of her platform, which will most likely last through the fall, since Trump has been successful, in part, by tapping into white working-class anger. Now that the general election match-up is clear, Clinton can’t ignore the issues that Sanders made relevant.

If Sanders manages to unite the party, while continuing to push for the issues that matter to him, it is likely that he will return to the Senate as one of its most powerful members, and most likely the chair of the banking committee, if the Democrats retake the Senate, which seems likely, considering the map and Trump’s recent self-implosion over the judge remarks and Trump University scandal.

Following the age of Occupy and increasing anger directed at Wall Street, it is unlikely that the Democratic Party will continue to resemble  a party of triangulation. The financial crisis of 2008 and the bank bailouts that followed have made it impossible for the Democratic Party to not address economic inequality and the working-class anger that Trump has managed to tap into when he talks about the devastating effect of some Clinton-era policies, specifically NAFTA, and the gross effect of big money on politics.

As the convention draws closer, Bernie and his supporters need to make a $15 minimum wage, a major jobs plan, universal healthcare part, and campaign finance reform part of the platform. They should also push to rework the primary rules, even the order of states that votes and open primaries v. closed primaries.

Yes, another Clinton will is now the Democratic nominee for president in 2016, but this Clinton has made economic inequality a major part of her platform, and in doing so, she has had to address her husband’s legacy, including the loss of manufacturing that came as a result of her husband’s free trade policies. The Democratic Party is undergoing a major change, and if Bernie and his supporters seriously organize and continue what they started, it is possible policies he advocated will come to fruition. If his supporters remain engaged and come into the fold more, then perhaps next time around, a candidate like Bernie Sanders will win the nomination.

Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

By now, the rest of the world must be looking at the United States, baffled that the  Republican Party is most likely going to nominate Donald Trump as its presidential nominee. After his Super Tuesday wins,  Trump has the momentum, and he is ahead in the delegate count. It is possible that Cruz or Rubio could still stop him, but that would be very, very difficult. Part of the reason Trump has had so much success and has secured so many delegates is because SO many Republicans ran for president this year, and so many of them were considered establishment candidates. First, the establishment pumped money into Jeb Bush, and then John Kasich for a brief period, and then most recently, Marco Rubio. Because the votes have been so divided among the anti-Trump, establishment contenders, it has made it impossible for one anti-Trump candidate to emerge. They are all splitting the votes.

However, Trump’s rise goes deeper than that, at serious ills facing the country, exacerbated by the Republican Party’s rhetoric over the last several years. Essentially, in the age of Obama, the GOP has made itself the anti-immigrant, very, very white party. In a time of rising economic inequality, and both political parties’ refusal to do much about it, the GOP has successfully scapegoated another group of people, primarily immigrants, turning white, working-class, Reagan Democrats against them. This idea is nothing new. In fact, African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois talked about this very tactic in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, in which he analyzed the way Southern, one percenters pitted white, Southern, working-class Americans against African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

It is no surprise then that Donald Trump first made national headlines this campaign cycle by referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers” over the summer, while promising to build a wall along the border and have Mexico pay for it. This should have immediately ended his campaign, but it didn’t. The rhetoric only gained him more supporters, and since then, his hateful language continued, as he promised to ban all Muslims from entering the country and said that a Black Lives Matter protestor deserved to be “roughed up.” Meanwhile, in the last week, a Time magazine reporter was choke slammed at one of his rallies, black students were removed from a rally in GA, and on and on. His rhetoric is indeed inciting violence and worsening divisions in this country.

Only VERY recently have GOP leaders seriously started to speak out against Trump. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump as a fraud and phony. Sen. John McCain said Trump would pose a danger to America’s national security, and House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump’s refusal to distance himself from David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard who endorsed Trump.

Time ran one of the best editorials against Trump I have seen so far, focused on his bigotry. Perhaps the GOP bigwigs are FINALLY speaking out against Trump because his racism has become so old-fashioned and utterly apparent. The editorial states, “It’s easy to condemn Trump and Duke, and to be self-righteous in doing so. It allows us to point to the bad people over there while protecting our illusory innocence. We should have been outraged by Trump from the very beginning. But that would’ve required that we confront the ugliness in ourselves. Americans aren’t too keen on that. We prefer our illusions straight no chaser.”

Does Time magazine have a point there? Why was the David Duke incident what made GOP stalwarts like Joe Scarborough, Paul Ryan, and others finally denounce him? Why did they not do so over Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants or plans to ban Muslims from entering the country? Were those comments what much of the GOP base wanted to hear all along? Do they only condemn Trump now because he is on the verge of being racist in “the old, American way of being racist?”

Trump is  a result of the GOP’s increasing shift to the right over the years, its failure to diversify the party, and its willingness to coalesce around older, white, working-class voters. Yet, it’s important to note that these voters have legitimate gripes, namely that the system is rigged, politicians are bought, and working-class jobs are gone. However, immigrants are not to blame. Bad trade deals, like NAFTA, are to blame for shipping those working-class jobs overseas, and there, both parties are at fault. Citizens United is one of the main factors that created such an influx of corporate money into our political system.

So now, it seems, it will be up to establishment candidate Hillary Clinton to stop Trump. Clinton better think long and hard, however, about the direction of the Democratic Party. It can no longer be complicit in dealing with economic inequalities that deepen the country’s racial divides. Though she has high unfavorables, it is likely Clinton will mobilize the Latino vote and black vote in the fall,  thanks to Trump’s ascension. She will owe them if she wins the White House. A clear, progressive economic plan and a serious immigration reform bill would be a good start.  Trump’s rallies have given us a glimpse of how anyone different would be scapegoated and treated in his America. That indeed is a horrifying thought.











Yes, Keep Confronting the Candidates, BLM Activists!

My favorite scene in the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, is when the group is on stage in Detroit and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr) looks out on the crowd, turns to Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and then belts out “Fuck Tha Police.” This incident occurred after the Detroit P.D. demanded that the group not play the song in their city. The group’s decision to defy the police led to a riot and the arrest of the artists and raised a lot of questions about censorship.

There are so many good things that I could say about the film, specifically the way it captures the explosion of “gangsta” rap, the implosion of N.W.A., the rise of Death Row Records, but mostly, I favor the film because of how much it resonates with headlines today, specifically the Black Lives Matter movement. Looming throughout the film is tension between police and black communities, ultimately leading to the Rodney King riots. In one early scene, as the artists step outside of a recording studio, they’re shoved to the ground by LAPD because they’re assumed to be gang-bangers.

There are many criticisms that can be made against “gangsta” rap, namely its treatment of women, but as Ice Cube notes several times throughout the film, the music served as a reflection of their reality, including the tensions with police. In that regard, it can also be said that N.W.A.’s bold decision to play “Fuck Tha Police” in Detroit was an act of civil disobedience.

That particular reminded me of young Black Lives Matters activists who recently shut down rallies by Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush, and have since protested at other campaign scenes. When they shut down a Sanders rally in Seattle, several of my progressive friends questioned their motives, since Sanders is generally open-minded and supportive of civil rights causes.  I noted that it doesn’t matter who the candidate is, they should keep employing such acts of civil disobedience. For one, it forces the cnadidates and their supporters to really listen. After shutting down the Sanders rally, for instance, he broadened his platform to include matters of policing in minority communities. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton recently met with BLM activists. These acts of civil disobedience create a national dialogue and force people to pay attention. Any change comes from the grassroots.

There really couldn’t be a more appropriate time for a biopic on N.W.A. produced by Ice Cub and Dr. Dre. Already, it’s continued the conversation that the group started in the late 80s and the BLM activists rekindled, post-Trayvon and post-Ferguson.

Bernie Sanders and the Politics of Election Cycles and Celebrity

It’s starting to feel like 2008 again. Only, instead of Shepard Ferry’s Hope and Change posters, we have numerous articles, including this one from the Huffington Post, about Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls and the possibility that he could defeat Hillary Clinton in the primary. He’s closing the gap in New Hampshire and Iowa. Other articles have reported on the massive size of his campaign rallies.

One thing can be said. Sanders has energized his base. The size of his rallies and the money he’s raising offer proof of that. I, too, am excited about Sanders. He’s the only self-identified socialist in the Senate, and when he speaks about economic equality for all, I believe what he says.

That said, I have one big concern. The left in this country tends to get very excited every four years during presidential election cycles. They fell in love  with Obama in 2008, and then after the election, the left went silent, other than the Occupy Movement and some other movements here and there, which formed as a response to the left’s disillusionment with the president and the widening economic inequality. Then, in 2012, activists knocked on doors again and helped re-elect Obama. After the election, however, they went away.

Here’s the thing: if Sanders is somehow elected to the White House, he most likely will accomplish less than Obama did in his first term. To his credit, Obama passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Obamacare, and bailed out Detroit, all within his first two years in office, before his party lost the House and nearly lost the Senate in the 2010 mid-term elections. When he was elected in 2008, his party had a super-majority in the House and a majority in the Senate. If Sanders is elected, he will face a divided government. It is highly unlikely the Democrats will win back the House, though retaking the majority in the Senate seems likely. However, the Dem’s Senate majority is likely to be 1-3 seats, and the Senate landscape in the 2018 mid-term elections will favor Republicans, due, in part because Democrats will have more seats to defend. Whatever big proposals Sanders puts forth would most likely die in the House or get filibustered in the Senate.

After Obama was elected in 2008, I hoped there would be a sustainable movement, one that would push him even more to the left. Instead, there was the rise of the Tea Party Movement. Then, after the 2012 election, I held out hope again, and even the Obama campaign tried to make OFA (Organizing for America) into a long-term movement. However, that never happened.

The left needs to learn what the right has known for years. Electoral politics, especially at the national level, are only part of the puzzle. Movements are what create and sustain change. While I am happy that Bernie Sanders has reignited the national debate about income inequality, I have a major concern that the left is once again ready to funnel all of its energy into supporting a candidate, hoping he will create lasting change. If Sanders is to have any real, lasting impact beyond this election cycle, then he needs to encourage his supporters to keep the momentum going well beyond election season. He must encourage movement building.

We’ve seen the left rise up during Occupy and Black Lives Matter, but the tents in Zuccotti Park were swept away by Bloomberg and the NYPD a few months into the movement, and the fate of the Black Lives Matter movement is uncertain, though thus far, it has had more of an impact and has sustained itself far longer than Occupy. There is potential for something bigger. If Sanders can somehow channel the energy of his campaign crowds into something sustainable, then he will achieved something more important than a campaign victory and a seat in the White House. He will have ignited a movement that has been bubbling under the surface in this country for years.

Hillary Clinton to Pen Another Book

Not long after the confetti fell during Obama’s re-election speech, speculation already started about 2016. Even the president quipped during a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday that he wasn’t even inaugurated yet before everyone started asking whether or not Hillary is going to run in 2016.  In that joint interview, she didn’t say what her plans are, though she is certainly the  favorite. Her popularity among the base has skyrocketed since the 2008 primary defeat, and if she decides to run again, the Democratic nomination will surely be hers. But 2016 is still a while away. While Hillary decides whether or not she’s up for another presidential campaign, she’ll also be hard at work on a new memoir, according to a report from Buzzfeed this week.

Clinton is already the author of one bestselling memoir, Living History. Published in 2003, it focuses on her middle-class upbringing and her time as First Lady. However, I’m much more excited about the follow-up. Clinton has led a fascinating life post-2003, and her career’s more recent chapters are more interesting  to me than her time as First Lady. I’m sure she has plenty to write about regarding her time as a U.S. senator and even more pages to fill about the primary battle with Obama in 2007/08. That primary season was ugly. Bill Clinton accused Obama of creating a “fairy tale” story regarding his opposition to the Iraq war, and then the Obama campaign subtly accused the Clintons of racism. Yet, after it was all over, Hillary was invited to serve in the Obama White House as Secretary of State. The book should be fascinating for political junkies and non-political junkies alike. Before she sits down and sets a pen to paper, she plans to “catch up on about 20 hours of sleep deprivation.” It’s well deserved, and I can’t wait to see what she does next once she’s re-energized.