Hula Hoop Happy Hour — Two Years Later
Dear Friends and Family,
Two years ago this Wednesday, six Bay Area counties issued shelter-in-place orders and so began the COVID-19 Lockdown. Three days later, the state of California issued the most far-reaching shelter-in-place order in the nation.
How naïve we were back then. My brother moved in with us to ride out the pandemic. Three months later, he was still here. Our daughter moved home for the end of the semester. A year and a half later, she was still here.
We were fortunate. No one got sick. Our street held outside gatherings every day. At first, our neighbor, Annie, walked up and down the street holding a small speaker playing music to let us know it was time to come outside and wave at each other. We set the start time as 5:30 and I marked off six-foot intervals on the sidewalk with blue painters’ tape. Every day, four-year-old Koa, with his two-year-old sister, Kelani, right behind him, ran to their front porch and shouted, “It’s 5:30.”
The 5:30 meet and greet became a BYOB cocktail party in the street. We used boxes and traffic cones to slow the traffic and talked to each other from a social distance. One day our neighbors, Rebecca and Julie, Hula Hooped their way up the street followed by Kirsten with her Hula Hoop. We took turns wiping down the Hula Hoops with Clorox water, putting them in the middle of the street, and backing away from them so someone else could have a turn. Some of us (named Leslie) had never mastered the art of Hooping and some of us (named Michaela) could Hoop three or more at a time. Rebecca took orders and made custom Hula Hoops for adults and children on Rampart and surrounding streets. By mid-April, it was official: Hula Hoop Happy Hour started at 5:30 and ended at 7:00 when we heard the neighbors on other streets banging pots and pans to thank healthcare and other essential workers.
Then, on May 25th while I spray painted pink social distance squares on the street for our Hula Hoop Happy Hour, George Floyd was murdered in the street by white police in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, and on video.
White people in our neighborhood began meeting every Wednesday to interrogate and interrupt our internalized White Supremacy. We used the book Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad as our guide, but instead of racing through the book and finishing it in 28 weeks, we slowed way down. The book helped us recognize our internalized White Supremacy and sometimes we stayed with a chapter for multiple weeks-role playing how to disrupt White Supremacy and practicing non-violent communication to interrupt our white cousins. We reckoned with the costs and benefits of our White Supremacy and interrogated our role as white people. And, when the sky turned orange from fires way up north, we examined the role of White Supremacy on Climate Change.
After 20 months and close to the two-year anniversary of the pandemic, we finished the book.
Now, our Anti-Racist Dialogue Group is starting a new book, Healing Resistance: A Radically Different Response to Harm by Kazu Haga. You can read an excerpt here, but for now, here’s a little snippet.
In Kingian Nonviolence, a philosophy developed out of the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., there is a distinction made between nonviolence spelled with a hyphen, and nonviolence spelled without a hyphen. “Non-violence” is essentially two words: “without” “violence.” When spelled this way, it only describes the absence of violence. As long as I am “not being violent,” I am practicing non-violence. And that is the biggest misunderstanding of nonviolence that exists.
I live in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Oakland, with an equal mix of black, Latino and Asian residents. One day, I was taking a nap in my apartment when I was woken up by a couple yelling at each other below my second-story window. I decided to get out of bed and look, and I saw a woman on the ground being beaten, crying and screaming for help. I jumped up, put on my shoes and ran downstairs. By the time I arrived, about 15 of my neighbors had also come outside, but they were just watching this woman get beat, doing nothing to help. I managed to break up the fight and get the two to walk away from each other, one fuming with anger and the other in tears.
My neighbors who were just watching this were practicing “non hyphen violence.” They weren’t throwing punches or kicks. They were explicitly being “not violent.” So, you see how, from a Kingian perspective, what a difference that little hyphen makes. You see how big of a misunderstanding it can create if we think that nonviolence is simply about the absence of violence. If we define nonviolence as “not violent,” then we can hide behind the veil of nonviolence while still condoning violence.
It’s easy to be a bystander. We see rising homelessness, and we turn the other way. We see unarmed black folks being killed by police, and we blame the victim. We hear about high suicide rates among LGBTQ youth, and we do little or nothing about it. We read reports on the climate crisis but leave it to the next generation to deal with. We watch our communities and the earth being assaulted every day, and we just gather around and watch.
Nonviolence is not about what not to do. It is about what you are going to do about the violence and injustice we see in our own hearts, our homes, our neighborhoods and society at large. It is about taking a proactive stand against violence and injustice. Nonviolence is about action, not inaction.
This Friday, two years after the first lockdown, we will have another Hula Hoop Happy Hour, followed by the first meeting of our Anti-Racist Dialogue Group as we embark on the study and practice of nonviolence. I invite you to join us-in person or in spirit.
Until next time, stay healthy, safe, and love, most important, loved.
Originally published at https://www.lesliepoynor.com on March 15, 2022.