“Stranger from a Strange Land”
Even as a child I was perceived as being different, and my family has always had this unique history of activism. I remember the Walgreens drug counter, back in the 60’s, where the kids down south during the civil rights movement would stage their sit ins.
As a child my grandmother took me to the lunch counter at Walgreens and Woolworth’s at about that same time. I don’t remember any hostility, my family was very much engrained in the community. Later on of course I realized that she was politically active and I was introduced to political activism at that tender age over turkey and potatoes with gravy.
I have marched on Washington a number of times, I’ve marched on the capital, I’ve lobbied legislatures, I’ve worked in an office for environmental rights, I’ve gotten on the bus, always very active. I remember going to my first gay march on Washington. The news wildly under-reported the numbers of course, there were probably like six hundred thousand people there. But there was energy at that time, and in that movement. The people were there for the first time in mass and realized that through the sheer numbers, “man, we’re gonna do this.” That kind energy and that kind of activity kind of propelled the movement. There is not as much fervor now because a large share of the work has already be done. People are acting complacently, I think. And it’s because of that complacency that we have allowed Trump. I mean truly, that is the backlash of all the advances that we successfully made.
I have traditionally found community in activism, although not exclusively. However, in Des Moines, people don’t seem to have a commitment to diversity. In my experience, in kind of talking to people in the community, unless you feel a commitment to diversity it’s not going to materialize. You have to commit to the movement. Now again, I come from a strange place. If you were born here, for instance, you could probably fit in probably a little more comfortably than I have been able to, especially if you’re Christian. There’s a lot of church-based activism, so people may not be in the churches themselves, but they come together with the understanding that they’re Christian and they’re activists. I am extremely spiritual but that is not something I am. I do miss church though. Even though I find religion problematic I do miss the community. That’s something that we have not been able to find here, in Des Moines, because of our particular makeup. My wife is white, and my children are bi-ethnic. I find it difficult to be a minority in a mix of minorities. So we have not exactly been welcomed.
I have also attempted to find connection in the real estate community in Des Moines, and that is something that I have found lacking. Before the housing bubble burst I was trying to find something that would connect me with people, as well as doing what I love most, and that is creating housing. So I took a cob building workshop in Santa Cruz four years ago and I had this epiphany and connected in a whole new way with the power and the energy that comes from the earth, and it changed my life. Cob building was what I thought was my entrance back into what I perceived to be an environment that was going to be receptive. If only I could kind of tweak myself in a way that I could connect, I could be happy and I could forge an agenda that would create a better world for everybody. But in fact that community does not exist here, and I am still African American, I am still of the same age, I am still of the same gender and orientation and people here cannot get over that. I am essentially an outlier. I am a stranger from a strange land. People like me do not exist here, and the ones who do end up leaving because there is no air. If I did not have the online support and the virtual community that I do, there is a chance I also would have left and we might be living in DC by now.