Saturday, May 17, 2008

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Live from AVALANCHA CULTURAL/Cultural Avalanche in Oakland

(May 17, 2008) Here's some photographs from the third Saturday in a row cultural gathering at the Plaza/La Placita that's near the entrance of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland. The Placita, Oakland, the Fruivale, is all on Ohlone Lands; we give thanks to the Ohlone and our goal is to restore the peoples to their place in the natural world. [Photo of stage at La Placita at the Fruitvale BART station. Mosaic art and bas-relief sculpture by Daniel Camacho, whose artwork adorns the plaza.]

The Avalancha Cultural de la Carpa del FEO (Fandango in East Oakland) was organized by the dynamic trio of headRush (Rosa Gonzalez, Luis Xago Juarez, Simon Hanukai; visit them at: with Hector Rangel, who directs Libros, Arte y Cultura (, a new bookstore that Centro Legal de La Raza helped open at the new Oakland Workers Center, at the corner of 25th Avenue and International Boulevard (formerly East 14th Street!). [Photo left: Shadow of papel picado hanging across the Placita.] headRush organized three Saturdays of street theater and community performance starting on Saturday, May 3, with the theme of the day being PEACE; then the following Saturday, May 10, NO BORDERS. Hundreds of persons were treated to dynamic cultural performances with vision and community grounding.

The third Saturday, May 17, was dedicated to Mother Earth. Here, headRush and others presented street theater at its best made by a truly dynamic and genuine communal interaction including a small march around the block to announce that the program was about to begin. [Photo left: Luis Xago Juarez, member of headRush, bringing performers and audience into a circle to explain the order of the performers and to get us to march into International Boulevard to announce the Avalancha Cultural.]

Everyone started chanting: "Teatro a la Placita Que Vengan Todos, Teatro a la Placita! Theater in the Plaza, Come One, Come All!" then lead by loud drumming we all walked into the sidewalks of International Boulevard and circled around and the show began.

The Avalancha Cultural was organized spontaneity, cultural disobedience, hijas e hijos desobedientes, coming to talk about Mother Earth. That was today's theme: what are we going to do about the environmental-social crisis? How are we going to change the relationship of exploitation between humans over humans and of humans over the natural world? [Photo right: Lakin Valdez, drumming to lead the march into Fruitvale district.]

Energized rappers, poets, and street acting kept the small but spirited audience engaged for over three hours. We started out with a march and walked around the block chanting, momentarily stopping traffic and getting curious stares and generating excitement.

Avalancha Cultural del FEO is cultural disobedience meets civil disobedience: This effort represents community organizing to take over public spaces away from gentrification, away from the violence that the social order spews on us, black on black, brown on brown, yellow on yellow, red on red, white everywhere, we are unplugged, undaunted, and undulating with song, courage and words with deep roots.

We disobey the Prison Industrial Complex of television, malls, rock stars, big box chains on our culture. We disobey the rules and laws that make us inhuman, lose our place in the natural world. We disobey the social class structures: capital over workers, whites over blacks, whites over everyone, individuals over communities, rich over poor, straight over queer, humans over the natural world. We disobey a world where we would be considered and treated as minorities, as illegals, as undocumented. We are different and we want a different world where there is room for everyone, a community of communities.

The program started out with two drummers from the Inter-Tribal Friendship House [photo left] singing the AIM Song (American Indian Movement anthem that was created by an honor song for a young Indian man, Yellow Thunder Heart, who was killed in 1973 by police) and a song for AIM political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, whas already served 30 years from a crime he did not commit).

They were followed by a a youth theater group from AYPAL, an Asian youth leadership organization, that presented a skit, an acto, a drama about the dilemmas facing young people. [Photo right: Papel picado hanging across the sky of the Placita.]

Then after they performed, they were followed by a slew of poets, rappers and musician singing and performing on a cello.

The program ended with an incredible new play about the problems and issues on the social, political and economic roots of pollution and contamination of the natural world.

Rosa Gonzalez [photo left], who introduced the play, said that this so new that the performance was a type of "live rehearsal."

During the play some of the actors would pull out the manuscript and read quickly right before delivering their lines. Probably nobody noticed and thought that it was just part of the play! When the play ended, Rosa than invited all the audience to participate in a dialogue with their neighbors or whoever was sitting or standing next to you about the issues and problems raised by the play.

Then Rosa brought us back together and asked for more audience participation. She explained to us that the theater troupe would perform the play again and that any audience member could shout out: "freeze!" or "stop!" and either join the play or point the problem and a possible solution. As soon as the play began, a man shouted "Stop!" and jumped up to the microphone to say: part of the problem is that we are afraid to talk to one another. Many are shamed by their work or feel they have no power and can't say anything.

So then Rosa instructed the actors to use this feedback to change the play's dialogue and action. This went on for another half hour where audience members would stop the action, either provide insights and join in to replace one actor or another. This included someone taking over the microphone and leading a "takeover" of a newscast and getting arrested.

Another replacing an actor playing someone who was buying and consuming everything and yelling out, "I'm not buying anything anymore. Boycott!" -- even though this particular audience member got many of us laughing almost rolling on the ground, because he was wearing a t-shirt filled with $ signs and diamons!

Contradictions abound but we were all there with the opportunity to submerge ourselves in our own living culture.

The closing was also quite incredible. Hector took over the mike to provide a solution to the exploited Mother Earth actor who was moaning from the pains of capitalism. Hector joined in the drama but calling on another friend to lead the drama in a healing ceremony.

Hector's friend pulled out a large conch shell and started blowing into emitting a calming continuos melody as he circled the actor laying down playing mother earth. As this was happening two others joined in the drama and began massaging Mother Earth to heal her as the voice-song streamed out of the conch-shell.

Then the entire audience spontaneously joined in the ceremony by forming a large circle around the healing ceremony. This was closed by a short explanation of the spiritual and generational dimensions of healing mother earth that starts with taking control of your body and spirit and changing your relations with all.

Here's more of what we saw at the Avalancha Cultural del FEO, Fandango en el Este de Oakland:

Next four photos: AYPAL youth theater group in action.

Members of Tres Santos (left) performing piece on root causes of migration; Muteado (kneeling) acts as a campesino cutting cane.

Marc Pinate, spoken word:

Performing "Hitch Hiking to Hetchy Hetchy" on cello:

Desi spray-can graffiti artist creating a piece for the event:

Art work by Daniel Camacho that adorns the columns at both sides of the Plaza/Placita at the Fruitvale BART Station and the mosaic pieces on the ground.

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