Bobby Lee’s Hands by Fred Moten

The following piece was written for the Organize Your Own catalog and draws inspiration from a scene in the film American Revolution 2 (Directed by Mike Gray and Howard Alk, U.S.A., 1969). Here is the clip excerpted for your context:

bobby lee’s hands [1]

by Fred Moten

don’t lay back on cuts, man

Held in the very idea of white people, in the illusion of their strength, in the fantasy of their allyship, in the poverty of their rescue, in the silliness of their melancholy, in the power of their contacts, in the besotted rejection of their impossible purity, in the repeated critique of their pitiful cartoon, is that thing about waiting for vacancy to shake your hand while the drone’s drone gives air a boundary. Don’t be a ghost, be a spirit, Baraka said, in a movie about white people, the socially dead. Can the socially dead organize their own? What are the socially dead, anyway? This is an ontological inquiry only insofar as it’s concerned with what it is, or what it would be, to have an ontological status. What it would be to have an ontological status, and know it, is what it would be to be a white person. In that condition, that particulate dream, which is the eternally prefatory’s tired aftermath, one is what it is to persist in having begun interminably to wait on being one. Such a one, that one who is not one but wants to be, is a ghost. How do you stop being a ghost? How do you stop being political in Lincoln Park? One must imaginatively practice oneself away into a whole other mode of service, Uptown’s collective head, speak ‘em up and say ‘em now.

For a minute, the mountains in Chicago—having come from nowhere but the gap, from undermelungeonal elsewhere in nowhere in the gap, already more and less than by themselves or as themselves, having brought the modern to the city in Junebug’s homily and Preacherman’s homeless vespers—had enough of waiting on being white. Sent to this in order to be sent by it, along with all that gathering he carries that always be carrying him, was Robert E. Lee, III. The resurrector, having risen again to serve insurrection, didn’t have a slave name, he had a ghost name, so they would recognize him. It’s like in this buried clearing of the afterlife the ministers of espionage are Saul Alinsky and Jackie Mabley, but just for a minute, but you couldn’t even time it, and it really had no place, just an irregular displacement of Sabbath in a clearing dug out of a chapel. There’s a movie of this open secret movement but by the time the watching started, there were more watching, hunting, droning, than destroying and rebuilding. Even the movie couldn’t frame it, but for a minute, more than having had enough of being dispossessed, the mountains give away what they would have been, which was held out to them and away from them as what they awaited, ghosts of the brutally unborn in settlement. Giving up the ghost was given in his exhaustion—in showing, in showing up, his already having given himself away in having come. Sister Ruby couldn’t even look at him, at them, at what he and she were doing simply in their presence,

the panthers are here

                                    are here

the panthers are here


                                                                                          for uptown

                                                      for anyone who lives in uptown.

 We’re here for you, we’re here to be used by you, says Bobby Lee, deep in the history of the slave revolt. What the mountains were trying to relinquish was not a privilege but a death sentence, continually executed in their own pronouncement of it and in their waiting, when the poor interdict an unowned theater of their own. You can’t love nobody but the poor, he says. For it is given to the poor not only to be the object of that sentence but also to object to it, in preferment of their own miraculous showing. The generality of that precarity is our privilege, if we let it claim us. What whiteness seeks to separate, blackness blurs by cutting, in touch. The movie about the movement keeps the secret it reveals. The ruptural caress is on the cutting room floor or, deeper still, is underground. His hand waves in exasperation at people laying back in cuts. His hand presses someone’s shoulder. Uptown can’t improvise without contact, we not movin’, man, let’s move, we can’t move. In the cut, laying back on cuts is given to dance in a laying on of hands, we can’t move without you, and we’re on the other side, in sufferance of an already given rupture, in lightly hugging someone’s neck just like a shawl. This practice of serrated handing, animation given in the disruption of the dead body’s protection, struggle shared in tousle and massage, message come in touch, having claimed them, having come to be claimed by them, having come to show them, having come to see them to believe, is how the mountains became his own to organize, how they became what belongs to what’s over the edge of belonging. They had to bear some whole other way of bearing and being borne so they could leave their own (ghostliness) behind, becoming something other than what they were not, something other than what they were waiting on. The panthers are here, are here, the panthers are here and, for a minute, the mountains move.

well, he know how to cut yards

For a minute. This interlude in curacy, between a juke joint in Jasper and the Fifth Ward’s gardens, is special now because of the richly alternative way some differences are felt. When interlude becomes impasse then a way out is held in knowing how to cut by touching. And do you know a lot of people don’t know how to cut yards? They don’t know how to cut yards. But when he fix it it’s so pretty. I love for him to do my yard. But what I don’t like about him, he don’t wanna take no money. He cuts yards by touching, by a kind of tenderness sown on every weed, as if he serves at the weeds’ pleasure, as if passage is booked in love with the idea of taking her out to dinner. You can’t build no block club by not doing something for folks. How else can you know who are your own, the owned, the held, the held away, in shoes so they can walk to heaven, which is on the street where they live? Turning left and right toward itselflessness, gently refusing laying back on cuts, knowing how to cut yards, you go and start chattin’. There’s an endless, insistently previous preview of our work in progress that is held, handed, in touch, in feel(ing) and there’s no need to wonder about the ghostly individual and his view. Seeing himself everywhere and calling it politics, he would—in the power of his gaze—be complete and indivisible, out of touch in self-possessed, self-picturing monocularity. Meanwhile, Bobby Lee is this other thing in tactile dispersion, practicing that haptic, active, organic Phantasie where one sees, because one is, nothing at all. It’s nothing. It ain’t no thing. Selflessness ain’t about nobility or even generosity. The substance of its ethics is of no account, no count off, no one two, just a cut and then people be grooving. It’s not about friendship with others, either. Society is not companionship or friendly association with others; it’s companionship or friendly association without others, in the absence of the other, in the exhaustion of relational individuality, in consent not to be a single being. Bobby Lee is another name we give to the xenogenerosity of entanglement: the jam, that stone gas, a block club in a block experiment, an underpolitical block party, a maternal ecology of undercommon stock, in poverty, in service, genius in black and blur.


[1] This writing is indebted, and seeks to respond, to two films, each of which contain a scene, a view, of an extraordinary force that, in these particular manifestations, is known as Bobby Lee, an inveterate sociality in defiance of portraiture. The films are American Revolution 2 (1969), co-directed by Mike Gray and Howard Alk for The Film Group and Mike Gray’s The Organizer: A Preview of a Work in Progress (2007). They are both to be found on Facets Video DV 86930, 2007.

Fred Moten is author of In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (University of Minnesota Press), Hughson’s Tavern (Leon Works), B. Jenkins (Duke University Press), The Feel Trio (Letter Machine Editions) and coauthor, with Stefano Harney, of The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia). His current projects include two critical texts, consent not to be a single being (forthcoming from Duke University Press) and Animechanical Flesh, which extend his study of black art and social life, and a new collection of poems, The Little Edges. Moten served as a member of the Board of Managing Editors of American Quarterly and has been a member of the Editorial Collectives of Social Text and Callaloo, and of the Editorial Board of South Atlantic Quarterly. He is also cofounder and copublisher (with Joseph Donahue) of a small literary press called Three Count Pour.

The Book Is Here

Many thanks to all who came out to our events in Philadelphia and Chicago last month to release Organize Your Own. We are pleased to announce the book is now available for mail order through our publisher Soberscove Press. Thanks to all who contributed their time and energy to this project! Thanks especially to our designer Josh MacPhee, editor Anthony Romero, publisher Julia Klein of Soberscove, and the funders from Columbia College Chicago’s Leviton Gallery and Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

img_2241Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements

Published by Sobsercove Press (2016)

247 Pages

Edited by Anthony Romero, based on the project curated by Daniel Tucker

Designed by Josh MacPhee

The book, Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements, features new work by contemporary artists, poets, and writers that relates to the Black Power movement’s mandate to “organize your own” community against racism. Exploring the question of what “your own” might mean, this book connects some of the concerns dealt with in the 1960s and ’70s to the conversations and social movements around racial justice happening today.

With contributions by: Amber Art & Design, Rashayla Marie Brown, Emily Chow Bluck, Billy “Che” Brooks, Salem Collo-Julin, Irina Contreras, Brad Duncan, Bettina Escauriza, Eric J. Garcia, Maria Gaspar, Thomas Graves, Robby Herbst, Jen Hofer, Aletheia Hyun-Jin Shin, Mike James, Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, Jennifer Kidwell, Antonio Lopez, Nicole Marroquin, Fred Moten, Matt Neff, Mark Nowak, Edward Onaci, Dave Pabellon, Mary Patten, Rasheedah Phillips, Anthony Romero, Frank Sherlock, Amy Sonnie, Hy Thurman, Thread Makes Blanket, James Tracy, Daniel Tucker, the University of Louisville’s Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, Dan S. Wang, Jakobi Williams, Mariam Williams, Rosten Woo, Wooden Leg Print & Press, Works Progress with Jayanthi Kyle, and Rebecca Zorach.


Major support for Organize Your Own has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from collaborating venues including The Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery at Columbia College Chicago, Kelly Writers House’s Brodsky Gallery at University of Pennsylvania, Slought, Asian Arts Initiative, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and others.


Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela on Thread Makes Blanket and small press publishing

Screen shot 2016-04-01 at 1.16.02 PM

Can you tell me a little bit about Thread Makes Blanket? How did the press get started and what did you contribute to the OYO project?

Initially, Thread Makes Blanket (TMB) was started in 2011 as a small-scale chapbook press because (in no particular order), 1) I wrote a zine in high school and my first year of college and missed a lot of things about that production, but I didn’t want to write a zine again, 2) I had a free copy hook up at the time and my 16-yr-old self would’ve been ashamed of me if I didn’t use it, 3) I knew many excellent women of color writers who I hoped to help push their work into the world, and 4) I seem to have a more optimistic than average relationship with time.

Then, as they do, things evolved. Soon TMB was not just publishing poetry chapbooks, but we have maintained a commitment to writers of color and/or books related to social justice. We are most interested in publishing projects that might not otherwise find a home and in working with authors who are interested in working within a fairly non-traditional model as each project is its own collaboration with authors, editors and artists. That said, “we” generally refers to me and Nico Amador, a dear friend who has brought his talents as a poet, editor, and thinker to TMB for the last 2-3 years. TMB is smarter and stronger than ever because of his involvement.

vona_dismantle_cover_final_web_front Actually, this is maybe better answered with TMB’s mission statement:

“Thread Makes Blanket exists to provide a home for excellent writing that may otherwise have trouble finding a home.  We have no hard and fast criteria for who or what we publish, but we operate with a consciousness that too often the most necessary writing— writing by people of color, queer and trans writers, work that is political, work that is “about” something, and work that prioritizes community above the individual artist—  is less likely to be read, published, distributed, and/or legitimized.  We are here because we believe in the voices of those writers, those communities, and the lesser known histories that their works call forth.  We are not about empty, pretty things.”

We see each publication as an opportunity to embark on a collaboration with the artist or artists to give their project the backing it deserves and find the readers it is intended to reach.  We believe that the process of publishing is as important as the final product and we seek to engage with our artists in a way that is supportive to their vision, creative in its means of distribution, and anti-capitalist in its intentions.

My contribution to OYO is two-fold.

First, let’s stay with the press. I was invited to develop a public project for OYO, but was encouraged to think of overlap with what I was already working on. I mulled over some ideas and then seemed to stumble on the obvious: the book that would eventually be named TREASURE | My Black Rupture. My press had already committed to publish Martine’s hard to pin down book about Blackness, where a body begins and ends, and imagination. I’d started to, in an overly simplistic shorthand, refer to it in my mind as a BlackLivesMatter text because some of what the book contains responds to recent events, for example there are photos from Eric Garner’s death in which Martine has removed Garner’s body from the frame. And this maybe led me to the connections that now seems so clear? The connections between art, organizing, imagination, the inevitably incomplete “your”, and questioning of place within family and community that are so much of OYO is getting at.

Second, I was invited to write a poetic piece to share at the opening reading for OYO in Philadelphia. I read two poems that were “linked” by a poetic essay. A version of that essay will be included in the OYO catalogue.

And, because it still makes me smile, arguably one of my most important contributions to OYO was when I got much of the audience in the jam-packed Kelly Writer’s House to sing along to a Boys II Men verse. This was part of one of my poems.

As you know, OYO is rooted in a historical legacy of self-organizing and self-determination, and I’m wondering what of that history you were drawn to as you were developing your contribution. Are there particular aspects that impact your work outside of this contribution or are you coming to these ideas for the first time? This is maybe a clumsy way of asking about your relationship to self-organizing and self-determination.

The “own” in OYO was my starting point. It’s possible I took it a little too personal? What the hell was my own? Who have I organized or should I organize? I’ve been asked “what are you?” my whole life and likely that’s led to a particular relationship with the concept of my “own”– a sense of between-ness. I am far from the circumstances and place that I grew up in, so for me, for so many others, there will be no traditional organizing of my people. And then one’s definition of “own” is subject to change right? The archival materials that provided the foundation for OYO are very much rooted in neighborhoods and change, and in creative responses to systemic oppressions, so I decided to start with an actual corner in the world: the collective corner house in Philadelphia that I’ve mostly called home since 2000.

That said, I wasn’t coming at these ideas for the first time. When I read my piece for OYO, I started with a sort of paraphrase of an idea Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, that if we judge movements on whether or not they reach their goals then almost all fail, but if we judge them on what they were able to imagine then we truly have something to build upon. I also included a direct quote from the intro. that emphasized the importance of imagination. Additionally, I made reference to the significant amount of time I spent in Zapatista communities learning about the importance of new tactics in struggles for dignity and self-determination, and to the radical organizing in the U.S. I have witnessed and, at times, been a part of.

Other important references that didn’t make it into my contribution, but were much of what I recalled and revisited as a result of my participation with OYO are: the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association of Oxnard, CA in 1903 (one of the most beautiful examples of cross-race and language organizing I know) and the history of the Revolutionary Union Movements (DRUM and ELRUM) detailed in the brilliant Detroit: I Do Mind Dying.

Shanai Matteson of Works Progress shares her thoughts

Works Progress with Kyle 2

Works Progress with Jayanthi Kyle (album cover art 1 of 2)

In preparation for this weekend’s discussion at The Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery at Columbia College, we are sharing some thoughts from Shanai Matteson of Works Progress. You can find out more about Works Progress’ project for Organize Your Own by visiting


Off the top of my head, here are some things I’ve been thinking about, and that Jayanthi and I have also talked about, though she can chime in here with other thoughts if she has time. This really represents my own thinking and nothing more.


-We live in Minnesota, and there is a culture here of “Minnesota Nice” that is very paternalistic. I was steeped in this within the rural white community where I grew-up, and I think it stands as an important barrier to overcome in organizing against racism, and that there is a lot of work to be done by white artists and organizers to make this cultural aspect clear, and to find ways to undo it:


-I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that violence organizes our communities and our movements (both the ways we move about the city, and the ways we create social movements) and how this violence is racialized, but also gendered – and experienced in so many everyday ways that impact men and women differently. Here is an article that talks about one local example:


-Finally, I’ve become interested, through this project, in the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, as I think it represents a white supremacist movement that is disguising itself as reactionary to the criticisms of police, but is actually proactively building a white supremacist network, exploiting the dead bodies of both black people and fallen police officers to push fear, hatred, and anti-black sentiment in predominantly white working class communities.


-This has happened, for example, in my community, where a white officer was killed by a white man who was in custody after brutally abusing his wife and attempting suicide. The Blue Lives matter group jumped on this incident immediately to build its network statewide in rural MN, and when the police killing of Jamar Clark happened a few weeks later, these networks (built over the death of an officer) became the go-to “news” source for many in rural MN about Minneapolis. The disinformation and hatred they spread about the 4th Precinct protest was staggering, and I think played no small role in encouraging the shooting of protestors that occurred by white supremacists.


I am interested in these dynamics as well, because I think when it comes to our contemporary moment, they will continue to have an impact, and I struggle with my own response.

James Tracy Interviews Hy Thurman (excerpt)

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 1.46.11 PMJames Tracy and Amy Sonnie, authors of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times, recently joined Jakobi Williams, author of From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Part and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago, Hy Thurman, founding member of the Young Patriots Organization, and historian Edward Onaci, for OYO’s panel, Original Rainbow Coalition, at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. If you missed the event, full audio of the program can be found on Slought Foundation’s website by clicking here.

We’ve included an excerpt of James Tracy’s interview with Hy Thurman in which the two discuss the Original Rainbow Coalition below. For the full interview click here.51tazl50cmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

James Tracy: Your organizing led to an alliance with the Panthers and Lords, the Original Rainbow Coalition

Hy Thurman: On April 4,1969, which was also the first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Bobby Rush and Bobby Lee of the Illinois Black Panther Party invited the Young Patriots to join with them and the Young Lords – a former Puerto Rican street gang to form the original Rainbow Coalition of revolutionary solidarity. The Black Panthers were aware of our commitment to the movement of racial equality due to the Good Fellows and other poor organizations participating in the Eldridge Clever-Peggy Terry Presidential Campaign in 1966.

hillbilly-nationalistsPeggy Terry a poor white woman and organizer living in Uptown was chosen to run as Eldridge Cleaver`s Vice Presidential partner on the Peace and Freedom Campaign ticket running against Alabama`s Governor due to his racist and white supremacist beliefs. The campaign also wanted to show that poor blacks and whites could unite in solidarity. It was agreed by the three groups that neither organization would control the coalition. Each organization would control their community and fight for self-determination. The three would make a statement that in the most segregated city in the United State that it was possible for all races to work together. We would come together in solidarity to support each others programs and challenge the Daley Administration, Unite in demonstrations and stand side by side to defeat racism and fascism. We agreed to serve with their security detail by standing shoulder to shoulder at many functions.

JT: As a consequence of your work in the Original Rainbow Coalition, you were harassed for many years by the government. Why did the ORC scare the powers that be so badly?

HT: I think a lot of the fear was generated by how the federal and local governments view the Black Panthers and us stepping out of our assigned roles in society. The day after we cemented our solidarity of revolutionary brotherhood the FBI and their illegal COINTELPRO began surveillance of the Young Patriots. They were already aware of us because Chicago Police departments Red Squad had been gathering information on the Good Fellows and the Young Patriots for years. They were watching us due in a large part because of Mayor Daley`s fear that the Rainbow Coalition showed real promises to diminishing his power.

FBI documents that had been sealed after the Chicago Police and the FBI clearly states that the Black Panthers were the number one threat to national security to the FBI and that the BPP had recruited other like minded organizations. The memo from the FBI in Chicago to J. Edgar Hoover identifies the two dangerous organizations as The Young Lords and The Young Patriots. Hoover stated in a separate memo the there was a rising messiah in Chicago that had t be eliminated. Everyone in the coalition believed that to be Fred Hampton.

I believe that if the Original Rainbow Coalition Continued that if would have been a major force in Chicago by uniting thousands of poor people who hat usually fought against or avoided each other a model to organize and gain power in Chicago and the rest of the country. Daley and hoover was not about to let that happen. College students protesting were easily obtained. But poor communities uniting, especially poor whites uniting with other racial and minority groups preaching revolutionary change and socialism was a major threat. The coalition either had to be controlled or destroyed. I strongly believe that the Rainbow model can be used today if it is effectively organized.

Opening Night! Kelly Writers House (Philadelphia)

Thank you to everyone who came out on opening night and a big thank you to Paul Gargagliano/Hazel Photo for the great pics.













Organize-Your-Own-Opening-KWH-Paul-Gargagliano-91Back Row (L-R): Thomas Graves, Anthony Romero, Jakobi Williams, Frank Sherlock, Keir Johnston, Matt Neff, Hy Thurman, Daniel Tucker. Middle Row (L-R): Nancy Chen, Salem Collo-Julin, Bettina Escauriza, Mariam Williams, Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, Amy Sonnie, Jennifer Kidwell, Ernel Martinez. Front Row (L-R): Mart Patten, James Tracy


Web Projects are live for Philly Exhibition

Works Progress with Kyle 2

Works Progress with Jayanthi Kyle (album cover art 1 of 2)

We have three web projects that accompany the exhibition of two dimensional work on view at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia from January 14 – February 17th.

Please check them out at the links below:


IRINA CONTRERAS – It’s Firm Ground Here… (Video)

WORKS PROGRESS and JAYANTHI KYLE – A wedding, A funeral, An uprising. (Audio and web project)