by Lisa ‘Tiny’ Gray-Garcia
I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees. – Emiliano Zapata
Who dies on their feet?
the hardcorest revolutionary warrior you will ever meet – that’s who
Como Emiliano Zapata, Laure McElroy, Papa Bear and so many more who only and always tell the hard truth – no matter who it scares
walking into stolen land spaceships,
tripping up colonizer liars
lifting up poverty skolaz everywhere
Living, manifesting – Always with calm hands
Having trouble going on without you sisSTAR laure
almost too hard to hold this loss, too hard to stand …
“You were right, Tiny. Interdependence does work for us poor mamas.” My revolutionary poet, fellow welfareQUEEN at POOR Magazine and co-founder of Homefulness and KEXU radio Laure McElroy and I spoke quietly on the phone in the kind of intimacy befitting deep sister comrades like we were and had been for many years of deep struggle and deep resistance.
We were both daughters of very traumatized single parent disabled houseless mamas, we are both single parents of sons, both struggled with suicidality and depression from our lives and were both houseless and/or marginally housed on and off with our young children, which led us to co-create MamaHouse2, a collective home for houseless single parent women and children in the rapidly gentrifying Mission District of San Francisco.
This is how we do it at POOR; using the “I,” the first person, we centerpiece our own knowledge. We choose to use who we are and what we’ve personally experienced as both the keystone narrative for any story we write, as well as the lens through which we interpret it.
We believe that doing this is the best way to be honest about where one’s point of view is coming from, and that the journalistic cult of the third person in this country is not objective at all, but rife with hidden, mostly privileged bias. We also insist that those who experience the news must create it, rather than any non-participant journo, however formally educated; those who live the stories both interpret the stories and claim the byline at POOR. – Laure McElroy, 2007
The first time Laure walked into my life was in 1998 with her long-time friend, Ivy, another poverty skola, writer and daughter, who walked into POOR Magazine when we were all located on Ninth Street in San Francisco, in an old, beautifully musty union hall, doing our poor people-led journalism trainings. Laure began a story that would later become part of the MOTHERS issue of POOR Magazine.
My mama Dee, a harsh critic of sloppy writing, believing that as poor folks , poverty skolaz, it was our duty to tell our own stories, without translators and fetishizers, but tell them beautifully and see them as art, agency and resistance, proclaimed, “Laure is an amazing writer,” a statement my mama rarely made about people. She was excited to meet someone so eager to write and live the radical values of voice and literary art that we all walked at POOR Magazine.
Fast forward to 2007, after the passing of my mama, I was in the midst of my own serious crisis with homelessness and barely keeping POOR Magazine alive and currently houseless myself after facing scam lord-fueled insurance fires and forced displacement from MamaHouse 1. Laure had expressed interest in joining me to launch a second iteration of the beautiful vision of interdependence, poor mama-led self-determination that is and was MamaHouse.
We played all kinds of raced and classed poverty skola games that anyone poor and of color and a single mama has to do just to secure housing in amerikkklan, especially gentrified San Francisco, which sort of went like this: Laure put on her best white voice (which Laure truly mastered) and called all kinds of realtors, owners etc.
Then like a page out of “Black-kkklansman” (yes, our stories at POOR Magazine are truly filmic, and awaiting the right revolutionary filmmaker), I put on a suit and used my white face to play Laure going to see the apartments, cause in this situation even though I was working, which I was and she wasn’t, Laure had a beautiful credit score and the stipend that would make the insanely inflated rent of $2,300 and redunkulous credit check process feasible for all of us poor mamas and children.
I knew this well. This was the game me and mama played for years, I being a melanin challenged daughter of a poor single parent of color. This was the only way we got housing whenever we raised enough money to even rent an apartment throughout my childhood of homelessness.
It was an extremely terrifying time for me and Laure, so even as I write this I shudder with the fear of our impossible situation. My mama was sick with what took her to her spirit journey at a very young age, I had a 2-year-old son and no place to live with all of us and was just constantly scared that we wouldn’t find a place and would end up on the street with our children and elders.
And then I walked into “Florida Street,” as we used to call it. The ancestors sang in that kitchen, the sky opened up and became large and sweet, birds seemed to circle around the yard in a love affair with the multiple fruit trees always in bloom. The sun filled every room. It was beyond beautiful. It was truly magical. I knew when I walked in that this was where we were meant to be. This hustle must work. By any means necessary we must get this place.
Suffice it to say, we finessed another process with the picture ID required so Laure’s identity wasn’t completely revealed until the end and then, thanks to my special “scam-lord love dance” or “rent-starter” as my mama used to call it when I was 11 years old posing as a 25-year-old adult, they were charmed. It was our place if we wanted it.
After we were told we got it, I had another severe anxiety attack ‘cause it required $7,500 just to move in and Laure didn’t have that and I didn’t either. I needed to borrow a big chunk of money, which I was truly afraid I wouldn’t be able to pay back.
One day at my desk of my non-profit job in the San Francisco downtown financial district, a beautiful large raven landed on my 13th floor window sill and began screaming at me until I listened. I know it was my mama- slapping me telling me to “Make a damn decision already—this is THE place- make this happen- – it is meant to be.”
“Omigod, Tiny, this kitchen alone – it’s everything!” Laure and I were equally nervous, but knew we had nowhere else to go. We felt we were being pushed into this luxurious, Home & Garden magazine place with a kitchen big enough to house us and all of our extended family members.
We moved in. We brought our sons, aunties, sisters, uncles, brothers and babies from our multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-lingual POOR Magazine revolutionary family. We brought our love and our complete trauma-filled souls. We invited another single parent mama in struggle to live in the downstairs space, the beautiful prayer-bringer and danzante Sandra Sandoval.
We held rehearsal meetings for the welfareQUEENs’ play we were all working on, so we could eventually co-create along with Mama Jewnbug, Vivian, Dharma, Queenandi and Tracey Jones Faulkner the beautiful stage play of the same name. We held workshops and art events and performances and prayers. We launched Theatre of the POOR/Teatro de los Pobres Theatre Learning project. We co-wrote the Declaration of Interdependence and the Manifesto of Change and so much more.
And what Laure and I realized so clearly, so solidly, more than in any other moment of struggle before that one, was that we had to manifest the landless-poor-houseless people’s movement that became Homefulness, a homeless people’s solution to homelessness, which we did end up manifesting and co-creating in Deep East Huchuin, with the prayer and permission of our multi-nationed ancestors and permission from the First People of this territory.
An extremely hard process – and Laure has worked on it since day one when we literally removed the asphalt from this powerful small slice of Mama Earth. Now working very hard to build the four multi-family townhouses on the land along with everything else we named MamaHouses.
“I will SURVIIIIVE …” – Laure’s beautiful melodic voice, always perfect pitched and clear, sang up her Mama’s spirit in a beautiful ceremony where we all sang Gloria Gaynor’s song, held at MamaHouse. Her mama transitioned while we lived there. It was tragic, as it always is for our traumatized mamas who were already poor, of color, and angry.
POOR Magazine family was there in any way we could be to hold Laure and her mama and her son in what we call revolutionary social work, resisting the non-profiteers and the healthcare system. Laure, as usual, was on point calling out the medi-hell system that led to her mama’s early death. This becoming an integral part of our welfareQUEEN’s play.
In 2010, the deep gentrification hit that beautiful home and we were served with a $700 rent increase, which was completely impossible considering we were struggling just to cover the rent as it was. And so in September of 2010 all of us poor mamas were scattered to the wind, barely able to stay alive through this grief, much less rehouse ourselves. Most of us, like Laure and me, never really recovered from that loss of so much. And we were trying our hardest to build Homefulness as soon as we could to save us, the poor, isolated, mamaz.
Laure – Xtascene – as curator from the Sex Worker Film Fest
Xtascene joined the Festival in 2009 as film curator. Xtascene is an SF Bay Area native; although currently rolling in the city of San Francisco, she misses Oakland and the East Bay desperately and is moving back as soon as she puts her chihuahua through college. Xtascene writes like she is giving birth – painfully, over the course of hours or sometimes days. Xtascene is an afropunk, a cis that doesn’t believe in the gender binary, an ally looking for allies. Xtascene constantly burns with equal parts fear and wonder, and her narcissism is exceeded only by her compassion. – Laure’s bio written by her for the Sex Worker Film Fest
“It’s so funny, Tiny; as usual, poverty skolaz like us are silenced in so many spaces. We have to bring in our poverty scholarship workshops,” Laure shrieked out over the phone to me with the nervous glee she so often spoke with. In this magical time at MamaHouse, Laure also began to work with the powerful Sex Worker Film Fest project, curating the festival and speaking her own Sex Worker Scholarship, Poverty Scholarship everywhere she could.
“She put her beautiful heart and deeply real perspective into her curation work of every festival,” said founder and sex worker-artist Carol Leigh, also a very good friend of Laure’s.
“She was so brilliant, always thinking, reading critiquing,” said Vern McElroy, Laure’s brother, who shares the same father but a different mother, and who lives and works in Berkeley.
“Our father was a Black Muslim and revolutionary. Laure lived a lot of his revolutionary spirit in her work with POOR Magazine. She was so excited by all the powerful work you all do and she was so dedicated to it,” Vern concluded.
Elephant circle after elephant circle, family council after family council where we hold each other in a circle of accountability because we refuse to engage with the poLice or kkkorts, who are there to test, arrest and incarcerate every poor person they get, Laure’s calm love literally held us together. Facing people and systems always ready to tear us down for being the baaadass ghetto skolaz we are and were.
Writing this today is so hard for me between tears and pain. I’m so unsure of how to go on without her love.
“We the people, the unhoused, the displaced, gentrified and destroyed, are here with a proposal, with medicine to offer, the medicine of redistribution,” said Laure, speaking the manifesto of redistribution from the Stolen Land-Hoarded Resources Tours POOR Magazine launched in 2016 to help people with hoarded, inherited wealth and/or stolen indigenous land redistribute to folks who have none to create models like Homefulness.
“She lived for this work and would want us to keep it up, even stronger, even fiercer,” Krip Hop Nation founder, poverty/disability skola and my brother Leroy Moore said.
“I miss her so much,” fellow Po Poet, poverty and indigenous skola and Homefulness co-leader and co-founder Muteado Silencio called out in September’s Community Newsroom, our monthly indigenous news-making circle that Laure ran countless times over the years. This one we did in Laure’s honor.
HOMEFULNESS stands in direct opposition to the cancerous American profit ethic, the paradigm that sends individuals fleeing from each other in the public and private spheres, fearful that if one assumes the responsibility of caring for another, one’s security, retirement fund, college experience, life plan, “me time” might be lost or greatly reduced or altered in some frightening way beyond individual control.
The donations of participants and allies buy the land for the project: Owning the land HOMEFULNESS stands upon free and clear will insulate the community from the vicissitudes of rent and land speculation. But the heart of HOMEFULNESS is the idea of people banding together to create stability through shared sweat, assets and commitment to being not only our brother’s keeper, but our brother’s daughter’s keeper and our sister’s boyfriend’s mother’s keeper and the keeper of the Paki grocery store owner down the block.
HOMEFULNESS is a vision of intention, rooted in the idea that taking responsibility for each other in love and mutual accountability is a radical act. – Laure on Homefulness
On Sunday, Sept. 23, we held a multi-nationed tree-planting ceremony in Laure’s honor at Homefulness. We planted a tree in her honor in the Ancestor Forest at Homefulness, 8032 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland.
Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – is co-founder with her Mama Dee of POOR Magazine and its many projects and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at email@example.com. Visit POOR at www.poormagazine.org and Tiny at www.lisatinygraygarcia.com.