August 12, 2011
As I write this letter I’m listening to Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley. It’s what you believed and did.
I remember meeting you at a meeting for the first Reclaim The Streets rally that we helped organize with folks in Toronto’s downtown east-side in 2008. You were open, honest and respectful. Community, not individualism, was on your mind and in your heart.
As ideas, laughter, and good vibes circulated the room, you were at the center of it all. Not because of your position at the table but because you were one of the main sources of all three.
Our introduction turned to group work, to lots of laughs, smiles, hugs, and flirting every time we saw each other after that. And your honesty was warm and loud:
“We met before, Jorge! At Carolyn Connolly’s first vigil. I smudged you!”
Seeing you in action was a pleasure. Your speeches, chants, sign holding, and telling the cops to “Fuck off!” were beautiful.
When you come to mind I think of an ally who is also an activist; the two don’t always meet. Your work toward stopping violence against Aboriginal Women and Women of Colour was awesome not only because your mind and heart teamed into action, but because your weren’t Aboriginal or of colour and you cared. I can’t say that about a lot of white women, white people.
Your lead in the fight to make sex work safe, accepted, and appreciated was one of insider consent but you didn’t put that in peoples face. Rather, you embraced allies on all levels: spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally.
If an ally made a mistake you didn’t pounce on them like many activists in Toronto tend to do. You practiced patience, kindness, and self control and you saved your energy for the battles you saw as important. A good fighter picks their shots, remains calm, maintains balance, and strikes when they see an opening and when the time is right. A good fighter also learns from their losses and gets back up after being knocked down or knocked out. My interactions with you saw you do all that.
You had leadership skills that most people lack but that didn’t see you pointing fingers and ordering people around. You often stood at the front lines, something that most so-called leaders are too cowardly to do. And although you knew a lot about a lot of things you recognized that some knew more than you in other fields and you were willing to learn by listening and doing your own research.
You displayed true character at the Gladstone late last year when sharing the stage with other groups that you disagreed with, and with people who defamed your name behind your back on many occasions. You recognized, unlike many, that it wasn’t about you; it was about the cause, the work, the people, and positive change.
It’s because of your words, energy, time, and all I’ve written above that I decided to join the Bad Date Coalition for a year. Seeing you work for the first rally to happen, and be a success, I was assured that BDC was a good cause and organization. Your drive was inspiring, your analysis bang on, and your work ethic should be studied, written about, and emulated.
I was honoured to be invited to your 30th birthday party two years ago. Walking along the Danforth saw me gather food for my poem Shane It Isn’t Fair that you liked. A couple of months later saw the ultimate validation via your smile followed by an embrace and a kiss when I read you White Van at the corner of Greenwood and Danforth. I remember your words: “This should be read at the court case going on right now!”
I’ve attached White Van to this letter for you. It’s said that sound never stops traveling. Every time someone plays the video it will add to the circle of the never ending words you loved.
May White Van be a blessing, a hug, a smile, and a kiss every time you hear it circle Mother Earth and the universe.
We were supposed to meet in early July (2011) for a lunch that didn’t happen. Your last week of physical life saw you inviting me out on Face Book. I wish it had worked out.
We’ll have our lunch once I leave my physical form and join you up there. Our much awaited hangout sessions will see feasts on the stars and non-colonial planet traveling.
Until then, prayers, poems, smiles, hugs, and a kiss,
Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Jorge Antonio Vallejos is a mixed race, Toronto based, poet, essayist and journalist. He is the creator of blackcoffeepoet.com. His writing has appeared in COLORLINES, XTRA!, THIS Magazine, Anishinabek News, Toronto Star, The Kenyon Review, and Descant. Jorge can be reached at [email protected]