Episode 4 - MASK with Tamar Manasseh




Daniel Kisslinger (Kiss): Welcome to One Million Experiments, a podcast showcasing and exploring how we define and create safety in a world without police and prisons. I'm Kiss.

Damon Williams (Dame): I'm Damon.

Kiss: Every month, the two of us host long-form interviews with movement workers across the world, who've created community-based safety projects that expand our ideas about what keeps us safe. Basically, we're here to celebrate the work already happening to build solutions that are grounded in transformation instead of punishment.

Dame: We are so happy to not be alone in this project. We are partnered with the phenomenal Interrupting Criminalization, that has spearheaded and launched this One Million Experiments platform, and we want to bring in a CO host and becoming super homie. You are like part of the team. We got Eva back with us again. How are you feeling today?

Eva: I'm feeling stoked to be part of the team and a homie. Thanks for having me back, guys.

Kiss: No, you're right on the brink of confidence. We're flirting with that line now. [laughs]

Eva: The next season One Million Experiments is going to get real.

Kiss: As if this wasn't real enough. Eva, can you tell us who we're talking to today?

Eva: We're so excited to invite Tamar Manasseh of MASK, Mothers, and Men Against Senseless Killings, to this episode. MASK was founded by Tamar in 2015 and she'll tell us a little bit about how exactly it started. MASK was made to be a way to put eyes on the streets to interrupt violence and crime, and to teach children to grow up as friends rather than enemies. We're so excited to talk to Tamar about how she went from a lawn chair to encompass all the programming that MASK now does in Chicago.

Dame: This was really exciting. In the conversation, you'll hear some of that energy and gratitude because MASK has been really important and I think somewhat of a symbol, a beacon, and almost like a mythology in Chicago, particularly in people concerned with violence and policing, and the intersections of those violence. They are doing what everyone imagines is needed on the most basic elemental level. Really grateful to have the time to chop it up with her to go in through some of the results and data of this, going on now seven years of just being out on the block.

We've been clamoring to talk to her for a long time but I'm really glad that it happened at this time where we have One Million Experiments as a container and a platform to have this conversation. It's exciting to be talking about transformational work that I think should inform abolitionist movements from a space or a person that may not identify as Abolitionist, and figuring out where some of that divergence or diversity of language, understanding of tactic can really make our grasp of creating a new world more tangible.

Eva: MASK's philosophy of change in their work really mirrors a lot of what One Million Experiments embraces. Tamar says that transformation starts when there's less hopelessness. When we see small things start to work, then we can tackle bigger things. It goes back to another thing that Tamar says that I think is really helpful in this episode, and with One Million Experiments in general, and it's that it doesn't have to be harder than this.

Kiss: With that.

Dame: Let's hop in the lab with Tamar Manasseh.

Kiss: Welcome back to One Million Experiments. We are so excited today to be on the line in conversation learning from the incomparable Tamar Manasseh.

Tamar: Hello out there.

Kiss: I live a direct-to-listener conversation, that's great.

Dame: In that direction, in all of our conversations, we have a little tradition of a two-part question we like to warm up with and it's centered around time. In this time, and define time however you want, hour, this conversation, this day, this season, this lifetime, but in this time, how was the world treating you and how are you treating the world, Tamar?

Tamar Manasseh: Oh my goodness, like it's treating everybody else. I'm scared to death. It's nuts out here. The world has just changed a lot for me during the pandemic. It hasn't changed the life of the people on the block, but it's changed a lot for me. I'm adjusting to this new life, New America, this new way of living. How's it treating me? Like a deadbeat baby daddy.

Dame: I see that.

Tamar: How am I treating it? Hopefully better than that. That's the worst way to answer this question. You can edit that out or leave it in. Do what you will with that.

Kiss: That's not going anywhere.

Tamar: Have at it.

Kiss: As much or as little as you want to share, I think part of what we do want to talk about is the way that your work has shifted in the time of pandemic and over the last couple of years. Before we get to that, our clunky metaphor through this whole One Million Experiments project is using the language of an experiment.

Dame: Like a science experiment, like chemistry class.

Kiss: As people who did terrible in science we've been struggling throughout, but we're getting better. We're learning our terminology, all that. Let's start with the hypothesis. If we jump back to whether it's 2015, or wherever you mark this chapter of work starting, what for you was the hypothesis of this experiment that has been MASK.


I tell you my hypothesis.

Tamar: It was that if you put parents in the middle of gang war zones, it will stop everything. It will save lives. The idea was, kids will do all sorts of stuff, people in general, are just not as honest as they are when they're being watched. The idea was, if I knew where there were gang beefs or something like that, if I take these mothers there, no one wants their mother looking through their stuff in their room. No one wants their mother looking under their bed, looking at their text messages, swiping right. No one wants their mother to do that.

Dame: Trust me, I don't. My mom went in my drawer and found the picture I had printed off a web page of the rapper Trina in 2005. It was my little go-to-

Tamar: Her head exploded.

Dame: She was a snooper and I had to find different hiding places. [laughter]

Tamar: Kids really hate to have their privacy invaded, they hate it. If the shooters are 15, 14, 17, I know how to deal with those kids. My kids were that age at the time, themselves. If I know that a shooting happened on one block, I know chances are whoever it was that they were shooting at or who got shot, they knew who did it. They're going to go back and they're going to retaliate, and then that's when the cycle starts because they're going to come back and hit the same block that they hit the first time because those people went and hit their block. That becomes a cycle.

If you put people on any of those corners, any of the corners on either block, it disrupts everything because nobody can come and shoot somebody. If it's 10 moms sitting on the corner wearing hot pink T-shirts and cooking dinner, I can't do that. It's just really honestly like being in the way. Every day, you're there and you establish, "This is my corner. We have a routine. Every day we're here. Everybody knows this is the safest place to be. You're going to come here, you're going to eat dinner. We're going to talk about your life. We're going to do all these other things." This is what it became.

It morphed into something a lot bigger than what I was thinking. I was thinking, "Hey, we'll go here this week, and then we'll move and go to another block next week." Once I got there, it got so deep, I really started getting into basically the layer cake called gun violence. There's all of these things that conspire to create gun violence. You need all of these different things to make a cake, but if you don't have eggs, and you have everything else, then you have something but not really a cake. You don't have no flour, you have something, but not really a cake, like if you give kids access to quality educational opportunities, gun violence goes down.

Dame: You would have thunk it.

Tamar: If you make sure they have somewhere to sleep at night, and they aren't homeless, gun violence goes down. If you're the one feeding them every night, and they aren't out stealing or trying to rob somebody to pay for a meal, gun violence those down. If you're addressing food insecurity, homelessness, lack of job skills, lack of opportunity, if you're addressing these issues, you're going to change the numbers. Now you're addressing all the issues that was causing it.

I stay because I kept getting deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper into it. It was always another cause, another cause, another cause. It's the drug use, it's the broken windows, it's all of these other things and you just think about, "Hey, we got to get the guns." The guns are the least of your problems.

Kiss: To the layer cake analogy, which I love-

Dame: We're in that now.

Kiss: -what layer were you able to see before you sat down on the corner? What was that process of the layers emerging for you in your own thinking?

Tamar: I saw what everybody else was seeing. I saw what happens on the news, which is honestly not even-- that's like the cherry on top of the layer cake. It's nothing. It doesn't even scrape the surface. It shapes your idea and your opinion about certain people. That's all it does.

Dame: It feels like it moves people further away from imagining real solutions.

Tamar: Exactly. It does. It does because if you keep seeing on the news, this neighborhood is back of the yard, it's Inglewood, it's Lawndale, it's like, "Okay, those places are the problem." Those places aren't the problem though, and the people in those places aren't the problem. Look at what's going on inside of those places. Nobody ever really looks at that part.

I knew that it was going to be a problem when they closed down all the public high schools in Inglewood. How could it not be a problem? You have all of these kids who are coming out of eighth grade from neighborhood schools and they have no home school to go to because you closed down all the schools. How about you bust the kids from Inglewood down to Jones or up to Walter Payton or something like that? You tell them they can go to schools that are already almost overcrowded and failing.

You can travel through eight different gang territories to risk getting to the school that's not your home school, that's going to either be overcrowded or underperforming when you get there, oh, and then you risk getting murdered on the bus stop on the way there, of course. So many kids were saying, "I don't want to do that. It's not worth it." You didn't have kids that dropped out. You had eighth-graders who never even dropped into high school. They never started. Where did all those kids go? It's like nobody thought about that or maybe they did, and they just didn't care because they didn't talk about it enough on the news, so nobody would even pay attention to it.

Dame: I'm really appreciative because the way you're talking about news and media and particularly local news, we're talking two, five, seven-- the local NBC channels, the way in which the conversation of violence in Chicago has been packaged and distributed to Chicago ones, but even to the whole world. One, it's profit-based. It's like white entertainment at a basic level, but it's also this political irresponsibility of not wanting to speak about who's culpable.

I get really angry, sad, and hurt when I watch the news and when I go in public places and see that people watch it every day, and understanding the world through this lens in prison. As a critic, or I'm calling myself that right now, I'm not actually a critic, as a person that criticizes a lot of shit-

Kiss: That makes you a critic.

Dame: I might be a critic. As a critic of media and information channels, I try to ask myself, "What would a more humanizing, holistic, honest depiction of violence look like?" because I think it is important that people understand that it's happening and we should not ignore it or it should not not be discussed. Basically, my question is how should the local news appropriately package and process this information for people to be able to understand more healthily, how we can address violence?

Tamar: You notice how maybe for the past year or so when something happens, when someone gets shot or it's a shooting or it's a murder, something like that, they always say, "The state's attorney let this person out. They're out on bond. They should have still been locked up. This wouldn't have happened if they were still locked up, basically." That's the message, right?

Dame: It's that jail is the solution.

Kiss: It becomes evidence for incarceration, is how they frame it.

Tamar: Exactly. What if they started saying, "Well, these people got shot because we closed these schools down and they didn't have nowhere else to go during this time of day"?

Kiss: If we're going to try to draw connections to the causes, maybe we should draw connections to the causes.

Tamar: Exactly. Let's really draw connections to the real causes. If this guy would've had a job to go to this morning, if he knew how to read and he had a job to go to, then this wouldn't have happened. If somebody would've made sure that happened before he left elementary school, he might have a job right now, but he doesn't. This is how he's surviving. We forced him into this.

They don't talk about the failures of all of the other systems that led to that, they talked about all of the other stuff that's going on, then perhaps it would be more healthy because people would say, "Hey, you know what? Let's get on that. Let's try to address that. If this is what's going to cause the problem, let's get out ahead of this." Everybody is just so reactive. It's nothing proactive being done.

Kiss: I'm glad we're talking about the way these stories get framed to people who aren't participants in either side of trying to combat it or participants in the perpetuation of the violence because it's one of the reasons why after years of wanting to talk to you on a podcast, I'm glad we're talking to you now. I've seen in the various ways, whether that's press or the documentary that was made or just the ways that you've been brought into conversations and your work has been framed, uplifted, challenged, it's been part of this public sphere of the Discourse around Chicago violence.

I'm curious for you, having gone through not just the participation in the work and the building of what happened on that corner, but all of this time talking about it over and over and over again. One, what feels like it's left out or omitted from that story? Two, where are you at in talking about this now? You've been talking about it for a long time. What feels frustrating? What feels good? What feels like it's changing?

Tamar: It's a great question. Over the past few months I am of the mind that Chicago-- Honestly, we're doing politics in Chicago Bear football all wrong. We both need the same thing. We need somebody. I would've wanted a coach that was from Chicago that loves Chicago. I want a Bear's fan to coach the Bears. I want somebody who has cried with us every year who wants to win for us for themselves more than anything in the world.

Dame: What a great analogy.

Tamar: That's what I need.

Kiss: Remember that movie, Eddie, where Whoopi Goldberg ends up coaching the-- Controversy note that we can talk about.

Tamar: I need a super fan to be the coach of the Bears, just like I need a super fan of Chicago to be the mayor. We need somebody who loves this city, warts and all, who knows it, who loves it, who wants to see it be better. That is what we want. That's not what we have. We have a tourist who's on extended stay. I believe personally, I'm telling people this now when they call me and ask me about violence, let's go find the people who keep popping up and running for mayor and talk to them about it because they're going to run again. They're going to run again.

Kiss: It'll be the same clown car.

Tamar: Exactly. While people are afraid to drive on the expressway because they might get shot, while, the number, you lose 800 people in a year, while you're worried about bullets coming through your living room window, let's go talk to them now.

I want to hear your plan for how you're going to stop the violence now. I want to see what you're doing right now. Show your work. If it's good enough for math class, it's good enough for you because, I'm sorry, two months before election day, you come up with this great plan for how you're going to stop the violence, you can do it, no one else could, you can do it, you can't do it.

People who only watch the news are listening to this very carefully-crafted statement that somebody's put together for you because they know what people want to hear because they're afraid. You're going to get up, and you're going to say that at debates, you're going to say that at interviews, and you're going to stand on that. People who are out there in it every day know it's not going to work because, hell, it's impossible. That can't work.

When I hear you talk about more police, that can't work. That's not going to work. You talk about what? you're suing gang bangers now. Yes, bang that shit. That ain't going to work. You know what I'm saying? The problem is they're taking your shit, so how are you're going to sue them for - [laughter]

Kiss: For reference, for our non-Chicago listeners, one of the-

Dame: Proposals.

Kiss: -the new proposals is that the city would file civil lawsuits against gang members to seize their assets as part of a deterrence from violence.

Tamar: They ain't got no assets, but somebody somewhere who has nothing, who has no understanding of this, who just watches the news, they think this is a great idea like, "That's going to really fix them." In what world? It sounds good to somebody, but to the people who are really in it, we understand this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

Kiss: It also opens the pass to more civil asset forfeiture. People who get swept up in it, all of a sudden they lose what they do have because it's legal for their stuff to be taken.

Tamar: Exactly. All 12 of those people who actually have something, they're going to be pissed off about this. That's what's going to happen. There are all of these things that people throw out. I wrote an open letter to Ron and to Eddie Johnson one year. I asked them, "You have this new plan where you're doing these surges with police on weekends. I'm watching the police abuses on the block. I literally sit in the launch chair and watch it happen every day. You need to come down here and sit on the corner with me and tell me, is this what it's supposed to look like? Is this what you planned?

In theory, it's one thing, but in practice, it's a completely different thing because this is all wrong, but if this is what you planned, perhaps you need to come and we need to discuss how this can be modified some." 12 days later, Ron resigned. [laughter]

Dame: That's how we had this best - It's wild. I don't even know. Man, one hand or the other it's like, do we miss him now? [laughs] We don't obviously, but that's how bad it's been since.

Tamar: I think honestly, bad leadership is worse than no leadership at all. If you were in a restaurant, this is when you would be demanding to see the manager, but there is no manager. That's what Chicago is like right now like, "Hey, you want to kill somebody? Take it to Chicago. You can get away with it." This is what I feel every man for himself would look like, Chicago,

Dame: So many poignant things, really taking out this notion of how the news, the media pushes out this state-based propaganda, that manipulates fear of an electorate that's not in the spaces most impacted for these non-solutions or anti-solutions. I hear you saying we don't have people who love the city at the top. There's this apathy and we have this former prosecutor, that's looking at the city as something to prosecute.

I definitely think we need new leadership, but I think there will even be limits to the most loving people at the top. I feel like your work is so important because it starts to demonstrate what we need to build from the ground, from the grass up.

Tamar: It's going to be bottom-up. It's got to be bottom-up. Personally, I'm not one of necessarily the defund-the-police people. I'm one of the redistribute-the-money people.

Kiss: Well, could you just share what the differentiation of those would be?

Tamar: Because some people think, when you say, "Defund the police, defund the police," that means, "Defund, don't pay them get rid of them. We don't need the police." That's what most people think when they hear, "Defund the police." I want to be very clear. There's still a need for police somewhere because they make somebody feel safe. The people that they protect from people like you and me, police make them feel safe, not as so much. My thing is I am tired of my tax money going to pay for the police when it could be used better.

Like us, what we actually do is we hire people from the neighborhood, just to do stuff, to come work in the school, to come clean up, to come help cook lunch, to do this, to do that any little thing we can find because people are so poor and it's so few jobs. Even a little bit is better than nothing. A little bit is better than the nothingness that they get now. Think about if you gave people a stipend and you made it basically for every time your neighborhood gets safer, when it gets safer, when crime goes down, you get paid more.

If it's your kid that's in the house, you know what your kid is doing, but if you're getting paid to help create a safer neighborhood, you got to make sure your kid don't raise all the hell that they normally raise because now it's tied directly to your purse strength. You let parents police their communities and things will change. In seven years on that corner, we've only called the police twice and neither time was because we actually needed them for anything we couldn't handle on that block.

The idea is basically, you don't have to come here if we don't call you. You don't have to patrol. We don't need you driving up and down the street. We don't need any of that. If we don't call you, you don't come here. Don't come because you tend to make situations worse when you show up. If we do not call you, don't you come over here. If it's something like there's a gas leak or something like that, sure there are things that we can agree upon, you need to call police when these things happen fine, but if it's a domestic disturbance or something like that, it's two kids fighting on a corner, it's baby mamas got into it, let the community handle those things.

If we need anything more than that, we'll call you, but it would save a ton of money on all of this wrongful death, and those lawsuits, the abuse lawsuits that the police are slapped with every year. It would keep people alive because hey, you aren't here to accidentally shoot anybody 16 times. You know what I mean? We don't need that many police. You need to deputize the people in the community to do this. Pay them to do it, give them a stipend. You don't have to pay them what you pay police, but pay them something because it's more than what they have now.

If they're getting something, they are going to be the ones to tell you because people will talk to their parents and other people in the community before they will the police. The streets talk, people always know who's doing what. The police are the ones who claim to never know nothing.

Dame: [laughs] They do claim that a lot.

Tamar: They never know. They know nothing.

Dame: They don't know shit. I'm very excited to be at this point in the conversation because this is what I wanted to get to. Just to be transparent, I, we, the show, a lot of probably the community closely connected to the show, we are the "defund the police" people. I'm excited to have this more practical conversation because I'm hearing much more agreements than I think people perceive.

The notion of one, just to give a little bit of language history, the word "defund police" became a chant, like Twitter shorthand for a longer conversation of divest and invest. What you are describing is the investment into a public community infrastructure for the type of presence that your space has embodied and already made real. Also, I think a thing that you articulated that people don't hear when they get afraid of notions of abolition or defund is that no one is saying, "Abolish 911," or no one is saying, "Get rid of emergency response." What we are saying is that a militarized carceral gang is actually not an effective response.

What you're articulating is that it's a counterproductive response. In the short term of the actual cop that comes is not prepared to do any things, and usually doesn't care. The idea that the government can herald somebody to be superhuman, they're different than every other human being that exists, but then also on a macro level, the idea of, we are going to rile up and incarcerate those who we blame for violence by the tens of thousands year and year and year, generation after generation, collectively actually brings more violence and more disruptive relationships and fractured communities.

Tamar: It definitely does, absolutely.

Dame: I'm so excited because a lot of times there's not enough space for people who are responding directly to be in conversation with people who are trying to have these big-picture ideas. I want to get into the organization of it a little bit because I feel like that's what we miss.

Tamar: Like you said, this is an experiment. This is actually an experiment. I call it corner of the lab all the time. It's an experiment.

Dame: Yes, what's what we say. We're hopping in the lab. That's exactly what I say.

Tamar: In the lab. It's like what works and what doesn't work. We wanted to start getting different programs like pilot programs in the local elementary school, local CPS school, but they really gave us a lot of pushback for that. We built our own school out of shipping containers. We built these classrooms and we put them on the corner so we have our own school.

In this school, you can teach whatever you want to teach, we can teach anything we want to teach. My idea has always been, I don't think that gun violence is something you can legislate your way all the time. You got to educate your way out of it. We talk to three-year-olds about guns. We talk to them about, "What do you do when you get mad? You can't pick up a gun." We actually had these conversations.

Think about it. Kids were getting pregnant so they put sex ed in high schools. It was driving fatalities so we got drivers ed. If we're going to have all of these guns, if everybody's going to get a gun, you get a gun, you get a gun, you get a gun, you're going to have to start talking about it in classrooms because you cannot take for granted that every parent at home is having the same talk with their kid, just like you couldn't take for granted that all parents were teaching their kids to drive the same way or all parents were talking about sex with their kids.

It's one of those things you got to teach everybody across the board about this because it's so many of them. It's concealed carry, people have three and four guns, there are guns that look like toys, all sorts of stuff now. Parents can say, "Hey, you know what? My kid won't ever touch a gun and they know better." No, they don't. They don't know better. I've actually went on a hunt for officer friendlies who come and teach these three and five-year-olds about it, to begin to mend the relationship between the community and the police.

Kiss: How did that hunt go?

Tamar: Yes, I'm still hunting.

Kiss: [laughs]

Dame: I want to go back to the class.

Tamar: You're like, "Okay-"

Dame: No, no, no.

Tamar: You're like, "That's enough. That's enough."

Dame: That's not enough. No, that's not enough. I want to put a pin in the class session with the three or four-year-olds but the relationship part with police, it feels like it gives them a lot of faith that I don't think they deserve when I hear that conversation.

Tamar: That's why I'm hunting because I've talked to a lot of police, but you can't find one who's going to say, "You know what? I'm interested in being a part of that because I do feel like we need to work on that relationship, the relationship that we have with the people. I think the story is that I can't find one that's willing to do that." They don't think that way. There is a dysfunction that exists within the police department. They need to hug each other or do something. It's just all bad. They need to fix-

Kiss: It's appealing work.

Tamar: They need to fix what's going on internally before they can have a relationship with the community. It's like, get yourself right before you get in a relationship with somebody and ruin their life.

Dame: From genuine curiosity, do you think that's possible? I honestly don't think that they have the current or historical capacity to do that.

Tamar: Let me tell you a couple things real quick. My uncle was shot by a police officer when he was 14 in the back. He died from those injuries. This was in the 1950s. When 15 people were shot at that funeral on 79th, I was the one who went and told the police that they needed to be there, that there was going to be violence, and that we really needed some protection there because it was going to be really bad and they did not show up. The mayor and the superintendent got on television and said they didn't have any credible tips. That's what they said.

Kiss: Which is, one, a lie, but, two, such an insult to your face too.

Tamar: How fucking dare you? What that is, is a civil rights violation. That's the way that I see it. If Black people want to tell somebody, if you say, "See something, say something," and somebody says something and you still don't do anything, then other people get shot, then something's wrong, you don't actually mean that. The thing is that it happens with so many Black people because this culture exists within the police department and just with policing period, this relationship we have, you actually put our lives in danger because we can't come and tell you when something is going on or something's going to happen. Nobody else. That doesn't happen to anybody else but us.

If I came and I actually told you that this was going to happen before it happened and you still didn't show up and 15 people got shot, tell me how that is not a violation of my civil rights and the civil rights of all of those people that were out there.

Dame: I agree.

Tamar: That happens consistently. Young people will tell me in a minute, exactly what's going on, who did what, but then it's like, "Now, who do I tell?" Because they aren't going to do anything. What people don't get when they see the news, they see a shooting on the news, they see somebody got murdered, they are seeing the beginning of a story that they're going to see again in six months, and they're seeing the ending of a story that started six months ago.

Six months ago, there was a murder. Now, tonight you see somebody else got shot. Chances are that person that you see on the news is the person that killed that other person six months ago. There's a whole lot of stuff that happens in between. In those six months, it's a lot of different things that happen. Just as I know that, I see it, the police do too, and they don't do anything to stop it in that six months. It's almost like a slow moving train wreck. You see it coming and it's nothing you can do to stop it because, hey, I'm not the police.

Kiss: To that point, I think sometimes for people who aren't in the mix, with feet on the ground in the same way, there's the sense of, "Oh, you're doing this, 'anti-violence work'. If they can't do it, here's this opportunity to step in." What gets lost I think, in that is this idea of scale. Dame, you mentioned this a couple episodes ago, and it's really shifted my thinking, is this idea of finite abundance of-- Maybe you should explain, it's your idea. I'm not going to quote it, but it seems relevant here.

Dame: The notion of scarcity is not real. Scarcity is this projected thing. The world, humanity produces more than enough to meet our needs, but at any given time and space, those resources are also finite. It's not infinite. It's not forever. We have capacity issues. There may be distribution issues. Maybe there are more people with more free time that are on the north side that don't give a shit.

There is enough abundance, but maybe on Saturday on 75th street, there's only three mothers, and they have actual children that they have to deal with in addition to raising the community's kids. We're in this tension and contradiction of, we have to believe in our capacity, we have to believe that more is possible, that we can do more, but we also have to deal with the reality that lack is real.

Tamar: You're limited. That you are still limited. Absolutely.

Kiss: I'm wondering how that, in the years of doing this work, moves from being people sitting on a corner to building a school, to all of the different things you've built in that space, how your understanding of lack and abundance and what you can give, and what is too much, has shifted because it seems like the lessons that I could imagine learning in practice over time.

Tamar: Sometimes it's three of us. Sometimes it's 30 of us. Like you said, it's on the days when you can make it. It's always going to be at least one of us though, somebody from somewhere, and it's not just Inglewood, and it's not just Grand Crossing. It's everywhere. We have people come from Skokie, Winnetka, Wisconsin, just to come and sit on a corner.

Me personally, I need everybody to feel like everything is everybody's problem. You need to care about what happens to me on the South Side because if you don't care, eventually it becomes your problem too. Somebody said that's a scare tactic. It's not a scare tactic. It's real life. People will call and say, "Well, how do you feel about all of the people, all of these kids getting shot? Why are so many kids getting shot?" Because when the shooters shot adults, you didn't care then. You got to care about all of it because eventually it has a way of getting back around to you.

Dame: I think another time where people have been taught not to care is the classification of gang versus innocent, that we care when there's an innocent victim but if somebody was "in a gang" which they may or may not have identified as such, then it's normal or deserve it or not even discussed often. That's just part of the statistics of the reality.

Tamar: What even is innocent? Who gets to tell the story of who's innocent and who's not? Who gets to say that? Sitting on that corner, I swear to you, when I first started, I honestly thought, "Okay, police aren't lying all the time." I feel bad I'm even saying that now, but when I got there, when I actually got out there, the first day I was there, police pulled up and they said, "Hey, have you seen anything? Have you met such and such yet? He's supposed to be the one that's calling it around here. He's the boss."

I'm like, "Why are you even talking to me right now?" I said, "I'm here to do community policing and that means that sometimes the community has to police the police. Right now you might be going a little bit too far." Pulled off. Our relationship went downhill after that. That was the first day and that was seven years ago.

Kiss: The fragility of that.

Tamar: Before I even meet any of these kids, you tell me about which ones are the ones that you should watch out for, and when I met them, it's like, "Nope, there's a story here. Now, I understand. Now, I get it." What happens when you become one of those kids, when the police start to see you as a part of them? Because that eventually happens too.

Dame: Say more about that.

Tamar: You can't really criminalize a white woman from Highland Park, but you want to do it. When they're out there with us, you want to do it. If I'm there and you want to come and do your Training Day thing, but you can't do that because I'm sitting there watching you, and I have a video camera. Everybody here, even the five-year-olds, everybody has taken out their phones and everybody's making a video about this, it's not them that you worry about. You worry about me more than you worry about them. It was like, "You protect us. They can't make those arrests when you're here."

My thing is, I'm not interfering. If this is a clean arrest, go ahead and take them. If they did something, go ahead and take them, but you better make sure every "t" is crossed and every "i" is dotted because we're watching everything. Rather than go through all of the drama of trying to take people to jail while all of these mothers are outside and all of these women are saying, "He didn't do anything. He's just over here, blah, blah, blah," they just stopped.

Then it be came almost an intimidation thing with me and the police. They wanted to chase us off of the corner because you can't go back to business as usual, as long as somebody is watching you. We're watching you. You're watching them and we're watching you. I did a radio show one time and somebody called in and said, "Well, we hear that you give cover to the gang bangers." I said, "Well, are they shooting people? If nobody's getting shot, I think we should all give cover to the gang bangers." [laughter]

Kiss: The problem is people -

Tamar: Honestly, who's to say they're a gang banger? Who says they're gang bangers? Do they carry a card? Are they carrying members? Do they pay dues? How do you know they're in a gang? Who says who's in a gang? Gangs don't even exist anymore the way that they once did. Just the idea of, "We got to get the gangs," what gangs? Which gang?

Kiss: It's unlike 1940s Al Capone framing, this movie cowboy shit.

Dame: I would say it's like the 21st-century war on terror. It's like the way they talk about terrorist over there. There's a gathering, that's a wedding and it's not like-

Tamar: Do the terrorist carry a card? Do I have a terrorist card? Did I register?

Dame: You were registered just a little bit.

Kiss: That's how they try to do it.

Dame: There was the gang registry that criminalizes people by the thousands.

Tamar: I don't like the word "activist"-

Dame: Me neither.

Tamar: -because activist means that people don't do anything because they're waiting on an activist to show up. No, no, no. We should all be active in what goes on around us. This should activate all of us. There's no activist training school. There's no activist college. You don't go and take activist 101. That doesn't happen. There are these things that don't exist and you see these labels that we have that don't even exist, really. People depend on that too much.

An activist, "Hey, I'm going to go head and I'm going to vote for this activist for whatever office he's running for because he's an activist." No, he's not. He's a dude that went and stood out in front of Walgreen's one day and protested with a bunch of other activists, with a bunch of other people who were activists, and they were activists, right?

Kiss: Then run for office. Right/

Tamar: Same thing with gangs. Mark Kirk, the senator was on the block one day and Mark Kirk said, "Well, you know what gang controls it around here. What gang is dominant? Who's in control?" I honestly looked around and I said, "Well, I think we're the gang. We got a corner, we got colors. It might be us."

Dame: "We got this block on lock." [laughter]

Tamar: That's when we started calling ourselves the Gang for Good.

Dame: A lot of subversion.

Tamar: You want to label people so bad but there's no way to do that. The way that you once knew gangs that's not who gangs are anymore. Gangs don't really even exist.

Dame: Can you actually break that down for people that might be new, that gangs don't exist?

Tamar: Gangs are the monster under the bed. Gangs are who you need to blame for everything, but the thing is gangs don't exist anymore. It might be blocks. It might be little cliques. All of these little boys are all different things. Some can be DDs, some can be GDs, and they all hang out together because when you close the projects down and everybody just moved everywhere that's what ended up happening.

There weren't all of these defined boundaries anymore. It's not like that. Now you have cliques. You might have one block that's literally into it with the next block because it's not these big monolithic groups anymore. It's not like that. If they talk about, they're going to get the gang bangers, well, you can't get a gang banger if they don't actually exist. They're not there. That's not a thing anymore.

Dame: You're basically just saying "Black young people," is what you're saying?

Tamar: Exactly. You think about this whole RICO Act thing and the way the RICO Act works in Chicago, and it's souped up from the one in New York. You can't even really hang out with people. Nobody is going to say they're a gang leader because guess what? you're responsible for all of the murders that they say this gang committed. There are no leaders and there are no gangs. Things are happening, but it's not really about that, and I don't think they get it.

Dame: The streets have been intentionally disorganized.

Tamar: It's chaos.

Dame: It's fractured. I want to hone in a little bit on the organizing because not only are you just brilliant and saying wonderful things, but you're also giving us a narrative of robust, holistic, 360 multidimensional organizing. You've discussed cop watching, you've discussed mutual aid and meals, you've discussed childcare, you've discussed education of things that you-

Tamar: You make it sound so good.

Dame: It is that good.

Kiss: You did it.

Tamar: You make me sound so smart. Thank you.

Dame: [chuckles] They can say I fly all the time. I'll come-

Tamar: Thank you.

Dame: We're going to post up. We're going to link. In having some experience of doing those things spread out and having a few weeks or a few months of trying to do all those things at once, I have real respect and maybe trauma about how difficult it really is to organize people anywhere, specifically around the oppression of Black people, the lack of resources in our city, and white supremacy and policing and militaries. It's the biggest shit in the world. Everybody has a million other things going on besides this. We're dealing with the pandemic. We're dealing with all the comorbidities that existed before the pandemic that people are already struggling with.

We're seven years in and you still got people on the corner every day. What have you learned, or what can you say about that level of organizing coordination, commitment, consistency, system and structure building? Because I think people all over the city, country, and world should be doing what you do, and I think people want to see more of what you do, but actually, even if they tried, couldn't without some of the mechanism skills, tactics, that you have to develop on the fly and through real experience.

Tamar: Honestly, it takes audacity.

Dame: It does, and you got some of that. [laughs]

Tamar: You don't know how many times I have went to the block fully prepared with sweats on in the summer because I'm fully prepared to go to jail that day, but I got to make sure these kids eat lunch, that they get some food. I might go to jail for that but these kids are going to eat today. People are like, "Well, why are you doing this? Why do you keep doing this? It's going to get you in trouble." Hey, if I didn't do it, something else would get me in trouble. I'm Black in America. Trouble is always with me, it's always right behind me. I would rather go down fighting a good fight than not.

You have to have the nerve for it and you have to be honest enough. I tell people all the time, be honest with yourself about how much you commit to it. You might not want to show up, you might not want to come out there, you might be scared, but you might want to be the one who will drop off food to people who are out there. You'll drop off books to the people who are out there. You'll do fund rasing to support the people who do sit out there.

I think that everybody really just needs to be honest about the level of commitment they want to make to organizing, to changing the world because everybody is not on the same page. Everybody is not going to want to do the same thing, and there's a place in this for everybody.

During the pandemic, when we opened our classrooms because we are in the neighborhood full of terribly, horribly paid essential workers, they had a choice of, "I'm going to either leave my three-year-old and my five-year-old at home with my seven-year-old while I go to work or I'm going to not go to work and lose my job so I can stay at home with my kids." That's an impossible choice. We did a thing, you bring your kids to us every day. March 20th, when the world shut down, we opened up, We have kids every day. We're helping them with their remote learning, we are feeding them, we're doing all of these things from nine to five every day.

Then online, we had an online study buddy component where people from all over the world signed up to help tutor kids who were doing remote learning during the pandemic. Now, some of those people, they wouldn't want to come necessarily to the block and help out, but they were still helping. There was still a way for them help. I think it's about getting creative with the ways that we can help out. How simple honestly is it?

I did an interview with The New York Times one time and I'm telling you, it took me probably about two hours over four phone calls to explain to this reporter what I was saying. I went to the corner, I had a lawn chair. I put it on the corner, I sat in it. My friends had lawn chairs too and we had on pink t-shirts. It was sunny and 85 and we sat on the corner. "The shooting just stopped?" "Yes, that's what happened."

Oh, let me not forget. We fired up a barbecue grill because teenagers are always broke and starving. "Are you really saying food and lawn chairs stop violence?" "That's what I'm saying." "Well, how did you do it?" "I'm saying I went and sat on the corner." It has to be harder than this. It has to be something I'm missing.

Kiss: There has to be strategic planning and a grant and all.

Tamar: "Can you draw a diagram of what you did?"

Kiss: "How were the chairs arranged? Was it a semi-circle?"

Tamar: - a lawn chair, right?" "Exactly. You can't believe it's that simple, so simple that anybody can do it. It doesn't take a degree to do this. I didn't go to activist school." "Well, where'd you learn how to do this?" "Somebody had to raise me. My grandmother and my aunts, and my mother, this is what they did."

Dame: Talk a little bit more about that.

Kiss: Can we talk about that lineage a little bit?

Dame: Can we shout out your lineage of-

Tamar: Oh, that I was raised, that somebody raised me? I know that may seem like I was suckled by wolves. I get it.

Kiss: [laughs] Raised by wolves in that situation. No, the fact of the family is not the point, but part of what we want to do here is to make space to celebrate that lineage.

Tamar: I got everything from my family. If it wasn't for the way that I was raised, I would not be doing what I'm doing right now. I wouldn't have the nerves to do it. I wouldn't even understand that it was important and I wouldn't have enough compassion for others to even do it. Another thing that's very important to me that has to do with family is genealogy. The idea of understanding not just where you came from but from whom is very important to me.

There was a study done in Chicago in the 80s. They said 70% of the Black people on the South Side of Chicago are related. 70%. I'm like, "Oh my God, I can never have another boyfriend ever again." [laughter]

Tamar: It was like, "Are you serious?"

Kiss: "I'm going to have to go out West for love. That's what's about to happen."

Tamar: Right. They all came from the same places down south. I never let that go, and I've really been doing genealogy for years and years and years. I'm super deep in it, back-to-the-boats in it, deep. I do family trees for other people, for my friends and stuff like that because it's what I love to do, and you would be surprised how many Black folks are related that don't know it. The question for me is not who you're dating, it's who are you killing. I'm going to do a thing on the block with the kids, where I'm going to actually do a genealogy project with them, to show them how they are connected. What if, before you shoot somebody, do you think about if this is your blood or not? What if this is your cousin? Would that give you a cause for pause? Just for a second. Because so many of them are kins to each other and they don't even know it.

That's so tragic to me. That's another reason I'm really pissed off about being Black in America right now but I digress. I grew up in a house with almost my entire family and my grandmother was still alive and my grandmother was like the Big Momma, that kind of thing. I grew up with my whole family. I wasn't at home alone until I was 13 years old. I was never home alone not once until I was 13. Who leaves 13-year-olds at home alone. Oh, my God.

Kiss: You're like I've dedicated my life to keeping an eye on 13-year-olds ever since. [laughter]

Tamar: Exactly.

Kiss: Don't go through what I went through.

Tamar: That's exactly how it went. Like, oh, no. I went to Jewish Day School and I live in Englewood but I went to school in Hyde Park. One side of Washington Park versus the other side's two completely different worlds. It is the tale of two Chicagos. For the kids in my Jewish Day School, I represented pretty much every Black person because they don't live on the south side. They go to school on the south side, but they live on the North Shore. I became the embodiment of every Black person.

This is who Black people are, so I had to be smart. I had to be this I had to be that. I had to be a lot of different things but when I went home, I was a Jew. Imagine being a Jew in Englewood. Do you know how many times this one lady told me one day, "Stop saying you're a Jew. Jews killed Jesus and Jesus freed slaves." I was like, "Were you there?"

Kiss: That's a big jump. [laughter]

That's an Olympic-level long jump there to conclusions.

Tamar: It was insane and I was seven years old.

Kiss: That was just a wild thing to say to a child.

Tamar: No, you know what? It used to be crazy like that. The worst thing in the world is for a kid to come to your house and reject your food. I was four and I would be like, "This isn't kosher. I can't have this," at another kid's birthday party. It's like, "Well, what do we feed you? This is all we have." "I want to go home. Call my mama, I want to go home." People sometimes really take that the wrong way. They are really offended when a child says, "I can't eat this it doesn't have a K or OU." No one said that but it was like that for me. I was different.

The first kind of indicator of that for me was I couldn't eat what everybody else ate. It became the difference in the way that I saw what was going on around me because every day I didn't go to a neighborhood school. I was to Hyde Park every day. I used to see Harold Washington go to work every day. Do you know what a tool of empowerment that is for a Black kid? You go to a school and you're one of the only ones that's Black in your school. Then you watch the first Black mayor Chicago go to work every day.

Oh, amazing for me, but Jews are very vocal people. They are vocal people.

Kiss: Some of them host parties.

Tamar: They're very vocal. I learned sometimes there's a level of hopelessness that I see in the Black community Jews just don't have. Growing up, I was able to identify problems but being a Jew at the same time, I always identify a solution. Not just do you find a solution, you have to find some way to work it, you have to do it. The Talmud says you have to do the work. You can't desist from it. You ain't got to finish it, but you can't desist from it either. This is what I grew up learning.

I see all of these problems that we have in the Black community and then being a Jew tells me okay, you have to go fix it. If you see the problem, you got to know you got to fix it.

Kiss: You got to repair the breach.

Tamar: You got to tikkun olam repair the world. Then you find yourself sitting on the corner of 75th Street for seven years. That's how this goes.

Kiss: That's how we - just like that. [laughs]

Tamar: Right. That's how it goes. It's like now I don't know if I wasn't Jewish, would I be motivated to do all of the things that I do now? Honestly, probably not. Judaism has a lot of rules. Yom Kippur is a real holiday. It's like God just let me make it another year. I promise I'm going to get it right. You're apologizing to people that you've wronged all year. I feel like I need to do stuff like this every day just to make up all the bullshit that I've done in my life and I continue to do on a daily basis. I got to do something good to balance it out, right?

This is what I do. Being a Jew and being Black and coming from where I've come from, I apply it differently but it always made me feel like I had to do something.

Kiss: There's a conversation for another show that I really want us to have around this what you said.

Dame: I know you're chopping at the bits. I just got to get this line there real quick. I just got to go back to the Jesus thing and then I want to throw it back to you. I know you got something for this but just the Jesus line that that lady told you when you were seven. First of all, I think we should just correct the record for fact-checkers out there.

Dame: First of all Jesus was killed by the cops. Secondly, slavery certainly could take - for a really really long time. Thirdly, the thing in that conversation and I'll be - up at this day, that just throws me off is Jesus was Jewish. Not only isn't that true.

Tamar: No, don't you say that.

Dame: I'm mistaken.

Kiss: No you're correct but they're not a fan.

Tamar: Oh, you better not tell that Jesus is a Jew.

Dame: Oh, don't tell the people that don't realize.

Tamar: You better not. You better not. Oh, you know what?

Dame: Even if that were to be true, he is Jewish. Let's just--

Tamar: You shut your mouth.

Dame: All right, I will shut my mouth and I'll pass the plate.

Tamar: That's really how that goes, though and it does lead to these conversations. I just became a rabbi in July and it took me 13 years to get there. I'm like, "Oh, me and Jesus got the same job."

Kiss: That's what I was about to say, feed the hungry clothe the poor, some of the best in 75th and stewardship.

Tamar: He was so typical, he was such a typical Jew. These are things that you cannot say, but it does really inspire my work but this spirit inside of me, and it is my ancestors'. People did extraordinary things to get me here. They lived extraordinary lives. They were strong people. We don't get to be the weakest link. We just don't. We don't. How much stuff they went through to get us here and now we ain't going to go through that. That don't make sense.

Kiss: I think there are lots of people that carry that but I do think that that was something that at least I won't speak for anyone else but for me was racist. You're a link in a chain, the chain has to continue the line has to be held.

Tamar: How do you teach anybody how to do it? How do you teach your kids how to do it if you don't do it? My grandmother, we lived in a small house and my whole family lived there but I swear to God. If it was anybody, even like whole families they didn't have anywhere to go, my grandmother would make room for them. It's already100 of us here. We don't have any more room. It would be like people in the bathtub, it would just be people everywhere but it was never an instance of we're doing bad ourselves so we can't help you.

No matter how bad we were doing. We're always doing better than somebody else. It's like, I'm always reminded of that I've never went hungry or broke trying to feed somebody else.

Dame: I want to defer Kiss before--

Tamar: You're going back to Jesus.

Dame: I'm not going back to Jesus. I just want to--

Tamar: [laughter]

Dame: She met Him.

Tamar: She dated Jesus. She knew him. I knew him.

Kiss: You mean Jesse.

Tamar: Exactly.

Dame: We call him Jesse. I know this is just your wheelhouse. I have something for it but I want to defer.

Kiss: Just one. Let me just say there is another conversation for another show that I hope we'll be able to have. That's more about these themes and the way that this presents.

Tamar: Please ask me about Whoopi Goldberg, please.

Dame: Have we now had two Whoopi references?

Kiss: I gave a little disclaimer aside but there's a project that we and I'm working on that I hope to talk with you for and as part of which is around Black liberation movement and American Jewishness that...

Tamar: Put me in coach.

Kiss: No, for sure, and I'll work with you and advisory council for that. That's another experiment that I need your help on.

Tamar: Put me in. I'm redefining it. I'm redefining what it means to be a Jew in America because it needs to be redefined.

Kiss: Absolutely. The working definitions are shaped by and supportive of white supremacy in ways that one, are violent to others, but also we're destroying the Jewish community from the inside out.

Tamar: I don't allow people to call me a Jew of color. Just really quickly. Me, my mother and my children are all three different races on our birth certificate. My mother is negro, I'm Black, and my kids were African-American on our birth certificates. Nobody asked me what I wanted on my kids' birth certificates, they just put it there. Anytime America has different ideas about race, they call us something different, and we never get to determine what we want to be called. We never get that. I don't recall voting for Black or African.

This is a label that somebody else gave me. Now it's Jew of color or person of color. I'm not of color, I'm Black. You know why I'm Black because that's what is on census records. During slavery, you were Black. America has an issue with Black people. They might be slightly be irritated by people of color, but they really have problems with Black people.

Dame: A specific focus.

Tamar: Exactly. Really, really have a problem with Black people. It's a whole different thing. Anytime you can call me a person of color, you don't have to deal with my blackness, you have to start dealing with Black and white, you have to start dealing with what happened there. When you call me a Jew of color, you have to call me a Black Jew. Because white Jews, you don't even really hear the word white. They're Ashkenazi, or they're Jews. For me, I'm Black, I'm a Black Jew, I need a qualifier of some sort.

You don't get to take Black out of it because you don't want to be white. You don't get to make yourself more comfortable by calling me a Jew of color. I tell them all the time, "You Castro, Latina, white America, when you got here, you shouldn't have did that." Because Black people and Anglos already had a whole thing going on before you even got here.

Dame: There was something happening.

Tamar: You got involved in it because you became white, and you got involved in it, and then what ended up happening is now their fears are your fears, when in reality, it has nothing to do with you. Now, you have Nazis mobilizing in Florida, and you have people marching around in Charleston saying, "Jews will not replace us." There's a lot going on with the definition of Black and white and of color. How white are you if white people want to kill you?

Kiss: There's this, I heard someone recently define as the difference between privilege and power, you can have access to the benefits of white supremacy, without having the power to determine what white supremacy does. That I think is a pretty accurate breakdown of that.

Dame: Sucrose.

Kiss: This is the conversation. This is a different podcast, but I'm glad it happened in this one. I want to just to bring this back to the work of this experiment. Part of this metaphor of this experiment has the connotations of the cold, hard facts of science. What we're getting at now are some of the ways that faith practice, spiritual practice, the structures of faith shape your work, and other people's work in this experiment. I'm curious for you, when the reporter asks, there has to be something else other than arranging the chairs, and lighting a barbecue.

At its baseline, that is all it is. As you've done that, over this year, is what has that informed for you and your sense of what happens in between those chairs, and in the air above the barbecue and the sacred space that you're creating.

Tamar: Trust, it's all about trust. We don't trust each other anymore. We have to get back to trusting each other. People ask me, "Hey, do you have a gun? Do you take a gun with you? Do you wear a bulletproof vest?" Absolutely not. It's 100 fucking degrees in Chicago. I would die. Are you serious? I don't even wear shoes, and you asking me if I wear a bulletproof vest? No, I don't. The thing is, sometimes we don't give each other the credit that we deserve. We've become afraid of each other. I don't want to believe that some other mother's son is an animal.

They just kill moms with impunity, because that's just who they are now. I don't want to believe that. I want to believe that everybody tried to raise their kids, they did the best they could just like I did until I learn otherwise. I'm going into it with that belief. That if I talk to this boy the way that I talk to my son, I'm not going to get the same reaction. Some people won't even say it, they won't even make the demand because, "I'm too afraid to." Why? Why are you so afraid? Who made you this so scared of your own kids? Who made you this afraid of your own people?

You're watching too much in the news. Somebody somewhere right now is scared of your kids like you're scared of theirs. You're saying, "Hey, my kids aren't into that. I got a good kid." You think we don't all think we got good kids? You think everybody is just like, "My son's a piece of shit?" No. People don't do that. Everybody believes that they have a good kid because we all want to believe we were the best parents that we can be. We did the best we could. I can't treat you as if your mother was a bad mother, as if you don't know anything, and I'm the only one that's enlightened.

I don't behave that way. I trust you not to murder me. That's what I do. You trust me to not turn you in to the police. You see what I'm saying?

Kiss: That's the foundation you can build from.

Dame: What you're describing is like mothering in this larger sense, right? Because I think that's even part of the problem with the way we individualize our notions of nurturing? The idea that one person or two people are the sole responsibility of all of how you turn out, The ratio of the proverbial village, that people are communally and societally conditioned to be the people that they are.

Tamar: Mothering as a verb. When people say, they'll call me in the summer and be like, "Hey, what you doing?" "I'm a mommy. I'm on the block mommy. That's what we are, that's what we're doing.

Dame: It's everybody's responsibility to step up to that mothering plate, it's not just women's responsibility?

Tamar: No. Everybody, the whole community has to do this. People can say, "Hey, it takes a village to raise a child," but then they can say, "I don't want to be bothered with nobody else's kids. Everybody needs to figure out what they going to do with their kids." No.

Dame: If the parents are at home would just da, da, da, da.

Tamar: Exactly. You can't talk about this whole village thing if you don't believe in it.

Dame: Also, that came from the news, too. This is some Reaganism, Clintonism, neoliberalism of welfare mother queens are the problem of society.

Tamar: Single mums are ruining in the world. It's like you have to get out here sometimes-- I've learned some kids, because of this system, do you know how many mothers are locked up now?

Dame: Black women is the fastest-growing population of incarcerated.

Tamar: They're taking us out. Sometimes you are going to run across a couple of kids that don't even know how to be kids because they never had a parent. You have to teach them how to be a kid, you have to make them feel secure. You have to make them feel like you care for them, you love them. You have to give them all of the things that they've never had. We never think about it like that. There are a people who don't have kids, but there are kids who don't have parents, and it's our job to be there for those kids.

Dame: I think I have one last thread that I feel everything you said really goes into, one,-- I'll be talking a lot, so I'm going to try to make it make sense.

Tamar: Just go ahead.

Dame: I'm going to do it. I'm one moved by this last notion of the collective, nurturing, and mothering. I'm also really moved by your personal experience that shaped how you do this work of living at this unique intersection. How also this faith lineage that has these notions of accountability and responsibility, prompt you into the work. I also think about the education you say that you're doing. Basically, the teaching of we all cousins and what does that mean? Or the teaching with the three to four-year-olds to start the conversation around guns.

All of this is absorbed in the end. What I'm thinking about is the notion of transformation, and where you see that. I think we can simplify that if we just had enough food, or if everybody just had a house, it would all stop. There's some truth to that, a big portion of it would go down, but there also is a way that I think we have to be real about the fact that our people are, one, just people, and people are contradictory. Two, our people are growing up in a violent society, and particularly in a violent environment where they don't have enough and that gets internalized.

At the biggest level, our state says, when somebody does something wrong, what we do is have punitive retribution, justice or the making right is to retaliate. To start this conversation to bring it full circle, you said the cycle begins with this notion of retaliation. I'm curious, in these circles, in these classes with young people, and even talking to parents, because a lot of parents say, "If somebody hits you, hit them back." That is very normalized.

Tamar: That's when it starts.

Dame: Where do you see the actual transformation about being restorative, around having these trust-based relationships where retribution, retaliation is not the actual philosophy that we're internalizing and perpetuating from our space-based off all this work that you're doing?

Tamar: That was a giant question.

Dame: You said, "Go ahead."

Tamar: It's okay.

Dame: Transformation is what I'm really asking.

Tamar: I feel like transformation starts when there's less hopelessness. When we see small things start to work, then we can tackle bigger things. When we were on the block, and we got a lot that we're at now. People were like, "Oh, no, it's no way they're ever going to give you that vacant lot. You're never going to be able to get it. They're never going to give it to you." It's a vacant lot. It's worth $12, but even a vacant lot was a lofty goal. When we got it, it was a victory. Because we got this filthy vacant lot.

It was like for once we actually got something that we want. When we vote, we don't get what we want. We never get what we want but we did this time. Then when we did that, the question was okay, now what do we want? What do we want next? Let's go for the next thing but what is it? Sometimes we just have to start with those small victories to restore hope because I feel like we don't have a lot of hope. It's like people are just here, just waiting to not be here anymore. I tell people all the time, these kids aren't homicidal, they're suicidal. Now, there's a difference.

What is there to live for? You've given them nothing to live for. They don't have the courage to just step in front of a train or something like that so, "I'm going to go kill somebody on life. I know that their people are going to come and kill me. I know that they are. That's the plan all along, for them to come and get me and now all of this will be over." There is a hopelessness that you cannot imagine. When I see it, it's just like, "Oh, my God, first things first. We got to work on this." I think small victories, small changes, you got to start somewhere.

I appreciate you guys giving me this platform and inviting me to be here because this is where it starts. More people hear about this, the more we're talking about it. It's changing the conversation. It might inspire somebody to start something like this on their blog, start doing this with kids on their blog, or something like that. I don't know, but at least it's out there now, more people know about it and they know it's easy.

Kiss: Some chairs in a barbecue.

Tamar: Yes, that's it.

Kiss: Everybody eats together.

Dame: To that point as a closing to be very tangible, because one, people could just do it but then I think there's also a power but also potential chaos in linking up. If somebody said, "I got a lawn chair and a grill and some time. I'm down." Is there a space of partnership of learning, of mutual exchange?

Tamar: Oh, yes, I'll be right there with you. The idea is, I'm not everywhere, I'm not Superwoman.

Dame: You're kind of. You're pretty close.

Tamar: I'm not Superwoman.

Dame: You're a great woman there. You're some woman.

Tamar: I'll be that, at least just let me be a woman. I'm good with that.

Kiss: Yes, exactly.

Tamar: I feel like sometimes people, it's like, "Oh, if they're doing this, or they're doing that, then why are things getting worse?" Because they are doing it, you're not doing it. All of us have to do it. Everybody has to do it. You can't look at the work that other people are doing and say, "Hey, you know what? That's not working." No, it's not enough people doing it, that's why it looks like it's not working. It's working for a few people because this is a great big city. This is a great big country we live in, it takes all of us to make real change.

Kiss: The finite abundance thing.

Tamar: Yes. I can show you how to do this. I'm not going to come and do it for you, but I can show you how to do it. That's what I think we need in this thing. We just need more nosy parents. [laughter]

Tamar: That's what this all boils down to.

Kiss: Sounds beautiful.

Dame: That's so beautiful. That was my last question. I just have one more thing I want to offer you. One, thank you so much for this time, and this conversation. I'm really honored and grateful. I'm really honored and grateful to be able to commune with you and sit and learn from you and hear from you. Also, before this conversation, your work and your impact has been so felt by people that you've never met, they've never even come to your blog.

Tamar: Oh, thank you.

Dame: Personally, I was joking, but have been in part of this movement to talk about, we need to transform the society. Actually, this institution is not apt, but it's actually hurting and is making it worse. We need to talk about how we get to something else. Then trying to have that very difficult, very heady conversation with people for years now. You have been the example to be able to teach, to be able to be in community, to be able to talk to people. Our show, ourselves, we were a part of effort in 2016, I don't know if you heard of called Freedom Square.

Tamar: Yes, I head it.

Dame: Yes, so that was us. Across the street from a CPD torture facility, and as we're out there, 24 hours a day, not knowing what we're doing.

Kiss: Sitting in lounge chairs -

Tamar: You had lounge chairs too, I would have brought you a barbecue grill.

Dame: We had plenty of grills. The grill is what we had. It was other things that we were missing, like toilets. [laughs]

Tamar: I have some camping toilets I -

Dame: Oh, okay, I see you're prepared. As we're sitting there doing something that felt new, it felt theoretical. Never having met you before, you were an example. That work changed my life. I know it affected a lot of people in our movement and in our community. This is a conversation that I'm really honored to have because a lot of times, there's a divide, I think, or not a divide, but a space, the void of this real-life work that is as important as I think anything happening in our country right now.

I just have deep reverence, appreciation, and I am certain that your work is going to affect generations long beyond our lifetimes. You are a special gift and treasure to our city and world. Yes, I can't say enough how much honor and how much appreciation I have for you, in this time, and your work at large.

Tamar: Thank you. You invite me and I'll come back. I promise...

Dame: Oh, yes, I know that. Now you're linked in. Now we've got the e-mail, it's over with.

Kiss: Thank you so much for your brilliance and your time and your generosity. How can folks find you and your work in the ways you want to be found?

Tamar: Oh, www.ontheblock.org is the website. Or you can find us in MASK Chicago on Facebook, we're always on there doing something. There are ways to get in touch with us. Pretty much everybody in the city of Chicago has my phone number so there's a lot of ways to get in touch with me.

Kiss: Tamar, thank you again.

Tamar: Thanks, guys. Anything else you need, just give me a call. I'm always down to talk.

Dame: For sure, we appreciate you.


Kiss: Folks, the one and only Tamar Manasseh. All right, are we ready to get to it, rating for this peer review? I have my papers.


Kiss: Eva, are you back with us.

Eva: I'm back with you. I don't have my papers but I'm here.

Kiss: For those listening at home, Damon's been leaning into radical newscaster mode over the last couple of episodes. It has this investigative reporter like, "You said on February 22--" Eva, as we head into this peer review, what jumped out to you from the conversation.

Eva: You all know I loved it when Tamar gave the recipe for MASK. One of those ingredients was audacity. I think, through this interview, Tamar's commitment, love, care, and audacity just really shine through. There's this idea that in order to tackle something as large as say gun violence, that we need to come up with the perfect solution, the plans, the blueprint. We need to test it, we need to put it in the lab in this very particular way. When Tamar shows us that you can simply start by starting now.

I think that there are these elements that are so important this element of trust. Tamar says, "I trust you not to murder me, and you trust me not to turn you in to the police." What we learned from these experiments is that somebody started this by going outside and doing something.

Kiss: I love that distillation of it down to trust. Especially in a conversation where we got into some of the subtleties and differences and contradictions of conversations around what does it mean to identify as a capital abolitionist. Or, as she put it, be part of the defund people. At its core, that idea of I trust you not to harm me, and you trust me that if I do harm you, you won't punish me through the carceral state. Feels like what we're advocating for and what abolition is fighting for at its core. Regardless of what label people identify with, that is the tools for transformation felt so distilled and clear in a way.

That I think a lot of people who spend a lot of time tweeting and talking about abolition could actually really learn from.

Dame: I think that trust, and then this discourse thread, really is getting to, "You'll know me, I love to make it matter." For those who are just tuning in, not only are we trying to talk to these experiments, but we are trying to experiment in ourselves and making this new world more possible. One of the things we need to build the muscle in is dialogue and discourse and idea-sharing, where it's not homogeneous. We have built a lot of practice of talking to and within our movement and talking to people to bring them into movement.

How do we actually have generative collaborative cooperative conversations with folks that may not be ideologically aligned when their practice and politics are actually much more congruent with the world that we're trying to build? The moments around like naming herself as not a defund person or using vocabulary that I think the ideologically staunch would to turn their nose at. For example, in abolitionist space, the notion of community policing has become full pot and with good analysis. We don't want to replicate and recreate.

That formula will be co-opted by the state and just become policing in a different form. If you listen to what she was saying when she was using the language of community policing, it wasn't what I think a young Instagram, or abolitionist chic person might think of when they hear that. What she was saying was our community policing is cop watching. Our community policing is the community actually protecting ourselves and monitoring the action of the militarized police.

Just like that as a lesson of the nuggets, the nuance, the complexity that comes from just even these types of dialogues and creating channels for this type of exchange in experienced terminology practices, I think gets us closer to be able to talk to all people because. The truth is most of the people that we're going to have to talk to are not going to be involved in movement politics and like the local Ella Baker style community organizing even if that would be the dream of the world that we want.

It was just really exciting, particularly, for a Chicago-based conversation. We brought it back to the crib to be talking about the real local elements of the community of the south side of 75th street of Englewood towards these theoretical frameworks that we're trying to establish to transform the world.

Kiss: Yes. I feel like we both really got in our bag, you got in your 75th steward bag and I got in my rabbi bag and it was just like this is a-- I don't know if anyone will want to listen to this, but what a joy for the two of us to have. Anything else that stuck out to you or things you've been thinking about after hearing the conversation.

Eva: I just feel like so much of Tamar's practice really speaks to a lot of what interrupting criminalization and project need work towards. Which is that there is a place for everyone in this work and like Damon says, we're not all going to approach it with the same ideas or even end game. Right here, right now, when you are feeling unsafe on your block, you are in this together with your neighbors. That's just the reality of the situation. I think so much of what MASK demonstrates is that you can find places for people in that work and you can grow stronger for it.

Not only are we in this doing it together, but we are in this together. My welfare is your welfare is the community, the town, the city of the Earth's welfare. That sense of belonging and community, a bigger "we". That sense of collectivity is something that I think really hits home at interrupting criminalization and what we do and trying to find space for all of us to move forward together.

Dame: No, that really resonates. I think with that proximity and being more directly engaged and impacted it by the violence that sometimes can become theoretical. In some political spaces, we got detail that we usually don't get. Just the description, one thing that she named a bunch of times while still saying, I'm not a card-carrying abolitionist is what I want to like call it. As a noncard carrier, just describing that the police make it worse. We are in the place where folks imaginary of what violence is happening in real ways.

To be able to describe that just day-to-day policing is actually making it worse. That is something that people need to wrestle with. One of the things that I think again, like privilege and proximity can make a lot of these conversations abstract for us. You may even get people say, how do we have abolitionist solutions to gang violence. Through tomorrow's real experience, unless you're really from Chicago and present and paying attention and connected in certain ways, you wouldn't even understand that the gang construct is obsolete and in many ways, artificial for folks.

She contributes something unique in being able to tell the specifics of here on 75th Street, I have 14 through 17-year-olds that might be BD might be GD, might be stoned. For some people listening to this, that may mean not to you. [laughter]

To say that like, all of those people exist in close proximity and this mythical, dark structure that is the gang that we need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to destroy doesn't even actually exist in practice. There are no meetings in the way that people think about it. The proximity to be there and to talk about the nuance or the way in which the terrain is shifting in the community. The way that violence is actually occurring is such a powerful contribution to the thinking that we need to do without being present.

Being able to know people's parents, people's grandparents, or that some young people may not have parents in the way that Tamara is mothering for her community. Without that localized knowledge of her naming, what did the 16-year-old go through to bring them to this point? The solutions that we theorize hypothesize are always going to be limited and shortsighted. Just was really fed by just how this practice brought a new type of knowledge to the world.

Kiss: Any last takeaways from this conversation before we get on out of here.

Eva: If there's one thing that I'd love listeners to take away from today's time in the lab, it's something that Tamara said, that's really stuck with me since the conversation. She said, "I've never gone hungry or broke trying to feed somebody else."

Dame: That's a... [laughter]

Kiss: We did the like screwed up like good verse face on that one, like, "Ooh, that hits."

Eva: Also like abolitionist chic is going to come back up.

Kiss: No, it's anesthetic. It's a font. It's a whole thing.

Dame: Yes, and I don't want to sound curmudgeon or so always check me on that. I don't want to be like you new kids. That's definitely not the energy I'm trying to bring.

Eva: We are officially curmudgeons. We're talking about the youngsters on Instagram and completely related to each other so we're in that club firmly.

Dame: Hell no. Well, to be even older I want to talk about the news. [laughter]

Seriously another point that she was really crisp on that came up time and time again is an element of the state and state violence. Information that like, I think she had a lot of direct experience with is the news. I think a lot of times in political spaces, we talk about national news a lot, but we don't talk about the political impact of local news channels. Particularly here in Chicago, the way in which violence has been crafted into this stat-based villainous war game narrative and really dehumanized and flattened in really violent ways, not only for opponents or like the white supremacist imaginary.

I think in internally harmful ways, the way in which the news broadcast information and the lack of solutions to community creates a type of despair, creating a type of fractionalism and anti-communalism. Also this reinvestment into state authority of not describing as she names like, Hey, a lot of these people who were eighth-graders had their high school closed and never went to high school. The fact that that is just not a part of every day here's yellow caution tape, here's red caution tape. Here's a badge.

The clockwork orange ask like programming that that does to a community is traumatic. It's something that frustrates me a lot. It makes me really sad. It's something that I think inspires our work of trying to figure out how do we create infrastructure to counter the violence of the local news. I think it gets erased or talked past a lot. I think we look right at politicians and not talk about the media infrastructure as a corporate state apparatus that is reinforcing some false imaginaries or some violent narratives.

It was really helpful to see a communal information network like news from the lawn chair and just hear that extra level of detail. Two, I think she was really, again, just crisp and there was a real brilliance in how she consistently was naming the news as to why our community is not more prepared to build new solutions right now. We need new information channels from the ground is like one of the needs people need to be experimenting towards.

Kiss: Hence this low little pod right here.

Dame: You know. Hey, hey, hey. Another really poignant thing. I would suspect that some of her spiritual grounding got into the interiority of the psychology of this. Just talking about the reality of despair and almost framing it in mental health language of regardless of what drill rap may project or the way the news talks about it. These young people actually aren't homicidal, they're suicidal. That just really stuck with me. I've heard having nothing to live for discourse before, but there was a real empathy, but also directness into which she was naming.

There is a crisis that is beyond retaliation or your block in my block. There is a internal intelligence of this is a way towards my destruction. That young people are acting out and that we should be talking about this gun violence, not as some monstrous other, but right in conversation with opioid addiction and overdose or mental health. Or talking about gun violence in conversation with suicide and other notions of mental health despair, and the destruction of the human spirit and mental wellbeing. It's sad, right? I'm feeling it as I'm reflecting on it and processing it.

I think in terms of us understanding how to heal and repair and to create transformative systems, it's not just about conflict resolution, right? Or anger management, or it's about these beefs. That there is a deeper human tragedy. That's been happening that we are not seeing or ignorant to. Particularly the way in which we're informed about it. Again, the way the news communicates these tragedies is so inadequate that we're not equipped to respond to this crisis of our children, of our babies.

There was just an elegance and a honest poignance with which she was able to deliver that really heartbreaking truth to us.

Kiss: There is a lot of sobering, challenging realities that get communicated when you're actually listening to the people engaged in the work. That's the basis from which we can form more experiments and do more work that actually might have a chance at this transformation. Obviously, this conversation was impactful for the three of us. We're so curious about what jumped out to you in your own peer review. What's sticking with you from this conversation. How is it transforming the work that you're doing in your space?

Whether it's finding a lawn chair or whatever it looks like for you to be building your experiment, please reach out to us at millionexperiments@gmail.com or on socials @interruptcrim and @airgoradio. Make sure to subscribe, like, comment, and review One Million Experiments wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Dame: Again, this is an experiment that needs growth. Share with your community, listen to it with someone else, start a conversation with someone you wouldn't have otherwise, to go further in your reflections.

Eva: You can always reach us the catalog of experiments, the deans on how to get your own experiments started at this podcast at millionexperiments.com.

Kiss: All right, y'all, see you in the lab next month with another experiment.

Dame: Much love to the people.

Kiss: Peace.