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  Photo credit: Morgan Petroski of the Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque area 100 Thousand Poets for Change event was more than a gathering of voices calling out for sustainability and change; it was the first swell in a perfect storm. 

Albuquerque is a jewel glittering in the sands of the New Mexico desert and it shone last year with a special clarity as we brought together hundreds of poets, activists, social change organizations and community members for a series of seven unique events which culminated on September 29th, 2011 with a candlelight concert in a converted warehouse which now serves as an art space called the Projects. 

Leading into that event we had three days of events including a slam for change which was aired on the local public access channel for folks to witness the spectacle of slam poets from age 8 to age 65 performing poems. At that event we saw an elderly lady who had been an activist most of her life reading from her chapbook of poems written to “Tricky Dick”  Nixon as well as one young lady of about 14 years who read a poem about the necessity of change in the ideas of body image and perfection which left the room wet-eyed and attentive. 

We also held an action at the Civic Plaza in the downtown area where we partnered with to host a two part event. The first half of the afternoon was spent opposing the Dream Act, a bill designed to be followed by the creation of a giant, living chess board in the square. We had a dozen poets stand on the chessboard,  sharing poems about social justice issues and the need for change in our world.  As each poet spoke, they moved closer to the center of the board and at the end of the event, we tore the lines up, effectively erasing the board in a symbolic gesture designed to reinforce the idea and importance of erasing the lines of division that keep our communities polarized.

We invited members of the local drum community to gather together at the Kosmic Trading Post as well, and held a drum circle that began at 9 am on the 29th.  This drum circle was repeated in various other parts of the world simultaneously, creating what I think of as a pulse that represents the vitality and living essence of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event.

Throughout the day on the 29th we invited members of social change organizations and advocacy groups to partner with poets in a series of workshops designed to let people learn more about the struggles and issues we face as a global community and the organizations that are involved before then writing in response to those issues and conflicts. At this event we saw representatives from homeless shelters, food banks, the Transgender Resource Center, and a full spectrum of organizations joining their experiences and concerns with artists who created new work in response to the information and ideas they heard.

One particularly poignant example involved partnering myself with Joy Junction and St. Martin’s Hospitality Center for a workshop on addressing the issue of homelessness and “invisible people” . At this workshop I shared my own experiences on the streets during a period of years where I was without a home. Joining us was another young man who has been displaced for many years, not only within American borders, but in countries such as Turkey and China. His experiences and perspectives on the very different ways in which the experience of being without a traditional home are viewed and addressed in a global perspective really led us into some dynamic and exciting ground. 

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of organizing the events and discussions which took place as part of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event was the involvement of the youth. As an artist and local organizer I always seek opportunities to bring young voices into the foreground and for this uniquely powerful project it was very important to me on a personal level to see them represented. 

Considering that they will be the generation to inherit the world in all its passions, problems and potential, I felt that they needed to be present to voice their concerns and to hear from folks who have been involved in social change for a long time. Experience, despite the cliché, is still the best teacher.

During all of the events we saw young people reading their poems and sharing their ideas and it was an enlightening process to discover just how often and deeply they were thinking about issues from seeking ways to escape poverty and the violence of the streets to global human trafficking. At the candlelight concert for example, a group of young ladies came out and performed for us, delivering a combination of hip-hop and spoken word which was so passionate and well-crafted that the audience of about one hundred came to their feet in applause and appreciation.

Throughout the day we received texts and messages from around the world about the events that were occurring simultaneously on the global level. At two-thirty local time for instance, we heard that there was a flatbed truck in Egypt playing poetry through a set of speakers in the streets, which became the first event that I shared with folks as they came in to the workshops. Messages like this reached us all day and we gave them back to our audiences and poets so they could feel connected to the events happening world-wide, which led us to a feeling of solidarity and unity that was simply indescribable.

All of the events which took place in Albuquerque were only a part of this perfect storm however. I was privileged enough to help organize an event in Tijeras, a small mountain town to the east of Albuquerque where the New Mexico State Poetry Society hosted an event featuring local poets in partnership with our efforts. This event was a poetry picnic and grew out of both the Santa Fe and Albuquerque area events. 

What was perhaps the most exciting thing for us at the local level was what came after. Literally the day after our 100 Thousand Poets for Change event, we witnessed the birth of the Albuquerque area Occupy movement, which continues to this moment and has led to actions including Occupiers at the State Round House, the Federal court house and much more. We have continued to see poets involved in these movements as well. Recently for example, we read at the University of New Mexico, against a backdrop of armed police officers who refused us entrance to the public park. 

Albuquerque has always been home to poets and activists who speak strongly and fearlessly about finding peaceful, positive solutions but the sheer number of events and organizations which grew at least partly out of the presence of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change movement has been staggering to witness.

On a personal level, after the events in September  I can honestly say that my own involvement in social change has increased so significantly that I have taken on the role of Co-Coordinator for the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice.

Organizing the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event in Albuquerque was one of the proudest moments in my life, as both an artist and an activist. The world has reached a turning point and I believe that change is here, regardless of any one outlook. Our job now is to guide that change in positive ways and I believe that this event was and will continue to be a truly impactful opportunity to be part of that. Art has always held the role of responding to and recording the history of our world. Now, more than at any other time in history, I think we are accepting that role and working not just in our own communities, but reaching out to the entire world with our hands and hearts wide open. And the world is reaching back.

Zachary Kluckman
Co-Cordinator for the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice
Spoken Word Editor - The Pedestal Magazine
Editor and Publisher - Artistica
"What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible." - Theodore Roethke
"Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it" - Dalai Lama