Desiree Hellegers interviews Portland activists Sam and Alana about OccupyICEPDX and the late Dani Henri Sommerville, also known as Dani Summers, and Dani Som, a twenty year old musician/songwriter, with OccupyICE/PDX, who died in February. Scroll down for a transcript of the interview.
For more about Dani, check out these links:
Transcript of the interview follows:
Laurie Mercier: Coming up now Desiree Hellegers interviews Portland activists Sam and Alana about the late Dan Sommerville, also known as Dani Summers, a 20-year-old musician songwriter and activist with OccupyICEpdx who died in February.
So my guests today are Sam and Alana, and we're talking today about Dani Henri Sommerville who was a committed and a well-loved member of the OccupyICE encampment over this past summer, and who passed away in February. So do you want to talk a little bit about how you got to know Dani?
Alana: This is Alana. I met Dani at OccupyICE. When I first saw Dani, he was like frantically looking for some juice over at the water station. I, like, tried to help Dani find some gatorade. And he was just zooming around with his mobility device-- just like on a juice rampage.
Sam: I met him at a really long really boring GA meeting--
DH: General Assembly--
Sam: Yeah, general assembly. And we were like the only two POC who were present. And they were like “Why is no one present?!” And we were like, “Yeah, we're here. But we just don't know anybody.” And like Alana said, I saw him zooming back and forth a lot and mostly just playing guitar with a lot of our other friends, making music. He was a musician he was a trans-- Q/T [queer-trans] POC [person of color].
Alana: Dani, even though Dani usually use he him pronouns, Dani also used they/ them, and I know that folks’ pronouns were important to Dani.
Sam: He’d just very often be sitting on the porch. Every single dog, too, he'd be like “Can I pet your dog?!” And they always let him. [laughs.]
Alana: Dani was disabled in like some different ways. And did a lot of, like, disability justice activism through like his art, and his writing, talking to people. And he was always, like, into supporting people, and, like, mutual aid, and would always want to cheer people up.
DH: I think when we are talking about OccupyICE, I think people don't realize that there were quite a few people with disabilities and other kinds of serious health issues in the camp and that had to have really, I would imagine taken quite a lot out of Dani to be physically present on the site as frequently as he was.
Alana: yeah he was definitely pretty hardcore, like, I was impressed. [laughs] When he was able to get some housing outside of the camp, like, he was able to get rides and be present there and have maybe a little easier way to rest. Yeah, it was really cool seeing how people worked with whatever they had going on and, like, were present and like contributing.
Desiree: And there really was a very strong focus it seems on creating access.
Sam: Right, I remember being a part of the engineering crew, the majority of the time, and spending a lot of time building the ramps, and fixing the ramps pretty frequently. His activism, it wasn’t just about OccupyICE. But a lot of other rallies and actions he insisted on attending whether they were accessible or not, he wanted to be present, and he wanted to be part of it, and he wanted his voice to be heard.
Desiree: And did he raise access issues a lot?
Sam: Yeah absolutely. They were central to the “won't be erased rally” that was held after the Trump Administration sent out that memo that basically erased trans people I mean just legally, just by definition. He headed that and emceed it, and played some of his music for everybody. And I just remember during the organizing, that was what he was very focused on, was making sure all the different voices were represented. I definitely learned a lot. I just learned a lot about ableism and how little I saw of people's disabilities-- being very able-bodied and not being depressed or at least [not] having the same kind of depression that Dani had. Patience around that and listening to people when they say, “No I can’t do something the same way that you can, like physically-- “
Desiree: But it seems like there was a real concerted attempt to create forums at Occupy to talk about exactly these issues. I mean, certainly there was, you know, ongoing ASL access, there was, like you said, a sort network of ramps within in this camp. Was it an issue that was talked a lot about at GAs?
Sam: I stopped going to the GAs after a little while, but I do remember at first it was a topic that would came up pretty often. Yeah, like I said being part of the engineering crew-- we would be the ones that would address the physical accessibility.
DH: It seems like this also raises issues about the health issues and access issues of people who are being held in ice detention, right?
DH: As difficult as it had to have been for many people struggling with health issues in the camp, I know that many of those people were there precisely because they do fully understand that one issue we don't talk about when we talk about ICE is the fact that there's a range of people in detention who have all kinds of health issues and different kinds of disabilities and we never center that experience in the discussion.
Alana: yeah, definitely--thinking of the relativity of what the folks are going through who are migrating and being accosted and things like and just how bad those conditions were and are made it so we all wanted to be there because we were like, “Well, this is hard, but think of how much harder it is for others. We can’t just have ICE and all these DHS agents right here.” [laughs]
Desiree: I’m sure sleep deprivation,you know protracted sleep deprivation over a long period of time and the stress of being in the camp and constantly facing, you know, Patriot Prayer coming by and spraying crap--literally crap-- at people. And all the other stresses of being there had to have weighed really heavily on people.
Sam: Easy street. [laughs]
Alana: Yeah, and DHS, you know, there were some really violent confrontations where DHS was tasing people and assaulting them.
Desiree: Shooting them with pepper balls
Alana: Shooting them, yup. Yup.
DH: Do you want to talk a little bit about what drew you to the camp initially?
Sam: I mean this has been happening since the 90s. Both my parents are immigrants. Neither of them spoke English when they came here, and neither one of them had anything when they came here, and they busted their asses to give me what I’ve have. The way things are right now, I found myself in my bed just crying and, like, hoping that something would start happening because otherwise I was going to go insane, and fortunately, you know, the social media deities [laughs] were smiling on me and were like, “hey check out this thing.” Yeah, I went for a few days, and I was out of town, and when I came back there was like a fortress there [laughs] made out of pallet boards and couches, and I was like all right, yeah, I’m in. Let’s do this.
Desiree: I'm kind of hearing also that in some sense, sort of being at the camp was actually-- helped you to feel less despair about the political situation, that it actually had that very immediate effect. And I think to be in a community of people who are all that are that concerned about other people's well-being and the humanity of people who are being targeted and held in detention, I mean I think that's a piece of Occupy that doesn't get talked about often enough-- that there's a kind of mental health care in being together in a moment when you feel like the politics are so ugly.
Sam: I mean there’s that but that very quickly turns into shared trauma [laughs] when they start shooting at you, and you can't really talk to other people about it because they don't understand what it's like. I think that's what bound a lot of us together after it all ended. And you know I'm ready to go again, like to do what I can, to give money to whoever I can, to attend whatever fundraisers I can, until like, until we decide enough is enough because these are concentration camps. They're doing this to Indigenous people again-- it’s like come on now--
Desiree: And family separations that are also a part of the African American experience.
Alana: and all of the broader context of just like imperialism and capitalism and colonialism like all these systems of oppression that are all like interrelated and this is like a very particular context that is so ugly and it's an important thing to be like working on but then I think we're all working on like the broader aspects of it too.
Desiree: Yeah, I mean when you talk about the shared trauma of actually witnessing and experiencing that level of police violence, that is probably a small taste of what's been experienced at the border when they're firing--
Sam: Oh god--
Desiree-- you know tear gas and rubber bullets. I think there are links to the sleep deprivation you were experiencing. Recently there were some disclosures that at some of the detention centers they were waking the families up every 3 hours. It’s a great way to break someone, right? That's very much like Abu ghraib and Guantanamo
Alana: yeah and like on a smaller scale ICE doing that to us, they put these really bright flood lights on the camp and loud music--
Sam: That was not cool. [laughs]
Desiree: And I would imagine that with people in different states , different health issues, different ages, struggling with different kinds of disabilities, that experience of being kept up by loud music and floodlights must have been experienced very differently across that spectrum of the community…
Sam: Dani was like, he was really autistic in a way that was just like really genuine and sweet. He would play... I picked up the ukulele because it was one of his instruments. He had a few songs that he would play repeatedly--
Desiree: But he also wrote his own on songs?
Sam: Yeah he wrote a lot of Music and it's still on his bandcamp: Dani Summers. Probably the one all of us friends know is called “Love yourself,” which we want to play. It's a something that made him super happy. Like I said earlier he loved dogs, all dogs. Even when we're driving he tell people out the window “I love your dog!” [laughs]
Alana: I remember having really fun sing alongs and dancing with Dani in the kitchen. Dani was such a good dancer. And he had some really great, like, ballroom vogue moves and I was just like where did you--how do you do that? And he would just like tear it up--
Sam: At the Patrick Timmons thing, he started dancing in the middle of the street behind the police line and like everyone was just cheering him on [laughs.] Yeah, that kid could chase away like alt right media people with his dancing and song. It was beautiful. [laughs]
Desiree: So Dani had recently moved from Detroit. He'd only been in Portland for a matter of months? He arrived right before Occupy, is that right?
Sam: That was the first thing he really experienced in Portland, actually-- which is kind of intense-- [laughs]
Alana: Yeah, he like arrived in June.
Sam: Like I said we would use this song to chase away Nazis. One of the things that I really learned from Occupy and from all the activism last summer is that music is sometimes, actually a lot of the times, more powerful than fists. I understand the need for self-defense. I just I have seen them turn tail and run because they just-- what are they going to do when you’re singing and dancing and having a good time? LIke: “Does not compute.” They short-circuit real fast and this song, in particular, I've seen it happen. I think it not only chases away bad guys but really empowers the good guys-- good people, good everyone [laughs]-- all the mothers and fathers who sathers look down on us and bless us with the power of music, as Danny would say--in his prayers. Okay, So once again this is “Love Yourself by Dani Summers--in bandcamp
Desiree: that's the way it appears in bandcamp-- is Summers?
Sam: Right, that was his band name, but also Dani Henri Sommerville.
Alana and Sam singing:
This is a song for the broken hearted
This is a song for the queer kid in the corner
listening to Elton John on the radio
While the other kids say all of the mean things
that tell you in 9th grade, in 9th grade, in 9th grade.
This is a song for all of you who need to use the restroom
But don’t know which one to enter or which one to go in
or if you’ll ever, ever know.
This is a song for all people on Rainbow Road.
This is a song for all of you in the back row
and I'd like to invite you to love yourself
and I would like to invite you to love yourself
And I would like to invite you to love yourself [louder]
I would like to invite you to love yourself
This is a song. This is a song. This is a song that is
that post on tumbler. If you need a sign, this is one.
This is a song for all of you who have so much to say
but we never let them.
This is a song for all of you who use AC and ASL.
This is a song for all of you who said you would walk again
but you never did. This is a song for all of you who
can walk but it hurts so f--ing much you’d rather roll.
Here you go.
And I would like to invite you to love yourself,
And I'd like to invite you to love yourself,
I would like to invite you to love yourself,
And I would like to invite you to love yourself,
And I would like you to love yourself.
And I’d like to invite you to love yourself [quieter]
and I would like to invite you to love yourself,
and I would like to invite you to love yourself, [louder]
and I would like to invite you to love yourself
And I would like to invite you to love yourself
Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself.
Desiree: Thank you so much for that. We've been talking today about Dani Summers, who also went by Dani Sommerville
Alana: Dani Henri Sommerville.
Desiree: Only in Portland for a pretty short time, but it sounds like Dani is going to be greatly missed. Dani died in February. And I've been talking today with Sam and Alana. Thank you so much for being here today.
Sam: Thank you for having us.
Alana: Thank you.
Desiree: This has been Desiree Hellegers for The Old Mole Variety Hour.