BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Core’

Some Thoughts on Voting for the Newly Disillusioned

August 03, 2016 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

I’m seeing quite a few people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds who have just now realized that the political system is not the path to what they are looking for. They are feeling angry, cynical, and lost.

I get it. I’ve been there.

I was crushed when Bill Clinton gave us welfare “reform,” NAFTA, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I was one of those people everyone blames for the 2000 election because they voted for Nader. And, even though I had long before become cynical, I really hoped that Obama at least kinda meant all that stuff he said about civil liberties. Other people maybe picked Howard Dean or Ron Paul, but many of us have had at least one moment of political hope followed by inevitable disappointment.

Of course we have. We have been trained our entire lives to focus our attention on the shiny circus of Big P Politics, especially presidential elections. We are taught it was LBJ and FDR that made things better. It is as if all the people who went door to door, marched, organized strikes, wrote, exposed corruption, and took direct action did not even exist.

The good news is that now you are free. There are millions of things you can do and millions of people who also think things suck. Now that you have safely eliminated presidential politics from your arsenal of tactics that work, you can put your energies towards better things.

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade reading about social movements – from the kids involved in the civil rights movement to the anarchists in Barcelona. And I’ve spent a bit of time, though not nearly enough, participating in them. I don’t have a magic formula for you, but I do have a basic path that has started to form in my head. It goes something like this.

  1. Imagine how you want your life to be and what is standing in your way. Figure out what you want your world to look like. It doesn’t have to be precise or perfect, but you do need something to reach for.
  1. Find other people who want the same things that you do. Build communities of trust and support. (That trust and support part is crucial.)
  1. Plan direct actions. Ideally they should provide for immediate needs and disrupt the systems of oppression.
  1. Identify the obstacles that you will face and prepare for them, figure out how you will defend yourselves.
  1. Act
  1. Review the action. Figure out what went well and what didn’t. Reassess. Adjust. Make sure all your people are taken care of.
  1. Rinse and repeat.

That doesn’t mean that voting can never, ever be a part of what you are doing.

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” – Emma Goldman

All due respect to Emma (and I love her), her statement is kind of a case for voting. After all, it has been and still is prohibited for a whole lot of people (former felons, for instance). And it is not true that voting never matters at all. Voting for someone who is less likely to mow you down in the street is a totally reasonable defense strategy. Voting a terrible prosecutor out of office is a legitimate tactic. If two dudes are running for town sheriff and one is a sociopath, we might consider voting for the other guy.

But then we should go right back to working on ending the position of sheriff or prosecutor entirely. We should learn how to build community for ourselves rather than constituencies for people with their own agenda. We should learn how to resolve conflict ourselves, not empower violent authorities to run systems of oppression and retribution.

It is a lot harder to do those things than to stump for a candidate and vote every couple years. But we can only get out from under these people if we take responsibility and represent ourselves. I screw up every damn day in every way imaginable. But that is why it is called a struggle. And it is so much better to be struggling – to be a better person, to build alternate systems, against oppressive structures, with my community –  than to be looking for some kind of savior to come along and make it better.

Now that you are free of the constraints of electoral politics, what are you going to do?

Some Thoughts on Violence, Self Defense, and Consent

March 11, 2014 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Criminalization

Nikita TV Show trainingYou can’t be amongst radicals for more than 9 seconds without getting into a discussion about whether or not people should use violence or whether or not property destruction is violence.

As I’ve said before, I think people who are very good at violence and cruelty are usually not so great at building a new and just society. As for property destruction being violent, the answer is…sometimes. Is it violence when the army comes and burns down an entire village leaving people homeless and hungry? Fuck yes. Is it violence when there is a controlled explosion of a building so that something new can take its place? Of course not.

I have been against war since I was old enough to understand what it was. As a kid, I thought pacifist only meant being against war (which is still how some people define it).  And let me tell you, of all the things I have identified as over the years, that seems to be the one that pisses the most people off. Naturally, it makes me want to continue using it.

But as much as I love pissing people off, it makes me crazy when people equate pacifism with offering yourself up as a sacrificial lamb. If I had a nickel for every time someone responded by suggesting that I thought the person getting attacked in an alley should just sit there and die, I could take that bag of nickels and beat the crap out of them with it.

People have the right to defend themselves. The fact that so many people, especially women, end up in prison for defending themselves is unconscionable. But the tricky thing is that people are not usually attacked in an alley by a stranger. They are hurt by people they know. They are hurt by people they love. They are hurt by the people who they are often hesitant to hurt back. The kind of self-defense people usually refer to when talking about gun ownership or critiquing a wrong-headed view of pacifism does nothing to address the majority of rapes, assaults, child abuse…

When people are attacked by strangers, those attacks don’t always result in bloody noses or the need for a rape kit. The trail from perpetrator to victim is often murky. When a multinational company poisons the water, it may eventually end in deaths. But how do we self defend against that kind of thing? Self defense usually means imminent danger. (Unless of course you are a U.S. president. Then you get to define self-defense as a preemptive invasion.)

So the really clear cases of immediate violence are often perpetrated by people close to us and who we may not be inclined to punish severely because we see them as human beings.  In contrast, some of the most destructive kinds of violence are difficult to defend against because of distance – between perpetrator/victim and often between the act and its result. It is easy for some company who poisons the water to claim they didn’t know what they were doing. It is much more difficult to make an imminent danger defense when the crime is bureaucratic instead of in your face violent.

One of the many books I have been reading while on jury duty is Matt Hern’s One Game at a Time. (I’ll write more about it later. It’s fantastic). In it, Hern pushes back against the idea that sports – even fighting – are violent, saying that “violence is coercive by definition.” He also says:

The key pivot in identifying violence is agreement. Not unlike various forms of sexual activity (say BDSM, for example), physical contact, collisions, and even bodily damage is not violence if consent is present. There are any number of physical, aggressive, damaging, risky, and painful activities that we willingly and happily participate in that are not violence.

Seeing violence as coercion clarifies things a lot. It explains why that village being burned down is violent and the building destruction is not. It may even get at that multinational that poisoned the water. If the people didn’t want them there to begin with, then it is violence from the start. Of course it may be that the company arrived with promises of benefits. And that is where things get complicated. Because then we really have to start talking about consent.

What if a community consents to the destruction of their environment because of economic realities outside of their control? Can a person ever consent to working in a sweatshop given the sociopolitical circumstances in which any decisions happen? How does a community give consent if there is no consensus? How old does a person have to be to give consent? How neurologically typical does a person have to be to give consent? Do we err on the side of agency even if it means people may die?

These are some of the things one thinks about as you sit in a grand jury hearing about murders, rapes, child abuse… Horrific acts where the victimized go on to victimize others. A massive criminal injustice institution built for bureaucratic and sanitized violence. Very little questioning or thinking by the participants or those judging them. Holding some individuals solely responsible for acts that their social situation pushed them towards. Holding other individuals as helpless victims without agency.

 

Support the People Not the CML

February 25, 2014 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

Evo MoralesWhat is going on in Venezuela right now has brought to the surface a lot of tensions between different parts of what is usually referred to as the left. That’s a good thing. And I expect I may write a few things about those conversations in the coming weeks. But I want to start with this quote my friend Navid put up on his FB page.

As an anarchist I still support the governments of Venezuela & Bolivia. Why? Because they are building popular governments & are in the process of distributing power to the bases. Anarchists & Libertarians that are living under neo-liberal governments & have produced no structural change to the way they are governed want to criticize & dismiss the work that the governments of these revolutionary movements. It would be nice if Evo Morales didn’t have to be a president. But because we are still living in a world with nation states, most of them republican, social movements & the governments they put in place will continue to struggle with the contradictions of distributing power through the state. Anarchists & Libertarians that want to take what they think is the ‘principled high road’ of not supporting & in some cases dismissing the work of the governments of social movements, I don’t think have a vision of how we can actually achieve a world without borders or states. I would love to be able to wish & dream this into existence but the fact is, there are steps, and none of them lack contradictions. We have to acknowledge reality & collectively deal with it. — Cexilia Poncho Rojo

I don’t know any anarchists who don’t struggle with the fact that we sometimes support state programs or political changes as a practical matter in the here and now. We understand the contradictions. You will find plenty of anarchists who protest for state funded housing and education. You’ll find plenty of anarchists who vote.  We get that we live in a world where it is expected that we will all live in states or participate in groups led by a charismatic male leader (CML).

But

As someone whose beliefs are fundamentally a critique of power, I will always raise an eyebrow toward anyone who pursues power. I will always be skeptical about what will happen to even the best intentioned person who attains power. I will always be vigilant in watching how people use their power. Because I believe that power corrupts. Most importantly, I make a very large distinction between the people, the social movements that bring someone to power, and the CML that becomes the face of that movement.

Evo Morales has an inspiring personal narrative. But the movement that brought him to office is what really counts. And when those people turn around and protest President Morales in order to force him to cancel an amazon road project, I have no internal contradiction about whether I should support the president or the people who put him in power.

It is the same for other social movements as well. I have respect for MLK, but I believe that Ella Baker was right that the movement made Martin, not the other way around. Ultimately, it is the people who are important, not the power center or the anointed face – as inspiring as that person may be. As a bonus, when you keep your focus on the people instead of the CML, perhaps losing that leader doesn’t put the whole movement into disarray.

It is an exaggeration to say that all governments and leaders are exactly the same. Some are definitely more responsive or more repressive than others. In so far as there may be people out there who are summarily dismissing the beneficial things these governments have done, Rojo’s criticism is valid. But in so far as I am expected to confuse support for the people with uncritical support for the CML, which is often what people seem to want, that just isn’t going to fly.

 

 

When Feminism Gets it Almost Right…But Not Quite

February 19, 2014 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification

Meryl Streep in DoubtEarlier this month twenty cities hosted an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Most Wikipedia contributors are men. The result being that entries on women are sparse. So these women are trying to fix that. Which is great.

There are all kinds of theories about why women contribute less to Wikipedia. One being that they have less spare time. Another being that Wikipedia can be a hostile and argumentative place. But Jacqueline Mabey thinks it is also socially formed self perception.

“We don’t raise young women to consider themselves authorities on anything…We raise them to doubt, constantly, their work and themselves.” Librarians are seen as the only female-dominated group that overall is a fan of Wikipedia, but Mabey says even they are cautious about editing. “These are women with double masters degrees,” she said. “I’m like, yes, you can edit it! The 18-year-old boy who doesn’t know anything is editing it, and he doesn’t even question it!”

You will get no argument from me that there are a lot of women who are hesitant to speak because they doubt themselves and a lot of young men who think they know everything. But the inference seems to be that we should get women to think they are authorities. And that is exactly the wrong thing.

Wikipedia is, at least in theory, anti-authority. You don’t need alphabet soup at the end of your name to contribute. You don’t need to have spent 20 years in an ivy tower collecting credentials. All you need is interest. The idea of Wikipedia is that our collectively imperfect knowledge makes something better than any one person – no matter how “authoritative” – could make alone. We don’t need more people who think they know everything, or pretend that they do. We need less of that.

But that is all too often how it goes. A gender gap or injustice is presented and then I am told that I should act more like an archetypal dude in order to right that wrong or get some socially acceptable level of success – authority, money, power. I mean, if I have to read another article about how I am not ambitious enough, I am going to lose my shit.

We don’t need more ambition or more authorities. We need more humility and doubt. Don’t encourage women to act like the worst kind of cocksure men. Encourage them to participate in things like Wikipedia precisely in so far as it undermines the whole system of authorities and status.

 

Fear of Cat Food and Other Anti-Revolutionary Yarns

February 13, 2014 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Work

Scrooge and Marley MoneylendersSometimes you come across an article that so perfectly encapsulates something you have been obsessing about that you have to dust off your blog and throw out a minor rant. Latina Lista published just such an article this week.  So here we go.

According to a study by the (in no way biased) Prudential, “Latinos’ love of family today could spell financial trouble for retirement years.”

We are trained to be in constant fear. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of losing our homes. Fear of medical bills. Fear of  ending up some solitary, elderly person eating cat food in a hovel. The answer, as is jammed into our heads, is to get on board with the system and try to hoard as much as you can. Don’t let those family and friends dip into your cash. Security comes with obedience and accumulation. Security comes by giving what little money you have to the dipshits at Prudential.

So how does that work out for people?

For one thing, going along with the system is not going to save you. My parents did everything they were supposed to do. There was a small business and a chamber of commerce membership.  There was a house and retirement savings. But along came Office Depot to squeeze my father’s business out. Then medical bills from a massive stroke. And of course there was some middle class lifestyle debt. When the IRS came around looking to take our house, did going along with the fear system help? Nope. You know what did help? Friends who lent my parents money.

Contrary to what we are told, security is mostly an illusion. And what security we do have comes from relationships, not possessions.

But the system desperately needs us to buy this lie. If we stopped fearing, if we stopped thinking we are in it alone, then nothing could keep us doing what we are doing. Nearly everyone I know is quietly plotting their freedom. We hate our jobs so much that we have to escape for bathroom cries. We have insomnia and anxiety. We are constantly medicated and looking for bullshit distractions.

And those are just the people who have enough privilege to still have jobs and something to fear losing. The truly amazing thing about the system is that we are fodder no matter what. If you have a job, you spend most of your waking hours away from the people and things you love in order to make money for greedy bastards. That isn’t enough though. They also want you to hand over some of what little money you make to “secure your retirement”. By which they mean that they want to invest your money in things that will make them money and hurt you. How?

Let’s say you have a retirement account. You’ll have a selection of mutual funds to chose from. Some of them may even say that they are “socially conscious.” What that means, generally, is that they will avoid one or two problematic sectors (like arms dealing). Everything else – sweatshops, union-busters, private prisons – they are all on the table. In short, these Prudential people are working on getting Latinos to give less money to their family and instead invest in the private prison corporations that put them in immigration detention.

When some investment banker tells you to stop giving money to your people and start “investing in your future,” what they are really doing is using you and your fear to finance your own oppression. And if you can’t benefit them through your labor or contributions, then they’ll throw you in prison and make money off of you that way.

I’m not going to tell you that, if you walk away, everything is going to be o.k. The other lie we are told is that we will be rewarded for doing the right thing.  You probably won’t. In fact, doing the right thing often means suffering. Just ask all the political prisoners out there.

Do it anyway.

And try to make it easier for other people to do it too. Let your friends and family and community know that you have their backs when they want to take a risk. Let them know that, so long as you have a roof and some food, they won’t starve or have no place to sleep. Nothing will change unless we are willing to risk something. We can’t make things safe. But we can make it a little easier on each other if we do the exact opposite of what that article is trying to get us to do.

And maybe, just maybe, if we could help each other get over our fears and take care of each other a little bit better, enough people would walk away to make the whole thing coming crashing down.

Harassment is About Power

August 22, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Criminalization, Sex, Stratification, Work

Yesterday it came out that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is resigning in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. Apparently he enjoys groping his employees. Also a groper is  Kentucky state representative John A. Arnold Jr. Just the latest in what is pretty much everyday news.

Earlier this week, Rolling Stone blasted Bloomberg for claiming to care about the safety of New York City children when 21% of the 145,652 NYPD street stops were of children. You might not think these things have much to do with one another. But they do.

I actually used to work for a law firm that represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. There were bosses that busted into locker rooms while employees were changing. Bosses who liked to grope their employees. Bosses who conditioned promotions on getting their dicks sucked. Some all around charming dudes. (And yes. All of the defendants sued by the law firm were dudes. And all of the people who ever called for sexual harassment related consultations were women.)

Sexual harassment cases in the U.S., even the ones that should properly be called assault, are handled in civil court. If you get sued for sexual harassment, you may just have to pay a couple million dollars in damages. And I have to admit that winning those cases felt good. It was rare that someone actually lost their job for assaulting their employees. But watching some douchebag have to fork over millions of dollars does bring a certain satisfaction.

In theory, the law firm I worked for also did employment discrimination cases. But we never took any because they were so impossible to win. Even when some guy called us because n$%%@r was spray painted on his door, we didn’t take it. That kind of harassment wasn’t a winning case.

Mind you, at the law firm where I worked, we regularly put in 15 hour days. We worked weekends. We got yelled at. We were expected to do personal errands for our bosses. We got calls at 3 o’clock in the morning to be asked about files (at least until my phone got cut off and I let it stay cut off). In other words, we were subject to the kind of harassment that a lot of people have to deal with on their jobs. Most of us have to eat a certain amount of shit to earn a living.

I don’t say that to make light of sexual harassment or shrug off our collective shit eating. I say it because it shouldn’t be this way. For anybody. For any reason.

Public discussions about sexual harassment frustrate the hell out of me. First you have to deal with those people who deny that it exists at all. Then you have to deal with the ones who say that it exists, but women should get over it. Or the ones that hear any report of employer abuse and say people should just get a new job – as though someone who had been unemployed for years and has kids to feed can walk away so easily.

But sometimes I am even more frustrated by the people who agree it is a problem. Because invariably the response is to turn to the criminal injustice system, to become like France where you can (theoretically) be sent to prison for a couple years. Or they just want to continue suing people for money. Always, they ignore the fundamental issue.

Harassment is about power. People who have power feel they are entitled to whatever they want. People who don’t have power, or at least have less of it, will suffer consequences for sticking up for themselves against the powerful. The way to end sexual harassment, or any kind of workplace harassment, isn’t to transfer a little power from a boss to the injustice system. The answer is in getting rid of the power imbalance to begin with. That isn’t to say that, with no bosses, there would never be conflict. But confronting someone with equal power doesn’t carry the same kinds of consequences and risks. And the sense of entitlement bread by power will be, if not gone, severely diminished.

Now lets bring this out of the workplace. Because harassment doesn’t just come from bosses.

There has also been a lot of news about street harassment lately. That isn’t just people saying obnoxious shit to you on the streets. For instance, my friend Mandie recently had some guy grab her waist while she was waiting in line at 7-Eleven. My most frequently experienced harassment comes from douchebags who think it is o.k. to touch my hair. And then there was that fucker a few months back who thought it would be cool to slap my ass. I share Mandie’s homicidal thoughts when things like that happen.

Some people have an overinflated sense of entitlement. And while it may be less obvious than workplace harassment, street harassment is also an assertion of power.  You wouldn’t slap your boss’s ass, grab the waist of some MMA fighter, or go up and rub a cops hair. There would be consequences. When you do things like that to someone, what you are saying is, “I am entitled to whatever I want. And what are you gonna do about it anyway?”

And really. What are your options? Retaliation will likely end with harsher consequences for the person standing up for themselves (worth it as those charges may be). Like the woman in DC who was being accosted late at night and, after she pepper sprayed the dude, had assault charges brought against her. The law isn’t made for everybody.

Which brings us back to that Bloomberg article. Because it isn’t only random dudes on the street that are harassing people. Police harass people, especially young men of color, every day. They can stop you, grope you, and say horrible shit to you on a daily basis. Not a damn thing happens to them.

There are women who are recording street harassment of women. And there are men recording street harassment by cops. But how many of them are out recording both? The fact that Hollaback is actually sharing information about street harassment with a government agency doesn’t give me much hope that those women are making the connection.

Harassment – bosses of employees, men of women, cops of anybody they can get away with – is all about power. To try to use those very same systems of power to deal with the abuses is futile. It doesn’t help to “hold accountable” those in power. We need to be removing those positions of power and the sense of entitlement that goes with them. And we need to be making connections (though not equivalencies) between all the different power structures and hierarchies that create the conditions for abuse.

We won’t see an end to sexual harassment without getting rid of bosses. We won’t see an end to police abuse without smashing the injustice system. We won’t see an end to street harassment without ending the hierarchy that mets out power, privilege and entitlement based on an accident of birth.

 

The Problem With Gifted

May 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Education, Stratification

I’ve been catching up on some of my blog reading and came across this report about how Latino children are underrepresented in New York City public school gifted programs.

Data obtained by The Wall Street Journal shows that Latino children are dramatically underrepresented in the program, making up just 12% of the city’s 14,266 gifted elementary school students this school year. Yet Latino children make up about 41% of the 489,911 elementary students.

This controversy, about the homogeneity of gifted programs, has been going on since I was a kid. I distinctly remember a report (60 minutes maybe) where parents tried to get their children of color tested and the school system would not even test them. I’m fairly certain it was this controversy that was responsible for me being put in the gifted program in my elementary school.

I need to put a small caveat here. This is all my memory from more than 30 years ago. So I am not going to guarantee 100% detail.

When I was in first or second grade, and around the time our principal changed from a white dude to a black woman, the administration started asking teachers to submit students for gifted testing – particularly students who were not white boys. Because ALL of the students in the gifted program were white boys. That’s when I got IQ tested.

Here I could go into the controversies about IQ – the historic racism, the cultural bias…all that jazz. Perhaps someday I will. But even if you think that IQ measures more than privilege and socialization (I don’t), it doesn’t really impact my criticism of the gifted program.

I spent one day a week in gifted classes. While my other classmates were sitting in rows doing busy work, I was wandering around a trailer doing creative stuff. As a gifted student, I had access to the only two computers in my school. I got to make cool graphics using Apple computers that had pixels the size of your head. I made stop motion animated films and ceramic animals. There were plays and, if memory serves, a kooky report about the Bermuda Triangle.

In other words, I had the freedom to be creative and access to the tools that would let me do it. The gifted program was just a way to met out privileges to the already privileged.

As I got older, I dropped out of gifted and even honors classes. In part, I really wanted to coast through and smoke weed and be lazy. But I was also sick to death of seeing the same people in every class that I had. I went to a diverse middle and high school. But my classes were filled with the same disproportionately white, disproportionately Jewish, and disproportionately well-off people.

Once I started going to “regular” classes, the horrors of school really hit me. No matter how creative or curious you are. No matter how much potential you have. If you sit in a box doing mind-numbing worksheets while some babysitter socializes you to be a Walmart cashier, it is going to make you stupid. At least I felt like I got stupider every minute that I was in school.

My point, after all of that, is this. We do not need to make gifted classes more diverse. It does not, in the end, really help us to have a more gender balanced and multicolored group of privileged people. It is true that a person in a position of power may change the rules a little for a few people – like the new principal of my school. And it is true that there is value in diversity – particularly in having relationships that cross all the barriers of gender, race, class…

But in the end, all kids need the freedom and resources to pursue their interests and to do the kinds of creative and mind-expanding things that gifted kids are allowed to do. Asking for more Latinos in gifted is the same as asking for more Latino CEOs or black generals or women senators. We don’t need a more diverse hierarchy or a less obviously racist and sexist way to met out privileges. We need to get rid of the hierarchy and the privileges.

Trans Issues are Core Issues

February 04, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification

A few weeks ago, a piece by Suzanne Moore called Seeing red: The power of female anger started a bit of a shitstorm. Moore was looking to get women riled up and she succeeded – just not the women she was aiming for. Trans women were furious at her comment that women are angry with themselves for “not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual.” Roz Kaveney explains.

In the first place there’s the implied dichotomy between women on the one hand and Brazilian trans women on the other – as if Brazilian trans women are somehow not women. But far more important is the fact well over a hundred Brazilian trans women were murdered in the last year alone.

And if there had been any doubt that people were right about the trans hatred that lingered behind Moore’s words, we had only to wait for her and her friends’ responses. The most vile of which came from Julie Burchill, best bud and godmother to Moore’s children. Click through and read the hate if you can stand it. I’m just going to give you one quote. The first part refers to another of Burchill’s friends who has been supposedly harassed by the “trans lobby.”

she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.

Similarly, Suzanne’s original piece was about the real horror of the bigger picture – how the savagery of a few old Etonians is having real, ruinous effects on the lives of the weakest members of our society, many of whom happen to be women

I had to google Etonian. That would be somebody who went to Eton College, one of those boys boarding schools where upper crusty Brits go. Do you see what Burchill did there? She just made conservative legislation in the UK take precedence over every other thing that women are fighting.  Apparently, what some Tory does to a relatively privileged Brit is supposed to matter more to me than hundreds of dead Brazilian women, or even the  trans women killed right in my own city.

I may still have a lot of 101 to do when it comes to pressing problems facing the trans community, but I feel quite secure saying that “phantom limb” doesn’t make the top ten. Moore thinks it is terrible that women are getting laid off from government jobs. I have news for her, U.S. trans people have double the rate of unemploymentA fifth of trans people have been refused a home or apartment. A fifth have been homeless. Those who are homeless are regularly turned away from shelters, even in the dead of winter. And trans people face massive discrimination when it comes to health care. Even those who have insurance can be denied routine care due to a trans exclusion. The stats are even worse for trans people of color.

No. The trans community isn’t concerned about a “phantom limb.” They are concerned about the basic necessities of life – work, housing, medical care, personal safety. Concerns that are, by the way, a hell of a lot more important to me than how many women are in the UK parliament, how patronizing UK leaders are, how women do more housework, how women feel bad about themselves because they don’t look a certain way – the things Moore was complaining about in her piece.

It is a shame that so many women are blinded by their animosity towards those who don’t neatly fall into the boy/girl roles they were assigned by some doctor at birth. I have to wonder how the Moore and Burchills of the world think that gender discrimination is going to end. Do they not realize that it is based on a false binary, on differences that are largely socially constructed? Trans people, queer people, any people who challenge rigid conceptions of gender, are on the front lines smashing those tiny gender boxes for all of us.

If anything, it is the liberal bullshit that the Moore and Burchills of this world focus on that is a distraction. They don’t really want to shake things up, just for Tory politicians to be less patronizing and for there to be a few more tits in parliament. They might claim radical women’s movements when it suits them – as Moore did when she claimed Pussy Riot and Tahrir Square in that piece – but ultimately all they really want is a little more power and champagne money.

And I might add that, far from distracting me, learning about trans issues has made me more aware of the social constraints that affect me as a cis woman. I am more conscious of the safety calculations I make on the streets and of how safe for me is not safe for everyone. I’m more aware of how much of femininity is stagecraft. And I am more aware of misogyny and self hatred. Because while it is often kept in check around me, that hate spews out freely when it comes to trans women.

Suzanne, Julie, et al. You can take your freely spewing hatred and shove it. You aren’t just making life more difficult and dangerous for trans women. You are standing in the way of dealing with the core issues that hold up this mess. And, as a dear friend of mine likes to say, I ain’t got time.

 

Legality, Morality, and Dehumanization

January 25, 2013 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Criminalization, Drugs, Sex, Stratification

According to Oliver Willis, some of us on the left are dumb because we aren’t ready to declare that a woman arrested for prostitution with her son present is an open and shut case of wrongness. He claims it isn’t about whether or not we think prostitution should be legal. It is illegal. She brought her kid. She involved “her child in what is very clearly illegal activity.” End of story.

But does Willis really think that people should never do anything illegal? Back in November, Willis claimed that Martin Luther King was one of the most important figures in black American history. And in this piece, he asked “Do people on the left think that Martin Luther King simply held one protest and those in power immediately rushed to pass the Civil Rights Act?”

I certainly don’t think that MLK held one protest. I know that he held many protests. I also know that he spent quite a bit of time in jail for breaking the law, as did a whole lot of other people in the civil rights movement. It was, after all, MLK who said “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

But perhaps Willis just meant that children should never be involved in illegal activity, even the illegal activity he might find moral. It so happens that I am currently reading Freedom’s Children, interviews of people who were children during the civil rights movement. Kids were actively recruited by MLK and others to participate in protests and nonviolent disobedience. They integrated movie theaters and restaurants. They went to jail. They got their asses kicked. Does Willis think that shouldn’t have happened? I doubt it.

What about immigration, Oliver. You said Romney lost because he “embraced in a bear hug the most fringe anti-immigrant position out there.” You seem to support immigration reform and scoff at Republicans who use the term “amnesty” to refer to legalizing those who crossed our borders without papers. Do you think immigrants who crossed the border illegally with their children should be strung up from the nearest lamppost?

No. I don’t believe that this is really about legal or illegal. I think Willis would agree that disobeying unjust, immoral laws is perfectly acceptable. If not, he has some explaining to do about his love of MLK. This is about Willis’s opinion of sex work and the people who do it. It is about his willingness to dismiss and dehumanize someone because they did something he finds icky.

Back when I took my first class on the drug war, I had this click moment in my head. Even though I had never been in favor of the drug laws, even though I knew many people who were caught up in the injustice system, I never really recognized the scheme for what it was. How I never saw the process of dehumanization is incredible to me. I mean, I had been reading about Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews since grade school. I knew how vagrancy laws were used during Jim Crow. I understood how laws were enacted to criminalize certain groups and justify their oppression. But somehow I never saw it clearly when it came to the drug laws.

And it wasn’t until relatively recently that I really gave a lot of thought to the laws against sex work. Who are they meant to control? Where did they come from? Who is getting their freedom taken away? What is the result of the War on Sex Workers?

But Willis doesn’t want to ask those questions. He doesn’t want to ask why a person might do sex work. He doesn’t want to ask why sex work is looked down upon more than working for Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t want to ask why someone might have to bring their kid to work with them. To ask those questions would mean seeing that woman as a human being and not a “criminal” – that classification which justifies taking someone’s freedom, taking their children, marking them for life.

When someone dared suggest that perhaps the woman’s choices were limited and that we should try to understand more about her circumstances before we judge, Willis chose to get butthurt that people had lower standards for the poor. Apparently, he thinks that following the rules and working hard will eventually pay off for everyone – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

No, Willis. Asking questions, refusing to completely dehumanize that woman, is not a “degrading” assumption that “a poor person must break the law to eat and that that’s somehow okay.” It is an understanding that some human beings have more limited choices than others. It is an understanding that laws are often made for the purpose of controlling certain groups of people. It is the unwillingness to dehumanize and degrade.

Willis believes in “absolutes, ” by which he means that laws are laws and should be followed by all. Nobody gets a break. The guy who stole millions in mortgage fraud schemes is exactly the same as the starving guy who stole bread.  For him, anything else means “no moral guidance, no right and wrong… anarchy.”

Except that “no moral guidance” is not what anarchy means. Anarchy means no rulers. It means no hierarchies that allow a few powerful people to make laws that oppress the rest. It means understanding that moral and legal are not the same.  It means freedom, mutual aid, and respect. It means trying to understand what your fellow human beings are experiencing and not assuming that your morals and choices are universal.

Laws against sodomy, laws against miscegenation, laws against drugs, and laws against sex work have all been used to target marginalized people. And even when some of the people who support those laws have good intentions – like those who know how destructive drug abuse can be – they cannot just close their eyes to how the laws are used. That is immoral.

Pregnancy, Coercion, and Responsibility

January 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Religion, Seeking, Sex, Stratification

I was reading about this abortion restricting bill in Michigan. While I realize that it is another attempt to regulate abortion out of existence under the guise of safety and regulations, something in that article struck me.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has approved a controversial package of abortion restrictions that will limit abortion access for women who live in rural areas, require doctors to prove that mentally competent women haven’t been “coerced” into their decision to have the procedure, and enact unnecessary, complicated rules for abortion clinics and providers.

Why those quotes around “coerced”? I know young women who were coerced into having abortions because their parents were embarrassed, because they said they would refuse to help take care of the child, because the father would not take any responsibility, because the community would not take any responsibility, because they had no other place to turn to.

I also know many women who were coerced into having children. Women have their contraception tampered with. They are pressured by their husbands and families to reproduce when they don’t want to, even though the primary responsibility for the kids will fall on them. They are pressured by their community and religious institutions not to abort. They are pressured by the social assumption that everybody “should” have kids.

If you read The Girls Who Went Away, you will read story after heartbreaking story of young women prior to Roe v. Wade who did not have the option to abort and who were coerced into giving their children up for adoption. When I say coerced, I don’t just mean the shame and social pressure. I mean that actual force was used to get them to sign adoption papers. Sometimes the papers were even forged.

And what about all those women around the world who have no access to birth control, much less abortion, and who are poor? Some wealthy couple from the U.S. or Europe sweeps in and pays an attorney tens of thousands of dollars to adopt the child. They take the child away from their mother and community and we are supposed to think that it is a happy ending. Meanwhile, if the mother received the money that went to the attorney, she might have been able to keep the child. Isn’t that a form of coercion?

Nobody should be coerced into having children and nobody should be coerced into not having children. But it is more complicated than not telling women what to do with their bodies. It is also about economics and social support.

And here is where it gets even more complicated. Whether or not other people have kids affects us. I sincerely wish that wasn’t true. I wish my decision not to have kids meant that I would never have to deal with the responsibility of children. But much as I hate to admit it, it just isn’t the case, not even in the best of circumstances. But it is especially true when really damaged people decide to bring kids into the world.

It may be tempting to say that some people should not be allowed to have children. But as much as I may cringe at the prospect of certain people being parents, even more cringe-worthy is the idea that there is anyone out there who has the right or the impeccable/superhuman/prejudice-free judgment to determine who is worthy to have children. We can’t have judges ordering women not to reproduce. We can’t let governments decide to sterilize people because they are trans or poor or disabled.

Other people’s lives and decisions affect us – even people we don’t know. Sometimes that really sucks. Sometimes people make horrible, irrational, and irresponsible decisions that we all have to live with – and that includes people who lived long before we were born. But sometimes people also do things that we all benefit from without having had to make any effort or sacrifice. While we are quick to condemn those whose bad decisions cause us inconvenience, nobody wakes up in the morning feeling guilty that they don’t have polio because some other person’s kid invented a vaccine.

I have written before about how I think the nuclear family is a failure, that it is really a mechanism for limiting our responsibility. It has also been used to control and shame women, especially poor women. Some of those Girls Who Went Away later found out that the only real difference between them and the adopted mother was a husband and a slightly larger bank account. But those two things are significant when we live in a society that likes the benefits without the responsibilities.

Conservatives want everyone to be in the supposedly perfect and stable nuclear family where the father and mother take care of everything and nobody else (supposedly) has to get involved. Maybe your church or neighborhood might pitch in. Liberals want to get involved (entirely too much) by legislating, taxing, or sending in some (hopefully) well-meaning civil servant who is getting paid to kinda care. Because paying a tax and sending in a social worker takes a lot less effort than actually getting involved in a kid’s life. Neither way is working very well.

All of which is to say that, when it comes to pregnancy and children, there are a lot of tensions that cannot be resolved. They can only be managed. The question is how to manage those tensions in a way that is not coercive or authoritarian. How to accept that we cannot seal ourselves off from others decisions, but also not leave us constantly cleaning up other people’s messes. How to get out of these intractable and unhelpful debates where we just grab onto a platitude and refuse to listen to anyone else.

Not easy.