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?

Victims, Villains, and Heroes

September 14, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Seeking, Stratification

Clint EastwoodWhen I first started delving into the drug war and criminal injustice system, I saw it as a process of dehumanization that I couldn’t ignore. While I had friends who were caught up in the system, as one of the least targeted people, the only connection I saw to my personal life was what I had learned as the grandkid of holocaust refugees.

People ask how atrocities could happen and a whole society be blind to them. While I don’t want to make comparisons between concentration camps and prisons, it isn’t hard for me to see how a whole country could have shut their eyes. People are tortured, raped, and murdered behind bars in this country now and most of us don’t even notice.

But the more I learned about how this particular dehumanization works, the more I realized the special role that I play in it. I’m the victim that excuses the violence.

If you have never read Ida B. Wells on lynchings, you need to. Despite the fact that the majority of black men who were lynched were not even accused of rape, the defenders of lynchings always used the rape of white women as their cover for murder – or as one Southern newspaper put it “the barbarism which preys upon weak and defenseless women.”

How ironic that white men used the rape of white women as their excuse. How many of us in the colonized world are a product of the rape of black and indigenous women by white men – what the Mexicans like to refer to as La Gran Chingada (the great rape)? But women of color are not generally the victims of our national narrative. They are mostly invisible.

As a white woman it is my job to be a victim to excuse the bloodthirst. The boxes people have tried to cram  me into my whole life – weakness, dependency, purity – are really just about playing that role. If you refuse to be defenseless. If you refuse to be appropriately dependent. If you refuse to be fallen. Then there is hell to pay. It isn’t just about control of women and their sexuality. It is that our role as victims is key in a narrative that holds up the authoritarian system.

If there are no victims and no villains then what need do we have for heroes? Our heroes are, of course, violent. Usually, they wear a uniform. Sometimes they might take it off for a night to do their lynchings undercover. But whether it is a cop or a soldier or a vigilante, we accept the armed and violent hero only because we believe in the helpless victim.

The racialized and genderized victim/villain/hero narrative undergirds everything. It is part of the lynchings of 100 years ago. It was there when we were accusing Chinese men of defiling white women to get opium laws passed. It is built into the criminal injustice system that targets men of color. It is part of every war that we fight, the way we use women as an excuse to bomb countries.

And what does it do to the people who are trying to live up to their role as hero by picking up those guns? In order to fit into that hero/man box you have to become a killer. You have to be broken down until whatever it is in you that recognizes another person’s humanity is gone. There is no coming back from that, certainly not for the thousands of soldiers who come back and kill themselves. Not likely for the prison guards either.

I’m not trying to infer equivalency between the experiences of someone sitting in solitary confinement and what is going through the head of the person who put them there. I’m not saying that a white woman’s fight to get out of the victim box can be compared to being lynched. The full weight of the system does not hit us all evenly.

Nor am I saying that people are never victimized, that some of the people in prison have not done horrible things. But most of those people have also been victims. We can all be victimized, villainous, or heroic. The system needs to wedge us into narrow categories in order to feed itself. It needs to provide a narrative that makes it seem like the armed thug’s job is something besides protecting the power and privilege of a handful of people.

We need to understand the connections. If we don’t, we will inevitably end up fighting against one part of the narrative while upholding another.

White women who fight the violence against them in a way that supports, rather than challenges, the racist criminal injustice system will never make life better for women. Black men who fight the criminal injustice system but hold a view that tries to put black women on the same purity pedestal that white women are chained to will never make life better for black people. Anti-authoritarians who don’t understand the role that racism and sexism play in upholding the state will never see it smashed.

For me, understanding the connections means being a really terrible victim. It means refusing the accept the villainization of men – especially men of color. It means refusing to accept the heroization of people with guns – even the ones I may have some sympathy for. It means focusing on the criminal injustice system and the war machine and any other victim/villain/hero narrative that keeps this state alive.

Because if we break those narratives we all get out of our boxes, real and metaphorical. We break the fear. We stop so much of the torture and violence and suffering.

No more victims. No more villains. No more heroes.

Obey or Pay…Unless

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Stratification

Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day OffI came across this truancy scare video the other day. The video talks about how truancy leads to dropping out and how dropping out leads to a “lifelong inability to find gainful employment (and) make a meaningful life.” It has kids talking about how they were rebellious (the horror). They talk about abusing drugs, about violent boyfriends, about being homeless.

And then there is this asshat. She’s a clinical psychologist who is trying to scare twenty-somethings into getting serious about their lives. Apparently, if you don’t get your shit together by the time you are 25, you will be playing catch-up forever. And by playing catch-up she means that your career, house, spouse, children, dog, and picket fence will be a few pottery barn items short of perfect.

Did you get the message everyone? Are you clear on what success looks like? Are you fully convinced that education overcomes everything, as the woman in the truancy video claims? Oh, and about that 50% of recent grads who are unemployed or underemployed. No need to worry about that, says the asshat, you just focus on getting yourself into that other 50%. Fuck those other people.

We are inundated with messages every day about how we as individuals can end up on top (or at least not on the bottom) of this big, hot mess we are in. We are told that, if you do the right thing, you will be rewarded. Maybe, as in the case of that video, some people with their hearts in generally the right place will acknowledge that there are social circumstances that lead people to “end up” in the criminal (in)justice system.

People don’t just end up in prison. They are targeted. You will not be rewarded for doing the right thing. In fact, you will generally suffer for it. You might be rewarded for obeying the rules, depending on who you are. Or maybe, if you just stay in your place and don’t raise too much hell, people won’t actively go after you. You might be congratulated if you define success as some formerly truant kid going back to school with a desire to join the Coast Guard. (Hey, now instead of going to jail, that kid can spend his life putting drug runners and immigrants in prison. Success!)

As someone who made truancy into something of an art form, when I first watched the video I just wanted to write a post telling people how much bullshit school is and to fuck up all they want. I did not skip school because I was suffering outside of school. I skipped school because I was suffering in it. It was boring and authoritarian and I was not going to waste any more precious minutes of my life in that place. I don’t regret for one minute any day that I ditched for the beach. If I had to do it all over again, I would have been absent all 45 days that one quarter instead of just 43.

Despite skipping school, getting kicked out, and generally doing my best to fuck up as much as possible, I’m not in prison. I’ve managed to support myself since I was seventeen. I haven’t killed anybody or overdosed on heroin.

Do you know why I am not in prison? I’m not in prison because, when I was caught stealing or drinking or smoking or… (well let me keep some secrets), the police were usually not called. Even when they were called, I never saw the inside of a police station. At worst, they called my parents. Usually, they didn’t even do that.

These kids are not “ending up” in prison because they have a bad home life and are not staying in school. They are ending up in prison because the criminal (in)justice system targets them in ways that it never targeted me. Our schools are filled with cops just itching to get more fodder for the prisons/work camps/torture chambers. They are arresting kids for throwing paper airplanes and six-year-olds for tantrums.

Some of us can fuck up quite a bit and still make a reasonably comfortable life. Some of us can spend a few decades with whiskey and cocaine and still go to an ivy league school and become president. And some of us can get busted one time with a few joints and have the rest of our lives ruined for it.

The grand trick is that we pretend like there are rules that apply to everyone. But they don’t. Uber-privileged people ignore the rules and are fine. Marginalized people get fucked even when they obey them. The rest of us are impregnated with fear of fucking up and misdirected into pursuing some illusory goal of personal achievement instead of focusing on the obedience training system that funnels us into our proper place.

I can’t in good conscience tell people to just go forth and fuck up. Some of us don’t have the luxury. But don’t respond to the unemployability of dropouts with criminal records by making some half-assed attempt to get some of them back into the funnel. Question what the hell is going on with our criminal (in)justice system. Ask why people without alphabet soup at the end of their names can’t make a living. Get pissed that half the people with alphabet soup at the end of their names can’t even get work.

Disobey as much as you possibly can.  The rules were not made for your benefit.

Beware of Strange Men on Airplanes

August 26, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Sex, Stratification

It seems that Virgin airlines has a policy that unaccompanied children cannot sit next to men on their airplanes. An Australian man, who was assigned a seat next to two boys he did not know, was asked to switch seats with a woman. Pissed off about being treated like a presumed predator, he blogged about it and complained to the airline that their policy was sexist.

Francois Tremblay thinks this guy is being an entitled douche and that is ridiculous to call this sexism. Meghan Murphy compares this man’s one moment of discomfort with the daily bullshit that women have to go through to avoid being harassed or worse. I get what they are saying, but the policy is still wrong. And the privilege that this guy is showing isn’t the one they think it is.

Gender essentialism is our enemy. It is not o.k. to base policies on gender essentialist notions, regardless of who is negatively affected. I know what you are thinking. But Mel, men are the ones who commit most violence. As Murphy cites in her article, 90% of child sex offenders are men. Ok. But do you know what else that very same article states? 70 – 90% of child sex offenders are known to the child.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, most child abusers are parents. And about half of the perpetrators of abuse and neglect are women. Granted, women are more often caregivers. And there is no telling what bullshit some states are calling neglect. But the fact remains that it would be more logical for the airline to separate kids from their parents if they really wanted to stop abuse.

But we would never do such a thing. Because one of the things that perpetuates child abuse is the idea that parents can do whatever they want to their children. “I brought you into this world. I can take you out of it.” It seems we are more likely to have irrational policies on airplanes than to intervene when we see a parent abusing their child – verbally or physically.

And do you know what else perpetuates rape and sexual abuse? The idea that rapists are strangers who crawl into your window and hold a gun to your head does. It is the reason why so many rapists think they are not rapists – despite the fact that they have no concept of consent and no problem using coercion, violence, drugs… Cause I mean hey, it was a girl I was on a date with so it can’t be rape.

This Australian guy is showing his privilege. But the privilege that he is showing isn’t that he is not in constant fear of being harassed. It is that he is a white guy, an emergency service worker no less, and accustomed to being cast in the role of hero. If he were black or Arab then being cast as the evil predator wouldn’t have come as much of a shock. It is standard operating procedure.

What if he had been black? What if he was Arab or Muslim? What if he was trans? How would those kids (and the rest of the people on that airplane) have processed that move? And how did two boys, who will soon grow up to be men, process the idea that in a few years they will be too scary to sit next to children?

We can’t end sexism by being gender essentialist. We can’t end racism by ignoring how race affects the way people are perceived. We aren’t going to raise healthy men by demonstrating to boys that they must be avoided when they grow up. We aren’t going to end abuse – sexual or otherwise – by focusing on the few incidents that are perpetrated by strangers and allowing people to operate under the convenient illusion that abusing the people that you know, and maybe even love, doesn’t really count.

Big Tents, Little Bridges, Vested Interests

August 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Stratification

Bridge in the Japanese Garden in San FranciscoThis piece over at Cubik’s Rube reminded me of something I have been wanting to write about for a while. James is worried that the atheism+ idea that Blag Hag wrote about, and that I linked to on Wed, will be just one more divide in a movement that already has plenty of “splits, schisms, and dichotomies.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about big tents and factions since the group I was working with disintegrated. I think one of our core problems was that we tried to be too much of a big tent, or at least we went about it the wrong way. We knew that people in the group had different political views, theories of change, and ways of working. We had different backgrounds and life experiences – age, gender, race, class, religion. And rather than tackling those differences head on, we avoided talking about them. It was a huge mistake. And we ended up bleeding people anyway.

If you spend any time studying social justice movements from the past, you will soon learn how many of them fell apart or were co-opted because different groups sold each other out. White workers threw black workers under the bus with the unions. Black men threw women under the bus with voting. White women threw women of color under the bus with the feminist movement. Trans people got thrown under the bus by the GLB community. And on and on.

And in the end, while there may be a few beneficiaries here and there, we all lost. We find ourselves fighting the same battles all over again. Clearly, we can’t just all break off into little affinity groups that only think about ourselves. Our liberation is tied together in a very real way.

At the same time, whenever you get people together that have wildly different backgrounds, privileges, interests, communication styles… you are going to spend a huge amount of your time just keeping the group together. If you don’t spend the time, you will lose people. But if you spend all your time dealing with those things then people will feel like you aren’t moving toward your goal. And you will lose people that way too. Not to mention that the most marginalized people will be FUCKING EXHAUSTED trying to beat their heads against everyone else’s blindnesses.

And let us throw in another conundrum while we are at it. In that atheism+ post, she inserts a long quote about how many of the people who have gotten involved in the atheist movement are people who are not affected by any other type of prejudice/oppression. Being an atheist is the one little speed-bump on the otherwise smooth road of their lives. And they are wholly uninterested in having their other privileges questioned.

It is pretty much impossible for me to work with anyone who can only see their little corner of the universe and stay willfully blind about everything else. That doesn’t mean I won’t talk to them. I just can’t work with them. But as infuriating as it is for me to deal with people who can only see the one thing that affects them, it would be so much worse if they were coming in to white knight on some issue that they have not experienced and do not understand.

As (I believe it was) @manowax said at the Words, Beats & Life teach-in, “You have to have a vested interest to make change.” If atheist prejudice is the only thing that those people can see that they have a vested interest in, then that is what they should focus on. It is when something isn’t just an “issue” but your everyday life that you will see it through to the end. What choice do you have?

It reminds me of the beginning of this civil rights roundtable when they ask the participants to talk about why they are there. James Baldwin talks about being “born a negro.” Poitier says, “I became interested in civil rights struggle out of a necessity, to survive.” Belafonte talks about inheriting the struggle from his parents and grandparents. But Brando talks about Rosa Parks and Heston about talking to people at cocktail parties. Baldwin, Poitier, and Belafonte spent their lives struggling for their rights as human beings. Heston went back to cocktail parties and shilling for the NRA.

So there is nothing wrong with spending your time on the things that affect you, but somehow we also have to find ways to help people see how all the different struggles are connected. At the very least, we need to figure out how to stop throwing each other under the bus.

I should say here that I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting involved in a struggle where you are not the most affected. But I do think we need to understand how that struggle is connected to our own. We should be very careful about how we get involved and realistic about how dedicated we are to the issue, to the people, to the community. We can’t just drop in for a year and then skip out to a masters program, patting ourselves on the back the whole way.

So where does that leave us?

I think we should stop trying to have big tents. We need to focus on understanding our interests and how they connect. We should be building small, close-knit groups and a lot of little bridges.

In other words, stop seeing different experiences, backgrounds, and struggles as divisive and start seeing them as connective. Blag Hag is a bridge between feminists and atheists. Not all atheists are going to examine their other privileges. Not all feminists are going to examine theirs. But many will understand. That bridge is the beginning of how we are going to stop throwing each other under the bus.

We don’t need to worry that our movements will be divided. Large organizations only erase differences that shouldn’t be erased and grow hierarchies that shouldn’t be seeded. Successful social movements of the past have usually been made up of small, tight-knit communities and groups. They have been made up of people with long relationships and a lot of earned trust and respect. It wasn’t a thousand people who started the freedom rides. It was a handful. But that handful sparked something and others followed.

I think it is o.k. if we work on the issues that most affect us and with people that we like, understand, and respect. But we all have to take on the work of pushing to understand how the struggles are connected. And we have to make sure that we aren’t taking the easy way out by avoiding the uncomfortableness that comes from working with people whose cultures, experiences, marginalizations, etc. are difficult for us. We need to constantly be confronting ourselves.

The good news is that most of us are a part of many communities and struggles. So we can all be bridges. We can all work on the things that most affect us. We can all help each other to understand how those struggles are connected. We can work towards the same thing from different angles. Our work will be stronger for it.

Is the Media Liberal?

August 06, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

A friend of mine just posted this nifty graphic showing how much more often the media quotes the GOP. But I’m not sure that it says much.

If conservative is defined as wanting to live by religious doctrine or being anti-abortion, then the media is not particularly conservative. If conservative is defined as supporting current institutions of privilege, power, and domination, then the media is conservative as hell.

If liberal is defined as wanting fundamental changes and real social justice, then the media is not liberal. If liberal is defined as being classist, elitist, and status-seeking, then the media is liberal as hell.

When people who identify as conservatives call someone a liberal what they often really mean is that they are classist and arrogant – which many liberals are. When people who identify as liberal call someone a conservative, what they often really mean is that they are sexist and white supremacist – which many conservatives are.

But you can find classism, arrogance, sexism, white supremacy and every other wrongheaded, hierarchical view among people who identify as liberal or conservative or anything else. You’ll also find people who identify as liberals who are not arrogant and people who identify as conservatives who are not white supremacist.

As far as I’m concerned, both “liberals” and “conservatives” are fundamentally conservative. Is the mainstream media radical? Hell no.

Dear Reformists, You’re Welcome

July 20, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

You're WelcomeThe problem with people who focus on reform is that they don’t seem to understand how reform actually happens. They want to focus on influencing the people in power by gaining access. That almost never leads to change, or at least not the kind of change that we need. Reform happens in one of two ways:

1. You find an insider who agrees with you and they perceive that they can do something without suffering any political consequences. That is incredibly rare. And the only things that don’t lead to political consequences, like a loss of political contributions, are things that are not going to significantly change our lives.

2. The people have already decided to ignore or challenge the rules and reform becomes self preservation. If enough people decide that they are not going to bow down to the powers-that-be then the powers have two options. They can increase repression or they can change the rules to reflect what the people have already decided to do. Otherwise, their power is completely delegitimized.

My aim is to delegitimize the state. If the state wants to make some reforms in order to hold on to power a little longer, and those reforms help some people, that’s cool. My aim doesn’t change. And since my aim is not reform, I am not going to stop pushing when reform happens. Reform is not an end, but a delay. That doesn’t mean we vilify reformists for delaying the evolution. The only way to ensure that we don’t replace a horrible system with an even worse one is to be patient enough to have most of the people on the same page. That takes time.

But reformists need to stop vilifying radicals as well. That isn’t only because of their misunderstanding of how change happens. It is also because they are not appreciating how much the uncompromising rabble-rousers outside help them. The more radical we are, the more reasonable they seem. The more reasonable they seem, the more access they have. Without us, the people who want to use “insider strategies” aren’t going to get a foot in the door.

Lets take the civil rights movement. The minds of people had changed. And the people most affected by racism decided that they were no longer going to obey. There were sit-ins, bus boycotts, freedom rides. And because so many people’s minds were already changed, many joined those first few. Now, not only was the United States embarrassed on a worldwide scale (claiming to be a beacon of freedom while attacking peaceful protesters with dogs and hoses), but they risked a complete breakdown of authority. So the laws changed. Do not kid yourself that they changed because of the huge heart of the people sitting in the Whitehouse. Perhaps other leaders would have chosen the full-scale repression route, but ultimately it was self preservation.

What’s more, the existence of more revolutionary groups pushed the state to work with the part of the civil rights movement that was asking for justice within the current structure (as opposed to the part that wanted to bring the whole thing down). While you could argue that the Civil Rights Act had serious political consequences for democrats, ultimately it legitimized the state. If you don’t believe me, try having a conversation with a liberal about social justice and why it was direct action and not something LBJ signed that ended segregation.

So next time some reformist gives you crap for being “unrealistic” or “not serious” or “naive” or some such bullshit just say “you’re welcome.”

 

Encouraging (in)Visibility

July 13, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Stratification

I am one of those people who would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy.  I am also one of those people who takes a while to get to know someone, especially when I’m thrown into a whole group of new people. The result of those two things is that I am often “encouraged” to speak more in groups or on panels…

While I sometimes kinda sorta appreciate the sentiment behind it, mostly I get pretty fucking irritated.

Much of this “encouragement” comes in the form of “we need more women’s voices,” as was suggested to me in the context of the criminal (in)justice committee. That’s true.  But women aren’t interchangeable. We don’t need just any woman’s voice. We need the women who are most affected by the issues we are talking about.

There are women out there who have been in prison. There are women out there who have been taking care of their kids, their brother’s kids, and their neighbor’s kids while everybody else is in prison. And they have been doing it making poverty wages, living in low intensity conflict zones, and completely erased from the public eye – unless it is to vilify them as crack whores or welfare queens.  Those are the women who need to be heard and who probably have a damn good idea of what needs to be done.

And even when people are seeking out the women who can actually speak to the issue in question, their participation is just a diversity box that people are checking off.  It is infuriating when someone suggests that “gender balance” has been addressed by having one woman on a panel full of dudes, as someone I was working with recently claimed.

Admittedly, even under circumstances where I should speak more, I don’t do it. I realize that is a problem. And while there are plenty of men out there who also hate being the center of attention, it seems to be something that the women I know struggle with more.

We are socialized in a way that encourages men to  expect to be center stage and women to expect to be invisible. There are a lot of women who are brought up to be housewives and secretaries, to do invisible work, to be “the woman behind the man.” Not to mention how often visibility means a whole lot of unpleasant attention.

And all of us are brought up to believe that the only people that count are the dudes that make pretty speeches. That’s why everybody knows who MLK was and almost nobody knows who Ella Baker was, much less Diane Nash or any of the other women of that era. What I would really like to know is – Who typed MLKs speeches? Who kept track of all the vehicles that drove people around during the bus boycotts? Who brought the food to the nightly church meetings so that entire families could come out and plan direct actions?

Speeches are inspiring. But speaking is not doing.

The challenge for a lot of us women is that the expectation of being invisible often leads to wanting to be invisible.  That’s a problem. But I think the challenge is even more difficult for those people who not only expect to be center stage, but don’t even seem to see all the invisible work that the charismatic male leader is just a symbol of.

We don’t need to be checking gender boxes. We shouldn’t be falling into the trap of thinking that center stage means more important.  And we damn well shouldn’t be “encouraging” people to play symbolic roles.  What we should be doing is thinking about what our role should be in a given context and then stepping up or stepping back accordingly.

Shame Redistribution

April 23, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Stratification

A little while ago, I was watching this video of Michelle Alexander. In it, she talks about how struck she was by the silence within the communities most affected by mass incarceration. House after house in these neighborhoods had family members in prison. But people weren’t talking about it. And a big reason for that was shame.

Not long after, some of the people from the housing committee of Occupy DC were telling us how they had a hard time finding people willing to admit that they were being foreclosed on. People were too ashamed to admit it publicly. The shame was so great that they would rather lose their home.

It is incredible to me how we have all been shamed into silence. We are ashamed of being targeted by police. Ashamed of being taken advantage of by shady mortgage lenders. Ashamed of being poor. Ashamed of what we look like or who we have sex with. We are just inundated with shaming for so many things that we have no business being ashamed of.

Meanwhile, I’m researching Wells Fargo and their investments in private prisons. And I’m thinking about these mutual fund managers who shamelessly  sit at their desks buying stock in private prisons that torture people. Then they go home to their McMansions or posh condos and bask in the glory of having all the things the rest of us are shamed for not having.

There is a lot of talk about redistribution of wealth. But I think maybe we need to start with a redistribution of shame.

 

More Revolutionary Than Thou

March 01, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

On one of the videos from the recent Occupy4Prisoners action in DC, somebody spots a guy on the roof of the jail. At first they think it is a sniper. But when they zoom in on them, they see that it is someone working on the camera.

The protester starts to heckle the guy, telling him he should be ashamed to work at the prison, etc.

That moment has been bothering the hell out of me this week. I see this kind of stuff all the time, people making harsh judgments about others based on one tiny piece of information. That guy probably didn’t work for the jail. He probably works for some camera company that sent him out to fix the equipment.

Maybe that guy hates that he fixes cameras at the DC jail. He probably knows people in there. This is DC, where the vast majority of black men are going to be arrested and probably go through that hell hole. How could a black man in this town not know somebody? Maybe he’s been there himself and that camera company is one of the few that is actually willing to hire someone with a record. Maybe that guy has kids and parents to take care of and it is the only job he could get.

Should he quit his job because some of the clients suck? Should he let his kids starve in the name of ideological purity? Can you find me someone out there who never works for or buys from any organization that does fucked up things? I’m sure everybody reading this grows all their own organic food and weaves their own clothing to avoid the food and clothing industries. And surely none of you pay taxes that pay for bombs we drop on kids around the world. Right?

I’m not saying that it does not matter how we earn our living or who we give our money to. There are many choices people make that say a lot about who they are and what their priorities are. But there is no perfect way to earn a living in the world the way it is. There is no way to completely extricate yourself from every racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, colonial, exploitative, violent, vile system. It is everywhere.

We are not going to build movements to end any of that if we can’t show basic respect to people who may not have yet reached the same conclusions or who don’t have a life that allows them to make the same choices.

When people make snap judgments, when they can’t show people basic respect, when they get caught up in the greener-than-thou or more-revolutionary-than-thou bullshit, it makes me think they are more interested in their personal identity than they are in actual social change.

And that is a damn shame.