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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Small Acts of Resistance

August 13, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change

I’m reading this book called Freedom’s Children right now. I only just started it, but it relates to all the thinking I have been doing about motivation and participation in activism. The author interviewed thirty people who were children or teenagers in the 1950s and 1960s.

Maybe one of the reasons we find it hard to stay motivated with activism is that sometimes we think too big. We don’t always have to be aiming for thousands at a march or the total collapse of the banking system tomorrow. We need a culture of resistance that can build over time.

When I read about nine-year-olds who poured water on soda fountain counters when faced with discrimination or teens who removed the “colored, do not sit beyond this board” signs from buses, I feel oddly motivated. All those small acts seeded something.

Focusing on small acts won’t just motivate us who are already involved. It might also help more people to get involved – people with limited time or resources. I’m not talking about buying some greenwashed product. I mean small acts that challenge the system, but that are part of everyday life and don’t require spending 3 hours at a meeting every week.

More importantly, I love that this book focuses on young people, often very young people. One of the ways we fall down horribly in the activist community is making spaces unwelcoming for people with kids, or just impossible for caregivers to participate. That’s not just a problem because we lose those caregivers. It is also a problem because we lose those kids.

The first person to refuse to give up her seat was not Rosa Parks. It was a fifteen year old named Claudette Colvin. There was a children’s crusade where elementary schoolers marched and were firehosed and attacked by dogs. Imagine the power behind that and imagine what kind of person you become when you are in the struggle starting at eight or nine.

I’m not sure exactly how this plays out in the day to day – how my behavior needs to change. But I am definitely going to start paying more attention to small acts and small people.

 

Food, Water, Air and Care

October 27, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Inequality, Politics

Remember Maslow’s hiearchy of needs?  Sure you do. It is usually presented something like this.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
You start at the bottom with the most basic needs.  As basic needs are met, you go up the pyramid.  I’ve seen a few of these pyramids.  They usually list the same stuff for basic needs – air, water, food.  They always forget the same basic need – care.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases). – Katherine Whitehorn

I often think of those two quotes, especially when people ask why there are so few women anarchists and libertarians.  The recent anarchist survey came back with 82% of the respondents being men.  Libertarian surveys also have lopsided results.

Why?

When I lived in California, I worked for a small nonprofit that assisted caregivers of people with brain impairments. I picked up the phone one day and spoke to a client who had just received her first bit of respite.  That’s where we provided money for the caregiver to hire someone for a couple hours.  The woman had been taking care of her husband since his motorcycle accident a decade before.  She was crying.  She said it was the first time away from her caregiving responsibilities in all that time.

Our program was paid for in large part by tax dollars, both state and federal.  Who do you imagine that woman was going to vote for when the time came?  Do you think arguments about taxation being theft are going to persuade her that she should forgo those precious few government-funded moments of freedom?  How does your vision of freedom actually help her?  Are you going to go take care of her husband for her?

The vast majority of our clients were women, more than 80%.  Nationwide, the vast majority of people providing care for aging or disabled family members are women.  And even where men do provide care, they usually spend a lot less time doing it.  All that care has a cost.  Caregivers are stressed out.  They are depressed.  They earn less money.  They don’t take care of themselves.  They are struggling.

Women are seen as caregivers.  Women see themselves as caregivers.   It is what society expects of us.  The expectation is that we are supposed to want to play that role, to relinquish our freedom willingly out of selfless motherly/daughterly/wifely love.  Why would talk of freedom be expected to resonate with people who aren’t even allowed to want it?

There is a small part of biology involved in the idea that women are caregivers.  Those women who are able and choose to get pregnant have a biological caregiving role.  But the caregiving role that women are expected to play goes way beyond what is biologically determined.  The ability to get pregnant does not make someone caring.  Once a child is out of the womb, there is no biological rule about who should or would do the best job of caring for them.  The fact that women are the caregivers in our society is socially constructed.

That doesn’t just suck for women, by the way.  It sucks for men too.  I worked for divorce attorneys for many years.  Some of those bitter, “men’s rights” activists do have a legitimate gripe.  I saw many men get screwed in their divorce because, historically, the default was for kids to be with their mother – the caring one.  I saw kids begging judges to live with their father, only to be denied.  It happens.  I hate to agree with those schmucks on anything, but the sun shines on even a dog’s ass some days.

And if the gendered nature of caregiving weren’t damaging enough, our “independent,” nuclear family focused, transient society has taken away the collective caregiving that women have historically depended on.  Now we are expected to take care of our kids and our aging parents, often at the same time, and with little or no help from other family members or the community.  Is it really a surprise that, as women’s caregiving responsibilities increase, they become more liberal?

I don’t claim to have definitive answers on why women aren’t responding to anarchist and libertarian philosophies in the same way men are.  But I do think that the gendered nature of caregiving, how little most men talk about caregiving, how central caregiving is to our lives, and how much caregiving restricts our freedom has to be a factor.

And I find it interesting, in the context of this discussion, that so many anarchist and libertarian women are childless or did not participate in the raising of their children – Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, for instance.  I would be very curious to know how many anarchist and libertarian women are mothers.  Most women are mothers.  If we can’t reach mothers, we can’t reach women.

The fact is that every one of us had our baby diapers changed by a woman.  And there is a damn good chance that your adult diapers will be changed by one to.  Complete independence and freedom are an illusion.  It is an illusion that women are not in a position to hold.  We are interdependent.  And we are only free in so far as everyone is willing to share in taking responsibility for the caregiving that is a fundamental need for all humans.

Whoever is addressing the real life situations that women face is going to get their attention – whether that is liberals offering government social programs, conservatives offering church social programs, or anarchists offering something new.  Talk to me about how to have the freedom to pursue my dreams without leaving a mountain of young, old, sick, and dying to fend for themselves and I’ll listen.

Anarchy, Disability, Purity, and Doubt

June 07, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Inequality

I’ve been thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and about a conversation I recently had about social security.  You would think that, as an anarchist who wants a stateless society, I would be against both.  That would be the ideologically pure position, no?  To be honest, I’ve had a bit of cognitive dissonance on this issue.

The need for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and for social security is real.  My aunt grew up with cerebral palsy (CP) in a time when people hid their relatives with disabilities.  She lives in a private home.  The home was started by a woman whose child had CP.  She started the home knowing that, when she died, there would be nobody to take care of her kid.  This valiant effort by one individual has provided a home for many people.  But it would not survive if the people living there, many whose parents are no longer alive and who have no children, did not receive social security.

The kids I helped at Camp Challenge were sometimes trapped in their houses most of the year.  The profit driven market has no interest in starting an accessible transportation company for one kid in rural Tennessee.  There is no profit in that.  The market does see profit in at-home care, but only for those people who have an extra $2,000 a week to pay for it.  And eventually those kids’ parents will be gone and they will need a place to go and a means of support that they can count on.

Saying the market will take care of them, in our present circumstances, is absurd.  It is true that there is coercion involved when people have money taken against their will and redistributed to others.  But it is also true that we live in, and help to create, a society where differently abled people have virtually no freedom at all – that the freedom to not help them can be directly in contradiction to their freedom to leave their house, get around, have a job, communicate with people…Doesn’t their freedom count?

I pointed out in my previous post how Rachel Maddow gave the government credit for integrating Woolworths, rather than giving credit to the everyday people that actually did it.  And that is true.  But it is also true that my aunt could not march over to Woolworths and insist that they lower the counter to accommodate her.  She needs someone to dress her and feed her.   She needs a wheelchair.  She needs ramps to get out of her building and into Woolworths.  She needs people who have the patience to listen to her as she struggles to get out the words.  She needs people who can see past her chair and drool and speech impediment and who will listen to the brilliance of her thoughts.

We all need to take responsibility for ourselves and the people around us.  But we also need to acknowledge that some of us face obstacles to taking responsibility that others don’t.

So I see a need, in our present circumstances, for the the ADA and for social security.  But I also see how these things are part of the problem. It isn’t just about some idea of freedom or the free market.  It isn’t just about some principle against coercion.  The home that my aunt lives in is run by grossly underpaid, African American women.  Having an anonymous government bureaucracy deal with the details makes it so much easier to keep those women (and the people they take care of) out of site and out of mind.  I can just file that tax return and never have to think about the whole lousy system – until I end up in it, of course.

The worst part about supporting government programs is knowing that I am helping to feed the machine that causes so much destruction.  The machine that is supporting my aunt is murdering people in Afghanistan and incarcerating millions of people who have done nothing wrong.  That machine uses a few token programs to bolster its legitimacy so that it can continue to exploit and oppress at will.  Every small bit of good it does comes at someone else’s expense.

So where does that leave me?  It leaves me with a moral dilemma.

My instinct is to try and resolve that dilemma with some neat philosophical jujitsu.  But every practical bone in my body fights against it.  And, if I’m being honest here, every selfish bone in my body fights against it too.  If I were going to be ideologically consistent, I wouldn’t rely on the state at all, right? I would tell my mother and aunt to stop collecting social security.  I would give up my job and my life.  And I would try to find some way of supporting them and taking care of them myself.  (No idea how I would have a job and provide 24 hour care for my Aunt.)  But should I really be expected to give up any freedom I have?

The truth is that sometimes there are no good choices.  And I am going to have to live with some moral ambiguity.  That bothers me.  But not so much as it bothers me when people pretend that everything can be wrapped up in a nice package and that these issues don’t pose any moral dilemmas.

Our world was designed by and for a very limited number of people during a very limited portion of their lives.  An anarchist world would be a very different place.  A world designed by all people – all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds, where everyone has a seat at the table, where all can express their own needs and desires – would not have these contradictions.  But we don’t live in that world.

I know that the system can never be the solution to a problem it helped to create.  But I also know that I cannot snap my fingers and have magically appear an all voluntary non-coercive method of dealing with the problems of real people.  In the time between now and then, real people have real needs that need to be met.  Too often, we anarchists get so caught up in philosophical discussions that we forget that.

It is, I believe, a real weakness to pretend these moral dilemmas don’t exist.  It delegitimizes our arguments in the eyes of people who experience the obstacles we too often ignore.  And it constrains our strategies in trying to imagine a new world and how we might get there.

In short, what I am trying to say is that I think we should embrace the doubts, ambiguities, and moral dilemmas that are inevitable with the world as it is being so far off from the world as it should be.  Rather than having litmus tests for authenticity or trying to pretend that we are all ideologically consistent, we should admit that it is impossible and give each other room to breathe.  By allowing for the ambiguity, I suspect we will find ourselves better able to reach out to people who find our beliefs somewhat alien.  And I suspect that we might find ourselves better able to come up with creative strategies for getting from here to there.

What’s Curious About Benjamin Button is Who Takes Care of Him

February 19, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Movie

Benjamin Button lived free and died young, very young. Here I am less interested in the young than in the free. He worked out on the ocean, traveling from port to port. Later, he hopped on a motorcycle and traveled the world.

The movie makes a point of showing that it is not money that prevents people from being able to do that. Button leaves Daisy all of his money before he takes off on his bike. What the movie does not look at is how an individual is able to pursue their interests so freely when the world is full of people (young and old) requiring care.

As a child, Benjamin’s father walked away from his responsibility to his son. It was a woman who took him in and brought him up. When Benjamin had his own child, he left that child to another woman (the child’s mother) to be cared for. When Benjamin ages, it is Daisy who takes care of him until his death. When Daisy dies in the hospital, it is her daughter and a female nurse that take care of her until her death.

Art imitates life.

Somewhere between 59% and 75% of all family caregivers are women. Even where men are providing family care, it is generally for less time than women. And the women who provide this care often have to juggle work with caring for children and aging parents.

Rich women have the option of pawning off this responsibility to poorer women, women like Queenie. Not only did Queenie take care of Benjamin, she took care of a house full of elderly people. Many of those people never had so much as a visit from their families. Rich women have options for taking care of their children as well. They can hire a nanny or fly in an Au Pair. They can afford expensive daycare.

And while the cost of daycare for a child or the cost of a home health care worker for an aging parent is astronomical, the workers themselves don’t make a living wage. The average nanny or daycare worker makes about $24,000 a year. The median wage of a home health care worker is $9.62 an hour and nearly half are far enough below the poverty line to be eligible for medicaid. Even worse, home health care workers are exempt from basic wage and overtime laws.

I wonder who is taking care of poor people’s children and elderly while they take care of everyone else?