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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If Education is Indoctrination, How Do We Refuse?

November 13, 2015 By: Mel Category: Change

For about five years now, I have been volunteering with an adult literacy program in DC. That is a couple hundred Monday nights that I spent reading (mostly) black history with my “learner.” (The program refers to him as a “learner”.)

I hope I’ve helped him. I know he helped me. There have been times in the last five years when there was not much in my life outside of work. Since my work life is in the nonprofit industrial complex, that means way too much time around valedictorians with hero complexes. But even when I didn’t have time for friends or anything else extra-curricular, I always had that time on Monday night.

Aside from the relief of being with someone who knows that a job is a way to put food on the table and not the whole of your identity, I learned a lot. I know more about Frederick Douglas, Fanny Lou Hamer, and even the history of black wrestlers. (Turns out wrestling is fascinating. Who knew?)

But I’m almost certain that I am going to stop tutoring. The reason is that my “learner” has a goal of passing the GED. So we stopped reading black history and started doing GED prep work. Meaning we stopped reading black history and started reading a bunch of Europeans.

I’m supposed to teach him Emily Bronte and Plato. I’m supposed to help him decipher blog posts by obnoxious, white yuppies. I’m supposed to help him take paragraph-long Dickensian sentences and make them sensical.

And the whole time I am doing it I just keep asking why. Why the hell does a person have to know that crap in order to be worthy to have a job?

I end up trying to teach him test-taking tricks and explaining that, while his answer makes a lot of sense, it isn’t what they want him to say. I end up trying to teach him enough of the white supremacist code to maybe pass a test, to maybe get a piece of paper that tells the world…..what? That he has been socialized sufficiently into European education and won’t shake things up too much?

I’ve been thinking about quitting for a while, but I keep hesitating. I hesitate for the same reason I end up doing a lot of things that I am not 100% in favor of. I don’t think my discomfort should stand in the way of what someone else says they need. So I find myself in this dilemma.

Not helping someone to jump through the hoops that may give them some material advantages doesn’t seem right. But neither does participating in the indoctrination process when I want to be participating in the exact opposite.

So what do we do when faced with choices like these? How do we find ways to help people get by in the here and now without becoming part of an indoctrination process that moves in the opposite direction of what we know needs to happen?

Worse Than Michael Brown

August 27, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

Little blond angelBy now you have undoubtedly heard how The New York Times is getting a lot of backlash for calling Michael Brown “no angel.” Specifically they wrote

he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

A couple days ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about just how typical Brown’s behavior was. In fact, he wrote, “if Michael Brown was not angelic, I was practically demonic.” And he goes on to list how much more than shoplifting, drugs, alcohol, and (gasp) rap music there was in his teenage years.

It occurs to me that this might be an exercise for all of us. Half of the adults in this country have smoked pot. The vast majority of teens have tried alcohol, and a fairly significant percentage binge drink on a regular. And whoa, vulgar music and scuffles. Well who has ever been involved with those?

By the time I was 18 years old, I had:

  • Been drinking for 6 years (quite a bit)
  • Regularly raided mine and my friend’s parent’s medicine chests for drugs
  • Smoked pot
  • Did acid and ecstasy
  • Ran away…a lot
  • Quit school
  • Went back to school
  • Got suspended (a lot)
  • Got kicked out of school
  • Got kicked out of my house
  • Got caught shoplifting
  • Stole liquor from a bar after a little illegal entry (after convincing my friends the cameras were fake)
  • Rode in numerous stolen vehicles. (Did you know old Camaros could be started with a screwdriver?)
  • Listened to some really disturbing music (I Saw Your Mommy and Your Mommy is Dead..anyone?)
  • And so much more…

Do you know what happened when I got caught shoplifting in Rite Aid? I didn’t get shot. They called my parents and banned me from the store. Do you know what happened when my friend and I appropriated her mom’s car and got into an accident without either of us having a drivers license? I didn’t get shot. The cop brought us back to her parent’s house. Do you know what happened on the many occasions cops caught me and my friends with booze and weed? I didn’t get shot. They confiscated it for themselves.

I never even got arrested. Not once.

Don’t think I am saying that cops have changed. Seems like almost everyone I knew had some sort of record. Many of my friends ended up face down on a roadside with a cop’s knee in their back over a speeding ticket. I didn’t go through that because I as a girl and white and lived in a middle class suburban house with “good” parents. Despite being “no angel” I have been allowed to grow up, been given the benefit of the doubt, been assumed to be redeemable.

It is the people that obey all the rules and, most especially, the people who get their jollies from enforcing them, that we need to be worried about. I never killed anybody. And neither did Michael Brown. But here I am. And he is dead. For nothing.

But maybe what the NYT meant by “no angel” was that he wasn’t a little blonde girl like the one in that picture.

Police Entrapment in DC

July 30, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminalization, Inequality

DC Metro StationAbout a week ago the Washington Post ran an article about police stings in DC.

The D.C. police department is quietly turning to high-risk sting operations in which undercover officers recruit people they think are likely to commit armed robberies. The scenarios dreamed up by law enforcement officials, some involving the lure of liquor and strip clubs, are designed to put violent offenders in jail and to address one of the District’s most persistent and dangerous crimes.

Of course, we know who the people “likely to commit armed robberies” are going to be.

I would have just tweeted this and maybe put it up on a link post. But, in addition to encouraging you to read the whole article, I wanted to draw your attention to part of it.

In recent years, D.C. police have deployed extra patrol officers and teams of undercover decoys to respond to robberies. Officers have posed as subway commuters to catch would-be thieves of electronic devices, who Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said in 2012 had “clobbered” her department.

Back when I was on the Criminal Injustice Committee, one of the Committee brought these undercover stings to our attention. PD would pose as passed out people with money and cell phones hanging out of their pockets. When some teen came by and went for the goods, they would get arrested.

Naturally, the reports were coming only from poorer and blacker neighborhoods. I believe the Anacostia metro was one main target. Sadly, the Committee was chin deep in the Wells Fargo campaign. So the proposal to work the S.E. metro stations to warn people wasn’t followed up on.

The poverty rate in DC is (when cost of living is taken into account) 23%. We have some of the worst income inequality in the country. Ward 8 still has almost 18% unemployment. And we all know that unemployment stats are low-balled. But DCs response is to set those people up and shovel them into the prison industrial complex.

The Tulsa Riot: Violence and Erasure

July 23, 2014 By: Mel Category: Conflict

Downtown Tulsa 2006A while back I came across this article about freeway removals. My first thought was – cool. My next thought was – I wonder what was there before the freeways. That got me thinking about Tulsa, Oklahoma.

For the Creeks, the trail of tears ended in what is now Tulsa.  That tragedy of displacement is how Tulsa became part of Indian Territory. Some of those “Indians” who were driven to Oklahoma brought African descended slaves with them. Other black people came post reconstruction, trying to get a little land out from under the violence of the South. Some of those black immigrants were exodusters who set up entirely black communities in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. Mexican immigrants also arrived in larger numbers as the pre-civil war situation in Mexico became more dire.

The thing about small places with few riches and loose rules is that they tend to open up space for the kinds of relations that are forbidden and erased later. Our popular cultural narratives whiten everything so thoroughly. We think we are looking at the white supremacy of the past. And we are. But we are looking at it through the white supremacy of the present. When you actually read honest sources about “frontier towns” and early contact, you almost inevitably find that things were much more complicated and diverse than we are led to believe.

All of which is to say that early Tulsa wasn’t segregated. Several of the downtown businesses were owned by black people. But by the time Oklahoma got statehood in 1907, six years after oil was discovered and after an influx of white immigrants, Tulsa was on its way to becoming the most segregated city in America. Miscegenation was a felony. Blacks were required to take literacy tests before voting. Lynchings like that of Laura Nelson, who was gang raped before being hung with her young son, were photographed and advertised to terrify black people.

(Amazing what starts happening when somebody discovers oil and all the greedy shitbags in the world start descending on a place. I believe we are now referring to this as the “resource curse.”)

Two black men had purchased a bunch of Tulsa property at the turn of the century and sold parcels of it to other black people. The idea was to set up a black community that could provide some security and mutual support. That community became the Greenwood District. People referred to Greenwood as “The Black Wall Street.” But most people were far from rich. Many were dependent on the white families they worked for as domestics. Much like in poor, urban, black neighborhoods today; city services were nonexistent.

(If you want to see who a city cares about, see which neighborhoods get their trash picked up.)

In 1921 Tulsa, the Drexel Building had one of the only bathrooms that black people could use in the downtown area. The elevator of the building was operated by a white girl named Sarah Page. A shoe-shine boy named Dick Rowland got into the elevator. Stories differ on what happened next. But Rowland was accused of assaulting Page. And that is when all hell broke loose. Rowland was arrested and the Tulsa Tribune front page announced “Negro assaults a white girl!”

I won’t go into how often the black rapist lie has been used to justify atrocities. I’ve written about it before and probably will again. But I genuinely wonder if anyone has ever tried to compile a list of all the horrors that start out with some supposed violation of a white woman. That is never the real story, of course.

The real story is that Tulsa was a cesspool of racism. Also, by 1921, there was an active labor movement that was striking all over the place and powerful people were antsy. Black people who had served in WWI were coming home and expecting to be treated human. They were also armed and trained. In short, people were standing up for their rights.

So when rumors of a lynching started and a crowd of white people gathered in front of the courthouse and refused to disperse, the black community was not going to just hide. Black people in Greenwood, including veterans, got together to talk about how they could prevent a lynching. At 7:30, 30 armed black people went to the courthouse but were sent off by the black deputy. A couple hours later, 25 armed black people returned and demanded Rowland. By this time, Rowland’s innocence was confirmed by the accuser, but he supposedly couldn’t be released until a judge was available in the morning.

Later that night, white people started arming themselves and tried to break into an armory. Armed blacks followed. There was a struggle when a white man tried to get a black man’s gun from him. Black Tulsans retreated to the Greenwood District. There was fighting in the streets. The national guard was called in. “Deputized” white men roamed all over the city robbing stores and taking the law into their own hands. Greenwood was invaded. Homes were looted and set on fire. Airplanes few overhead.  Many black witnesses say that those airplanes were dropping bombs on the city. Officials deny it to this day. Pictures of the aftermath speak for themselves.

Nobody has an accurate death toll from the riot. Some estimates go into the hundreds. But black Tulsans were not allowed to bury their dead. People don’t even know what happened to the bodies, though archeaologists have been trying to find out. Nobody faced consequences for the destruction. Donations were rejected by the city, which provided no help to those who tried to rebuild. Instead the city passed ordinances to make rebuilding difficult, worked on rezoning the area, and gave land away to whatever industry came along.

The history of the riots was completely erased by white Tulsa. School children knew nothing about it. No mention was made by officials. Then in the 1950s, as with so many other communities that the power structure found inconvenient, Greenwood was wiped out for an expressway.

Back when I was going to Tulsa quite often, I learned about the riots and decided to go see the area. That is how I found myself standing under a desolate highway overpass wondering how Oklahoma’s version of a pogrom could warrant so little attention. And that is why, when I hear about all these groovy projects for green spaces and bike lanes and farmers markets, I wonder what stood there before and how it was chased off.

Places change. People move on. Others move in. Buildings need to be replaced. Priorities change. But nobody should proceed as if the past never happened, much less actively work to erase it. All over, for as long as we have records and right up to the present, this violence and erasure keeps happening. Maybe you call it colonialism or gentrification or urban renewal or land grabbing. It’s all the same shit. People are killed. They are forced out. They are erased and their culture, history, and struggle is erased with them.

We always need to be asking what and who was there before. There is no hope of acting justly without understanding where we are now and how we got here.

___________________

Much of the info for this article came from James Hirsch’s book Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Bit of the background came from Danney Goble’s book Tulsa: Biography of the American City.

Reparations and Aspirations: In Response to Coates and Connolly

June 25, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Acoma Pueblo New MexicoThanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates, people are talking about reparations. Which is great. But we appear to be dancing around what facing our history would necessarily mean for our future. And we don’t appear to be able to talk about doing anything outside of lobbying the very same political system that got us here.

One reason reparations seem impossible is that we cannot wrap our heads around a conception of justice that is meant to repair harm. We live in a society focused on retribution, not restoration. We send people to prison for decades for selling weed. We let poor women die in prison because their kid skipped school. We put the mentally ill in solitary confinement. We barely blink when the imprisoned are raped by guards, even juveniles. As a society, we stopped talking about rehabilitation a long time ago. Now we only talk about “paying” for crime and compete with each other to see who can be more cruel “tougher”.

Is it really surprising that people are afraid of what justice would look like?

What if, instead of retributive justice, we had restorative justice? In a society where people can only think in terms of retribution, an honest accounting is impossible. In a restorative justice process, an honest accounting is the first step toward repairing the harm done to individuals and the community. A restorative justice process is meant to transform the participants in a positive way and decrease the chances of future harm. Unlike our current system, the aim of restorative justice – including reparations – is not to make the perpetrator(s) suffer.

To talk about reparations is to acknowledge our need for an entirely new conception of justice, one that applies to all of our society. But we also need a hell of a lot more than that.

I found myself nodding in agreement to part 1 of N. D. B. Connolly’s response to Coates’s article. How did reparations to Israel from West Germany turn out? Not so great for the Palestinians. How often are relatively wealthy black people participants in the subjugation of poorer black people? A lot. What happens when you try to address one injustice without addressing the others? A mess. What became of our government’s attempts to look at the history of its crimes? Nothing much.

Our systems are systems of subjugation. Success within our society is dependent on oppression. It is essential but not sufficient to try and repair the damage done by slavery and white supremacy. We live in a complex hierarchy where your position is determined by your race, hue, ethnicity, gender, class, possessions, sexual preference, physical abilities, mental abilities, certifications… If all reparations try to do is bring more black people into the current definition of success, we will fail miserably. There will still be workers having their paltry wages stolen by McDonalds. There will still be migrant farm workers dying of sun stroke. There will still be poverty and an epidemic of teen suicides on reservations. We will still be drone bombing brown people in countries around the world.

In part 2 of Connolly’s response to Coates he makes some suggestions on what we should do about our toxic system. Unfortunately, despite his recognition of how problematic is the “tendency…to propose modest solutions within established government structures,” that is just what he did. It isn’t that I am against reinstating felons right to vote. It is that we should be talking about prison abolition. It isn’t that I don’t recognize the problems with the castle doctrine and stand your ground. It is that the castle doctrine and stand your ground have little to do with the epidemic of police violence (and police kill many more people than vigilantes do). It isn’t that I cannot see the value of removing the need to show discriminatory intent. It is that suing for discrimination does nothing to transform our injustice system or to put our workplaces in the control of the workers.

No amount of constitutional amendments or court cases are going to transform our government and economic system to one that is not based on hierarchy and subjugation. We need to think bigger. We can have a society based on cooperation and mutual aid. We can have community control and direct democracy. We can abolish prisons, democratize the workplace, and dismantle the military industrial complex.

I know many of you think I am too radical (or maybe delusional). But there is no other way. We cannot repair any part of our damaged society without a radical transformation of its values and institutions. Conversely, for those of us who have been working for radical changes, we cannot be successful unless we face the white supremacist core of everything we are trying to change.

You cannot, for example, talk about the prison industrial complex without acknowledging that it is part of a continuum from slavery to present. The thirteenth amendment said “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” And today we have millions of people, disproportionately of color, laboring behind bars for pennies an hour to make some of the richest companies in the world even richer. And if that 37 cents an hour isn’t enough to cover your overpriced commissary tampons for the month – too bad for you.

Perhaps this seems overwhelming. Perhaps you are wondering where would we even start. The good news is that we have already started. You just might not have noticed yet.

There are already restorative justice organizations all over the country. There are already schools taking different approaches to conflict resolution. There is already a movement for change being led by tens of thousands of people who are incarcerated. We already have workers who refuse to just roll over for the owners, workers who are taking control and democratizing their workplaces. We even have communities with truth commissions.

No real radical change has ever come from above. The kind of change we need has always started with communities, churches, communes, and street corners. Processes that are grounded in community are based on and build relationships of trust. They are processes where the people are participants and not just spectators. And if our movements are rooted, they have a chance of withstanding the inevitable onslaught by those who don’t want real justice.

Also, processes that are grounded in community can adjust to local history and circumstances. Because restorative justice in Birmingham is going to look very different from restorative justice in Acoma Pueblo. We need to talk about what happens on reservations and on the Mexican border too. We need to remember that the history of the United States is not only the history of following Europeans as they crossed the continent. It is not just the history of that portion in the East that we call North and South.

There can be no repair without a radical transformation of our society. There can be no radical transformation of our society without an honest accounting of where we have been. And there can be neither repair nor transformation from the top down. In fact, we should be aiming to eliminate the hierarchies that got us into this mess to begin with.

The Classism and Ignorance of Liberals

March 17, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

This photo came from “Being Liberal” on Facebook. My friend posted it with some comments about how problematic it is for liberals to denigrate the rural poor who are then scooped up by the republican party. But I am going to be waaaay more harsh.

I am so tired of liberal/democratic/progressive classism.

What is your evidence that the democratic party is so great for poor people? You know who are in prison right now? Poor people. You know who put a whole lot of them there? Democrats like Bill Clinton, “the incarceration president.” When one of the political parties suggests dismantling the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex, you let me know.

All this voting “against your economic interest” is a load of crap.

Poor people vote in far fewer numbers than rich people. And it so happens that Kentucky, the state being bashed here, has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Sometimes people don’t vote because they have been permanently disenfranchised due to their incarceration. (Kentucky has the 6th highest rate of disenfranchisement in the country.) Sometimes they don’t vote because they cannot get to the poll. Sometimes they don’t vote because they don’t have ID. Sometimes they don’t vote because they know it won’t make a damn bit of difference in their everyday lives.

Anyone who wants to point out that the poorest states are republican should be slapped in the face with a list of the states that have the largest income inequality. My home, the resolutely democratic DC, is at the top of the inequality list. It is followed by New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. And the inequality is only getting worse. Where’s that voting against your economic interest nonsense now? Or are you proud that the rich people in your state/city earn so much that average income figures hide the hideous poverty of the people who clean the houses and mow the lawns of the elite?

If the only thing that you are considering when you vote is your own economic interest then you are a complete asshole. When I make decisions in my life, I make them based on my values and conscience. I don’t make them based on how much money will be in my bank account. (If you need proof, look no farther than my bank balance.) For a whole lot of you, voting your “economic interest” really means protecting your privilege.

In my experience, the people who post pictures like this have almost never been to the “fly over” states or bothered to speak to the people who live there. Their ideas of the rural, white poor come from media coverage – which is apparently oh so accurate when it comes to this one group of society. Or maybe they are just watching bad television that uses “hicks” as the villains because it is a socially acceptable meme.

If you haven’t seen or experienced something for yourself, you should really hold your judgement. Reading a study about a community does not make you knowledgeable. It is not o.k. to dismiss people as ignorant because they don’t have a degree or because they go to church. It is not o.k. if we are talking about poor, indigenous people in Bolivia. It is not o.k if we are talking about poor, white people in Kentucky.

The truth is that liberal, “educated” people need the low-class, ignorant hick meme. So long as they exist to denigrate, nobody has to acknowledge that racism, classism, and sexism are systemic and will require a complete upheaval of the systems that give so many liberals the privileges they currently enjoy. As was pointed out so well in the comments of this post, when a lot of white liberals say “racist,” what they usually mean is low-class.

Our problems are not going to be resolved through party politics. They sure as hell aren’t going to be resolved by shitting all over people you have never met. In fact, I would think a prerequisite to democracy would be actually speaking to the other people involved.

Perhaps, if people stopped being such ignorant snobs, they would find out that there is a whole lot of knowledge, mutual aid, and radical thinking that they are totally missing out on. Maybe the people who want to save themselves from mountaintop removal use Christian langauge in West Virginia. Maybe some of the biggest cooperatives serve the needs of (oh my gosh) republicans in the south. Does that make those efforts worthless?

Maybe we all have a lot to learn.

/end rant

A Little Help? Anarchist on Grand Jury Duty

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Marisa Tomei in My Cousin VinnyI’m on grand jury duty starting Monday and lasting five fucking weeks. This isn’t the first time I’ve been called for grand jury duty. The last time went like this.

My fellow grand jury members and I were put in a room. A jovial prosecutor explained a wee bit about what was going to happen. We would hear witnesses and then we would decide if there was enough evidence to send the accused to trial. Oh wait. Did I say witnesses? Sorry. I meant witness.

You see, I was on a “special” speedy grand jury where each case had only one witness – a cop. Almost all the cases were bullshit drug cases.  For example, a cop comes in and says he found some dude on the street with a crack pipe. My fellow grand jury members would raise their hands to say that they should go to trial. End of case. Next.

Presumably, they needed to institute this speedy process to go through all the black people they are picking up for weed.

In a grand jury, you don’t need to have a unanimous decision. It isn’t like I could vote no and nullify. So I just refused to participate. After a couple of days of me sitting in the hallway reading books and a mild interrogation by the lead prosecutor, they dismissed me.

But here we are again.

I’ve started to do a little grand jury research. But I could use some help. I’m specifically interested in information about how I can fuck up the process. So send it my way. If you don’t want to share it in a comment, email me at mel (at) broadsnark.com

Thanks!

Harassment is About Power

August 22, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

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 govenrment 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.

 

What About the Hunger Strikes?

July 23, 2013 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

Over the last several years there have been prison hunger strikes all over the country – North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, California… What has been going on in California is just incredible.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

Think about that for a minute. Think about the amount of coordination it took to organize 30,000 prisoners. Think about the obstacles for people trying to organize, not just within a prison, but between prisons. And many of the organizers are in solitary confinement.

The organizing crossed racial lines and gang affiliations. The collective that organized the strikes put out a statement committing to end all racial hostilities, recognizing that the prison system uses those conflicts and prejudices to keep the incarcerated divided and disempowered.

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!

I’ve written about these strikes a few times and linked to stories about them. And I’ve been continually frustrated that few people seem to be paying any attention. People’s lives are at stake. Prisoners died after the last actions. Several of the current strikers have required medical attention. And the California Department of Corrections is retaliating against the spokespeople. Our attention could actually save someone, or at least make retaliation a little more difficult.

I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m probably going to piss people off here. But I don’t understand why my inbox is filled with announcements of protests and actions for Trayvon Martin and absolutely nothing about the hunger strike.

Not. One. Thing.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Is what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin more tragic than when a cop shot an unarmed 14-year-old hiding in a shed? Is it more racist than the school to prison pipeline where 90% of New York school arrests are children of color? Is it more infuriating than the rapes and murders that regularly occur in juvenile detention centers?

For a whole lot of people it seems to be. And I really don’t understand it. But I saw something on Facebook this weekend that gave me pause. It said something like “calling Trayvon a thug is like calling JonBenet Ramsey a whore”.

I get it. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong. But what if he was? What if he had gotten into a fight or stole a car or sold drugs? Would we be talking about him? What if George Zimmerman had a badge and a gun? Would we still be talking about it? As of 2011, there were 63 police shootings in Miami-Dade county alone that were under perpetual “investigation.” Twenty-five of those involved fatalities. Who is talking about them?

Sometimes people need a symbol to get them motivated. And the temptation is to chose one that is pure and innocent. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. But some leaders of the civil rights movement didn’t want a pregnant teenager who was too low class and too dark to be their rallying cry.

But this isn’t 1955. Our injustice systems depend upon criminalization. They depend upon us accepting that “thugs” deserve what they get. Or at least some people don’t merit a public outcry when they are shot in the street, or executed by the state, or tortured and raped in prison. It isn’t o.k. to only rally around the pure and innocent any longer. We have so many laws that nobody can even count them anymore.

The whole game is to make sure that they can discredit people to keep us in check.

I really hesitated to write this post. I was hoping somebody else would do it. I try to write mostly about things I have some experience with. And I have absolutely no way to wrap my head around what it must be like to have a child, much less one that has to face so many risks. But getting shot in the street by a vigilante is a lot less likely than ending up behind bars being tortured by the state.

I know that many of the people organizing Trayvon Martin protests are focused on the bigger picture. They are connecting this shooting to systemic issues of policing, racial profiling, the school to prison pipeline… I love those kids who occupied the Florida governors office.

But not everyone is making those connections. And too many of the emails I am getting are from people who have their necks permanently stuck looking up at power. Lobbying to overturn stand your ground laws or protesting ALEC or getting those few people who have disposable income to stop buying things is not going to smash this system. But a movement led by the people who have been most pummeled by the system just might. These people have signed do not resuscitate documents. They are ready to die for their rights and we are ignoring them.

Not to mention that, while they have managed to coordinate 30,000 people across prisons, we (who are in relative freedom) can’t even manage to coordinate amongst ourselves enough not to have competing Trayvon protests.

I really don’t want to shit all over the organizing that is going on right now. I hope that this case starts something huge. I hope all the actions are successful. But I can’t bring myself to focus on them and ignore the hunger strikes. So I’ll be spending my free time contacting prison officials and prisoners. I hope some of you will make some time to do the same. The addresses and phone numbers are here.

The Problem With Gifted

May 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

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.