Been thinking about what I said in the “Open Letter”, about feminism being about liberation from within its borders as well as without…and how we get there. Warning: this post is likely to be disjointed and fall into various fractals; I’ve never been good at linear thinking (side note: one of the great joys of my year is attending the annual family reunion in the “wilds of southern Illinois”. See, one of my father’s youngest cousins started putting this on several years ago; he wanted to keep in closer touch to his four siblings and wanted his five kids to have the extended-family experience that he had—which, far from civilization (i.e.: north of I-80), they wouldn’t unless he took more proactive measures (with his siblings living in different states & all). Since all went well, it rapidly expanded into all the first cousins and their kids/grandkids/& etc. Anyway…this gathering is a great source of joy to me because….everyone has the same ADD-influenced communication style. Conversation(s) wind over and around, branching to the side and down winding paths of no end and it flows majically with everyone following/reacting instantly like a school of fish. We can all follow several thoughts/conversations at once. I love it. It seems like that’s the only time I can give free rein; not artificially corral my verbal tendencies like I usually have to in order to be understood….)
Where was I? Oh yeah….transcribing free-flowing thought into some semblance of order. I don’t post very often because…that’s what I feel I have to do. Not gonna do that today, so bear with me.
Something happened to feminism on its way away from women’s liberation and something else more…institutionalized and co-opted. I’m Somebody’s Mother now, and my daughter is almost the same age I was when I marched for the ERA in Grant Park (Chicago). A lot of things have changed since then in terms of organized Feminism, and not for the good. It comes as no surprise to me to read that the Susan G. Komen Foundation will no longer be granting Planned Parenthood monies for breast cancer screening. They and other organizations don’t identify with feminism, just as many women don’t identify as feminist. Let’s take a step back and examine some changes within organizational feminism that may explain this:
- the move into feminism as a professional career path, into 501c3 orgs and/or the rise of the “creative class” (unlike the labor movement, the feminist movement did not define a role for rank-and-file members nor a relationship and responsibilities between the leadership and rank-and-file)
- strong reliance on academia for its spokespeople, ideology(ies) and political leadership to the detriment of the rank-and-file (both in terms of decreasing accessibility to higher education and to the overriding ethos and communication style, as academia is (from my outsider’s perspective) considerably more sexist and classist than say, the building trades
- credentials receiving more respect than the lived experience of women; the relational scripts within the feminist movement have replicated the kyriarchal scripts from outside the movement, exacerbating…
- the replication of that kyriarchy. Institutions are more powerful than individuals. In the absence of formal procedures of questioning those standards and practices, and in the absence of various perspectives/vantage points, the exterior kyriarchy is re-established within feminist movement
In short, the Feminist movement never instituted the structures of consensus; ideology; direction, tactics and/or strategy; establishing leadership; defining goals; delineating responsibilities; delegating duties; ensuring a system of checks/balances regarding power dynamics and accountability; ensuring a smooth transition of power transfer and/or chain of command; education; handling conflict…or any of the other tasks of movement-building that other liberatory movements (civil rights, labor, nationalist/anticolonial, etc.) did in order to be effective at political organizing and changing material reality.
Feminist movement has yet to decide whether feminism is a movement, a philosophy, an aesthetic or what. What are its goals? Who decides? Who knows—there’s no structure for that. Right now, it’s the status quo: what we used to refer to as “patriarchy in a dress” (meaning: only the gender of the leadership has changed, not the outlook or methodology). This is profoundly alienating to many women. It’s why Womanism was created in order to re-emphasize the liberatory values and praxis that wasn’t/isn’t being emphasized in Feminism. Or the identity of mujeristas, at the intersections of feminism, Latin@ struggle and liberation theology. Or…just wholesale abandonment of feminism as a political movement that has any relevance to everyday women (hence, the Komen Foundation knowing that its breaking ties with Planned Parenthood will be met with a yawn from most quarters; its funding won’t be affected).
Communication matters. Not just its substance, but its forms. Every political movement begins with effective communication. (You think it was an accident that of the eight men tried for the the bombing at Haymarket Square, five were writers and/or publishers of newspapers? Bilingual newspapers?) This is currently a weakness in feminist movement, yet one that has the potential to change; effectively, comprehensively, and relatively quickly—and feminist bloggers could lead the way.
Right now, the norms of communication at feminist blogs are weak in regards to cross-cultural and cross-class dialogue, and do not recognize power differentials. Trends I’ve noticed over the years:
- laissez-faire comments and moderation, with “the marketplace of ideas” considered the primary moderating force. Freedom of speech is prioritized over ensuring that marginalized people from within feminism feel the freedom to speak
- pulling rank/listing formal credentials, which implies:
- a nonadversarial relationship to authority
- an individualistic outlook, as opposed to collectivist outlook (which doesn’t lend itself to movement building, which is collective by nature)
- no recognition of or process for determining what dynamics are visible vs. what is invisible
- an implicit acceptance that capitalism provided the framework for feminism to exist, and that feminism cannot survive anywhere other than within a capitalist economic framework
- co-opting of terminology (ex.: reproductive justice, a comprehensive lens for examining issues of women’s health, autonomy and motherhood and acting on these issues in the political arena being reduced to merely replacement terminology for reproductive rights—already reduced to the understanding of “right to abortion” or “right to use birth control”.
Dialogue is a radical act. It is a direct counter to “divide and conquer”. Dialogue enables those positioned differently to come to the mutual understanding and respect necessary to work cohesively. Dialogue is egalitarian by nature; it upends the usual power dynamics. But with that said, not all discussion, not all words, are dialogue. Dialogue requires:
- active listening. Active listening means setting aside assumptions and paying attention to what is being said. It means listening contextually. It means asking questions to insure one is understanding the intended message. It means actually listening, not formulating one’s response during the conversation. It means pausing, reflecting, sitting with one’s thoughts for awhile.
- two-way communication. Giving other people the time to respond and reflect as well. Not “pulling rank” or using one’s exterior authority identifiers to privilege one’s position.
- acknowledging and accepting one another’s defensive measures. “Defensiveness” gets bad press at times when it shouldn’t—defensive mechanisms often result from previous attacks, and it’s important to discern when that may be the case as opposed to reflexive support of/wearing down by kyriarchal standards. Acknowledging and respecting one another’s boundaries is a helpful practice.
- acknowledging and respecting different modes of communication and use of language
- spending the time it takes to build rapport
- sharing resources and social capital
- recognition and transmission of history from multiple sources (ex.: the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 is generally recognized as the birth of feminism in the U.S., but women in the textile factories of New England were organizing strikes over ten years previous—why are their contributions considered irrelevant to feminism? Why aren’t the gruppo anarchico femminile considered part of feminism? Italian/Sicilian women in Illinois Valley coal towns were openly criticizing white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (yes, in damn-near those terms) long before suffragists won the right to vote. Why are we erased from the narrative?
I keep coming back to the story Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz told about going to Cuba as part of the Venceremos Brigade; how the people self-segregated along racial lines immediately upon boarding the ship, how living conditions broke down because everyone thought taking care of business was someone else’s job. The Cuban official in charge called a meeting to address this—basically, telling them that revolution was their job, a participatory process. No one else was going to do the work. There was no staff in a revolution. All were workers. It was a wake-up call for the norteamericanos, divided as they were and thinking within the same frameworks they always had as a self-protective measure. Nobody listened at the time. There was suspicion of informants among the Brigade; the womanhunt for Angela Davis was on (her sister Fania participated in this brigade). Theft and fistfights were rampant in the early days after disembarking, when they first went to work in the canefields. But somewhere along the line…things changed. Between the work (alongside with Cubans, many of whom were also unaccustomed to agricultural work and were performing national service), listening to stories of the Cuban revolution from the people who lived it, meeting with guerilla fighters from elsewhere (Guinea, Cape Verde, Brazil, Uruguay, Vietnam) and hearing their perspectives (after telling Lam, a Viet Cong fighter, that she came to Cuba to mentally regroup—figure out who were her friends and who were her enemies, he said, “There are no friends. Be happy if you have few enemies.”), forming educational collectives that would present to the rest of the group (subjects included race/class/gender; imperialism, Marxism, racism, the Vietnam War), touring Cuba, dancing in the evenings, attending lectures, learning about U.S. labor history from Cubans who were inspired by it….there was no conflict on the way back, no shirking of duties. The ship remained clean, and the bunks were desegregated.
Maybe what we need is a Venceremos Brigade for feminism.
All comments will now be individually approved. I will get to them when I get to them; I am not a professional blogger and only have sporadic access to the internet most days (during the daytime) via cellphone. More evenings than not are also packed with activity.
Like a fool, I expected that since this was a tiny blog with few visitors, that folks would be respectful enough not to say anything in print that they wouldn’t say in person (translation: and perhaps have to back it up with their ass). Yeah, I know. Quit laughing.
Anyway, it is what it is. There is some shit that went on in that post that had I been here at the time, I would not have allowed through. But I can’t be here very often, and I can’t (as one person, remember? single mother? two jobs?) keep to the same moderating practices that large blogs of multiple people across the globe who have all day access to their blogs via large computer screens and fast internet connections. Can’t do it, won’t do it, and it’s ridiculous to expect that of me.
This isn’t about “play nice”. It’s about basic human respect. I, and most of the people who comment here are not the kind of folks who get that indulgence often. Because of that, I expect folks to “get it”. Those that don’t, aren’t going to have their comments published. I’m not going to host garbage.
And yep, I’m an uppity bitch.
First, thank you for posting. I was one of the many people who assumed that your silence equalled assent; not only because of your (granted, years ago) public affirmations of affection/support for Hugo (and while I say this, remember that I noted that he had a certain visible absence after 2008)….but because of experiences throughout my life. In my experience, silence does equal assent. The power to ignore others is a very effective means for shutting them down. I did not expect a lengthy response, but just a short timely one. I was unaware of your health struggles and I do empathize—I also have a health challenge (hypothyroidism…..and geez, don’t get me started. I could rant for days on the general unresponsiveness of physicians to women, and the specific difficulty of trying to negotiate the healthcare system as an over-40 working class woman) and have personal knowledge of trying to budget one’s energy during conflicting demands. I do not intend to add to your stress level (trust, 2011 sucked for me too); I only want to speak to you woman-to-woman, as a former guest blogger on Feministe and someone who has been a part of the commentariat damn near since its inception…back when it was still Lauren’s gig.
I want to speak to you on some of the overall dynamics I’m witnessing on these recent posts and comment threads. From my perspective, there is an almost corporate-style mode of abdication of responsibility. The fact that Feministe has multiple staff bloggers will necessarily result in this default in the absence of a formal structure of consensus among the bloggers and in the absence of a mission statement. It seems to me that Feministe vacillates between being a pop-culture entertainment blog; an informative source for international news relating to women and feminism; a galvanizing instrument for political action; and a “LiveJournal”-style space for venting. Although there is a comments policy, there isn’t a declared mission statement of….goals, dreams, boundaries of any sort on what Feministe is or wants to be; nor is there a transparent description or process of how conflict within the community will be resolved. For that matter, there isn’t a definition of the community—does it refer solely to the staff bloggers, or to the commentariat as well?
This is very alienating to me as a labor unionist, as I come from a tradition that has very clear statements on who and what we are, and clear boundaries on process, policy, and conflict resolution. The stock answer in the blogosphere at large is a mercantile one—”if you don’t like what we’re selling, take your business elsewhere.” I don’t necessarily perceive this to be the attitude of Feministe, but strongly feel that the absence of a mission statement and attendant processes contributes to the hostile dynamics in the comment section.
But back to the “corporate style” as I call it, which I see very frequently in the comment section and is clearly evident in the recent threads: an ahistoricity, a blurring of boundaries during controversy or conflict, an assertion of “objectivity”, “rationality” and dismissal of emotion (particularly anger)….these are all concepts essential to the construction of whiteness as a political identity (which is to say, a means of teaching the people who are taught they are white, how to be “white”. I say this because I’ve been getting a whole lot of folks dropping by this blog lately since I was linked on Maya’s post at Alas, and I want to be crystal-clear to people unfamiliar with the term “white” as referring to anything other than light skin. I’m talking about the “whitewashing” of people of European descent; the assimilation into a “whiteness” that exists solely in opposition to people of color and other colonized persons). Even if the overt hostility of the comment section were abated, the affirmation of the ways and means of middle-class white communication are very uninviting (to say the least).
When I read statements like: (3) Feministe does have many contributors, and our views on the Hugo situation are not identical. Caperton’s post was a very good one and I agree with it, but we are not a monolith, and the various individuals who contribute here have wide-ranging opinions on the whole situation and the best response.”…I’ll be blunt. It sounds like fence-sitting to me. Trying to play both sides against the middle, in the face of a conflict that necessarily will alienate one side or the other. Some disagreements can reach a valid compromise, one that will satisfy all parties. This is not one of them. Again, this lack of clarity is a weakness of this blog.
What I find even more frustrating are statements (both in your original post and in the comment section) that use descriptors/analogies of violence for nonviolent acts of protest and resistance—even the merely verbal. This is another trope of whiteness; dismissing the perspective of those in resistance and denigrating/misrepresenting opponents. Note that this process tends not to call out opposition by name, but reduces us to a nameless, faceless “mob”. This, in the midst of a culture that values and respects individualism while standing in vehement opposition to any and all forms of collectivism and organized community. That this dynamic remains unquestioned and unacknowledged on a feminist blog is an egregious oversight, and perpetuates the status quo of “leaders first, then followers”. Whatever else feminism may be about, if it practices an employer/employee relationship between its visible spokespersons and less-visible adherents, it’s about nothing. I’m not looking for more feudalism in my political involvement, and I’m not alone.
One of the critiques I read on tumblr (and if the person in question gives me permission, I will link her own words; I will not do so without her explicit permission as she has deliberately left the Feministe scene) outlined the typical timeline of feminist blog controversy thusly: first, someone would very delicately, very diplomatically reveal that there was an institutional problem. Said problem would be quoted, described, linked to, and otherwise have its boundaries clearly delineated. Many times, possible and probable solutions to its resolution would be included. But then! The response would be one of redirecting into the personal—a list of reasons why This Person (who either was responsible for the original problem, or who was in a position to mitigate or otherwise alleviate/correct said problem) couldn’t do so. And finally, a further redirection into how This Problem is so much larger than one person, and a reassertion that The Problem has nebulous boundaries that can’t be broken down into more manageable parts for its solution.
And that’s a pattern that we see, time and time again. To reiterate, this perpetuates the standard relationship of feminist leadership to everyday feminists as one of hierarchy, with the leaders having the say. It illustrates why so many women for whom having no say is a perpetual part of life are profoundly alienated from feminist movement and do not identify as feminists.
From your most recent post, one of the most maddening statements to me was:
I am also concerned about the precedent this sets. I think that most of the critiques of Hugo are fair, as are the concerns about a former abuser rising to a level of prominence in feminist spaces — especially given his ongoing issues with women of color and his treatment of younger women. But the reality of the feminist internet is that there is a corner of it that plays the take-down game for sport, and that sees any mistake or imperfection or disagreement as evidence that one is Bad For Feminism and should be permanently sidelined. It’s destructive. It’s something I believe is incredibly bad for feminism as a movement and as an idea, and that’s bad for community-building, and that serves to silence more people than it empowers……I frankly don’t trust a group of people on the internet to always choose the right person from whom to demand blood. Which, again, isn’t to say that I think the focus on Hugo here is misdirected. It is to say that I have a real hesitance to participate, because I dislike take-down culture generally and because I’m not convinced that next time we’ll all be setting our sights on a worthy target.
This hit me like a slap in the face. I found it profoundly dismissive of the very vocal critiques made in the first apologia, during Hugo’s white-knighting, and dismissive of the use of the power of organized, nonviolent feminist resistance via blogging. I don’t recall you being upset when this form of organized resistance was used for your benefit. I don’t recall your opposition when this was used to change Michael Moore’s mind. Why now? Because y’know…..I was around when none other than Salon magazine mustered forces against Blackamazon for daring to say, on her tiny corner of the internet, “Fuck Seal Press”.
It’s always been radical to fight against the status quo; those in power want to keep it, to themselves, and will use any and all means at their disposal to do so. But you know what else is radical? SOLIDARITY. Standing in solidarity with others for justice. Even if/when it doesn’t directly benefit you. Even if doing so causes you to fall from grace with power. Even when acting in solidarity is risky. It is profoundly, unequivocally radical.
Remember my mention of whiteness? One of the things a white supremacist society must continually teach and enforce is that white people must never identify with nonwhite people. Separatism—physical if possible, but always mental. There are various ways and means of getting this message across, but as a very visible person in the feminist movement, surely you must have considered the impact of what your solidarity could do. The message it could send to other white feminists. Perhaps that explains your reluctance. In your post, in your many responses of apologia through the years, I note that you seem to both deny your (considerable) power and express discomfort with wielding it. That really slays me. Feministe is in the big leagues. I’ve got a copy of The Nation magazine at home that featured Feministe on the cover (along with several other heavy-hitters in the left-leaning sphere); I still use it for bragging rights (“wouldja believe they asked me to guest blog?! See! I don’t just mouth off, I’m good at it!). Feministe is a recognized presence in the left, and one that is remembered for standing in feminist opposition to professional male bloggers and journalists who routinely ignored women’s voices and denied our online presence (hence, the Feministe byline, “in defense of the sanctimonious women’s studies set”).
You have the opportunity to stand in solidarity. Or not. But either way, it speaks to where your alliances lay. There isn’t any middle ground.
Please understand—people look to a definitive response from you because your voice carries. It carries a hell of a lot farther in movement feminism than mine ever will. Labor union women still aren’t included in standard versions of feminist history; the work of my union comaris–as is mine–is seen as mere selfish struggle; an individual quest for better pay, benefits, conditions and opportunity that was/is only collective in appearance or by default. Certainly not something that impacts and benefits women as a class. So, our work, our lives, are erased. You have to be a diligent detective to find our herstories.
I’ve been very consistent with my critiques of mainstream feminist movement; one of them was quoted at Racialicious:
“The feminist blogosphere is: young, but not too young (25-35); mostly white (and of northern european extraction); middle to upper-middle class; highly educated (always degreed, usually grad school or law degree); able-bodied and healthy; non-religious (but typically with a Protestant or Jewish background); childfree by choice (also not a caretaker of an elderly or disabled adult); body size from thin to very thin; cisgender; heterosexual; conventionally feminine/pretty; fashionable; not employed in a nontraditional (>25% female participation) workforce; native English speaking (family of origin usually native English speaking also); non-indigenous and several generations removed from immigrant ancestors; raised in a nuclear family (either intact or divorced—but not “unwed” or extended family); lives in a large metropolis; favors capitalism; unmarried/unpartnered (meaning: no formal or legal ties of responsibility to a partner); never incarcerated (no family incarcerated either); and has plenty of personal contact with people in positions of actual power (gets invited to policymaking meetings/summits).”
If I was to rewrite that paragraph today, I’d be more explicit with my inclusion of military women. I was thinking of them in the “nontraditional occupation” category, but (name redacted upon request) has been commenting here a lot, and I’ve been thinking that military women deserve a special mention as they so seldom get it elsewhere. Anyway, that’s one of the things that stands out to me in the feminist blogoshere; that there is relatively little mention of servicepeople and veterans. In my environs, veterans are ubiquitous.
I remain a firm believer that our perspective results from our realities. Feministe has been around the block and then some as one of the representative samples of online feminism’s echo chambers. Has even attempted to make that not so by inviting other bloggers into the fold. It never lasts. Other bloggers leave in anger, frustration and hurt because you can’t add new faces to the same framework and expect the narrow backs of individual women to bear the brunt of changing the culture.
My suggestions for moving forward:
- Adding a declarative mission statement to the blog. Who/what is Feministe, and what are this blog’s objectives? How does it plan to reach them? What is the framework for its evolution? What are its obligations to its readers and/or responsibilities to feminist movement?
- Formulating and posting an open, transparent policy on how consensus is built and conflict handled, designed in such a way as to recognize the inherent evolution of the community and how power is exercised within it.
- A broader range of perspective. This ought to be self-explanatory. But it won’t be successful until and unless….
- Tighten up the comments section. Seriously. All the complaint about the hostility endemic within the commentariat on feminist blogs rings hollow when Feministe has been a place where it thrives. I recommend as your model the comment section at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog. Sure, in order to make something like that work at Feministe would result in fewer hits, but it would reap rewards in making the site a more productive one for discussion. If the moderation was heavier, Feministe could be a place where a broader spectrum of voices could thrive.
I’d also suggest a frank acknowledgement that feminism isn’t just a challenge to the power dynamics from without, but to those within as well. It’s a liberatory movement. A revolutionary movement. A movement that will change the way we relate to one another, ourselves, and the planet. Or not—in which case it’s about nothing, and we’ll have to pack up and move on to a movement that will. With or without you.
But make no mistake—you have power. You have opportunity. Whatever else you do, don’t squander it. Pace.
Ok, there’s going to be some big changes around here—but I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. Frankly, everyone I like to read has moved to tumblr, and….I’m rapidly finding out that tumblr is the most user-unfriendly, difficult to set up and use blogging interface EVER. As in “FUCK THIS SHIT!!!” I have a bad cold, it’s been a long week, it’s too cold outside (don’t even want to think about what the heat bill is going to look like), and I just spent two hours trying to set up my tumblr account. There is no fucking instructions; I can’t change the fucking photo (the oh-so-unhelpful instructions say something about “settings”, but there is no “settings” on the fucking dashboard, especially not on the right-hand-fucking side like the unhelpful instructions say, there’s some shit called “tumblr radar” that I could give a fuck about and tried to figure out how to get rid of, but come to find out isn’t posted on the tumblr itself—just the dash. Gee, that woulda been a lot easier to figure out if tumblr had an easy way to see what the hell a post looked like. But noooo—when you go to the “customize” screen, it takes you to some shit that you haven’t posted. WTF. I’m none too thrilled about their themes, either.
Anyway. Rant over. I’m going to pour a hot toddy, curl up in the easy chair with a book (Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor), and when 8:00PM rolls around I’m going to watch the boxing matches with my dad. The tumblr experiment will have to wait for another time—-and will probably continue to wait until it’s as easy as wordpress.
Ahh…the smell of bull-shit in the morning. Nothin’ like it! After encountering this steaming pile, I was left trying to shake the smell all day. Has it been that long since the post on gaslighting? Gaslighting is all about changing minds, too. Well, since the first bolded sentence references politics, perhaps it is prudent to note that politics is about the exercise of power.
Where are these questions about change and accountability taking place? What are the operational backdrops, the stage-settings?
- Christianity—both the religious and cultural practices. That one has a moral obligation to forgive anyone of anything at their request…or even, not at their request. To fail to do so is considered a grievous sin and act of evil. UPDATED: Also, we are all sinners, and all sins are the same in the sight of God (all bad acts are equally bad).
- Brainwashing of oppressed and marginalized individuals and communities to accept their lesser status. “Forgive and forget.” “Water under the bridge.” “Greater reward in forgiveness” (what Joe Hill called “pie in the sky when you die”). The erasure of history and encouragement of historical amnesia. Permeating every facet of a political culture of injustice are various messages to give one’s oppressors continued opportunity to engage in and advance their oppression. The oppressed are called upon to do the work of the oppressor on themselves, lightening the oppressor’s burden once again.
- Calvinism that has filtered through the USian political backdrop—the blessed have power, those who do not are not blessed. Also, there are a limited number of blessed, and who is blessed and who is damned is predestined—no amount of effort can change it. The blessed are not required to respect the dignity of the damned.
- the Protestant Work Ethic—the idea that hard work is good in its own right and that ‘the elect’ are visible through the fruits of their work.
- Individualism—the rugged individual, standing on his or her own ground, unaffected by the masses, more powerful than the larger social forces surrounding him or her.
- Objectivism—the extolling of selfishness as the highest human virtue and the near-worship of laissez-faire capitalism.
- and along with all that, kyriarchal value (already reinforced as intrinsic) permeates our everyday physical lives. Housing, neighborhoods, school districts, healthcare, grocery stores, the infrastructure of cities, the goods and food one can afford to buy, existance of or access to the commons—all this and more serve to remind individuals and communities exactly where they stand in relation to others.
The injured are constantly being asked to cede power to their injurers. Taken to task when they refuse to do so. Make no mistake; this is the operating framework. And it is within this framework that the injured are being asked (yet again) to question themselves when it comes to forgiveness. To ask themselves if they “actually believe people can change”. What the parameters of accountability look like. They are being asked to do the work—work that benefits the injurer, often at the direct expense of the injured. They are also asked to consider these questions as separate and apart from the social/political dynamics that are inseparable from their lives. As individual questions, apart from the collective structures where they originate. This is a toxic dynamic. It violates the basic rules of survival.
In the spirit of prioritizing the injured, rather than the injurers:
- No one is entitled to your forgiveness.
- It is not immoral to refuse to forgive.
- It is not immoral to protect yourself.
- Refusing to engage with those who have harmed you is a viable and healthy form of self-protection.
- Refusing to engage with those who share the same toxic traits as those who have harmed you, (especially when they have a track record of harming others, and most especially when that track record shows a distinct pattern of targeting people that resemble you), is a viable and healthy form of self-protection.
- Questioning the narratives you have been taught, and discerning what (and who) promotes your health and survival from what (and who) does not, is a viable and healthy form of self-protection.
Transformative Justice is a liberatory practice of healing individuals and communities. The process of transformative justice is not placed in the individual setting, but in the context of state and systemic oppression and violence. It prioritizes the needs of oppressed and marginalized people in an unjust system; it does not require vulnerable people to relinquish their human need for safety and security. Most important to remember is that much of the work on transformative justice in the United States was envisioned and developed by women of color in response to the prison-industrial complex. So, when asking questions of accountability, one has to keep in mind who is accountable to whom. In that light, why is it contingent upon marginalized people and communities to enact and enforce accountability from those with greater power who utilize and exploit the aforementioned state and systemic oppression for their own ends? How, exactly, can that happen? With the pre-existing structures still intact?
My mother was an endurance athlete. Not in the gym or on the road….but of life. She did not want to say goodbye to it. She comes by that honestly; in our culture the long-suffering, tenacious, enduring woman is someone to be admired—a figure of virtue, of honor. This attitude was interwoven in her DNA; thick like blood, deep like marrow.
She lived up to this image, and down to it as well. For the same woman who was used to putting others first, often put herself last. She bought a set of fine china when she was in nursing school that to my knowledge, has never been dined upon. She had some beautiful clothes that were seldom (or never) worn. Same with jewelry. She was all about taking care of business, and not much on pomp and ceremony. Frankly, she was hard to buy gifts for. But…she had a lifelong love for action movies—even westerns—anything that had suspense, thrills, speed, gunplay, strategy, and most of all—where the heroes won at the end, and the villains got what was coming to them.
And it was with that thought, that several years ago, I got her some films for Mother’s Day; among them, The Long Kiss Goodnight. It’s an action-packed spy movie featuring Geena Davis, who plays an amnesiac kindergarten teacher with a very interesting past as a top CIA assassin, and Samuel L. Jackson, a disgraced former-cop-become-private-eye who helps her research her past and rediscover herself—much to the shock of her former colleagues, the architects of a false-flag operation designed to create a faux-”terrorist” threat (with real explosives) in order to secure greater funding for their department.
It had everything my mother loved in a movie: politics, intrigue, fast-paced action, killer fight scenes, revenge, redemption, the requisite good guys winning and bad guys dying, and a badass female hero….who wasn’t just a hero, but also Somebody’s Mother.
She watched this movie all the time. More often than The Godfather, another of her favorites. Every time she played it, she lived vicariously through “Charli Baltimore”, the fierce, never-say-die heroine of the film. Charli, who cheated certain death several times throughout the story. Who above all, fought for her little girl. Charli didn’t just save the day; she was the path through which Samuel L. Jackson’s “Mitch” redeemed himself as one of the good guys. Charli was tough, resourceful, and a tough taskmaster; one of the more salient lines in the film comes from her stern lecture to her daughter while teaching her to ice-skate: “Life is pain. Get used to it!!” Charli taught her daughter well, and realized this when she handed her the exact tool Charli needed to make yet another of her great escapes; hidden in her daughter’s arm cast—the cast she wore from the fracture she received ice-skating, from the fall that prompted the lecture.
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” My mother didn’t tell many of her stories; omertá was her modus operandi. I think on some level The Long Kiss Goodnight wasn’t just entertainment for her; it presented an authoritative statement on motherhood, and the intensity of a mother’s love. The lengths to which we must go for its defense.
The idea that we need to pay 20 people to do 900 hours worth of organizing labor needs to be challenged such that we are eventually working towards the goal of 5 million people doing 1 hour worth of organizing labor.
501c3s will not bring structural or institutional change. 5 million people will. And the question is not “should you have a job” or be a segregationist on high refusing to engage in any unclean impure politcs at all—the question is—how can we rethink 501c3s as “movement.” and how can we reach the goal of 5 million people fighting for gender liberation and radical transformative change.
What pissed me off about the OP:
- the overarching sense of entitlement.
- the naivety. Come on.
- the assumption that more social media equals more action. No, no it doesn’t.
- the same old, same old lack of questioning one’s methodology. A movement isn’t relevant until and unless it is accountable to the people it is supposedly dedicated to. Conducting the same business in digital code doesn’t magically transform it into something more radical.
- I’ll be impressed when I see how many of those Twitter followers will not only go a day without pay to be at a demonstration, but will bring someone else with them. Movements aren’t constructed on paper or on the net. They are composed of the warm bodies of people.
- you prove your worth by putting skin in the game. Not on a short-term basis, but over time. The more time you put in, the more others know they can rely on you, even when it costs you….that’s what earns you respect.
- yes, it is going to cost you. It will cost you your time. It will cost you money. It will cost you jobs and other opportunities. It will cost you in your social life. It will change the way others think of you. It will change the way you think of yourself. It will change your life. But rest assured, it ain’t easy, and it will take a piece out of you. If it doesn’t, UR DOIN’ IT RONG.
We have a phrase in the labor movement: “swivel-chair leader”. Its pretty self-explanatory.
Rally in solidarity with Wisconsin workers, February 26th, Springfield IL. My favorite part starts around 8:19, with Dave Burns. All of us IBEW folk in the back were just waiting for him to come out with a quotable quote, and he finally delivered: “Without organized labor, we’d all be pickin’ shit in the dirt!!” Right on!
(my response on the thread at Pandagon)
To further answer Amanda’s parting question, I made a list of all various things that people I know are juggling. Younger people and those without children aren’t juggling as many. People between the ages of 40-50 are juggling at least ten of these items:
- second job or side hustle
- night classes (for current job or to change jobs)
- caretaking of child(ren)
- transportation of child(ren)
- caretaking for elderly/ill/disabled parents
- caretaking for ill, disabled or injured partner
- activist/political work (labor, anti-racist/POC movement, LGBT, environment, etc.)
- cultural or artistic pursuits
- volunteering for child(ren)’s activities
- volunteering in community (homeless shelter, rape crisis center, etc.)
- 12-step programs or other mental health therapy
- religious practice or other “centering” practice—something to regroup, reconnect with the flow of life. I really hesitate to say “spiritual” because that’s alienating to atheists, but I hesitate to say “emotional work” because that carries the connotation of being solely inner-directed rather than both inner- and outer-directed. I’m thinking things like meditation or walking in silence in nature, or a nice long jog—something that seems to take the “I” out of the equation and make it more a “we,” y’know? If you don’t, that’s cool too.
- home or personal errands (grocery, post office, pharmacy, etc.)
- home maintenance/projects (cleaning, cutting grass, gardening, painting, fixing things, etc.)
- managing one’s own chronic condition or pain (most often work-related; sometimes genetic)
- and somehow, someway trying to find time to socialize with friends/family, or enjoy some downtime entertainment
That’s what people are juggling. I’m juggling 14 of those items each week. That, and the transportation time it takes to do so. Most people my age are struggling with a dozen of ‘em (that “sandwich generation” thing). Yeah, I could give up some things in order to find more time to cook….but not really. I need everything I’m doing, or I wouldn’t be doing it. What isn’t rewarding: having lots of drive time. I wish my geographic circle was smaller. But….I need the activities themselves for physical and mental self care. It matters. And if in order to accommodate what I deem the essentials to my schedule I use takeout or frozen ravioli or something…..I’m making the command decision that right now, I value that meeting, or that class, or that social activity (either mine, my daughter’s or both) more than I value home cooking. And I value home cooking a lot.
I thought about snarkily commenting: “what would it take to get more USians to eat home cooking? Get them all a wife.” You know? Because really—if I could cut a couple things out of my schedule it would be the schlepping my daughter around to places, the errand-running, and home maintenance (I’d also ditch the thyroid problems if I could). Then I would have no scutwork, just the meaningful stuff.
But that’s the problem. The whole “why aren’t you cooking” question is framed as an individual problem, when the causes are systemic and affect everyone. The real solutions aren’t in some intricate dance of advance planning and time management in the kitchen. The real solutions are collective, not individual.