Sunday, July 28, 2013

Abortion Rights Freedom Ride

A few weeks ago I posted a number of concrete things you can do right away to support abortion rights. Here's another.

The group Stop Patriarchy is currently engaged in an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride across the country, focusing on states where abortion rights are particularly precarious, hanging often on one lone provider. Rather than focusing on legislation, their important direct action activism is aimed directly at supporting and defending the people who make abortion even possible in these states, and whose lives are quite literally on the line.

Major events are planned for the following:
August 3: Fargo, North Dakota
August 10: Wichita, Kansas
August 17: Jackson, Mississippi

If you live in the area, or have friends and family there, please spread the word and help build popular support for abortion providers and abortion rights where they are most under attack.

Visit the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride website for the most up-to-date information on the ride and reports from stops along the way.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Buffy vs. the GOP

"It's about power. Who's got it. Who knows how to use it."
-Buffy Summers, Lessons*

Looking back on the past few weeks in politics, in Texas and North Carolina in particular, but in the US more generally, what has become eminently clear is that it's all about power. White men have it, and the spate of hateful, yes hateful, legislation and decisions coming down are clear indications of who they are afraid of losing their power to: women, people of color, Muslims. 

Why else would legislators in North Carolina attach extreme (but increasingly common) anti-abortion regulations to a bill banning Sharia law in North Carolina? (Because, as a friend of mine noted, I'm sure that Sharia law is the biggest problem facing North Carolinians these days.) This as over 150 people have been arrested in the Moral Mondays campaign protesting among other things voting restrictions aimed at limiting (in effect if not in name) the rights of people of color (aka non-Republicans) to vote.

Why else would Texas Republicans stop at nothing, including lying about having passed legislation, to halt Senator Wendy Davis' historic filibuster against SB5, which included a similar spate of restrictions as the NC language and which, in its new second special legislative session iteration, will close all but 5 abortion clinics in a state 10% larger than the country of France? This on the same day that within 2 hours of the Supreme Court overturning sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Attorney General of Texas moved to implement a voter ID law and redistricting maps previously blocked because they were unconstitutional. 

Why else would Texas Governor Rick Perry find a don't-text-and-drive law to be an unacceptable intrusion on personal liberty, but be just fine passing laws that limit women's personal liberty?

Why else would that same governor have no qualms about executing the 500th person in Texas the same week he publicly speaks to a "pro-life" conference and excoriates Senator Davis for not learning a lesson about the value of "life" from her own experience as the daughter of a teen mother and as a teen mother herself?

Why else would countless politicians categorically refuse to entertain gun control legislation ("out of my cold, dead hands!") even as they seek to control women's bodies? (The same could be said of any politician who calls for small government - i.e. no regulations on business and capital - while also calling for that same small government to regulate women's bodies.)

I could go on, but you get the point. They don't want anyone to stop them from doing the things they do (carrying guns, texting while driving, passing laws to serve their own interests, making a lot of money), and so all of the non-small government bills they propose and pass have to do with limiting the rights of those whose power they fear (women, people of color, Muslims, and really anyone not just like them). That they have just lost on the issue of gay marriage is interesting, but not surprising given that 1) marriage (and its related category, family) is a conservative institution that is ultimately hard for conservatives to argue against, and 2) there are enough white, gay men in positions of power to make "them" into "us."

Now I've just laid a lot out here about the intersections of various movements (anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action in all its forms, anti-Muslim, and anti-gay) in a very cursory way. It's not my intention here to provide an in-depth history and analysis of those movements, but those analyses do exist and I encourage you to seek them out (start with Political Research Associates and the writing of Chip Berlet). Instead, you probably noticed that I opened this discussion with a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And that's intentional. Because what I'm trying to do here is to understand this current political moment, and a big part of that is being able to identify where the fault lines are, and discerning how best to mobilize along those points. And that's also why I've knowingly engaged here in a lot of gross generalizing - referring to white, male, Republicans - and a simplistic us vs. them construction* of American politics, because doing so makes the fault lines perfectly and painfully clear. 

Now, what does this all have to do with Buffy?

In the university classes I teach, I'm known for citing pop culture to both clarify and exemplify theoretical points. I mean, really, if you're talking about ideological state apparatuses and then the FLOTUS, surrounded by military personnel, presents the Oscar for Best Picture to Argo, a movie about how the movie industry helped the CIA free US embassy workers from Tehran, then, in the immortal words of GOB Bluth, (and at the risk of over-referencing): "Come on!" Pop culture helps us understand who we are as a people (again, gross generalization) and where we are politically and culturally. What are we obsessed with? What are we trying to think about in new ways? What can we not let go? (see for example "Is It Possible to Make a Hollywood Blockbuster Without Evoking 9/11?)

But I cite Buffy here specifically because she is a young woman with power. And that is what is at stake right now: power. Who has it, and who is afraid to lose it. Buffy creator, Joss Whedon (a white man - see I'm not demonizing them all), famously created the character with the premise, "what if that young, blond woman running from the bad guy in the horror movie, you know the one who can only fall and scream and be overcome over and over again in every single movie, instead turned around and fought back?" So for seven seasons on TV (and two-and-counting in comic book format), Buffy learned to use her power, until in the final episode of the TV series she makes the radical decision to share her power. Now it is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is magic involved in the power-sharing. But still, it's not easy, and it involves a really difficult fight. And even once it's done, things are not immediately rosy. The comic books (seasons 8 and 9) explore the consequences of power sharing. In short: A shift in power results in fundamental changes to the world. A lot of people are pissed about  the new order and fight against it. Others feel scared or lost. Still others take their new-found power and begin to wield it in old ways. And Buffy herself has to struggle with what it means to not be the "chosen one" and what her role is in the new world. (Briefly: even as she continues to fight the good fight, she becomes more like us: gets a job, has roommates, has what seems like an unplanned pregnancy* and decides with the help of friends to have an abortion.)

So, what does this have to do with Texas and North Carolina and Ohio and Wisconsin and Congress or, really, anything? Well, basically I think we're a few episodes before the end of this iteration of the series. We're at the point where people are aware that power might be shared, and therefore shifted, and frankly they are scared. And pissed. And they're fighting back, cruelly and unfairly. And they're using stories and we should, too.* And what I'm trying to do here is use the story of Buffy to help us understand that this ugly fight is happening BECAUSE WE HAVE POWER. And sometimes that's the hardest thing to imagine or understand. A friend of mine says of The Walking Dead that it's evidently easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of white male privilege and patriarchy. But we have to imagine it. Imagine it and act accordingly. And understand it's not going down without a fight. And understand that we shouldn't be defeated by these current battles (which after all are the culmination of decades of preparation). And also understand that winning a battle, like the filibuster of SB5, doesn't mean we've won everything. And that being defeated in the Texas legislature, as we are likely to be later this month, doesn't mean we've lost the fight.

So watch some Buffy and eat your spinach and do whatever else it is you need to do to assure yourself that you, that WE, are strong and capable in this fight.

"I just realized something, something that never really occurred to me before. We're gonna win."

*I'm just saying right up front that Buffy and Foucault disagree about the nature of power. It's a contradiction I'm willing to work with. And here's a link to a scholarly article that says they aren't that contradictory after all:
*I also don't want to suggest that the Democrats are the "us" here, or to let them off the hook for the current state of affairs. Like I said, far more complicated than my portrayal suggests.
*This deserves a whole separate blog post.
*Check out Mike Carey's ongoing comic, The Unwritten, for a stunning series about the power of stories. George Lakoff eat your heart out!

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

On Courageous Resisters and the Role We All Must Play

"I hope to be as brave as Bradley Manning."

"I want some Edward Snowden underoos."

"I want to be Wendy Davis when I grow up."

These are all actual comments I've heard recently. While I absolutely understand the sentiment - feeling inadequate or that you're not doing everything you possibly can to make a difference in the world - I want to challenge the idea that these folks are somehow different than us, superheroes who are inherently able to do something we can't. The current glut of superhero movies with their mythic origin stories reinforce the idea that there are the average folks and the super ones. In other words, if I haven't been bitten by a radioactive spider, or watched my parents be murdered, or if I'm not from another world, or if I don't suddenly have special powers, or if I'm not ridiculously wealthy, there's no way I can do what Manning and Snowden and Davis and countless others have done and continue to do.

When he first came forward as the source of the NSA leaks, Edward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald, "you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act." 


But Snowden is also right that it often takes an individual willing to take a stand - and not back down even in face of personal and professional attacks - to galvanize others to action, to hearten those who had given up, and to inspire those who didn't even realize there was another option in the first place.

The now defunct organization, Refuse & Resist! (R&R!) used to call these folks Courageous Resistors, and would regularly present Courageous Resistor Awards to people whose names you know well, like Cindy Sheehan (for starting an anti-war encampment at then President Bush's Crawford Ranch) and Adrienne Rich (for refusing the National Medal of the Arts) as well as to people you've probably never heard of, like Dr. Wayne Goldner (for continuing to perform abortions after his hospital was taken over by a Catholic one) or Iris Baez (for leading the fight to end police brutality after her son was murdered by cops). The point of the awards was to hold up these amazing folks and their acts of courage, yes. But it was also to rally a community to support them. And to remind ourselves that any of us could one day be in their position. 

So, thinking about someone like Texas Senator Wendy Davis as a Courageous Resistor, rather than a super hero is a helpful move for a couple of reasons. First of all, it places her firmly in a (geographic/activist/online) community, rather than singling her out as a savior. After all, with super heroes, there's not a whole lot for the average person to do. Sure Batman has Commissioner Gordon, and Superman has Lois Lane, but when the battles get heated the "humans" are not usually needed to get the job done. And I have to say, despite media efforts to make her into a singular figure (even Rachel Maddow has tended to do this), Davis herself is always clear that she was able to do what she did because she had a community of colleagues working with her, countless women willing to let her share their stories, hundreds of women, men, and children supporting her in the gallery, and thousands more right outside the door. She's also really clear that when her filibuster against SB5 had been halted, and her colleague's attempts to stop GOP maneuvers were failing, it was the average people, yes US, who prevented SB5 from passing (and who forced the GOP to give up their attempt to falsify their vote).

Moreover, if Davis is a Courageous Resister and not a super hero, that means that we have something really important to do. Namely, we have to continue to fight, even if, and especially when, the attacks come. Davis can't do it for us. Sure, she's got a very specific role to play. But so do we. 

I close this post with a poem that has given me reassurance and guidance over the years, when I've felt hopeless or unsure of how to proceed. It tells me that even though my acts may not be as high profile as Wendy Davis', they are equally important.

The Low Road, by Marge Piercy

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

From The Moon is Always Female published by Alfred A. Knopf, Copyright 1980 by Marge Piercy


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