Hope in Days of Silence

April 30, 2008

On this day in 1939, the New York’s World Fair opened with the theme “The World of Tomorrow.” The fair was attended by tens of millions, and was seen as a beacon of hope for internationalism, peace, prosperity and progress.

On this day in history, six years later, Adolf Hitler shot himself in the head in a Berlin bunker, pushing one of the most violent, nastily nationalist periods of history towards closure.

Which might seem like a depressing start to our morning in blog land, yes. But to me its not; its a reminder that history and social life can change very fast and that “the world of tomorrow “can be a very different one than the world of today, in ways that seem totally improbable and unlikely.

Today, I’m specifically holding out hope that our world of tomorrow will be one in which Black American men have no reason to fear random death-by-firing-squad at the hands of “peace” officers, and for a world in which eighth-graders have no reason to fear violent asassinations delivered by their homophobic classmates.

I find it encouraging that I am not the only one who hopes for these things. It appears that 5,000 schools had participation in this years Day of Silence aimed at drawing attention to the harassment and abuse of LGBTQQ students and in honor of Lawrence King.

And while the rally I recently attended in protest of the legal whitewash of Sean Bell’s murder (incidentally, not at all far from the site of the 1939 fair), was disappointingly small, I find it encouraging that this injustice isn’t going unnoticed–not in New York City classrooms, not in discussions at work, not in activist circles and, despite what NPR thinks, not in communities affected by police brutality.

Two reactions to the trial made me hopeful, each for different reasons:

1) Cynthia McKinney’s statement on the verdict does a great job putting Sean Bell’s murder in context, but also linked it to a call for all of us to imagine something different, and better.

2) I heard an announcement from the Queer Justice League of New York City on the radio yesterday, making connections between police harassment of queer people and police violence in communities of color. I looked up their website, and while I really know nothing about this organization, except that they have an awesome name, that also gave me hope.


Really, its mostly the name that gives me hope. Like this postcard of the 1939 Fair’s Lagoon of Nations, the fantastical super-hero ring of “Queer Justice League” reminds me of the sometimes secret, sometimes shame-faced connections between a hopeful left-wing politics and the realm of utopia, imagination, and fantasy.

Because, of course, behind all my emphasis on hope this morning lies the stark reality that the present moment gives us little to hang our hope hats on. The movements for Black Liberation, Queer Liberation, Women’s Liberations and Workers’ Liberation are at low tide, to put it mildly. The US economy is in a world of shit, and empty rhetorical cover for a right-wing neoliberal agenda is what passes for a politics of “change” around here these days.

That’s why hope requires a different, more imaginative, engagement with the fourth dimension. I’ve previously alluded to the significance of reflection on the past and past hopes. But maintaining–building–hope, much less any communities or movements rooted in it, requires imagining, often detailed imagining of not only the past and the present, but the future as well.

This is what left-wing activists, queer communities and sci-fi geeks sometimes share–imagining a wholly different kind of economy, and/or new and liberating configurations of ‘family’, and sometimes all of the above on a yet-undiscovered planet.

Doing that can make you unpopular, yes. Perhaps it is slightly insane. And uncool. But, I am compelled to argue, its nowhere near as insane and uncool as accepting a total lack of alternatives.

Holla Back That Ass Up!

April 29, 2008

Handy illustration of hot feminist activism? Or just more sex-sells advertising? I can never tell…

Some of you may be aware of the much-lauded feminist self-defense project, Holla Back. The project started with Holla Back NYC, and has spread to an uncountable number of world-wide locations.

Personally, I’ve always had some concerns.

First, some of these cretinous Dudes are probably proud to have their grinning mugs and exposed penises posted on the internet.

Second, many of the comments on Holla Back trade in heavy doses of classism to put pervvy assholes in their place–including on post in which the poster called the harassers’ “nice,” “polite” boss. This is unsurprising, but strikes me as a strategy likely to reproduce, rather than eradicate, a cycle of shame, resentment, misogyny and harassment.

But my main concern is that there is nothing particularly feminist about the technology of the camera phone-plus-internet combo, or strategic about this kind of individual resistance to street harassment. In the context of a sexist, porn-sick society I fear that defending our right to take pictures of whomever we want in public and do whatever we want with them on the internet will be more than likely to bite us in the ass, than solve the problem.

The Camera phone expose is a neutral technology on a power-infused field; who’s going to be more humiliated to find their picture posted on the internet against their will (given that a main function of the internet is collection and delivery of pornographic images)–me or some asshole street harasser?

I don’t know quite yet, because I haven’t located my picture on the internet as of this morning. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. My feeling is that 80’s night should be a sacred space of cheese where I’m allowed to dance in peace without some shitbag taking pictures of myself and my companions to giggle (or worse) over with his friends, but, alas, it isn’t.

Which leads me to my final point. Regardless of what recent 20/20 “journalism” might suggest to the average viewer, straight men getting turned on by live girl-on-girl action and then hitting on said girls or taking their picture or laughing and pointing or following them home really doesn’t count as social “approval” of gay public displays of affection.

Don’t Mourn, Theorize!

April 18, 2008


Getting Played

April 17, 2008

These WWI soldiers were sent “home” to scenic, segregated Houston.
Their unwillingness to acquiesce to Jim Crow street cars and policing erupted into the “Camp Logan Mutiny” of 1917.

Yesterday, on the A train, I was squashed next to a man who was absorbed in a book entitled “Blacks in America’s Wars.” While I was trying to read the name of the book’s author, i noticed that the man was turning pages right to left, rather than left to right, and that when he paused, his eyes darted around the page, resting on a word here an there.

There were only two possible explanations for this that I could think of: 1) He cant read, but he’s trying anyway. Or trying to look like he is reading for some reason.

or 2) He’s read this book so many times that he’s flipping through the book and reminding himself of well-loved sections or ideas contained therein.

In either case, it seemed high time for me to bother strangers, a favorite activity of mine. Ironic, I know.

Artb213: “That looks like an interesting book.”

Man on the train: He holds up cover, so I can see it, “Its about wars.”

A: “Is it any good? I’ve read a different book on the same topic and I learned a lot of things I didn’t know.”

M: “I’m a soldier, so I already knew a lot of it, but yeah, its an interesting topic. Its a played topic. This shit is getting played.”

A: “Yeah, you’re right. It can seem like its the same thing over and over again. One thing I learned in the other book that I didn’t know was that Black vets from WWII came home pissed off and started the Civil Rights movement. I hope that part happens over again.”

M: (Looks at me like I’m a little crazy) “Well, people are pissed off. I’m pissed off…I’m getting out here. Have a good day!”

A: Have a good day!

Ode to Good Teachers

April 15, 2008

More good ideas people have already thunk

There are few people I admire more in the world than teachers with the unique capacity to teach to their individual students. Today, I remembered my 10th grade English teacher, a fantastic woman who, personally, probably had little time for queer socialists, but intuited that Oscar Wilde would be good for me. She couldn’t have been more right.

The man has already had every good idea I’ve ever briefly considered, 120 years ago, and with more style. Check it out:

Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of a thoroughly healthy organism, and insure the material wellbeing of each member of the community. It will, in fact, give Life its proper basis and its proper environment. But for the full development of Life to its highest mode of perfection, something more is needed. What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are Governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first. At present, in consequence of the existence of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a certain very limited amount of individualism. They are either under no necessity to work for their living, or are enabled to choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial to them and gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the men of culture – in a word, the real men, the men who have realised themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realisation. Upon the other hand, there are a great many people who, having no private property of their own, and being always on the brink of sheer starvation, are compelled to do the work of beasts of burden, to do work that is quite uncongenial to them, and to which they are forced by the peremptory, unreasonable, degrading Tyranny of want. These are the poor, and amongst them there is no grace of manner, or charm of speech, or civilisation, or culture, or refinement in pleasures, or joy of life. From their collective force Humanity gains much in material prosperity. But it is only the material result that it gains, and the man who is poor is in himself absolutely of no importance. He is merely the infinitesimal atom of a force that, so far from regarding him, crushes him: indeed, prefers him crushed, as in that case he is far more obedient.


Yes; there are suggestive things in Individualism. Socialism annihilates family life, for instance. With the abolition of private property, marriage in its present form must disappear. This is part of the programme. Individualism accepts this and makes it fine. It converts the abolition of legal restraint into a form of freedom that will help the full development of personality, and make the love of man and woman more wonderful, more beautiful, and more ennobling. Jesus knew this. He rejected the claims of family life, although they existed in His day and community in a very marked form. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers ?” He said, when He was told that they wished to speak to Him. When one of His followers asked leave to go and bury his father, “Let the dead bury the dead,” was His terrible answer. He would allow no claim whatsoever to be made on personality.

Really, read the whole thing.

Food Fight

April 15, 2008

the global economy is making me crazy

The global economy is making me crazy

Its not good, people. High gas prices not only trapped me in the scenic Airports of the American South for the better part of last weekend, they appear to have sparked a spate of food riots from Haiti, to many parts of Africa, the Philippines and Indonesia. *Updated to add Mexico, and a whole bunch of other places according to Democracy Now! this morning; apparently 15,000 garment workers are on strike in Bangladesh, protesting high food prices and slave wages.* The main South African federation of trade unions, COSATU, is warning that SA could be next.

Food crisis happening in these countries because they already have high rates of inequality and poverty, and because they are net importers of food; increasing gas prices increase the cost of food production and the cost of food transportation.

This is, of course, only the most immediate problem. For a deeper explanation, we’d have to look at the impact of fossil fuels, global warming and history of colonial and post-colonial land ownership on food production. But those are not really points best made in blog format.

Instead we will talk about what the problem is NOT. The problem is not a lack of food in the world. There is enough food in the world.

Brief interlude for a vignette;

When I was a younger, equally smart-assed anti-capitalist, a teacher, (who closely resembled Monica Lewinsky, during a historical period in which that was a serious social detriment) once explained to me and the rest of the class that “Capitalism is the Most Efficient System”

“Efficient,” I loudly wondered, “at what?”

She was baffled, but a future salutatorian answered my question: “Efficient at distributing goods and resources!”

Ahhh. Now it remains my turn to be baffled. This assertion, whenever I see it repeated, strikes me as egregiously illogical one. Or, at least, as a pure declaration of faith in a premise with very little evidence to support it. Many of the ideas in the human cultural cannon, ideas often considered the epitome of antilogical faith–say animism, or belief in magic–have a much longer and more successful empirical track record if all of human history is taken into account. Food riots are endemic to this crap system and they always have been.

And despite the category I’ve stuck this post in, rising food prices aren’t just a problem for Africa or for island nations dominated by US military and economic imperialism; food is a global market. Price pressure at the pump is likely to hit us in the pantry, and I’m worried it might be soon.

This food thing makes me even more nervous than the housing crash, especially given that they can’t be taken in isolation. See, in the earlier half of this century, in the US, food prices were substantially higher (relative to wages), but housing prices were substantially lower. Wages, in the US have been stagnating since the 1960’s or so, but this arrangement has been sustained, in part, by falling food prices.

The housing crash hasn’t made rent cheaper. Its just resulted in a lot of people losing their highly-leveraged houses. So now we have a situation where we have stagnant wages, rising food and housing costs and credit markets drying up.


*updated again to add: More at Rachel’s Tavern.*

Is America Ready?

April 4, 2008

“Are we there yet?”
“Is America Ready?”
This phrase has been bouncing around a lot lately; “Is America Ready for a Woman President?,” “Is America Ready for a Black President?“…“Is America Ready for a Pregnant Man?”
I mean, clearly the answer to that question, no matter what the second clause contains, is pretty much “no”. But why doesn’t this question get more play where it really counts, when it would really matter? Imagine the many key interrogatively formulaic stories we never read but should have:
Is America Ready for Adjustable Rate Mortgages?
Is America Ready to Kill Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqis for No Legitimate Reason at All?
Is America Ready to Dismantle our Entire Public Education System?
Is America Ready for the Backdoor Draft? How About A Private, Mercenary Army?
Is America Ready to Watch as A Major US City is Demolished and Its Citizens Left for Days to Drown?
This could go on for a while, but you get my point.


“Fancy meeting you here!”



Waiting in the airport at five am for the first flight out to Atlanta, my brain is not generally in top form.  That is my only excuse for how quickly and completely i was sucked into CNN’s rendition of todays campaign non-event.  In addition to hearing the rumors that Clinton told Bill Richardson that “Obama can’t win,” I leaned several things. 


1) Through the thick fog surrounding my consciousness, I believe that I heard the phrase “CNN means politics.” I found this concept and tagline unexpectedly terrifying.  If this is politics, I’m the Tooth Fairy.


2) Obama’s candidacy has been a major boon to Black commentators willing to denounce Obama. Also, it has been a boon to black commentators who support Barak Obama. About 70% of the commentators who talked about Clinton’s statement were Black, even if none of the hosts were.  This had the effect of both making me notice how white TV normally is and of making me suspicious that CNN is trying to pass off the false notion that Black people are divided on the the question of whom to support for the Democratic nomination. They are not.


3) A super-delegate from my district, the not-infrequently-sleazy Ed Towns,  is supporting Clinton, despite the fact that the district, which includes the first or second largest urban concentration of Black people in the country (Atlanta is the other one), and possibly outside of Africa.  Brooklyn (and Queens) went overwhelmingly for Obama, but our reps are backing Clinton. There have, it seems, been protests.


If you are regular reader, you are aware that I am not an Obama supporter. I may have even said “I don’t even really give a shit about Obama.”  This remains strictly true. While Obama is cute, and a capable of writing his own speeches (a skill that impresses in the realm of presidential candidates, but is the minimum standard for entry into world of high school debate), nothing about his neoliberal economic program, aggressive imperialist posturing nor his tactically demonstrative support for apartheid in Israel warms the cockles of my anything.  


Further, I believe that anyone with politics to the left of Richard Nixon is completely wasting hir time considering or trying to redeem the Democratic party as something other than cleverly organized surrender of any social forces for progress (the working class, the Black, Chicano, Feminist and Queer Movements, etc. ) managed by a rotating team of the most unbelievably spineless lickspittle lackeys. 


Which is to say that I like HIllary Clinton even less than Barak Obama.  It never ceases to baffle me that some of my favorite  feminists  believe that a victory for Clinton will be a feminist victory.  I disagree; a victory for Clinton will be a victory for the oligarchy and a return to the antediluvian patriarchal practice of rule by kinship.  If Hillary Clinton is feminism, Eva Peron is the Tooth Fairy.


But none of that is really the point of this post.  My point is that if I were the among the leadership of Democratic Party and intent, as I would be, on encouraging people to hang on to the last shred of suspended disbelief they have in the notion that they live in a democratic republic which has at least one democratically organized major political party, I would not, I repeat, not, try to game the system to thwart the Black vote. Nor would i let anyone else engage in this foolish behavior. 


I say this , in part, because the last two elections have had major instances of of Black disenfrancheisment through fiat, through legal technicalities and through outright cheating. The last two instances of this were atrocities, but Republicans were clearly most responsible ( even if it is also true that Al Gore, John Kerry and John Edwards were amazingly willing to sacrifice their own personal interests to those of ruling class–and white–solidarity).  A third round of this nastiness, taking place inside the Democratic Party, and requiring the complicity of large portions of the Congressional Black Caucus seems like a bad strategy fo mobilizing a tired, overworked, beaten-down but temporarily hopeful base.


Mrs. Clinton, whatever else you may be, you seem to be a very saavy woman. I ask you; You think Barak Obama can’t win? Ok. I have my own fears about the depth of American racism, its true. Maybe white voters really can’t go there. That would be tragically blatant but unsurprising.


But can you win?  No. Not a chance, I suspect, if you have to throw over Barak Obama and the democratic will of your party’s rank-and-file and Black voters to do it.  




On an obliquely related note, today is the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  While King was just one man, and part of a larger movement, the aniverssary his death has a lot symbolic resonance. It seems like a good time to reflect on the real meanings of “Hope” and “Change.”  King died supporting the struggle of Memphis’ Black sanitaiton workers, planning a Poor People’s Campaign and denouncing American Imperialism in Vietnam.  He never got to finish all that and we never got to it either.


The good guys have been mostly losing ever since; the Democratic party has become increasingly conservative, and we all work a whole lot more for less money. Its high time we turned that around. Barak Obama deserves to win the presidency, if any of them do, but even if he does, he’s not going to do any of that for us.