A Message to Non-Profit Social Change Organizations in 140 Characters

citation in frame

My 140: creative & exploitation are not synonymous; when they r used interchangeably there is no revolutionary change going on


I tweeted this in response to the idea that part-time and volunteer workers at non-profits are being asked to foot more and more of the bill for social service provision at a time when people need more services than ever. My problem is both with the idea that nonprofits cannot afford to hire full time grant writers because they are too expensive and that somehow the burden should be placed on the backs of the lowest paid workers instead.

While grant writer salaries are incredibly high, most grant writers can and do write grants to continually fund their positions while at the same time working on large and targeted funding for agencies as a whole. Though the money can and does dry up, they generally help ensure a much steadier flow of capital into the agency which in turn ensures better pay for and retention of workers. When you recruit workers with existing skills needed by service seekers and then are able to retain them over an extended period of time, your services improve, your clients are better served, and workers have more than their ideals to keep them going.

Underpaid workers have always been a cornerstone of social service. What galls me however is that many social service agencies have taken to humiliating or undermining workers who cannot and should not have to take on additional burdens to offset agency costs. For instance, at a late afternoon meeting today I overheard a young woman tear into her volunteers for not printing out needed materials on their home computers. She implied that their failure to make their own printouts and copies was tantamount to sending homeless women back out into the street with neither clothes nor food and water. When one of the volunteers pointed out that her printer was old and could not print multiple copies for the agency as well as print the papers for her classes, her supervisor insinuated that it was a matter of care and credibility. Either she cared about their clients and was committed to the work they were doing or she was selfish. There was never a thought that maybe asking volunteers to pay for an agency’s printing and copying was where the selfishness lay.

The situation reminded me of a conversation I had at the end of my own volunteer service for a women’s crisis drop in center as an undergraduate. I had a broken down two seater car inherited from my grandfather. It barely drove and broke down regularly. Yet I spent so many hours at the drop in center that most women seeking services and other agencies thought I was staff. My name was consistently at the top of the “rock star” list, a list that praised people for contributing more than the minimum hours. And many nights I had even gone in on 10 minutes notice to sub for other PAID workers and even trained a few.

Yet one particularly bad car week, I had had to cancel my shift 3 times because the car would not start and I was unable to get home in the wee hours of the night when my shift would end. Suddenly my 30-60 hour volunteer week had no meaning to the Coordinator who had to scramble to take my place or transfer crisis calls to my home. I was instantly transformed from a rock star to a loser who did not care about women in crisis.

In fact, the Coordinator said to me “Well maybe you should buy a new car already because this is pathetic.” 20 year old me was stunned. She was a lawyer, I was a student on financial aid driving her grandfather’s car. How could I possibly afford a new car? If she’d just been being inconsiderate out of frustration that would still have been rude and inconsiderate, but as the conversation went on it became clear she was serious. In fact she went so far as to say maybe “people like me” should not volunteer if we could not “meet the minimum standards of volunteerism.” Apparently those standards include being middle to upper class but not working more hours than most paid staff.

The idea that I might need to cut back hours at night in exchange for doing more hours in the day or early evening when alternative transportation was available was beyond the elitist framework in which the discussion was couched. When I suggested that maybe I should simply cut back my hours from 60 to the required 10 to make a point about how class expectations were clouding the issue, she suggested I consider quitting if “I wasn’t going to take volunteering seriously.”

Everyone at the agency was in agreement that the Coordinator, not I, was in the wrong here. Apologies were made and plans to switch shifts were floated. The immediacy with which they tried to make amends was heartening but also tinged with discussions of how they would make up for all those late evening hours “no one else wanted to do” and comments like “maybe they would have to just pay someone.” Despite their mostly positive efforts to fix the situation, in light of the original conversation and the side chatter, the damage was done. I no longer looked at the agency the same way nor felt my labor had value to them beyond their immediate gain. While this was likely only slightly true, I was now wary of the next time an emergency would take me away from scheduled hours, hours that it is the Coordinator’s job to schedule a backup volunteer for by the way, because I never wanted to be in a conversation again where my working class background was seen as tantamount to not caring about homeless women’s lives.

I quit that day. But as I watched the young woman tear up in front of her supervisor at my luncheon, I did not think she would. Worse the demands did not end there. Before we had finished eating, this same woman tore into another volunteer because she had shut off her cellphone. From what I could gather, the agency was running several of its intake services through the volunteers phone and was now in a supposed bind because the girl could no longer afford to pay her cellphone bill. The girl explained that she had lost her job several months earlier and let the agency know sooner or later she would likely have to switch phones but the supervisor did not care. She kept demanding the girl figure out a way to pay for extended coverage because the fate of all immigrant women everywhere hung in the balance. Never mind that the agency itself had to have phones and voicemail they could have and should have been using.

While I wanted to believe that this was another case of an overly self-involved middle class “doo gooder” clocking time for her resume and not an agency wide situation, I knew better. In these economic times the number of agencies serving the same population’s needs is diminishing while the need is growing. The number of paid jobs are also shrinking so that for some, the only way to get into the work that they love is to be volunteer staff. Its a dilemma that holds funders, volunteers, and especially service seekers hostage to a system that is no longer serving people’s needs to the best of our abilities.

Often agencies in economic binds are told to “get creative” about their funding issues. That creativity seems to translate not to looking for new funding sources or finding new, cheaper, ways of doing the same thing, but instead to exploiting workers. Every day I see job descriptions that are actually 4 or 5 jobs for the salary of less than one advertised in the service industry. Every day, I get emails and phone calls from students worried they cannot feed their kids, themselves, or pay their basic bills because they dared to go into helping fields. And as I watched this 20-something, upper class, recent grad berate the multicultural cast of working class and student volunteers and part timers, I could not help but wonder what kind of social justice can come out of exploitation masked as economic “creativity.” If one’s own workers and volunteers have no human value than what value do service seekers have in this model? And how exactly are we striving toward a world where everyone has value, equality, and justice when we are not even providing it for the people on whose labor we depend?

It seems to me that a critically unexplored part of the non-profit-industrial-complex is the exploitation of labor and the subsequent exploitation or diminishing of useful services to clients. After all, nothing can change at cash-strapped agencies who have come to take their workers for granted without a critical paradigm shift in the thinking of social justice agencies. As long as money is tight and the answer is to shut down services and rely on underpaid or volunteer workers for everything from phones, to printing, to salary related donations, neither funders nor workers can escape the cycle by which we all poor money into dysfunction to ensure at least one place remains open for service seekers. Agencies know this and so do the supervisors who lament attrition rates in both clients and volunteers without ever asking themselves why.

So I put it to you again, in another way: what kind of social justice can you possibly be working for when you are providing no justice to your least paid workers?

Race Issues Are Queer Issues

During the post-CNN/Dan Savage Prop 8 debacle, it fell to black queer people to remind the “community” that we existed and that we did not all come from offensively homophobic families just itching to burn down gayborhoods like white people did to Rosewood, Pierce City, and others in the past. It also fell to the entire queer community/ies of color to remind both gay and straight white people that they had not authored, sponsored, nor ushered in the bill and that homophobia crosses race, class, and gender lines. More than that, people of color and allies had to trot out endless evidence that they had in fact organized against Prop 8 and that many had done so with no funding or support from larger queer organizations. It was the stuff of nightmares that reminded us all that despite all sharing one identity, the intersections crossing that identity meant that we were still, sadly, on different & exploitable divides.

Richard Settle/Flickr

Enter the immigration debate. At this past week’s Netroots 10 conference, at least one panel on immigration included a discussion in which a white queer blogger argued correctly that gay rights people need to fight for immigration issues because “when one of us is not free, none of us is free.” Though I share his sentiment, the juxtaposition of one community with the other once again renders them mutually exclusive. Yet gay immigrants not only exist, they have the unique distinction of being cut out of one of the major ways to gain legal access to citizenship in the U.S.: family reunification. After all, if your family isn’t legally recognized neither is its reunification. Even if queer immigrants are able to come here legally through other means, they also run the risk of having their legal marriages abroad considered null and void in the majority of the United States. So the marriage issue is in fact an immigration issues and vice versa.

Queer immigrants are also routinely denied asylum despite the fact that homophobic harassment, especially by police or military, should clearly qualify them. These denials have often sent queer petitioners home to their deaths a distinction they share with women escaping domestic violence and government sponsored rape and torture or immigrants whose ethnic or religious affiliation is no longer of import or has never been important to the political aims of the U.S. When HIV exemptions were still on the books, many gay men were denied citizenship, even when legally petitioned for as part of a larger family unit, based on the erroneous fear they were infected. Sometimes, the HIV exemption was used to punish citizen and asylum seekers for being gay; though statistics on how many were denied for this reason is hard to comeby, anecdotal stories from lawyers and advocates exist. The list of discrimination goes on.

So whether we are talking about equal access to marriage or not, as long as gay people have limited or no rights, certain immigrants will lack certain rights and vice versa. Ultimately gay rights and immigrant rights are not just equally important because of how oppressions are linked but also because for some people they are the same thing.

Understanding these connections are fundamental to an effective and inclusive gay rights strategy. Yet, prominent gay or queer (as a verb not a noun) artists seem to understand this less than the movement(s) itself. Last week Elton John played Tuscon AZ despite massive protest. In response, he told his audience:

“We are all very pleased to be playing in Arizona. I have read that some of the artists won’t come here. They are f***wits! Let’s face it: I still play in California, and as a gay man I have no legal rights whatsoever. So what’s the f**k with these people?”

His comment stood in stark relief against his decision to play Rush Limbaugh’s wedding, which not only flew in the face of the gay marriage ban in multiple parts of the U.S. but also his own rights as Limbaugh has spoken out against them on his show and supported others who have done so. More than that Elton seemed to turn the idea of shared freedom on its head, claiming “if I am not free, who cares if you are” in place of “if one of us is not free, none of us are.” Not only is this sentiment self-interested, hypocritical, and oppressive it also shows the underlining issues with how SB1070 is perceived and likely to be applied. After all, Elton John has no more legal right to be married in AZ than he does in CA but more than that, if the judge had not put on hold the ID portion of SB1070 this week Elton would have had to carry his papers to do any future concerts in the state. He did not think about that because he is white and European and like everybody else, he assumes he will not be stopped, harassed, or “accidentally” deported because he does not “look like an illegal immigrant.” That difference and the privilege to not only exploit it but also be completely oblivious to it is one of the fundamental problems with queer organizing in the U.S. and to a lesser extent Britain. Both groups continue to articulate themselves as white, upper class, and male. While they claim to be interested in socio-political issues outside of themselves, there is very little stated or real effort to be interested in issues related to poor people and people of color (both of whom are assumed to not be queer).

Elton is not alone in his complete denial of the import of immigrants’ rights. Lady Gaga plans to play Phoenix AZ at the end of the month. Though her appeal crosses sexualities and genders, Gaga has become one of the queer icons, in every since of the word, of our time. Like Madonna she has been taken in by a community that she claims while keeping her sexuality largely out of it. Like Elton John she has also made headlines for oppressive decisions like mocking trans women. And also like Elton John she has no qualms with playing a concert in a state that most artists have refused to play until the pass law comes down. Gaga’s concert also coincides with a week long solidarity effort called for by queer organizations, immigrants rights activists, and progressive organizations across the country asking everyone to use the week to raise awareness, organize protests, and refuse to have anything to do with AZ accept boycott. So in essence, Gaga’s concert not only violates an unspoken decision to boycott but also a very clear picket line.

In both instances, artists with considerable international fame and connections have simply snubbed their nose at human rights in the name of the almighty dollar. Neither Gaga’s silence nor Elton’s tried and true tactic of “hey look at that over there it’s much worse than this” can mask the fact that in a very public way white queer performers have failed to see the connection between the struggles of people of color and their own. They have once again transformed the public face of the movement(s) into one of racial privilege and racial disdain despite the work that queer people, regardless of race, have been doing to support immigrants rights and communities of color. They have made it that much harder for coalitions to be formed in the future and for new generations of activists to see their lives and their work implicated in the lives and work of people they perceive to be different from them.

Arizona is not California. But every activist involved in ending Prop 8 learned a valuable lesson about racial exclusion and racial myopia that everyone else should take note of if we are ever going to get equal rights in the U.S. Race Issues are Queer Issues. Queer Issues are Race Issues. And anyone who does not get that needs both education on oppression and an end to ticket sales. If you can boycott AZ businesses in the name of solidarity, you can stop listening to Lady Gaga too. There are several petitions circulating to try and get Gaga to cancel her concert, the most legitimate one seems to be here.

(Update, this post was written prior to Gaga’s concert. You can read my response to her Sharpie activism during that concert here.)


images of Gaga, Elton & Eminem unattributed

More Radical Opportunities in NOLA

With all the talk of who is doing what over in the Gulf, I thought it might be nice to announce an event where people are actually pooling knowledge, talking about change, and then getting down to the business of it. It won’t stop BP from telling their version of truth about what is going on with the oil spill or their seemingly unrealistic version of how long clean up will take, but if you are tired of the spin and want to work on all of the other and intersecting issues going on in the region while taking a break from trying to save fragile wildlife, here’s one such place to start:

Last month, more than fifty people took part in spellbinding story sharing and conversation with Ms. Dodie Smith-Simmons. This Thursday, join John O’Neal for storytelling and conversation about nonviolence as a tactic and a way of life.

What: Talkin’ Revolution: Conversations with Elders who Led the Way, featuring John O’Neal
When: Thursday, June 10, 7pm
Where: The 7th Ward Neighborhood Center,
1910 Urquhart Street at Pauger Street

Hunger Strike Against SB 1070

Some students at UC Berkeley have been engaging in a hunger strike against SB 1070 since Monday of last week. The students have asked the President, Chancellor, and Vice Chancellor of the university to denounce SB 1070 and address racial issues on campus that they believe make UC Berkeley, and to a larger extent the UC system, susceptible to similar legislation and policing in the future. They also requested that the university become a “sanctuary campus” in which undocumented students would be safe to both attend and seek refuge if they were attending other schools.

In response, Chancellor Birgeneau, who was out of town, condemned SB 1070, assured students that no one was being investigated for previous immigration rallies on campus, and asked that students turn their attention toward teachable moments rather than risking their health to make a statement. He also raised concerns that making Berkeley a sanctuary campus would actually draw negative attention to Latin@s on campus and increase the potential for covert surveillance of them by authorities. Historians will note that radical and even moderate social justice students, particularly those interested in racial and gender equality, have been the targets of such covert operations in the past and that Berkeley has been a particular hotbed for conflicts between government agencies and students. He also reiterated that Vice Chancellor Breslauer had his support in meeting with students and trying to clarify their requests.

While Chancellor Birgeneau comments from afar focused on the issues raised by the initial call for a hunger strike while questioning the methods, UCPD was not so interested in support for immigrants’ rights or students’ protests. When one student called for medical attention during the weekend, UCPD showed up instead. Students went to twitter to alert everyone that the police had been called despite no confrontational politics or illegal activity on the part of students. They raised concerns about how students’ attempts to care for themselves, as instructed by the Chancellor, seemed to be directly thwarted by campus and local police.

In response to police action and what students’ believe is the failure of the Chancellor to officially meet with them, 3 students are going on a “dry strike” (ie no food or water) while at least 10 others will continue the “solidarity hunger strike” (juice and water ok).  They have also modified their list of concerns and needs for the university:

  1. Public denouncement of SB 1070 (presumably including some connection to why similar legislation would not be ok in California)
  2. recruitment, retention, and safety for students of color espec. undocumented students & a commitment that UCPD will not report suspected undocumented workers or students to ICE (this replaces a call for a “sanctuary campus” originally demand #2 in a circulated list during the beginning of the hunger strike)
  3. changing the student code of conduct so that the maximum sanction for students engaged in social justice protests is community service, not suspension, expulsion, and/or potential arrest; suspension of the code until it is applied fairly to all groups on campus
  4. the rehire of laid off service workers, all of whom are people of color
  5. a commitment from both Chancellor and Vice Chancellor that they will engage solely in non-violent methods to address protesters on campus and an apology for the police brutality some students experienced during previous protests

Supporters of the strikers applaud the ongoing political commitment of UC Berkeley students in the face of ongoing oppression of students of color on and off campus. They point to the ways that Berkeley students are drawing attention to SB 1070 while addressing how a climate for state sanctioned discrimination must exist before legislation can be enacted. In other words, by pointing to key issues on Berkeley’s campus, they are highlighting how ideas of illegality and criminalization of people of color is the starting point for legislation that publicly sanctions racial profiling and makes it into law. They are also drawing attention to how the university system in general is implicated in both the exploitation of undocumented workers and reaping economic benefit from undocumented workers and students while failing to take a unified stand against anti-immigration elements.

Others have expressed concerns about the students’ methods and message. Some believe that instead of acting in solidarity with students in Arizona, the hunger strike has in fact shifted needed discussion and energy away from SB 1070 in order to center issues in California. Instead seeing a larger narrative of policing and erosion of civil rights for Latin@s in this country, cast as immigration issues, they see Berkeley students’ piggybacking their own issues onto the SB 1070 law with little effort to raise knowledge, create discussion, or organize around SB 1070 itself. Some have also pointed out that the hunger strike is “only a handful of students” while other efforts that actually are circulating concrete information about SB 1070 and organizing discussions, actions, and rallies to repeal it and prevent its spread to other states represent much larger efforts on campus. Finally, some have simply called the hunger strike “ridiculous” given that neither California voters nor California schools had anything to do with SB 1070 and that the action is undermining any credibility that students have to represent these complex issues.

No matter which side you fall on, it seems that once again SB 1070 has had far-reaching impact Arizona legislatures likely never considered. As the tide continues to turn against them amongst academic circles, negative views of the state and Arizona schools continues to spread. While some have flocked to Arizona’s defense in an act of white entrenchment solidarity, the slow ripples of disdain for state sanctioned legalized racial profiling and discrimination are extending outward in larger and larger circles. From academics to sports personalities to politicians and organizers, Arizona is starting to feel like the next “Sun City.” And in that sense, we should all remember that it was organizing at Berkeley that helped turn the tide toward national level divestment from places with legalized inequality and discrimination.

So You Say You Want to Boycott Arizona?

“No services for people from AZ” Octavio Gallego/reforma.com

Here is a list of AZ businesses and contact information. Please keep in mind that by choosing to boycott businesses you run the risk of making the right choice (telling AZ that there is a real cost to bigotry) on the backs of the wrong people (workers who likely had very little to do with the drafting or passing of the anti-immigrant anti-civil rights bill). If you want to engage in the most ethical intersectional boycott, you may wish to contact these businesses and ask what their stance is on SB 1070; for instance, Buffalo Exchange has left a comment on this post and on their website stating they do not support the bill but they are an AZ based company and therefore on the list of companies being circulated for boycott. If a company does not support SB 1070, you might consider shopping there more and sending in emails or cards that say you are shopping there instead of another business that does support the bill out of solidarity with both workers and undocumented people. The choice is ultimately yours and I hope having a list of AZ based companies helps you know which companies are based in Arizona and how to go about making up your mind about how you will show solidarity with basic civil rights in N. America.

Arizona Diamondbacks – OWNER ACTIVELY SUPPORTED SB 1070 despite his claims to contrary
based in Phoenix
baseball team

based in Tucson
computer games: Turkey Hunter; Shell Whirl; Vegas Jackpot Gold; others

Best Western International (hotel chain)
based in Phoenix
4000 hotels in 80 countries

Buffalo Exchange – DOES NOT SUPPORT SB 1070
based in Tucson
used, second-hand and recycled clothes

Channel Master
based in Gilbert
television accessories

Circle K
based in Tempe
international convenience store chain
wholly-owned subsidiary of Alimentation Couche-Tard (Laval, Quebec)

Cold Stone Creamery
based in Scottsdale
ice cream parlor chain (1400 stores worldwide)
subsidiary of Kahala Corporation, also based in Scottsdale (also runs
Ranch1 and Taco Time fast food chains)

Dial Corporation (formerly Greyhound Dial Corporation)
based in Scottsdale
subsidiary of Henkel North America (parent company Henkel International
based in Dusseldorf, Germany)
Dial soap and anti-perspirant deodorant; AromaSense; Armour Star canned
meats; Borateem; Boraxo; Coast soap; Combat insect control; Dry Idea
deodorant; Fels-Naptha soap; Pure and Natural beauty products; Purex
laundry detergent; Renuzit air freshener; Right Guard deodorant; Twenty
Mule Team Borax

Discount Tire Company
based in Scottsdale
nationwide tire chain

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation
based in Scottsdale
guitars, basses, amplifiers, etc.

Flying Buffalo, Inc.
based in Scottsdale
game company: board games, card games; Tunnels and Trolls, Nuclear War
card game, Death Dice, others

Go Daddy Group, Inc.
based in Scottsdale
domain registrar; web hosting

PetSmart, Inc.
based in Phoenix
pet supplies; pet grooming

Ramada Worldwide hotel chain
based in Phoenix
900 hotels around the world
subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide

Shamrock Farms
based in Phoenix
dairy products: various “Mmmmilk” products; Rockin’ Refuel; “Milk
Essentials” for Kids; various frozen treats

U-Haul International, Inc.
based in Phoenix
car, truck and equipment rental company

US Airways Group
based in Tempe
US Airways; PSA Airlines, Piedmont Airlines

You Can Help People of Color Alt Media Survive in Two Easy Steps

Step One: Donate to BrownFemiPower one of the most consistent voices of female empowerment from a working class woc perspective (what I’d call feminist if she’d let me) on the internet.

Every person who donates will receive a gift!

For those who donate between:

$5-25: You will get a personalized thank you note from yours truly!

$26-50: You will get the personalized thank you note and a newly published zine!

$51-100: You will get the personalized thank you note, and two newly published zines!

Over $100: You will get the personalized thank you note, two newly published zines, and a surprise gift (I will tell you once you order–I only have certain quantities of each, so I don’t want to list them online!).

The bad news: Because this computer breaking down has taken me by surprise, I am only in the planning stages for the zines. So it will be up to two months before those of you who order zines will get them. So that you know what stage I am at making the zines, I will be documenting the process I go through to make them here on the blog. This has the added bonus of hopefully helping other people–so many people I know have expressed interest in making zines, but have also expressed not having any damn clue how to.

So, that’s what is where things stand right now. I hope that you are excited–I sure am. I’m a bit apprehensive as I know it will be a lot of work–but I also am really excited for the motivation to get these new zines out! I love zine making, and I’m really excited to get back to the drawing board again–see how things flow out of the mind this time.

Please donate and/or spread the word–and THANK YOU so much for your continuous support!

Step Two: Bid on Nezua‘s Sheriff Joe painting which gives you both the chance to raise awareness about the blatant racism in Arizona and keep an amazing activist blogger and multimedia radical working/eating.

HARD TIMES HAVE FALLEN UPON US ALL! I know this for sure simply watching the donations I once received from readers—unsolicited aside from the buttons on the page—dry up over the past year or two. It’s tough out there, and it’s not just blog donations but even work online with graphics that has tapered off a lot. In fact, I was bumped offline for two weeks for not being able to pay all the bills this month. And to be honest, this is the first time since I’ve lived in this apartment that I don’t have all the rent this close to the first of next month. Ouch. That’s four days away.

I’m not trying to paint a doom n gloom scenario. … So I’m going to do something here I’ve not done in a while and humble myself to make the direct request to my philanthropist friends, or the ones who have a few to throw down to support their friendly neighborhood nezua: if you have a few, throw ‘em in the bucket!

Alternately, I have put one of my paintings up at eBay, and I invite you to bid, or spread the link around if you want. It’s an 18 x 24″ Lotería card of the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Times are tough for everyone, but with both activists asking for as little as $5 a person, we should all be able to come up with a little something to help them out. The coffee and pastry I bought today cost more than their minimum donation request. And if a distaste for “blegging” (a multi-directional derogatory term that conflates the use of online media and the desire to be paid for one’s writing, film, or activism work with the “undeserving poor”) is getting in your way,  just remember all the times you have talked about, worked on, or simply lamented in the front of a classroom, staff mtg, dinner party, etc. about the absence of radical, engaged, people of color at your events, jobs, or in the media and know that this is the tiniest of steps toward making the connection between words and action. For my POC readers, all I can say is, community means sharing the wealth even when you don’t have any; the wheel will turn and someone will have your back too.

4 Things You Can Do to Restore Civil Rights in AZ

By now, we have all heard about SB 1070, the latest maneuver by State Government and/or Legislature in Arizona to target Latin@s living in the state. This past year alone, such efforts have included the second attempt to remove key Chican@ history from high schools in a law that would have made it possible to do away with all multicultural, women’s, and/or gender and sexuality history from schools, employment review of some high profile Chican@ advocates working for the state and/or intimidation of state employees questioning discriminatory policing and other government practices,  and the ongoing efforts of Sheriff Joe Arpaio to criminalize Latin@s at the expense of other, needed, community policing. Immigrant rights advocates and civil rights advocates banned together to draw attention to the impact of Sheriff Joe on both race and gender relations in Arizona, citing the absence of follow through on rape cases in order to patrol the border, the increase in petty crime and theft with a weapon, in his district without much response or with response times that have grown every year, making it impossible to catch criminals, and the use of chain gangs and tent prisons in 100+ degree weather, and the rise in racial profiling that was literally targeting all Chican@s in the area and occasionally resulting in young children, N. American citizens, being left on the side of the road, when their parents were carted away and permanently traumatized regardless of whether they had other care providers available. These actions, have already led to Arizona becoming a place where predators who target children, women, and isolated businesses and families thrive because they know that little, if any, energy is being put into investigating their crimes. According to some advocates, rape evidence has been allowed to degrade while Sheriff Joe and his deputies do random searches of families out for a drive. The racial divides in AZ have gotten so bad, that local radio stations actively encourage racist sexism and sexualized violence against Latin@ advocates like Isabel Garcia without much apology and whole communities have been repeatedly pamphleted by supremacist organizations.

Yesterday, despite widespread criticism from both local and national communities, including the President of the United States, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 2010 into law. The bill gives AZ police the right to stop anyone suspected of being undocumented with Arizona borders. The law erodes recent Federal attempts to reign in Sheriff Joe’s racial profiling and seemingly discriminatory policing practices and streamline border patrol efforts. These attempts were not, as some have argued, an attempt to ignore or give a free pass to undocumented people, but rather to draw a permanent line between immigration reform and white supremacy in which the latter was no longer welcome. Finally, the law increases militarization at the border, both in terms of increases in advanced technology at the border and the number of armed border patrol officers and “aids” stationed there, including members of the national guard when/if necessary.

The impact of signing the law far outreaches the legal expansion of discrimination in the state. By signing the bill under scrutiny from the President, Governor Brewer joins a growing trend of conservative Governors and Mayors who have publicly questioned the fundamental powers of the Union in which we live and declared the autonomy of their states in the face of Federal guidelines they have cast as racially insensitive, unequal, or dangerous to white people. These efforts include, casting the health care bill as anti-white or biased toward black people, in an era in which white people are losing their homes and their jobs at an equal or greater rate than people of color over lack off access to medical care or ability to pay rising insurance costs, claims that the President’s support of education and educational reform are about indoctrinating children against “family values”, and now the insistence that border & immigration reform that would have radically reduced the role Sheriff Joe played in AZ were akin to allowing a sea of undocumented (and shiftlessly criminal) people of color into the state. As with all of these examples, SB 2010s symbolic impact is a racial line in the sand that calls for the state sanctioned harassment of people on the basis of their skin color while at the same time, joining a chorus of people questioning the legitimacy of a black president and subsequently re/claiming the nation, citizenry, and governance, as whites only space.

The impact of this law is thus both legally and symbolically important to all of us. So far reports of similar policing in AZ have included issues such as:

  1. costing tax payers in Maricopa County $42 million in settlements for police brutality, unlawful search and seizure, and racial profiling
  2. leaving children on the side of the road to fend for themselves when parents are arrested
  3. decreased school performance and sense of safety for children
  4. the failure to investigate rape reports in a timely manner or, in some cases, at all to police Latin@s
  5. the incarceration of nursing mothers with no access to their children
  6. the breaking of a Chican@s’ arm while in custody for refusing to sign paperwork saying she would return to Mexico
  7. sexual assault of undocumented women by people either associated with or claiming to be associated with Border Patrol or border policing
  8. forcing Latin@ truck drivers to produce birth certificates to move products across the state (think 16 wheelers bringing your produce, the new furniture or fridge your going to buy at the big box store, etc.)
  9. the increase in armed theft
  10. the increase in petty criminality in isolated communities
  11. lack of safety for women, children, and families who are Latin@, interracial, indigenous, or other wise brown appearing
  12. increased open and publicly applauded connections to supremacy
  13. increased public connection between policing and racial profiling that makes everyone who “looks” brown unsafe
  14. the militarization and granting of state policing powers to largely untrained civilians who do not have to pass similar inspection or comply with state laws governing police conduct
  15. the harassment of journalists and attempted policing of news readers

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has released a 4 point effort that anyone concerned about these issues can do to help restore civil rights in Arizona:


NNIRR urges you take four actions NOW to take a stand for justice and human rights.

  1. Raise your voices for fairness and equality at the border. – Call Gov. Brewer’s office and tell her SB 1070 is a disaster for the rights of all our communities. SB 1070 will intensify racial discrimination, criminalization of immigrants – or anyone who does not pass as white or a U.S. citizen. CALL (602) 542-4331 | You can also email Gov. Brewer at: azgov@az.gov
  2. Organize a house-meeting, a vigil and other actions to express support for immigrant rights in Arizona and in your community. Also ask your family members, co-workers, neighbors and friends to talk about what is happening in Arizona. Ask them to make calls and send emails to Gov. Brewer with this message: We are all Arizona. Your law cannot break our spirit of community; your law will not stand. Racial profiling and racial discrimination are illegal and SB 1070 will be stopped.
  3. Build the movement for justice & human rights – tell President Obama to roll back the hate and end all immigration police-collaboration initiatives. Call President Obama to  ask him to speak out against the climate of hate and SB 1070. SB 1070 depends on federal immigration policing programs. Ask President Obama to roll-back the federal immigration enforcement programs that allow local police agencies to collaborate in immigration control. The 287(g) and Secure Communities programs are encouraging the kind of hateful activity we are witnessing in Arizona. CALL the White House at (202) 456-1111.
  4. Give direct support and express your solidarity to communities organizing on the ground in Arizona.

Students around the N. American Southwest, organized walkouts, marches, and protests in solidarity with Arizona. In Arizona, high school and college students also took to the streets in peaceful protests and marches in the hopes of being heard. In many communities, the first of May, ie May Day, will also be an opportunity to stand up for immigrants’ rights, immigration reform without racism, and to participate in the annual call to draw attention to and remove Sheriff Joe. Please be looking out for these efforts in your area as well as considering doing one or more of the four steps above. While you may not live in AZ, we are all ultimately impacted by the turn toward, public, state sanctioned racism, in N America. And the stats about rape cases, petty and weapon related theft, should make both women’s advocates and people in general concerned about their own safety even if they think they are unimpacted by the rise in hate crimes and racial profiling.

What if You Believed You Could Change the World?

Chavez mural/John Estrada

Cesar Chavez did and with help from friend and colleague Dolores Huerta he started a movement for migrant workers’ rights and Latin@ pride. Though the struggle continues, Chavez’s ideas and commitment to social justice are so frightening to the status quo that members of the Arizona Legislature fought to have him removed from the curriculum, Texas initiated changes in national history books to remove his story, and the Mayor of Portland Oregon actually sided with racists to prevent the naming of a street after him (which I am told was finally settled after the Mayor then stepped on the API community by arbitrarily deciding to put it in China Town where no streets are named after API Americans either and then another heated vote occurred). For those of us who live in places where Chavez Street is a given and his history has always been part of our own, it is easy to forget the truly revolutionary legacy of the man who dared to believe he could change the world. And if the neo-cons have their way, whole generations will lose yet another example of committed, engaged, social justice in the U.S.

What could you do, if you washed the apathy off, stopped believing the news when it tells you no one in the U.S. stands up for anything anymore, and/or stopped participating in mindless or violent rallies (people who abused horses this weekend in the name of ending brutality against humans, I am talking to you) and started to believe that you had the power to change the world?

Centering Haitians in Haitian Relief Efforts

Many Haitian people and relief organizations on the ground in Haiti have critiqued the way relief efforts are being handled in Haiti. Among their criticisms are:

  1. the militarization of relief efforts
  2. lack of communication or distribution of goods based on criminalization of earthquake survivors or Haitians in general
  3. the forced closing of emergency relief clinics or food and water runs due to unsubstantiated fears about Haitian refugees or Haiti
  4. the exportation of racism by militarized relief workers and others
  5. the continued exploitation of families and children
  6. lack of competence around queer issues (including and in some cases especially with trans survivors)
  7. the potential for forcing open markets and marker strongholds by multi-national companies using relief as an entry point

Essentially, the complaints stem from the continued colonial interests of some of the major players involved in Haitian relief which depend on the criminalization of survivors, the militarization of Haitian society, and the exclusion of Haitian people from their own survival in order to make economic and political inroads that have been largely shunned in the past. This includes former President Clinton’s economic relief plan that is based in neo-liberal economics and lending practices that benefit Western multi-national corporations over indigenous industries and labor.

As a result of neo-colonial practices and examples of failed relief efforts at multiple points during the crisis, 500 organizations will meet to pledge decolonized relief efforts that center the sovereignty of Haiti and the needs of the Haitian people. The meeting was called by Haitians working on Haiti relief alongside international organizations who have been working in solidarity with Haitian organizations and organizers since before the crisis.

Please find Madre’s statement about the effort to decolonize relief efforts below:

In advance of a crucial donors’ conference on Haiti, 300 organizations today joined together and submitted a two-page letter of principles to participating states.  MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, participated in this effort to ensure that human rights principles are embedded in the international community’s response to January’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Donor countries will meet at the United Nations (UN) in New York on March 31, in a gathering to be chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Yesterday, the Haitian government released a needs assessment that estimated $11.5 billion would be required for the country to rebuild and expand its infrastructure, social programs and more.

MADRE Policy and Communications Director Yifat Susskind said today, “Rebuilding Haiti on a more sustainable, equitable and disaster-resilient foundation will require using human rights standards to guide the recovery process. The women of Haiti must play meaningful roles in this process along with other sectors of Haitian civil society. Their priorities and perspectives, and not the financial interests of corporations, should be the starting point for discussion among donors.”

The letter of principles submitted today underscores that assistance must be accountable to all Haitian people and must respect their human rights.  Assistance projects must be driven by Haitian leadership and must invest in building long-term capacity.  The letter emphasizes the role of the government of Haiti as a key partner for the international community and for non-profit organizations.

Furthermore, the letter recommends specific mechanisms to ensure that information is provided transparently to the Haitian people and to allow for feedback from the community level.

The Letter

March 18, 2010

Your Excellency,

On the occasion of the Donors’ Conference on Haiti, we, organizations from around the world, call on your government to make human rights the guiding principle of international assistance to Haiti.

We applaud the generosity and commitment of the international community to provide assistance to the Haitian people in their greatest time of need.  Care, however, must be taken to ensure that assistance respects the human rights and dignity of all Haitians.

Too often, in Haiti and around the world, recipients of assistance have been treated as victims deserving of charity, rather than individuals entitled to human rights.  They have been excluded from decisions affecting their basic rights to food, medical assistance, water, and housing.  Assistance has often responded to donor priorities, instead of the needs of the recipient government and people.

At the Donors’ Conference, we urge the international community to overcome the mistakes of the past and to adopt a human rights-based approach—which requires empowering the Haitian people, strengthening the capacity of the government to sustainably guarantee human rights, and making assistance accountable and transparent to the Haitian people—for all assistance to Haiti.

Empower the Haitian People to Build a Stronger Haiti

The international community should focus on empowering the people of Haiti as rights-holders.  It should require a high degree of active, free, and meaningful participation, in project development, implementation, and monitoring, from the entire spectrum of Haitian society, including local communities, civil society and community-based organizations, rural populations, internally displaced people, and women.  Participation will enable Haitians to directly engage in the rebuilding and development of their country and ensure assistance responds to their needs.

The Donor Conference should guarantee that assistance projects will:

  • Be Haitian-led and community-based at every stage of the process, including through the United Nations clusters.  The bulk of the work—and salaries—should go to Haitians.
  • Prioritize the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable groups, including women, children, the disabled, the elderly, and internally displaced persons.
  • Provide, where non-Haitian leadership is absolutely necessary, positions for Haitians and invest in training to develop national capacity to perform those functions.

Strengthen the Haitian Government’s Capacity to Guarantee Human Rights

All international actors should focus on strengthening Haiti with a government that has the resources it needs to guarantee human rights to all Haitian people.  Donor states, NGOs, and the United Nations should partner with Haitian government ministries to fortify and expand a public infrastructure that ultimately belongs to the Haitian people.  At every stage of assistance, donor efforts should be coordinated by and with the government of Haiti.

At the conference, the international community should commit to:

  • Work directly with the Government of Haiti to identify needs and to develop, implement, and monitor programs to sustainably provide basic public services, including education and public health, water, and sanitation services.
  • Provide, to the fullest possible extent, assistance in the form of budgetary support to the Government of Haiti.
  • Encourage all non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti to coordinate with the Government of Haiti and other agencies.

Make Assistance Accountable and Transparent to the People of Haiti

To ensure accountability to the Haitian people, the international community should commit to transparency at the international and local levels and to redress for problems with assistance.  Information on all phases of developing and implementing a rescue, recovery, and rebuilding strategy should be made accessible to Haitians from all sectors of society.  Progress and obstacles alike should be made public.  A complaints system should be put in place to ensure that when things go wrong or human rights are violated, redress is available, no matter the identity of the perpetrator.

With this in mind, the donors at the Conference should commit to:

  • Fund a mechanism, established together with the Government of Haiti, to: (1) deliver information about assistance projects to the Haitian people; (2) measure, monitor, and make public the outcomes of assistance projects at the community level; (3) provide a mechanism for Haitians to register complaints about problems with project implementation.  This mechanism should be administered by the Government of Haiti in partnership with civil society and community-based groups.
  • Comply with the International Aid Transparency Initiative and Paris and Accra principles for all assistance to Haiti.
  • Coordinate all assistance through a Multi-Donor Fund that incorporates the Government of Haiti and representatives of Haitian civil society and community-based organizations as voting members of the governing committee.
  • Create a public web-based database, through a Multi-Donor Fund, to report and track donor pledges, disbursed funds, recipients, sector areas, expected outcomes, and project status.
  • Report publicly and regularly on disbursement of funds and progress and problems with project implementation in a manner accessible to the Haitian people.

Ultimately, all international assistance should aim to provide concrete, durable improvements in the lives of the Haitian people and for human rights in Haiti.  Donors should take this opportunity to implement aid in a rights-based way to substantially better the human rights situation in Haiti.  International donors should ensure their partner non-profit organizations also follow this framework, incorporating human rights principles into projects and coordinating assistance efforts.

For a list of attendees and signatures please click here.