Displaced Women and Children

REUTERS/Alexei Osokin

I have been doing a lot of thinking on the rise of “Ethnic Cleaning” in our world lately. While there have always been examples of people turning on their neighbors and friends because of racial or religious differences from the burning out of entire African American communities in towns in the U.S. to the genocide against Jewish people and anyone who dared to support them under Hitler, sadly, we have examples great and small to choose from. Yet it seems to me that the modern period has seen much more frequent examples of ethnic cleansing across the globe. Worse, in most of these cases so-called super powers have done very little to stop them while they are in progress. We can mobilize an endless amount of troops to go fight for oil in the Middle East, regardless of how many innocent people on all sides die or are permanently warped by the experience, but we seldom rush into the face of great evil against minority people whose only crime is the color of their skin, hair, eyes, or the place where they worship. Human Rights and Corporate Interests are clearly unequal in the eyes of the modern states and we humans are losing.

This week, another vulnerable group fell prey to its neighbors while the world watched. Southern Kyrgyztan errupted in ethnic violence late Thursday when armed Kyrgyz men turned on their unarmed Uzbek neighbors. By Saturday morning, the second largest city in the region is in flames with 1000s wounded and the counted dead nearing the 100s. Uzbek areas of the nation are all but deserted and people fear that even if they survive the violence there will be no food, medical supplies, or water for them to survive the aftermath.

While men were targeted to be beaten and killed, fleeing women and children found themselves trampled in the rush to a secured border and the attempts to cross the intentionally ditched designed to stop them. Like in other ethnic conflicts, these women and children are likely being targeted for specific gendered violence and trafficking and without aid will continue to be into the future.

While you might be hoping to turn a blind eye to this conflict and wait for the moving Hollywood film that comes out in a year or two, the fact is both Russia and the U.S. are implicated in the conflict in Kyrgyztan. Both countries have military bases there and yet neither has responded with requested military aid to the people being systematically killed and burned out of the nation.

The failure to act on the part of either the U.S. or Russia is further complicated by the relationship of Kyrgyztan’s Prime Minister with both nations. Interim PM Roza Otunbayeva, is a college educated moderate with longstanding ties to Moscow, including teaching at Moscow University. She was also the UN envoy to Georgia when violence broke out there. And while Otunbayeva served in a government she herself said continued the corruption and nepotism of the nation’s past, she broke away from them in order to form a party and a platform that would see more egalitarian representation and inclusivity in the Kyrgyztan’s government and society. Her calls for help should have been met with at least some kind of response from Russians who know and have supported her and North Americans who want to continue to have a moderate in charge of a country where the hold a military base. And so one has to wonder why those calls have fallen on deaf ears except for minor humanitarian efforts on the part of Russia. With two major super power’s bases in the nation, violence should never have escalated unchecked to ethnic cleansing and burning cities. In fact a previous conflict between these same ethnic groups in 2007 was quickly put down by Russian troops, sparing huge casualties and/or genocide.

Otunbayeva is also the first female president CIS/SCO member state yet neither she nor the huddled and terrified female refugees of today’s violence have garnered much attention from mainstream feminist press. As of now, I have seen no calls to support a beleaguered female leader or women who are very likely being raped or rounded up for trafficking and certainly are homeless, displaced, and largely trapped at the border with burning cities on one side and ditches blocking their exit on the other. Unlike imperialist feminist calls to “save women” in the Middle East that aligned with western expansionism and hunger for oil and failed largely to ask what women living in the region wanted or needed, hold accountable military and counter-military strategies that targeted women and girls and made it less safe for them to go to school or be in public, or ensure that women’s rights were not discarded by this or any previous administration as they pushed forward, calls to support the women and children in Kygyrztan would align with the requests the PM herself has already made. She has asked specifically for military aid in stopping violence and detaining the engineers of ethnic cleansing in the state. She has also asked specifically for help with the people who have already been displaced and with containing and putting out the fires and other damage raging through the cities.

At this point NGOs in the region are trying to get outside aid to people and hoping that violence can be quelled long enough to restore the constitutional democracy Otunbayeva has promised.

It seems that we feminists need to take a wider and deeper look at the meaning of solidarity and global feminism. And that we people engaged in social justice also need to make more lasting connections between current processes (economic, political, and social) and old “coping skills” (marginalizing, enslavement, rape, and genocide). As I watched the news today I couldn’t help thinking about lost African American cities, the children who refused to save themselves at the cost of their targeted classmates in Rwanda while adult “peacekeepers” divested in Rwanda, the gains one, or possibly two, corrupt military bases could gain from widescale instability in Kyrgyztan, and the deadly shooting of a Mexicano in Arizona weeks before the new pass laws come into effect there. It may seem like these things are not comparable and certainly the scale of some far outweighs the scale of others. Yet, what I am arguing here is that there are cyclical patterns of power and control that ultimately erupt in violence whenever, as the saying goes, “good men do nothing.” Sitting at the intersections of feminism, critical race theory, and history, I think we have plenty of information to do things differently and I find myself wondering why people, especially women and children, have to suffer while we do not use it.

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image two: displaced women and children look on with nowhere to go on Saturday in Kygyrztan. AP Photo/D. Dalton Bennett

Stats Only Measure What You Ask

The one where I interrogate un/employment statistics

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Every other year when I teach the required methods course for one of my departments, I start the quantitative section by explaining “Stats only measure what you ask.” This is why we spend so much time on qualitative methods first, not just because I prefer them or because, as my students fear, quantitative methods are “so hard” I’m trying to “spare them as long as I can”. The fact is: if you don’t know how to ask questions then you will never know how to measure the answers with raw data nor how to interpret someone else’s data sets.

cafe press product for ywearclothing.com

While it may seem that this information is the exclusive domain of advanced undergraduates or graduate students in certain disciplines and everyone else can simply be thankful they never had to take stats, the fact is we are surrounded by statistical information all the time. (I know I sound like you high school math teacher justifying Geometry, bare with me.) Almost every time you watch national news, several times throughout the year on your local news broadcast, and almost daily on both pop culture shows like The View and news commentary shows like those that run on both Fox and MSNBC, stats play a key part in discussion of our lives. When you don’t know how to ask questions to interpret the data given, you find yourself quoting opinion poll numbers as if they are indisputable or angry later because you find out the information does not measure what you were told it did.

Case in point: The National Un/Employment Statistics

The [U.S.] president has come under fire this week for Bureau of Labor employment data that claimed to have decreased overall unemployment in the U.S. but was actually counting mostly temporary census jobs. THe BLS reported the creation of 431,000 in the last quarter. Both the government and pundits used this number to argue that the economy was getting better and that jobs were on the rise.

No one asked how the BLS measures those jobs, ie what questions it asks to generate its numbers.

CUNY Job Fair/Alvarez/NY Daily News

A huge portion of the jobs created were temporary positions with the Census. The BLS does not exclude part time, temporary, seasonal, etc jobs from its count. Nor do they exclude people who for any reason left (of their own volition, were laid off, or fired) their job and then returned to it. What they count is the number of people reported to be hired in any given quarter.

If you don’t know the questions asked, you cannot understand the data. So because everyone took the numbers released and ran with them, when the 585,729 census workers began to be permanently laid off and the unemployment numbers began to rise again, people who had used the BLS to claim the economy was getting better cried foul. Suddenly there was talk of intentional manipulation of numbers and economic realities to make the President look better.

Enter the next set of misleading numbers released today: Jobless claims at lowest rate since 2008.

According to several agencies charged with measuring unemployment in the U.S., jobless claims have dropped by 3000 people this month. This number measures the number of people either still claiming unemployment or opening new cases for unemployment benefits.

What questions are not being asked?

The decreased number does not include the impact of the 99ers, people for whom all types of extensions have been exhausted and who are therefore kicked off of unemployment. According to HuffPo, the 99ers will likely represent 1 million people this year with no benefits, no incomes, and no statistical representation in the numbers both the government and the media are using to make claims about the health of the economy.

Nor does it count people who have not claimed unemployment because they are steadily burning through their finances or because they have obtained part time, temporary, work that makes them ineligible for benefits but does not constitute actual stable employment. And as always, these numbers only count people in the system not those who for one reason or another have never claimed benefits despite being unemployed.

unemployment office TN/ AP Photo/Josh Anderson

If we ignore these factors, as many of the people reporting on the new numbers have done this am, then we are likely to come to the same erroneous conclusions the BLS numbers caused earlier, ie: the economy is doing better and more people are employed than ever.

The reality is far more bleak. May 2010 saw the start of the 99 week shut off for unemployment benefits across the country (for those states who did not get extensions, these cut offs may have come earlier) and June is predicted to be the largest cut off month in the history of unemployment because of the number of people claiming benefits who have exhausted their allotment.

Add to this the fact that the Labor Department says only 41000 jobs were created in May (AP) and that most Census workers have been or will be permanently laid off and you begin to see a picture that any one of these numbers renders hidden by not asking the right questions.

Presidential Blame?

2004 Unemployment Line Protest outside the RNC held by PFAW/ Dave of BlueJake.com

Many are chomping at the bit to blame the discrepancies in the optimistic way the numbers are being reported and discussed and the realities they hide on the President. On the one hand, they are right to note that these numbers are being used to shape policy as well as perception. On the other, 1.2 million jobs were lost in the waning years of the Bush administration and these losses as well as the economic crisis in general all started on Republican watch. Partisans and the past aside, many of the current policies, like the ongoing decision not to extend unemployment benefits any more, are not made by the President but by Congress. Unlike the N. American people, Congress has much more information about how un/employment stats are kept and a greater access to and impetus to review all of the key stats. When they choose not to do that because of erroneous conclusions like “huge spikes in jobs in April and May mean that the economy is bouncing back” or “unemployment claims are lowest they’ve been since 2008 so people have found jobs”, they are guilty of intentional ignorance that ultimately leads to policy decisions that worse the economic lives of many N. Americans living on the edge.

Media

While Congress chooses to look the other way, the mainstream media is leading N. Americans astray.

In reporting un/employment statistics without breaking them down for the average reader and then proclaiming proof that the depression is finally over, something various outlets have done periodically over the last 2 years, the media creates the false sense that the nation is in recovery.  While in other times this might have created a needed moral boost, those times have long gone. Instead, what these declarations do is lead to a continued or increasing sense that unemployed workers are to blame for their circumstances. From employers who dare to question why people have been unemployed for 3 months to 2 years because the media has told them there are 411,000 new jobs out there or families and friends who have managed to hold on to their jobs or because of a lack of specialized skills have managed to find new jobs (albeit at lower rank or pay) vilify or question people with more specialized skills or larger income to debt needs who not only cannot but likely will not be employed by the local grocery store. The media’s misleading conclusions create a vacuum in which the humanity of the unemployed is staunchly sucked out in favor of the false promise that unemployment is a thing of the past and only losers don’t have jobs.

unattributed

When additional information about the widely reported numbers comes to light, politically motivated pundits jump on it and start a whole new media spin. In this version, the numbers are intentionally manipulated by a corrupt government trying to destroy the [white] working class. Given the kind of mythos the media creates around these numbers, it is not only card carrying supremacists who are inclined to hear this misguided warrior cry. Many people who have sat across the table from a smug employer asking “Well what have you been doing for the last 2 years?” are likely to feel the kind of resentment, dehumanization, and anger that makes blaming the government easy. Filtering those emotions through the lens of race turns that blame into a force similar to those during and immediately after reconstruction or the employment organizing in the 30s that in places like CA, Chicago, and other big cities was predicated on racial supremacy and xenophobia (particularly the vilification of and occasional violence against API immigrants and black people). These sentiments in turn fuel the continued unemployment of people of color which is much higher than that of struggling white communities, while still targeting them as potential threats to the economy.

Getty Image of Unemployment Line date unknown

Resentment amongst communities of color are also on the rise. While partially spurred on by the media myth-making and its consequences, it is also tinged with the failure of the President to implement any programs specifically targeted to racial communities most hit by layoffs and lack of rehire. Despite statistics that show people of color were among the first fired and the last hired and that certain groups’ unemployment rates outpace the national average by almost 5 times as much, neither Congress nor the President have made any move to deal with the intersections of race and class, race-class-gender, or even class and gender during this undeclared recession/depression. And those with long memories, still recall how the President avoided the direct question about how he was helping the 50% unemployed African-American males in NYC during his one televised press conference on unemployment. These issues of course also get us back to other missing factors in BLS data which can and does break things down by both race and gender but whose most cited stats do neither.

Conclusions

What is reported about the economy in the dailies is only part of the picture. Neither the people collecting individual statistics nor the people making huge erroneous leaps from them can be trusted without first remembering: stats only measure what you ask. While the blame lies largely on other shoulders than the President’s it is also imperative that he takes leadership in disseminating clearer information and demanding Congress act on it. We too must take responsibility for being informed and cross-checking any information we receive. In order to be informed advocates for economic renewal and equitable job development, we have to start asking what questions were asked to generate the stats we see and whether those questions justify the conclusions people are making. When we do that, we will not only develop a more accurate analysis of the economy but hopefully defuse some of the anger, resentment, and judgment that is currently permeating our nation and fostering conflict.

You can start by signing the Change.org 99er petititon here

Politics Quick Fix

You may have noticed that after all the intense writing I did about politics during the election season here at the blog, the focus of the blog has moved decidedly in different directions from DC and its outliers. Nevertheless, sometimes you cannot look away and this Super Primary Tuesday is one of those moments.

On the Left

AP Photo/unattributed

The big news today is that Blanche Lincoln managed to hold on to her seat despite not supporting the public option or the union bill that would allow workers to join and support unions in private instead of under the watchful eye of the bosses they were trying to keep in line. According to MSNBC pundit Ed Schulz and a report yesterday am on CNN, there may have been voter tampering involved in her win; both channels reported that districts that had been heavily in favor of her more progressive primary opponent received less voting areas than it has in the past and that promises to rectify this with a special Saturday am polling station for early voters were against the law in Arkansas and led to all kinds of voter confusion. Video of Arkansas’ voting in those districts included packed parking lots, long lines, and even a car accident.

Why is this important?

Blanche Lincoln is a Democrat. Democrats have long chaffed over supposed and proven voter tampering by Republicans over the last 8 years. Efforts by both Democrats and Progressives to ensure an end to voter tampering were so feared by their opponents in fact, that they launched smear campaigns to stop people from getting out the vote or challenging election results. We have documentaries and news specials full of cynical or shocked faces on the Left proclaiming the immorality of the Right with regards to voting dating back to the Florida scandal in the first Bush election. In other words, it is part of our voting knowledge and our democratic vocabulary that one thing that sets Democrats apart from Republicans is that the latter cheat, often, and using multiple tactics that including moving polling centers (OH and MI I am talking to you).

So if the polling stations were down to only 2 from roughly 50 in previous primaries in districts that were likely to come out against Blanche Lincoln then her win is actually a loss for Democrats everywhere. In one, highly publicized primary, we have lost the moral high ground on voting “irregularities” in favor of supporting a candidate who has failed to support many of the policies that the majority of the country was behind when she, and other Democrats, were overwhelmingly elected.

Her joy and incredulity last night in accepting the nomination mask a potentially much darker turn in the party in which not only voting is in question but so is the power of support from the administration. Both President Obama and former President Clinton lobbied hard for Lincoln in the past few weeks. Clinton even stumped for her and was part of her ad campaign. As progressives continue to be disappointed in the middle road policies of this administration, we cannot help but note how they have rallied for a woman who was willing to fillibuster with Republicans to stop us from having decent health care. Their continued support of her in the face of these policy “contradictions” is only slightly less disconcerting than the fact that by doing so they too are implicated, however tangentially, in the voting poll controversy.

On the Right

The other big stories this morning are the wins of  former ebay CEO Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina in California. Like Lincoln, Whitman’s win casts a bright light on potentially questionable election practices by her Party while Fiorina’s win may simply show that when comes to politics the old boy network has room for a few [corporate] women.

While voting polls appear to have been at their standard number for each community in CA, Whitman’s raised huge flags with the amount of money she was willing to spend to get elected. According to Time, she spent $80 million on her primary campaign.  Many are claiming this morning that it is the clearest sign that she “bought the election” of any candidate in the nation’s history. Her actions, though questionable, were not illegal and ultimately people have to ask themselves why they are so swayed by the amount of time they see a candidate but not by the knowledge that candidate spent the GDP of some small nations to win a primary.

More intriguing to me is the way Whitman became a player in the Republican Party in the first place. If you think back to the Presidential primaries and start counting the number of times John McCain told anecdotal stories about “the CEO of Ebay” you’ll know what I mean. I, for one, had no idea who Whitman was before John McCain decided to wax poetic about her every chance he got during the last legs of his election bid. Many watching and commenting on his speeches, assumed that he was going off on random tangents or grasping at straws to include references to a woman in a campaign where he may have “chosen” a female running mate but ultimately continued to operate as if it was an old boys network. Did John McCain know something we didn’t? Was he asked/told to stump for her in advance or even paid to do so? We will probably never know, but again, her bid for CA Governor has to make you wonder why she was the woman McCain fixated on 9 times out of 10 during an election she had nothing to do with.

campaign photo/unattributed

Fiorina was also mentioned by McCain several times during the Presidential Primaries until she openly mocked Palin’s qualifications. However, Fiorina worked for the McCain campaign as the economic advisor and therefore her mentions at least makes some sense.

What is more important in her case is her incredibly negative business image vs. her crushing win yesterday. As CEO of HP, Fiorina was considered a disaster by many because of declining stock and shares of the computer market. Market Shares Blog reported that HP stock went up 7% after she was fired the day the news broke. Fiorina on the other hand has always maintained that she was forced out and that gender was a critical factor in the decision. If we believe the former assessment her win is just as suspect as all of the women in NY who were disqualified by the public as backdoor candidates whose runs were considered part of an unearned legacy rather than legitimacy on their own. Some of those candidates may not have had direct political experience but they did have tons of transferable philanthropic experience. Can Fiorina, as a potentially disastrous business woman, count her time as CEO to explain away similar unearned keys to the kingdom?

Two-Parties One System

On the one hand, this primary season has seen many women coming to the political foreground. The Republicans in particular have ushered in a large number of women as their candidates, proving for those who did not learn this lesson from the suffragettes that biological sex and political beliefs are not fused together once and for all. But except for those hold out biological determinists and wrongfully educated WS folk who think “any woman” winning is a win for “women”, these wins, regardless of the Party, do not bode well for the progressive movement in this country. While some of these women will support middle class feminist goals, stances against unions and health care mean that their feminism will not extend to the majority of women struggling in this country even if they call themselves feminists. So for me the presence of so many women in the primaries is noteworthy but not a real measure of any larger feminist advance.

For the majority of voters, the primaries should be a wake up call no matter what. While neither progressives nor Tea Party challengers fared well in this election, the reason for their defeats may have more to do with shady practices than with voters. When neither Democrats nor Republicans can successfully shake off their own dirt to point at the filth of the other party, this country is in trouble. When it happens at a point in our political sentiment as a nation that incumbents are failing us, traditional government is lying to us, and what We the People need most is ignored or denied, the very public failures of both parties to uphold democratic ideals in an election only serve to further entrench dissatisfaction. While some on the Left may believe that this dissatisfaction can only be interpreted as racism, and much of the expressed disdain right now is (see my anti-Obama poster page in the tabs @ the top of the blog for evidence if you need it), progressives and others are beginning to become seriously concerned about environmental issues, employment, health care, etc. that still have not been solved. And while those of us on the Left can see across history to note how many of these issues and problems stem from past administrations and economic and global policies from past ideologies, we are also smart enough to look at the choices made by this administration. When potential or perceived voter tampering on both sides gets added to that plate of complaints it seems like the table might break.

So readers, what do you think about yesterday’s primaries and about our two party system?

Have You Seen This Child?

Kyron Horman, age 7, has been missing for three days after disappearing from his school. According to his step-mother and other witnesses, Kyron arrived at his NW hills grade school excited about a science project he was presenting that day. His mom left him in the hallway on his way to his class, but he never made it there. The teacher marked him absent, but no one at the school called home to ask where Horman was and the bus driver did not report his absence on the bus home, presumably because he was marked absent at the beginning of the day. As a result, no one was alerted to Kyron’s disappearance until a full 7-8 hours after he was last seen.

Volunteers, the FBI, and local police have been combing the area outside Kyron’s school for the entire weekend but have found nothing. If you know anything or have seen this little boy (most recent pic at top of post, close up pic above this paragraph) please call Mutnomah County Sheriff’s Office at 503-261-2847

For more info on missing children check here and here

If you are a parent of a school age child, you may also want to ask if your school calls home when a child is not in class (mine did; it was automated). If they do, ask when the call goes out and whether or not it is automated or a real person. If they do not, lobby for an automated system or if you have the free time, organize parents to implement a call home system and do volunteer shifts to keep it staffed or raise money for an automated system. Some school districts also require that bus drivers report when students on their roster do not get on the bus; I believe the bus driver calls in to the school and the school then reports to parents, but I am not sure. You may also want to ask if this option is available or meet your child’s bus driver and ask him to call you if your child does not get on the bus, this does however mean that the only times you will be alerted is the beginning of the day and the end of the day.

Other suggestions from parents about ways to help the school keep parents informed about their young children’s whereabouts so no one else’s 7 year old is gone for 8 hours before anyone notices?

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info for this post came from CNN.com

Queer Quickies

Jane Lynch makes me giddy with the stupid, always has, and the pic below makes me think getting the state to recognize one’s long term commitment and love for another person might actually be worth it.

unattributed

Then again, I could just be caught in the stupid.

In global news, the first queer couple to be married in Portugal were also lesbians. Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao got married this morning after 7 years of unwedded bliss.

AP/unattributed

And while it is nice to see all of this joy, we can’t forget that Chimbalanga, 1/2 of the Malawi couple arrested for performing a traditional marriage ceremony, is still missing after only being released from custody due to combined internal and international pressure. (UPDATE: according to trans blogs Chimbalanga has been found and did a press conference with her partner Monjeza.)

unattributed

As always, marriage is not at the top of my organizing agenda but when it costs people their lives or their freedom, makes history, or simply brings so much joy to the couple you can’t help but smile, I think it’s worth a mention. If this weren’t a quickie, I would of course have to bring up the race, class, gender (umm, I couldn’t find a single cis blog that reported Chimbalanga’s reported gender) and locational issues surrounding the way these stories have been reported across the blogosphere and in the queer press. It is particularly disturbing that most of the stories on the last piece have eschewed talking about the couple, their genders, political goals in making a public announcement, their activism, and subsequent treatment, in favor of raising the spectre of “Evil, Dangerous, Darkest Africa” and refocusing on homophobia sans transgender issues. These constructions rival the boycott of Jamaica while people are beaten, killed, kicked out of school, denied basic rights of passage (prom, graduation, etc), threatened, harassed, fired, and in the case of the U.S. legally denied the right to work in certain industries (the military) or get married in a nationally, and many cases, state sanctioned ceremony in Western Countries. Trans people are also not included in state level discrimination laws including many of the states that have laws for the rest of the queer alphabet. Thus neither writers in Britain nor the U.S. have the right to claim the moral high ground they have taken in reporting international stories, particularly from Africa and black diasporic countries; their ongoing belief that they do have the high ground in the face of so much violence and exclusion in the West, speaks volumes about why gender and racial tensions continue to exist in the queer community and why so many Black Britains are writing pieces about imperialism in the queer movement these days.

And you thought this quickie was going to be fluffy … like you don’t know me enough by now.

College and Homes are Only for Rich People

At least that is what the NY Times would have you believe if you read Ron Lieber’s piece “Placing the Blame as Students Fall Into Debt“. While the latter part of his article breaks down blame according to three parties:

  1. The student & the student’s family
  2. The Lender
  3. The University

The first half of the article draws parallels between seemingly clueless home buyers who the article implies may have lied about their incomes, “just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes.”, and students who mortgaged their futures without anyway of predicting their actual incomes. In this version of the story, the borrowers are both ignorant and greedy.

  • Ignorant because they entered into loan agreements that they “should have known” were beyond their means.
  • Greedy because they were so focused on “keeping up with the Jones’ ” that they did not bother to think about the consequences of their choices.

The first supposition requires everyone to believe in the all knowing market in which actors, in this case students or home buyers, know exactly what the cost of their purchase will be and exactly how much work-salary they can command to pay for that purchase in the long term. Just like the outdated immigration model that argues that people move based on known economic and social opportunities abroad, the reality is much more complicated. In both cases, students and home buyers had no way of knowing that the United States would enter a recession to rival the Dust Bowl. They could not have predicted that job losses in the country would hover around the double digits nationally and be as high as 35-50% for specific ethnic groups + genders in certain parts of the country. And while home ownership is something that can come later in life, educational attainment is directly tied to employment and income potential in this country.

Both popular media and scientific research encouraged students to see college as a requirement. Every day for years advertisements ran on local channels and basic cable across the country telling high school students that they would be stuck working for minimum wage in dead end jobs without college degrees. While these ads are fewer now that the economic crisis has shifted the way we look at education, they still run today. These ads are backed up by data on:

  • income potential
  • average salaries for certain degrees and histories of placement in certain fields/ with certain companies by certain schools
  • barriers to success the longer one remains outside of school

All of this research over-determines the expectations of students about their economic success as college graduates rather than paints the bleak outlook that Lieber implies should be a given. In fact, Lieber went so far as to discount all of this research when he argued that “They [students] and their families made borrowing decisions based more on emotion than reason.” Again this quote assumes that complete information is available either as a given or by the assumption that the lack of complete information prevents “rational” people from engaging in market decisions. Worse, it’s underlining thesis that poor and working class people are emotional and ignorant results the erasure of all of the data underpinning their decisions and in doing so creates willful fools out of potential victims.

The ongoing willingness of journalists and pundits to blame the poor and the oppressed for their own poverty and oppression, even as all signs point to greed at the top, pales in comparison to Lieber’s assertion that poor parenting is to blame for the student debt crisis:

It is utterly depressing that there are so many people like her facing decades of payments, limited capacity to buy a home and a debt burden that can repel potential life partners. For starters, it’s a shared failure of parenting and loan underwriting. (emphasis mine)

This is where Lieber’s second supposition about “greedy people” comes into play. As he argues a few paragraphs later:

No one forces borrowers to take out these loans

While education maybe optional for some, I think we have already pointed to the reasons it is not for the majority of potential students in this country. Not only is employment and advancement somewhat based on educational attainment, but for some communities it represents needed social and economic capital denied through other avenues. Working class and subsistence level students who really are facing lives spent behind a food counter or department store without the leg up college promises them use education as their doorway out of poverty. The same can be said for people of color, and to a lesser extent rural white people, both of whom have been permanently cast as ignorant, shiftless, and criminal in this country. They use educational attainment to shift perception and gain moderate social capital in their own communities even as they remain shut out of economic capital in the nation as a whole. As the economy fell apart, these groups were at all the more risk for falling below the poverty line without education because they were the hardest hit by high risk lending practices proven to be racial in their application by banks as well as the hardest hit by downsizing. Even now, while the government talks of bounce back, unemployment amongst people of color, particularly African-American males, has reached catastrophic proportions. Rather than “bad parenting” then, the encouragement these groups receive from family to go to college is part of a cultural, gender, or locational struggle that has historically benefited the entire community.

While Lieber argues that lending agencies own some of the blame along with these supposedly bad parents, he writes:

Sallie Mae gets a pass here, in my view. A responsible grownup co-signed for its loans …

The nation’s largest private student loan company gets a pass. Let that sink in for a minute.

While Lieber is perfectly willing to vilify students and their families, he says that a loan agency that helped lock student borrowers into permanent debt even as they are paid by the Federal government for any defaults or costs they accrue is off the hook. Recent research into the student-loan industry shows seemingly unethical ties between certain loan companies and certain well-paid school officials to push specific lenders, loan terms, etc. Lenders have also been known to garnish social security and disability even when they know doing so will render the borrowers homeless or destitute rather than work on payment plans. These loans are binding even if borrowers have to leave school through no fault of their own because the goods and services cannot be returned even though the benefit from them cannot be reaped. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, these loans seem to violate basic laws governing contracts which requires the absence of coercion (in this case the threat that not taking out the loan means you cannot go to college and face all of the economic and social consequences of that option for the future) and the presence of complete information (ie a full disclosure of lending practices and consequences, which is impossible given that Congress can change rules governing student loans at any time and loan agencies can change policies governing your loan with a simple disclosure letter knowing there is no way for you to pay the entire outstanding amount to keep from having new policies kick in). One such policy Sallie Mae recently implemented erases the debt relief and on time payment bonuses for borrowers who have to take a deferment or forebearance unrelated to a return to school. THAT’S RIGHT – Sallie Mae is telling students in financial crisis during a massive recession that if they cannot pay their bill the only way to keep up their good credit history with the company is to go back to school, which will presumable result in the taking out of even more loans! Many of my returning students have also complained that none of the new legislation hoping to provide some kind of payment relief for students has been explained to them, or in some cases even provided to them, by their lender. In at least two cases this year, my former students reported losing their good credit status with Sallie Mae because when they called to ask about payment options while un or under employed, they were not told about the income based payment plan because that plan would result in losses for Sallie Mae unlike other plans in which extra money could be made off of each of them. But Lieber thinks Sallie Mae “gets a pass.”

To believe Lieber and others like him, you have to believe that students are ignorant and greedy while banks and the loan industry who set off the multiple economic crisis facing this nation are responsible, unbiased, free agents of an equal open and equal market system. For people who have succeeded through hard work + education + social capital + luck to remain afloat in the economic crisis, victim-blaming has become a mantra, often offset with “times are tough everywhere”, that allows them to sleep with less anxiety at night. It is however a mantra that does very little for the average N. American struggling to survive. While education and housing may seem like privileges to those who have them, they are not special rights afforded to the rich and have not been for 100+ years in this country (give or take). As long as this is how we look at the debt crisis and the people who are free falling as a result of it, we will never reform lending practices in this country let alone address critical inequalities built into that system. Rather than justifying one’s own success or ability to remain somewhat afloat by judging those who cannot, we need to be having ongoing conversations about the cost of college, the lending industry and banking system, and the ongoing decision to penalize mothers, youth, people of color, queer people, etc. for “market decisions” both in terms of lending decisions and blame when those backfire. Anything else is just a poor excuse for why people like Lieber have access to white male incomes at the New York Times while hardworking students wait on the welfare line.

Gut Reaction

(the one where I quote the Bible, its rare but I’m going there)

This morning I opened the blog to see a featured image from wordpress of a bird coated in oil from the Korean oil spill off the coast of San Fran several years ago (see below):

unattributed

I literally burst into tears. Two thoughts in my head screamed for supremacy:

  1. WHY?!? Why is our greed and consumption so insatiable that life itself is not a big enough deterrent to any number of atrocious acts committed in our names or desires?
  2. Have “I” not clothed and fed the birds of the air and the flowers of the field (a paraphrase of Matthew 6:26-30)

What I had forgotten about the latter is that the illustration in Matthew is not solely, as I remembered it to be, about how well G-d cares for the plants and animals of the Earth. (That passage is actually Psalm 104 which specifically outlines how G-d cares for all creatures and they all have worth.) Instead, Matthew talks of G-d’s love and care for them as an illustration of how much greater His love and care for human beings must be, because “we are more important.” And maybe that is the problem, while not all of us come from a Judeo-Christian tradition many concepts in capitalism are tied to a manifest destiny thoroughly tied to a mis/reading of scripture that has seeped into the global capitalist culture detached from its Divine mandates. Thus we shed ideas of stewardship (Leviticus 25: 23-24, Ezekiel 34: 2-4, Isaiah 24: 4-6, ), vegetarianism (Genesis 1: 29), and animal exploitation as a sign of our moral depravity (Ezekiel 34:17-18) while clinging to the ideas of being better than the plants and the animals of this Earth (Matthew 6:25-32) and domination over or exploitation of those things that do not produce profit (Genesis 26 & 28). In other words, greedy men found or manipulate religions to justify their greed and end the end, their justifications are so ingrained (hegemonic) that they go unquestioned as the very fabric of our societies and our “democracies.” And then this happens:

Prince William Sound Exxon Valdez Spill/ Unattributed

While the world cries in private because our tears and our truths are too painful or too honest for mainstream media or because the lives of so many lost pales in comparison to a contrived story about the Nation of Islam confronting the Secret Service or your local weather forecast …

But let’s be clear, the devastation in the Gulf is the direct result of over-consumption and dependence on oil in a time when we are entering our 7th year of war in the Middle East. The loss of lives there and here for something we can and should be learning to live without or at least with less rises every hour while we keep driving to nowhere.

rescued bird New Orleans/ AP Photo

Here’s what happens when a wild bird becomes contaminated with crude oil. The instinct to preen their feathers takes over all other needs, including feeding and evading predators.  By preening, birds ingest oil which causes systemic damage to their internal organs.  By not eating, they become dehydrated and malnourished.  And with no ability to evade predators, they are more prone to the Darwinian cycle.

Preening is a bird’s natural way of keeping their feathers aligned, clean and in place, which ensures buoyancy and a watertight seal for proper body temperature.  Much like shingles on a roof, birds’ feathers need to be aligned and positioned just right for protection from the water.

The National Wildlife Federation states, “The Gulf Coast is extremely important for hundreds of species of migrants, which variously breed, winter and rest here during migration. The population effects on birds from this spill will be felt as far north as Canada and Alaska and as far south as South America.” (Care)

Yesterday, 494 dead birds were found in the Gulf area. The majority of them had no oil on their feathers but instead likely died from consuming oil, dispersant chemicals, or other toxins related to the spill in the air, water, or through their food.

Whether you subscribe to a religious belief that we are called to care for every living thing on this planet:

But now ask the beasts and they will teach you; And the birds of the air, and they will tell you; Or speak to the Earth, and it will teach you; And the fish of the sea will explain it to you. Who among them does not know … (Job 12:7-9)

a social justice one, like the ancient Arab Agricultural League, the Socialist League, or the more modern Green Peace who were all born out of concern over existing environmental degredation and a desire to combat it; or a self-interested one:


* where “zombies” are stand in for CEOs of MNCs like BP

The bottom line is that we are all impacted by the devastation in the Gulf (both the Mexican one and the Persian one).

This morning I cried not just for the loss of a single bird or ecosystem or the break in a food chain in which we are all implicated, but rather over the loss of the most sacred parts of what make us human. Little by little we have been sacrificing the best parts of ourselves to capitalist consumption and without a great sea change we won’t be alive long enough to re-learn how great and wondrous we (all of us on this planet) were meant to be.

Drill Baby Drill

Every time I write a sentence to contextualize the oil disaster in the Gulf, I erase it. It would be easy to use this event to further a political agenda, especially given that unlike people pointing to Obama I have a historian’s eye view and can actually point to trade agreements, economic systems, war decisions, etc. that predate him and are almost all made and perpetuated by Republicans. Certainly all of us can remember Palin’s chant to “drill baby drill” from only a year ago. And yet, this partisan politics seem to be both childish and offensive in the face of the devastation. Estimates related to the amount of oil spilled already and the impact on wildlife, fragile ecosystems, and the fishing industry alone should bring all the finger pointing to an end and mobilize anyone who can to get to the coast to help. Not surprisingly, when you stop watching mainstream media, that is exactly what we are seeing. The national guard, environmentalist organizations, activists (including Kevin Costner, who has invested in a machine that can separate water from oil), and volunteers are working around the clock to try and stop further contamination of the Ocean, Wetlands, and Gulf and to clean and rescue as many animals as they can. While mainstream media fans the flames of partisan politics and the President looks perturbed while claiming BP is obligated to do what we want, real people are out there fighting to preserve an already fragile ecosystem.

For the rest of us, there is a lesson in what is going on in the Gulf: global capitalism neither cares about people nor plants and animals. Everything is an exploitable resource and every corner that can be cut will be to make the profit that much larger. More than that, the media and the paid blogging political pundits will always mobilize to distract you from the lives lost (human and animal) and the long term impact in order to get you caught up in finger pointing. Whether it is the distraction of the supposedly criminal “illegal aliens” running amuck that keeps you from questioning how laissez faire capitalism, international lending, and free trade agreements have created a global devaluing of workers, increased exploitation of workers, women, and children, and forced chosen and unchosen massive migration of labor that depends on them being unbound by borders, or the “unmoved President” whose lack of action somehow both caused the spill and failed to address it afterward that keeps you from asking questions about oil dependence, exploitation of already vulnerable populations, the ongoing consolidation of power over governments by corporate interests, and profit over people, the bottom line is that finger pointing is not only futile but also keeps the systems of power that let this happen in place.

What Does Rand Paul Really Believe?

Rand Paul’s primary win in Kentucky has raised serious concerns about representation in this county (the United States). On the one hand, Paul’s win proves that voting and representational democracy still matter in N. America. While we may disagree with the Tea Party, they are part of the N. American political landscape and they have the right to be represented if they have the votes to back them. On the other hand, the Tea Party’s public face has included racism, homophobia, general ignorance about both economic and political systems in place in the world, and funding from corporations implicated in the health crisis and neo-white supremacy in this country. This is not to say that all Tea Party members are guilty of all of these things, but rather that many, if not all, of these things have been present at the majority of the meetings held by Tea Party members or people representing the Tea party in the media. In this light, Paul’s win signals a major warning sign that discrimination is becoming an accepted part of the public face of our democracy once again. Moreover his own insistence that he is not participating in discrimination (see his statement in response to his MSNBC interviews near the middle of this post as well as youtube below) represents the kind of cognitive dissonance that seems to permeate the movement, so that people can actively engage in discussions, the making of posters, or the proposal of policies that would create wide scale inequality on the basis of identity all the while claiming they support equality.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did her best to nail down Paul’s beliefs about racial discrimination in public spaces. Paul deftly avoided giving definitive answers to her questions by conflating “public space” with “public property.” Public space is any location open to the public, it includes shopping centers, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. Public Property is owned by the government like Parks, Schools, Government Buildings, Libraries, etc. While both types of locations are open to the public, the latter is privately owned. Maddow asked Paul if he believed that public spaces should be allowed to discriminate since he had implied as much on several occasions. Paul responded by saying that regulating public spaces was akin to making private property public property and shifting the discussion to one of government control. In so doing, he directly contradicted the 1964 Civil Rights Act which designates certain privately owned businesses as public accomodations which are thus part of the overarching mandate to serve all people regardless of race. Public accomodations include: hotels, stores, gas stations, and restaurants. In other words, they are places that are necessary for people to have freedom of movement in this country and to interact daily with others with similar freedoms. While some may look at eating out as a choice, imagine trying to go on a business trip for your job when you could not guarantee access to gas for the car, a place to sleep, or somewhere to eat your meals along the way.

People also equated allowing black people to eat in restaurants to allowing guns in a bar where people could then get drunk and shoot each other. Not only are these two things not equitable but the implication is that the very presence of black people predicates violence. During the interview he claimed to be staunchly against violence and to abhor people who engaged in it, yet a spokesperson for Paul at the launch of his campaign admitted to wearing a sweatshirt with KKK on it to the maill and  kept an image of a lynch victim on his Facebook page for 2 years in response to Martin Luther King Day. While Paul eventually fired this man after his campaign took off and people began looking into his background and the background of his campaign team, the decision to include Hightower on his team hardly speaks to Rand Paul’s crafted image of himself as a potential freedom marcher with the late Dr. King or critic of anyone racist or violent.

Paul also avoided discussing concrete examples by claiming that they were historical issues and philosophical rather than concrete concerns. Yet, one needs only look at what sparked the Jena 6 controversy, the recent statement by the Harvard Law student about black people’s intelligence, or the subprime lending practices of Banks that targeted and ghettoized black and brown homeowners to know that discrimination exists here and now. Compare the conditions of schools in South Carolina that serve white students versus those that serve impoverished black ones, or border schools in the American Southwest to similar schools in affluent schools in the Northern regions of those same states and you know that discrimination is alive and well in the public sphere. Anyone who has ever had to shop while black also knows that in some establishments the only thing keeping people from demanding they leave immediately is Civil Rights law and that there have been and continue to be subtle ways that employers, business owners, and others send the message of racial exclusivity even when they cannot actively post it on a wall. The same can be said for other groups as well, just look at the number of same sex couples excluded from Prom, suspended from school, or kicked out all together because they or their parents are queer this year alone. While many of those cases took place in private settings, some of them occurred on public property proving that even Civil Rights is not enough to police growing hatred in this country.

After Maddow’s interview, Paul issued the following statement:

“I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person. I have clearly stated in prior interviews that I abhor racial discrimination and would have worked to end segregation. Even though this matter was settled when I was 2, and no serious people are seeking to revisit it except to score cheap political points, I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Let me be clear: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

“As I have said in previous statements, sections of the Civil Rights Act were debated on Constitutional grounds when the legislation was passed. Those issues have been settled by federal courts in the intervening years

“My opponent’s statement on MSNBC Wednesday that I favor repeal of the Civil Rights Act was irresponsible and knowingly false. I hope he will correct the record and retract his claims.”

“The issue of civil rights is one with a tortured history in this country. We have made great strides, but there is still work to be done to ensure the great promise of Liberty is granted to all Americans.

“This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state’s rights must stand up to it.

“These attacks prove one thing for certain: the liberal establishment is desperate to keep leaders like me out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign.”

Note how he once again avoids addressing the concrete historical and president reasons for why we need Civil Rights Law in all spaces in this nation and how he once again claims “the liberal media” is trying to tear him down because he represents “real Americans.” The spin game is on and Liberals are not the ones doing the spin. Much like what is going on with co-opting feminist imagery, I for one think there is much more at stake than whether or not Rand Paul is a private racist and a public race apologist. If we give bogged down in him as an individual we will lose sight of what he and his win represent.

There is a growing tide of racial antagonism in this country. The Southern Poverty Law Center had been tracking a marked uptick in racism, supremacy, and racial and homophobic incidences since the start of the Bush administration. They warned that the neo-conservative rhetoric put in place in those years was making this country less safe and less cohesive while no one really paid attention. Now we have an entire movement that is predicated on various “state’s rights” and “real Americans’ rights” that are simply rhetorical strategies for expressing fears about difference and a changing political landscape. While some people firmly believe their actions are non-violent, Tea Party rallies have been accompanied by violence and/or rising animosity in the areas in which they have been held. Worse, existing elected officials have courted the Tea Party, engaged and encouraged them, and have ultimately passed or considered passing legislation that reflects the most segregationist tendencies among them. When it became ok to say to the Federal Government “we will secede rather than take financial aid from you” or to pass laws that directly violated civil rights law and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, people like Rand Paul became an inevitability we should have been working against all along. He is a symptom of a sickness in this nation that has been allowed to spread unchecked for too long, he is not the disease.

—–

It should also be noted that the discussion of Rand Paul’s comments today have focused exclusively on race but Paul aslo made similar comments about disability rights and his views would make it possible to discriminate in public spaces on the basis of any identity including: gender, sexuality, language, etc. as well as race and ability. While his example of placing workers on the first floor of a building rather than building an expensive elevator may seem reasonable to some, the reality is that workers relegated to a single floor of a business are not integral participants in the business because they cannot move freely, access material or conversations throughout the business, and subsequently can be excluded fairly easily.

Coopting Feminism for the Neo-Conservative Cause(s)

Increasingly, conservatives are using cornerstone beliefs of liberal feminism to co-opt icon feminist images and even the term feminism for policies and people who most of us agree are not in fact invested in the advancement of women world wide but rather in themselves and often xenophobic or “gender neutral” agenda. In my mind this is happening due as much to the failure to take this trend seriously and address holes in actual feminist organizing on the part of feminists as it is due to neo-conservative understanding that women are now the majority in this country and need to be courted accordingly.

Sarah Palin

photoshopped by Camille Solberg

When Sarah Palin ran for Vice-President in the last election, many conservative women saw her as a beacon of “conservative feminism.” For some of them, she represented an idealized womanhood that they felt empowered women. She was:

  1. in public office
  2. on the public stage in a male dominated field
  3. one of the first women nominated for vice-president for a major party in the elections (you’ll note there was also a woman running for VP on the Green Party ticket that year)
  4. seemingly a committed wife and mother and career woman at the same time

These examples of seemingly strong female leadership dovetailed with liberal feminism’s emphasis on “revolution from within” or state level action, ie getting women equal pay and equal representation in leadership roles and public positions.  Conservatives used these connections to argue that “liberal” feminists, ie feminists on the left, were not as invested in women’s political and economic equality as they were in a liberal politik; if we had been invested in the former, so the story goes, we would be championing Palin alongside her supporters. In other words, when liberal feminism articulates feminist goals as strong women, in the public sphere, taking leadership roles in the government and impacted public policy without coupling that to specific policies and ideologies about the empowerment of ALL women (not just a woman, some women, or undefined “women”) not supporting Sarah Palin or Meghan McCain looks like backtracking or proof that real goals of feminism are not about women’s equality but rather a particular set of liberal ideals. By shaking and then claiming the foundations of liberal feminism for themselves, neo-conservatives can then argue that current versions of feminism have never been considered with rural women, poor women, “every day women”, wives, mothers, etc. And that in turn makes it possible for them to try an co-opt other forms of feminism that have made similar critiques in the past without linking them to unexamined whiteness or in the case of Palin, calling up white supremacy or white entrenchment.

Many bloggers, pundits, and journalists who have claimed the public face of feminism found the idea of Palin so distasteful that they were unwilling to critically examine how the rhetoric of liberal feminism they espoused could in fact lead to Palin seeing herself, or others seeing her, as a feminist. Their public derision of the idea was seldom tied to concrete criticism in ways that were easy to digest for people not steeped in feminism in the first place and thus easy to manipulate from the Right to look like elitism. In other cases, the focus on reproductive rights over a myriad of other ways Palin’s political agenda differed from those of feminists reinforced the stereotype for conservative women that feminists were anti-mother and anti-child and allowed party leaders to ratchet up fear about”the family” and “family values” as a result.

Many refused to address the sexism Palin endured during the campaign because of her offensive politics and some even took part in it. For those inclined to see any activism around identity and/or oppression as “liberal agenda”, these failures further reinforced the idea that feminism was not about gender and sexism but rather part of the “liberal machine”. The very public rejection of all things Palin and the jokes made about her by people who on other ocassions had championed a feminist interpretation of current events, made those of us engaged in discussing sexism against her invisible or easy to erase. Worse, some conservatives and liberals alike took the opportunity to claim our spaces as somehow connected to their co-optation of feminism because we dealt with sexism against conservative women while other more public figures were not doing so.

Daily Kos (while this image shows them together, we could argue the angle of McCain’s right arm is in fact him hitting her)

As we feminists know however, liberal feminism is only one of many types of feminism currently in existence. And while liberal feminism focuses on the public sphere, especially government, the law, and “equal” access to upper middle class jobs, they also focus on certain rights and responsibilities that run counter to neo-conservative politics represented by Palin and others. These rights are not detached from women’s equality but are in fact central to it. They include:

  1. reproductive choice – which for many is a fundamental tenant of feminism because it gives women power over their reproductive cycle which in turn can open doors for education, career advancement, care work in their existing families, etc. and is not in fact in anyway related to hating children or motherhood but rather embracing basic family planning
  2. sex positivity – which can be interpreted in many ways but almost always includes the right to choose what you like, how you like it, and with whom, as well as the access to education about ensuring that you are practicing safer sex, have access to repro materials before, during, and/or after if needed, and that your choices will not lead to social or political sanction
  3. ending sexual oppression – ie a direct confrontation with the various ways that our society encourages and condones rape and domestic violence through education, legal confrontation, and female empowerment; this also includes the right of women to choose how they dress, look in general, and to be proud of their bodies and their sexuality without fear of reprisal or condemnation (the latter has become a major organizing principle for mainstream feminism for instance)
  4. a tacit understanding that ALL women need to be seen as equal in our society – which, though contested amongst feminists daily, means that women of color, trans women, lesbian and bi women, poor women, rural women, differently-abled women, etc. all deserve access to services, education, and advancement that will level the playing field amongst women and between women and men (while this has often devolved into a “diversity” statement or tokenizing in mainstream and liberal feminism, radical feminism, women of color feminism, decolonized feminism, queer feminisms, and others have made this issue central to their organizing)

Not only was/is Palin against most of these tenants but she also actively supported program decisions that cut off funding to homeless pregnant teenagers, educational programs related to any kind of reproductive knowledge in the schools, and is seemingly staunchly against the rights of immigrant women and potentially women of color in general. Her comments about race during and after the election have made the nation less safe for women of color and actively targeted both black and Latin@ people as un-American or simply not American at all. And in some cases, her speeches have occurred in places where a marked uptick in racial incidences and/or racist rhetoric occurred immediately following her time there. Her own focus on sexual purity and pro-life stance, left her own family vulnerable to teen pregnancy, a farcical engagement, and rumors of infidelity. And despite painting herself as an advocate for mothers, especially of differently-abled children, she cut off funding for teen mothers in her area and also nearly reversed her own pro-life stance when she discovered her child was going to be differently-abled. Her policies regarding school based sex ed and health care directly impacted rape survivors and despite having this brought to her attention by feminists and child advocates in Alaska, Palin did not change the policies. In other words, while her public image continues to borrow from liberal feminist rhetoric to craft her as the conservative “true” pro-woman, her policy decisions, jingoistic speeches, and personal decisions often run counter to the rights of marginalized and vulnerable women and girls.

Maksim-The People’s Cube Posters

Yet, many conservatives continue to rally around Palin as their feminist icon ignoring her huge and public failings and recasting her divergences from feminism as political choices rather than issues of female empowerment. Thus their rhetoric transforms certain “values” into pro-woman ideology:

  1. family values becomes a way to support women’s rights by ensuring that women fulfill their their “god-given” roles as wives and mothers and is supported by repetition of the questionable trend of aging second wave feminists who claimed their high paying jobs and power in government or companies did not compare to an overwhelming sense of loss because they never had children or married
  2. anti-immigrant policies transform into a way of protecting women from drug runners and violent crime and even protecting immigrant women from rape and sex trafficking by unscrupulous coyotes (note unscrupulous law enforcement or business owners are not mentioned in this formula)
  3. rejecting title IX and other affirmative action programs supposedly works toward female equality by eliminating language and programs that “set them apart” and thus “reinforce divisions” rather than dismantle them
  4. choosing pro-life politics over rape survivors health and well-being becomes both “cutting the pork”, ie positive fiscal management and an ability to make “hard decisions”, and supporting young girls by stopping them from exacerbating one form of abuse (rape) with another (“killing a baby”)

Despite what the history of this country has taught us about what “gender neutral” and “race blind” curriculum and policies actually mean, this rhetoric and the ability to spin it at the drop of a hat has ushered in a new era of co-opting the labels of social justice for neo-conservative causes.

Enter Jan Brewer.

Iowa Presedential Watch Posters

Like Sarah Palin, Brewer is being cast as a crusading conservative feminist standing against the patriarchal Washington government and the ineffectual male dominated public sphere in order to make “America” “safe” for women and children. Never mind that those women and children do not include anyone Latin@ or who might “look like an immigrant” and that their safety or relationship to America as American citizens, naturalized citizens, or workers who keep the country afloat by doing the jobs no one else will, are irrelevant in Brewer’s world. Once again, conservatives have adapted the language of liberal feminism to their own ends by pointing to Brewer’s success in a male dominated career, her “bold stance against a male president and male governors” all of whom have publicly condemned her, etc.

And once again, the very feminists who depoliticized identity politics in the hopes of mainstreaming gender equality are now sitting back aghast and/or silent about the co-optation of feminist principles by Republicans in order for them to shine a bright, bright, light on a woman who has helped make an entire state inhospitable to women and girls, including female students and workers. As with the case of Palin, these public “feminist pundits” believe the idea that Brewer is feminist is so ludicrous it does not warrant a response. Certain feminist pundits have become so tongue-tied by questions about Brewer as feminist that they look almost as ignorant as Palin during a Katie Couric interview before devolving into a series of elitest remarks that fail to address policy, give concrete examples of discrepancies in the rhetoric of immigrant criminality and the reality of immigrant participation in this country, or to address historical examples of why we have affirmative action, multiculturalism, Title IX and other similar programs. The failure to connect feminism, immigration, and history or to provide concrete examples once again opens the door for the Republican counter-attack that liberal activism is about entitlement programs, taking from “real Americans”, and supporting “over-educated liberal elite” women over “real women”.

While no one imagined that conservative women would try to take feminism for their own, the ongoing failure to critically examine why they are currently being successful at certain kind of falsely pro-woman propaganda is as much to blame on us as it is the spin doctors courting women on the Right. There is too much at stake to continue to dismiss these women outright or to lapse into self-congratulatory condescension when their names or actions come up. It seems to me that we have two major issues to deal with in the post-Palin aftermath:

  1. How our own rhetoric and/or praxis has opened the door for complaints of “politiking” and exclusion – in other words, when the public face of feminism is increasingly an upper middle class urban heterosexual white woman who is neither conversant on the issues facing rural poor women or interested in becoming so, how does that feed into the idea that feminism is in fact not for everyone but only the chosen few? how does certain forms of feminism’s legacy of excluding, erasing, or downplaying the needs of marginalized women allow conservative women who are blatant and militant about those or similar exclusions to think they have more in common with mainstream feminists than mainstream feminists think and to claim the moral high ground because they are honest about it?
  2. How can we re-articulate feminist organizing principles in ways that are both concrete and accessible to a myriad of audiences – in other words, while multiple feminisms exist, we continue to put a very specific mainstream image forward in the media (blogging, “feminist presses”, and film and tv) that may not be accessible to all women either because it comes across as elitest or out of touch or continues to exclude certain women, may not seem relevant to some women (my students are always saying that feminism was great because it got them slots in college and female professors and the chance at good jobs but they don’t need anything else so it’s “kind of dead now” anyway), or has not adequately addressed some of the legitimate complaints from traditionally ignored populations (for instance the legitimate issues of care and emotional health raised by pro-life or vanilla advocates, or issues of female space in a trans world, etc)

While we cannot control the actions of people who would hope to take over our movements and re-create them from the inside out, we can be proactive about our politics and our outreach. And while many feminists on the ground are doing this, the mainstream and its outlets are falling short time and again to the detriment of all of us. There was a time when no one would have dared replace Rosie the Riveter with Jan Brewer’s face or recast Wonder Woman as Sarah Palin , let alone refer to either of them as feminist. Now these acts are common place. Wars of rhetoric and naming and over meaning and history are all too common place. As feminists we need to start sharpening the tools in our immense toolboxes or be prepared to go looking for them in the dark that is falling across this nation.