I Remember

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I was there when the events discussed at the beginning of this post happened. I started the Girlcot Seal Press accountability campaign. It is a traumatic story in the sense of cavalier disregard for intellectual property and closing of the ranks by certain mainstream feminists and a large portion of NWSA attendees that year as much as how the careers of those folks were completely unhindered by their involvement in both oppression and “potential” plagiarism. Yet it is also a powerful testament to the work woc social justice and feminist bloggers engaged in then and, if you know them, now. I am so proud of my virtual sisters for the community we built together and for all the amazing work I see them doing now. I too have grown and changed but I have never gotten to carry our histories with me.

Please click the link to read

An Open Letter to Amanda Marcotte

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Not Much Has Changed

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I was reading Breeze Harper’s piece on racist and misogynist trolling of her website Sistah Vegan a few days ago and thinking how little has changed for black intellectuals in North America. Breeze mentions how she has advanced degrees from prestigious universities, honors, and awards that should make her word hold some weight. However, as a post-colonial reading of Merleau-Ponty quickly points out the imagined black Other supersedes that of any disconfirming information. So we are always ignorant until proven smart. Always race baiting haters until we allow racism to run rampant on our sites or bow down to the know it all white expert who is likely reading an uncited bastardization of our own text back to us incorrectly. And so on.

What struck me most reading Breeze’s article was not just the long list of educational credentials that amount to nothing in the face of whiteness, but also the fact that she has been harassed by so-called Buddhists for daring to participate in decolonizing wellness practices. Not only does this seem decidedly anti-Buddhist, but it touches very close to home. You see, I have a white male Buddhist in my life, through no fault of my own, who is consistently harassing me about my intersectional politics and my desire for equal treatment at the university. He denies that there is any sign of discrimination in the classrooms he oversees and yet there are multiple complaints about racism, sexism, and homophobia overheard in the halls, claimed to be written on the evals, and most importantly several students and one faculty member have threatened to sue over oppressive behavior or pedagogical choices. He calls me unstable when I advocate for myself or others, and has literally told people to stay away from me if they want to succeed in our profession. Once, he even maligned my family and allegedly physically threatened a gay male colleague. But when anyone who he cannot menace asks him about the rumors about his behavior, he laughs and falls back on his Buddhism as proof that he would never harass students and faculty of color, queer students and faculty, women, or differently-abled people. He talks about his spirituality and its call for authenticity that he takes seriously and even publishes about. When backed into a corner, he even beats his chest and talks about his own experiences of being bullied in school and all the poor black families he worked with when he was young.  He, like the Buddhist in Breeze’s post, is accessing whiteness through the lens of “good person”, i.e. the idea that because he practices benevolent spirituality he has already conquered oppression not only in his own mind but in any arena in which he enters or controls. As such, he has the right to silence and deny evidence of oppression and the need to heal from it coming from the people most likely to know what it looks like: the oppressed. Unlike the spectres in Breeze’s article however, he is not a pimple faced kid hiding at an internet cafe or in the back room of the Women’s Studies class he hopes will get him dates all the while resenting nothing else was open in this time slot. He is a tenured department chair. A real live, living breathing man, with the power to shape minds and marginalize and oppress those he does not see as fit to complain.

This is why I started with the image above. You see, it was not too long ago that schools were segregated and people had to fight to get access to good educations. It was not too long ago that students had to walk out to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. And in fact, despite these huge gains often met with unspeakable emotional and physical violence from the “good people” brigade, the reality is that very little has changed. Key historical figures in the history of social justice in this country are slowly being removed from history books. Important people of color, queer people, and women are being slowly erased and their contributions being usurped by the assumption that the men in the books did it first. Differently-abled and trans folks have very seldom if ever seen themselves in the textbooks and when they do, it is often with their identities completely washed away. The demographics of schools are also showing a rise in re-segregation and the middle and high school level which leads to even more “Real World encounters” at the university level. Just last year I had a student tell me that she had never had to be in a class with a black person before meeting me and another tell me that she lived in a neighborhood where the police would escort me out if I ever visited. But the Chair swears this is a safe place for students of color to learn and faculty of color to teach, all though there are no faculty of color to speak of in his department if you do not count us fellow cross-listing faculty, none.

So, what does it all mean? Ultimately, while Breeze’s piece resonated with me on so many levels from shared experience in and outside of the blogosphere to the myths I internalized about education and meritocracy without even realizing it, I have to disagree with the premise. I do not believe that trolls are the stuff of the internet. I work with trolls every day and in this climate they are empowered to troll me with the goal of making me break without any consequences. Like the girl pictured above, I sit in classrooms with students who literally point and say snide things about the way I smell, how I do my hair, the things I find important and meaningful, etc. and when I discuss it with other faculty, I often see folks who are lead by the likes of Dr. Crackhead or worse Mr. Buddhist-light, whose capacity for emotional sadism rivals any white supremacist in the history books or outside of it. (Material added 4/27/13) To be clear, the N word, “black bitch”, and the like have all been said to my face or the face of my colleagues at one time or another in our careers; one can only wonder what these “colleagues” and instructors call us behind closed doors or with the not-so-invisible veil of the internet. (End of added material)

Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a nation when we have already fought the battle of equal education and seen its toll, only to let it slip through our fingers. Something has gone horribly wrong with us as a people when we have looked on lynching images and read about how group think works, and we let our classrooms slip back into seethingly invalidating environments egged on by the person in the front of the room or their boss. I write this, with no answers, as one person trying to change it, speaking to all of you readers who I hope are doing the same. Let’s join our thoughts and our voices and our strength because otherwise it will be too late.

Speaking of Homophobia and Schools

Piedra Vista High School in Farmington, NM is experiencing a parent led upsurge in homophobia after some students in the school tried to start a Gay Straight Alliance. The vocal parents who are anti-gay have demanded that school funds and property not go to the organization & that it be banned. When Equality NM reminded the city that failure to provide equal access to school grounds and funds for student groups regardless of content was a Federal violation of the Equal Access Act, some associated with the school district said they will shut down all of the extra-curricular clubs in order to avoid discrimination charges for shutting down this one. (Once again proving when one is not free all of us suffer.) On Monday Oct. 8, 2007 more than 300 parents, students, and community members showed up at Piedra Vista High to discuss the forming of the Gay Straight Alliance club. The number of detractors in the group was undisclosed. But the Farmington paper ran its own poll of 1600 people and 1000 said the GSA should not be allowed to exist.

24 students held a sit in to protest the GSA, in what is becoming an all too familiar move to appropriate progressive political action for conservative means. The school has 1300 students.

Equality New Mexico has launched a campaign to ensure the rights of GLBTQ youth and their allies and by extinction every student’s access to school activities and clubs. All though their petition was for the end of last month’s meeting, they are still taking signatures so sign it anyway.

If you are a NM resident, please attend the school board meeting scheduled for Thursday. They will be voting on whether to disband all student groups or to allow the GSA to exist by default. I cannot find the location of the meeting online but did find the school district contact information.

They can be reached at:
5700 College Blvd, Farmington NM 87402
Phone: 505-599-8880
FAX: 505-599-8891

The Farmington situation is echoed by similar events in Georgia and Florida last year to stop GSA groups in White County High School & involving the schools in Hillsborough County respectively. Time will tell if the Farmington situation will also lead to other tactics, like those used in Orange County High, where students involved in the GSA were outed to prevent other students from joining, or Boyd County High School where the school board decided to allow the club but then found multiple ways to deny their funding and room use requests.

Argentinian Priest On Trial

vwChristian Von Wernich went on trial this past week for his involvement in the Dirty War in Argentina. He was arrested 4 years ago in Chile, where he was relocated by the Catholic Church upon request, on charges of murder (7 deaths), torture (31 cases), & illegal imprisonment (42 cases) during the military dictatorship. He worked in a detention center between 1976-1983 when these incidents were to have occurred. He also worked as a Catholic Priest.

Von Wernich involvement in the group of 7, 7 students detained and then disappeared, is considered particularly heinous. He is said to have “ministered” to both the students and their families claiming that if they confessed they would be released. His active pressure convinced the 7 to confess to crimes and association with one another that were untrue. The result of that confession was not release but death in unmarked graves. Von Wernich also solicited money from the families for the church, under the guise of serving their children. Each family is said to have paid $1500 to get the students out of the country at Von Wernich’s request.

Several journalists have been essential in uncovering the atrocities of the Dirty War, including the complicity of many in the Catholic Church there. In fact, Brienza, a journalist looking into Von Wernier’s role, was responsible for finding him. His book, Maldito tu eres, is specifically about Von Wernier’s involvement in the Dirty War and contains several witness accounts.

El Silenco, a 2005 book in journalist/author Verbitsky’s ongoing reportage of the Dirty War, argues that the Catholic Church was actively involved in the death camps and the government despite reports of abuse reaching the Vatican. Using interview data, the book documents the sanction of the Church to drug the disappeared and drop them from planes. Archbishop Totolero, and other high ranking leaders in the Catholic church, were known to take visits from the military government and Totolero was quoted as praising the generals and saying that they were right to take “hard and violent measures.” The church has refused to issue an apology.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo argue that many priests, who were chaplains of the camps, engaged in torture while some did everything they could to report and stop the abuse. Several nuns were disappeared during the military dictatorship for supporting resistance. Both nuns and priests opened their homes and their churches as sanctuaries and used their international connections to smuggle people out of Argentina and graft the Argentinian crisis onto the Latin American solidarity work being done in the U.S. and Britain. Of the priests known to be actively involved in trying to put an end to the dirty war were 19 disappeared, 11 tortured, or 22 arrested. The 1977 deaths of nuns Alice Damon and Leonie Duque were so graphic and impactful, as they had been major forces in the resistance and awareness efforts, that they inspired multiple films.

120 witnesses are scheduled to appear during the trial. Testimony so far has reported primarily on his presence at detention camps and his encouraging people to confess to their crimes so as not to be tortured again. Family members of the group of 7 have also all testified to the lies they were told and the money they paid to save the lives of their family members at Von Wernich’s request.

At trial, Von Wiernich refused to make a statement nor accept questions thoroughly thwarting any attempt at truth and closure for the survivors. He is hiding behind confession all though he has resigned as a priest (confession being sacred regardless).

Key witnesses and activists continue to be disappeared in order to thwart further trials.

Please show your solidarity with human rights organizations internal and external to Argentina that are working toward getting as much of the truth as can be known for survivors of the Dirty War. You can try and put pressure on the Catholic Church by writing letters to the leadership in both Argentina and the Vatican.

Sicko

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By now, you have heard some of the buzz surrounding Michael Moore’s new film Sicko. I saw it at the last showing of the night and the theater was packed, only the front row in the middle remained open while the side rows were full all the way. I considered myself the skeptic in the room as I have never really forgiven Michael Moore for his heartless response to the people of flint when his first movie transformed him from one of them into a money man. I also find that his films increasingly sacrifice the message to highlight his pranksterism and his ego. Yet, I believe Michael Moore is doing a service to this country by not only uncovering information we may not have but also putting it out there relentlessly, regardless of the consequence to himself, in order to make a change. To my surprise, and delight, Sicko focused in on the later (important info) and mostly left the former (prankster/ego) behind.

Echoing the role of storytelling mentioned in my second post on the USSF, one of the most poignant parts of Micheal Moore’s new film Sicko is the stories told by loved ones, and in one case the woman herself, of people who died because they were denied needed medical treatment in this country. I repeat their stories here because I want them to never stop being retold until things change, if you don’t want to read them, scroll past the bullet points below:

  • woman interviewed was denied surgery to remove a brain tumor because insurance company said it was not life threatening – she died before the film was finished.
  • a man who found a perfect donor match, his younger brother, was denied transplant surgery despite his wife working for the hospital in charge – he died, leaving behind his small child and his loving wife. (She connected the dots between race and class)
  • a mother rushed her child to the hospital with a skyrocketing fever only to be refused needed medical treatment b/c the hospital was out of network then forcibly removed from the hospital for demanding treatment anyway (scary black woman syndrome); the insurance would also not pay for the ambulance to transport the child to the proper hospital – her baby died as they reached the in network hospital doors.

Watching these stories brought a cold silence across the theater. The final story brought tears to my eyes, as I looked into the face of photos of the little tot and the anger and pain in her mother’s eyes. Her mother kept saying “I did the best Ibabies1 could baby. Mommy tried.” How do you let a baby die?

The answer: profit over people.

Sicko tells us, using the actual tapes from the Nixon library as documentation, that Nixon and Kaiser (of Kaiser Permanente) colluded to create a for profit medical industry in which money is made by denying service. The idea was Kaiser’s, and all though I know many people who get good care at their facilities, I know that I was routinely denied proper care for one of my conditions forcing me to seek a new provider who made me pay for my treatment outright for 6 months as a pre-existing condition. The excitement about money_bagsthe profit was Nixon and Kaiser’s.

Why? The government gets a cut of the profit primarily through lobbyists and spending. At one point in the film, Moore puts pop up bubbles over various senators and Bush’s head, showing how much money they make off of colluding with the HMO system. He also showed that the biggest proponent for the medicare reform quit his job after the bill past so he could go work for said HMOs.

The recipient of the second largest payout by HMOs and Pharmaceutical companies: HILARY CLINTON. The woman who was smacked down publicly and privately for years for trying to get us universal coverage. Her defeat was a smack heard across the democractic party as no one, but Biden, is now willing to make single payer (as opposed to managed care insurer) part of their health care reform platform.hilary_clinton

Besides denying health care to people in need the switch to managed care has:

  • increased the cost of health care – basic and intensive
  • increased # of uninsured from 13 million to 50 million
  • increased the view of patients as numbers (costing money) over patients as humans (needing care)

Sicko also makes some important connections between debt, managed care, and social change. Moore argues that a nation in debt due to college loans and medical bills is a nation of docile workers because they NEED their jobs to stay afloat. The result is that they do not demand worker’s rights from their employers; they do not have time to demand civil and human rights from their government. This is the most undertheorized part of the film but it is amongst the most astute points made (beyond the medical industry is killing us for profit of course).

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Sicko also spends a considerable amount of time on a handful of 911 relief workers. Despite all the rhetoric about 911, these workers and many likely them are being denied medical care because they were volunteers. VOLUNTEERS!!!! Volunteers who searched through the rubble for survivors and then signs of loved ones lost for the grieving. Volunteers who provided needed medical assistance. Volunteers who provided necessary care work – grief counseling, water and food runs, blankets to escapees, scouted for medical personnel for the injured, etc. VOLUNTEERS.

The government is now looking into prosecuting some or all of the 911 workers who received care from Cuba during this film. They will be charged with violating the travel ban and other crimes as the government sees fit. For their service to our country, our injured, and our dead they were left to die. For being a part of a documentary that demands we honor the words said that day and in so many speeches afterward, they may find themselves dying in prison. Do not let that happen! Write your congressperson.

Some important quotes from the film:

  • “A nation that can afford to kill, can afford to heal.”
  • democracy brings freedom to the people and voice to the poor while undemocractic nations rule by fear and debt
  • N. America must change its focus from “me to we.”

Sicko shows us that democractic, capitalist, countries like Canada, France, and the UK all have socialized health care and donnalarrystlouismany also have free or subsidized higher education. I have lived in two of these countries and traveled in one other, and I can personally tell you that the health care there worked and my friends and neighbors were satisfied with the care they received.

Cuba not only has all of the things, these other countries have, but they provided the 911 vets with the care they could not get from the USA. Cubans have a world renown medical system and they were able to keep it afloat through innovative means even after the break up of the USSR and the subsequent trade embargo placed by the U.S. to force Cuba to accept IMF loans.

The one critique of this segment of the film for me was the valorizing of an obvious systems gouger, a man who used the French health care system to take a 3 month vacation of the Riviera. This scene, and the deft way Moore avoids interviewing the immigrants and working poor in France, should give us pause.  How can we in N. America avoid the pitfalls Moore doesn’t seem to see?

It also shows that conservatives (even Thatcher) and liberals alike support the idea that medical care is a right not a limited resource. And that the belief in care translates into how a patient is seen and treated. Most of the physicians from elsewhere talked about how they would never want to work in a system where the could not provide care to their patients and showed compassion I have not seen in the U.S., except maybe in Vermont. N. American physicians on the other hand talked about pay increases for turning people down and seeing patients as a drain on profit.

In the end, Sicko shows us how far we have come from the ideals we claim this nation stands for. It gives the real life stories of ordinary people and heroes slowly dying to make rich people richer. It gives us the names, or the images, of the people responsible and it leaves the decision about how to act in our hands. If you do nothing else, go see it. If you can do more than that:

  • write to your congressperson
  • publish your own medical story and your provider’s name on the internet and in the paper
  • organize a reading/action group in your neighborhood
  • picket
  • occupy
  • march to congress

As one physician in the film put it in a report to congress: [she] had been responsible for the deaths of 1,000s in order to make a profit for [her] company and has never been held accountable.

Do not let managed care manage to keep you from care!