Time Adds Stealing Youth’s Lives in CA

The declining U.S. economy has led many to wake up to the fact that prisons are increasingly warehouses for “unwanted people” in the U.S. Whether they are people of color, immigrants (usually also people of color), poor women, trans, subsistence level or homeless youth, mentally ill, differently-abled, etc. the prison system is ready to take them on the most minor infraction. Once there, the system is designed to keep them through a combination of degradation and punishment that includes added time. The assumption that people in prison belong in prison has served to shield most N. Americans to the realities of mothers separated from nursing babies for nothing more than crossing a border or Latino youth clocking time because they were hanging out on the wrong street corner together or trans women praying they make it to prison instead of the infirmary because of “unexplained injuries” while in custody. While more information has come out about U.S. prisons becoming the largest state funded mental health facilities in some state’s, very few discussions outside of activist circles have centered on the interconnectedness of marginalization (“unwanted people”), incarceration, and income and job generation. Prisons are becoming one of the largest employers across the nation, providing jobs in food service, medicine, administration, sanitation, as well as guards and counselors. They also stimulate local economy because all of these new workers have money to spend at the local diner, coffee shop, clothing store, etc.Yet, as some small towns have argued, this stimulus restructures the entire economy toward the prison in ways that stunt alternative economic growth and econ sustaining diversification. Put another way, if the prison closes towns that were struggling before it opened would become ghost towns. So the prison must stay open. And to keep the prison open, there have to be criminals …

For those familiar with the prison-industrial-complex, or already working on the issue, this is not new information. Yet new ads inundate the local television with calls to join the ranks of border patrol (immigrant prison guards) and law enforcement careers (non-immigrant prisons) and my own uni has seen a massive increase in enrollment in the prison related degrees. It’s big business. Big business that is shielded by the national level discourses of citizenship and criminality.

Enter California.

While scandals about youth prisons are nothing new, the California prison system has one of the longest incarceration rates for youth offenders in the nation. Most of those offenders are originally arrested on misdemeanors, though there is a large percentage involved in hard core or gateway crimes. The issue is not whether or not incarcerated youth are “perfect victims”, ie completely innocent, but how they move from every day youth, to criminalized populations upon whom the prison-industrial-complex depends to generate money and jobs at the expense of lives.

Many youth in California prisons are people of color, second or third generation immigrant youth, and/or poor. 84% of youth in California prisons were people of color in 2007; while some will take this as proof people of color are more prone to criminality than white people, more than enough studies of race and racism in the legal system have proven that this overrepresenation has more to do with racism and classism than anything else. 1/3 of the youth serving time in CA prisons are there because of “time adds”. This means they have already served their original sentence and are serving time for behavioral issues ranging from talking back to guards to being involved in a fight (the application of the law has made little distinction between those who were targeted in those fights and/or defending themselves against bullying and harassment and those who intentionally caused a fight). The system is similar to that applied to people with mental health issues in prison who are often picked up on misdemeanors or petty crime and then warehoused for years based on behaviors related to their MH issues (talking back, ignoring lights out, fighting, etc.)

According to Books not Bars:

In the United States, 90,000 youth find themselves in juvenile detention centers on any given night and 2.2 million youth are arrested each year. In California, the state youth prison systems cost $216,000 per child per year while a mere $8,000 per child are allocated to Oakland public schools.

Once again, needed resources are funneled away from programs and services that help people succeed and deliberately moved into ones that require them to fail.

5 years of organizing in California against the inhumane treatment of incarcerated youth, including court cases finding the prison system or its employees guilty of beating, raping, or harassing youth prisoners, some times with the goal of goading them into time add violations, has had some positive effect on the system. According to Truthout, the number of youth arrested in 2009 was 1500 down from 5000, 5 years earlier.  Ella Baker Center introduced a bill, AB 999, in CA that would eliminate time adds all together, replacing them with incentive programs that provide time reduction or other privileges to youth who take anger management, participate in counseling or work retraining programs, or otherwise show good behavior during their sentence.  The bill has not yet passed but you can help by sending a letter to the California Legislature letting them know that intentionally incarcerating youth for years beyond their original sentence is not only inhumane it often causes irreparable damage to their education, self-esteem, and life choices.

The fight does not end with California’s youth however. As I’ve been trying to show, the problem is the system itself. The same tactics used to criminalize, round up, and retain youth in the prison system is similar to that of any other marginalized population. The correlations become all the more apparent when we map how policies about criminalizing normal behavior, like hanging out, and adding time to sentences is used on differently targeted populations, ie how these policies are used against Latin@s and immigrants in the Southwest, youth in California, black men in Chicago, and mental health patients in the U.S. Drawing connections between the groups least wanted, or in some cases least employed, in any given region and their treatment in prison to disparate least wanted populations in other regions shows a clear map of state sanctioned discrimination, violence, and economic gain on the backs of not only criminalized populations but the cities and towns that house the prisons. The problem is often worse for queer populations criminalized for their gender or sexual “transgressions” as well as the ways their identities often intersect other targeted populations. While Californians have been working to change this, Gov Schwarznegger has vetoed the the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Prisoner Safety Act and its predecessor, leaving queer people, particular trans women, extremely vulnerable to violence and murder in the prison system. According to the documentary Cruel and Unusual, trans people are incarcerated at 3 times the rate of cis people and many of them begin their time in prison as youth picked up for loitering, homelessness, or petty crime.

When we think intersectionally it is impossible to ignore how the prison system in the U.S. upholds the idea of who has a right to be considered N. American and who is part of Palin’s “other [N.] America”, the one we lock up and throw away.

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Return to Kyrgyzstan


AFP/Unattributed

In June, I wrote a post about violence erupting in Kyrgyztan and its impact on women. For those who do not know, an unidentified number of Kyrgyz systematically targeted Uzbek neighbors for several days, including nearly burning down one of largest cities in the state and moving slowly out to the rural areas. Homes and shops were burned and women and children fled through the streets, being trampled, caught in the crossfire, and potentially targeted for sexual and emotional abuse. They were herded toward the border even though the Kyrgyz had intentionally blocked the ditch they would have to cross to flee to safety; in other words, the women and children were intentionally forced together in a holding area while Kyrgyz killed off the men. The first female acting-President, Roza Otunbayeva, begged for direct military action from international governments that came too late. Her ascendancy to power and proposed reforms, including the use of Kyrgyzstan by U.S. troops stationed there, is said to have sparked the ethnic cleansing attempt targeting her fellow Uzbekis and potentially fueling the inaction of the U.S. Base. Like the current scapegoating of Latin@ and Muslim immigrants in the U.S., the Uzbekis were targeted because of Political turmoil, unemployment, growing migration, criminal activity, and growing religious intolerance and at the center was the belief that an ethnic minority female president was not only unqualified to lead but also playing favorites by nature of shared identity.

A month later, women were at the center of rebuilding both the burned out communities and the sense of trust across ethno-religious lines. The city itself maintained a curfew and tensions continued in general, flaring up in small acts of violence on both sides. Like so many communities who experienced unchecked ethnic cleansing then end of major violence has left the population weary, scarred, and angry. Women in particular are surviving the scars of being raped, beaten, disappeared, taken hostage, forced to flee their homes, wounded, and killed. Many are trying to rebuild families that were separated only to find that most of their missing relatives are dead. And yet, according to Dr. Nurgul Djanaeva, the founder and president of the Forum of Women’s NGOs of Kyrgyzstan, no one had created bureaus specifically for dealing with women’s trauma, the potential for ongoing targeting of women in the aftermath, or the documenting of gender based violence against women during the conflict. One other major hindrance has been the stigma of rape and sexual assault that is making women wary of being counted or exposed while seeking treatment.

uzbek women voting amidst the ruble of their burned out home/unattributed

Women’s NGOs are at the forefront of bringing women together to heal. They are taking a lesson from other ethnic cleansing incidents in Europe, Africa, and Latin America to address specific gender based violence and support the centrality of women’s voices and experiences in rebuilding the nation. The hope is that rather than sparking ethno-religious misogyny in the future, women’s leadership will become a regularized part of Kyrgyzstan life.

While the conflict has led to opportunities for women, the trajectory of that conflict and its specific use of gender based violence largely unchecked by international peace keeping forces is becoming all too familiar. The strategic location of the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan and the ties to Russia were leveraged against the proposed autonomy of the people and the safety and security of women, children, and ethnic minorities. The rhetoric turning neighbor against neighbor is no longer the stuff of “never again” (WWII) but instead the common day occurrences that allow “good Americans” to burn other people’s holy books regardless of its impact on them or the U.S. troops they claim to support and have radio broadcasts using racial “puns” about rape and sexual assault of Latinas while others form vigilante groups and beat immigrants, often to death. What is the dividing line between those whose fears and misplaced envy is harnessed by radio stations and politicians into a lethal genocidal force and those who claim their references to “re-loading” are metaphorical? And why is it that despite what we know about how women are targeted both during these conflicts and in the makeshift camps built to keep them safe in the aftermath, why do we still fail to take this knowledge into account to ensure women’s bodily integrity? And why, after all the genocide we have seen in this world, are the military and economic interests of major Super Powers more important than safety and security of women’s lives? Haven’t we learned that societies where women have access to education, family planning, and representation and poor people have access to jobs, food, and shelter free of discrimination, are more stable than places where both populations, and their intersections, are exploitable? But then asking these questions might make us have to look at foreign policy through the lens of humanity rather than profit and ask when and where we are culpable and how these “exceptions” are in fact just more extreme versions of behaviors that permeate our own society.

Lady Gaga Take II

Despite the widely circulated petition mentioned in my previous post on race and queer issues, calls by major queer organizations, a twitter and facebook campaign, and personal phone calls from other musicians, Lady Gaga took to the stage at the end of July in AZ after two days of vacationing in the state prior. Regardless of what you think about her decision to hold the concert, it seems impossible to describe her two-days of vacation in AZ as an act of solidarity with immigrants.

Since the political firestorm surrounding Arizona has been in both national and international news for some time and most artists have officially or unofficially signed on to an artist boycott of the state, we have to assume that Lady Gaga understood that immigrants’ and brown people’s rights were on the table when she made these decisions. Though she has, as far as I know or am able to find, never spoken out about immigrant rights or SB 1070 prior, her concert in Arizona provided an opportunity for her to care about people whose basic human rights continue to be at stake.

When the petition to ask her to care went viral and major news media started to report on the controversy, Lady Gaga finally did the minimum necessary to retain her fan base. THE DAY OF THE CONCERT she met with immigrant rights  groups in Arizona. She did not schedule these meetings nor request them On the contrary, queer immigrant right’s activists working with the Dream Act had been trying to get a hold of her since it came out that she was neither going to speak about SB 1070 nor adhere to the artist boycott. Their meeting was scheduled to last 10 minutes. However, the activists managed to eek out 10 more minutes to tell her a heart wrenching personal story about how the SB 1070 had already cost one of them their brother and safety in their own home after a police raid. In Gaga’s version of the story, she says

“I met a boy who is suffering … He told me his house was raided because of a parking ticket or something.”

The boy’s tragedy had such a lasting impact on her, she could not even remember the details of his story a few hours later. While most people have focused on her dedicating a song to him and saying immigration raids are evil, I hope the other half of that story is now sinking in.

A last minute meeting scheduled for 10 minutes after press starts to turn against you, a half remembered story, and a few choice words condemning ICE while on vacation and/or making concert related bank in Arizona by choice is hardly solidarity. When it is not backed up by any actual work for immigrant rights during the time spent in AZ, prior to it, or afterward, it is laughable.

Gaga followed up this makeshift meeting by writing “Stop SB 1070” on her arm in black ink. As you can see from the picture below, her sharpie-activism was barely visible between her tattoos. Worse, it was likely not visible to the majority of concert goers except when captured on one of the overhead monitors.

AP/unattributed

In my mind, anyone can scribble anything on their body and call it a revolution, but without actual social justice work to back it up what does it really mean to the people whose cause you have inked in so un-permanent and un-prominent a way?

She also spoke out at the concert itself. First she called herself “brave” for crossing a civil rights picket line:

Thank you so much for buying a ticket to see my show Arizona. I didn’t used to be brave, I wasn’t a brave person at all, but you have made me brave. And now I’m gonna be brave for you.

Who is she being brave for? The immigrants for whom she showed no interest prior to the concert or even during the initial stages of the petition asking her to care? The immigrants who she finally decided to talk to for 10 whole minutes after it looked like media might turn against her? Or the politicians and business owners in Arizona that support an Apartheid like state in which any brown person is suspect? After all it is these politicians and business people who have condemned the boycott, called it unfair and an act of violence against “good Americans”,  and said that they will rely on other people “who support besieged Arizonans” to bring needed dollars to the state.

Not content to just condemn SB 1070 outright as was needed and called for, Gaga also took time out to disparage the civil rights related boycott saying:

I got a phone call from a couple really big rock and rollers, big pop stars, big rappers, and they said, we’d like you to boycott Arizona, we’d like you to boycott playing Arizona because of SB1070. And I said, you really think that us dumb fucking pop stars are gonna collapse the economy of Arizona?

. . .

I will yell and I will scream louder and I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.

Like many people from the current generation, Gaga seems both ignorant of the effect of both past boycotts and the present one in Arizona to impact lawmakers’, law enforcers’, and every day people’s perceptions of civil rights.  The money lost in Arizona from people canceling concerts, conferences, and other events have had a huge impact on Arizona so far. Despite her mocking description of it as an attempt to “collapse the economy” the boycott has increased conversations about non-violent protest, solidarity, and the power of both individual people and state’s to impact civil right’s decisions that fly in the face of whatwe  claim N. America is about. That has been essential in every civil rights action in this nation that has not had the official support of the government through national level legislation. It has also shifted the policing tactics and the businesses practices of those impacted in favor of repeal or none enforcement. And finally, it has increased the number of prominent people in Arizona willing to speak out publicly against SB 1070. Their voices are essential precisely because when good people say nothing, oppression always wins.

Even if she does not know what the impact of boycotts has been in Arizona, which would of course speak again to her lack of concern about immigrant rights there, history is on the side of boycotts effectiveness for gaining civil rights. The bus boycotts were instrumental in ensuring people like me had the right to sit in the front of the bus, ride the bus when it was crowded, and even sit down in a seat of our choosing even if a white person wanted to sit there instead. The walkouts, which was a form of boycott, were essential in ensuring people like me also had access to education that reflected us and were able to teach at and attend universities. Isn’t interesting that Arizona’s recent targeting of immigrants has also included an attempt to reverse the latter while also enacting racial profiling through transit that would likely force people on to the bus where they are easier to round up and harass?

Despite the implication of the last quoted line from Gaga above, the majority of people involved in boycotts were engaged in peacable protest. The philosophy surrounding boycotts is non-violent. Most importantly, boycotts have been a cornerstone of non-violent protest against both government and corporate oppression in the U.S. since before it was an independent nation.

It was the police who were not peaceful.

Police turned on the hoses, brought the dogs and the rifles, and used them all against marginalized people in this nation asking simply for basic human and civil rights. The police shoved, punched, bruised and even broke bones of protesters as a matter of course. In some cases they killed them or were at least believed to have done so, since most were not held accountable for deaths in custody or shortly after it. What the police did not do, “besieged citizens” carried out themselves with limited impunity. This is the picture of violence related to boycotts not peaceful protesters in search of equality.

One of the most disconcerting things for me, as a historian, has been watching middle class white activists argue that boycotts are “wrong”, “unhelpful”, or “useless” in the face of their import to equality in this nation. These liberals, many of whom have some activist credibility, not only continue to support businesses and economies that have actively excluded, ignored, erased, or even targeted people of color, immigrants, women, queer people, differently-abled people, etc but also actively mocked those wh0 do participate. In boycotts involving feminists or people who the feminist community have called feminist despite contradicting self-identification, they have even gone up and expressed solidarity with the people who are being boycotted for excluding or targeting marginalized people. Somehow the very fact of their whiteness combined with even the most minimal activism, like sharpie-activism, negates an entire national history and reframes equality seekers as the violent and oppressive minority.

Frighteningly, Lady Gaga’s own actions and the desire to excuse her are only one reflection of this larger trend. Both feminist and mainstream liberal blogs, some written by Latin@s (see comment section for real issues), have proclaimed her solidarity with immigrants on the basis of a few choice words couched in a series of economic actions and even more telling longstanding social justice inactions that show how very little she actually cares about immigrant rights. In fact, before the end of her speech, she reframed the immigration debate into one of universal rights that does not even reference immigration:

Tonight I want you to free yourself, I want you to let go of all of your insecurities, I want you to reject any person or any thing or any law that have ever made you feel like you don’t belong.

I’ll tell you what we have to do about SB1070. We have to be active, we have to actively protest, and the nature of the monster ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice and the bullshit that is put on our society because you’re a superstar no matter who you are or where you come from, and you were born that way.

While I applaud those who understand that all oppressions are interconnected and that everyone suffers from them whether targeted or not, the tactic of taking a specific issue in which one’s actions are implicated and enlarging it into a general discussion of humanism is one that is often used by liberals and Republicans alike to mask their inaction or benefit from specific oppressions. When we talk about how everyone is oppressed and everyone can shine, we stop talking about how Lady Gaga spent two days vacationing in Arizona and 20 minutes talking to activists to cover it up and instead get to pat ourselves on the backs for supporting such a freeing artists who cares about everyone and everything.

Like the apology from Mel Gibson for his misogynist and antisemitic comments several years ago that had absolutely no reflection in his continued antisemitism, misogyny, and racism I find very little lasting credibility in Gaga’s inked arm and statement. I find even less in the activists willing to embrace her as a supporter of immigrant rights.

Let me close by saying that if we really live in a world where boycotts are seen as stupid and violent and scribbling something on your arm with a sharpie and saying “[insert oppression here] is bad” while doing nothing to change it is revolutionary, then we might as well pack it in. There is no social justice here.

—–

images

  • AP/unattributed
  • AP/unattributed
  • AZ Press/unattributed
  • Freedom Bus burned by anti-civil rights people only held accountable in the last 5 years
  • Birmingham Desegregation Campaign/Amistad Resources/unattributed
  • “The Power of Inaction”/J Dilworth

Prop 8 Battle Moves Toward Equality

all images for this post come from Adam Bouska‘s No H8 Campaign

As most readers here know, gay marriage is not big on my organizing schedule. While I agree whole-heartedly that consenting adults regardless of identity should have the right to marry, I believe that the amount of money, energy, and effort that has gone into gay marriage and the antagonisms it has created within the queer community speak to a middle class vanilla focus that does not reflect the image or the needs of many of the people I know. At the same time, I think it would be wrong to argue that any effort toward marriage equality should be stopped until we have addressed other pressing issues in the queer community.

For me, marriage equality is one of many reflections of the state sanctioned inequality for queer people. It must be overcome just as surely as the lack of available healthcare for transgender women, rural lesbians, and working class lesbians of color or legal protections for lesbians of color or gay immigrants attacked by homophobes or immigration reform that allows queer people the same legal rights as straight ones. Prop 8 in particular stands out as a critical place to continue organizing precisely because it represents the conflation of conservative religion(s), neo-conservative and supremacist immigrant groups, racial tensions, homophobia and/or heterosexism, and the willingness of a seemingly liberal state to capitulate to fear mongering.

Today, the Federal Court of California overturned the California Supreme Court’s Decision to uphold Prop 8. The lawsuit argued that

  1. Prop 8 violated the Equal Protections clause of the Constitution (which it so obviously does)
  2. Proposition 8 violates the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution as an impermissible restriction on the fundamental right of marriage

The first of these two arguments points to the basic issue of equality which is at the heart of the challenges to exclusionary practices in the U.S. toward queer people. Many have tried to get around the symbolic and public issues related to equality by offering legal equality with regards to marriage, ie the right to common property, health care benefits, visitation & decision during health crisis, etc. In so doing, they have hoped to avoid larger discussions of equality by circumventing them with legal rights. Many in the marriage equality movement have countered by pointing out that names and rituals matter. Commitment ceremonies may provide legal rights establishing certain legal equality but they do not afford socio-political equality because they are still separate and Other. The people who have made this challenge then are ensuring that the conflict stays centered on the issue of equality and marginality rather than on marriage as an event. This is particularly important for including people for whom marriage is not their main organizing strategy but also for staying focused on why the marriage debate is important to everyone: ie its import to both real and symbolic equality of queer people in the U.S.

The second issue, about Due Process, relates to the question of rights afforded all citizens of the United States. Marriage as a fundamental right establishes access to citizenship in both symbolic and legal ways. As I’ve said before, family reunification is one of the major ways that immigrants legally enter the U.S. and become citizens. Lack of access to legal marriage then constitutes potential lack of legal access to immigration. Symbolically, lack of access to marriage represents an unspoken condemnation of the sexual choices and relationships of the people who are denied. Often people in the marriage equality movement have compared this situation to the equally offensive ban on interracial marriage in the past. That law was based on eugenicist beliefs that black people were less human than white people and that intermarriage would lead to degeneration of the “white citizenry or race”. Unfortunately, many people pointing to these parallels have taken the issue one step further arguing that “black people would never be banned from marrying”, which ignores multiple recent cases in which interracial couples were refused access to local churches or city halls to get married or ongoing eugenicist thinking in this country in favor of pointing to the law which allows such marriages, and worse that “gay is the new black”, ie that racism is over and that homophobia is worse than racism. These arguments have polarized the discussion in many ways by intentionally or inadvertently centering the focus on the issue of marriage as an institution. For many straight and gay people looking at marriage through this lens, the issue of equality gets lost or at least bogged down in larger discussions about the meaning of marriage, its import across diverse lines, etc. Real issues of how marriage only provides health insurance or inheritance to those with money and jobs with benefits and how activist energy and money is going into the marriage issue instead of fighting for other equality issues that would provide job security and benefits to larger and more diverse groups making up the queer community abound.

At the same time, embedded in the issue of marriage as a fundamental right is the issue of the goals of the State/Nation. Is it the goal of the U.S. government to represent and provide equality for all of its people or is it the goal of the nation to define citizenship according to a distinct set of subjective principles? While we tend to think of the U.S. as a place that does the former, history clearly shows that it is actually engaged in the latter. If we go by the letter of the law, then the State must uphold the right of all consenting citizens to marry one another. To not go by the letter of the law then reveals the bias behind the institution of marriage and renders the bigotry behind dubious arguments about “sanctity” “family” “right/good” visible for everyone.

Today, the court chose to go with the law by declaring Prop 8 unconstitutional. Not only does that represent a win for Californians and marriage equality proponents but it also takes a step in the direction of recognizing the humanity of queer people. This step did not occur because marriage is back on the books as some might argue. Tentative acceptance of marriage in one state is not concrete acceptance of marriage equality there or in the nation as a whole. Rather, the win has to do with how the court made its decision. The court sided with gay marriage based on the testimony of two queer couples who talked about their love for each other, their relationship, commitment, and experiences of both bonded joy and discrimination. In other words, this case was won on the basis of the court’s recognition of the fundamental humanity and citizenry (ie symbolic right to be considered N. American) of same sex couples. The import of that cannot be underestimated.

As such, the HRC has asked that people in the queer community take time out to thank the brave couples involved in the lawsuit for opening up their lives to the court and risking endless shaming and blaming to turn the tide. You can send a pre-written thank you letter by clicking here.

I’ll end by saying this is not the end. Prop 8 supporters have vowed to take the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. As reported here during the Prop 8 debacle, Mormon’s have been using huge donor phone trees and even their own college BYU to amass massive funding dollars to fight marriage equality in California and across the nation. They are aided by communities across race and class lines but particularly conservative Eastern European immigrant communities that are changing the landscape of California and older communities that appear to have less exposure to information about alternative sexuality than other groups. These communities, as well as the many pockets of conservativism , fear, and hatred, everywhere, need more outreach, more non-top-down education and exposure, and more opportunities to be included rather than excluded or scapegoated for who they are rather than what they think. No one is going to be open minded in a discussion in which their basic identity is vilified not queer people excluded from basic rights nor communities taught to hate excluded on the basis of being X rather than thinking or supporting hate. Each of us can make a difference on this front even as we keep our energy focused on larger pushes for equality for everyone in the queer alphabet.

—–

last image co John Elton Creative Studios all others Steve Bouska

Netroots Nation and White Privilege

NN10

Right before Netroots Nation 10 began in Las Vegas, a blogging colleague mentioned she could no longer attend and put her tickets up on twitter. The cost of the tickets was more than cost of an undergraduate class at our local college (not including fees). It was also more than other similar conferences that include radical and left bloggers but do not have the same political and journalism participation as Netroots. The difference in the blogger attendance at these conferences is striking as others like AMC tend to have more female and people of color participation while Netroots has more white male formally credentialed (including members or wannabe members of government) participating. At the same time, many bloggers regardless of race or class have been attending Netroots precisely because it has become the legitimated space to network and make a name for oneself that the powers that be on the Left will take seriously. The level of attendance also means that it is a great opportunity for bloggers across the spectrum to meet up and think about what they do as political change; yet, those excluded on the basis of cost are almost always bloggers of color, especially women and currently parenting mothers, and therefore the cycle of legitimacy-illegitimacy on the basis of race, class, and gender continues.

NN09

I raised the issue of class at Netroots on twitter with those who were able to attend and found myself inundated with private chats not only about class inequality but also its connections to race inequality at the conference. People alerted me to the fact that several panels on race issues had no people of color on them. Still others, took a solidarity stance with issues of racism and immigration while failing to acknowledge the way the identities they represented overlapped, including queer, female, blogger, etc. Other panels interrogate the Left Media and the ideas that by nature of being liberal you have the right to call yourself progressive or radical or even a change agent if your staff, on air talent, and advertising continue to promote white middle class normativity. The latter panels were met with considerable resistant on and off stage from the very media they were critiquing and many of the people at Netroots who see the conference as an entry point into that media.

As I was taking in all of these reports and matching them against video of the event I had seen over the years, twitter lit up with discussion of Mock ICE. It seems some of my favorite people where engaging in an ICE stop of white Netroots attendees for being undocumented on Indigenous land in order to raise awareness about not only AZ’s new law but also the privilege involved in being able to walk around freely in this country.

For many people praising AZ’s new Papers Please Law, the defense has been based on the idea that carrying and showing papers is not a big deal. They have argued that the law to have ID has always been on the books AZ is just enforcing it, and so documented immigrants should have no fear because they should have been carrying their information all along. Besides the many ways the law can be used to stop and harass anyone brown, that have already been discussed on this blog, the assumption that no real harm comes from carrying and showing your ID in the course of your day is based on the privilege to ignore stigma, spectacle, humiliation, and even time.

As one person stopped at the checkpoint said, “I was just going to get some lunch and they stopped me.” Imagine for a minute that you had to go to an important business meeting and you got stopped by ICE for no other reason than “looking like an undocumented person” and all of the people you were going to meet for the first time passed you on the street being shaken down by the police. Do you think you would be able to make that business deal? Do you think you would have a job to go back to? What if you were going to a lunch with friends and all of the restaurant patrons could see you being shaken down by the police from the big windows in the front of the restaurant? Do you think the restaurant would let you in and seat you? Or that you could eat in peace afterward?

When faced with having to stop and show paperwork, many of the Netroots attendees happily complied with the checkpoint. Some did so because they have the privilege of respecting policing authority and assuming it is in their best interest and others understood or came to understand the awareness action of which they were ultimately a part. Others, especially white male participants with actual journalism or government credentials felt differently (scroll to 59 seconds to avoid video of them setting up):

Not only did they refuse to participate, but as you can see from the video above, some even threatened to call the police. Failing to recognize the irony of the situation he was in, one white male participant not only said he would call the police but added that they would then ask for ID, twisting the word “you” at his would be Latino Mock ICE agent in ways that clearly implied “you look like an ‘illegal alien’ and I hope you get dragged in.”

Why so much vehemence at such a “progressive” conference?

I find myself going back to the issue of cost and credentialing. Netroots Nation is cost prohibitive. That means that many radical and progressive activists, particularly women and people of color, cannot attend. This year was likely more multicultural just based on its location in Las Vegas but other years it has not only included a huge attendees fee, and travel fees if you are not local, but also been in cities that are predominantly white and upper class making travel costs even higher for people outside that demographic. At the same time, the Democratic Party and established media have given more and more credence to the event and the people who attend it, including packing some panels with paid bloggers. No similar attention has been given to other conferences and subsequently to the bloggers who have made a name for themselves there. The divides represent a reproduction of pre-existing inequity in the media, the Left, and political power in this country. Beginning with class constraints that transform into racial and gender ones, ie the intersection of the three, this conference that was envisioned as progressive space, and no doubt included many progressive ideas and work, continues the fundamental flaws that plague most mainstream social change in the U.S. In other words, despite claiming progressive ideas, on many levels Netroots represents an idea that started with unquestioned class assumptions which manifest along gender and race lines. These assumptions reproduce inequality on the basis of legitimacy afforded attendees who are overwhelmingly middle class, white, and male over those who cannot attend or due to the constraints on attendance appear to be in the minority.

It seems to me that we, people on the Left, have been doing the same thing for too long while expecting and even congratulating ourselves on things being different. We make minor steps forward in the representation of a handful of women (usually also white) or people of color (usually men) and that is supposed to make up for the fact that mostly things stay exactly the same on both sides of the political divide. Fanon published in the 1950s and 60s. Wollstonecraft in 1792. And yet here we are, claiming social justice when our basic premises remain the same. Take a look at that second video again and then ask yourself what unacknowledged investments you have made and whether or not you have masked them with the words “radical” “progressive” or “liberal.” Just because you recycle doesn’t mean that you have not envisioned a world in which brown people take out the bins.

Race Issues Are Queer Issues

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

Richard Settle/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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images of Gaga, Elton & Eminem unattributed

Mexican Universities Cancel Exchange Program w/ Arizona Schools

The following schools have ended student exchange programs with Arizona:

  • Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí
  • National Autonomous University of Mexico

Like so many unexpected consequences of the racially biased laws being passed in Arizona, Arizona’s policing of brown bodies and educational programs related to Latin@ culture has mean an extreme loss to students stranded in the state. Not only does this mean that students from Mexico will not be exposed to the unique culture and learning opportunities in the state but students from Arizona will not be able to learn from Mexican colleges and universities either. The losses to educational opportunities for people growing up in or attending higher education in AZ just keep stacking up.

This decision also increases the number of international institutions condemning Arizona’s new discriminatory laws, the most high profile of which, of course, being the United Nations itself. The government of Honduras weighed in against Arizona at the end of April, as did the London Office of Amnesty International.

The state government of AZ’s response: spend $250,000 on a”Truth Telling Taskforce” to rebrand Arizona and counter all the “lies” about racism embedded in their laws. Those “lies” include the idea that

  1. SB 1070 is tantamount to racial profiling – because, apparently “looking like an immigrant” is a race neutral form of policing
  2. SB 2281 is white washing history – because claiming programs and courses about people of color’s histories are divisive, anti-American, and in some cases anti-government and subsequently privileging [Euro-American] history is race neutral education

The propaganda machine Truth-Telling Taskforce has already started it’s re-programming truth mission by sending people who voted for or supported these bills out to leave comments on blogs, newspaper websites, and do interviews with major sports channels. Why sports channels? Because among the many unintended losses the state is now experiencing, the Arizona Diamondbacks are reporting that their games are turning into political rallies and their is an action going on to move Major League Baseball’s All Star game out of Arizona.