While I was “Away”

And that my friends is only the tip of the iceberg!

Hopefully we will be back to blogging for real next week. 🙂

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.

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last image co John Elton Creative Studios all others Steve Bouska

Netroots Nation and White Privilege

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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.

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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.