Friday, October 29, 2010
The abortion issue is never as much about abortion as it is about being with someone through an important moment in their lives, versus opposing them by force. If abortion is only about abortion, then a woman is nothing more than contested terrain. The difference in approach is stark, with the result being that few women are likely persuaded by those who only attack and harass them.
Solidarity with women does not prescribe any particular politics or belief system other than support for women's independent choices. Because women's independent choices are often less valued than particular politics or belief systems, we must be prepared to extend solidarity in the face of what are often popular or mainstream preferences, not only easily identifiable authoritarian groups.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
originally posted here. could have some lessons to learn from.
Effective Support and Counter Tactics of the Pro-Choice Movement in Pittsburgh
One of the first things that seemed to cause issue was the dismissal by some of concerns raised by women, clinic workers/volunteers, and other vagina-bearers on the issue. There were problems with manarchy, stubbornness, and other things on the part of both participators and organizers. Perhaps most importantly, there was disagreement on where to place the majority of the actions' focus - countering the antis or supporting the patients - as if the two were mutually exclusive (which we believe are not).
To give a quick overview for those who have not experienced the varied tactics of the "pro-life" movement, the scene is one that can make even the calmest of people's blood boil. Keep in mind that patients in Pittsburgh often come from other states without clinics, are sometimes survivors of sexual assault, and may be experiencing increased levels of emotion and stress. We've seen patients yell and cry as a result of persistent harassment by antis.
At the clinic we've been at the past few weeks, the antis are broken into groups which carry out different tasks. Prayers and singers often crowd sidewalks, blocking the paths of patients and other people passing by. The police do nothing to change this (despite their willingness to tell an anti-authoritarian action to move at the drop of a hat). There is also a group that call themselves "sidewalk counselors" though we feel that more accurate terms to describe them include harassers, vultures, assailants, etc. The "counselors" rush patients as they walk towards the clinic, shoving pamphlets and images of aborted fetuses in their faces. Not only are patients stalked as they arrive, but even when temporarily leaving the clinic to grab a snack at a convenience store - yes, they were actually followed inside - and as they're walking back to their cars. Clinic workers are also periodically followed to their cars and bus stops. It's also worth noting that the harassers are often men (who will never know what it's like to be pregnant). Additionally within the group, there are a few individuals that put themselves up as "leaders" of the various activities. These people are usually priests or other men. They often have video cameras and will videotape women walking into clinics or will ask them to get into cars with them. At another clinic, we experienced the worst of the antis - the vocal harassers - who aim to intimidate and insult both patients and pro-choicers as well as clinic workers and volunteers. They yell things like "Women come out of there in body bags!" and give excuses such as "Pregnancy because of rape is God's way of letting you know your purpose". Many men and other antis will put themselves uncomfortably close to pro-choice people in order to try to intimidate them. So far, they've failed to do so with us.
In our first attempts at countering the anti's, many pro-choicers reacted by getting into verbal confrontations with them. We often positioned ourselves amongst and within close proximity to them, causing a more confusing and sometimes hostile environment for the patients we wanted to support. Some pro-choice passersby even yelled at us, assuming we were with the antis because of the conflicted jumble of people. Some of the pro-choicers attended the event masked and with signs targeting religion, which was viewed by others as creating an intimidating, scary environment for the patients. As a result, disagreements as to where individuals were placing their priorities and goals for the protest reached their peak and some people decided to step away from the organizing. Some groups divided from others until each group of people found their niche. Ours was on Saturday mornings from 7:30 a.m. to around 11:00 a.m.
The remaining organizers decided to approach the planning of future counter-protests in a way that we felt kept patients safety and comfort at the forefront. Future attempts attracted the attention of clinic escorts and security guards, some of whom were opposed to us showing up at clinics for the aforementioned reasons while others felt that a pro-choice presence at clinics was desperately needed. Despite our sometimes differing opinions, we all listened and communicated, allowing us to hear their concerns and implemented a majority of them. The next Saturday to come would end up being very rewarding as a result.
We made positive signs that focused strictly on a pro-women, pro-choice, and a light-hearted anti-antis stance including "Abortion is OK!", "I trust a woman's choice," "We support your choices," "Keep your rosaries off our ovaries," "Ignore the preyers," and others. We assembled across the street from the clinic which gave us a significant separation from the antis, making an obvious distinction between us and them. Despite our love of masked actions, we requested that people come to our event unmasked in order to create an environment that was as unintimidating for patients as possible. We decided to be as non-confrontational as we could with the antis, especially when patients were entering the clinic. This was perhaps the most difficult part of the action. Misogynistic men said harassing and abusive things to us and we struggled to keep our cool - though we did much of the time. We danced, laughed, smiled, and enjoyed our comrades standing with us in the damaging environment we found ourselves in. And, it worked.
The antis were frustrated by our presence and that we took over some of their usual praying grounds. While there were now more antis on the sidewalk next to the clinic entrance, we still saw the space takeover victorious as the only thing patients could see was us and our positive signs through the clinic windows. We were approached by several staff members who were excited about our presence and positivity. Escorts, including our detractors, came over to thank us and some told us they changed their minds about us being there (in our favor). Most importantly to us, patients expressed to clinic workers the comfort they felt knowing they had supporters on the outside during this often difficult time. We finally figured it out. But, as always, things evolve and change and we had to as well.
The antis attempted to step up their game on a recent Saturday. Little did they know, they played right into our hands. They showed up an hour late and moved all of their people en masse to our side of the street. They now shifted a majority of their focus on trying to minimize our impact which left only a few harassers on the sidewalk next to the clinic entrance. They brought a large religious banner and began praying loudly. It was about 100 of them to 5 of us. But, we acted quickly. We immediately moved our banner and signs to be directly in front of theirs. They tried desperately to stand on their tip-toes and stretch their arms up high but our messages still covered theirs. While our initial attempts resulted in many of us being mistaken as antis, people driving were now mistaking antis for pro-choicers!
Antis were now in close proximity which allowed us to counter them both verbally and visually with minimal impact on patients entering the clinic. Each time they pushed their banner towards us, we pushed it back, until they had little space to hold it. The "pro-choice" and "friendly" cop who often seemed to be an ally at the clinic allowed herself to be duped by one of the harassers (we refer to him as K-Fed, if you saw him you'd know why). She tried to ask us to move and so forth but we worked it out so we did not. She did not ask the 100 praying antis behind us to move, even though they blocked the entire sidewalk. We held our ground, sang "row your boat" over top of the sing songing of the antis, and finally got the chance to verbally and physically fight back a little. While unfortunately the antis could now be seen from the clinic windows, our messages of love and support still dominated. We laughed and sang over their prayers and harassment. We got to tell them how we felt for once without creating a scene of conflict for patients. We thanked the antis for failing miserably and expressed desires for them to continue to do so. We know they will.
There are a lot of actions in which the reward is not immediate. We have to hope that we're creating change and that we or at least others down the line will get to see results someday. When fighting an oppression it's important to keep in mind that one victorious demonstration does not negate the need for further actions, opposition, and solidarity. However, we've agreed that that pro-choice clinic actions are by far one of the most rewarding events that we've ever participated in. We've been extremely pleased with the effectiveness in supporting patients, volunteers, and clinic workers and the feedback received - despite the lack of sleep, harassment, and misogynistic comments from military men driving by. While it’ s unfortunate that our numbers have dwindled as a result of disagreements on tactics, we believe that the pro-patient focus has been vital to our success.
Our struggle for liberation is an ongoing one, with two assailants (of many) being Patriarchy and State Repression. Being that these are both multifaceted institutions within our society, it's sometimes difficult to pin down a physical, cognizant manifestation of these ideologies that we can directly confront and attack. People who hold the misogynistic belief that they should control the reproductive rights of women are an excellent example of both of these oppressions at work. They are right out in the open to be targeted and countered at your neighborhood clinic. There are patients there every day who are being actively attacked and oppressed, who need our support and solidarity. We hope this essay will help more people share in the joy that is a pro- female, pro-reproductive freedom, anti-hierarchy, and pro-support and choice environment.
The Pittsburgh Pro-Choice Welcoming Committee
We do well to recognize this as a likely scenario in which patriarchy will impact our lives. It implies that standing up for someone who deserves it is very often a decision that carries a real social cost, and will not be universally praised or rewarded amongst those who are otherwise like-minded.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
And how about that Christine O'Donnell? She sounds like she might benefit by sticking to subjects that impact her, not other people, directly. Anytime you're going to take a position counter to that held by most of the people it affects -- like, "AIDS funding is misused" -- you'd better have a pretty good argument if you hope to be persuasive. Otherwise you look somewhat like an authoritarian -- aka not a nice person.
Personally, I think it's useful to distinguish between someone who holds authoritarian (or otherwise objectionable) views and the kind of power infrastructure which makes their imposition possible. As a culture I worry that we spend more time hating one another for a difference in views than we do in challenging the infrastructure which can put violence behind them. Without violence, people can think whatever they want. But when the infrastructure is assumed, what people think takes on heightened importance. This explains the quality of political discourse enjoyed by US inhabitants today.
Whenever our views, on some level, are being imposed, we may not notice because that seems "normal" to us. This is an important way in which people within a particular category of power are set against one another; as when working class men are blind to what working class women experience as patriarchy.
Monday, October 25, 2010
First, before I get into the meat of it, I have to thank Brother Boyd for most of the "heavy lifting" when it comes to this blog. As a collaborative project, I don't think I've really been holding my end of the collaborative process. We owe him a big debt of graduate.
Now, own with the post...
Although I am Canadian, I have been following the twists and turns of the recent elections, especially the "extremist" GOP candidates who have been nominated, chief among them is Christine O'Donnell.
I think that J.R. is 100% right when he says that defending people who are victimized deserve support, for whatever reason. This should be a principle for action for all progressive people in struggle for a more just world. That being said, it's important that in defending peoples against oppression, that does not mean support for that person. Our defence needs to be as critical as it is resolute.
In Christine O'Donnells case, we have to fight against the people who think that she is unfit to be political because she is a women, at the same time, we must attack her for her positions that actively dis-empower women, LBGT* peoples, working people and immigrants.
In 1997, O'Donnell took to C-SPAN to complain that the government was spending too much money combating AIDS. She voiced concerns that a drag queen ball "celebrates the type of lifestyle which leads to the disease." She also objected to calling those with AIDS "victims" and said the disease was a consequence of a certain "lifestyle." She opposes abortion rights, even in the event of rape, incest or the health of the mother. She wants troops on the nation's northern and southern borders, walls and no amnesty for illegal workers.
O'Donnell and Palin like to portray themselves as "feminists". The problem is that they are women who are directly opposed to women's rights and the steps forward women have made the last 100 years. Their brand of feminism is one that women play a very specific role in society counter to the wider goals of mainstream feminism and completely alien to the radical, revolutionary syndicalist feminism we hope to help develop.
So yes, feminists should defend Christine O'Donnell, and at the same time attack her for sexism, homophobia and hate.
[H]ave the attacks on O'Donnell been "sexist and misogynistic"? Sure, they have been glib and mocking — par for the course when there's so much video evidence of her insouciant wingnuttery. And they have involved sex, but only because that was O'Donnell's topic of choice until she discovered a vague and sudden passion for tax cuts.
It's fair to say that within a patriarchal society, any woman that is being scrutinized and attacked by mainstream opinion is going to encounter the same kind of hostility that women with much lower profiles experience all the time, solely on the basis that they are women.
Because a solidarity with women finds its roots in the recognition that patriarchy works actively to harm and subjugate women, feminists should work actively in anticipating that this will be as much the case with specific, well-known women as we already understand it to be the case with every woman -- if not more.
Defending someone on the basis that they are a victim of patriarchy is no different than advocating for someone on the basis that they are working class: it is a position that is maintained on specific grounds; namely, that people who are being victimized, for whatever reason, deserve support.
For example, there are plenty of working class people who are racist, misogynistic, or homophobic who at the same time are victims of globalized capital (and by "working class" I do not merely mean "blue collar"; I mean all workers). Wobblies understand that all workers deserve solidarity in their struggle against employers and other bosses. They should also know that the best way to confront racism, sexism, and homophobia (among other violences) is by organizing along these lines: to extend solidarity to the victimized, and to confront the victimizers in all relations.
Practicing solidarity with women is no different. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin deserve to be confronted for the various ways they advance authority by illegitimate means. But they have also been attacked by illegitimate means, on the grounds that they are women. And while I haven't followed the O'Donnell case closely, unless we convince ourselves that mainstream liberal culture is not patriarchal, we can expect that the same anti-woman sentiments will find their expression in the course of a heated Senate campaign.
The point is not that Clinton or Palin or O'Donnell deserve special attention in this regard, but that nobody ever deserves to be attacked on the basis of any illegitimate criteria. Wobblies know very well: An injury to one is an injury to all.
Friday, October 22, 2010
For the last few years, writing "working class propaganda" has been my primary activity -- not organizing or administrating or even collaborating with anyone very much on anything. So it's very likely that any Wobbly has more experience to draw on in these areas than I do, even if you manage to attend branch meetings regularly or semi-regularly, which I haven't.
So while part of my confidence in writing in this area comes from reading and thinking a lot about these issues, part of it also comes from the fact that writing is literally where all of my energy has gone in the past few years; it is something I just force myself to do on subjects that are important to me.
For me, this can lead to a lot of theoretical declarations which hopefully have their place, but shouldn't set the tone for this blog overall. People should really post anything and everything they want around the subject of women, women's struggles and men's relationship to the two.
I work part-time and write part-time while plenty of other people work full-time and organize (or raise kids, run their branch, etc.) full-time; and because my contributions to femenins come with relative ease and a commitment to try to write between two blogs everyday, the likelihood is that there will be a lot of me, for better or worse. But it's not my blog: I can only contribute a perspective based on my own experiences, in many ways limited. We need experienced organizers and other active Wobbly men to draw our attention to everything else, and to begin to sustain a dialogue.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The best feminism comes out of an affection for the women in our lives. Once we orient ourselves toward our sisters and moms and friends and colleagues, we are not far from discerning the obstacle all women confront in the form known as patriarchy.
If patriarchy subjugates all women as a class, then it can only be challenged by advocating for all women as a class. This is the step we must take as men: to regard all women with the same concern we are taught to reserve for certain women.
Feminism is important for men because it teaches us to listen to women who have thought deeply about their own struggles, but also to provide encouragement to women who haven't. The influence men exert in many women's lives is constant, but the content of such influence is variable. If men aren't active in their fight against patriarchy, their influence does little to assist women who might be active in theirs.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
[T]he men I spoke with agreed that women are too sensitive, though most of them were reluctant to talk on the record. I promised anonymity, though, and they piped up:
"Apologize? What language is that?"
"Women care too much."
"One of the first requirements of getting into relationships with women is to rehearse saying 'I'm sorry' as many times as possible."
"If a husband speaks in the forest and no one hears him, is he still wrong?"
I pressed on, and asked men to explain exactly why they apologize -- when they do:
"To move on."
"To end the drama." (Hmm. This from a man who's apologized recently to me.)
"To be honest, men never -- well, almost never -- have any idea what we are apologizing for," says Mark Stevens, 63, chief executive of MSCO, a Rye Brook, N.Y., marketing consulting firm.
Mr. Stevens says during his 35-year marriage he has sincerely apologized to his wife, Carol, just five times -- but has said he's sorry an additional 3,500 times. He calls these mea culpas "fraudulent apologies."
These men argue that women are "too sensitive" -- yet they lack the courage to say this openly. If they think there is merit to this idea that the lion's share of the interpersonal conflict in their life stems from this source, why not make the case? The fact that they maintain one face toward their partner and another under conditions of anonymity suggests that they are afraid to be themselves.
I think one of the effects of patriarchy, the authority of men imposed on women, is to deny both men and women the opportunity to be whole persons. This is plainly evident in how our society chooses to see women -- as fragments of who they in fact are. But men also experience fragmentation in their own way, by surrendering who they could become: people who aren't afraid to be themselves in any context.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Halloween approaches and we see via Womanist Musings some prime examples of commercial patriarchy at work.
Far be it from me to say there is no place in the world for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of whatever stripe you like. But what we communicate by pursuing the same theme into every corner of human relations is unambiguous: we value some things about women and not others.
Now, as men, we should reflect on the scale at which this transpires every day. Certain things are communicated to the women in our lives with perfect clarity. Other things probably aren't communicated at all, except at the individual level, between persons. So we are talking about mass manufacturing vs. what may or may not happen within romantic or familial relations, between friends, etc.
Industrial production always has an advantage over what people can produce at an individual level; the production of culture is no different. Wobblies already understand that the solution to the industrial problem is organization. Accordingly, revolutionary unionist men must organize around the principles they want to communicate to women within their organization, their communities, and their lives; as well as to society at large.
What we are up against is plain to see! Join us in making our principles known. An injury to one is an injury to all!
Saturday, October 16, 2010
bell hooks, The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love:
Unlike happiness, joy is a lasting state that can be sustained even when everything is not the way we want it to be.
If we look at the world long enough, we may find that everything is not the way we want it to be. As a result, many of us don't look.
If we look in a comprehensive way, what can be seen is deeply troubling. Many of us arrive at the point of seeing particular problems with clarity, only to be left with the task of communicating their relevance to others.
At this point most of us experience real frustration. This can play itself out as anger, at the world and at each other; but because anger is a difficult emotion to sustain, it often leads to apathy: it becomes too painful to try, and we withdraw from our attempts to do so.
Anger is often justified, but because it can't be sustained, it can't form the basis for moving past frustration into fulfillment -- a fulfillment that is honest about what is wrong in the world, and the work that must be undertaken in response.
bell hooks points to something that must be cultivated in spite of what we very well know to be true about the world. This is what we must be prepared to offer others, if we ever want them to fall in love with our work despite its inherent difficulty.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
If we aren't in love with what we do, we can't expect anybody else to fall in love either. This is why there is so much cynicism within employer organizations. If the work we undertake in response feels half as lifeless, we'll never sustain a membership, and we'll certainly never take it to the next level; people will float in and then drift away. We compete against a consumer-driven culture that demands a lot less and entertains a lot more. For many Americans, "doing nothing" is exactly what we'd prefer after a long day at work.
Our best hope is to build organizations so stunningly beautiful that people want to be a part of them, because there is no alternative. There is no alternative to being part of the struggle to affirm human preferences at their core. "Doing nothing" resolves nothing, even if it feels good. We have to demonstrate that this true, and offer an appealing alternative.
Women contribute to the beauty of our organizations, especially when they are welcomed and supported in becoming themselves. This is the alternative we have to pose to the world, which has yet to get on board. If women look at our organizations and see nothing appealing about them, we lose. So there is a necessity for men to pay close attention to what they are communicating to women, and to work towards the kind of organization that women can identify as their own.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
If we acknowledge what is beautiful about women, then we want them with us; we don't want this phony separation which robs us of their companionship. Corporate patriarchy sets up a very narrow idea of what "beauty" is, a fixed principle that best complements exchange -- beauty as commodity. Commodities are taken for granted; we pick and choose among them; and when what women bring to us is reduced to something we can "take or leave" according to the context, we have become alienated from our natural allies.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
I've been doing a little reading about the historical anarchist feminist womans group The Mujeres Libres (Free Women) of Spain, in the hopes of writing something larger about the cross sections of womens autonomous organizing, feminism and revolutionary unionism. In doing so, I found this really great blog post on Property is Theft! about women and class struggle. The following is something that I thought was really important:
But one thing that is needed is a realisation, perhaps even acceptance. Of the fact that equality is only a given in a genuinely free society. Before that, and even within the structures of those groups struggling for that society, it needs to be fought for. Without compromise.I think that in the IWW we've come to assume that because we are a revolutionary industrial union organization, that because our constitution says "IWW therefore actively opposes bigotry and discrimination on and off the job", that our organizing will be "feminist" and "progressive". It's become routine, banal.
Sadly, that's simply not the case, and by assuming that we have "equality" is a factor that adds to patriarchal inequality. One of the tasks of a group of revolutionary Syndicalist Feminist men is to recognize that even in our own supposedly revolutionary union that the society we live in, this patriarchal capitalist society, effects the power relations.
The Question for us then is what is the best way to fight for equaitly, the best way for men to "actively opposes bigotry and discrimination on and off the job" as well inside our union. Personally, it's something I'm still struggling to figure out, but I'm glad that I have righteous rebel men and woman by my side to walk with me down the path.
In the former, men with money dictate the terms by which women are seen; in the latter, men of virtue do the same. Women's bodies are commodified and censored, respectively; they are perpetually exposed in one case, and made to vanish in the other. That which suits the man of means thus suits society.
The script that patriarchy has authored for men and women in the advanced capitalist societies was no doubt inspired by the needs of lonely men with lots of money. Like wealthy window shoppers, they want to see the commodity and then possess it by the one means at their disposal: money. So women are commodified in their sexualized form, and this is reproduced everywhere. It is very hard to navigate, let alone escape, for many men; this in turn impacts the genuine intimacy men can experience in their overall relations with women.
For more on this subject, see ladypoverty.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
This blog began out of the expressed concerns of women, specific concerns that could be directly addressed, but only insofar as we acknowledge them in the first place.
The unequal relations between men and women has inspired a tendency where men forget it is happening, and women are hesitant to remind them. In consequence, what women have to share can too frequently go unsaid. Frank honesty between partners must be among the first casualties of patriarchy.
As is often the case, what women tolerate reaches a limit; but what they reveal to us, momentarily as equals, can only be sustained by remembering as men. Does that make sense? Some weeks ago women made it very clear what they asked of us: talk about your experiences, talk about this organization, talk about your fight to be equals with women.
It's not easy, and that is a large part of the point. If it's not easy, you are doing something right! But just as we do very well to listen to women, we do equally well to remember what we always want to be communicating in return.
Friday, October 1, 2010
"[W]e have to admit that SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] was extraordinary precisely because of those brilliant men. Many of us were seduced by their great minds and ambitious visions. And yet that very same talent was what intimidated us." A brief period of silence followed. "We are angry at ourselves," one former SDSer said quietly. "How could those men be so smart and still so sexist?" wondered another woman, half-laughing and half-crying.
Men can be "so smart" and still so sexist because we can see very clearly that authority which is imposed on us without seeing that authority which, through us, is imposed on others. It often follows that our noble intentions will be pointed in one direction and not the other.
I recognize this in myself: I can see what the boss does to me very well, and I will read every volume of Capital in pursuit of an understanding as to why this is so. I fall into every stereotype of what you would expect from a straight white dude middle class anarchist: I can talk to other men of that type at length before I realize that my partner and everyone else in the room are having a separate conversation elsewhere.
One of the reasons why I like the above quote is because in spite of how SDS men behaved, women never questioned the legitimacy of their concerns. And this is a very consistent theme among women within activist circles -- that raising their own concerns isn't designed to exclude anybody else's: it's the only way to include their own. But as men I think we have a hard time hearing criticism from others if we haven't already done the work of self-criticism ourselves.