Archive for the 'Social Activism' Category

June 10th 2010



The grey long-haired cat from next door runs for the tunnel he’s created in the thin leaves of the deer grass in the front yard. I have startled him–nothing else is moving in this heat. I would follow him if I could.

Summer has arrived at last. I could stand perfectly still and sweat. Today, though, I am moving boxes from the garage to storage and I am soaked with myself. If I give it an hour or so, think only of the shower I will take afterward, I can do this chore. This is how summer passes: I negotiate with my body, promise it future reward for present discomfort. As long as I’ve lived in the Central Valley heat, I’ve done thus. My body is quick to forgive–it lives in the moment. But I remember, and I’m ashamed to mistreat it so.

I worked 13 years for an ice company. Summer was measured from Memorial Day to Labor Day and every day between was a Wednesday–there seemed to be no end to demand. I would step into the freezer and steam would coalesce around me. Later, when I stumbled upon the works of Andres Montoya, his iceworker persona resonated with me. It was the way the iceworker spoke up for those who don’t speak, who aren’t allowed official speech. Montoya’s iceworker was a champion; my experience was the opposite: long demeaning hours away from family, corporate disregard for employees, the Rockwell image of the iceman and cart, children running behind for ice chips, hiding the predatory nature of business. One summer, on a Sunday, there was a massive blackout in California. I was at my then girlfriend’s apartment with my kids when I was called in to work. I was told we were helping people keep food fresh and survive the heat, but we were getting top dollar for every bag sold. Meanwhile, I lost time with my family. When they fired me several years later, none of those sacrifices mattered.

My body has long forgotten those iniquities. My whole life has moved on–I have a career so different now that I wonder how it happened. I used to think I would leave the Central Valley and never return. Many of my friends did so, but I didn’t. I married, raised kids, went back to school; now I have a new career and friends here. I like that I empower people in my job, instead of contributing to their continued servitude. I like that I’m valued for my intellect and critical thinking skills instead of punished for them. My new job is like a grass tunnel–a retreat from the capitalist blast furnace. I no longer have to negotiate with my body to get up for work.

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March 7th 2009

Breasts Not Bombs

Breasts Not Bombs

They just don’t have protests here like they have in other countries.

About 100 women disrobed Friday in a square in downtown Asuncion to protest nuclear weapons.

Demonstrator Carola Gonzalez said the Humanist Party activists decided to strip for their cause since “the public and the news media pay so much attention to breasts and bottoms.”

read the article at the San Francisco Chronicle

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November 14th 2008

Keith Olbermann on Proposition 8

[from A Million Monkeys Typing]

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October 6th 2008

The Complexity of Suffrage–Obama and My Vote

The Complexity of Suffrage--Obama and My Vote

One of my greatest heroes from the past is Emma Goldman, whose life story so enthralled me in high school that I collected her every biography and pored through used book stores for tracts she authored.  Most of my political philosophy was shaped first by her words, then by other voices from the labor movement of the early 1900s and marxist or leftist writings from the 1950s.

Ms Goldman, feminist and activist that she was, was squarely against the notion of women’s suffrage–so much so that she denotes an entire tract to the subject (published in 1917 in Anarchism and Other Essays).  Her argument, in “Woman Suffrage,” is not complex:  she essentially targeted the methods used by upper-middle class and rich (white) women to try to gain the right to vote as well as (in her view) the inability of the vote to effect real change for women’s rights.  As allied as the suffrage movement was to freedom for blacks, it still was an elite movement, run by women who had time and could afford to.  It did not matter to Goldman whether that path to suffrage was necessary (who else was going to fight for it?)–it only mattered that in the process, women turned their backs on other women, that working women were disenfranchised or worse.

In the concluding paragraph of “Woman Suffrage,” she writes

She can give suffrage or the ballot no new quality, nor can she receive anything from it that will enhance her own quality.  Her development, her freedom, her independence, must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity.  Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them; by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.; by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer.  That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities, by freeing herself from the fear of public opinion and public condemnation.  Only that, and not the ballot, will set woman free, will make her a force hitherto unknown in the world, a force for real love, for peace, for harmony; a force of divine fire, of life giving; a creator of free men and women.

Her reasoning seems, to me, quite rational and I struggled for years each election with whether I should vote or not, wondering how, in the broken system Emma described–which is all the more entrenched today, perhaps–any vote could contribute to real change.

I have voted, every time.  I vote my conscience, so of late I’ve voted Green mostly; when I was younger I was a Democrat, which didn’t stop me from voting Independent for John Anderson in ’80.  But I am disenchanted.  What does voting Green mean, after all?  Have I wasted those votes?  Many argue that Ralph Nader’s presence in recent elections has “stolen” votes from Democrats–but I wonder if his presence isn’t necessary:  he speaks of the “tyranny” of the two-party system and I hear Goldman’s words floating in the air.  The problems of our country are not Republican, nor Democrat, they seem to me to be systemic.  Voting won’t reform the system–or at least, I can say with certainty, it has not reformed the system to date.

And now, a historic election.  My colleague at Brave Gnu Whirled linked to the New Yorker endorsement of Barack Obama and it is indeed an extraordinarily well-reasoned, well-written piece.  It moved me the way Obama speeches themselves move me.  The rhetoric is beautiful and inspired.

But change?  Forgive me, but I do not think there will be real change in America.  I believe our lives will be improved under the administration Obama envisions–things can hardly get worse (the New Yorker calls George Bush’s Presidency “the worst since Reconstruction”).  But the Religious Right is not going to go away, Rush Limbaugh will not disappear, conservatives will still hold seats in Congress…  The business of politics is not significantly going to change.

And so, what does suffrage do for us?  I want to hope it is more than just a national catharsis.  Is it?

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October 5th 2008

Speaking of Politics…

Speaking of Politics...

These days, as in every election season, I am reminded of this poem by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton:  Exquisite Politics

The perfect voter has a smile but no eyes,
maybe not even a nose or hair on his or her toes,
maybe not even a single sperm cell, ovum, little paramecium.
Politics is a slug copulating in a Poughkeepsie garden.
Politics is a grain of rice stuck in the mouth
of a king. I voted for a clump of cells,
anything to believe in, true as rain, sure as red wheat.
I carried my ballots around like smokes, pondered big questions,
resources and need, stars and planets, prehistoric
languages. I sat on Alice’s mushroom in Central Park,
smoked longingly in the direction of the mayor’s mansion.
Someday I won’t politic anymore, my big heart will stop
loving America and I’ll leave her as easy as a marriage,
splitting our assets, hoping to get the advantage
before the other side yells: Wow! America,
Vespucci’s first name and home of free and brave, Te amo.

And if you like that, check out Exquisite Candidate

(image source)

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September 28th 2008

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week

Help me celebrate Banned Books Week!  The following is from the American Library Association web page devoted to frequently challenged books.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom received a total of 420 challenges last year. A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.  According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2007” reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
    Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
  2. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence
  3. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language
  4. The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
    Reasons:  Religious Viewpoint
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    Reasons:  Racism
  6. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
    Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,
  7. TTYL, by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
    Reasons:  Sexually Explicit
  9. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
    Reasons:  Sex Education, Sexually Explicit
  10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons:  Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Off the list this year, are two books by author Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye and Beloved, both challenged for sexual content and offensive language.

The site has many other links of interest, including three that caught my eye: Top Ten Challenged Authors 1990 — 2004; Most Challenged Books of the Twentieth Century; and Graphs of Challenges by Initiator, Institution, Type and Year.  For an alphabetized list, with links, visit the American Bookseller’s Foundation for Free Expression Online Handbook.

What to do?  Start by downloading the free ALA brochure on the Most Challenged Books of 2007-08.  You can also buy stuff at the ALA Store.

More importantly, buy one of these books, if you don’t have it already, and read it–think what you would miss without its ideas in the world.  If you have the book already, read it to someone close to you.  Check it out from the library and declaim it loudly in the quad.  Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 were not just good novels, they were visions.  Reading proudly and openly and sharing ideas, especially ones we’re inclined to shy from, keeps those visions in realm of fiction.

(Thanks J-Walk)

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