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Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas


 

H. Bradford

 

7/8/2019


May and June 2019 marked the 100 anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.   While I certainly know little about the history of the U.S.’s northerly neighbor, I do know that the strike was the largest in Canadian history and included over 30,000 workers and sympathetic strikes in as many as 30 other Canadian cities.  The strike began on May 1 and May 2nd, when the Metal Trades Council and Building Trades Council were unable to secure a contract after three months of negotiations.  The 12,000 members of the Labor Council voted on June 13th to strike in support of the Metal and Building trades and for collective bargaining rights in general, with only 645 members voting against this.  12,000 non-union workers also joined the May 15th strike, which shut down the city and put its functions under worker control for 42 days.   Although the strike failed, it was a monumental exercise of worker power, the specter of which won some later labor reforms.  Throughout May and June of this year, but also through the rest of the year, there are special events and exhibits to mark the centennial of the strike.   Since I live in Duluth/Superior, which is under seven hours to drive to Winnipeg, I decided to visit for the anniversary of the strike.   The road trip included my mother, so out of fairness to her, the whole trip did not focus on labor history.  However, I did take in a few strike history related tourist attractions.

 


 

Strike! The Walking Tour:


Between May 1 and August 31, visitors to Winnipeg can join strike themed walking tours in the Exchange District.   These tours are either one or one and a half hours.  I opted for the one hour tour, which of course, is less in depth but probably more suitable for my mother (who opted not to go along at the last minute).   The one hour tour only costs $8 CAN and in my case, ended up being a private tour as no one else had signed up.  The tour is packed with information, so it may be useful to bring a notebook.  The tour is run through the Exchange District BIZ, a non-profit tax funded entity centered around development and tourism.  Despite this orientation, the walking tour was sympathetic to the strike and generally anti-capitalist themed.  The tour begins with an overview of the social conditions leading up to the strike, such as the concentration of wealth and power among Winnipeg’s elite, post- World War I economic problems, and the union movement and strike that had occurred the year prior to the 1919 strike.   For instance, between 1913 and 1919, the cost of living had increased 75%.  The cost of living was about $1500 per year for a family, whereas annual income was around $900.   Increasingly, workers sought to organize against the conditions in which they could barely live and were buoyed by the Russian revolution as well as strikes in Vancouver and Seattle.  Highlights of the tour include the former location of Victoria Park, where workers gathered to learn information about the strike, held rallies and events,  and labor church services on Sundays.  The park is long gone as the city turned it into a water heating station in 1922, though there is a plaque on the nearby condo.  Another highlight was Hell’s Alley, which is located between Market Avenue and James Avenue.  This is where special police and Mounted Police rounded up protestors on Bloody Saturday, cornering them to beat them up and arrest them.  Over ninety people were arrested and hundreds injured.   This violence and repression successfully crushed the strike, which ended June 26th. The walking tour finished up by the new Bloody Saturday monument in front of City Hall, where police fired on the crowd and killed two people after the strikers nearly toppled a street car.  The Exchange District is steeped in strike history and this is a great way to get an overview of the events, people, and context of the strike.

Historic Walking Tours

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Strike 1919: Divided City- Manitoba Museum:


Between March 22, 2019 and January 05, 2020, visitors to the Manitoba Museum can enjoy their strike exhibition entitled “Strike 1919: Divided City.”  As the name suggests, the exhibition seeks to highlight the perspectives of various segments of society during the strike, ranging from strikers, business people, or ordinary people not involved in the strike.  The exhibition is expansive, with many ways to interact with the information including short films, character dramatizations, personal accounts, artifacts, and recreated scenes.   Honestly, the museum itself is so large that a person could spend all day visiting, as it features indigenous Canadian history, natural history, a planetarium, Animals Inside Out, and much more.  With that said, this is a great place to delve deeper into the history.  While there is far too much to mention, I will draw attention to a few artifacts.  The museum has a small collection of police weapons and offers a little history about the special police.  Basically, the police of Winnipeg were sympathetic to the strike.  For instance, all but 16 of the 240 member police force were fired for refusing to sign a loyalty pledge and rejecting unionism.  Because the police were on the side of the strikers (something which socialists generally don’t view as a common role for police) the Citizen’s Committee of One Thousand (a pro-business, anti-strike organization) had to recruit a special police force to do their bidding.  They were not well trained or disciplined, often motivated by anti-communist and anti-immigrant sentiment, and they were crudely armed with wooden clubs and uniformed with white armbands.   Other artifacts of interest are signs which read, “Permitted by Authority of the Strike Committee.”   These signs were posted in the windows of businesses which were allowed to function during the strike by the authority of the Strike Committee.  This attests to the power of the strike, as police, fire fighting, milk and bread delivery, the city’s water, etc. were among the many services operating under the auspices of strikers.  Strikers truly controlled the entire city as mail service, telegraphs, and streets cars were stopped.  It is believed that 1/6 of the city’s population participated.   Other signs eluded to “One Big Union” which was a conceptional and organizational demand of some workers who wanted to join a broad, revolutionary labor union that crossed industries and regions.   The Manitoba Museum has a lot to offer, but is a little expensive.  Basic Adult Admission is $19.50 for one area, but is as much as $32.70 if a person wants to visit the Planetarium and Science Gallery.  The basic admission was more than enough for me.

Home

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights:


I was skeptical that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights would be worth visiting.  I thought that it would be a shrine to UN Peacekeeping.  It isn’t that I don’t want humans to live the best and fullest lives possible, but the narrative of human rights is often tied to a softer side of imperialism which is enacted through international organizations, charity, microloans, pacifism, multilateral militarism, and Keynesian capitalism.  The museum was nothing like that, or at least not abhorrently so.   Related to the Winnipeg General Strike, there was an entire floor dedicated to the struggle for human rights in Canada.  Various struggles were highlighted in open cubbies, where visitors could gain a brief overview of the struggles of an oppressed group.   These struggles included the fight for women’s rights, LGBT rights, First Nation rights, disability rights, the plight of escaped slaves from the United States, Japanese internment, immigrant rights, the rights of religious minorities and war resistors, and finally, the strike.  There wasn’t anything in the strike section that I hadn’t learned on the walk or at the Manitoba Museum, but the museum puts this struggle in context of many struggles in Canadian history.  This is definitely worth visiting and a way to learn about injustices in Canadian history.  Many people in the United States idealize Canada as the place to escape to in the face of reactionary power in the U.S.   However, this floor should demonstrate that the United States and Canada are both founded on shameful histories of oppression and genocide and the social conditions of both are a function of the struggle of the oppressed.  Like the Manitoba Museum, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a bit expensive.  But, the admission includes eight floors of information about the struggles of people all over the world.  It also features a special exhibition on Nelson Mandela and the fight against apartheid in South Africa.  The view from the top of the museum is fantastic.  It is important to note that the museum takes a smorgasbord approach to human rights, so it has been critiqued for not adequately addressing the plight of Native American people in Canada and from using water (in the reflection pool) drawn from a reservoir which has not provided drinkable water to the local Native American population for several years.  The building is fabulously constructed, but at a high cost when 75% of First Nation children in Manitoba live in poverty and there is a large indigenous homeless population in Winnipeg.  I spent two hours at the museum and was very rushed, so a visit should probably take three to four hours.  A one day ticket costs $21 CAN.

https://humanrights.ca/

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Bloody Saturday Monument:


The Bloody Saturday Monument was part of the walking tour, but is worth visiting on its own.  The monument was unveiled on June 21, which is the day that I visited the sculpture.  The unveiling ceremony included fireworks and speech by Mayor Brian Bowman, though I was tired from the long day and did not attend this event.  The statue is a large street car tipped at a 20 degree angle and located at the corner of Main Street and Market Avenue.  It is a few feet away from where the original street car was tipped over by strikers on June 21, 1919, which set in motion the police violence against the crowd.  20,000 marches had gathered at that spot to protest the arrest of strike leaders.  When I visited the second time, there were two wreaths placed at the monument in memory of the two men shot and killed by the police.   During the strike, street cars were not operating as these workers were among the first to join the strike on May 15th.  All street cars were out of operation by the first hour of the strike.   As a crowd of marchers gathered on June 21, two street cars operated by strikebreakers approached the crowd, who saw this as an attempt to break the strike.  They attacked street car 596, knocking it off its wire, smashing windows, and setting it on fire after failing to tip it entirely.  It was set on fire by a female striker.  Because the incident unleashed police violence, the street car became symbolic of the strike.  Eventually that particular street car was repaired and returned to service, but the strike was forcefully ended and many workers were fired and arrested.   Another street car operating at the time, 356, can be seen at the Winnipeg Railway Museum during Doors Open Winnipeg.   The monument itself was created by Noam Gonick and Bernie Miller (who died in 2017).


For more information: http://heritagewinnipeg.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-streetcar-and-strike-reflection-on.html Image may contain: sky and outdoor


Other ideas:


These are just a few ideas of how tourists can learn more about the Winnipeg General Strike.   The Dalnavert Museum is also featuring a strike exhibit called “Strike 1919: Our Cause in Just.”  This will be running between May 1 and Sept 29 and features artifacts from Sir Hugh John Macdonald, who owned the Dalnavert House and served as Police Magistrate during the strike.   In May, the museum featured several lectures.  I did not visit this particular museum, but the admission is $6.    The labor temples associated with the strike are mostly gone, with the exception of the Ukrainian Labor Temple, which is located at 591 Pritchard Ave.   This would also be a great place to visit for those thirsty for more history.  For more information on various plaques and historical buildings, there is a list in this article:  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/1919-winnipeg-general-strike-monuments-1.5128440


There are some events which commemorated the strike, such as a run of Strike! The Musical, but there are no more performances this summer.  There are also a series of strike theme cemetery tours offered at Brookside cemetery.  Group tours can be arranged with Paul Moist if there is a group of ten or more.  Otherwise, there is a scheduled tour on August 10.  Once again, I did not attend a cemetery tour, but this seems like a great way to learn more about the strike, especially the individuals involved.  For more information about this and other strike related events, here is a brochure:  http://mayworks.org/wp-content/MayWorks_Program_2019.pdf

This brochure from Manitoba Unions also contains some events and tours:

http://mfl.ca/sites/default/files/Historical%20tours%20pampletFINAL.pdf?823

Dalnavert Museum:

http://www.friendsofdalnavert.ca/

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Conclusion:


It was great to visit Winnipeg during the 100 anniversary of the strike.  While my entire visit was not dedicated to partaking in strike history,  I was able to learn a bit more about Canadian labor history.  This is a great time to visit.  Hopefully this guide can direct others towards some neat tourist attractions and that others see a few of the things that I didn’t, such as the Ukrainian Labor temple and Dalnavert Museum.  Labor history usually isn’t central to the tourism of most people, but certainly important in informing us about what has happened in the past and opening up our imaginations to what might be possible in the future.   The strike is a lesson in solidarity, but also in the power of workers to take control of their lives and city.  100 years later, general strike seems like an impossible hope with too many barriers and too much to lose, but many of the workers were not even a part of a union and women didn’t even have the right to vote.  Meals and strike funds had to be raised/made on their own.  We are always faced with daunting challenges, but together we can rise above them.

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Graveyard Shift

Graveyard Shift

Graveyard Shift

H. Bradford

7/4/19



I am the corpse

You are the necromancer

You pay the wage,

I am your dancer.

You say the chant

and I bow and grovel,

I ask for rest

and you hand me the shovel.

I sell you my soul in subservient smiles,

Anything less, goes in the files.

I am the ghost with no stomach to feed

You are the vampire who drinks when I bleed.

You are the witch,

My wardrobe is rags

This shift fits like a body bag.

This is the graveyard,

This is my life,

Welcome to working.

Welcome to life.

Defeat

Defeat

Defeat

H. Bradford

6/27/19


Everyone is gone.

They migrated to brighter places.

And I am here,

Caught like a butterfly in winter

or a bat in a tower.

Doomed to die of cold,  slow suffocation,

or containment.

And I am here,

naked as bones,

growing fat and old

in the long night of my complacency.

There might have been more, but I am too worn and slow

to keep up with the crowd.

So I am here.

I am here.

This is the cemetery for those who lost the war against wages,

veterans who raged against the taxation of body and soul-

everything we gave in hours.  So many hours.

I am here

in the purgatory of defeat.

They always ask why she stayed.

But, I think you know the math of it. 

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

Book Review_ Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

H. Bradford

6/27/19

An edited version of this post appears in Socialist Action news:

https://socialistaction.org/2019/06/21/books-abolitionist-socialist-feminism/


Zillah Eisenstein, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution” (New York, Monthly Review Press: 2019), pp. 160


An astonishing three to five million people participated in the 2017 Women’s March in the United States and this year, 600,000-700,000 people are believed to have participated.  Yet, the Women’s March and in the feminist movement in general has been critiqued for ignoring racism and how the experiences of women of color differ from those of white women. Although women of color were leaders in organizing the Women’s March, the march has been criticized for failing to address racism in signs, leaders, and demands.  Another critique, such as from Alicia Brown a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, was that those who attended the march had neither spoke against nor shown up to protest the racist nature of mass incarceration, unemployment, police violence, and homelessness. The feminist movement today is often criticized as “white feminism” or a movement which fights for middle or upper class white women, only giving lip service to racial issues when it furthers their own goals or image.  A similar critique is sometimes launched at socialists, who are at times accused of sidelining race and gender issues in the interest of class struggle. The substance and meaning of Bernie Sander’s version of socialism is debatable, but he has been accused of color blindness and avoiding of racial issues. For those who associate Sander’s with socialism, it sends the message that race is not important to socialists. Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution by Zillah Eistenstein seeks to remedy of the problem of “white feminism” and color blind socialism by connecting anti-racism, feminism, and socialism.


One important way that the book addresses racism is by centering itself around the voices of people of color.  Although author Zillah Eisenstein is white, she highlights the insights of a large number of antiracist thinkers and activists such as Kimberly Crenshaw, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Frantz Fanon.  Centering the voices and experiences of people of color is important to anti-racist movement building and Eisenstein models this throughout the text. The book itself ceners upon examining multiple oppressions in ways that are inspired from Kimberly Crenshaw’s intersectionality as well as the Black feminist thinking that preceeding it, such as the work of the Combahee River Collective.  The Combahee River Collective argued that “sexism, racism, heterosexism, and capitalism are interlocking systems of oppression that necessitate revolutionary action (p. 57).”  Thus, as the name suggests, Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution (2019), takes a multifaceted approach to feminism and socialism and is a tool for building a movement which fights against racism, while fighting for workers, women, and other oppressed groups.  The book begins by posing a series of questions meant to provoke deeper thinking about the interconnectedness of racial, class, and gender oppression. These questions are explored throughout the book, though the big idea is that socialism and feminism must be anti-racist, anti-racism needs socialism and feminism, feminism must be socalist, and socialism must be feminist.


While the book offers many insights, there are a few which are particularly important.  Again addressing the issue of white feminism, the book vigorously pursues the important point that white women have been complicit in maintaining white supremacy.  A largely white female jury determined that George Zimmerman was not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. White women historically supported the lynching and castration of Black males.  They also obtained social standing by controlling slaves. Eistenstein also argues that white women helped to get Trump elected, as 53% if white women voted for Trump (with the caveat that half of eligible voters did not vote at all.)  She posits that white women voted for racism and sexism when voting for Trump, who represents misogynoir, a term coined by Paula Moya. Misogynoir is a term to add to the vocabulary of multiple oppressions and is used several times in the book to describe the intersection of sexism and racism.


Another important point made in the book is that the working class is not white and male, nor has the global working class ever been predominantly white and male.  The struggles of workers of color are spotlighted in the book, such as the example of the 2014 fast food strikes, which were led by women of color and the largest to occur in the history of the industry.  Around the world, women engage in paid and unpaid labor and while laboring, have been the victims of rape and murder, such as in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo where women have been killed while gathering wood.  This connection between labor and vulnerability to sexual assault is an important observation, as women are often victim blamed when they are assaulted at work, especially if they are sex workers or work at bars, alone, or on night shifts.  Labor and sexual assault warrants more attention in feminist and socialist circles. While there are many differences in women around the world, labor and experiences of violence is a common experiential thread that binds many of the world’s women.  This leads to another important point, which is that feminism is often predicated upon an imagined “we” of female experience. Eisenstein makes the point that women are both presidents of nations and die in the hundreds of thousands in childbirth. Women are not a heterogeneous group, but do share some similarities, most markedly in their experiences of sexual violence and for many, their expanded role as part of the proletariat.  A third important point is that Black women are the fastest growing segment of the prison population. The prison system itself is a continuation of slavery, and the point is made that Sandra Bland had no more rights than she would have had as a slave. Because of the racist nature of the criminal justice system, the answer to crime against women is not punishment but restorative justice.


Despite the many strengths of the book, there are some weaknesses.  For one, the book does not say enough about the solution to prisons.  While it is established that the United States’ criminal justice system violently upholds white supremacy, the question of prisons is not given full attention.  The word “abolition” in the title may suggest prison abolition, though prison abolition, reform, and restorative justice are giving passing attention. Instead, the title of the book refers to the author’s conception of a more revolutionary version of intersectionality.  Abolition as described in the book means “the abolition of white supremacist misogyny and its capitalist nexus alongside the racist misogyny of everyday practices (p. 99)” Abolition is further described as interlocking, revolutionary, radically inclusive, and multilayered.  It challenges white dominance by redistributing white wealth through taxes and reparations, ending white privilege, and calling upon white people to no longer act as deputies of the carceral state. A more revolutionary version of interlocking oppressions is a welcome development, especially when Eisenstein states early on that comrade is a better term than ally or accomplice, which imply distance from a struggle.  However, the book would have been strengthened by offering a bit more on the “what is to be done?” aspect of criminal justice, especially when carceral feminism is the dominant solution to issues of justice for women.


Abolitionism is the theoretical backbone of the text, but the book would be strengthened by expanding the this concept by answering some important questions about the nature of multiple oppressions.  Socialist feminists should have no qualms with the notion that oppressions are interconnected, as Eisenstein posits. She does not believe that these oppressions are bifurcated, or can be examined without examining each.  And, there should be no argument with Eisenstein that these oppressions are a part of capitalism. Yet, the nature of oppression is never quite expanded upon. Yes, it is interconnected, but by what mechanisms, by what origin, and to what end?  Social Reproduction Theory seeks to connect oppression back to the functioning of capitalism and thus would fortify the arguments of the book. A full examination of the topic of social reproduction and intersectionality is beyond the scope of this book review, but a glimpse of what the theory has to offer is made in an article by David McNally and Susan Ferguson (2015) entitled Social Reproduction Beyond Intersectionality.  David McNally and Susan Ferguson argue racism, sexism, homophobia, and other “isms” serve capitalist accumulation and dispossession but not evenly, neatly, or with crude economic determinism.  They state that the ways in which labor power is produced and reproduced exists in a social world that is bound and differentiated by race, nationality, gender, sexuality, age, and so on. These differences serve as determinants for the conditions of production and reproduction.  For instance, McNally and Ferguson use the example of migrants. In the interest of higher profits, labor power is often sourced from outside of wealthier countries such as the United States, where there are higher wages and often better conditions. Some work is less mobile, such as childcare for American families or work within the service industries of the U.S.  Migrants are a cheap labor source to fill this need, but are also vulnerable because they are not afforded the same legal or labor rights. The oppression of migrant workers can be connected to their precarious position within capitalism and the differentiated status that keeps them vulnerable. Thus, the oppression of immigrants intersects race, gender, and class and this oppression can be understood through the mechanism of extracting labor power, their role in social reproduction, and their place in a social world which renders them vulnerable.  Capitalism contains contradictions, unevenness, struggle, and agency, but it fundamentally divides workers from the means of their sustenance (social reproduction) and in doing so, is the totality in which oppressions exist.


A more significant shortcoming is the book’s contradictory message regarding elections.  For example, the book begins with some biographical information about Eisenstein, who has been engaged in anti-racist activism since her childhood in a communist family.  Her family’s principled stance against racism invited hardship in their lives. For instance, she could not buy a prom dress because of a boycott of the segregated department stores in Atlanta and she missed out on visiting a pool because it was unwelcoming to Blacks.  Unfortunately, these immutable principles did not prevent her from voting for Hilary Clinton, which was a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise compelling introductory chapter. Eisenstein correctly describes Hilary Clinton as a neoliberal feminist, beholden to corporate interests, and implicated in her husband’s racist, carceral state.  More could have been said about her role in the State Department. While this critique correctly recognizes Clinton as an accomplice to capitalism and white supremacy, she is still framed as the lesser evil and it is puzzled over why white women voted for Trump over Clinton. The two-party system, like so many things in the lives of women, is a choiceless choice.  Trump is overtly sexist and racist, while Clinton is perhaps less overtly either, but still an agent of U.S. imperialism, which relies on racism and sexism to function. Eisenstein describes how lynching became the electric chair and how the electoral college privileges slave states. She describes how Barack Obama sided with the rule of law in Fergusson after the death of Michael Brown.  She even calls for the formation of a third party and working towards revolution, but, she is unfortunately unable to break from Democrats entirely.


Part of Eistenstein’s unwillingness to break with the Democratic party is perhaps due to Trump exceptionalism.  Trump exceptionalism is the narrative that Donald Trump is uniquely horrible and therefore, voting for the most abhorrent Democrat is preferable to Trump’s unique brand of racist misogyny.   Every Republican is framed as the next worst thing, as it seems like just yesterday when George Bush Jr. was the worst president for being a warmongering, civil liberty defying dolt. Now, he is looked upon favorably by some who critiqued him before.  Understandably, the 2016 election is a central focus on the text. This is an important focus as many of the readers may have been recently radicalized by the election of Trump. The book reasonably tries to make sense of this election. While Trump is no doubt racist and sexist and unique in his crude comments and unabashed narcissism, it seems a bit far to say that Trump is America’s “first white supremacist misogynistic president (p.91).”  It is hard to imagine that Trump’s policies are worse than Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and the fact that at least twelve presidents owned slaves. All presidents have been racist to varying degrees, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans to Bill Clinton’s crime bill. While Trump certainly seems exceptional in his sexist language and behaviors, Nixon was accused of domestic violence, Bill Clinton has been accused of multiple sexual assaults,  Grover Clevland sexually assaulted a woman who later had his child and had her committed to an asylum, and Thomas Jefferson had a family with his slave, Sally Hemings. Trump is terrible and must absolutely be challenged for his racist misogyny, but in the long view of American history, Trump fits right in among the slave holders, war makers, overseers of genocide that have been U.S. presidents. To consider him exceptional gives too much credit to the presidents who came before.  All U.S. presidents serve U.S. power and capital. The two party system is a two headed monster. One head is not better than the other, as both are attached to the body of imperialism. Revolution is possible only with the decapitation of both.


The electoral shortcoming aside, the book is powerfully written and a short, accessible, and important text for socialist, feminist, and anti-racist activists.   Eistenstein makes a vibrant and energizing call for building a revolutionary movement that takes on racism, sexism, and capitalism, but also tackles climate change, environmental racism, LGBTQ rights, Islamophobia, and war.  She boldly states that “resistance is not enough. Reform is not enough. Civil rights are not enough. Women’s rights are not enough. In other words: liberalism and liberal feminism do not work for this moment and never did (p. 127).” Despite the mixed messages about Democrats, she even states that voting is not enough.  She calls upon activists to move beyond moderation and employ a variety of tactics such as building connections between movements, workplace actions, internationalizing movements, mass actions, and visible civil disobedience. Building connections between movements or creating a movement of movements is central to her prescription for social change.  One of her more profound connections is towards the end of the book when she quoted Frantz Fanon, who said: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe (p.129).” She connects this to Eric Garner who said “I can’t breathe,” eleven times before he died. The point is well taken. Activists are called upon to fight relentlessly and courageously, with real solidarity, for a world wherein everyone can catch their breath, be it from police violence, polluted air, or the other suffocating miseries of capitalism.


 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

socialistaction2


 

The following is an interview that I did with a blog entitled Third Party Second Bananas, about running for Vice President of the United States in the 2020 election as the candidate for Socialist Action.  Jeff Mackler is our presidential candidate.  This is reprinted from the blog and the link can be found here: https://thirdpartysecondbananas.blogspot.com/2019/06/heather-bradford-2020-vp-social-action.html

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

Heather Bradford is the Vice-Presidential running mate with Jeff Mackler on the Socialist Action ticket for 2020.

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

“Heather Bradford, a member of Socialist Action’s National Committee, will be the party’s vice presidential candidate. Bradford is the organizer of Socialist Action’s branch in Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., in the Lake Superior region. Bradford works full time as a women’s advocate at a domestic violence shelter and part time at an abortion clinic and as a substitute public school teacher. She is the secretary of AFSCME Local 3558, a delegate to the Duluth Central Labor body, and a union steward.

She is a founder of the Feminist Justice League, a Duluth-based feminist organization formed in response to the anti-abortion “40 Days for Life” group and an active member of H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia, an abortion fundraising group. Bradford has been a long-time activist and participant in the LGBT, environmental, and antiwar movements.”

https://socialistaction.org/2019/05/11/socialist-action-launches-2020-presidential-campaign/

Q: How did you arrive at becoming a member of Socialist Action?

When I was in my early 20s and attending college, my major was International Studies. Through my coursework, I quickly learned that much of the world was impoverished and lacked access to such basic things as food, medicine and clean water. I also learned that global suffering was connected to the policies of organizations such as the IMF, World Trade Organization, and World Bank, which played a role in perpetuating colonial relationships based upon economic exploitation. I also recognized that the United States has played a sinister role in destabilizing countries through war, support of dictatorships, economic coercion, and overthrowing democratically elected governments that leaned towards socialism. The more I learned about the state of the world, the more I saw patterns that indicated a systemic problem and the more I began to identify with socialism. At the time, I believed that socialism had gone extinct as a movement. I believed it was something that must have died off decades ago. But, to my surprise, I found that Duluth had its own socialist group! I sought out the only socialist group in my city, which was Socialist Action, and I have been a member since.

Q: And how did you happen to become the Vice-Presidential nominee?

In February, I was contacted by Jeff Mackler, who is the National Secretary of Socialist Action and our presidential candidate. He asked me if I would be interested in being his running mate in the 2020 election. I took some time to think this over and agreed. His recommendation was then discussed and approved by the Political Committee and later, the National Committee, both of which are the governing bodies of Socialist Action between conventions.

Q: Socialist Action has been described as Trotskyist. Could you explain to us how that makes SA different than other political parties on the Left?

That’s a great question with a lengthy answer! One difference between Socialist Action and some other socialist parties is that we do not provide any support to candidates of the Democratic Party. We call on workers to break with the Democratic Party as we believe it is fundamentally and inevitably a party of the ruling class. As such, it will always promote U.S. imperialism and the immiseration of workers around the world. Our staunch refusal to support the Democratic Party (or any capitalist party, such as the Green Party) differentiates us from some other socialist groups. Though, it is important to note that from time to time, we support the candidates of like minded socialist parties and would support the formation of a Labor Party within the U.S. At the same time, we believe in the right to self-determination for oppressed groups. Therefore, we believe in the right of oppressed groups such as women, LGBT, oppressed racial minorities and nationalies to form autonomous movements to fight for their interests. We believe that the liberation of these oppressed groups is an essential component of working towards socialist revolution, which is itself an important component of our core ideology. We are revolutionary socialists whose aim is the overthrow of capitalism. While working towards the goal of revolution, we support reforms that challenge the structures of oppression inherent to capitalism. Revolution must be international, worker led, and socialist in nature (rather than in stages or in one country). Some socialists agree on some of these principles and not on others or interpret them differently. This is a short answer to what is otherwise a long and complex question.

Q: According to the SA membership handbook, belonging to this party has some pretty strict requirements compared to other political organizations. It looks like in order to sign up you really really must be dedicated and invest some serious time. Does that make it difficult to recruit new members?

We consider ourselves a vanguard party, so we want to recruit people who are dedicated to the goal of socialist revolution and able to adhere to the level of political discipline necessary to function as a united and effective group. I often attend over one hundred and fifty political events or meetings a year and compared to my comrades, I feel like a slacker! We try to recruit people who we meet through our engagement in social movements, so those who enter our orbit are usually already politically active. Dedication is not an issue as much as convincing new contacts of our political platform. In my experience, a major barrier to recruitment for new contacts is our position of class independence from capitalist parties. Lesser evilism is a prevalent narrative that seduces socialists towards the Democratic Party during elections.

Q: Throughout American history I observe progressive groups are presented with an infinity of directions since they are political pioneers (abolitionists, suffragists, socialists, etc.) and as such they have intense disagreements over which direction to go and method to use. I mention this because as I was looking at the background of Socialist Action it seems your party is not immune from this historical pattern, receiving more criticism from the Left than from the Right. What do you think it would take to unite the Leftist political parties?

Leftist political parties can and often do work together in mass movements. Socialist Action believes in forming United Fronts, which allows us to converge with other leftists on issues we can agree upon. Because the two party capitalist electoral system is rigged against us, we don’t think that elections are really where socialists are going to be the most effective. We can make the most impact by building independent movements that put pressure on the political system or economy. Movements for immigrant rights, anti-war, women’s rights, LGBT rights, better wages and working conditions, housing, prison reform or abolition, and so on are arenas were leftists can work together. Of course, leftists come together with their unique histories, rivalries, and perspectives, which can hinder cooperation and movement building. Sometimes fighting also stems from the fatigue and demoralization of the long haul fight against capitalism. But, movement work can bring us together. The formation of a Labor Party would also be a vehicle for smaller socialist parties to collaborate. The militant labor struggle required for the creation of such a party would hopefully draw socialists together.

Q: What do you make of a segment of the working class being dazzled by Trump with what some would call an almost cult-like fervor?

Around 43% of American did not vote in 2016, so, there is a large swath of the U.S. population that was not enamored enough by Trump or Clinton to bother voting. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating is 40%, which is lower than the average approval rating of 53% for presidents since 1935. Trump certainly appeals to a segment of the population, which represents the failure of the left to effectively organize workers and offer them a meaningful alternative to voting for racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Trump seemed like an outsider and anti-establishment to some voters. I think it is also important to note that racial minorities overwhelmingly did not vote for Trump. The American working class is often imagined as white and male, but racial minorities, women (when including racial minority women), and people with incomes under $50,000 a year did not vote for Trump. The task of socialists is to continue to support the interests and liberation of the most oppressed segments of the working class (women, racial minorities, sexual/gender minorities, etc.), offer real solutions to workers who have been duped by Trump, and fight real and terrifying elements of racism and reaction that have been emboldened by Trump.

Q: The Republican playbook for 2020 appears to be painting the Democrats as “socialist.” I gather from the SA website that even Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are considered as servants of the ruling class rather than the working class?

I think we are entering an age wherein socialism has lost its teeth as an insult. Republicans may have to change the language of their putdowns as socialism becomes increasingly popular. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party has done nothing to earn the honor of being called socialist. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez muddy the water a bit by invoking the language of socialism, without really clarifying what precisely this means. As you recall, I became a socialist through internationalism. Socialism means standing against imperialism, which is characterized by the international dominance of monopoly and financial capitalism of a few powerful countries. It is the duty of socialists to stand against U.S. power as an expression of imperialism. At the same time, socialism should be international. How could any socialist, which is a movement based upon the power and liberation of workers, tolerate wars or foreign policies which harm other workers? Yet, Bernie Sanders has supported U.S. foreign policy, stated that he wants a strong military, has approved U.S. military spending, and supports U.S. wars, such as in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Both Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez sent mixed messages about U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Even if they clarified what they meant by socialism into a cohesive ideology that seeks to end capitalism, the Democratic Party is not the vehicle to accomplish socialism. It is a party that supports U.S. power around the world and ultimately harms workers here and abroad by supporting militarism, financial institutions, corporate interests, and the maintenance of private capital. These things should be anathema to socialists.

Q: Socialist Action has been around for awhile but it was only in 2016, as far as I can tell, that a foray was made into Presidential election politics. Why did it take so long?

Our main strategy and theoretical grounding is to magnify our organizational power by participating in social movements and the labor movement. So, elections are not where we see ourselves making the most impact in society. We are a small party, elections are time consuming and expensive, and not where change is made. However, we recognize that elections are a way to meet new people, expose others to our ideas, and point out contradictions and failures in the political system. Perhaps as our party grows or gains new experiences, we can avail ourselves in elections more often, but this will never be the center of our political work.

Q: How do you plan to conduct your 2020 campaign?

We plan to have a speaking tour through several cities in the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast, which we hope is a way to meet new people and express our views. Jeff Mackler will be speaking on some panels and to the media and I will try to do some media work myself. We also hope to collect a list of endorsers and regularly publish the list in our newspaper, Socialist Action. Our campaign also includes a social media presence on Facebook and hopefully other platforms as well as literature, stickers, buttons, and other materials. We have a campaign team that is actively strategizing how to get our message out.

Q: In 2016 the SA ticket was not actually on any ballots from I can see. Will that change in 2020? Will there be Socialist Action candidates for other offices?

Our campaign team is looking into this. It would be great to have ballot status in some states. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the region where I am from, this requires around 2,000 signatures. We’ll see what we can do!

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this campaign and how will you measure your success?

Simply having a campaign at all is a success for me, as it is an opportunity to meet people and discuss socialist politics. Anything that increases the scant attention and understanding of revolutionary socialism in society is a step in the right direction.

Q: I know it is early in the 2020 election season, but has your VP nomination impacted your daily life in any way?

I am a busy person. I work at a domestic violence shelter, often averaging over 40 hours a week. I have had over time on every paycheck since January. I also work at an abortion clinic and as a substitute teacher. In April, I was also a costumed Easter Bunny. So, I am 100% a worker and in addition to this, I am 100% engaged in social movement work. I am especially active in the reproductive rights movement. Running for Vice President adds a large item to my already full plate. It involves conference calls, seeking endorsers, increasing my participation in the party at a national level, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I can be a shy and reserved person, so I am finding that I have to quickly grow in ways I haven’t before. But, I hope this experience develops my leadership skills and my abilities as a revolutionary. I also hope it is a springboard for running for office in more modest and local, but realistic political races. Winning the U.S. presidential election is in no ways a real possibility, of course, but as socialists we believe a better world is possible and are committed to doing everything in our capacity to bring a better world about. I will never be Vice President, but I hope I can play a small role in working towards a world without such things as war, poverty, homelessness, mass incarceration, homophobia, sexism, racism, early death, exploitative work, and climate crisis. To that end, socialism is our best and only solution.

Q: Thank you Heather for participating in this VP project.

I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

but I’ve got an idea of what it might be.

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

H. Bradford

6/5/19

I work at a domestic violence shelter, so much of my work involves care work.  Sometimes this is exhausting and demoralizing- especially the large amount of bodily fluids that appear around the shelter.  So, this is a poem I wrote about the not so wonderful aspects of care work.


Care is a wall,

A car crash for careers

And a barrier more than a connection.

It is blood in the halls

Leaky diapers on laps

And urine soaked sheets.

It is a thousand unmet needs

Needs that ooze biohazards and suffering

from the places quarantined by the state.

Care is the work of women

Women with accents and darker complexions.

Care is the everyday Chernobyl

Of tending to capitalism’s toxic leftovers

With no evacuation in sight.

Care is a wall

To fight, storm, or surrender.

To die hopelessly against.

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

Maximizing the Oslo Pass

H. Bradford

6.4.19


Visit Oslo offers a nifty pass that offers free access to over thirty museums or attractions, free use of public transportation, as well as discounts on restaurants, tours, and some other selected activities.  The pass costs about $51 or 445 Norwegian Krone. Considering that the Viking Ship museum costs about $11 and a visit to the Norsk Folkemuseum costs about $18, it is a great deal for anyone who plans on visiting a couple museums and using public transport to get to them.  I purchased a 24 Hour Oslo Pass and was determined to make the most of it.  Here is how I fared…


Obtaining the Pass:


I pre-ordered my pass online, but still had to pick it up at the Oslo Visitor Center, where the pass is validated.  The Oslo Visitor Center is located at the Oslo Central Station.  Thus, my first act of the day was paying a visit to the Oslo Visitor Center to pick up my pass.  The office has a variety of brochures and helpful staff.  During my visit, the office opened at 9am.  This means that the earliest that you can begin to use the pass (obtained at this location) is after 9am.   If a person wants to avoid the need to physically visit the Oslo Visitor Center, the pass can be purchased via the Oslo Pass app.  In any event, visiting the Oslo Central Station wasn’t inconvenient, as many buses leave that area and most museums don’t open until after 9am.  Validating it any sooner would not make sense.

Oslo Pass

Image from Visit Oslo https://www.visitoslo.com/en/activities-and-attractions/oslo-pass/


Taking Public Transport:


Since there are many museums clustered on the Bygdoy Peninsula, this was my first destination.  To get there, I took Bus Number 30.  Use of buses is included in the Oslo Pass, so this saved $4, which is the cost of a single bus ticket (for one hour use with transfer).  The driver did not ask for my Oslo Pass, but this can be used as a ticket if there is a ticket check.  The trip to the first museum on the Bygdoy Peninsula took about 20 minutes (though a ferry can also be taken to Bygdoy Penninsula).  My first destination was the Norsk Folkemuseum, which is the first museum on the bus route and conveniently has a bus stop right outside the museum.

Cost: $4

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Norsk Folkemuseum:


The Norsk Folkemuseum opens at 10am during the summer months into early fall.  By the time I arrived there, the museum was just opening. As I mentioned, the museum costs about $18.  I wish the museum opened earlier, since it is an expansive complex of Norwegian buildings. Upon arrival, visitors can present their Oslo Pass at the ticket office, then begin exploring.  The first assembly of buildings feature indoor museums with various exhibits on Norwegian culture. A person could spend an entire day at just this museum. However, because I had an ambitious agenda I didn’t linger at any one exhibit.  A person can take their time absorbing various elements of Norwegian culture, such as arts, crafts, and costumes. I found the exhibit on Sami culture to be the most engaging and one to spend more time with.


As interesting as the indoor museums were, the real attraction are the 150+ buildings that constitute the open air museum.  The museum is believed to be one of the oldest and largest open-air museums in the world. The most impressive structure is the ornate Gol Stav Church, which was built in 1200 and moved to the sight when it faced demolition in the 1800s.  Another point of interest was large assembly of various farm buildings, complete with livestock, vegetables, and costumed farmer reenactors. There are homes or building representing various regions of Norway and a stand out was the sod roofed buildings from Fjordane.  More modern buildings can also be found in the “New Town” area of the open air museum.


Cost: $18

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Viking Ship Museum:


The Viking Ship Museum is a quick 400 m walk from the Norsk Folkemuseum.  Since this museum opens at 9 am during the summer, a person who already has their Oslo pass might choose to visit this one first.  Without the pass, the admission is $11.40. The museum is very popular and there were several buses there when I arrived. It also has tighter security, so visitors must check their bags before they enter.  The museum is impressive, but smaller, so it is reasonable that it could be visited in far less time than the enormous Norsk Folkemuseum. The main attraction are several preserved Viking ships and associated artifacts.  The main attraction is the Oseburg ship, which was constructed around 820 CE and used as a burial for two important women. The burial also consisted of a sleigh, animals, tools, a cart, and other items. This ship is the centerpiece of the museum, but other ships and artifacts are contained in the wings.  The Gokstad ship was built around 890 CE and served as the burial for an unknown man of importance who was buried with an assembly of animals that included two peacocks. The museum also includes the less reconstructed Tune ship. Viewing the ships and the various artifacts in the museum is interesting. The fact that the ships were so well preserved and that they could be rebuilt is also pretty amazing.

Cost: $11

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Kon-tiki Museum:


It is a little less than a mile walk from the Viking Ship Museum to the Kon-tiki Museum.  A person could also continue onward via bus 30 for a five minute bus ride. I chose to walk.  As for the Kon-tiki museum, I wouldn’t say that it is a must see museum, but it went along with a general museum theme of learning about Norwegian ships.  The museum contains the Kon-Tiki balsa raft that Thor Heyerdahl used to sail from Peru to Polynesia. It also contains the Ra II, which was a papyrus boat that was sailed from Morocco to Barbados.  The museum documents his life, the various expeditions he took part in, other participants in the expeditions, sea life, and elements of the cultures Heyerdahl interacted with. The museum is a little unusual in that some of Heyerdahl’s ideas were far fetched if not pseudoscientific.  But, his expeditions at least opened the door to what is possible when it comes to long distance cultural exchanges between people who were otherwise believed to be isolated from each other. He also helped to popularize experimental archaeology and this could benefit some indigenous people if they have control/agency regarding the experiments.  For instance, while visiting Hawaii a few years ago, I learned at the Polynesian Cultural Center that there are efforts to construct traditional ships and test out historical voyages across the Pacific. This could benefit indigenous people by preserving or rebuilding historical knowledge. Without the Oslo pass, admission would be $14.

Cost: $14

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Fram Museum:


Right next door to the Kon-tiki Museum is the Fram Museum.  Following the theme of the other two museums I had visited, this museum contains a ship.  In this instance, the ship was the polar exploring ship known as the Fram. The Fram was used to explore both the Arctic and the Antarctic in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The massive ship looks sturdy and shiny enough to be made of metal, but is actually made of wood. This in itself is pretty impressive, as it was the only wooden ship to travel as far north and south as it did.  Visitors can view the ship from several levels and board the ship for further exploration. The museum itself offers a great deal of fascinating information about polar exploration. I knew nothing about the Fram before entering the museum, but was enthralled by the artifacts and stories of the sometimes doomed and often life and death struggles of exploration.  The Fram was the ship that brought Roald Amundsen on his successful expedition to the South Pole. This museum is definitely worth visiting if polar exploration floats your boat.

Cost $14  (Or about $11 if purchased with Kon-tiki ticket.)


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Ferry:


There are other attractions on the Bygdoy Peninsula, including the nearby Maritime Museum (near the Fram Museum and Kontiki Museums), Oscarhall, Holocaust Center, and Huk and Paradisbukta beaches.  So, a person could reasonably spend the day at Bygdoy.  The Holocaust Center and Oscarhall cost about $7 each. Instead of remain on Bydgoy, I relaxed, ate a snack, and watched some birds from a bench before heading back on a ferry.  The ferry returns Bydgoy visitors to Pier 3 at City Hall. It is covered by the Oslo pass, but without the pass, a one way journey would cost about $7.

Cost: $7


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Historical Museum:


Although I had already visited four museums, I pushed onward to another museum.  I walked from Pier 3 to the Historical Museum, which is about a half mile walk. A person could take a bus, but it was easier just to walk.  The museum is open from 10 am to 5pm during the summer and costs just over $11. However, admission to the Historical Museum is included in the price of the Viking Ship Museum, so, the Oslo pass really doesn’t save a person money if they are already planning on visiting both museums.  By this point in the day, I was a little exhausted by my marathon of museum visits. Still, there were some interesting and enjoyable things at this museum. Highlights of this museum include a Medieval gallery, Viking artefacts, Egyptian mummies, and a collection of gold coins. I don’t think this museum is a “must see” museum in the way that the Viking Ship Museum, Fram museum, or Norsk Folkemuseum are.  The museum was a bit forgettable because it contained items one would expect in a history museum. If a person has a strong interest in Medieval doors and chairs, it may be worth a visit.


No Savings

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Oslo Reptile Park:


The grand finale of my museum marathon was going to be Oslo Reptile Park.  Oslo Reptile Park is located about .3 miles from the Historical Museum, which made it an easy destination.  The Oslo Reptile Park is open until 6pm, which also made it a good final destination as other museums closed at 5pm.  Admission to the Oslo Reptile Park is a whopping $17, so this definitely added value to the Oslo pass. Unfortunately, it was not as grand as I hoped.  It was tucked away in what looked like an apartment complex and contained about 100 animals. Despite the name “Reptile Park” many of the animals were actually insects or amphibians.  The Reptile Park includes two small floors of animals enclosed in glass. Of course, there are a variety of snakes to look at and perhaps the most chilling exhibit is a lonely Black Widow spider.  Visitors have the opportunity to watch the feeding of some animals or hold a snake (at least when I visited a staff allowed people to touch a snake. I don’t remember the species). It is a modest attraction and not worth $17.  But, with the Oslo Pass, there is little to lose in visiting. It is a nice change from the heavier, more historical information that my brain had been digesting all day, so, it provided a welcome splash of variety to my day. I imagine that keeping all those animals alive and well is costly, so the admissions price is probably necessary.  I finished up my visit here before 6 pm closing time.

Cost: $17

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Frogner Park:


With the museums closed, I was determined to do at least one final activity for the day.  I decided to head to Frogner Park, which contains over 200 sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Visiting Frogner Park is free.  However, it is over a mile and a half away from Reptile Park. Because I had been on my feet all day, I opted to take a tram to Frogner Park.  The tram took about 20 minutes and like the bus, would have cost about $4 for a one way trip with transfer. The park itself was very unique and relaxing.  The park is full of Vigeland’s bulky, bronze statues of naked bodies. Muscular men and thick women line the long pathway to the Monolith, a tower of 120 naked bodies carved into granite.  Gustav Vigeland was sympathetic to Nazis and their occupation of Norway. I didn’t know his political orientation when I visited the park, but the sculptures certainly idealized an ideal type of body (robust) and conveyed traditions of family and solidarity.  The park features a pond with birds and an assortment of gardens to enjoy as well. After spending some time at the park, I used the Oslo pass to return to my hostel and called it a day! It was a long day indeed!


$8 (Transport-both ways)

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Total Savings:


Regular admission to all of the museums would have been $74.   Additionally, $19 was spent on transportation. Since most people would buy a 24-hour day pass for transportation, I will count this at $12, which is the cost of a day pass.  The cost of the museum admission plus the day pass for transport would be $86. So, the Oslo pass saved me about $35. I tried pretty hard to squeeze as much value as I could out of the pass and was pretty exhausted by the end of the day.  I didn’t even eat lunch during my museum marathon! I felt accomplished and satisfied. I didn’t race through each museum, but I definitely pushed myself. I don’t think I could have fit any other museums or sights into my day. There is a limit to how much value one can extract from the Oslo Pass, as museums are mostly open between 9am and 6pm.   Therefore, although it is a 24 hour pass, there is a nine hour window to utilize the pass due to open and closing times and logistically I would have found it quite difficult to visit more than six museums. Some museums can be visited in about an hour (such as Reptile Park and the Viking Ship Museum). Others, such as the Norsk Folkemuseum, take over two hours.  By the end of the day I regret that I did not purchase a 48 hr pass. This costs 665 NOK or $76. For $25 more than the 24 hr pass, the two day pass is a pretty good deal and it would have been easier to spread out the museums and add a few more sights over the span of an extra day. Other sights that I would have visited include the Labor Museum and the Munch Museum.  Both of these were out of the way so they did not fit into my schedule. If a person really wants to visit a lot of museums, the 48 hour pass seems to be the way to go!


						
					

Anxious Adventuring: Blue Lagoon and the Construction of the Self

Anxious Adventuring_

Anxious Adventuring: Blue Lagoon and the Construction of Self

H. Bradford

5/31/19


There is really no reason to be anxious about visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.  After all, it is supposed to be relaxing. Still, I had some misgivings about it.  For the most part, this stemmed from my concept of self. I have never been to spa before.  Spas seem like one of those things for “other” people. When I say “other” people, I mean, well-kept, normal, better off, thin, Instagram ready people.  I see myself as abnormal, weird looking, not thin, and not well-off. Spas seem indulgent and feminine, not that that femininity or indulgence is wrong. I worried that perhaps there would be social norms or expectations that I would not meet.  Secondly, it is spendy. The most basic “Comfort” package costs around $94. This includes a silica mud mask, free drink, entrance, and locker/towel use. I worried that maybe choosing the “cheapo” package was a stigmatized choice or worse, there would be hidden costs.  Like many things that I feel uncertainty over, it turned out to be a good experience and insightful about how a person constructs their “self” while traveling.


My day started with a very early flight from Oslo to Reykjavik, so I arrived in Iceland feeling exhausted but also thankful that visiting the Blue Lagoon was the first and main activity of my day.  I had pre-booked my visit to the Blue Lagoon and the booking included an airport transfer to the Blue Lagoon and then another to the Reykjavik. Because the Blue Lagoon is located between Keflavik airport and Reykjavik, it seems that many people either visit the Blue Lagoon while entering or leaving Iceland.  This low-key activity gave me something to do when I otherwise might not have been up for much more. There was a bit of confusion over which of the many buses outside of the airport was my transfer as well as some waiting outside in the windy cold that served as a welcome to the country. But, once I figured out the appropriate bus (different tour operators use different busing companies) I was on my way across the black lava fields to my destination.  Blue Lagoon is located about 20 minutes away from the airport. Once there, I joined the throngs of fellow tourists exiting their respective buses and lined up to check my luggage. If I remember rightly, it was about $5 to rent a locker for my luggage.

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After dropping my luggage off, I entered the main complex of the Blue Lagoon, where I again l joined a que.  This time, the line was for my entry wristband. The wristband serves as a key to a smaller locker (for purses or personal items), for entry and access to the amenities that come with the package that a person has purchased, and to pay for items (since it is connected to a person’s credit card).  While I stored my suitcase at the baggage check point for a fee, smaller items can be stored for free in the locker room. The locker was large enough for a backpack of items such as dry clothes, purse with wallet, cosmetics, personal towel, etc. The locker room is divided by gender, but trans or non-binary individuals who wish for private space for changing can ask for this upon request.  In the locker room itself there are shower stalls with curtains and walls, so it is private enough that a person does not need to get naked with others if they are uncomfortable with that prospect. Other reports mention that there is a staff who monitors the showers to make sure that everyone is clean when they enter the Blue Lagoon. However, I did not notice any staff tasked with this duty. Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature


With changing complete, I headed off to the geothermal pool area.  Before entering the pool, one must leave their sandals or shoes behind, as well as deposit their towel (which is included with the fee) on a hook.  The thermal pool was expansive enough that even though it was busy, visitors were spread out. The demographics of the visitors seemed to be a mixture of older people and young people, with no children present at that time even though children over two years of age and older are allowed with a parent or guardian.  The tourists skewed towards white, young, and female at the time of my visit, but there was a number of older men and young men in mixed gender groups. According to research regarding spa tourism, women make up the majority of spa visitors. In a survey of spa goers at a resort in Crete, Greece, a convenience sample of spa users in a spa lobby consisted of 67% women and the most common age category of respondents was 45 to 54 to years old.  Most respondents, or 47%, had completed a Bachelor’s degree. The most common income category at 39% was 30,000 to 50,000 euros per year, followed by 28% making above 50,000 euros yearly income (Trihas and Konstantarou, 2016). While it is hard to generalize from a single study, it seems that spas would attract at least middle income individuals due to the fact that it is discretionary spending that lower income individuals may not be able to afford.  In the United States, 78% of spa visitors are women and the average age is 45. Kelly and Smith (2016) review research which suggests that this may be because women are tasked with more care work which lends itself to wanting to relax and because they feel more pressure to be healthy and attractive. They also suggest that this age is part of the U-bend, wherein individuals are believed to be less happy in their 40s and 50s (Kelly and Smith, 2016). Personally, I would hypothesize that women likely have more disposable income in their 40s, as this is when income peaks for women (Elkins, 2018).  This might lend itself to more spending on health and leisure. This age group may enjoy more capacity for leisure and health, as children may be older or grown. My perception was that the tourists at the Blue Lagoon skewed towards under age 40 at the time of my visit. While this is younger than the average spa visitor elsewhere, this may be in part because Iceland attracts younger tourists. The average age of a North American tourist to Iceland is 39.1 years old. The average age of an Asian tourist to Iceland is 34.6 years old and from Eastern Europe it is 31.7 years old. In a survey conducted by the Iceland Tourist Board, only 1 in 10 respondents were over the age of 55.  Most respondents were between the age of 24 and 34, followed by 35 to 54 (Oladottir, 2018). The demographics of my visit may also be unique to that moment in time.

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In Trihas and Konstantarou’s (2016) study of a Crete spa, most visitors were there for relaxation, followed by physical health and beauty.  This is consistent with other literature they reviewed wherein tourists were often motivated by relaxation and relief. Other important factors in the literature review include novelty and self-exploration.  The self is a complicated concept. Some travel research has posited that travel helps one find their self, but the self is not a fixed thing that one finds. Rather, it is is something constructed through the process of travel.  One way of visioning the “self” was put forth by Sirgy and Su s as self-image (how one sees their self), ideal self (how one would like to see themself), social self (how a person believes others perceive their self), and ideal social self (how others would like to be seen).  Ideal self and social self pattern consumption decisions (Kelly and Smith, 2016). As for myself, my visit to the Blue Lagoon was motivated by curiosity, fear of missing out, and relaxation. On one hand, since I had never visited a spa before, I was curious what that experience would be like.  Additionally, the Blue Lagoon is often framed as a “must see” tourist attraction in Iceland. I felt that if I did not visit it, I may miss out on an important experience. Because I am always uncertain when I will visit a country again, I am influenced by travel books, blogs, or travel websites which list “must see” locations.  Finally, I figured it would be a relaxing experience, even if the experience was not familiar and included some stresses of fitting in or uncertain norms. The Blue Lagoon is more than a geothermal spa, it is an attraction in its own right, and I assume that there are others there who are also unfamiliar with spas but who chose it as a destination because of its reputation as an important tourist attraction.  My hypothesis contrasts with Trihas and Konstantarou’s (2016) study which found that 35% of the spa visitors in Crete had visited a spa at least ten times. While I cannot test these predictions without doing actual research, this might be an area for someone else to explore. Image may contain: one or more people, sky, mountain, ocean, cloud, outdoor, nature and water


While visiting, I didn’t feel particularly out of place, as people seemed too involved in their social groups or relaxation to pay much attention to others.  Nor did I feel stigmatized for choosing the cheaper option. The electronic bracelets are color coded depending upon the package that one chooses. However, most people had the same blue wristband that I had, meaning that most people were not spending hundreds of dollars on their experience.  Like me, many were probably content to just be there. The lagoon itself was amazing. The air was very chilly, as it was a late September day. However, the water was 100 degrees F and perfect. I sat there, soaking up the beautiful, milky blue water. I tried out the silica mud mask, which I felt was completely adequate for my visit.  If a person wants to spend more money, they can try out other masks. Additional masks can be obtained at a mask station. The Blue Lagoon is a mixture of sea water and ground water. The water is heavy with silica, which forms a white mud on the bottom of the pool, from which the mask is derived. Blue green algae are also found in the water.  The water can actually turn from blue-white to green in the summer due to algae growth and visitors can pay extra for an algae mask. Aside from algae and silica, the water has 2.5% salinity (Haraldson, 2014). In contrast, the average salinity of ocean water is 3.5%.


Like many people at the Lagoon, I took selfies.  Taking selfies to document the experience seemed like an important ritual for the younger, female visitors.  Like others, I tried to capture myself with a mask on my face, as this represented to me both the novelty of trying something new and the constructed luxury of existing in that space.  Warren and Batarags (2018) pointed out that many of the photos of the Blue Lagoon are curated to cut out certain elements of the visit.  For instance, most people do not photograph the nearby power station, local highway, or the buildings that surround the lagoon.  This gives a false impression that the lagoon is located in the middle of nature. It is true that I did not photograph those elements of the experience either. I suppose I have internalized the norms of what sort of photos one should take of the Blue Lagoon. But, honestly, I did not find it to be a jarring environment spoiled by buildings.  The buildings are dark colored and modern looking and seem to blend well with the natural landscape.  Cutting out buildings and highways constructs the scene of the selfie.  Goffman noted that individuals present a sense of self to generate a desired impression.  Taking selfies entails creating content for an imagined audience, editing and framing this content in order to highlight positive ideas one has about themselves.  In one study, 45% of UK, U.S., and Chinese students surveyed felt that looking good in a selfie was important.  For some sefie takers, impression management might be accomplished through filters or lighting  (Nguyen and Barbour, 2017).   In the case of the Blue Lagoon, it is accomplished through what is in the view of the camera and what is not.  Including buildings, the highway, or power plant creates a stage wherein the self is situated in more mundane environs.  The impression that is consciously or subconsciously constructed through selfies is that the location is natural and relaxing and more individual and exclusive than it may actually be. Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor


Aside from taking selfies, I took time to enjoy a drink from the poolside drink station.  Since my band included a free drink, I tried out a strawberry skyr smoothie. I will say that drinking a thick yogurt drink in 100 degree water isn’t actually that refreshing.  The beverage was a bit too heavy for the heat. Technically, skyr is consumed like yogurt, but is actually a soft sour cheese. So, imagine choking down a thick, sour cheese drink while sweating in a steaming pool.  Well, I wanted an “Icelandic” experience. Still, I felt fabulous drinking yogurt and saturating myself with the hot silica infused water. One benefit of the cheap package is that, like all of the packages, visitors are allowed to stay as long as they like.  So, I stayed a few hours. I left the water a few times to drink water from a nearby fountain. At least the water was free!

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As popular and luxuriant as Blue Lagoon is, it isn’t actually a naturally occuring hot spring.  Rather, Blue Lagoon is actually formed by the wastewater from the nearby Svartsengi power plant.  Svartsengi, which means black meadow, is located in a lava field that is thought to have been formed by volcanic eruptions that occured in 1226 on the Reykjanes peninsula (Bilba, 2013).  The black landscape, which is speckled with green patches of moss, creates an otherworldly backdrop for the vibrant lagoon. The power plant is visible from the Blue Lagoon and is itself a wonder, as it uses steam and salt water to create energy that provides electricity and hot water to thousands of homes in Iceland.  The steam is accessed by drilling 1800 M beneath the earth, where the water is 465 degrees F because it is warmed by magma from the spreading of the Eurasian and American plates. Steam is converted to hot air and salt and water are filtered from the steam (Bilba, 2013). It was the first geothermal power plant in the world to produce both heat and electricity.  It was constructed during the 1970s as a state and municipally funded project to serve the region’s energy needs as well as provide electricity and hot water to Keflavik airport (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019). The Blue Lagoon was meant to be a waste lagoon for water discharged from the plant, but the lava field proved impermeable to the water due to sedimentation, resulting in the formation of an expansive pool.  Because of this blocked drainage, new holes must be regularly bored into the lava field to alleviate some water build up (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019). The geothermal plant is not open to the public, but according to Tripadvisor, a person might be able to arrange a private tour by contacting the plant. Thus, the Blue Lagoon does not necessary have to be viewed as luxurious, feminine, or middle class. It could be framed as an industrial wonder fit for working class people of all genders. Image result for blue lagoon power plant image of Svartsengi Power Plant from: https://www.nat.is/blue-lagoon-history/


The Blue Lagoon began to take off in the 1980s, when psoriasis patients began bathing in the water as an experimental cure (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).   The Iceland Psoriasis Society built the first rudimentary shelters along the lagoon and in 1987 the first public bathing facility opened. Blue Lagoon Ltd was established in 1992 and took over the facilities in 1994.  Scientific studies conducted between 1992-1996 provided the data necessary for Icelandic Health Authorities to declare it an official psoriasis treatment facility (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010).  The water is believed to relieve symptoms of eczema, arthritis, and sciatica and Iceland’s social security system covers visits to Blue Lagoon for medical treatment (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).  Thus, before it was a tourist attraction, it was used for medical purposes. In 1999, construction upgraded the lagoon so that it is now regularly fed water and features amenities such as a cafe and restaurant (Blue Lagoon-The History, 2019).  Today, the geothermal brine is replaced every 40 hours (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010) and the facility, which was updated in 2007, features massages, sauna, a shop, private retreat spa,  hotels, and clinic. In 2017, 1.3 million tourists visited the Blue Lagoon. Aside from tourism, Blue lagoon algae are harvested for a variety of purposes ranging from fish food to cosmetics.  Silica and salts are also harvested from the water for cosmetic purposes (Guðmundsdóttir, Brynjólfsdóttir and Albertsson, 2010).   Up to 4,000 people visit the Blue Lagoon each day, but when I visited in September, it seemed far less busy.


The Blue Lagoon is disparaged for being a tourist trap and over priced.  Both of these things are true. 31% of visitors to Iceland pay a visit to the Blue Lagoon, but 59% of visitors travel to Gulfoss/Geysir and 50% visit Thingvellir national park.  EVERYTHING in Iceland feels like a tourist trap, in that, well, most tourists travel there to partake in several popular activities and the country attracts millions of tourists.  If a person wants to avoid tourist traps, they might instead travel to Chad. So, to some degree, most people will likely visit something popular while visiting Iceland. Popular things are often denigrated as inauthentic or pedestrian.  Travel advice often hinges upon finding the unique, quaint, out of the way, and authentic. The Blue Lagoon is authentically the Blue Lagoon in the same way Disneyland is authentically Disneyland. It is an experience and one that constructs itself as healthy and indulgent, but in reality is a popularized pool of industrial wastewater.  Yet, to critique it for being popular and inauthentic is an exercise of cultural capital. According to Bourdieu, cultural capital is the tastes, knowledge, practices, and skills which are given value by elites. These things are transmitted through socialization by elite peers, family, or education systems. Tastes in food, music, clothing, hobbies, etc.represent cultural capital and are a source of status.  Everyone is socialized with certain skills, knowledge, or dispositions known as habitus. Habitus patterns a person’s relationship to cultural capital (Holt, 1998). For instance, a person who is not very knowledgeable about Italian food might visit Olive Garden and feel that it is an authentic Italian experience. The tastes of this individual might be denigrated as low class, ordinary, or uneducated because of their preference for a mass chain restaurant over a locally owned Italian restaurant or a trip to Italy itself.  Only a person with access to certain skills, networks, or knowledge would be able to discern what is deemed authentic by cultural elites. Of course, having economic capital is necessary for accessing so called authentic experiences. Returning to the Blue Lagoon, I had misgivings about visiting since I was not socialized to visit a spa. It was not part of my upbringing or education and represents a sort of cultural capital that I lack. At the same time, because the Blue Lagoon is so popular, it lacks the authentic veneer of more obscure geothermal spas in Iceland, the ones which locals ACTUALLY visit and the ones which are ACTUALLY naturally occurring.  It straddles the elitism of being expensive and the “low” culture of mass tourism. But, because it can be both elite (with hotel stays costing over $1000) and popular (visited by millions), it appeals to a wide audience who can customize their experience based upon their sense of self, economic capital, and cultural capital. Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and water


With that said, I would say that my visit to the Blue Lagoon was relaxing and interesting.  It challenged my sense of self (viewing myself as not a spa person) and took me out of my comfort zone (as someone who has not visited a spa).  I can appreciate the sense of self-care or pampering that comes with a visit and have since visited other geothermal spas. To increase my sense of being a “spa person” I have tried to reframe these experiences as interesting geological or industrial phenomena.  This creates the potential for them to be more gender neutral or at least less associated with beauty and wellness. I lack the cultural capital, or for that matter, gender capital, to fully enjoy or embrace the experience. Without overthinking it, it was relaxing to submerge in the warm water and novel to be in such a unique place.  I would recommend it to visitors of Iceland and also recommend paying attention to the demographics and behaviors of fellow visitors!

Image may contain: sky, ocean, plant, outdoor, nature and water


Sources:

Biba, E. (2017, November 14). Tour One of Iceland’s Incredible Geothermal Plants. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/g1337/tour-one-of-icelands-incredible-geothermal-plants/?slide=4

 

Blue Lagoon – The History. (2019, April 26). Retrieved from https://www.nat.is/blue-lagoon-history/

 

Elkins, K. (2018, November 02). Here’s the age at which you’ll earn the most in your career. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/02/the-age-at-which-youll-earn-the-most-money-in-your-career.html

 

Gudmundsóttir, M., Brynjólfsdóttir, A., & Albertsson, A. (2010, April). The history of the blue lagoon in Svartsengi. In Proceedings of the World Geothermal Congress.

 

Holt, D. B. (1998). Does cultural capital structure American consumption?. Journal of consumer research, 25(1), 1-25.

Haraldsson, I. G. (2014). Geothermal baths, swimming pools and spas: examples from Ecuador and Iceland.

Kelly, C., & Smith, M. K. (2016). Journeys of the self: the need to retreat.

Nguyen, L., & Barbour, K. (2017). Selfies as expressively authentic identity performance.

Oladottir, O. (2018). Tourism in Iceland (pp. 1-28, Rep.). Icelandic Tourist Board. https://www.ferdamalastofa.is/static/files/ferdamalastofa/talnaefni/tourism-in-iceland-2018_2.pdf

Warren, K., & Batarags, L. (2018, October 02). Disappointing photos show what Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon looks like in real life. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/blue-lagoon-photos-iceland-reality-vs-expectation-2018-9#-think-again-the-blue-lagoon-is-located-right-off-a-highway-8

 

Trihas, N., & Konstantarou, A. (2016). Spa-goers’ Characteristics, Motivations, Preferences and Perceptions: Evidence from Elounda, Crete. Almatourism-Journal of Tourism, Culture and Territorial Development, 7(14), 106-127.

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

A modified version of this article appears in Socialist Action news and can be accessed here: https://socialistaction.org/2019/05/27/new-anti-abortion-laws-how-should-we-respond/

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


On May 15th, 2019, the most restrictive abortion law in the United States was signed into law in Alabama by Governor Kay Ivey.  The Alabama Human Life Protection Act, which passed the Alabama Senate 25-6, makes abortion illegal at all stages of pregnancy and makes no exception for rape or incest.  The bill seeks to make abortion illegal in Alabama in all cases but health threat to the mother, fatal fetal anomalies, and ectopic pregnancies. Under the law, abortion providers could face up to 99 years in prison.  This draconian law follows a wave of anti-abortion legislation across the United States which is aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade.   In 2019, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, and Mississippi have passed “heartbeat bills” which outlaw abortion at six to eight weeks and at the time of writing, six week abortion bans are moving forward in the respective legislative bodies of South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisiana.  Many abortion seekers may not be aware that they are pregnant at six weeks and would have little time to make an appointment or raise the funds to obtain an abortion. In this sense, heartbeat bills functionally outlaw abortion. “Heartbeat” itself is a misnomer as at this stage of development, an embryo has not developed a cardiovascular system.  Rather, a group of cells generates rhythmic electrical pulses which is more technically known as fetal pole cardiac activity. Of course, a tactic of the anti-choice movement has long been to warp fetal development to infanticize embryos and fetuses. Thus far, about 30 abortion laws have been passed in the United States this year.


Attacks on abortion access are nothing new, but the latest abortion restrictions are bolder and represent a concerted effort to use the court system to overturn or at least chip away Roe v. Wade.  Since 1973, over 1,900 abortion restrictions have been passed.  About ⅓ of these have been passed since 2011. These restrictions have included mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on state funding, no requirement for insurance to cover abortion, state mandated counseling, parental consent laws, gestational limits, and hospital requirements.  The barrage of laws against abortion access has been accompanied by the proliferation of crisis pregnancy centers which pose as health clinics and are designed to confuse and outright lie to abortion seekers by providing false information and pro-life propaganda. There are 2,300-3,500 crisis pregnancy centers spread across the United States, but only 1,800 abortion clinics.  In 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the right of these fake clinics to provide false information and false advertising when it ruled that California’s Freedom, Accountability, Care and Transparency Act (FACT) violated the first amendment. At the same time, there has been an effort to defund Planned Parenthood by blocking Title X funds that have assisted low income patients obtain contraceptives and other reproductive health services since 1970s.   The decades of attacks on abortion access was heralded by the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976 with bipartisan support and barred the use of federal funds for abortion services. The truth of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been fighting a losing battle for over forty years.


There have been a number of responses in reaction to the recent restrictions on abortion.   Some activists have called for an economic boycott the state of Alabama and other states with strict abortion restrictions.  A disturbing sentiment that sometimes accompanies the call for a boycott is that the people of Alabama are backwards, uneducated, and even incestuous.  While boycotting can be an effective tactic, it is important to remember that many people in Alabama are not supportive of the new abortion law. In a 2018 survey of likely Alabama voters, Planned Parenthood found that 65% of respondents felt abortion should be legal in cases of rape and incest.  The law does not represent the sentiments of many Alabama voters, even those who are pro-life. Marches against the bill were held in Montgomery, Birmingham, Muscle Shoals, and Huntsville. Rather than boycotting the state of Alabama or denigrating the state as backwards, the efforts of pro-choice organizers should be recognized and the potential for conservative populace of the state to be brought around to the issue acknowledged.  A quarter of the children in Alabama live in poverty, the state has the second highest infant mortality rate in the country, and is the 6th poorest state in the country. It is ranked 50th in education, 46th in healthcare, and 45th in crime and corrections. The people of Alabama need solidarity, not shame. Rather than boycott the state which already lacks in infrastructure and is marked by racism and poverty, it would be more useful to boycott corporations that actively support or donate to the pro-life movement such as My Pillow, Hobby Lobby, Curves, Gold’s Gym, and Electric Mirror.


Another reaction to the recent ban is to wait for the courts to overturn the restrictions.  Activists are reminded that abortion remains legal, all three of Alabama’s abortion clinics plan to stay open, and that these new laws will be tied up in litigation before they can be enacted.  The narrative goes that the Supreme Court is not eager to overturn Roe v. Wade outright and that other restrictive abortion laws have been struck down elsewhere.   For instance, a 2013 heartbeat bill in North Dakota was struck down as unconstitutional.  Six week bans were also struck down in Iowa and Kentucky. There are a number of flaws with this perspective.  Firstly, it is disempowering and a difficult to build a movement around waiting for court decisions. Secondly, this perspective grants legitimacy to the court system.  The presidential nomination of and lifetime tenure of Supreme Court justices and Federal judges is fundamentally undemocratic. The feudal nature of these courts should be questioned and challenged.  This has lent itself to a cultish following of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is viewed as a liberatory figure who must never retire or die, lest abortion rights be overturned once and for all. The centrist justice is celebrated for her support of women’s rights, but her critique of Kaepernick’s taking a knee (which she apologized for), ruling against paying overtime to Amazon workers, support of warrantless searches in Samson v. California, and failure to condemn solitary confinement within the prison system in Davis v. Ayala mar her record.  Finally, it is important to remember that Roe v. Wade was passed on the premise that abortion is a matter of privacy.  The courts have never framed abortion rights as fundamental to ending the oppression of women or gender minorities.  Abortion legality has always had a shaky foundation.


Some activists look to the Democratic Party to protect abortion rights, framing this as a matter of electing more Democrats into office.  Already, potential presidential nominees have issued statements about abortion ranging from Kamala Harris’ remarks in a February 2019 interview that abortion should be a decision between a woman, physician, priest, and spouse or Bernie Sander’s statement that abortion is healthcare and would be covered by his plan for Medicare for All.  Yet, the track record of Democrats on the issue of abortion is part of the reason why we find ourselves with so many restrictions today. Of the 24 candidates vying for the presidency, only 11 mention prioritizing reproductive rights on their websites. It was Bill Clinton who said that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare in 1992, which was echoed by Hillary Clinton who used rare in her 2008 election campaign.  Abortion has become “rare” as access has been curtailed in a legislative death by 1,000 cuts. Joe Biden voted in favor of partial birth abortion bans in 1999 and 2003 and against federal funding for abortion. Like “heartbeat” bans, partial birth abortion is an anti-choice construction as the medical term is intact dilation and extraction. In 2017, Bernie Sanders unapologetically campaigned for Heath Mello, an Omaha Nebraska mayoral candidate and anti-choice Democrat.  Some Democrats, such as Louisiana Gov. John Bel are anti-choice. Bob Casey Jr., Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin are pro-life Democrat senators who voted for abortion bans at 20 weeks. While abortion has become increasingly partisan since the late 1980s, voting for Democrats is no guarantee of abortion access. Between 2007 and 2009, Democrats controlled the House and Senate and in 1993-1995 controlled the House, Senate, and Presidency. These eclipses of liberal power have done nothing to roll back anti-abortion laws or overturn the Hyde Amendment.  Democrats have consistently supported the Hyde Amendment. Even Barack Obama stated in a 2009 health reform debate that although he is pro-choice, he did not feel that financing abortions should be part of government funded healthcare. In the Machiavellian shell game between the two parties of capitalism, electability trumps values and it is ultimately the power of social movements and organized workers that sways the opinions of politicians. Recently some Democratic candidates have vowed to repeal the Hyde Amendment or defend abortion rights, but this is a function of the success of social movements rather than a sign of courage or conviction.


Boycotting anti-abortion states, depending upon courts, or voting for Democrats will not secure abortion rights.   The way forward for the abortion rights movement is to take cues from mass movements elsewhere in the world. In October 2016, thousands of women in over 140 cities in Poland protested against legislation that would have punished anyone who terminates a pregnancy with five years in prison and investigate women who had miscarried.  In March of 2017, Polish women protested wearing black, boycotted classes, and went on strike against the proposed new law and the restrictive abortion laws passed in 1993. This mass mobilization shifted abortion discourse in Poland and forced politicians to quickly retreat from new restrictions. In March 2018, thousands of demonstrators marched against a renewed effort to pass more restrictive abortion laws.  Ireland’s movement, Repeal the 8th, likewise mobilized against Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. Inspired by Poland’s Black Protests, activists in Ireland marched and went on strike on March 8th, 2017 in cities across Ireland. 66.4% of Irish voters voted to legalize abortion in a referendum held on May 25th, 2018. Abortion is now legal and free in Ireland due to a movement that catalyzed by the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 because she was denied an abortion while experiencing a miscarriage.  The vote to legalize abortion was shocking to some, as Ireland had been a bastion of conservatism regarding abortion and like Poland, had strict anti-abortion laws. Social attitudes can change quickly, which should offer some hope to those who dismiss the southern United States as impossibly reactionary. Despite the efforts of the hundreds of thousands of participants in the Ni Una Menos movement that has sought to legalize abortion and end gender based violence, a bill to legalize abortion in Argentina failed by two senate votes in August, 2018. Even in the face of defeat, the protests and strikes continue as well as efforts to build a feminist international.  Recently, activists involved in the movement for abortion rights in Argentina protested on the red carpet at the Cannes Film festival at the premiere of ‘Let it be Law,’ a film about their struggle. A glimpse of the capacity to build such a movement in the United States happened on May 21st with a day of protest actions called Stop the Bans. Thousands mobilized in a day of action that consisted of over 400 protests spread across all 50 states.


The feminist movement must build upon the successful mobilization for the Stop the Bans day of action and continue to show up in mass to put pressure on politicians to support abortion rights.  Based upon recent feminist organizing that culminated in the International Women’s Strike, a framework for building a global feminist movement was put forth by Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser in“Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto.”  Key ideas from the manifesto include tactics such as mass action and strikes against the conditions of paid and unpaid labor.  The feminist movement must abandon liberal feminist vision of equality under the law and instead fight capitalism head on, including fights against imperialism, mass incarceration, environmental destruction, and austerity.   Social Reproduction theory grounds the tasks of building a global anti-capitalist feminist movement. Understanding social reproduction theory (SRT) is vital to combating anti-abortion laws in the context of capitalism. SRT posits that capitalism does not reproduce the labor power required to perpetuate itself.  In other words, capitalism produces goods and services, but doesn’t in itself produce workers and due to profit motive (wherein profit is derived from surplus value of labor), capitalism does little to provide for the upkeep of workers. Thus, women are tasked with supporting the continuation of capitalism through biological reproduction, the care of non-laborers such as children, elderly, or people with illnesses, and unpaid household labor such as cooking and cleaning.  When women can control their biological reproduction through birth control or abortion, they are denying capitalism the reproduction of a future labor force. Lack of bodily autonomy enforces the traditional family and gender roles, thereby further enforcing social reproduction. At the same time, the drive for profit always works to erode or deny social provisioning such as paid maternity leave, free daycare, socialized health care, or other social benefits which the United States lacks, but encourages or supports reproduction.  This creates a contradiction wherein birth is mandated but not supported. It is little wonder that the war against abortion access has intensified in the last decade, following the world economic crisis that erupted in 2008. Abortion became legal in the United States in the same era as our waning hegemony and the accompanying age of neoliberalism that promotes austerity and the movement of industrial production to the low wage “developing” world. Women’s bodies are punished into ameliorating the crisis of capitalism.


The United States was founded upon the subjugation and destruction of bodies through slavery and genocide.  Reproduction is controlled in the name of national interests, which is itself a guise for the overarching interest of amassing wealth for an elite few.   At times, this has meant the forced sterilization of Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Blacks, low income women, and women with disabilities. In the interest of population control, birth control was first tested on women with mental illness without their consent and later Puerto Rican women.  Today, the rhetoric of walls and criminal immigrants is used to control some populations while the limits on abortion access are used to control another. A part of this continuum of control is violence and oppression of trans and non-binary people, whose existence challenges the gender binary and traditional family structures that have so long been the cornerstone of social reproduction.  Trans and non-binary people are denied reproductive rights along with women, as not all abortion seekers are women. The struggle for abortion access, as part of the larger movement for a feminism for the 99% must also be a struggle against racism, transphobia, ableism, and for the liberation of all bodies long subjugated by capitalism.


 

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