One of my fears with the Trump administration is that it will make George W. Bush look like Che Guevara. To most people, almost anything looks like liberation in comparison to Trump. There has been astonishing resistance to his policies and person. Who could imagine that the National Park Service would rebel and create alternative social media accounts to promote environmentalism, science, and fight climate change? Who would have thought that thousands people would protest at airports against the Muslim Ban or that taxi drivers would go on strike? All of this after a women’s march of over four million participants! There is an enormous outpouring of rebellious sentiments and participation in actions. Yet, I worry that all this zeal will be funnelled into the same-old pro-capitalist centrism that brought us to this point to begin with. To many, the pre-Trump status quo will look like a lighthouse of liberation. This beacon of light is illusion. It is the light that is suspended in time, just before the black hole at the center devours it. Here is how one might go about identifying the center, hopefully so its intense gravity can be avoided.
Lately, it seems that there has been a certain amnesia about the negative impacts of globalization. Many people seem genuinely upset that Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and has backed out of the TPP. While it is easy to believe that everything Trump does is terrible, it is important to evaluate each policy in their own right. NAFTA, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994 was signed and supported by Bill Clinton and 129 Democrats. Its passage launched the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. In a way, it was the Standing Rock of the 1990s, if Standing Rock was on steroids. The Zapatistas rose up because they believed that NAFTA would hurt indigenous people and widen the gap between rich and poor. They also sought land reforms and the democratization of Mexico. NAFTA hurt Mexican farmers because cheap American corn flooded into the country, causing them to lose their livelihood and created further incentive to immigrate to the U.S. Multilateral free trade agreements have been the way of things since the end of World War II and especially since the 1970s. While I don’t want to discuss this point at great length, these agreements generally have negative impacts on the environment, workers, and developing countries. Consider the EU, which is essentially a free trade agreement for Europe. The integration of markets and currency means that member countries must play along with the rules. So, when economies like Greece, Spain, and Italy. floundered, the EU solution was austerity. That is, government spending had to be curtailed Thus, in Greece, at least as of 2015, ⅔ of youth were out of work and wages were down 50% since before the economic crisis of 2008. Free trade seeks the free movement of capital, but also labor, which leads to social strain as workers from poorer regions of Europe are blamed for taking jobs. At the center, there is unquestioned support of globalization. In fact, it is looked upon positively because it is shrouded in internationalism and multiculturalism. Well, colonization and imperialism also are forms of internationalism and “multiculturalism.” The globalization that occurs through free trade agreements and organizations is simply modern colonialism.
The Vilification of Enemies to U.S. Hegemony:
Another characteristic of the dark center of politics, is the vilification of enemies to U.S. hegemony. Both Republicans and Democrats do this. Basically, the U.S. has enemies. These enemies tend to be countries that don’t agree that the United States is a beacon of democracy and hope for the world. These countries might critique U.S. militarism or pose some threat to the U.S.’s military right to have over 600 bases in 148 countries. Our number one enemy right now is Russia. Bizarrely, standing against Russia is seen as progressive. Much is made about Russia’s militarism and conservatism. Recently, I saw that many progressives were sharing an article about how Russia has legalized domestic abuse. Yes, that is truly terrible. But how many of those people know any of the other 19 countries in the world with no laws against domestic violence? How many are paying attention to the domestic violence laws elsewhere in the world? Or even in our own country? This is an example of the vilification of Russia. Russia is a country of Neanderthals who make war, abuse women, and punish the LGBT community. Now, I certainly am against war, abuse, and for queer liberation, but it seems suspicious to me that this critique of Russia fits very nicely with our own militant foreign policy. Considering that the Cold War cost the United States over 5 trillion dollars in nuclear weapons and weapons spending, I am very cautious about the fear mongering over an enemy. Villains create a wonderful justification for militarism. Villains sell war. They also paint us as morally superior and therefore justified in our foreign policies.
Russia has been blamed for spoiling the U.S. election. The internet is rife with homophobic memes of Trump and Putin. It is odd that Russia is critiqued for its LGBTQ repression and yet homophobia is used as a vehicle to poke fun at Trump. What purpose does vilifying Russia serves? I don’t think it is conducive to building solidarity with Russians. We all have a shared stake in ending homophobia, sexism, and militarism. And, at the core of this vilification of Russia is the notion that they are somehow different and incapable of democracy or peace. Let’s remember that Russia (then the Soviet Union) was the first country to legalize abortion. They did this over fifty years before abortion was legalized in the United States. The Soviet Union decriminalized homosexuality in 1917. In the United States, sodomy laws were not overturned by the Supreme Court until 2003. Russians are capable of standing up for progressive causes. I am not a Russian apologist, but I certainly can’t stand the vilification of a country. If we want to change the world, we should first look in the mirror.
Closely related to the vilification of certain countries is endless war. Both parties have stood for war. War goes unquestioned, as if it is an American right to destroy the world. The thing that I dislike the most about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was their commitment to war. President Obama authorized ten times the drone attacks than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Yet, he is seen as just and the embodiment of hope. His administration normalized drone attacks and certainly ended the hopes and dreams of the 3,000 + people killed by them. 74% of the U.S.casualties in Afghanistan actually came after 2009, when Obama sent more troops to that country. If Trump increased the troops in Afghanistan, wouldn’t we be raising a raucous? Often times, there may be peaceful solutions. Muammar Gaddafi actually wanted to negotiate to step down from power. Yet, war and regime change in Libya were sought anyway. And when it was all over, Hillary Clinton said, “We came, we saw, he died.” Perhaps Trump won because the alternative is repulsive. At the very least, I am repulsed by U.S. war mongering, whether it be from Democrats or Republicans. A person can’t really be pro-environment or pro-women if they are pro-war, or at least quietly ignore that war is occurring.
An idea that drives our war making, foreign policy, and domestic policy is that the United States is exceptional. John F. Kennedy said, “More than any other people on Earth, we bear burdens and accept risks unprecedented in their size and their duration, not for ourselves alone but for all who wish to be free.” Bill Clinton justified the war in Bosnia by saying, ““America remains the indispensable nation” and “there are times when America, and only America, can make a difference between war and peace, between freedom and repression.” Although Obama was criticized for not actively embracing American exceptionalism, he did say “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being” to graduates of the US Military Academy. Apparently, everyone has forgotten that American exceptionalism was supposed to be insulting. After all, the word was coined by Joseph Stalin. Oh well. In any event, politicians and many Americans embrace the idea that Americans are special, with a special place in history and the world. We’re not just another country. This is dangerous. It can be used to justify anything from blocking refugees from entering our country to building walls…to endless war. It means that the people of other countries are somehow less deserving of autonomy or inferior because they are less like us. It justifies our role as the world’s police officer. Since most people alive today are accustomed to U.S. hegemony, it is almost impossible to imagine that perhaps the US does not have a higher mission or purpose in this world. More fearful is the idea that we could be eclipsed by another great power. This fear keeps us locked to the two capitalist parties. It limits our imagination that we could perhaps have some shared interest with the people of the world in dismantling capitalistic and militaristic hegemony period.
The Invisibility of Class:
Finally, the dark center of politics lacks any concept of social class. Class is an obscure concept. Everyone is a part of the mushy, middle class. What is the middle class? What is its relationship to other classes? Its relationship to capital? Our exceptionally large middle class, whatever that may be, is another thing that makes America exceptional. After all, look at all those other countries. All the countries without middle classes. They just have poor people and a handful of rich people. If only they had it so good. We have homes, cars, and college educations. Nevermind that we also have credit card debt, student loans, bankruptcies, foreclosures, etc. to finance the illusion of the middle class. Nevermind that we also have trade deals to get all those cheap goods made it sweatshops far away so we can feel wealthy at Walmart. Or, nevermind that the middle class is nothing more than a social construct. At best, it is operationalized by ranges of income. But, if it were operationalized as a household making $42,000 – $125,000 a year, this says little about education, kind of work, and more importantly, role in this economic system. It also implies that a person who makes $41,000 is working class or poor, but the person who makes $1000 is magically middle class. This lack of a concept of class or acknowledgement of the working class obfuscates the economic well-being (or lack thereof) of this country and limits the possibility of class consciousness. People might be encouraged to join unions or fight for higher minimum wage if they saw themselves as workers or part of a large working class with common interests.
I am not sure what will happen after Trump. I hope that perhaps this outburst of activism against him can push America further away from our xenophobia, racism, sexism, environmental destruction, and war making. I hope that the outrage cannot be contained by the two parties. That perhaps new institutions will arise or old ones will be revitalized. I hope that mass mobilizations of people make the 1960s look like a 4th of July Parade. I hope we can make 2017 look like 1917. But, my fear is that the lure of centrism will draw people back to oppression wearing the shroud of liberation. I worry that the old way of things…the muted version of all that is happening now, will look positively cheerful. But, I suppose all of this depends on our ability to build movements that are independent of both parties and revitalize the labor movement. For now, I hope that people keep on fighting. I hope they don’t forget how to fight when it seems that things have returned to normal. Normal is unacceptable.
Visibility is important to any social movement. For instance, Pride Festivals and parades make sexual diversity visible to the general public. Offices, newspapers, fliers, and tables at events are ways that socialist groups make themselves visible. The Women’s March on Washington, along with the marches elsewhere in the country, was a way to make the feminist movement visible across America. It drew attention to demands and anger in the face of this administration, but also in response to the decades of failures and defeats in realizing gender equality in this country. There are times when movements must strategically choose invisibility, such as when the violent repression of the state is so great that visibility risks death, injury, or imprisonment. At this moment in time, this is not generally the case. This is the time to be visible. That was my reasoning for trying to organize “Glow for Roe.” I think it is important for people who support reproductive rights to be seen. The point of the event was to turn out for a “glowing” protest in support of reproductive rights. It was one of several Roe v. Wade events last weekend, each of which raised the profile of reproductive rights activism in the Twin Ports. The following is why it is important to stand up and be seen.
We are the Majority:
According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, seven out of ten Americans want to keep abortion legal. In a 2015 survey from the Brookings Institute, 59% of women reported that they wanted abortion to be legal in all or most cases. It is fair to say that most Americans want abortion to remain legal. So, this is excellent! By participating in events like Glow for Roe, the 40 days of Choice, Planned Parenthood support pickets, or the Hotdish Militia’s party/counter protest of the Jericho March, pro-choice activists can show other pro-choice individuals that they are not alone. Those who are engaged in social movements are always a minority of those who actually support them. As such, activists play a role in affirming the beliefs and identities of those who may not be visibly involved in the movement. They also play a role in visibly countering the beliefs of those who disagree.
Abortion is stigmatized:
While most people support keeping abortion legal, many people also support restrictions on legal abortions. These abortions include such things as waiting periods, parental consent, funding barriers, restrictions on how late in a pregnancy abortion can occur, mandatory ultrasounds, hospital admission rights, etc. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 338 abortion restrictions were introduced between 2010-2016, accounting for 30% of the restrictions passed since 1973. So, while public opinion generally supports legal abortion, in reality, legal abortion has been eroded by an onslaught of restrictions. Restrictions make it more difficult and expensive to obtain an abortion. At the core of these restrictions is the idea that abortion is something other than health care. While one in three women have had abortions, it is secret and stigmatized. In the 1990s, Hillary Clinton popularized the idea that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. By adding “rare” to the discourse, it stigmatized abortion and framed it as a moral rather than medical issue. There have been 1,142 restrictions on abortion passed since 1973. According to NARAL-Pro Choice America, states have passed 835 anti-choice measures since 1995. This means that Over 70% of the restrictions have been passed since the mid 1990s! Stigmatizing abortion or calling for it to become rare justifies restricting it, thus further limiting access. Being visible, on the street, protesting for choice is a way to be seen as an unapologetic supporter of abortion and the women who make that choice. It is a way to destigmatize abortion, bringing abortion as a word, idea, and medical experience into the public sphere.
The Other Side is Visible
Another important reason to protest in support of reproductive rights is because the pro-life movement is large, well-funded, and enjoys a lot of institutional support from churches, social movement organizations, and even the government (through politicians, tax breaks, and state funded crisis pregnancy centers). They are visible. Not only are they visible, they are violent. In 1994, arson destroyed a Planned Parenthood in Brainerd, MN burned along with several neighboring businesses. In 2002, five shots were fired into the rebuilt building, breaking a window and damaging a wall and ceiling. The building finally closed in 2011 due to losing Title X funding. The location did not provide abortion services. The Planned Parenthood in Grand Rapids, MN was also fired at in 2002. Since 1993, at least 11 people have died in attacks on abortion clinics. There are elements of the pro-life movement who seem to believe that they are at war. Of course, even their peaceful demonstrating constitutes a war against women, but for some, there is a call to violence. This is terrifying. This is also a reason why visibly supporting choice is important. Clinic staff and patrons need defenders who will visibly stand up for their right to life! At some level, not mobilizing into a visible mass movement is irresponsible when abortion clinic workers life on the line each day they go to work. Our visibility is the least we can do.
Our Rights are Threatened:
It is important to be seen because our rights are threatened. They have been threatened since 1973. The barrage of restrictions. The Hyde Amendment. The Global Gag rule-again. Here we are, forty four years after Roe v. Wade and it feels like reproductive rights are a fluke. A set of rights that slipped past the goalie. No one actually believes that women are human beings. No one actually believes that women can have autonomy over their body. No one actually believes that women should not be punished for having sex. There are people in this society that want to see women go to jail for having an abortion. Despite having the largest prison population in the world, this warped logic concludes the United States would be better if we imprisoned ⅓ of all women. The only people who believe that the equality of women hinges upon their ability to control their bodies are feminists. Like abortion, feminism has been stigmatized. It is a bad word. No one wants to admit to having an abortion OR being a feminist. Well, it is important to be visible as a feminist since no one else is going to advocate for women. No one else believes abortion access is a fundamental and necessary conditions of our liberation. We are the vanguard of all women. Our rights are threatened. They have barely been realized. No one else will stand up for our rights, but ourselves.
We Can be Visible:
There are places and times in history where women have not been able to be visible. I imagine communist Romania, wherein women were forced to have pregnancy tests each month at their workplaces. They were monitored by the state to make sure they did not have abortions. At the same time, contraceptives were banned by the state. Thus, women were given no choice. Well, some chose illegal abortion, resulting in the death of over 9,000 women. I consider death a choiceless choice. Until last year, abortion was illegal in all cases in Chile. This meant that an 11 year old rape victim was denied the right to abortion in a high profile case several years again. Since many Latin American countries have very restrictive abortion laws, women at risk of Zika virus were told to abstain from sex for two years. In Saudi Arabia, women can have an abortion only if pregnancy threatens their life, and then with parental or spousal consent. We are fortunate that we still have some rights and that we are able to assemble and speak our minds without serious threat from the police (in most cases). The Women’s March was criticized for its coziness with the police, but we can certainly use this to our advantage. We should speak out while we can and because we can!
This past fall, the Twin Ports Women’s Right Coalition began doing small events called “Feminist Frolics.” These events were meant to educate our participants about feminism while enjoying the outdoors. The very first frolic was entitled “Patriarchy in the Parks.” This talk explored how patriarchy shapes women’s relationship to nature and participation in outdoor recreation. The original talk discussed how history, gender roles, safety, and leisure influenced how women participated in nature. Since that talk, I wanted to connect how racism, classism, ableism, and other “isms” shape how individuals participate in the outdoors. As such, this talk puts a special focus on race and recreation. In particular, it explores racism and winter recreation. In my own experiences, when I spend time outdoors in the winter, I don’t often see racial minorities participating in skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking. This talk hopes to shed some light on why this is.
The Myth of Geography:
When one considers the racial composition of winter recreational activities, the whiteness of these activities seems almost a given. In our racist imaginations, it seems natural that white people would participate in winter activities. Afterall, Europeans live in the northern hemisphere, where there is snow and cold. Thus, one might argue that geography plays a role in why winter sports tend to be more popular among white people. But, arguments about geography ignore larger issues of racism and classism. It is true that many parts of the earth do not receive snow and that these warmer regions are inhabited by darker skinned ethnic groups. However, geography does not entirely account for participation. For instance, some parts of Africa actually have ski areas. Algeria has two ski resorts and Morocco has three. Morocco has participated in six Winter Olympics, but has never won a medal. Algeria has competed in the Winter Olympics three times, but again, has never won a medal. South Africa has one ski resort, which operates three months out of the year. Lesotho also has a ski resort, which is open during the winter months and is located about 4.5 hours away from Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa. Despite having one ski area, Lesotho has never participated in the Winter Olympics and South Africa has never participated in ski events. In 2014, Sive Spielman, a black South African teenage skier was denied entry into the Sochi Olympics. He qualified to compete in slalom skiing, but the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee disqualified him on the grounds that they did not think he was good enough. Considering he came from a poor area of South Africa, was black, and learned to ski through a ski club at his public school, his participation would have been remarkable (South Africa withdraws only athlete, 2014). Even more remarkable considering that blacks would have been barred from ski clubs and the single ski area until apartheid ended in 1994. Because under apartheid black athletes could not compete alongside white athletes, South Africa was barred from competing in the Olympics between 1962 and 1992 (they were allowed to return to the Olympics before apartheid had ended). Thus, four South African figure skaters competed in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley and the country did not compete in a Winter Olympics again until 1994.
In contrast to South Africa, Zimbabwe has no ski areas, but had a skier compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Their skier, Luke Steyn, was white. Unlike Spielman, he was quite privileged, as his family moved to Switzerland when he was two years old and he attended college in Colorado. Furthermore, he was provided financial support by the Zimbabwean government (Blond, 2014). It is odd to think that Zimbabwe’s athlete was a white skier who left the country around 1995. Although he was celebrated in the media, the celebration was oddly colorblind. While many Americans adopt colorblindness as a way to avoid the sticky issue of racism, it actually perpetuates racism by skirting around issues of oppression and invalidating the continued racism in society. While I am not sure about Luke Steyn’s history, his race in contrast to his country of origin seems like an elephant in the room. His family would have been among the 120,000 whites living in Zimbabwe in the mid 1990s and likely left, like many did, because the political situation was not favorable for white people. That is, his family probably left because of land reforms which sought to turn white landholdings over to the largely black population. This was done to rectify a history of colonization, wherein white farmers were offered large tracts of land in exchange for the conquest of the country in the late 1800s. It was also done to dismantle the economic foundation of apartheid in that country. While I don’t know his family’s history, judging by his Dutch surname and his family’s ability to move to Switzerland, I can only assume that they were privileged if not landowners. The stories of Steyn and Spielman make for an interesting juxtaposition, as it shows how a white man can still succeed in a black country whereas a black man struggled for recognition even though he was part of the majority population in South Africa. One was privileged by race and class, the other disadvantaged.
All Olympic athletes are to some degree privileged, but in Africa, and when it comes to winter sports, this is more pronounced. For instance, in 2014, Togo sent its first athlete in the winter olympics in Mathilde Petitjean Amivi, a cross country skier who grew up in France but has a Togolese mother. In the 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo, Lamine Gueye was the first black African to compete in the Olympics. But like Amivi and Steyn, he grew up outside of Africa. He went to live in Switzerland after the death of his grandfather, also named Lamine Gueye, the head of Senegalese Party of Socialist Action. Gueye has been an advocate for changing the rules of the Winter Olympics to allow more countries to compete. In fact, 96 nations have never participated in the Winter Olympics.
While tropical climate is certainly an impediment to participation in winter sports, there are many countries which have snowy areas which have not participated in the Olympics to the same degree as European countries. For instance, India has eleven ski areas and Pakistan has nine. Iran has almost twenty ski areas. Kazakhstan has four ski areas, Kyrgyzstan has three, and Lebanon has six. Ski areas indicate that the countries have elevations high enough for snow, which lends itself to skiing, along with snowboarding and sledding sports. Iran has participated in the Winter Olympics ten times, but has never won a medal. Kyrgyzstan has never participated in the winter olympics and Kazakhstan has six times. Kyrgyzstan is 94% mountains and has 158 mountain ranges. The Soviet Olympic skiers trained in Kyrgyzstan Karakol Mountain Ski Base (Krichko, 2016). Pakistan has participated in two winter Olympics and Nepal has twice. Chile, which has eight ski resorts, has participated in sixteen Olympics, but has never won a medal. Argentina has ten ski resorts, has participated in eighteen Olympics, and has never won a medal.
The trend is not so much that a country has to have snow to earn medals, as there are plenty of countries with snow, mountains, and wintry conditions which have not won medals. Instead, it seems that the countries with the highest medal counts are European and high income countries. The top ten countries for medals are Norway, United States, Germany, Soviet Union, Canada, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia, Finland. China, South Korea, and Japan each make the top twenty. These countries have more money to devote to developing sport programs and more citizens with income required to compete at a higher level. Thus, high income countries tend to be more competitive in the Olympics and high income individuals have more opportunities to participate and compete. This explains why diverse countries like the United States do not have more athletes of color in winter sports. Athletes of color have excelled in baseball, basketball, soccer, running, and many other sports. African Americans have long participated in the Summer Olympics. For instance, George Paoge competed in the 1904 summer Olympics and won two bronze medals in the 200m and 400 m hurdles. In contrast, the first African American to compete in the Winter Olympics was almost 80 years later in the 1980 Lake Placid games when Willie Davenport and Jeff Gadley competed as part of a four person bobsled team. The first African American woman to win a medal was in 1988 when Debi Thomas won a medal in figure skating at the Calgary games(Winter Olympics: Why Team USA is Nearly as White as Snow, 2010).
Rather than geography, the reason why few African Americans participate in winter recreation is because winter sports require more money for equipment, training, and coaching. Facilities to practice winter sports are often far from urban centers where African Americans might live (Winter Olympics: Why Team USA is Nearly as White as Snow, 2010). While I could not find any recent statistics, as of 2003, 2% of skiers in the United States were African American, 3% were Latino, 4% were Asian, and 1% were Native American. Among the membership of the National Brotherhood of Ski Clubs, an African American ski organization, 74% of the members are college graduates and 60% live in households with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 a year (Rudd, 2003). Thus at an international level, but also at the level of individual local participation, access to resources shapes these sports. This is a barrier to participation among racial minorities. So, even in places with wintry conditions, there is still the barrier of cost of participation. On the low end, a beginner snowboarder would expect to pay $500-$1000 for a board, bindings, and boots. Adult skis can range from $200 to $1200. A winter season ski pass for Spirit Mountain costs over $400. Since 27% of African Americans live in poverty, compared to 11% of the general population, these kinds of expensive outdoor activities are beyond the reach of many in their community.
The Role of History:
Another reason why winter sports are white is because of the history of these sports. After all, when an individual imagines winter sports, they might imagine their white ancestors participating in some form of skiing, hockey, or skating. However, this version of history ignores that some cultures may have their own winter sports. For instance, Pakistan hosts a Baltistan Winter Sports and Culture Festival wherein participants play Ka Polo and ice football. Pakistan actually has the highest concentration of glaciers outside of the poles (“Traditional Winter Sports festival and ice sporting in GB,” 2016). Likewise, every two years, various circumpolar regions compete in the Arctic Games. Participants from Northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Sami areas of northern Europe, and Northern Russia compete in snowshoeing, snowboarding, volleyball, futsal, skiing, and traditional Dene games like finger pulling, pole push, and stick pull. Additionally, while there is evidence that skiing originated in Finno-Scandinavia with the discovery of rock drawings in Norway and a 4,500 ski in Sweden, Iran also has a long history of skiing. In 2000 BC ancient people in Iran produced skis made of hides and boards (History of skiing, 2005). Cree women would play a marble came, wherein marbles carved from buffalo horns were slid towards holes made in ice (Christensen, 2008). Snowshoeing originated in Central Asia 6,000 years ago, then migrated across the Bering strait to the Americas. Anishinabe, Cree, and Inuit invented sledding. The word toboggan comes from the Algonquian word odabaggan. Sled dogging was an indigenous invention and the Jean Beargrease sled dog race was named after an Ojibwe postal worker who delivered mail from Two Harbors to Grand Marais in often treacherous conditions. The Iroquois also invented a sport called Snow Snakes, or snow darts. In this game, the players must underhand throw a smooth stick along the snow to see whose stick rolls the furthest (“Winter workout: Enjoy traditional native snow sports,” 2011). Thus, many cultures have robust histories of winter games and sports. However, these winter games were either lost and diminished by colonization, appropriated by colonizers, or simply not promoted as mainstream winter activities.
Colonialism continues to play a role in winter sports. The Ktuanaxa tribe of Canada has been fighting the construction of a ski resort for 25 years. The tribe has argued that the site is sacred to them as it is a place called Qar’muk, where a grizzly bear spirit resides. The Canadian Supreme court is reviewing whether or not the resort will impinge on their religious rights, as the tribe has argued that the resort will scare away the spirit and render their rituals meaningless (“Skiers v the religious rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples,” 2016). Even Spirit Mountain in Duluth, was one of seven sacred sites to Anishinabe people. It was a place for burials and worship and development of the ski area and subsequent golf course and hotel. Spirit Mountain was a meeting place for Anishinabe and had historical significance as place on their western migration route (Podezwa and Larson). Environment and culture did not stop a ski resort from being built in Arizona. In 2012, the Navajos and twelve other tribes appealed a judge’s decision to allow Arizona Snowbowl to use wastewater to make snow for their ski resort. The Navajo argued that the land was sacred and that the use of wastewater to make snow was a threat to human health. Navajo people collect medicinal plants from the mountain, which have been contaminated by the wastewater. Using only natural snowfall, the resort would have a nine day ski season. However, the artificial snow extends the season to 121 days. Once again, geography is not necessarily an impediment to winter sports if there is money involved. As of 2015, the issue was not resolved (Finnerty, 2012). While it would be unheard of to construct a skating rink in a cemetery or cathedral, the religious and cultural practices of Native Americans have been ignored, suppressed, and mocked. It is little wonder why they would not be interested in participating in high priced, environmentally destructive leisure activities on sacred land.
While the lack of Native American participation in some winter activities could be attributed to a different relationship to land, it doesn’t account for why Native Americans do not participate in snowshoeing. Rudimentary snowshoes originated in Central Asia 6000 years ago and moved across the Bering Strait to the Americas with the migration of aboriginal peoples. Differing snow conditions resulted in various designs, with longer snowshoes developed by Cree people, who faced warmer, wetter snow conditions and shorter snowshoes were developed by Iroquois people (Carr. n.d.). Snowshoes were developed as a matter of survival, as they allowed indigenous people to travel and hunt during the winter. The construction of snowshoes themselves was a traditional craft undertaken by both men and women (Boney, 2012). As with many things, European colonizers adopted snowshoeing for their own uses, eventually converting them to something used for recreation. Snowshoeing first became a sport in Canada, then the U.S. By the 1970s, they began to grow in mainstream popularity. During the 1980s, aluminum snowshoes grew in popularity (King, 2004). In the advent of manufactured snowshoes, the craft of snowshoe making has been declining. This has also rendered snowshoeing a profitable industry to companies who make snowshoes. Companies such as Red Feather, Tubbs, Atlas, and Yukon Charlie are not owned by Native Americans nor do they specifically seek to benefit them. While Tubbs boasts about inventing the first snowshoe for women in 1998 and donating money to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, there is no mention of how their snowshoes might benefit anyone other than white women. Likewise, Redfeather snowshoes based in La Crosse, Wisconsin mentions on its website that it hires people with disabilities, but does not mention anything about helping Native Americans, even if its name and company logo invoke Native American imagery. It is no wonder that a simple google image search of snowshoeing features hundreds of pictures of white people, but no images of Native Americans partaking in the activity. It has become a thoroughly white pastime. It is an example of cultural appropriation that is so normal and commonplace that the historical and cultural meaning of snowshoeing is almost entirely invisible.
The Role of Racism:
The lack of participation in winter sports may seem trivial, but in many ways it is a microcosm of the larger racial issues in society. For instance, in 1997, Mabel Fairbanks was the first African American woman inducted into the U.S. figure skating hall of fame. She was 82 at the time of her induction and was never allowed to skate competitively. Because of segregation, she was not allowed to practice at skating rinks. However, she went on to do her own skating shows for black audiences and was a coach to Debi Thomas and Tai Babilonia. Thomas cited income as a barrier to competitive skating, as she was raised by a single mother and the cost of training can be $25,000 on the low end (Brown). In U.S. society, class intersects powerfully with race. African American children are four times as likely to live in poverty in the United States than white children (Patten and Krogstad, 2015). In 1967, the median income of African Americans compared to white Americans was 55%. In 2013, this had increased to 59%, but a 4% increase over four and a half decades is hardly impressive. Looking at wealth, or such things as retirement savings and house ownership, African Americans owned 7% of the wealth of white people in 2011. This was actually down from 9% in 1984 (Vara, 2013). The segregation that Mabel Fairbanks faced continues today in the form of economic segregation that relegates African Americans to poor communities and low paying service industry jobs. It also persists through the criminal justice system. After all, an African American male born in 2001 has a 32% chance of going to jail, compared to a 6% chance for a white male born in the same year (Quigley, 2011).
Aside from the racist structures that may prevent individuals to partake in winter recreation to begin with, there is racism within these sports. Surya Bonaly, a black French figure skater from the 1990s, was the only figure skater in the history to do a backflip and land on one blade. This astonishing feat actually disqualified her in the 1998 Olympics. She did the flip to flip off the judges, who she felt scored her lower because of her race. At the time, the rule was that a jump must land on one blade, which was meant to deter back flips as this would be a two bladed jump. However, she landed on one to test the judges, who disqualified her anyway (Surya Bonaly is the biggest badass in Winter Olympics history, 2014). At the time, critics called her inelegant and more powerful than graceful. Surya was accused of damaging the nerves of fellow ice skater Midori Ito, which caused Ito to fall in her performance (Du, 2016). These critiques demonstrate both racism and sexism, as she did not meet the judge’s expectation of what a figure skater should look like. To them, a powerful black woman was not only threatening to the sport, but to other skaters. The nine time French National champion, five time European champion, and three time World silver medalist now resides in Minnesota, where she teaches skating lessons.
There are many examples of more blatant racism against athletes of color. Irina Rodina, who lit the torch for the Sochi Olympics, posted an image of Barack and Michelle Obama as monkeys with bananas on her Twitter (Myerberg, 2014). The Northwestern University Ski Team, consisting of 65 individuals, hosted a racially themed party in April 2012, where they dressed as South Africans, Ugandan, Ireland, Canada, Bangladeshi, and Native Americans. The students participated in a “Beer Olympics” wherein they portrayed various nations competing with each other in drinking games. The students dressed in a stereotypical and mocking fashion. This caused a controversy on campus in which the ski team offered an apology but was also portrayed as victims of aggression from students of color who were offended by their party (Svitek, 2012). Val James, the first American born black player in the NHL, experienced racism when he played for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres in the early 1980s. Bananas were thrown into the rink and a monkey doll was hung from a penalty box. He was born into a low income family in Florida and did not start skating until he was 13. Despite his accomplishment in overcoming racial and class barriers, mocking spectators would eat watermelons with his name on it. Even today, only 5% of NHL players are black (Sommerstein, 2015). These blatant acts of racism send the message that people of color are not welcome to participate in winter sports.
Another example of racism is evident in the story of the Jamaican bobsled team. Jamaica debuted its famous bobsled team in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. The story was made into a highly fictionalized movie called Cool Runnings. The national team appeared again at the Salt Lake Olympics and Sochi. In the Lillehammer Olympics, the team placed 13th and beat the US, Russia, and Italy. Bobsledding was easier to adapt to Jamaica since it entailed pushing a 600 pound sled as fast as possible, then jumping in. The Jamaican bobsled team crashed during their first Olympics, but were treated as national heroes. The team inspired other unlikely countries to form bobsled teams such as Mexico, Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and several U.S. territories (Atkin, 2014). Nigeria wants to field its own bobsled team in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. The Nigerian team of former Olympian sprinters has formed to practice with a wooden sled until they can raise enough funds for an actual sled and track (Payne, 2016).
The Jamaican bobsled team could be seen as heroic, considering the challenges of becoming a winter athlete in an impoverished tropical country. Yet, the team continues to be a joke at best and racist trope at worst. For instance, two San Diego High School football coaches wore “Cool Runnings” inspired Jamaican Bobsled costumes, complete with black face in 2013 (Walsh, 2013). In 2015, a group of UW-Stout students attended a private Halloween party as the Jamaican bobsled team, again in black face. The college made a statement that they do not affiliate with those actions (Perez, 2015). In 2014, a group of Brock University college students dressed up as the Jamaican bobsled team and won a $500 costume prize. A critic of these students wrote that black costumes represent the limit of the white imagination to envision black people as anything other than rappers, gangsters, or athletes. These costumes are also a way to control how black people are understood. The film Cool Runnings itself represented Jamaicans in a stereotypical way by actors who were not even Jamaican. Blackface dehumanizes black people. The Jamaican Bobsled costumes affirm a racial hierarchy by making the athletes a stereotype or joke (Traore, 2014).
While much of this discussion has focused on African and African Americans, other racial minority groups face similar challenges. Out of 11,000 U.S. Olympic athletes, only 14 have identified as Native American. Only two of the 14 were female. One of the two was Naomi Lang. In 2002, Naomi Lang became the first Native American identified woman to compete in the Winter Olympics. She is a member of the Kuruk tribe of California but was mocked for wearing traditional regalia at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Skating cost her family $60,000 a year. To afford this, she slept on a mattress and wore hand me down clothes as a high schooler. Lang resisted competitions, since she felt that her culture stressed cooperation and community. Aside from differences in culture and challenges such as racism and poverty, Native Americans face the added challenge of health. 30% of Native American 4 year olds are obese, which is twice the amount of any other ethnic group (Sottile, 2011). Native Americans are also three times as likely to develop diabetes than white people. These health problems can be related back to colonization, which removed Native Americans from their land and traditional food sources and created historical trauma that continues to cause stress and health problems.
The goal of feminist frolics is to enjoy the outdoors while learning. As we venture outdoors this winter, perhaps we will notice how very white the forests, trails, and hills are. Hopefully, this can be connected back to the larger racial disparities that exist in society. It is my hope that this can help us become attuned to other spaces that are largely white. For instance, one of the critiques of the recent Women’s March in Washington was the whiteness of the feminists in attendance. Many of the issues that keep racial minorities out of winter sports also prevent them from participating in politics. For instance, the media and police had an easier time imagining the protests as non-violent because it was undertaken by large crowds of white women, as opposed to Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter, which are viewed more negatively and violently by police and the media. Becoming aware of why certain groups may feel excluded or unwelcome can help us build stronger and broader movements. So, that is the larger mission of this discussion. There should be more spring times for oppressed groups than endless, white winters.
This is going to be one of those…”the time I…” stories. Perhaps I should do a series of “The time I…” stories. This is about the time I raised a squirrel. After all, January 21st is Squirrel Appreciation Day. How better to celebrate the holiday than with a story about a beloved squirrel? This is the story of Flappy, the squirrel that I loved and the squirrel that got away…
Flappy was discovered on a cool spring stroll through Pine Valley Park in Cloquet. I was out for a walk with Dan, enjoying one of my favorite trails, when I came upon a small, flattened baby squirrel with an injured tail. The squirrel was naked, blind, and making an ungodly shriek. We walked past it, but I could hear it behind me as we continued on. I turned around to revisit the helpless squirrel. Some crows were menacingly gathered above us. I didn’t see any sign of a nest or a mother. So, I took the squirrel. I knew this was the wrong idea and it would probably die, but I wanted to save it.
When I returned home, I researched how to care for a squirrel. Of course, every website said that it was better to leave it in nature, even if it perished. The websites warned that baby squirrels were hard to care for and some warned that wildlife rehabilitators might not bother with squirrels because they are so plentiful. The life of a squirrel is cheap. Against all of this advice, I decided to care for the squirrel anyway. This began with devising some kind of diet and environment for it. There was some trial and error, but somehow the squirrel survived the first few days of its life with me. I named the squirrel Flappy, which is short for Flapjack.
Squirrel care was somewhat involved. At first, I fed the squirrel puppy formula, but I had a hard time finding a syringe that was small enough for a baby squirrel. Pet syringes were sized for puppies and kittens. This problem was solved by an awkward middle of the night visit to the Walgreens Pharmacy in search for a single, diabetic time syringe without the needle. Still, even with the small syringe, Flappy always seemed to inhale his milk. I worried that the squirrel would get pneumonia. Eventually, I switched from puppy formula to a concoction of cow milk, yogurt, vitamin e, and sunflower oil. The solution was thinner and seemed to agree with Flappy’s digestive system much better than the puppy formula. I had to feed Flappy every few hours, which meant I took the squirrel to work with me. Every few hours I would wake from my sleep or stop my work to warm up some milk solution for the squirrel, then dutifully feed it. If I failed to do this, my life was interrupted with a terrible shriek. In caring for the young squirrel, I also learned that baby squirrels can’t defecate on their own. Apparently the mother squirrel licks their genitals to stimulate urination and defecation. Yep, so I had to use a q-tip and warm water to massage the squirrel into peeing and pooping. This was quite worrisome as Flappy did not “go” during his first few days with me. I thought it was bound up and would die. So, I was pretty pleased when he finally let loose a black rice sized turd. Lovely stories, right? I also made sure that Flappy was warm by putting a heating pad under his cage. Finally, I made sure that he didn’t feel lonely by setting a stuffed animal in his cage, along with a watch. The ticking of the watch was to fool him into thinking that the stuffed animal had a heart beat. I don’t know if this worked, but he did curl up by the stuffed animal.
The first few weeks of Flappy’s life were pretty intense. He was a needy little squirrel. He was blind, naked, and hungry. But, he slowly changed. His eyes opened. He started to grow gray fur. Each day he looked a little less like Golum from the Hobbit. Flappy became more active and squirrel like. In his toddler years, he started to very carefully claw his way up things. I also felt more confident that he would survive, as he was more robust. However, I did make the mistake of removing the heating pad to early. I found him weak and unresponsive in his cage. I thought for sure he would die, but he survived the night by sleeping on my chest. A few months into his life, he began eating solid foods. This was pretty exciting, since it meant less work for me. I even made him some homemade squirrel food from a recipe found on a rehabilitator website. He hated it. But, he loved hazelnuts- one of the more expensive nuts in the store.
Towards the middle of the summer, Flappy was large enough that he had outgrown his cage and really, was pretty squirrely in his confinement. He would climb the walls of his small prison, making me feel pretty bad for containing him. As such, I decided to introduce him to the outdoors. Our first adventures outside were interesting. Having never seen a bird, Flappy freaked out when he saw a seagull. He clawed up my naked arms and hid behind my head. Of course, with more experience outside, Flappy learned not to fear every bird. At the same time, Flappy showed complete indifference to other squirrels. He quickly learned that other squirrels can be quite aggressive, so his apathy was shattered by chattering teeth and waving tails. Thus, being raised by a human meant that he wasn’t perfectly socialized as a squirrel. Nevertheless, there were plenty of things that were inborn. For instance, he naturally hid nuts and naturally took to climbing tall objects. After a few adventures outside, I took Flappy out again. This time, he bounded down the sidewalk, unafraid of other squirrels or birds. He kept going until climbing an electric pole to the top. He stayed there for several hours. I figured that perhaps it was time for him to go off on his own and that this was the end of our time together. When I checked on him later, he was gone.
I didn’t hear from Flappy for a few days. But, days later, the squirrel returned. It was raining. The drenched squirrel was on the front steps. He had lost weight and looked pathetic. All of this is a very dramatic story. A story of a lost loved one who returns in the pouring rain. I was surprised that he found his home or that he knew to wait on the steps. In any event, I took him back inside. This meant a return to his prison, but it gave him a few days to fatten up and dry out. But, once again, his pathetic running up and down his cage prompted me to let him loose again. However, this time, things went better. This time, he went outside, but somehow learned how to return to the house through the mail slot. Thus, he spent his days outside, then snaked through the mail slot to sleep in our porch at night. This was a great arrangement since he had the benefit of both freedom and security. Flappy made a squirrel’s nest out of the stuffing of a Ragedy Ann doll in the porch. This marked the beginning of his adult life in his awesome bachelor pad. He was still my little squirrel though. Each morning, after working the night shift, I would wake up him by clicking. Then, I would feed him some hazelnuts. He would sit on my shoulder and climb up my leg. This made for a pretty cool pet. Even when I was outside, he would run up to me to climb on me. All the while, he grew fat on all the treats and his life of comfort. This made him the dominant squirrel of the neighborhood. He went from the bullied baby squirrel to a tyrannical boss.
Now, I remember Flappy fondly, but it is important to note that while he ate the nuts that I gave him and freely climbed on me, he was not so nice to my housemates. They remember Flappy as a terror who would bite and scratch them. This is where the story of Flappy becomes less heart warming. You see, in February 2010, I went to study abroad in South Korea. I planned on being in Asia for six months. This meant that I had to leave Flappy in the care of my housemates. It also meant I had to leave my beloved pet. While I was away, he grew increasingly aggressive and wild. This tends to be the case with wild animals and why people are warned not to take them in. It got to the point where my roommates feared for their safety, since Flappy believed that the porch was his territory. He attacked anyone who entered the porch. A downside of raising a squirrel is that they have less fear of humans. So, while I pined for my squirrel from the other side of the world, my housemates lived in terror. They continued this life for a while. But, by the summer they decided to evict Flappy from his home on the porch. They did this by blocking the mail slot by a giant bag of charcoal. This did not deter Flappy. Having grown into a thoroughly demonic squirrel in my absence, he actually ate through an entire bag of coal to each his sweet suite on the porch. Eating all that charcoal seemed to make him even darker and meaner. I must admit that I am a little proud of Flappy for his tenacity. In any event, about a month from my return, my roommates decided to capture the squirrel in a cage and release him somewhere far away. It was suggested by one of them that they should just kill the squirrel, but I am glad that they did not. They captured the squirrel, released it miles away, and that was the last anyone heard of Flappy. Interestingly, the next day, the porch had another squirrel on it, but it was a wild squirrel who had entered Flappy’s lair in search of his stash of hazelnuts. I returned from Asia and felt pretty upset about the whole thing, especially since they did not consult me. I felt that they insulted me by going behind my back and keeping it a secret until my return. It was as if they didn’t trust me with the truth or to make a logical choice. This was a betrayal more than the release of the squirrel.
All of this transpired about seven years ago. I assume that Flappy is gone to the world, as the life span of a squirrel is about six years. In captivity, a gray squirrel can reportedly live up to 20 years, but I think that the challenges of his new environment and his maladjusted nature might have shortened his lifespan. Although it was a long time ago now, I still have a fondness for squirrels. It was more pronounced years ago, where every squirrel I saw evoked feelings of joy. As time as gone on, I am more desensitized to this joy, but I still enjoy them. This extends to all rodents, more or less. So, Flappy taught me to take joy in squirrels and to love rodents. Squirrels will always have a special place in my heart. Flappy was also special because I am not a caregiver. I don’t want children. I don’t find a lot of joy in carework. Although I like cats, I don’t have any pets because animal care takes too much time and investment. Flappy might be special because he is the only thing that I really took care of and took care in taking care of. My friends teased me that I was a squirrel mother. This annoyed me tremendously because I don’t want to be a mother to anything or anyone. But, I was a “squirrel sitter.” Flappy was never really meant to be my squirrel, but I cared for him for a time.
In addition to the experience of caring for something, I think it attests to something strange about humans. We have the capacity of love very different species. What evolutionary purpose would our fondness for animals serve? Is it a badly wired brain that cares for anything cute? From an anthropological perspective, not all societies have the concept of pets! Or, there are cultures that keep pets but don’t treat them especially lovingly. The concept of animal cruelty is fairly modern. Animal rights activists are dismissed for being too emotional. They don’t accept the cold, mechanical reality of industrial agriculture. They don’t just submit to the horrors inflicted upon animal kind like every other hotdog and hamburger loving American. We can love individual animals. We can love groups of animals (horses, cats, dogs). The love of AN animal seems contradictory when paired with indifference to all other animals. Shrug. Another lesson from Flappy is seeing myself in the squirrel. I mean this in the evolutionary sense. Flappy was a curious, bushy tailed, nut gnawing creature of the treetops. In a way, he reminded me of a little primate, like a lemur, bushbaby, lori, or tasier. This similarity is even more pronounced in flying squirrels, which are nocturnal and have large, dark eyes, not unlike a bushbaby. I imagined that our most ancient human ancestors, or the proto-primate ancestors of primates, were very squirrel like. Evolutionarily speaking, rodents are more closely related to humans than humans are to dogs and cats. Primates and glires (rabbits, rodents) are both part of the same clade “Euarchontoglires.” If you move backwards in history, humans, tree shrews, rabbits, rats, squirrels, beavers, etc. all had a common ancestor. We are on the same branch of a tree. Now, closely is pretty relative, and if you go back far enough, everything is related. But, there is a cosmetic similarity between squirrels and some primates as well as a deep evolutionary connection. Anyway, we like to think of ourselves as fierce and independent like cats or loyal and fun-loving like dogs, but we are more like those smaller animals in the treetops or those that scurry in the bushes and sewers. We are more rat than cat. Or at least we are 80 million years apart. I am fascinated by our evolutionary connection to the life around us.
Sometimes I wonder what I would do if I saw another baby squirrel. I think, knowing what I now know, I would pass it by. It was a lot of work and emotional investment. I am sure I would be tempted to care for it and might regret if I did not, but maybe some things are better left to nature. For now, I can find contentment in feeding the squirrels from time to time and appreciating them from afar.
I know that January is almost over, but I was never really able to finish reflecting upon my year. I’ve been a little busy, or mostly a little sleepy and lethargic. Things don’t quite feel “closed out.” I had about 50 New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 and I completed just over half. Here are the things I completed, the things I sort of completed, and the things I failed to complete. Really, 2016 was another great year. I visited southern Africa and the Caribbean and my brother in Texas twice. I graduated from CSS. I took up some old hobbies. I was politically active. There is little to complain about in my personal life. 2017 will have a lot to live up to. I don’t even think it is worthwhile to try to make 2017 as good as 2016! There are good years and there are bad years, but I think 2016 will be remembered as one of the best. Here are the accomplishments and failures of 2016…
125 Miles in State Parks/Trails: Completed
2016 was the 125 year anniversary of the State Park System so there was a challenge to complete 125 miles in the park during the year. Park users were encouraged to log the miles they spent hiking, biking, and paddling. I dutifully logged my miles. I even completed it in early November, logging most of my miles on the Munger Trail in October. I went on several autumn bike rides. It was a great way to watch the season unfold, as it was a Friday ritual each week in October. In the end, I completed the 125 miles, but I actually didn’t submit it to get my sticker and my face on the website. I took a victory picture and everything. I guess I forgot about it after the initial victory. It was New Year’s Eve when I finally remembered, but by then, it was too late. Oh well, it I really cared about the sticker, I would have submitted it. The sticker actually caused some anxiety, since I feared that I would lose it. Perhaps I can reward myself in some other way.
2. Visit Four New State Parks: Did Not Fully Complete
I visited three new state parks, though I suppose if I counted states outside of Minnesota or U.S. territories, I would have accomplished the goal. However, the goal was meant to be Minnesota state parks. As such, I did not fully meet this goal. This year, I visited the Hill Annex Mine State Park, Banning State Park, and Scenic State Park. Hill Annex Mine State Park was pretty cool, since my friends and I went fossil hunting there. It is an old mine pit that has uncovered cretaceous fossils. I found several neat fossils during our time spent fossil hunting. After the fossil hunt, we went on a mine tour, where we learned more about the mine’s history. Banning State Park was also quite nice, since it has lovely trails that wind along the Kettle River and sandstone cliffs. One of the trails marks various historical markers from when the park was a sandstone quarry. Finally, the third park, Scenic State Park, was visited only briefly. My friends and I spent a few hours there after visiting the Hill Annex Mine park. The park was more remote and not as well visited as the others. Since we were exhausted from fossil hunting and the mine tour, the park was not appreciated as much as it could have been.
3. Go Snowshoeing Four Times: Did not Fully Complete I went three times. Fail.
4. Go cross country skiing four times: Did not fully Complete
I only went twice last winter. Fail.
5. Go to Four Musical Events: Did not fully complete I don’t appreciate music enough. The only concert that I intentionally went to was Russian Christmas, a Christmas concert by the UWS Orchestra. I had a really fun time. It took me back to high school band. All of the music students looked wonderfully dorky. It made me want to join a community band. The other music events were Pride, which I was tabling at and a work meeting which happened to be at Little Angie’s while Hannah Rey Dunda was playing. Yep…so, attending more musical events is something that I need to work on.
6. Read Four Russian Novels: Fail
I read zero Russian novels last year.
7. Take of violin again: Completed Technically I did do this, but I only practiced about six times, mostly in December. But, I guess this beats the zero times that I practiced the last seven years!
8. Take up Ballet Again: Completed
I started taking adult ballet lessons back in September. This was the first time since 2011. You can read about it here.
I went to yoga classes twice. Again, not a stellar performance.
11. Try Four New Hobbies: Did not fully complete I tried three new hobbies. One of them, I did pretty well. The first new hobby was birding, which I think I availed myself at pretty well for my first year trying it. I recorded 132 species of birds last year. This is a hobby that I will continue. You can read about it here: https://brokenwallsandnarratives.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/a-year-of-birding/
The other hobby that I tried was collecting sea glass. This was a lazier hobby, if anything can be lazier than watching birds. I collected some glass found along Lake Superior overall several visits. I imagined doing some kind of craft or making jewelry, but I lost interest in it by the end of summer.
Finally, I started doing crossword puzzles, which is a way to pass time while on a plane or in the last fifteen minutes of my shift at work. It challenges my brain and offers a mild sense of accomplishment.
The travel continues. This summer I will be traveling to the “stan” countries for another overland trip.
15. Do the Entire Munger Trail: Fail I have done this before in chunks. A few summers ago, I did a grueling bike ride between Mooselake and Hinkley and back. It sucked. Maybe it is okay to fail at this goal.
16. Go to Four Cultural Events: Did not Fully Complete
I went to two cultural events. The first was Anton Trier’s talk at the Duluth Public Library and the second was Juneteenth in Superior.
I also blew this out of the water. I earned my Masters in Teaching and when I added all of the points possible in my classes versus the points that I obtained, I earned 99.33% of the points possible. So, yes, I lost a few points in a few classes, but I felt pretty proud. Also, I feel a little sad to be out of school. I feel that my brain is stagnating. You can read about it here:
19. Watch Twelve Documentaries: Completed I mostly watched a few Netflix series, including Wildest Africa, Wildest Indochina, a few episodes of Cosmos, a documentary about Ireland, and a documentary about Cats.
20. Watch Twelve Classic Movies or Read Twelve Classic Books: Fail
I watched three classic movies. These included Dracula, the Lady Vanishes, and Out of Africa. I try to limit my TV time and watch less than four hours of tv or movies a month. So, unfortunately I don’t get many documentaries or classic movies in during a year.
21. Run 10 Miles: Fail I think that the most that I ran was 6.
22. Identify 10 Butterflies, 10 Ferns, 10 New Wild Flowers, and 10 Trees: Did not Fully Complete
I taught myself to identify 10 new trees and 10 new butterflies, but failed to teach myself to identify any new ferns and only identified five new wild flowers.
23. Try Four New Fruits or Veggies: Did not fully complete I tried napales, ground cherry, and gem squash. To be honest, it is a little hard to find a fruit or vegetable that I have not tried yet!
24. Eat at Four New Restaurants: Completed
This may seem like an easy task, but I am a creature of habit. I often go where the food is familiar as it is easier. This year, I went to 7W Tap House. I liked the vegetarian selections, but found the food overly greasy. I also went to Toasty’s, which is pretty good as I like grilled cheese sandwiches, but also a bit too greasy. I went to Valentino’s, which I remember being good. I also went to Azteca twice. I tried out Bridgeman’s in Duluth, which actually has really good wild rice burgers. Finally, I did trivia at the Breeze Inn on Halloween and enjoyed the food there. I did eat at new places when I traveled, but this goal was meant to challenge me to try new local restaurants.
25. Write an article of Socialist Action: Fail Sorry party!
26. Do a travel series for Socialist Action locally: Fail
I thought it would be fun to do a travel series of educational presentations about places I’ve been like North Korea or Chernobyl, but I didn’t end up doing this.
29. Go to the Dentist: Completed I had been avoiding this for a few years. Well, no excuses as I have dental insurance now. I ended up going three times. Twice for cleanings and once for a filling.
30. Hit a Traveler’s ½ Century: Completed
A traveler’s century means traveling to 100 countries. This year, I hit 50, hence the ½ century mark. I believe I am at 55 countries at the moment, depending upon what counts as a “country.”
31. Go to the Planetarium Four times: Completed I went to UMD’s planetarium four times, where I learned about the moons of the solar system, voyager I and II, and the June night sky.
32. See the Northern Lights: Fail
Although I monitored the KP index and went out on several nights with high solar activity, I did not see the northern lights.
33. See a Meteor Shower: Fail Although I attempted to watch the night sky during a few meteor showers over the year, the conditions were too cloudy or simply did not yield enough meteors to feel worthwhile.
34. Take an Art Class: Fail
35. Volunteer Four Times: Completed
I volunteered with NYS to make fleece blankets for youth in their programs, though I only made one blanket. I also volunteered at the Loaves and Fishes Holiday Party for the first time. The party is an annual event, wherein low income or homeless people in Duluth can enjoy a free holiday meal with music. It was a really nice event. I also volunteered to table for the Homeless Bill of Rights at Duluth All Soul’s Night, and tabled for Safe Haven at Pride and Love and Bruises.
36. Go Camping: Completed
37. Edit Book 1: Fail I did not do any editing of the books I have written and have not published.
My legs and saggy butt could really use some fencing. Alas, I didn’t even attend once!
42. Get an Archaeopteryx Tattoo: Completed
43. Write 25 Blog Posts: Completed
I actually wrote 50 Blog posts in 2016!
44. Go to an artistic event: Completed I went to an art show at the Red Herring Lounge about Duluth Labor History. So, as you can see, I can really grow in my appreciation of art.
45. Write a Poem: Completed
I wrote a few poems. I can’t say I am a great poet, but hey, at least I tried!
46. Study Korean: Completed I didn’t quantify this goal. So, let’s say I studied Korean, but not very much.
47. Collect Four Globes: Fail
I decided that collecting globes would be fun and educational. I did not buy any antique globes, putting my collection at zero.
48. Attend Two Performing Arts Events: Completed I went to see the Nutcracker and Dracula ballets. I also went to the Vagina Monologues, which I would also count.
49. Try Four New Activities: Completed
This differs from the goal of four new hobbies, as it is meant to be something that may or may not be repeated in the future. My four new activities were searching for fossils, a helicopter ride, a helmet dive, and collecting sea glass. I double counted collecting sea glass, so perhaps this is cheating. The helicopter ride was exhilarating though slightly dizzying. The helmet dive was uncomfortable, disorienting, and a little terrifying. Collecting sea glass and fossils were both pretty tame activities, as one can imagine.
50. Attend Four New Social Events: Completed
I tried out a few new social events, such as Books and Beer, where people get together to read and drink at the Red Herring Lounge. I don’t drink, but I like books, so, it was pretty cool. I also attended my first “Nerd Nite.” Socialist Action launched a new social event called Socialism and a Slice at Pizza Luce. I also attended a meeting for the Society of Creative Anachronism, which was pretty fun, but I don’t have time to devote to it at the moment. Other social events included trivia at Pizza Luce, comedy night, and the Russian table at Sir Ben’s.
51. Run a 5K: Completed
I actually ran two! I ran the Pride 5k and the Spooktacular 5K in Superior.
A Critique of “2017 Resolutions for Bi Girls, or How Not to be a Homophobe”
By H. Bradford
An unsettling list appeared on my Facebook feed recently. It was entitled 2017 “Resolutions for Bi Girls, or How Not to be a Homophobe.” I poured over it, not sure what to make of it. The advice was how bisexual girls can avoid being homophobic. Of course, everyone should aspire to fight against homophobia. Thus, if there are some nuggets of useful advice in this top ten list, these should be embraced. At the same time, there was something abrasive and offensive to the list. I will examine this list, what could be learned from it, and what strikes me as unfair to bisexuals.
The Title: 2017 Resolutions for Bi Girls, or How Not to be a Homophobe.
To me, the title seemed sexist and degrading. For one, it was directed at bisexual girls. The use of the word “girl” seems disrespectful. Rather than addressing the piece to bisexual women, which sounds more respectful, the more dismissive and patronizing word “girl” was selected. I am not sure who wrote it, but if anyone were to say, “hey girl, listen to this…” I would feel as though I am being talked down to. Granted, there are informal situations where being called “girl” is not offensive, but I can’t think of too many examples wherein it is acceptable for stranger seeking to explain something would use “girl” when addressing women. Further, I wondered why the advice was directed at “girls” instead of all bisexuals. This might imply that bisexual girls are more homophobic than bisexual men or bisexual trans people. Couldn’t these resolutions be addressed to bisexual PEOPLE?!
1. Stop using the word queer.
I find this advice off-putting at the very least, since it is a command to avoid the use of commonly used language in the LGBTQ movement. Of course, it is important to note that not everyone is comfortable with the word queer, especially someone who experienced that word through bullying. Queer is taken for granted and has become fairly mainstream. Even the Women’s March on Washington uses the word queer when raising demands for LGBT individuals. Heck, even the USA Today ran an article about the use of the word queer. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think that the USA Today is at the forefront of queer liberation. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/06/01/lgbtq-questioning-queer-meaning/26925563/
Queer is meant to be inclusive. It is meant to be a way to avoid the alphabet soup of LGBTQUIAH…identities and include people who may not neatly fit into gender or sexuality labels. It is also a word that was meant to break down barriers between identities within the LGBTQ community to have a shared identity instead. For some people, it is empowering to reclaim the word. I will admit, I like the word. It seems radical and cool. The word itself means eccentric and unusual, which I would embrace over conventional and normal. But, it has over a century of history of being a slur against LGBTQ individuals. This history isn’t easily forgotten nor should it be flippantly dismissed. Also, not everyone wants to be lumped into a queer community. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, etc. identities have meaning and this meaning might get lost in the wanton lumping individuals into a generic queer community. I think it is prudent to use caution when employing the word queer, to recognize that it can be just as radical to reject the word, and to use different language in different contexts. However, the command to stop using it entirely is counter productive, especially when many social movement organizations/non-profits specifically use the word queer and have adopted “q” as an official part of the LGBTQ acronym, such as Planned Parenthood, OutFront MN, and GLAAD. At the very least, bisexuals would be unusual for abstaining from the use of the word queer.
2. Don’t claim bi-erasure when you won’t call yourself bi. What is wrong with the word bisexual?
I label myself bisexual, when I am more accurately pansexual. I do this because I feel that there is nothing wrong with the label bisexual, it is historically trans inclusive, it is recognizable, and bi seems more accurate than “pan” which generically means everything or all inclusive. At the same time, there is nothing to be gained by label policing pansexuals and bisexuals. Pansexuals may accused bisexuals of not being inclusive of transgender individuals. This piece of advice seems to blame pansexuals on bi-erasure. This kind of bickering and blaming is not conducive to building a united movement.
Pansexuals (or for that matter any other bi+ identity) have nothing to do with bi-erasure. The average person can identify dozens of sports teams by their colors and mascot. The average person can probably identify at least a dozen breeds of dogs. The average person can identify dozens of varieties of fruit. No one mistakes a strawberry for a banana or a bulldog for Afghan Hound. Humans have an amazing ability to categorize vast amounts of information. Therefore, I fully believe that almost everyone could easily differentiate and identify a least a dozen sexualities. This ability is stifled by lack of quality sex education and a conservative education system that teaches next to nothing about gays and lesbians in history, much less bisexuals, asexuals, or any other sexual minority. It is taboo to teach these things in most public schools. These identities are absent from textbooks. And while sex may be commonplace in the media, it is a very narrow sexuality which mostly consists of an oppressive and objectifying version of heterosexuality. With that said, the average American should easily be able to differentiate between pansexual and bisexual. The average American should easily be able to differentiate between bisexual and gay. In part, the invisibility of bisexuality likely stems from the overall sexual ignorance of most Americans. This ignorance of sexuality is a way to render sexual minorities invisible and deny them a place in society and history.
At deeper level, bisexuality itself is uncomfortable. To some, it is a challenge to monogamy and the notion of fixed sexuality rooted in biology. Monogamy has been the cornerstone of private property for thousands of years. Anything that remotely sniffs of a challenge to this, is a challenge to the basis of private property and the entitlement one person to the sexuality of another. Bisexuality does not have to challenge these things. But, I think many bisexuals feel like outsiders to the dominant narratives of sexuality. This makes it dangerous. At the same time, many bisexuals pass as heterosexuals. This makes us seem less visible and less oppressed. As a whole, fears and prejudices, combined with an uncertain position within the LGBTQ community also lends itself to invisibility. Thus, the issue of bi-erasure is not because bisexuals are not embracing the label “bisexual,” but because of larger social forces.
3. Don’t call lesbians women loving women or queer.
Actually, there is nothing wrong with this advice. I feel that people should respect the labels and identities that others choose for themselves. To do otherwise imposes a worldview upon them and undermines their autonomy to define themselves.
4. Stop pretending that our attraction to men is in any way marginalized.
I don’t know that I have heard anyone complain that they are marginalized by their relationship with someone of the opposite sex. The bisexuals whom I have spoken with have expressed that their sexuality seems invisible or that they wish we lived in a different society where there was more room for sexual freedom and exploration. So, there is a certain degree of invisibility and defeat in these relationships, but there is also commitment, love, and compromise.
5. Recognize that biphobia is not a unique axis of oppression. It exists for bi women as the intersection of homophobia and misogyny, if it exists at all. There is no systematic biphobia. The oppression we face is homophobia.
I struggled with this piece of advice the most. To untangle this, I had to first consider the nature of oppression. There are many kinds of oppression in society. For instance, women are presently oppressed by capitalist patriarchy, which devalues women, defines their roles, and historically treated them like property for the purpose of harnessing their unpaid labor and reproductive power in the interest of capitalism. Racial minorities experience racism, which in the context of capitalism, divides the working class, deflates wages, and refocuses social attention. Of course, various racial minorities experience racism differently. For Native Americans, racism comes in the form of violation of treaty rights, denial of cultural practices, genocide and stealing of their land, and marginalization and exclusion from society. For some Latinx Americans, racism might come in the form of English only language instruction in schools, anti-immigration sentiments, or the real threat of deportation. Somali Americans might experience racism in the form of government surveillance, police coercion, Islamophobia, and harassment in the name of anti-terrorism. While various racial/ethnic groups may experience racism uniquely, this does not mean that one group is more oppressed than the other or that the experience of one group should be discounted. It would be absurd and offensive to tell an Asian person that they don’t experience racism or that they should be excluded from anti-racism activism because they are not oppressed enough. In the same way, all sexual minorities experience heterosexism. It is true that some groups experience it much more profoundly. For instance, a low income, bisexual, transwoman of color is probably extremely oppressed by compounding oppressions she faces. But, there is no oppression meter which can be pointed at bisexuals, lesbians, gays, asexuals, etc. to determine who is the most oppressed. Even if there was, what purpose would it serve? All of these people are in some way oppressed by a system that privileges heterosexuality over other sexualities. Each of these groups is seen as abnormal to varying degrees. While gays and lesbians might be more likely to experience homophobic violence, bisexuals are more likely to experience relationship violence. Why keep score? People are being hurt..or killed! It is more productive to fight oppression than fight one another. Heterosexism serves to preserve traditional gender roles and relationships. The role of heterosexism in capitalism is that it preserves a family structure that conveniently creates more children at zero cost to capitalists. The family offers free maintenance of workers through unpaid care work. Is it any surprise that homophobes/transphobes often retreat to arguments about family, child safety, and child rearing? Or, that for gays and lesbians to obtain any modicum of acceptance in society, they must present themselves as non-threatening, white, middle class, and traditionally family oriented?
While I don’t know that the oppression faced by bisexuals is something separate from the general heterosexism faced by all sexual minorities, I will argue that there are experiences that are unique to bisexuals. Terms like biphobia and bi-erasure are used to describe these unique facets of heterosexism. For any oppressed group, there is a need to both work together but also autonomously organize. This is why I wanted to start up a group for bisexuals. I wanted us to have our own group so that we could discuss ideas, educate one another, develop our identity, brainstorm demands, and engage in activism. Ideally, by organizing as our own group, we would be better able to avail ourselves in the larger struggle against heterosexism. I think that all groups should do the same. There should be lesbian groups or gay groups. There should be groups that unite to include everyone impacted by heterosexism. There is nothing to lose by developing groups of people who are committed to dismantling oppression. There is nothing to gain by excluding groups because they are not oppressed enough or do not have the same experiences of oppression. No one experiences oppression exactly the same way. Oppressions intersect. A working class, bi woman with mental illness may very well be more oppressed than a middle class gay man without mental illness. Again, why keep score? Why further divide people who have a shared interest in ending heterosexism?
6. Recognize that straight passing privilege is real.
I agree and disagree with this. I agree because passing as straight is a privilege. It provides safety from anti-gay violence. In some parts of the world, it can help a person avoid arrest and imprisonment. So, of course it is a privilege. At the extreme, it can be a survival tactic. But, is it truly a privilege when NOT passing is met with the threat of violence? It is the privilege to successfully deceive and become invisible. And to be fair, there are gays and lesbians who pass as straight or are believed to be straight until they correct the error. Heterosexuality is viewed as normal and therefore assumed. Nevertheless, anyone who is believed to be heterosexual and cisgender, can benefit from the privileges bestowed upon these groups at the expense of their authenticity and autonomy. This doesn’t seem very privileged. This advice seems to blame bisexuals for passing as straight rather than attacking a society wherein sexual identities are driven underground, ignored, hated, and misunderstood. I don’t think anyone gains in a world where people “pass” or have to pass.
7. Recognize that if you are dating a boy, you are in a straight relationship.
A major theme in the discussions at Pandemonium, a bi+ group that I started a few months ago, is the theme of invisibility. Many of the members are in relationships with heterosexual partners. While they cherish these relationships, it can make their sexuality seem invisible. Commanding bisexuals to identify themselves as in “straight relationships” would only add to this sense of invisibility and marginalization. I can understand how the author may feel upset with bisexual women who are dating men. This might seem inauthentic. It might seem like, “Woe is me, I am so oppressed!” But, in my experience, there is a sense of longing for more. I think many of us wish for a different society, where sexuality can be expressed more freely or with less social consequence. It would be nice if the concept of “cheating” evaporated. However, because most people have an expectation of monogamy, bisexuals are always forced to chose between what appears like a straight relationship or a gay relationship. The exception might be a polyamorous relationship, but there are many barriers to obtaining this. Namely, that the vast majority of people are not polyamorous. Statistically speaking, it is far more likely that a bisexual will meet an individual partner who has an expectation of monogamy. (Of course, many bisexuals are monogamous and desire this as well). Bisexuals should have the ability to classify their relationship as they like. Some might call it a straight relationship. They might classify it as a bisexual in a relationship with a straight person. Maybe their straight partner doesn’t even calls the relationship straight. Maybe the have questions about their sexuality or are open to other options, but at the moment, consider themself straight. They may be in an abusive relationship and FORCED to call themselves and their relationship straight. Why does it matter what the relationship is called? Why can’t bisexuals be trusted to identify their relationship in terms that they find empowering and affirming? I believe that everyone benefits from anything that challenges heterosexism, even if it is just a name or a label. Labels convey meaning. New meanings can challenge dominant understandings about what is real, true, or good in the world.
8. Stop implying that gay is wrong got not being attracted to both sexes. Cut it out with the “hearts not parts”
I never interpreted “hearts not parts” as a command to everyone in the universe that bisexuality is the only correct sexuality. I assumed that those who used that slogan were using it as a personal motto to convey their interest in someone’s emotions over their body parts. Or, it is what is on the inside that matters. I think if it is used as a personal motto to assert one’s opinion or preference, it should not matter. If it is indeed a command or used to shame other sexualities, then of course it should be avoided.
9. Stop implying that everyone is bisexual by insisting that sexuality is fluid.
This one is one of my pet peeves and a mistake I have made in the past. From a sociological perspective, all of our modern sexualities are socially constructed and fairly new. Concepts related to sexuality differ across times and cultures. In this sense, there is no such thing as gay, lesbian, heterosexual, bisexual, etc. as they are all modern concepts developed in the industrialized Western world by psychologists and doctors. There is a wide array of how humans can express their gender and sexuality. In a world that did not privilege heterosexuality, where all genders/sexualities were equal, and there was no negative social sanction for gender and sexual expression, I am sure that people would express their sexuality in all sorts of novel ways. Thus, to some degree, I believe that sexuality is fluid because of the ways that it is shaped by society.
On the other hand, sexuality is real to those who experience it. Just as race is a social construct, it is pretty real to those who are incarcerated or beaten by police because of the color of their skin. So, there are two kinds of reality. There is the reality that these categories are socially constructed and the reality that it doesn’t really matter because they have very real consequences in our society. When a person says, “everyone is bi” or “sexuality is fluid” this may speak to the abstract notion that it is possible that sexuality is a lot more flexible than we think. However, it denies the lived reality of gays, lesbians, or heterosexuals who do not experience bisexuality or fluid sexuality. Just as when a white person says, “We are all Africans” yes, this is technically correct. All humans evolved in Africa. But, we are not all dying of preventable diseases, colonized, or enslaved. Thus, I do think it is a good idea to be very clear in what one means. It is sloppy to say that all people are bisexual. It is sloppy and offensive, because there are plenty of people who are not. This is their lived reality. Calling them bi makes their sexuality invisible and less legitimate. I certainly want to be visible and legitimate. And, while in an abstract perfect society, sexuality may be much more fluid, there may be people who have a strong preference for the same sex, opposite sex, or no one. I would expect this to be true. Though, since we have yet to create a perfect society, it is hard to know. We can only speculate based upon how sexuality has changed over time and varies across cultures.
10. Know when our voice is necessary in a discussion. Are there people more qualified to speak?
I would hope that anyone exercises prudence when they speak. I am not sure what the future holds for Pandemonium (the bi+ group). My own hope is that I grow in my knowledge of bisexuality and can become a part of the LGBT movement. I hope that I can be a voice that speaks on matters related to bisexuality and sexuality in general. I would like to educate others as I educate myself. I feel that bisexuals should be a part of the discussion on LGBTQ issues. Of course, we should not be the only voice or the dominant voice. But, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be an equal among many voices. As for qualifications, I don’t know how one becomes qualified to speak on a topic. I hope that through our discussion group, through activism, and through connecting with the larger community, we all become more qualified to speak. But the concept of “qualified” should not be used to silence anyone. I have often felt like I wasn’t qualified to speak about women’s issues, socialism, anti-war, foreign policy, education, or any number of things out of fear that I would make a mistake or that I was wrong. I still feel that way! Perhaps I am not even qualified to identify “how not to be a homophobe.” However, I think that if I am willing to wrestle with ideas and thoughtfully express my opinion based off of what I know and have experienced, I am qualified enough!
One of my favorite things to do in read. However, I don’t always find enough time for it. In 2016, I read 24 books (not counting books that were assigned during my last semester of my teaching program at CSS). It seems that I read far less than my friends but far more than the general public. Still, I think that a goal of reading two books a month is probably fine enough, as it leaves me time to pursue my other hobbies. At the same time, I hope that I read more books in 2017 than I did in 2016. Thus, my New Year’s Resolution is to read 28 books. In the meantime, here is a brief overview of the books that I read in 2016. About fourteen of the books were written by men and ten by women. Overall, 95% of the books were non-fiction, as I have a strong preference for non-fiction. About 16% of the books were about animals. 8% of the books were about plants. Approximately 33% of the books were related to histories of people of color. 16% of the books were specifically about Africa. Based upon this, it can generally be said that I sought to increase my knowledge of plants, animals, Africa, and sexuality.
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers by Simon Winchester (2015).
I read this book about a year ago, but I generally liked it. There were some chapters which engaged me more than others. For instance, I found the information about the atomic bomb tests in the Pacific interesting since I was not aware of how this impacted the indigenous people of Bikini Atoll. The information about China’s claims to various islands in the Yellow Sea was also interesting. On the other hand, I was less interested in the chapters on radios and surfing. With that said, the book was a hodgepodge of Pacific history. It wasn’t a heavy, hitting theoretical work, of course. Rather, it was a fluffy pop history that was engaging enough to capture my attention
2. Socialism and Sexuality by Sherry Woolf (2009)
I wrote a review for this book last January. I devoured the book within a day. Highlights of the book included the history of sexuality after the Russian revolution, the failure of the Democratic party to be a consistent ally, and a critique of biological determinism. My review can be read at: https://brokenwallsandnarratives.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/sexuality-and-socialism-book-review/
3. The Witches by Stacey Schiff (2015)
This book was extremely detailed, but rather dry. I slogged through it, not particularly interested in the book-despite what should have been an exciting topic. I think that it did not capture my attention since the history was not held together by a central theory or argument as to the cause or purpose of the Salem Witch Hunts
4. Warrior Nation by Anton Treuer (2015)
This book was a history of the Red Lake Nation. I am going to be honest and say that I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. One reason that I probably did not enjoy it as much was because I am not versed in Minnesota history. The book was very detailed, but became repetitive. Of course, that is the nature of the history. However, it was a bit of a challenge to slog through broken treaty after broken treaty. Another challenge was that the book put emphasis on the leaders of Red Lake. I tend to shy away from histories of great individuals and lean more towards social histories. Anton Treuer visited Duluth last year and gave a talk. He was engaging to listen to, extremely informed, and had a great sense of humor. He also signed my book. Perhaps one of his other books would be more accessible to me.
5. The Beast Within by Joyce Salisbury
I found this book at the Superior Public Library book sale and wrote a review of some of the highlights. The thesis of the book is that throughout the Middle Ages, people came to view animals as less different than humans and humans as less different than animals. A flaw was that the book tried to condense a long period of history and large geographic area into a few hundred pages. Still, it was a fun read with many memorable anecdotes- such as the avoidance of eating the meat of hare because they were viewed as extremely sexual animals that grew a new anus each year of their life.
This book was another find from the Superior Public Library book sale. I also reviewed it earlier last year. The book was not what I expected (a diatribe against eating beef). Rather, it was a history of beef. The book did make me feel angry about beef and how it is historically connected to patriarchy and genocide. It is nice to find a book that creates an emotional response and food for thought.
7. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich (2006)
Once again, I wrote a review of this book earlier in the year. I am actually a little surprised that I took time to review some of the books that I read. Thanks past self for helping me remember what I read and what I thought of it! Anyway, this was a beautifully written book of interviews with survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
This book was a forgettable history of apartheid, which I picked up from the Duluth Public Library book sale. I was looking for books about African history and it was one of the few that I could find. The book was written in 1986, so it was pretty outdated and the book ended before the end of apartheid. The only positive is that it was an easy to read introduction to the basic history of apartheid.
9. Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe’s Future by Martin Meredith (2009)
This book was pretty interesting, as I knew little about Robert Mugabe going into it. The history is well written, detailed, and engaging. A person could know nothing about Zimbabwe and still easily read this book. The author was sympathetic to the white farmers who lost their land during the 1990s. He also seemed to have a negative opinion of how this land was subsequently managed. This seems to be the mainstream opinion on white landownership in Zimbabwe. Thus, a person needs to think against the book and its narrative and consider what right do white people have to stolen land or ill-gotten land? Weren’t they always living on borrowed land and borrowed time? Also, the reader should think against the narrative that Black people can’t govern themselves. Perhaps the land distribution and management has had negative consequences, but leaving it in the hands of the white minority diminishes the autonomy and power of Zimbabweans.
10. Traveler’s History of the Caribbean by James Ferguson (2008)
Another easily forgettable history. I don’t have much to say about this book other than I read it before travelling to the Caribbean to brush up on the history. It reads like a long Wikipedia article, so it isn’t terrible, but also isn’t memorable.
11. Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, The Boers, and the Making of South Africa by Martin Meredith (2008)
Of the three Martin Meredith books, I found this one the least interesting. However, the book provided me with a pretty solid overview of South African, Zimbabwean, and Namibian history from the 1800s. The book was full of colorful characters with a lot of attention given to Cecil Rhodes. This in itself made the book interesting and visiting his grave more meaningful to me. Rhodes embodied capitalism in so many ways. Capitalism and capitalists are abstract things that exist somewhere in the world. The 1% is hardly imaginable. Cecil Rhodes embodied the economic, political, and military mechanisms of capitalism. Perhaps the only area of capitalism that he did not represent was the ideological aspect of its existence, since he wasn’t an intellectual or philosopher. In any event, that was the main thing I took away from the book.
12. Fate of Africa: The History of Africa Since Independence by Martin Meredith (2011)
This was the most interesting of the three Meredith books that I read this year. The book is a great overview of the entire modern history of Africa. It is a story of the struggle for independence, hope for the future, descent into dictatorships, and shaky futures. As a Marxist, it is certainly disheartening to ready the story of how socialism failed so spectacularly across the continent. But, to be fair, capitalism hasn’t been much better. The book doesn’t really offer an explanation of why this is. Or, if it does, the blame is placed on corrupt individuals. This is true of all of the Meredith books. The engine of history tends to be centered on individuals or events, rather than economics. Theoretically, the books are weak, as they offer a mainstream journalistic style which masquerades as unbiased but is pro-capitalism and pro-West. In any event, each of the countries inherited faulty mechanisms of governance and underdeveloped economies from their colonial masters and were expected to develop within the context of global capitalism in a Cold War. Was there much hope to begin with?
13. Out in Africa: LGBT Organizing in Namibia and South Africa by Ashley Currier (2012)
I wanted to read a book about sexuality in Africa and this is what I found. The book was short and read more like a research paper or thesis project than a book. The book studies LGBT groups in South Africa and Namibia and uses interviews and observation to identify some of the struggles of LGBT organizing in these countries. Both countries have struggled with the influence of Western NGOs and how these can de-legitimize their organizations and shape policies. For instance, Western NGOs can provide funding and support to African LGBT organizations. However, in doing so, the countries are encouraged to adopt the language and worldview of Western NGOs. Thus, indigenous beliefs about gender and sexuality may be ignored or mislabelled. Another challenge was inclusivity. In South Africa, there were organizations specifically for Black lesbians. However, this excluded whites, Coloured, and gay individuals. Exclusive organizations were often established for the safety of participants. I think this is a very relatable social movement question, especially in terms of domestic violence shelters, which are gender segregated- and often in the interest of safety. This is a perennial problem that social movements must face, since various groups of people may demand exclusive spaces- such as lesbians and women have in the past. These groups may have special experiences or needs, which lead them to organize autonomously. At the same time, exclusion narrows the pool of participants and reifies differences. The book contrasted some of the differences between LGBT organizing in these countries. In South Africa, there has been state support of LGBT rights, whereas in Namibia, the state has been hostile. This has caused the LGBT movement in Namibia to be smaller and more underground.
14. Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky (2001)
This is a fun history of one of Europe’s most unique and ancient ethnic groups: the Basques. The book contains recipes, cultural tidbits, economics, and history. Everything from the most authentic Basque cherry pie recipe to Basque independence is covered. I learned that anyone who speaks Euskera is considered Basque, which allowed ETA to recruit people after their language and culture were suppressed by Franco and diluted by immigrants to Basque regions. I was also unaware that Guernica was a Basque village (I thought it was a generically Spanish village). Basque whaling, cod fishing, shipbuilding, and tourism are also discussed, along with the development of written Euskera, Basque literature, and national identity. I found nothing boring in the book, as it moved along from topic to topic in an exploration of all of the facets of Basque history.
15. Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon by Cindy Ott (2012)
I can’t imagine that there are many histories of pumpkins, so as far as plant histories go, it was a pretty good book.
16. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (1998)
This book has the unique distinction of being the only piece of fiction that I read in 2016. It was lent to me at a meeting of Books and Beer (which I attended one time). I was hesitant to read it because I don’t enjoy reading fiction as much as non-fiction. I was also squeamish about it because it was a feminist version of a Bible story. While some feminists might enjoy imagining God as a woman or the secret feminist lives of Biblical characters, I am atheist with little time for invisible masters, male or female. With that said, I actually liked the book. It brought me back to my childhood. I remembered the old Bible stories from Sunday school and was amused with the narrative from the women of what “really” happened. The book was a little bit sad (since it went through the entire life of the character), but also satisfying.
17. Oak: The Frame of Civilization by William Bryant Logan (2006)
This book was so-so. I found the information about the culinary history of acorns to be rather interesting. However, the focus on oak being used in shipbuilding and architecture did not capture my imagination in quite the same way. The book is probably more interesting to someone with an interest in carpentry or ships. As for myself, I would have been more interested in the ecological and symbolic history of oaks.
18. Wild by Nature by Sarah Marquis (2016)
This book is the story of a woman who travelled solo, on foot, across Mongolia, China, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Along the way, she is met with many perils and challenges. She does not speak Mongolian, she must protect herself from sexual assault, her health and gear sometimes fail her, her beloved dog dies, and she has difficulty navigating the social expectations of Mongolia. I enjoyed it because it is a travel story. While it is certainly a dramatic travel story, I think that anyone who has ventured anywhere can relate to the themes of missing home, leaving things behind, making sacrifices for the adventure, and feeling afraid. To me, the book captured my imagination of what is possible. Some people test their limits by biking across the country, doing the Appalachian trail, running marathons, etc. I was left wondering, what can I do? What are my own limits? Of course, she is extremely privileged to be a white woman who has the time, money, and physical ability to travel across very poor countries without invitation or sufficient knowledge of their customs and language. But, this is also the story of almost all travelers, who come from a place of privilege to indulge in some sort of escapism or self-actualization.
Out of the Past: Gay and Lesbian History from 1869 to the present by Neil Miller (1995)
I found this book at the Duluth Public Library book sale. This is a wonderful source for books! The book was pretty interesting. It covered the LGBT movement and individuals from the mid 1800s onward, beginning with the invention of modern notions of sexuality and the stories of Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde. The origins of biological determinism in sexuality can also be tied to this early history. The book explored the sexual histories of many famous individuals such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia, though it was mostly focused on U.S. and British history. There were many fascinating nuggets. For instance, the Canadian government was extremely homophobic and even invented a “fruit machine” to detect homosexuality amongst government employees. The book covered the LGBT movement in its various organizations and incarnations, ranging from Uranians, Stonewall, and the HIV crisis. As a whole, the book was very gripping. My main complaint is that the history actually did include some transgender and bisexual history, though these are not specifically spotlighted in the title or chapter headings. While it might be difficult to write a book about all sexual and gender minorities, their absence in this history is an example of erasure.
Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday by James Baker and Peter Gomes (2009)
Just as I tried to get in the mood for Halloween with a book about pumpkins, I tried to get into the spirit of Thanksgiving with this book about Thanksgiving. This book was much more sociological than the pumpkin book. The book argued that there was no original Thanksgiving, as there were many Thanksgivings in many places by many people. The Plymouth Thanksgiving was one of several and accompanied by fasts. Just as Thanksgiving is socially constructed, Pilgrims and Indians are. Pilgrims are depicted wearing dark colors and buckles, but this came from the Victorian imagination of the Pilgrims as quaint and austere. The Native Americans that accompany the Pilgrims are often shown in the clothing of Native Americans from the Great Plains and inaccurately dwelling in teepees. The vision of a shared meal between this group only appeared in American culture after the wars against Native Americans had been completed and it was possible to imagine them as a sympathetic, pacified group of people. Even the long shared table and outdoor feast were invented in the literature of the late 1800s rather than off of actual historical events. The holiday itself was selected by FDR as the third Thursday in November in order to bolster the Christmas shopping season.
Although there is little historical about Thanksgiving, the authors are middle of the road when it comes to celebrating the holiday. On one hand, they are against Fundamentalists who insist that it is a part of American heritage, as clearly, the holiday has evolved over time. On the other, the authors are also against Native Americans who protest the holiday, as this is also viewed by them as ahistorical as Plymouth Thanksgiving did not mark the beginning of genocide against Native Americans. I think this misses the point that the history itself doesn’t matter so much, as it is still a symbol of genocide and colonization. In other words, I think that the authors were too dismissive of the Native American perspective on Thanksgiving.
Making Waves: Grassroots Feminism in Duluth and Superior by Beth Bartlett (2016)
We read this book through the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition book club. It is a must read for anyone engaged in feminist activism or non-profit/social work in the Northland, as it offers a comprehensive history of the major feminist organizations in the Twin Ports, such as PAVSA, CASDA, Safe Haven, AICHO, the Women’s Health Center, etc. One theme from the book is that many of these organizations began with a small core of dedicated people and few resources. Originally, these organizations were run with an egalitarian feminist vision, but over time this was compromised in the interest of growth, funding, and conforming to external restraints. It leaves the reader wondering what can be done to reinvigorate these organizations, the downside of the professionalization of social movement organizations, and how organizations are constrained by a larger context of capitalism.
50 Animals that Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline (2011)
This book made a big promise! That is, it promised to tell me about 50 animals and how they changed history. However, the history was lackluster, childish, and sometimes inaccurate. It read like a children’s encyclopedia of animals and offered about two pages of basic information about each of the animals. It was a huge disappointment.
Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenberg (2009)
I liked this book since it highlighted the importance of predators to ecosystems. We tend the envision the food chain from the bottom up, but this book had many examples of how things at the top of the food chain impact those at the bottom. It helped me to re-think a very basic understanding of ecology. It cited various examples of situations wherein predators disappeared and how this had a detrimental effect on the rest of the ecosystem- ranging from starfish to otters. I think this book would be useful for anyone who is against sport hunting of predators. On the other hand, the book did get a little strange towards the end when the author suggested “rewilding” the Americas. This does not mean re-introducing predators that have vanished in the last few hundred years- it means trying to turn back the clock 13,000 years by introducing lions, camels, and cheetahs to the Americas. While this is interesting, I think that working with the past few hundred years is more realistic.
Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present by Christopher Beckwith (2011)
This book was weird and boring. To be fair, I am not very knowledgeable about the “stan” countries. Hence, I am trying to brush up on them through my recent reading choices. Since the topic is not familiar, it is always harder to wade through the history. Nevertheless, the book attempts to condense several thousand years of history across a diverse region into a few hundred pages. As such, it reads like a timeline. I was not very engaged in the book and struggled to keep up with names, places, battles, empires, etc. Towards the end of the book, the author devotes two chapters to make a surprising argument against modernity. This perked me up a little. This did not come from a postmodern perspective either. Basically, the argument was that modernity failed Central Asia, as it lead to economic decline during the rise of capitalism elsewhere, communist rule, and religious fundamentalism. I suppose it was interesting to consider religious fundamentalism as an expression of modernity (which I associate with Enlightenment ideas like secularism and the separation of church and state.) To the author, the glory days of Central Asia were in the past. This isn’t entirely untrue, but begs the question, whose glory days? It wasn’t a glorious time for women or slaves. The author disdains mass culture, even taking the time to pooh pooh popular music. To him, anything produced for and by the masses is too easy and accessible, and therefore can hardly be esteemed as art. This weird ending seems out of place with what was otherwise a really dull history. It made me wonder if historians who are interested in the “stan” countries are conservative and elitist. Perhaps studying them is depressing and lends itself to embracing some bygone time when they were not collection of dusty, forgotten countries but centers of trade and culture.
The following is the skit which was used at Marxmas, the socialist alternative to Christmas. Now, I would not take it to represent a serious piece of political theory. The skit sought to somehow connect the game Candyland with the struggle against capitalism. This meant creating socialism within a feudal candy society. So…the politics aren’t perfect by any means. Still, I tried to insert some real life issues related to capitalism and real life methods of organizing- even if the setting, tactics, and outcome may be unrealistic. And, it was rather fun to use the skit to raise some issues related to capitalism. So, here is the skit in case anyone is curious about it!
The Struggle Against Candy Capitalism
Act I: Introductions
Narrator: Welcome everyone to Marxmas. Before we begin, we are going to perform a little skit, which is connected to the game that we are playing. You’ll notice that some of us are dressed up in costumes. These represent characters from the game Candyland, by Hasbro. These characters are going to introduce themselves and hopefully explain what Candyland has to do with the struggle against capitalism.
Mr. Mint: Greetings everyone! My name is Mr. Mint, but you can call me Comrade Mint. I’m here with my friends to tell you about the dark side of Candyland. This is the story that Hasbro doesn’t want you to know. You might be surprised to find that there are a lot of things that people don’t know about Candyland. People who play the game only go to the tourist attractions like the Candycane Forest, Gumdrop Mountain, and Candy Castle. When you play the game, you don’t see the starving gingerbread children on the streets of Kandygrad. The ones who prostitute themselves for a few chocolate coins. You don’t see the candy factories and traffic jams on the Bon-Bon Autobahn. Or, what about the women who can’t go to school in the Sultanate of Sweets? Has anyone ever wondered why the police don’t bother the white chocolate community? And while King Kandy lives in his Candy Castle, most of us live in ramshackle gingerbread shacks.
Jolly: I’m Jolly, but all this social injustice doesn’t make me jolly at all. These problems are so big! Why, I heard that the glaciers on gumdrop mountain have shrunk 20% just this year! The entire gumdrop village was flooded and their candy corn crop was ruined. In the Sultanate of Sweets, there has been extreme desertification as rivers have been diverted to support their Cotton Candy exports. This year was the hottest year on record in the Dessert Desert. Poverty, sexism, racism, the environment…it’s too much to think about!
Mr. Mint: That’s why I’m trying to organize the masses with my minty Marxism!
Jolly: Yes, we’re trying to organize our friends into a mass movement of workers and connect all of the social struggles towards the overthrow of candy capitalism.
Mr. Mint: To be fair, Candy Capitalism isn’t very well developed in Candyland. It isn’t like the United States or Western Europe We have some elements of feudalism and our economy is largely based on the export of candy to more developed nations. We haven’t been able to develop on our own since we were colonized earlier in the century by Hasbro, who entrenched the power of King Kandy’s dynasty and our export economy. The truth is, due the nature of global capitalism, we will never become an advanced capitalist country. Our economy will always serve the interests of more advanced economies.
Jolly: All of this is a sticky situation to be sure! We can build our small movement in Candyland, but unless we unite with the workers of the United States, European Union, and the rest of the world, our efforts will be for naught.
Mr. Mint: But, we’ve managed to recruit quite a few candy comrades…like Princess Lolly, Grandma Nut, Gloppy, Plumpy, and even some of you in the audience!
Lolly: My name is Lolly. I was born in the Sultanate of Sweets, but the U.S. invaded our country and overthrow our democratically elected leader and installed the tyrannical Sultan Syrup from the Saccharine Satrap. My parents fled with me to Lollyland when I was just a baby to escape the war. I joined Mr. Mint’s movement because wars like the one in the Sultanate of Sweets serve the interest of candy capitalism. Ever since Sultan Syrup took power, the people have become poor. Our economy is devoted to growing cotton candy and foreign companies own all of our rock candy mines. We were once a beacon of culture, with a vast trade network along the Ribbon Candy Road. Before the invasion, women used to attend university, work, and vote. Now, they must stay inside. As a feminist and anti-war activist, I know that Candy capitalism has got to go!
Jolly: I was also born in the Sultanate of Sweets and used to be an environmental scientist. After Sultan Syrup took power, he began killing atheists and leftists like myself. I don’t want to hurt anyone! I love people! I don’t eat meat or even candy…since that candybalism! But anyone who stands up for candy rights in my country is arrested! And both the Democratic Party and Republican Party supported the invasion and have given weapons to the Sultan. This is why I have to take a stand!
My name is Queen Frostine. I live in Sweetbearia. I was put under house arrest in my Icing Castle when I tried to convince King Kandy to give more rights to the people of Candyland. Since King Kandy took power, Candyland expanded its empire to the Ice Cream Sea. This expansion resulted in war and genocide against the sweet fairies and nonpar-elves of Sweetberia. To subdue these indigenous people, King Kandy made an alliance with Kandy Kahn, a warlord whose territory extended into the southern portions of Sweetbearia. Since then, the land has been ruthlessly plundered in the interest of obtaining gummibear pelts to sell abroad. The sweetbears have also been killed for their honey. Why, last year, General Custard killed over 1000 sweetbears and 500 sweet fairies!
The Ice Cream Sea used to team with fish, but now all of the Swedish fish have gone extinct. The Sweetbearians can no longer subside on gummi bears and swedish fish, so many have either starved or gone to live in the crowded cities of Candygrad, Confection City, Saint Sweets, and Choklabad. I am a Queen, so I don’t know how I feel about this. But, living under house arrest has opened my eyes to the world. More needs to be done than the charity and volunteerism I was doing before.
I’ve even secretly allowed some organizers to seek refuge in my icing castle, including Mr. Mint and Jolly when the sweet secret police were after them.
Grandma Nut: I’m Grandma Nut, but you can call me Hazel. I live part time in Kandygrad in a small apartment, but spend the weekend and summers at my peanut brittle dacha in the nut filled forests of Candyland. I need to collect nuts so I can sell them in Kandygrad. I don’t have a pension or social security, so I am forced to work in my old age. Nut isn’t even my real last name. My real name is Hazel Bopple. I can’t afford to treat my bipolar disorder, so Hasbro labelled me a nut. I’m not a nut! I just need socialized health care and social security benefits! You’d be a little nutty too if you were spending your golden years in grinding poverty! I joined Mr. Mint’s movement because old age should not be a time of fear, poverty, and pain! Now, I’m a real militant granny. I think that we should overthrow King Kandy, seize his castle and all of the churches and estates, and turn them into housing for the poor. We’ll use the treasury to fund social programs and take control of the economy so that we can develop other industries rather than rely on candy exports!
Mr. Mint: That sounds like a great idea! The Kandygrad Council of Workers, or the Kandygrad Soviet if you will, fully supports this! But, we’ll meet with some opposition to be sure!
Narrator: Meanwhile at King Kandy’s castle….
King Kandy: I am King Kandy, ruler of Candyland. I hear the plight of my people. I never really wanted to be king. But, what am I to do? Tsar Candybar will not even take my job! Hasbro has given me arms and soldiers, but the people are talking about revolution! I have many allies, like Sultan Syrup, Neopolitan Bonapart, General Custard, and Kandy Kahn. But, I am afraid I must turn to my most ruthless ally of all: Lord Licorice!
Lord Licorice: I must admit, I was surprised to be summoned from Licorice Castle in my long neglected anise flavored kingdom. From where I stand, it seems that there is unrest in Kandygrad, Sweetberia, and the Sultanate of Sweets. You should extinguish the threat posed by Queen Frostine so you can maintain access to the Ice Cream sea. The ports must remain open so trade can continue and we can receive our arms and supplies from Hasbro. If the Queen is reticent, she should be assassinated and governance of the Sweetbearia should be given to her younger brother, the Duke of Swirl.
Narrator: Within the game, there will be now be three rounds of trivia, pictionary, or “hodgepodge”. The color that your team lands on the board determines your category. One team will represent the rebels from Kandygrad, the industrial center of Candyland. The other team will represent the rebels in Sweetbearia, a frontier in the process of being colonized. Finally, one team will represent King Kandy and his allies. If the King’s Team wins, Queen Frostine will have to leave her team and join the King. If other teams win or there is a tie, there is no change. The Queen’s team may take a non-costumed player from another team to keep things even.
Act Two: The Abduction of the Queen
Narrator: Despite the valiant efforts of the rebels of Candyland to organize, they could not prevent the Queen from being abducted. The king sent General Custard to arrest her while she was napping. With the Queen taken, control of her small kingdom fell to her brother, the Duke of Swirl. The Duke of Swirl is a loyal friend to King Kandy. The Queen was taken to Castle to speak to the King and his collaborators.
Lord Licorice: The Queen cannot be trusted, but we can keep her as a prisoner for now. She may have valuable information about the rebels of Candyland. My licorice bat spies inform me that she was harboring some of these rebels in her own castle.
Queen Frostine: I will never tell you anything!” (spits towards Lord Licorice). You monster! Licorice doesn’t even taste good!
Lord Licorice: I don’t think you’ve ever properly tried it if that’s your opinion. Every child loves black licorice especially. But, your opinion is inconsequential. Your feminine brain cannot comprehend the complexities of the political situation at hand. You’ve been blinded by your emotions and picked the wrong side. You should thank us for saving you from their dungeons later.
Queen Frostine: You are sexist and terrible! (kicks his leg)
Lord Licorice: Don’t make me strike you with my licorice whip! The rebels would take over your icing castle and turn it into an orphanage for gingerbread children. Then, they would take you to the gingerbread forest and execute you with all of your family, but not before taking all of your pretty things…your dresses, mirrors, make up…and degrading you. They hate beauty. They hate refinement.
Queen Frostine: (Sobs)
Lord Licorice: Perhaps she will speak when she’s spent some time in the dungeon.
King Kandy: Our enemy is more formidable than we think.
Lord Licorice: Ad lib based upon results of game. For now, Sweetbearia is secure. We should turn our attention to Kandygrad. It is clear that the agitator Mr. Mint is behind the recent strikes there. We must arrest him and his cohorts. We can exile him to the prisons of Sweetbearia, where he can freeze to death. Now that it is under the control of the Duke of Swirl, is won’t be a haven to runaway rebels.
Narrator: There will be three rounds of the game. If Mr. Mint’s team is not winning at the end of the round, he will have to switch teams to Sweetbearia, where he will go to the Peppermint Prison.
Act Three: The Battle of Sweetberia
The workers of Kandygrad are restless. Many of the soldiers are tired in fighting in the endless wars to expand the boundaries of Candyland. The rebels have been working hard to organize. But, King Kandy has some powerful allies. He went to his ally, Tsar Kandybar, who lent him several hundred of his best trained secret police, known as the Cocoprichniki. The Cocoprichniki managed to capture Mr. Mint and several other revolutionaries. These rebels have been sent to Peppermint Prison in Sweetbearia, where they must do hard labor, such as crushing rock candy all day long.
Grandma Nut: It seems that no matter how hard we try, we can’t win! We’ve lost Comrade Mint. We’ve lost our support from Queen Frostine. I fear that I am growing too old and won’t live to see change in my lifetime. What will we do?
Jolly: We can’t let Comrade Mint freeze in a prison!
Lolly: Don’t despair, I have an idea! I am a Princess. Maybe I can pretend to join King Kandy and befriend his advisor, Lord Licorice. Then, I can help Queen Frostine escape.
Grandma Nut: That sounds dangerous!
Jolly: How do we even know she is on our side. She was a queen after all!
Lolly: She helped out Mr. Mint and others in time of need. Anyway, she could be in danger. Women have to stick together! (Lolly defects to King Kandy’s Team after giving her teammates a hug)
Lord Licorice is looking over a document with King Kandy. They ad lib some strategy and Lord Licorice suggests torturing Queen Frostine. They are interrupted by a knock on their door. They let Princess Lolly into the room, who curtsies before King Kandy.
Lolly: My name is Princess Lolly, the adopted step-niece of the Sultan of the Syrupy Satrap
King Kandy: Ah yes, what can I do for you my dear?
Lolly: I was sent here to offer the Sultan’s support in subjugating rebellious subjects.
Lord Licorice: I don’t think she should be immediately trusted. We know little of the sultan’s family. And, why would they send a solidarity female to your court?
Lolly: Oh, I didn’t travel alone. I was joined by the coconut eunuch Mr. Mounds and black licorice cat! Together, we crossed the Dessert Desert by caramel camels.
Lord Licorice: Everyone from the Sultanate of Sweets speaks in rhymes and alliterations. Since you are doing neither, it is simply impossible to trust you. We should throw her in the dungeon with Queen Frostine.
Lolly: But if you throw me in the dungeon, you won’t get to see the special song and dance I composed in honor of the king! (ad lib a song and dance for the king)
King Kandy: She seems harmless enough.
Narrator: Meanwhile, while Lolly tries to convince Lord Licorice and King Kandy that she can be trusted. Mr. Mint languishes in the Peppermint Prison. He begins writing a letter to his comrades.
Mr. Mint: Reading as he writes
“Dear comrades, don’t lose heart. Even if I am shivering in a Sweetbearian prison, I will continue writing. I will organize the prisoners and try to break free. The prison is not far from Frostine’s Icing Castle, where her younger brother has been tasked with securing the port and ending the Sweatbearian resistance. We can storm the castle and assassinate the Duke of Swirl. I am told that the castle is a warehouse for weapons sent from Hasbro. There is an arsenal of atomic fireballs, warhead sour candy, and pop rocks. We can arm the prisoners and the Sweetbearians. I am told that the sweet bears are tired of being killed for their honey and would be attacked if given support.”
Narrator: There will be three rounds. If the resistance teams are ahead in points at the end of the rounds, the plot to free the prisoners and take the port will succeed. If not, Mr. Mint will be captured by King Kandy.
Act Four:The Race for Candy Castle
Narrator: Mr. Mint successfully organized the prisoners of Sweetbearia, who attacked the guards while they were working. Some of the workers were made to chop wood. Others hammered rock candy. A few others were sent with guards into the woods to trap gummi bears and hunt for provisions for the prison. Although the prisoners were weak with hunger, disease, and exposure, they managed to kill the guards with their hammers and axes and take the prison. Once they were outfitted with the guards warm clothes and weapons, they feasted on some of the food stores and waited for nightfall.
At nightfall, the prisoners marched to Icing Castle and killed the Duke of Swirl in his bed. The few guards in the castle were easily dispatched and the ragtag prisoner militia, under the leadership of Mr. Mint, managed to secure the weapons. Some of the guards, including the Nutcracker, were tired of fighting on the frontier and joined the side of the rebels. This was a decisive victory for the rebels which would help them to block the port and return control of the land to the Sweatbearians. They fled for the woods before General Custard returned from his campaign to subdue a rebellion of sugar fairies. For now, if Hasbro sends more supplies or personnel, they would be surprised to find the port no longer under King Candy’s control. With this task done, Mr. Mint decided he would return to Kandygrad to rejoin his comrades. Honeybear took command of the dissatisfied guards and Sweetbearian rebels.
Meanwhile, Lolly was never able to convince Lord Licorice that she could be trusted. But, she had a plan B. This plan was to plant a bomb within Candy Castle, which she kept hidden in her billowy yellow dress. While Lord Licorice and King Kandy were sleeping, she planted a bomb near a cell where Queen Frostine was kept. This blew a hole in the wall of the castle and allowed Queen Frostine and Lolly to escape together. Their goal was to return to Kandygrad and rejoin the rebels.
(United, the rebels (who are on two teams) embrace and ad lib a celebration of their victories).
Jolly: Lolly and Mr. Mint are true heroes!
Lolly: Now that we are united, I think the women of Candyland should lead a march on Candy Castle and demand the King Candy step down!
Grandma Nut: Hurray! But what if he sends troops to Kandygrad on the gingerbread railroad?
Mr. Mint: The railroad workers will have to go on strike!
Queen Frostine: Yes, we should demand a new government. One that is independent of Hasbro. But, if the King steps down, there is the chance that Lord Licorice could rule!
Mr. Mint: Jolly and I will continue trying to organize the workers. If we shut down the economy, King Candy will be forced to abdicate and the country will be ungovernable even if Lord Licorice or Tsar Candybar took his place. If we put political and economic pressure on them, they will have to forfeit power!
Narrator: The final rounds will be a competition to try to get more points that the King’s team. At the end, depending upon when the teams are tired of playing, it will be announced who has won. (This may be acted out with pretend fencing or fighting. Then, the teams can decide their fate. 1). Execution. 2.) Exile 3.) Invitation to share in the new society and restorative justice.)
Finale: The Breaking of the Pinata
Candy Capitalism will be symbolically crushed with the breaking of a pinata.
Narrator: A new society will be built in Candyland. The struggle is not over. The people of the Sultanate of Sweets must organize themselves. Hasbro looms large and is already trying to build a counter revolutionary army based in the Sultanate of Sweets and Khanate of Candy. This is why revolution must be spread to all lands. For now, the people of Candyland will try to dismantle sexism, ageism, racism, heterosexism, and all the other isms that kept everyone divided for so long. They will try to build a more just society. They will try to build political democracy, but also democracy in the workplace. But, the story is never over. The struggle continues!
The holiday season is finally over. To be honest, the holidays were a little depressing. It has been brutally cold all month. Also, I experienced a chest cold that lasted from Thanksgiving through Christmas. I have not been very active because of this. I have mostly felt like hiding under blankets and sleeping. I worked on Christmas and New Years at a domestic violence shelter. So, it was a little grim to have no holiday meal, no time with loved ones, or no celebration. It was just work and…going home to sleep. While I don’t believe that my lethargy is seasonal depression, I do think these circumstances put me into a state of semi-hibernation for the past month. But, perhaps it is alright to slow down and rest from time to time.
Things perked up as I planned Marxmas. Marxmas is the socialist alternative to Christmas. Each year, Twin Ports Socialist Action hosts a Marxmas party for our friends. For the past two weeks or so, I have been frantically planning for the big day. This year’s theme was “Commie Candyland.” The theme was chosen because my friends and I dressed up as the characters for Halloween and it was a way to re-use our costumes. My life for the past two weeks have been related to the preparations for this epic annual party. The party involved a skit wherein the Candyland characters are trying to overthrow Candy Capitalism. The skit had four acts. Each act was punctuated with rounds of Pictionary, trivia, and “hodgepodge” challenges, as three teams competed with each other for the purpose of overthrowing the king/candy capitalism. The skit/game ended with the victory of the rebels, the singing of The Internationale, and the breaking of a cupcake piñata meant to represent candy capitalism. All participants received prizes, the house was decorated to look like a version of “commie candyland”, and included a feast of two tables of food. Oh, and there was also a soundtrack of 36 sweet related songs! This party was an ambitious undertaking.
I wanted the menu to be very colorful, but also with a wide variety of sweets to match our theme. I also wanted the non-desert foods to be as vibrant as candy! Many of the guests are vegetarian or vegan, so that is also a consideration.
Desserts: baklava, Turkish delight, revolutionary gingerbread men, cupcakes, cake, dried fruits and nuts, a cringle, a wide variety of candies, fruit fondue, and a giant chocolate chip cookie in the likeness of Karl Marx
Not Desserts: Pita plate with hummus, falafel, and olives; chips and salsa; vegetarian meatballs; vegetarian orange chicken; phyllo asparagus, Forbidden rice bowl with edamame and mushrooms; vegetarian sushi-sweet potato, asparagus, and cucumber; shitake; beets and sweet potatoes.
One enormous time sink was actually decorating the house! I envisioned that the house should look like a magical candy dystopia. To this end, I created two large posters that depict scenes from my imagined Candyland universe. One of the posters represented “Kandygrad” the industrial center of Candyland. The other represented a battle in “Sweetbearia” the icy frontier of Candyland. Both are part of the nation state called Chokovia. The posters introduced new characters. All of this made me decide that I should really create a graphic novel called “Candywars” (though changing out the Hasbro related things to characters of my own creation). But, we’ll see if I have time for that..
To continue on the topic of decorations, the room was decorated with dozens of balloons and streamers. I created some candies from tissue paper and cardboard, which were placed in various places around the room. Admittedly, I did buy some decorations on clearance after X-mas. I just did not have the time to create elaborate decorations beyond my posters, candies, balloons, and streamers. Different parts of the room were decorated to represent the regions in the game. For instance, there was a blue and white color scheme where the team from Sweetberia was meant to sit. The team from Kandygrad sat in a red and pink area. The villain team featured a makeshift throne for the king.
The party mostly consisted of a skit/game. The skit began by introducing the characters from Candyland as well as the political situation therein. I pretended to be Lord Licorice, a villain aligned with King Kandy. I was also the narrator/game master. The acts of the skit was broken up by rounds of a game, wherein three teams would compete with each other in trivia, Pictionary, and hodgepodge. The category was determined by which color block the teams landed on while moving along the Candyland board. For instance, red and purple were trivia. There were 19 categories of trivia-each somehow related to candy. The Pictionary items were all current events from 2016. Hodgepodge included everything from acting to memory challenges. One memorable acting challenge involved the marriage of two characters in a Candyland style wedding. The game was integrated into the actions of the skit. Each act was an event- such as a prison rebellion in Sweetbearia, the abduction of Queen Frostine, and the ultimate victory of the rebels. As the game master, I had some discretion over the trivia or Pictionary challenges that I posed. However, in the end, the rebel teams actually won the game without my intervention! It was interesting to see the teams become upset when they thought that the game was rigged and how the villain team seemed genuinely disappointed when they lost and genuinely boastful when they were ahead. While it was only a game, the integration with the skit seemed to up the emotional ante for the players. This also was likely because everyone was playing “roles” in the game. I invented a book of non-canon characters so that anyone who attended the party could be a character.
The game ended when we broke the piñata. The piñata was meant to represent Candy Capitalism. Personally, I love pinatas. I try to have them at parties whenever I can. I even have a piñata song. However, each party that I host usually ends up with a lot of leftover candy on the floor. This is a bit of a bummer. But, the truth of the matter is that adults like the idea of pinatas a lot more than filling themselves with candy. After a lifetime of candy, there is diminishing returns on the joy that it potentially brings. Instead, it brings cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain. Kids love pinatas and candy. Adults- not so much. To improve upon the piñata, I filled it with candy- as well as condoms, lube, safety whistles, and carbineer compasses. I think this improved the outcome of the piñata, as much of the adult centered loot was taken.
The people are what makes a party special. Usually, 20-25 people attend Marxmas. This year had our lowest turnout in a long while. But, there was a good quality of people and this made the space less crowded. I think conflicting schedules and bitter cold kept some attendees away. Honestly, everyone was a hoot. My friends dressed up as characters from Candyland and were good sports about the game. The game ranged from silly to demoralizing. For instance, when a rebel team was in the lead during a time when the villains were supposed to be in the lead- I gave the rebel team a very difficult Pictionary topic: Muslim genocide in Myanmar. I would tip my hat to anyone who can successfully draw this in two minutes. On the silly side of things, I later had Mr. Mint move a gummi bear to this mouth from this belly button-while lying on the floor-without using his hands. I really love my friends for attending these parties and making my vision a reality.
Aside from attending the parties, I must thank my friends for their help making the party possible. For instance, Jenny, Angie and I made a chocolate cake. I have never made a chocolate cake from scratch. It was the best cake I have eaten in my life. The frosting tasted as rich as gelato or ice cream. The cake was epic! Angie randomly decided to make a giant cookie. This cookie turned into a Karl Marx cookie. Wow! Adam and Lucas helped me decorate and clean. Adam did all of the cleaning after the party, which is about as fun as cleaning up elephant turds after the circus was in town. But, he was happy to have the house return to normal, since he was not as fond as I was of the candy wonderland. He missed seeing the thousands of books we have everywhere.
Each year I exhaust myself to make a great big party. It costs me a lot for the food, prizes, and decorations in terms of time and money. But, it brings me joy. I like to create an experience. I think of it as my version of a potlatch. I don’t mean to appropriate a Native American practice, but many cultures hosted big feasts with gift exchanges. This exhausting event redistributed resources and could build the prestige of a leader. Now, I don’t think that the event that I host significantly redistributes resources or builds my prestige. However, I do think it serves the purpose of building social bonds. My friends always tell me that I spend too much time or money on it. They want me to scale back the party. But, I take a lot of joy in creating an experience for my friends and giving them something like this. I want to create a memorable experience. I want to create happiness. This is a gift that I want to give to people on this day- even if it means I have to work non-stop for three days before the event to make the final preparations! Maybe all of our holidays involve some remnants of a forgotten time (to Europeans)- when we celebrated to give. This is useful in capitalism as it drives consumerism. Yet, the urge to give is socialist at its heart, even if it is distorted by free market interests. Hidden behind the labor, plates of food, and endless trivia is the promise of an economy of plenty. It seems like an impossible dream, but I think that is the heart of Marxmas. Celebration is role playing the fantasy of possibility.