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Archive for the month “February, 2017”

Activist Notes: Solidarity Valentine Cards to Prisoners

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Activist Notes: Solidarity Valentine Cards to Prisoners

H. Bradford

2/16/17

On February 13th, the Feminist Justice League (formerly the Twin Ports Women’s Rights Coalition), collaborated with Letters to Prisoners and Superior Save the Kids to do a solidarity Valentine card event.  The event was attended by about nine individuals, who met at the Superior Public Library for an hour and a half as they wrote letters and sent cards to various incarcerated individuals.   The event was a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and produced a large pile of letters.  As I report back on this event, I wanted to share a little history and why this is a feminist issue.


Now, when I pitched the idea to Meghan, the organizer for Letters to Prisoners, she was a little worried that the idea of women sending Valentine cards to prisoners was a little….iffy.  Not that there is anything wrong with women forming relationships with men who are in prison, but this sort of letter writing doesn’t seem like a particularly feministy activity.  In a way, this represents how it is almost impossible to think about Valentine’s Day in a non-romantic way!  Valentine Cards are almost always about romantic love.  (Though in my own card shopping this year, I was surprised to find that there are a fair amount of Valentine Cards sold on behalf of cats and dogs…)  In any event, it was very important to make clear that this event was not about romance.  It was about sending cards that express love for freedom, social justice, humanity, and a better world.  Hence, these were solidarity Valentine cards.

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Sending cards to prisoners on Valentine’s Day makes a lot of sense to me.  Now, eons ago, I used to be a Lutheran.  Lutherans aren’t known for their support of Saints (hence, the whole protestant reformation).  However, I remember in confirmation class I learned about Saint Valentine, probably around Valentine’s Day.   I learned that he was imprisoned for performing Christian weddings in the pagan Roman Empire and sent a letter to his followers before his execution.   Even Catholics don’t know if St. Valentine actually existed as a historical individual.  According to the Catholic Education Resource Center, the first person named St. Valentine was beheaded on Feb 14th 270 AD for comforting Christian martyrs.  There are two other saints named Valentine, one who was killed in Africa and another who was a Bishop in Terni (north of Rome).   It is the Bishop from Terni who may be the Valentine most associated with the holiday, as he allegedly married couples and thusly became the patron saint of young people, marriage, and love.  He is also the saint of bee keeping, epilepsy, and plagues, though these don’t sound quite as romantic.  Like the original Valentine, his feast day was February 14th.   In some stories, he either befriended or was romantically involved with the daughter of his jailer/judge, but this may have been a later addition to his story.  Over time, the story and feast day became more closely associated with romance rather than Christian martyrdom.   The romantic associations with the holiday may have come from other holidays, such as the Roman holiday of Lupercalia (which involved match making) between Feb 13-15 and Galatin’s Day (lover of women day).


Like Halloween, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, modern Valentine’s Day took off in the United States mid to late 1800s.  This was bolstered by the industrial revolution, which allowed for the mass production of media, gift items, and cards (a boon for popularizing holidays).  Like the other holidays, the modern celebrations was also buoyed by increased space for secularism in society.   It would be interesting to write a history of Valentine’s Day, but for lack of space and time, suffice to say the holiday has had some romantic connotations since the beginning, but if the story is boiled down to its most basic elements it is a story of a man who is imprisoned and executed by a powerful empire on the basis of religious belief.   It is a story about capital punishment and religious intolerance.  Christianity may be the dominant religion in this country today, but religious persecution certainly continues through the violence, incarceration, and surveillance of Muslims in our country as well as recent attempts to ban Muslims from entering the country.   In terms of capital punishment, the United States is the only country in the Americas that executed prisoners in 2015.  Most industrialized countries have abolished the death penalty, so although we are among the 54 countries that practice capital punishment- most of the other countries are our so-called enemies…you know, the poor countries that we want to bring democracy to in the Middle East and Africa.  Because of the actual history of St. Valentine, I think that the holiday provides a great opportunity to put a spotlight on our criminal justice system.

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I have only gone to a few Letters to Prisoners events, but a person can learn a lot about our criminal justice system by simply sending a letter or card.  For instance, although the event was pitched as a Valentine card making event, prisoners are not allowed to receive glittery, pretty, colorful handmade cards.  The cards must be done in black and white ink.  Likewise, the prisoners can not receive letters with colorful birds or flowers.  The stamps must be Forever FLAG stamps.  Officially, this is to control what kinds of stamps are sent to prevent drugs from being sent in the guise of stamps.  But really?  Really?  Forever FLAG stamps.  I think this sends a powerful message that they are owned and controlled by the United States.  The letters are stamped with mandatory patriotism.  I also observed that most of the prisons are in the south of the United States.  For instance, I sent cards to four political prisoners with birthdays in February.  Three of the four were in prisons in the southern U.S.   The south has the largest prison population.  There are 867,000 prisoners in Louisiana, Alabama has 677,000 prisoners, and Mississippi has 740,000 prisoners.  Georgia has over 550,000 prisoners and Texas 669,000.  Minnesota has 194,00 and California 365,000.  The states with the highest prison populations have the poorest populations and a history of slavery.   While the bulk of the U.S. prison population lives in the south, as a whole, the United States has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.  We have more prisons than colleges.  Finally, many of the political prisoners that I have written to have been imprisoned for decades.  Many, like Leonard Peltier, will likely die in prison.  If we look to our neighbors in the Americas, many countries limit life sentences.  In Brazil,  Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Uruguay the maximum prison sentence is 30 years.  It is 25 years in Paraguay and 35 years in Ecuador.  I find it ironic that many of the countries that the United States has tried to bring democracy to through supported coups and military training are actually more democratic and humane that our own country.

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To connect the issue more closely to feminism specifically, I had my friend Lucas construct a list of female prisoners for participants to write to.  Participants in the letter writing event chose from this list or sought other lists from online.  While the United States hosts 25% of the world’s prison population, if we looked at the world’s female prison population, we detain 33% of the world’s female prisoners.  It is astonishing to think that 1/3 of all of the women in prison, in the entire world, are held in the United States.  While we did not discuss female specific issues related to prisoners at the event, there are some unique challenges that female prisoners face.  For one, while prisoners should legally have the right, this has been denied to women.  States such as Georgia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Missouri have no policy regarding pregnancy, which leaves the decision in the hands of correctional facilities.  In the past, correctional facilities in Arizona and Missouri have refused to transport female prisoners for abortion procedures.  Of course, barriers that all women face in obtaining abortion pertain to imprisoned women as well, including waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, limited access in some parts of the country, parental consent, etc.  Female inmates with children must navigate custody issues and expensive phone calls if they want to remain in touch with their children.   A collect phone call from a prison in Minnesota costs about 75 cents a minute, but in Kentucky, the cost is $5.70 a minute!  In North Dakota, the cost is over $6.00 a minute!  These costs are expensive because prisons have contracts with phone companies, which offer kickbacks to the agency that contracted with them.  From my own experience working in a domestic violence shelter, many of the women who come to shelter have criminal histories.  However, some of this includes arrests for assaults that were really actions taken for self-defense.  These criminal backgrounds make it harder to obtain housing, as it may disqualify them from some programs or make landlords less willing to rent to them.  It also makes employment more difficult, as only the lowest paid sectors of the service industry will hire them.  This creates barriers for escaping domestic violence and building a life outside of crime and poverty for their family.  But, gender aside, as human beings, we are all diminished by a racist, ableist, and classist criminal justice system which divides us, removes sectors of the population away from their families and communities, and steals the lives of fellow humans at a profit to corporations!

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Sources:

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/history-of-st-valentine.html

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/01/this-map-shows-you-just-how-many-prisoners-are-in-each-us-state/

http://www.businessinsider.com/history-of-valentines-day-2017-2

http://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133693152/the-dark-origins-of-valentines-day

https://rewire.news/article/2015/12/18/shouldnt-take-superhero-access-abortion-care-prison-jessica-jones/

http://fortune.com/2015/12/10/prison-reform-women/

https://www.prisonphonejustice.org/about/

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Bi+ Identities: Past, Present, and Future

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Bi+ Identities: Past, Present, and Future

H. Bradford

2/16/17

Once a month, Pandemonium meets for “Bi with Pie.”  “Bi with Pie” is a discussion group wherein members discuss issues related to bisexuality and bi+ identities.  In the past, we have discussed our experiences as well as topics such as bisexuality and domestic violence, bi phobia, and the importance of bisexual organizing.  Usually, I try to facilitate the discussion by bringing an essay or article to share.  This month, I wanted to explore various bi+ identities.  Originally, I wanted to compare bisexuality and pan-sexuality, but this expanded to include other bi+ identities.  I am not an expert on sexuality, but it is an area of interest.  Certainly, there may be some errors in my definitions and analysis.  But, the point of our group is to grow and connect as a community.  Part of my own growth as an activist is my own growth through learning and sharing information.  With that said, hopefully this essay provides an overview of some of the identities within the Bi+ community.  It is far from comprehensive, but I think it helps to clarify some differences between identities while revealing a trend in LGBTQ identities.

Bisexuality:

Bisexuality was first coined in 1892 by Charles Gilbert Chaddock in his translation of Kraft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis.  It is in the late 1800s and early 1900s that psychologists sought to classify sexuality.  As such, our modern sexual concepts emerge during this time period.  However, these understandings were medical understandings meant to delineate health from deviance.  For instance, Freud believed that humans were innately bisexual, but that normal individuals would become heterosexual unless exposed to trauma.  Unfortunately, many people still seem to believe that being gay, lesbian, bi, or anything but a cisgender heterosexuality stems from poor parenting or some kind of trauma.  Despite the relative newness of labels such as homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual, there has certainly been a wide array of sexual behavior across cultures and time periods.  Men in Ancient Greece entered relationships with older men as youth, but also married women.  In Ancient Japan, young men formed sexual relationships with older men in the context of Buddhist temples and among samurai warrior culture.  While these cultures aren’t precisely bisexual in the modern sense, and even then, this sexual expression was limited to men, it should at least demonstrate that attraction to more than one gender has deep historical roots.


Although the word has been around since the late 1800s, there are many misconceptions of what it means to be bisexual.  For instance, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines bisexuality as a sexual or romantic attraction to both sexes.  It also defines it as something which possesses male and female reproductive structures.  This definition is confusing, since it implies that there are only two sexes and does not mention gender at all.  It is also confusing, since it defines bisexual as synonymous with hermaphrodite.  This use of the word might be appropriate in strictly scientific contexts, but it is potentially confusing and offensive in other contexts.  Finally, the definition implies that bisexuals are not attracted to trans or non-binary individuals.


Because of these limitations and misunderstandings in mainstream definitions of bisexuality, bisexual organizations have sought to create their own definitions.  For instance, BiNet defines bisexual as, “A person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other people of various sexes and/or gender identities. Individuals may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.”  This definition is notably inclusive of various sexes and gender identities.  Likewise, the American Institute of Bisexuality defines bisexual as, “A bi person has the capacity for romantic and/or sexual attraction to more than one gender.”  Once again, bisexuality is not limited to attraction to both men or women, but more than one gender, which could include many gender identities.  The Human Rights Campaign defines bisexuality as, “A person emotionally, romantically, sexually and relationally attracted to more than one sex and/or gender, though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree.”  This definition acknowledges that bisexuality does not mean an even proportion of attraction to various gender.  It is clear by these definitions that bisexuals do not define themselves as simply being attracted to men or women, but simply more than one gender.  In fact, there have even been petitions to define bisexuality more accurately on online dictionaries.


While many people believe that the bi in bisexual means attraction to “two” and the two being male and female, according to the American Institute of Bisexuality, it is a scientific word that describes someone who is both heterosexual and homosexual.   Despite the efforts of bisexual activists to define themselves in a way that does not reinforce binary gender identities, the misconception persists that bisexuals are attracted to men and women.   Many bisexual individuals choose to identify as bisexual because it is the most commonly used word for someone who is attracted to more than one gender.  Some use bisexual in combination with other sexual identities.  Some use it because they are indeed only attracted to men or women or their sexuality is not inclusive of all gender identities.  Bisexuality is also used as a generic umbrella term for a variety of sexualities that involve attraction to more than one gender.  Personally, I choose to identify myself as bisexual since it is the most commonly understood word for attraction to more than one gender, it is a word that is associated with social movement organizations and history, and because I believe it is a word that should be reclaimed to be inclusive of all genders.


Although bisexuals have been part of the modern LGBT movement since the 1960s, it is still in many ways very new as a movement.  The bisexual pride flag was not invented until 1998.  BiNET USA, the first nationwide organization for bisexuals, was not founded until 1990.  The first Celebrate Bisexuality Day was on September, 23 1999.  The first books that specifically focused on bisexuality were written in the 1990s.  Thus, bisexuality as a distinct movement and community is only a few decades old.  Although it is new, there are many identities which have arisen since the 1990s.  This can make some bisexuals feel threatened or may raise the question of if bisexuality has become obsolete.  Hopefully, bisexuality is not obsolete as this would cut short its development as an identity and community and undermine its potential in the struggle against heterosexism.  It is my hope that bisexuality will remain relevant by collaborating with and making space for emergent identities.

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Pansexuality:

The 1990s saw a flourishing of bisexual identity with the emergence of national organizations, books, a flag, etc.  It was during this time period that Queer Theory emerged.  In a larger social and historical context, this period also marked the end of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War.  The apparent victory of capitalism, complete with its insidious institutions of globalization and finance, led to a crisis of faith in Marxist or even modernist understandings of society.  This has played a large role in sexuality is presently understood and the emphasis on identities.  Of course, identity politics is important to building movements as it helps individuals develop a sense of self, a sense of unity, and an understanding of their own oppression.  Yet, I think that this also explains the plethora of new sexual identities that have emerged since the 1990s.  We live in a society where politics are very identity driven and individualized.  This is not to discredit anyone’s identity.  It is simply to put these identities into a material and social context.


With that said, while pansexuality may seem like the new kid on the bi+ block, the term has been around since the early 1900s and was coined by Sigmund Freud.  At the time, it was a term that described how sexuality was the basis of all human interactions.  According to an analysis of google data, pansexual began to appear online in about 2007.  The concept arose or at least became more popular with the emergence of genderqueer and non-binary activism.   The word pansexual was invented to specifically include non-binary individuals.  The word pan means “all,” so someone who is pan-sexual could potentially be attracted to all genders or sexes.  There is a slight difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, as bisexuality is often defined as “more than one” and pansexuality as “all.” Thus, pansexuality does come across as more broad and potentially gender blind.  Adopting this label is an attempt to make clear that an individual is attracted to all genders.  Some bisexuals may feel upset with this term, since pansexuality may seem like it is trying to correct a failure of bisexuality to include trans and non-binary genders.  Some bisexuals may feel that this term is not necessary since bisexuality is inclusive or that the label may somehow shame, denigrate, or marginalize bisexuality.  I would hope that pansexuals are not seeking to differentiate themselves in such a manner.  At the same time, everyone should have the autonomy to define themselves how they like.  Pansexuality should be viewed as legitimate and important.


Since bisexuality is misunderstood and pansexuality is not a well-known sexual identity, one benefit of adopting this identity is that it may require an explanation and definition.  This is a way to specifically spotlight the gender component of bisexuality/pansexuality.    Unfortunately, it has added to the misconception that bisexuality is about binary gender and sexes.  Both bisexuals and pansexuals can be attracted to a variety of genders and sexes and both can be allies to these groups.  And, while bisexuals struggle with the rootword “bi” which by default sounds like binary, pansexuals must wrestle with the rootword “all” which to some people implies animals, inanimate objects, children, etc.  Thus, both identities struggle with defining themselves on their own terms.  At the same time, bisexuals have various organizations to advocate for their interests and development as a community.  Pansexuals do not have independent social movement organizations (or at least national or well-known organizations).  As such, they may be dismissed as an internet identity with no presence in the real world.  Pansexuals are lumped together with bisexual organizations.  Because the identity is fairly new, perhaps with time it will grow and separate from the bisexual movement.  For now, both are conjoined.


I am not certain what percentage of the Bi+ community identities as pansexual.  However, in a 2014 Needs Assessment Survey of the Bisexual, Fluid, and Pansexual Community of L.A., 26% of the respondents identified as pansexual.  61.8% identified as bisexual and 36% identified as queer.  Thus, pansexual was the third most prominent identity in the survey, consisting of over a quarter of respondents.  Despite the lack of pansexual specific publications and institutions, some celebrities have come out as pansexual such as the feminist sex educator, Laci Green, rapper Angel Haze, and Miley Cyrus.   The pansexual flag was invented in 2010.  The pink represents women, the blue stripe represents men, and the yellow stripe represents non-binary gender.   In conclusion, pansexuality as a distinct identity is much younger than bisexuality, but is quickly becoming a popular segment of the Bi+ community.   While pansexuality is similar to bisexuality, it emphasizes gender over sexuality.  It remains to be seen if pansexuality will separate from bisexuality and form an autonomous movement with its own organizations.  I suppose this depends upon how well both groups collaborate and identify common needs and demands.  Interestingly, the Bi+ group that I am a part of is called Pandemonium, which puts more emphasis on “pan” than “bi” identity.  An effective Bi+ organization should ensure that pansexuals feel like an equal partner in the struggle against heterosexism. 2000px-pansexuality_flag-svg

Fluid:

Another identity that may fit in the Bi+ umbrella is fluid.  Of course, since fluid is fluid, it may not fit from time to time.  I suppose how it fits in would be up to the individual and how that person wants to relate to the Bi+ umbrella.  A fluid individual is someone who may be attracted to multiple genders or may be attracted to one gender.  Someone who is fluid may reject labels.  Their sexuality may involve attraction to multiple genders at once, or a single gender at one time.   24% of the respondents to the 2014 Needs Assessment Survey of the Bisexual, Fluid, and Pansexual Community of L.A. identified as fluid, which made it the fourth most common response.  To those who identify as fluid, they may feel as though bisexuality or other labels do not adequately describe the variability in their sexuality.  Another word for fluid sexuality is abrosexuality.  Though, abrosexuality may mean rapidly changing, so I am not certain that it is perfectly synonymous with simply being fluid.  Most bisexuals and pansexuals likely recognize that sexuality is to some degree fluid.  It would be rare to find a bisexual person who is always exactly 33.3% attracted to men, 33.3% attracted to women, and 33.3% attracted to non-binary individuals without change or deviation.  However, identifying as fluid makes it very clear that sexuality is always changing and evolving. Abrosexual Pride Flag: Abrosexuality is defined as being fluid in sexuality. This means that a sexuality changes very often. This is different from novosexuality because abrosexuals can usually tell what sexuality they are at that moment.

Queer:

Queer is often used as catchall term for anyone who is not cisgender or heterosexual, so it is a term that is applied both to sexuality and gender.  Thus, it is commonly used to describe any sexual and gender minority or denotes any identity that is not heterosexual.  Importantly, it should not be applied to people who don’t self-identity as queer, as the word has historically been used negatively against sexual or gender minorities.  The word is multifaceted, so some individuals adopt the word to express their identity as someone who is attracted to men, women, trans, or non-binary individuals. The word is also employed to express that an individual is against the status quo or is a radical or revolutionary sexual or gender minority who is looking to challenge oppressive social norms and systems.


Although queer was once a derogatory word used against sexual or gender minorities, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, activists sought to reclaim the word queer.  An early example of the popularization of the word queer is Queer Nation, an organization that was founded in 1990, which used direct action, marches, education campaigns, and protest to challenge homophobia, violence, and promote LGBTQ visibility.  Queer Nation came out of ACT-UP, an group which used similar tactics to draw attention to the AIDS crisis during the 1980s.  The militancy of ACT-UP was in response to government inaction in response to AIDS and the deaths of thousands of people from the disease.  By 2000, almost 450,000 people in the United States had died of AIDS, though the rates of infection and death had decreased since the mid-1990s.  Because of this history, the word queer has been associated with LGBTQ militancy, though today, many mainstream organizations have adopted this word.


 

Polysexual:

There are many other sexuality within the bi+ umbrella.   Another identity is polysexual.  Poly means many.  Thus, a person who identifies as polysexual may be attracted to many genders but not all genders.   This definition implies that there are some genders which a polysexual is not attracted to or potentially attracted to.  A challenge that polysexuals might face is that “poly” may sound like polyamorous.  Thus, they might be mistaken for polyamorous, or non-monogamous.  As you can see, each identity has some challenges on account of the root word.  Finally, polysexual is much more obscure than pansexual and bisexual, so it may require more explanation or confusion.  I am uncertain of the history of exact history of polysexuality, but judging by the historical trend of other identities, I imagine it was first articulated in the late 2000s.  There are few online resources related to this identity, but it seemed worth mentioning as it relates closely to pansexuality. pride-flag-polysexual

Skoliosexual:

In a similar vein to polysexual, there are some people who are only attracted to non-binary identified individuals.  These are skoliosexuals.  Skoliosexuality is not very well known.  I wasn’t even 100% sure which flag represented this sexual identity or if this identity had its own flag.  The prefix “skolio” may refer to the Greek word for bent, such as scoliosis, a curve of the spine.  The challenge of this sexuality is that it is not well known, it sounds like a spinal deformity, and individuals may be accused of fetishizing gender non-conforming people.  The history of this sexuality is unknown, though it may have appeared on the internet after 2010. 31196b3d048861504b6f04638edb70d8

Other Labels:

Omnisexual, Ambisexual, and Trisexual are other varieties of bi+ identities which I found online.  Of these, omnisexual is the most commonly referenced online.  Omnisexual seems to be used as a synonym for pansexual.  Ambisexual and Trisexual appear to be rather obscure labels at this moment of time.  While there may be individuals who identify as these labels, there are few resources regarding what the identity entails.   There are more common labels such as heteroflexible, homoflexible, and bi-curious, but it is beyond the scope of this particular essay to explore all of these labels.  As such, this essay provides an overview of some but not all Bi+ identities.   The big idea is that there are many ways to describe and experience attraction to more than one or multiple genders. Image result for bisexual organizing


Why So Many Labels?

A big question that a person may have after reading this essay is why are there so many labels?  This essay doesn’t even offer a comprehensive list of possible identities within the bi+ community!  I think that there are several reasons why there are so many labels.  First of all, there are some “old school” labels.  These came about in the late 1800s by scientists and medical professionals.  Labels like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual were coined in the late 1800s.  There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, the mid 1800s saw the emergence of powerful medical institutions which replaced folk understandings of human bodies and health.  This time period also saw the emergence of new disciplines of understanding and organizing knowledge, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology.  The esteemed position of scientific knowledge over religious or folk knowledge was not new, but it was accelerated by the industrial revolution, the subsequent growth of urban centers, and the global expansion of capitalism.  This trifecta of conditions called for new ways of studying human beings and articulating deviance/difference for better control of colonies and workers.  For instance, scientific racism emerged in this time period as a way to classify some humans as lesser.  This justified colonization projects and the exploitation of these people.  The veneer of science was used to define deviant from “normal” sexuality for the purpose of controlling the reproduction of workers, pitting some workers against others, and controlling workers themselves by ensuring the unequal position of some groups within the labor force and household.  Therefore, these original labels for sexuality were meant to control and divide people.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that scientific racism and sexual labels emerged during the same time time period.  There was a fear of demographic crisis.  Population is a resource within capitalism.  Anything that potentially threatens reproduction is automatically suspect.


While different words and labels were adopted and rejected over history, there seems to be a real flourishing of identities since the 1990s.  These labels are not coming from scientific institutions, but individuals and activists who want to define themselves.  The biggest boon in this process seems to have been reclaiming the word queer in the early 1990s.   This came out of militant LGBTQ organizing during the 1980s, which itself stood on the shoulders of the LGBT movement of the 1960s and 1970s.  Queer was adopted by activists themselves, but entered academia through queer theory.   Of course, the academia of the 1990s was somewhat demoralized by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the perceived failure Marxism.  Thus, it seems to me that LGBT theory and analysis has been very centered upon the use of language and the development of identity, as academia has been influenced by post-modernism and post-structuralism.    I find nothing wrong with exploring language, identity, or thought.  I also find nothing wrong with deconstructing gender and sexuality.  These things should be deconstructed.  The status quo should be challenged and social movements must promote new understandings.  But, I also think that larger economic forces should ground this analysis.


With that said, new identities have developed because identity is a focal point of understanding LGBTQ issues.  Identity is important to organizing, but it is a double edged sword because it can be atomizing, dividing, and self-focused.  The emergence of so many new identities since the mid to late 2000s can be attributed to social media and the increased ability of individuals to develop a sense of self through the internet.  It can also be attributed to American hyper individualism.   This is not to say that the emergence of new identities is wrong or bad.  It is simply to argue that we live in a society which values individuality (inasmuch as it can be subverted for consumer interests or as a distraction from class consciousness).  At the same time, these identities are subversive, since they do challenge heterosexism.  This may sound contradictory, but I am simply arguing that a society that allows us to define ourselves through thousands of styles of shoes, clothes, music, and food choices also creates the space for us to define ourselves through thousands of labels for sexuality.  And, to add to this, there truly ARE thousands of ways to express sexuality and gender.  Finally, there are more labels because there is increased social space to explore gender and sexuality.  Victories in the realm of marriage equality and trans bathroom access and trans acceptance (despite recent setbacks) create more space for individuals to think about and express gender and sexual identity.  It is my prediction that many more sexual identities will emerge.  That there will be many more new flags.  I think that this is because people are seeking to define themselves and social media provides a platform for connection and identity creation.  There is nothing wrong with this.  The question isn’t a matter of right or wrong or what identities should exist or should not exist.  It is a matter of organizing to fight heterosexism.  To that end, I believe that uniting towards common goals, articulating common interests, identifying economic and structural forces, mobilizing in real time and physical spaces, and building a collective movement that consists of affirmed individuals will further the cause of bi+ individuals as we move towards the future.

Image result for bisexual organizing

This essay draws from the following sources:

https://bisexual.org/?qna=what-is-the-difference-between-bisexual-and-terms-like-pansexual-polysexual-omnisexual-ambisexual-and-fluid

http://binetusa.blogspot.com/2016/02/correct-definition-of-bisexuality-on.html

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/bi-vs-pan/

http://www.outsaskatoon.ca/bi_pan_poly

http://genderqueerid.com/post/16339992032/skoliosexual-adj

http://www.labicenter.org/LABTF_2014_Bisexual_Needs_Assessment_of_Greater_LA.pdf

https://www.bustle.com/articles/40282-a-brief-history-of-bisexuality-from-ancient-greece-and-the-kinsey-scale-to-lindsay-lohan

http://everydayfeminism.com/2012/10/fluid-sexuality-lgbtq-spectrum/

http://www.advocate.com/health/love-and-sex/2014/02/11/exploring-umbrella-bisexuality-and-fluidity

http://www.uua.org/lgbtq/identity/queer

My Favorite Birthday Memories

 

My Favorite Birthday Memories

H. Bradford

2/12/17

  As I was in bed today, my mind drifted through some of my favorite birthday memories.  There are so many good times.  I thought about my childhood and the many birthday parties that my parents hosted for me.  I thought about some of the parties that I’ve hosted for myself as an adult.  I really do enjoy my birthday.  Here are some of those memories.


Childhood Roller Skating Party:

I remember when I was in the 4th grade or so, my mother organized a roller skating party for me at the roller rink in McGregor, MN.  I don’t even remember who was there or any of the gifts that I received.  I imagine that Libby was there.  I think I remember Tonya and Kym.  I am sure there was pizza and pitchers of fountain soda.  It is all pretty foggy now.  One thing I do remember was that I wore these hideous turquoise elephant pants.  Even though bell bottom pants had been out of style for a few decades, I somehow thought that they were super cool.  I thought that they looked even cooler swaying side to side while roller skating.   I had a strong and bizarre sense of style as a kid.  In any event, I remember feeling pretty darn cool wearing those pants.  I also owned my own roller skates.  They were white with pink pompoms.  Again…super cool.

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Birthday Dinners with the Wallis:

Each year for my birthday, my grandpa Walli would take the family out for a celebratory dinner.  We would often go to a supper club or “older person” restaurants.  Each year, I ordered a hamburger and French fries.  It was my favorite.  It also became a bit of a joke, since the adults would order walleye or steak, but I wanted just an ordinary burger.  I remember one year had been very hard on my family.  I believe that my father was laid off of work that winter so money was pretty tight.  I remember that we ate potatoes and eggs.  To my childhood brain, it felt like we ate potatoes and eggs for the whole winter.  Perhaps it was only a week.  Maybe it was for a few weeks.  I only remember that we ate a lot of potatoes and eggs that winter.   When my birthday arrived, it was really wonderful to go out for my birthday meal….since it was a relief from potatoes and eggs.  It seems like everything got better after that.  We ate other things or I don’t remember eating so many potatoes and eggs.  Thus, that is how I remember my birthday that winter.  It was when things got better.  Really, I still frame my birthday that way.  By February 12th, it seems that winter is not as dark and harsh.  It has always been the beginning of the end of winter for me.

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“Birthday” in Korea:

I visited South Korea in 2010 through a study abroad program at UWS.  The program did not begin until late February.  As such, I didn’t actually spend my birthday in Korea.  Still, for some reason everyone thought it would be a fun idea if we pretended that it was my birthday.  We did this for others as well.  Thus, we went to a pizza place and pretended that it was my birthday.  We somehow obtained a small cake and everyone sang happy birthday.  Why me?  Why my birthday?  I was the least fun and social person out of the bunch.  I dream about bird identification.  This is all very silly, but that weekend has become a birthday memory.  So, while I didn’t do those activities for my actual birthday, I remember going to Seoul,  eating pizza, eating cake,  wearing animal costumes, going to a photo booth and wearing a red wig, and a group of people singing happy birthday to me.  I am not sure if all of these things actually happened on the same weekend even!  But, it seems suiting that my fake birthday would have a fake memory.

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Birthday in Ireland:

Many eons ago, I also studied abroad in Ireland.  I don’t think that my roommates there cared for me much, but they did find me an ice cream cake for my birthday.  This was a pretty amazing feat since ice cream cakes are not that common and our program was based in a small town in County Mayo.  I remember that everyone went out that night to celebrate my birthday.  They offered to buy me drinks, which consisted of diet coke, since I am a teetotaler.  Thus, everyone got drunk on my behalf, or at least used that as an excuse for drinking.  Still, it was a fun time.  I got free diet cokes and an ice cream cake.


The Epic Birthday of 2011:

I used to host large parties for my birthday.  I think that one of the most epic parties that I hosted was the party of 2011.  That year, I subjected my friends to a long march of birthday celebrating.  The celebrations began with snowshoeing at Jay Cooke State Park.  I remember that unlikely people, such as my mom and Adam, joined me on this trek.  My mom was proud that she kept up with the “youngsters” on her first snowshoe adventure.  Adam still complains that he hates snowshoeing.   Next on the all day intermarry, was a stop at Mexico Lindo in Cloquet.  I love Mexican food.  I had a fun time.  The fun was bolstered by the fact that I got to wear a black sombrero while the staff sang happy birthday to me.  Oh, but the fun didn’t end there.  Nope!  Next on the agenda was a private showing at the planetarium.  The birthday party was treated to a show at the planetarium, though I am not sure what the topic was now.  Finally, the party ended back in Superior with an astronomy lecture from Kris Nelson, a cosmic ice cream cake, trivia, and animal costumes.  Why did my friends subject themselves to dawn to dusk birthday celebrations?  Why the marathon of Mexican food, astronomy, and snowshoeing?  Who knows.  But, this was probably the best birthday ever.  It also marked the last mega birthday party of my adult life.  After that year, I moved to Mankato for grad school.  Mike moved to the cities and is now married with a family.  Carl also moved for grad school.  I think this party marked the end of an era in my life.  Which is fine.  Everything changes.  It is a lot of effort and energy to create such as massive celebration.  Still, it was a fun time.


Other Adult Birthday Parties:

In 2007, I began hosting birthday parties for myself.  I had been depressed for many years.  In fact, I lost a few years of my life to depression.  Well, in 2007, depression was finally losing its grip on me.  As such, I wanted to celebrate and make up for those years I lost to feeling unmotivated and isolated.  2007 marked the debut of my birthday parties.  The first party was a roller skating party followed by trivia and snacks.  I learned that although roller skating was fun as a child, it was terrifying as an adult.  The next year, I hosted a party at Carnival Thrillz, followed by trivia and snacks at my place in Superior.  I learned that most adults are not that into laser tag and mini golf, as the party was not well attended.  The following two years featured hotel pool parties.  These were pretty fun.  I have a fond memory of my birthday party in 2010, since this was also a farewell party.  I was going to leave for Asia for six months.  So, it was a way to say goodbye to my friends for a while.  This was a fun party, but like the party in 2011, it marked the end of an era.   Vanessa moved away later that year.  Rose was in China.  Flappy, my pet squirrel, was left behind, never to be seen again.


Birthday 2016:

This party was unique since it was my only adult birthday party which I didn’t plan myself.  As such, it was pretty low key, which is great.  I liked that I didn’t have to do any food prep, party decorating, inviting, or planning.  Adam and Jenny took care of that.  The birthday was pretty fun.  We played games.  Jenny made a giant cupcake.  We sang a special song to mark the cutting of the cake with a cheese knife (Oh, Holey Knife).  As a general rule, almost all of my birthday celebrations feature a piñata, singing, and trivia.

Childhood Birthday Parties:

My parents always tried to make my birthday special.  When I was in the second grade, they took my friends and I to Bridgeman’s in Floodwood, MN.  Again, I ate a burger and fries.  I also had a hot fudge ice cream sundae.  I was a pretty silly kid, so I invented a song called “Mr. Bubblegum.”   I have a long history of making up songs at my parties (the piñata song and Oh Holey Knife).    I remember a valentine themed party, wherein everyone received gift bags.  The bags included pens with removable heart shaped caps.  I remember we played trivia at this birthday party, but I wanted MORE trivia, so I began quizzing my friends on Greek mythology.  I think my mother even made a scavenger hunt for us outside.  She also made heart decorations which she put on the living room mirror with some streamers.   I can’t remember when I stopped having birthday parties as a child.  I suppose they became less elaborate affairs after my parents divorced.  I had few friends in Cambridge/Isanti, though my mother did take a few of us to the Mall of America one year.  In any event, I always enjoyed my birthday.   I enjoy the Valentine’s Day theme, the cakes that my mother would make (I always wanted angel food), the Valentine candies from my grandparents, the red, pink, and white, the friends, the trivia, the piñatas, etc.


The Present:

I did have a party this year!  I worked this weekend (or took the night off Sunday).  Perhaps I will try to celebrate with my friends next weekend when I am off.  Of course, I don’t have to celebrate.  There are plenty of adults who quietly let their birthday pass by each year.  But, my birthday invigorates and inspires me.  It motivates me to get outdoors,  do more fitness, wear red, indulge in my favorite things, and have fun.  It makes February a special time of year.  With that said, I hope that I have many more happy birthday memories in the years to come!

 

12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

 

 

12 Things I did for My Birthday: 2017

H. Bradford

2/12/2017

   Today is my birthday, which is normally a pretty big deal.  However, I have been very busy lately.  As such, celebrating my birthday feels a little more like a chore this year.  It is just one more thing to add to my “to do” list.  Yet, I really want to push myself to celebrate.  I feel that I have been in a black hole of work and activism, so taking time to celebrate is a very important “to do” list for the month of February.   With that said, here are some of the things that I did this weekend for my birthday.  Of course, my birthday celebrations usually last the entire month of February, so this is just a sample of what the month has in store for me.  Why bother?  Well, I happen to like being alive.  I won’t always be alive…so I best enjoy it while I can!  I won’t lie, this year’s birthday weekend was a little less fabulous than most years.  But, I did my best to make the most of it.

1. Worked:

Ten hours of my birthday consisted of working.  This isn’t the most fun way to spend a birthday.    Work has been a little stressful this weekend.  I can’t go into details, but I work at a domestic violence shelter and things can get a little stressful at work.  So, yep, there you go, I spent a good portion of my birthday working.

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2. Felt Sick to my Stomach

I worked on Saturday night, but felt sort of bloated and gross.  My stomach discomfort continued on Sunday.  I could not sleep well.  The howling wind outside of my window and my heavy stomach kept me awake.  I could hear the crows cawing in the creaking trees outside.  I even had a dream that there was a giant crow in my bedroom window.  In the dream, I debated if it was a crow or a raven.  The thicker beak and wedge shaped tale told my dream brain that it was actually a raven.   In any event, I had planned on going to a Darwin Day celebration hosted by the Lake Superior Freethinkers.  That was supposed to be the highlight of my actual birthday.  However, my stomach felt unhappy, so I decided to stay in bed.  I actually called in sick to work because I felt that if I moved around too much, I might become sicker.  I try not to call in sick, but I figured that I didn’t have to push myself through a shift on my birthday.   Thus, aside from working, I spent a good portion of my birthday in bed.  Thankfully, my stomach eventually felt less icky (after 12 hours in bed).

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“Caw, caw, wake up!  Wake up!  Will you throw up?  Is it just diarrhea? Caw, caw!”


 

3. Drank Tea:

Wow, who would have known that February 12th is Hot Tea Appreciation Day?!  At least it has been hot tea appreciation day since it was established in 2016.  I certainly appreciate tea.  It is my caffeinated drink of choice.   While working on Saturday night, I took time to drink some Bhakti brand Fiery Masala Chai tea while at work (I really like the flavor of this tea, which we actually have for residents).  Well, whoopee I drank some tea.  Still, sometimes having hot tea is like a bubble bath for my innards.  It is the little things in life.


4. Read:

I’ve been pretty good about reading lately.  On Friday, I finished a really interesting book about the environment history of Russia.  Saturday, I started on a very short book.  It is Anton’ Treuer’s Ojibwe in Minnesota.    The book is a very quick read that offers a basic overview of Ojibwe history in Minnesota.  Here are a few interesting facts:  1. The 1898 Battle of Sugar Point at Leech Lake was the last conflict between a U.S. tribe and the military. 2. Ponemah on the Red Lake Reservation has never held a Christian funeral.  3. The Ojibwe and Dakota formed an alliance, wherein they shared territory and were at peace for 57 years- before the better known conflicts after 1736.

 

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5. Full Moon Snow Shoe Hike:

On Friday, in celebration of my birthday weekend, I went on a full moon snowshoe hike with UWS’ outdoor adventure program.  I signed up at the last minute and wasn’t sure if I wanted to attend a three hour snowshoeing excursion before working a 10 hour shift.  I went anyway.  The night was lovely.  At the beginning of the trip, the sky was clear and the temperature was about 35 degrees F.  The outing offered me a good view of the full moon (which was experiencing a partial eclipse) as well as some wintry constellations like Orion, canis major, Taurus, Gemini, etc.  Because the moon was slightly dimmed by the eclipse, the constellations were easier to spot than during a regular full moon.  The snowshoe hike itself was along Lake Superior on Wisconsin Point.  We clambered up the ice hill along the lake and continued that precarious path for about an hour before turning around and heading back.  I imagined that I was walking along a glacier or ice cap in Greenland as I carefully trod across the small mound of snow and ice.  It was fun, but it wore me out!  Thankfully, I survived my night shift on Friday night.


 

6. Watched Documentaries:

 

Since I took Sunday night off of work,  I had some free time for some sedentary activity.  I filled this time by watching documentaries and videos about the “stan” countries on YouTube.  I am planning on traveling to several of the “stan” countries this summer, so I have been reading about them lately.  I read a book about the Great Game in January and finished a book about early communist policies regarding the stans earlier this month.  I read a book about the Silk Road in December.  I am slowly increasing my knowledge of the stans, which I will meet in person in June.  Anyway, on Sunday night I watched a BBC travel series about the “stans.”  I also watched a short video about Turkmenbashi, the former dictator of Turkmenistan and another short news video about upcoming elections in Turkmenistan.   I have enjoyed learning about this region of the world.  Nevertheless, like always, I have some anxiety about the upcoming trip.  I worry the most about health, but also the conditions of travel.  This trip will involve overland travel and camping.  The camping conditions will be more rustic and challenging than my previous trip to southern Africa.  Am I up to the challenge?  On the bright side, I will probably get to see part of the Aral Sea and the giant gas crater in Turkmenistan.

 

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7. Fed the Squirrels:

After finishing work on Sunday morning, I decided to head to the grocery store to pick up a few items.  I decided to pick up some hazelnuts and leave them out for the squirrels in my yard.  I know that Flappy’s favorite food was hazelnuts.  Thus, the nuts were a little Valentine’s treat for my squirrel friends.  I love squirrels.  Happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite rodents!

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8. Went for a Walk:

I went for a walk with Dan in the Superior Municipal Forest on Saturday evening.  I didn’t actually want to walk, as my stomach was already starting to feel a little iffy.  But, it was nice to be outside and I felt better once I was walking.  I chalked the iffy stomach up to nerves or stress from a busy weekend at work.  Perhaps that is all it was?  Perhaps it was just a very mild bug?  Who knows.


 

9. Ate Mexican Food:

After taking a walk on Saturday, Dan and I went to Guadalajara Restaurant.  I really like Mexican food.  After eating, I felt bloated and that feeling didn’t go away for about 24 hours.  I don’t think that this is what made me feel ill today, but probably added to my uneasy stomach.   Oh well, it was worth it since I really do like Mexican food…


10. Drank Lime La Croix:

So, two of my twelve activities involve drinking.  While most people probably have a drink on their birthday, it probably isn’t tea and lime sparkling water.   Well, I am a teetotaler.  I have never drank an alcoholic beverage in my life.  Oddly enough, I have not smoked a cigarette or tried an illegal drug.  I am not against these things and don’t look down upon people who do these things, but when you haven’t done them there is a certain momentum to maintaining the identity of a teetotaler.   And, I have plenty of other vices…such as junk food.  However, my drinks of choice remain unsweetened tea and lime La Croix.  I was very happy to find 100 cans of La Croix in the kitchen when I finally rolled out of bed today!  Thanks Adam.   February 12th should also be Lime La Croix appreciation day.

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11. Booked a Trip to a Sloth Sanctuary

Next November, Dan and I are going on a trip.  We haven’t been anywhere together for about seven years.  He rarely gets time off of work and really isn’t that interested in travel.  Thus, for the most part, I travel alone.  However, in November 2017, he was able to take some time off of work, so we are going to go on a cruise.  While this trip is a long while away, I booked a trip to visit a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica today.  I thought it would be a small way to prepare for that trip and brighten my mood about being sick.   I am more of a squirrel person and Dan’s favorite animals are toads.  Still, sloths are really cute.  And, my bloated, slow digesting stomach…coupled with my lack of energy….certainly makes me feel like a sloth today.

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12. Wrote a Blog Post

Last year I wrote a blog post about 12 things I did for my birthday.  I didn’t work on my birthday last year…and I wasn’t sick, so I had a bit more time/ability to do fun things.  Despite it all, I think I successfully managed to squeeze some birthday fun out of my weekend.  Perhaps it isn’t the most fun I’ve had for my birthday, but the month isn’t over!

A Feminism that Fights Power

A Feminism that Fights Power

H. Bradford

2/6/17

 

Today, at a feminist meeting, we were asked what we hoped for in four years.  I felt very emotional when asked this question.  I angrily said that I hope that in four years both parties tremble at the power of the mobilized masses, whose anger they cannot contain.  Unfortunately, I am very alone in my socialist feminism and this wasn’t met with raised fists and denouncements of imperialism.  I got carried away.  Oh well.  Nevertheless, I remain convinced that women’s liberation is not a question of electing more women to power.  Women do not benefit from simply electing other women to office if these women are not committed to ending such things as poverty, homelessness, climate change, environmental destruction, racism, war, ableism, and heterosexism.  Working class women do not benefit from more women who are CEOs.  Women of color do not benefit from more female police officers and prison guards.  Just as the world is not a better place with more women on firing squads, we are no better when women win access to the tools of capitalist oppression.

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Queen of Hearts- a female with power does not equal feminism.

 


In the foggy days of figuring out politics, I remember that I was a fan of Madeleine Albright.  At the time, I admired her because she was a woman in a powerful position.  I admired that she was tough and stood up to men.  As a young woman, I wanted to see what women could do anything men could do.  It was only after becoming a socialist and seeing feminism in an international and class context, that I could see that Madeleine Albright did nothing to dismantle patriarchy.  She affirmed patriarchy by promoting U.S. foreign policy, even justifying the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to UN sanctions as “worth it.”  She affirmed patriarchy by supporting the NATO bombing of civilian targets in Yugoslavia and by supporting right-wing guerillas in Colombia.  In the same way, Hillary Clinton offered vocal support of dismantling welfare, calling welfare recipients “deadbeats” and justified the Crime Bill by calling African American youth “super predators.”  She encouraged a coup in Honduras, supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and regime change in Libya.  Women’s liberation should not come at the expense of women elsewhere in the world or at the expense of oppressed groups in our own country.   I don’t want war criminals who menstruate.  I don’t want war criminals period.  (Word play intended).

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On a local and state level, it is not much different.  I am disappointed with our female mayor’s support of more “professional housing” developments when the city sorely needs more low income housing and her less than enthusiastic support of the Homeless Bill of Rights.  Amy Klobuchar supported PROMESA, a bill that granted an un-elected board control over Puerto Rico’s finances (enforcing a colonial relationship upon the island).  Although she was against the Iraq war, she supported the war in Afghanistan and sanctions on Iran (even though we are the only country who has actually used nuclear weapons in combat).  I am not aware of Klobuchar supporting Palestinian rights, rather, she supported Israel’s right to “self-defense” against Gaza.  In 2014, in the interest of “self-defense” Israel bombed Gaza, killing over 2000 civilians and destroying over 20,000 homes.  These may not seem like feminist issues, but my feminism is anti-colonial.  My feminism is against apartheid in any state.  My feminism does not think a U.S. war will liberate women.  Women must organize to liberate themselves.

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I understand that this leaves women with choiceless choices.  There are Republicans, who very clearly want to end reproductive rights and who often don’t even give lip service to ending racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and climate change  and Democrats, the kinder gentler capitalist party.  It is sad that women are often left with choiceless choices.  For lack of socialized day care, they must often choose to have children and put their employment and education on hold.  Sometimes they must choose to stay in abusive relationships for lack of money and lack of housing.  They historically have had to choose to get married, exchanging sex and unpaid labor for economic stability.  The two parties seem like another choiceless choice.  Yet, I believe that other choices do exist.  And, at the very least, by participating in mass movements and fighting like hell on the streets and in the workplaces, both parties can be temporarily forced to the left.  Women can be leaders. They can be leaders in social movements.  They can be leaders in their community.  They can be leaders in their unions.  They can be leaders in speaking out against war.  They can be leaders in demanding social programs.  They can be leaders as allies to oppressed groups.  They can be leaders in parties that truly work for workers for – parties that actually fight patriarchy rather than coddle it through war and oppression.   Women can be leaders in fighting the power of capitalism and patriarchy.

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Trumpwashing: Corporations Against Trump?

Trumpwashing: Corporations Against Trump?

H.Bradford

2/2/17


There are a lot of confused and disturbing ideas in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.  I get it.  People want answers.  People want hope.  But, one of the more disturbing things in the past few days has been the amount of praise given to corporations that have come out against Trump’s policies.  Once again, there seems to be some confusion about how to evaluate what is just and good in society.  It seems that many people believe that anything that stands up to Trump is positive.  At the same time, anything that Trump is for or associated with is negative.  In other words, Starbucks and Nike are viewed positively because they stand up to Trump.  They are corporations.  Corporations are not our friend.  This is why.


Starbucks:

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A few days ago, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks announced that Starbucks would hire 10,000 immigrants over the next five years.  These hirings would take place within the 75 countries.  Suddenly, Starbucks became an icon of rebellion.  Don’t be deluded.  Starbucks has 7,600 stores and 160,000 employees in the U.S. alone, so a commitment of hiring 10,000 immigrant employees in 75 COUNTRIES, really doesn’t amount to much.  Even within the U.S., it would only amount to 1.3 people per store in the next five years.  But, numbers aside, Starbucks is a non-union workplace which pays an average of $9.34 an hour for a barista and $11.65 for a supervisor.  While employees may qualify for benefits if they work over 20 hours, many of them are not given enough hours to survive.  This prompted over 11,000 people to sign a barista driven petition in California last summer, which decried the “gross underemployment” that they experienced at their jobs.  The CEO who is so adamant about standing up against Trump was also against the $15 an hour minimum wage bill in Seattle.  The store also has a reputation for using prison labor.  The company notoriously used prisoners to package its holiday coffees through a sub-contractor. So, basically, Starbucks profits from the slave labor of our largely racial minority prison population.  Starbucks has gotten a lot of flak over the years.  It is an icon of globalization and homogenization.  The company has faced lawsuits for disability discrimination, as one store refused to serve a group of 12 deaf people and an employee was accused of falsifying documents when she had dyslexia.  Starbucks has even gotten into trouble for failing to recycle its cups!  It seems that if there is a corporation that is clearly TERRIBLE, it would be Starbucks.  However, it promised to hire those refugees….so maybe we can all forget the environmental, labor, criminal justice, and disability rights issues.  The CEO did come out in favor of same sex marriage, but this does not redeem the corporation.  If anything, it is pink washing, or using LGBT support as a veil that hides other injustices.  In the same way, support of immigrants is a branding ploy to sell more coffee and hide the numerous ways in which Starbucks promotes injustice in the world.


 

Nike:

nike-sweatshops-05 Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker, came out against Trump’s immigration ban with the statement,  “Nike believes in a world where everyone celebrates the power of diversity. Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from or who you love, everyone’s individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole. Those values are being threatened by the recent executive order in the U.S. banning refugees, as well as visitors, from seven Muslim-majority countries. This is a policy we don’t support.”  Well, this might seem encouraging, it does not redeem Nike from its history of sweatshop labor and environmental issues.  Just as Starbucks was equated with the dark side of globalization in the 1990s, Nike was equated with sweatshop labor.  Because of pressure from protests and boycotts, Nike has sought to clean up its image by increasing the wages of its workers and inspecting factories.  However, most of its factories continue to be located in Asia in countries with low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of union representation.  For instance, in 2014, workers at a Chinese Nike factory went on strike.  They made just over $1.50 an hour and often worked over 60 hours a week.  In response, Nike threatened to move production to Vietnam.  Nike was also accused of dumping hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze river in 2011.  Globally, ⅓ of Nike’s employees work in Vietnam.  Certainly the CEO of Nike was looking forward to the TPP, as this would have ended the $3 tariff placed on each shoe.  Trump’s backing out of the TPP was probably met sourly by the company hoping to extract more profits from Asia.  Perhaps this is where the critique of Trump’s immigration policy really comes from.  In any event, Nike may have cleaned up its image, but it continues to operate in countries with notoriously awful labor conditions.


All Corporations:

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Nike and Starbucks are on my radar this week because of their recent announcements related to Donald Trump.  I felt that I should write about them to offer some clarity on the issue of corporations.  Really, all corporations are terrible to varying degrees.  This is because all corporations seek profit.  Profit inevitably and essentially relies on the exploitation of workers.  This is the source of all profit.  Thus, corporations like Nike and Starbucks seek out the lowest wages or cheapest coffee beans (materials).  That is, they do this until enough public protest mounts and they must change their ways or risk losing business.  Or, they do this until workers organize and demand better wages and conditions on their own behalf.  In either case, there is nothing good or noble about these corporations.  If they change for the better, it is a survival strategy.  At the same time, I do not want to overstate the power of consumer sovereignty in changing corporate practices.  While you can “vote with your dollar” to some degree, due to the alienation of labor a.k.a. our separation from production, the exact conditions of production are often unknown to us.  I do not know the exact wages and conditions of Nike factories.  This is information that I must research and even then, it is not always easy to find.  Since we come in contact with thousands of products each week, it is impossible to know every aspect of the production process.  Some consumers may be more knowledgeable than others, but none of us know the full picture.  Further, even if we have a good idea of the conditions of production, there are larger social forces such as trade policies, advertisement, and government interventions which play a big role in what appears in the market, how it appears on the market, and social desire for these goods.


It is true that some companies attempt to give more consideration to workers and the environment.  Some companies may sacrifice some profits to pay better wages or have better worker conditions.  Some may invest profits into better environmental practices.  But, at the heart of each company is a reliance on the conditions of the larger economy and a drive for profit.  So long as a company seeks profit, workers will not be paid the full value of their labor.  In harder economic times or under greater competitive pressure, those companies that seek to be more ethical will always have to chose between survival and profit.  At the same time, many companies brand themselves with progressive causes to attract more consumers and draw attention away from labor conditions.  For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken put pink breast cancer awareness ribbons on their buckets.  How much does KFC really care about breast cancer or women?  What does eating a bucket of fried chicken do to further the cause of ending breast cancer?  Perhaps if KFC cared about women, they could instead provide a living wage and health benefits to workers.  Another example is greenwashing.  Everything from oil companies to bottled water companies have tried to greenwash their products.  That is, they promise consumers that their product is environmentally friendly.  Green packaging and promises of re-investment into nature trick consumers into thinking that somehow buying the product is ethical.  This newest trend of “Trumpwashing” is just the latest version of pinkwashing and greenwashing.  It is part of a corporate tradition of deceptive branding.


Trumpwashing:

The biggest lesson I want to impart in this post is simply to beware corporate driven rebellion.  The CEOs of Facebook, AirBnB, Twitter, Nike, Starbucks, Apple, Netflix, and others have come out against Trump.  Some of these, like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks, certainly benefit from open borders and free trade, especially in Asia, since this provides access to low cost labor.  While I am certainly for immigration, so are many corporations, as it provides a cheap supply of labor!  If companies know that people are angry, they will co-opt that anger by building a rebellious brand.  There is no rebellion in buying.  Thus, just because a company is against Trump, it does not make it good or ethical.  Take these corporate announcements with a grain of salt and a dose of skepticism.  In the meantime, continue to build the power of the people by organizing in protests, boycotts, petitions, labor organizing, and the like.

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