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Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

socialistaction2


 

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

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

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

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

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

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

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

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

H. Bradford

4/9/19


It’s that time of year again.  This is the third year that I have spent February, March, and April trying to fundraise for abortion access.  I am not that good at fundraising, but I try.  I try to organize a team, promote the fundraiser, get some donations, and help with the organizing of the event through H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia.   My contribution to the event is not as much as the contributions of others, but it is important to me.  For the past few years, H.O.T.D.I.S.H Militia, a local abortion fundraising group has attempted to raise $10,000 through a national fundraiser called “Bowl-a-thon” which is organized through the National Network of Abortion Fund’s (NNAF).   We have successfully met our fundraising goal each of the last three years that I have participated.  There are many reasons why I participate in this event, which I will outline so that readers have a better understanding of how the fund is used and why it is necessary.

This image was created by Betsy Hunt for H.O.T.D.I.S.H 2019


Abortion is Expensive:


Expensive is relative, as all medical expenses tend to be costly to those who cannot afford them.  But, considering that 40% of Americans cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense, abortion or ANY unexpected medical cost is expensive (Bahney, 2018).  At our local clinic, the basic cost of an abortion is $700, which goes up in price depending upon how far along the pregnancy is and if the patient requires a Rhogam injection.   The $700 cost is pretty similar to the cost at the other four Minnesota clinics listed on NNAF’s website.  This $700 cost is expensive for someone who was not intending to become pregnant, who only has a short time to raise the funds (less than 14.5 weeks at our local clinic),  who will see the cost increase the longer it takes to raise the funds, who must take the day off of work (since abortions are only provided locally on weekdays), must pay for transportation and perhaps day care or a baby sitter, and other costs.   75% of abortion patients in Minnesota were economically disadvantaged (State Facts About Abortion Minnesota, 2018).  I have recently had some unexpected medical expenses and it is extraordinarily stressful!  In my case, these are expenses that I can pay over time.  Unfortunately, at our local clinic, the payment is due in full at the time of the procedure.  There is no method to pay in installments.  $700 is therefore an enormous barrier for patients seeking an abortion.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H. provides supplemental funding to patients who might otherwise be unable to afford the full amount.


Insurance Often Doesn’t Cover Abortion:


In my observation, most patients with employer provider insurance must pay for the in full as the procedure is not covered by the insurance (some parts may be, such as an ultrasound, but patients are still responsible for the cost at the time of their appointment).  Many patients who seek abortion have not yet met their deductible or their out of pocket maximum.  Thus, it seems uncommon that insurance picks up the tab for the costs.  The H.O.T.D.I.S.H fund helps working people with insurance cover this unexpected expense.  It seems pretty unjust that abortion is segregated from regular health care, so that even those with insurance find that they must pay.  This punishes women and serves to stigmatize abortion as something frivolous or unnecessary.   In Minnesota, Medical Assistance covers the cost of abortion, but many patients do not have active M.A. because they have moved, did not submit paperwork, forgot to renew it, or any number of reasons.  Those who do must pay an $8 co-pay, but even this can be a barrier to someone experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, or extreme poverty.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are sometimes used to cover the co-pay or any additional expenses that Medical Assistance (Medicaid) might not cover.  It is also important to note that because of the Hyde Amendment, not all states fund abortion through Medicaid.  The Hyde Amendment prevents the use of federal funds to cover the cost of abortion.  States can elect to use their own funds to cover abortion, but only seventeen states have chosen to do this.  Minnesota is one of them, but patients from out of state may find that their Medical Assistance does not cover the cost.   For instance, Wisconsin only extends coverage in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment (Hyde, n.d.).  Finally, while Medical Assistance (Medicaid) covers abortion in Minnesota, Medicare does not cover elective abortion.  Therefore, individuals with disabilities who receive insurance through Medicare are unable to access abortion through that program.  As a caveat, I want to make clear that I am not well versed in the world of insurance, but in my observation at the clinic, insurance is rarely a guarantee of coverage.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H funds are regularly used to supplement employment health insurance coverage, MA copays, and to support Wisconsin residents on Badgercare.   Because 30% of Black women and 24% of Hispanic women receive Medicaid, as compared to 14% of white women, the national restrictions on Medicaid coverage of abortion disproportionately impacts women of color (Hyde, n.d).  The abortion restrictions through Medicare is ableist.  All of this is symptomatic of our need to repeal the Hyde Amendment, fight for universal and free health care for all, and demand that abortion be treated as ordinary health care.


Abortion Intersects with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:


I work extremely part time checking in patients at our local clinic.  My short shift at the clinic is usually preceded by a night shift at a domestic violence shelter.  While I must maintain confidentiality at both places because of HIPAA and VAWA, I will say that I sometimes recognize patients from my other full time employment at the shelter.  I am usually familiar with at least one name from the patient list.  To me, it is extremely sad and angering that society portrays abortion seekers as selfish, irresponsible women.  This ignores the violence, control, and coercion that women experience in their relationships and how pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance.  Pregnancy is a tool of patriarchal dominance in violent relationships, but also in everyday ordinary relationships wherein women must negotiate consent, birth control, their sexual desires or lack thereof as unequal partners on account of sexism, racism, economic subordination, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression that compound together within patriarchy and capitalism.   Providing abortion funding may help a patient escape from an abuser, begin to rebuild their life after sexual assault, and use their limited funds to leave a shelter for a housing opportunity rather than use that money to pay for an abortion.   It disgusts me that patients are met with a gauntlet of protesters who shame and abuse them for their choice with little concern or pause for the trauma that some patients have endured.   It also disgusts me that we live in a society where women can be forced to be pregnant simply because they cannot afford to terminate a pregnancy.   Funding abortion helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.


  Abortion Access is Always Under Attack:


Abortion is always under attack.   Each year, there are always new regulations and new schemes to limit abortion access.  In Minnesota, patients must receive mandatory information from a doctor 24 hours prior to their appointment.  If the patient does not receive this phone call, they are unable to have the procedure.  Minors must bring what seems like a mountain of paperwork documenting their identity, their parents’ identity, and acknowledgement of both biological parents that the minor is having an abortion.   In the absence of both biological parents acknowledging the abortion, the minor must appear before a judge, who will determine if they can have the abortion.   These current restrictions are fairly tame compared to the aggressive movement to further restrict abortion across the country.   This year, fetal heartbeat bans or six week abortion bans have been enacted, passed, or are in the process of passing in Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee.  This year, governors in Arkansas and Utah also approved bans on abortion at 18 weeks.  The Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee is currently reviewing a 20 week abortion ban in the interest of fetal pain, even though less than 2% of abortions performed in the state occur after 20 weeks and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists posts that it is not until at least 24 weeks of gestation that a fetus possesses the brain structures necessary process pain signals (Ferguson, 2019).  In the face of challenges to abortion access, many activists often frame it as a matter of how many Democrats are in power or that these bans will be overturned by the court system.  The fact of the matter is that the pro-choice movement has been losing the battle for abortion for over forty years.  This battle cannot take place in the arena of electoral politics, which has failed to prevent the avalanche of over 1,000 restrictions on abortion since 1973.  This has to occur by strengthening independent social movements capable of fundamentally transforming and challenging state power and while radically altering mass consciousness and discourse regarding the oppression of women.   Fundraising can be a supplemental stop gap measure in such a movement.  Fundraising should be used while putting demands upon the state and drawing attention to the systemic failures.  At the minimum, fundraising is a hands-on activity that could be used to connect pro-choicers to one another and the community.   At best, it needs to contribute to a fierce, strategic, and unwavering social movement that takes to the streets in protest and strike.  Power must be reclaimed by the masses, rather than consigned to courts and politicians.

This image was taken from NNAF for Bowl-a-thon purposes


Abortion isn’t Abnormal:


Abortion is always treated as a taboo.  It can’t be mentioned or is too controversial to bring up in polite conversation.  Yet, 1 in 4 women have had an abortion before the age of 45.  It isn’t abnormal.  It is ancient.  It is common.  By fundraising, abortion becomes more normal.  At least once a week, I remind people that I am fundraising for abortion on Facebook.   The actual fundraiser is fun.  We go bowling.  The bowling alley chooses to host an abortion fundraiser.  Bowling alleys are not typically considered enclaves of the feminist movement.  Last year, almost 100 people participated at the bowl-a-thon event.  This year, there are over a dozen teams and we expect a similar turn out.  The bowl-a-thon is a public way to be pro-choice and normal.  We are having fun fundraising.  The event has prizes and a party like atmosphere.  This isn’t about death, morals, taboos, secrets, and all of the dark ways that abortion is discussed in society.  This is about raising money and trying to have some fun while doing it.  Of course, it is also about all of the serious things that I outlined above.  But, part of this struggle has to be about making abortion less scary to talk about.  Asking strangers to donate- then having fun while doing it- dispels the the stigma around it.

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, people standing

 


Conclusion:


This year we have already met our goal of raising $10,000.  That sounds like a lot of money!  It is, but really, it doesn’t stretch that far.  Over a year, we can provide about $833 of support a month with those funds.  Remember, a single abortion procedure costs $700.  Thus, despite our best efforts and all of the people involved, we can really only pay for a little over 14 abortions a year!  Of course, the money is not used to pay for an entire abortion.  It is doled out more sparingly, typically with $100-$200 grants given to a couple of patients each month.  That really isn’t much at all!  It makes a difference to those patients, but $500 is still a large amount of money to come up with.  The amount we raise is small compared to the actual need.  Perhaps in the future, we will increase our fundraising capacity and be able to do more.  Better yet, it would be great if we could somehow change our society in such as way that we don’t have to fundraise at all.  Abortion would be available on demand, for free.  It would be wonderful if patients didn’t have to drive several hours to the nearest clinic or that everyone had guaranteed sick/personal leave so that missing work wasn’t an economic stressor.  Unfortunately, we have society as it exists now.  In this moment, the fundraising is both critical and inadequate.   There are still a few days left to donate to this year’s Bowl-a-thon.  The donation makes a difference locally, and hopefully I have illustrated a few reasons why!

To donate:

https://bowl.nnaf.org/fundraiser/1903989

https://bowl.nnaf.org/team/214270

Sources:

Bahney, A. (2018, May 22). 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. Retrieved from https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/22/pf/emergency-expenses-household-finances/index.html

Ferguson, D. (2019, March 29). 20-week abortion ban bill advances in MN Senate. Retrieved from https://www.twincities.com/2019/03/29/20-week-abortion-ban-bill-advances-in-mn-senate/

Hyde Amendment. (n.d.). Retrieved April 9, 2019, from https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion/hyde-amendment

State Facts About Abortion Minnesota (Rep.). (2018). Guttmacher Institute.

Capitalism and Self Care

capitalism

Capitalism and Self Care

H. Bradford

3/27/19


Whenever I hear the word self-care, I feel a little skeptical.  It seems like one of those feel good notions that activists and “helping” professionals ritualistically throw around to pay homage to burn out, compassion fatigue, or just the very human need for food, sleep, and health.  The Marxist in me always feels a bit cynical about the whole thing. To me, self care seems self-evident. A world in which me must pause, consider our needs, and carve out some extra space and time to meet these needs seems extraordinarily exploitative.  The concept itself seems atomizing, as the inability of capitalist society to meet human needs is placed upon the individual, who is tasked with adequately caring for themselves. At worst, it seems like a hedonistic excuse to retreat from society or struggle.  Self-care seems like the chore of maintaining oneself just enough to continue to be miserable. Some of this pessimism regarding self-care is founded, but some of it is not. Indeed, self-care has radical roots which should be reclaimed to push back against the crisis of care created by capitalism.


Capitalism and the Crisis of Care


To begin, it is useful to examine care more generally and how “care” connects to capitalism.  Care is often an invisible, expected, and taken for granted role for women in society. Women have long been associated with care, as in the care for children or care for families, but capitalism created the conditions wherein economic production and social reproduction separated into two distinct categories.  In other words, capitalism created a dichotomy between waged work and “care” (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).  Economic production became something that happened inside of offices or factories, where it was remunerated with a wage (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). “Care” became the sentimentalized labor that women often do as a matter of love than for pay, and as such, it is not as valued or recognized in society (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


According to a 2015 report, 1.9 billion children under the age of 15 and 200 million older adults are in need of care.  This number is expected reach 2.3 billion by the year 2030. Globally, among 64 countries studied, 16.4 billion hours per day are spent performing unpaid care work.  76.2% of this is done by women (Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific, 2017). Around the world, women complete more unpaid labor in the home than men, wit the largest differences found in Asian countries such as Japan, China, India, and South Korea.  Women also spend less time each day engaged in leisure activities. For instance, in the United States, women spend about 262 minutes eat day on leisure activities, whereas men spend about 305 minutes. In Greece, women enjoy 318 minutes of leisure, whereas men have 393 minutes each day.  In Portugal, women have 200 minutes of leisure each day and men, 289 minutes (Taei, 2019). Among OECD countries, women complete 4.5 hours of unpaid labor each day or 271 minutes. In comparison, men average around 2.5 hours each day, or 137 minutes (Berman, 2017). The gender gap in unpaid labor starts young, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenage girls perform 38 minutes of chores each day, whereas teenage boys do 24 minutes of chores each day (Gollayan, 2019).

Image result for unpaid work around the world


The lack of leisure time and large amounts of unpaid household care work, certainly create the conditions wherein women need self-care.  Beyond unpaid labor preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning homes, caring for children, or tending to the sick, women are often relegated to exhausting, low paid, undervalued “caring” professions.  97.5% of kindergarten and preschool teachers are women, 94.4% of childcare workers, 94% of nurse practitioners, 89.9% of maids and housekeepers, 89% of teaching assistants, and 84.5% of personal care aids are women.  Women make up the majority of the service industry, as they make up 80% of restaurant hosts, 72% of cashiers, 71% of non-restaurant food servers, 70% of waiters, and 66% of hotel front desk workers (Rocheleau, 2018). Thus, when women are not at home caring for children, workers, and retirees, they often find themselves thrust into paid care work, wherein they care for children, serve food,  provide medical care, or care for the elderly. Cashiers, waitresses, personal care attendants, and hostesses each have an average income of under $22,000 a year, at least according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among teachers, those who serve younger ages make less. For instance, Kindergarten teachers average $52,800 a year, whereas secondary education teachers average $58,300 a year (Wile, 2015).   Thus, those who engage in care work often face a wage penalty.

Image result for female cashier

Image taken from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-03/a-female-cashier-works-in-a-supermarket/6276318


One way that the amount of care work that women engage in can be explained is through Social Reproduction Theory.  According to Social Reproduction theory, capitalism charges women with the upkeep of capitalism. Social Reproduction posits that in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism needs both a future generation of workers and the upkeep of current workers, retired workers, and non-workers.  Thus, historically women have been tasked with having children, raising children, caring for the elderly or people who cannot work, cooking, cleaning, other household chores, and all of the other, mostly unpaid labor that goes into ensuring that capitalism can continue. Much of this labor occurs within the family, but some social reproduction may be provided for by the state or private sector (Arruza, 2016).  When the state engages in social reproduction, it can be said that the care work has been socialized. On the other hand, when the private sector engages in care work, it means it is commodified (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). For instance, when countries provide state funded day care centers or nursing homes, the state is engaged in the social reproduction of capitalism. However, as it will be argued later, many of the paid employees in such institutions are women.  As a whole, women are often engaged in what is generally called “care work” which is paid and unpaid labor that involves the care of people, but can also include care for animals, communities, or environments. While care work is not a specifically Marxist term or a phenomenon that is unique to capitalism, care work is an essential component to capitalism’s continuation. Capitalism is contradictory as it does not provide for its own upkeep. It requires workers, yet the profit motive drives capitalism to lower wages and lessened working conditions  The drive for profits also results in austerity, or cuts to social programs and the privatization of public institutions which provide care. This results in a crisis of care, in which women find that they have trouble balancing paid labor with reproductive labor (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


The Crisis of Care is a profound insight to the nature of capitalism and may offer why self-care is so popular and necessary.  During the 20th century, many advanced capitalist societies expanded the state’s role in social reproduction. The global south did not experience this, as they were predated upon by imperialist powers of the north.  A strong labor movement pushed for social reforms that shortened the work day, banned child labor, provided some social welfare programs, and ensured a family wage. However, racism within more advanced capitalist countries such as the United States meant that not all workers enjoyed these benefits equally and access to the “family wage” was predicated upon heteronormative monogamous relationships (Leonard and Fraser, 2016).  Yet, in the last forty years in order to eke out profits in an increasingly competitive global economy, the gains of workers have been attacked in many ways. Following the post World War II boom, the United States began to lose its place in the world economically in the 1960s and 1970s as Japan and Europe rebuilt their economies. The United States also began to de-industrialize, as industrial union jobs went to more profitable, low wage, non-union places elsewhere in the world.  The loss of these higher paying jobs put pressure upon women to enter the workforce as a single family wage was no longer adequate, though the feminist movement also pushed to break down barriers to entry into the paid economy as a matter of equality, freedom, and self-determination. Between 1970 and 2003, 60% of new jobs created went to women, yet at the same time wages have been stagnant. For the first time, white women began to engage in paid labor as much as Black women (who historically have not enjoyed the privilege of working only in one arena of the economy).  Of course, much of this growth was in the service industry, though there was also growth in finance, real estate, and insurance industries (Eisenstein, 2005). These areas are interesting, because they are associated with what Marxist call fictitious capital, or a more unstable economic area where capitalists go when they’ve run out of space to invest elsewhere, so this sort of job growth is also indicative of the crisis of capitalism. While the United States was de-industrializing, there has also been a global push towards austerity and privatization (Eisenstein, 2005).   It is little wonder then that in the face of attacks at work in the form of depressed wages, longer hours, less stability and also the loss of social benefits, that the crisis in care has driven women towards self-care to restore stability, wellness, and balance in their lives.  Self-care offers a reprieve from the ravages of capitalism.

Image result for u.s. real wages over time

Just an image of Real Wages over time


The Commodification of Self Care


The economic conditions of capitalism limits the ability of workers to take care of themselves.  Self-care may resonate with some women because they are stretched thin between paid and unpaid labor.  It is little wonder then that in recent years, there has been increased interest in self-care. In 2017, there was an uptick in the self-care activities with a 17% increase in therapy, 34% increase in yoga, 16% increase in meditation, and 19% increase in daily walks (Daniels, 2018).  There are over five million posts about self care on Instagram (Lieberman, 2018). Self-care became more mainstream after the 2016 election and was googled twice as much as in year following it (Aisha, 2017). The popularity of self-care related topics on social media contributes to differences in who engages in self-care.  For instance, millenials spend twice as much as boomers on self-care. This younger demographic is more internet savvy, which allows them to search for self care ideas and get exposure to self care through social media (Silva, 2017). Problematically, self-care within capitalism is commodified and individualized. It also reflects of disparities in ability, rage, class, sexuality, gender, and other areas of oppression.  For example, the beauty industry is quick to appropriate “self care” as a means to sell products. Ofra Cosmetics used the slogan “Turn Your Skin Care Routine Into A Self-Care Ritual,” to turn using skin care products into an act of self-care (Boyne, 2018). By 2024, the skincare industry is estimated to grow to $180 billion and even congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared her skincare routine on Instagram, divulging that she keeps makeup wipes by her bed to allow her skin to breathe.  Healthy skin is seen as virtuous, rather than a signifier of wealth (Hill, 2019).

Image result for self care skin care

An advertisement for Mad Peaches Med Spa- http://madpeachesmedspa.com/skin-care-is-self-care/


One of the more obvious examples of the commodification of self-care is, Gwyneth Paltrow, who made $250 million by selling wellness products under her brand Goop.  The company sells such things as emotional detox bath soaps and vaginal steams (Daniels, 2018). These products fleece women of their money in the interest of classist and gendered notion of what it means to care for oneself.  Self-care could be a $10 tube of Goop toothpaste, an $85 medicine bag containing several crystals, or a $3500 gold sex toy (K., 2018). In 2017, the self-care industry was estimated to be worth $4.2 trillion globally. Over the past two years, the industry has a growth rate of 6.4%, which is twice the growth rate of the entire global economy.  The largest component is anti-aging, skin care, and beauty, which makes up $1.08 trillion. Another area of growth in the self-care industry is food, of which, foods categorized as keto, plant based, probiotic, low sugar, paleo, vegetarian, flexitarian, and gut healthy are the top food trends in 2019. Athletic wear, cannabis, and low cost gyms are also areas of growth within the self-care industry (Low, 2018).

Self-Care for the Cubicle-Bound

“Self Care for the Cubicle Bound”- From Goop- https://goop.com/beauty/makeup/self-care-cubicle-bound/


Self-care often gets mashed together with self-improvement and might be viewed as a modern iteration of this long standing theme in Western culture.  For instance, Socrates advised that young men should not enter political leadership until they have worked on themselves. Foucault observed that cultivating the soul and self was part of the thinking of Seneca, Epictetus, and many early Christian thinkers.  In U.S. history, the concept of self-care was used towards racist ends, as Samuel Cartwright justified slavery because slaves were unable to care for themselves on account of their inferior race. Scholar, Matthew Frye Jacobson used a similar argument against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, as he claimed they were unable to care for themselves.  The argument was also used to justify denying women the right to vote (Kisner, 2017). Within the self-care industry, the self-improvement industry is worth $11 billion. Mindfulness meditation, which seems like something that could be done for free, is a $1 billion industry (Lieberman, 2018). This aspect of self-care is dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it does not challenge the notion that a person’s worth is predicated upon their efforts towards self-improvement.  As illustrated earlier, hierarchies of better or more capable selves and lesser capable selves, was twisted into arguments against immigration, women’s suffrage, and for slavery. Self-care is racialized inasmuch as wellness is often depicted as a pastime for white women. The arena of self care is often a white space designed for white women and wherein other white women profit (Daniels, 2018). Self-care naturalizes wellness as white while rendering the outcomes of self-care as virtuous (healthy skin, fit bodies, physical ability).  Secondly, because self-improvement costs money, it creates a divide between who can improve and who cannot. Wellness is reserved for the wealthy who can afford the time and money for such things as expensive fitness classes, skin products, or foods. Because self-care is an individual endeavour, it does not address or contextualize social problems such as poverty (Daniels, 2018). Finally, it is simply stressful and laborious to improve oneself, especially when people are already overburdened with paid and unpaid labor. In a UK study of 200 women who used fitness trackers, 79% felt guilty if they did not meet their daily goals, 59% felt controlled by the device, and 30% felt like it was the enemy (Lieberman, 2018).


This newest, commodified version of self-care is a new capitalistic incarnation of the concept, but it has meant different things throughout history.  The Civil Rights movement and feminist movement engaged in self-care as a political act as a reaction to the failures of white, patriarchal society to care for their needs.  Part of the early movement for self-care entailed setting up women’s health clinics to address the health needs of women as an alternative to medical institutions which many women experienced as sexist and hostile to women’s health.  Self-care was also a component of The Black Panther Party’s orgazing. The Black Panthers sought to address community needs that had been unmet by the state. As such, they set up clinics to address the needs of black people, such as testing for sickle cell anemia or lead poisoning (Aisha, 2017).  The Black Panthers established thirteen free clinics around the the country and connected poor health as an outcome of poverty (Bassett, 2016). Today’s concept of self-care, which focuses on the individual and is far less political and community based. Another understanding of self care is the medical term employed in high stress jobs such as social workers, therapists, and EMTs, who recognized the need for self-care to avoid burn-out or compassion fatigue.  This use of the term is certainly not as radical as the Black Panther or feminist movement concept of community building, but at the very least recognizes that work can be a source of personal strain. During the 1980s and 1990s, self-care became disassociated from its political roots and more connected to commercialized fitness and wellness trends that appealed to middle class white people. Fitness clubs and yoga classes are the types of ways that self care has manifested since then.  In recent years, feminists and activists in the black community have shown renewed interest in self-care as well (Aisha, 2017).  After the mass shooting in Orlando, LGBTQ people around the world used the hashtag #queerselflove to post selfies and Jace Harr, a trans man, created a popular online questionnaire entitled, “You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care guide” which asks users if they have drank water, feel disassociated, feel triggered, and other self-care questions.  Devin-Norelle, a trans black man, posted about self care after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, saying “Healing is self-care is self-love, self-indulgence, and self-preservation, because sometimes we need to be reminded that #BlackIsBeautiful (Kisner, 2018).” Devin-Norelle’s post echoes a quote from Audre Lorde, who wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare (Boyle, ND).”  Similarly, Evette Dione wrote in Bitch Magazine that many people are poor, working themselves to early graves, and that self-care means pushing against society by asserting one’s own needs and existence (Kisner, 2018).

Image result for Black panther clinic

An image depicting the Black Panther’s Free Food Program- one of several social programs including clinics, food distribution, children’s breakfast program, and free ambulance.  From: https://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/26/8-black-panther-party-programs-that-were-more-empowering-than-federal-government-programs/


Conclusion:


Care often falls upon the shoulders of women.  Women are often tasked with caring for children, elderly, those who are ill, their communities, and the environment.  This is done in both the paid and unpaid economy.   The strain of this physical and emotional labor leaves little time for self-care, but a strong need for it.  Capitalism commodifies self-care, turning it into something that requires time, effort, and money and bestowing virtues upon those who can accomplish balance, health, beauty and fitness.  While self-care could be liberating, in this economic context, it is another trap. It is time to return to the roots of self-care. Today’s society needs the militant, collective self-care.   Pressure should be put on the state and our workplaces for parental leave, paid sick time, healthy environments, socialized health care, free and expanded public transportation, living wages, affordable housing, reproductive justice, and all of the other things that are needed to live full and healthy lives.  Self-care must connect the self to the social struggle and build up people together as communities. We must care for another, while empowering each other to fight for the structural changes necessary to end sexism, racism, heterosexism, poverty, ableism, and all other forms of oppression once and for all. Chocolates, bubble baths, and yoga are alright, but self-care should be enjoyed with a revolutionary consciousness that seeks to end the child slavery that produces the chocolate,  the cultural appropriation that decontextualizes yoga among white people, and fights for access to clean water for all!  I suppose this sort of self-care is pretty exhausting, since it isn’t self-care as much as it is struggle. But, perhaps we can do self-care together, caring for each other along the way, so that we have strength and energy in each other. Finally, I think there is an important self-care tactic within the International Women’s Strike movement.  This is the tactic of striking, which is withdrawing labor. Self-care can mean withdrawing unpaid and paid labor to demand better conditions and a better world. The ultimate way we can take care of ourselves is to work towards a world wherein we don’t have to work with such effort, little pay, lack of control, and uncertainty.


Sources:

Arruzza, C. (2016). Functionalist, determinist, reductionist: Social reproduction feminism and its critics. Science & Society, 80(1), 9-30.

Arruzza, C.,  Bhattacharya, T., and Fraser F. (2019). FEMINISM FOR THE 99%. New York: VERSO.

Bassett M. T. (2016). Beyond Berets: The Black Panthers as Health Activists. American journal of public health, 106(10), 1741-3.

Berman, J. (2018, April 15). Women’s unpaid work is the backbone of the American economy. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-how-much-more-unpaid-work-women-do-than-men-2017-03-07

Boyle, S. (n.d.). Remembering the Origins of the Self-Care Movement. Retrieved from https://bust.com/feminism/194895-history-of-self-care-movement.html

Boyne, I. (2018, November 15). Self-care must separate itself from beauty industry. Retrieved from http://miscellanynews.org/2018/11/14/opinions/self-care-must-separate-itself-from-beauty-industry

Daniels, J. (2018, December 05). Opinion | This Holiday Season, Resist The Unbearable Whiteness Of Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-wellness-holidays-trump-gwyneth-paltrow-goop_us_5c07e65de4b0fc23611249c6

Eisenstein, H. (2005). A dangerous liaison? Feminism and corporate globalization. Science & Society, 69(3), 487-518.

Hill, J. (2019, March 19). Self-Care And Skin Care. Retrieved from https://the1a.org/shows/2019-03-19/self-care-and-skin-care

K., S. (2018, September 11). How Self-Care Became a $250 Million Business. Retrieved from https://www.couturesquemag.com/single-post/goop-self-care-politics-and-profit

Kisner, J. (2017, June 19). The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-politics-of-selfcare

Leonard, S., & Fraser, N. (2016, Fall). Capitalism’s Crisis of Care. Retrieved from https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/nancy-fraser-interview-capitalism-crisis-of-care

Low, E. (2019, January 28). Self Care Wellness Trends: Beauty, Fitness, Cannabis Fuel $4 Trillion Market. Retrieved from https://www.investors.com/news/self-care-wellness-trends-beauty-fitness-cannabis-market/

Gollayan, C. (2019, March 05). Teenage girls do more homework and household chores than boys: Study. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/03/05/teenage-girls-do-more-homework-and-household-chores-than-boys-study/

Harris, A. (2017, April 05). How “Self-Care” Went From Radical to Frou-Frou to Radical Once Again. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2017/04/the_history_of_self_care.html

Lieberman, C. (2018, August 10). How Self-Care Became So Much Work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-self-care-became-so-much-work

Rocheleau, M. (2017, March 07). Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession – The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/06/chart-the-percentage-women-and-men-each-profession/GBX22YsWl0XaeHghwXfE4H/story.html

Silva, C. (2017, June 04). The Millennial Obsession With Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/06/04/531051473/the-millennial-obsession-with-self-care

Taei, P. (2019, March 08). Visualizing Women’s Unpaid Work Across the Globe (A Special Chart). Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/visualizing-womens-unpaid-work-across-the-globe-a-special-chart-9f2595fafaaa

Wilding, M., & Wilding, M. (2018, August 15). When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage – Great Escape – Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/s/greatescape/when-self-care-turns-into-self-sabotage-489cef9859e5

Wile, R. (2015, June 13). This epic chart shows the average wage for almost every job in America. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-average-wage-for-almost-every-job-in-america-2015-6

Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific. (2018, June 27). Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_633284/lang–en/index.htm

Lessons from World War I

lessons

Lessons from World War I

H. Bradford

11/12/18


November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.  This is a momentous anniversary since our world is still deeply influenced by the outcome of World War I.  Yet, in the United States, World War I is not a popular war to learn about. It is not a war that American students love to learn about in the same way the they love World War II, with its villains and seemingly black and white struggle against fascism.  Despite its impact on world history, it does not lend itself as many movies and documentaries. When it does, for instance in the popular Wonder Woman film released in 2017, it is warped to resemble World War II to make itself more interesting to American audiences.  Of course, World War I is important in its own right and offers important historical lessons. As an activist, it is useful to examine the struggle against World War I, as it was a crucible that tested the ideological mettle of revolutionaries and activists.


World War I- An Introduction


World War I is significant for its brutality, industrialized warfare, and for reshaping the globe.  The brutality of the war is massive stain on the blood soaked histories of all imperialist nations. As a low estimate, over 8.5 million combatants died in the war with 21 million wounded and up to 13 million civilian casualties.  The nations that went to war were criminal in their barbaric sacrifice of millions of soldiers. For instance, the Russian Empire sent troops into battle armed only with axes, no wire cutters, and without boots. Early in the war, of an army corps of 25,000 soldiers, only one returned to Russia, as the rest were either killed or taken prisoner.  In the first month of the war alone, 310,000 Russians were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. On several occasions, British soldiers were ordered to advance against German trenches, which only resulted in massive bloodshed as they faced machine gun fire and tangled miles of barbed wire fences. When forced to march against the trenches at Loos, 8,000 of 10,000 British soldiers were killed for a gain of less than two miles of occupied territory.  In the first two years of the war, Britain had 250,000 dead soldiers for the gain of eight square miles. At the Battle of Verdun, 90,000 British soldiers perished in six weeks. At the Battle of Somme, 57,000 British troops perished in one day and 19,000 in one hour alone. The fighting continued even after the Armistice was signed on 11/11/18, as it was signed at 5 am, but did not go into effect until 11 am. In the twilight between war and peace, 2,738 soldiers died and 8,000 were wounded.  The scope of this senseless bloodshed seems unfathomable. The scale of human suffering was magnified by industrial methods of war. World War I saw new weapons, such as tanks, airplanes, giant guns mounted on trains, machine guns (which had been used in previous conflicts such as the Boer war), aerial bombings from zeppelins, submarines, and poison gas. Barbed wire was also a recent invention, which secured the defensive lines of both sides, ensuring a bloody stalemate. The conflict itself resulted in the collapse of empires and the division of colonial spoils (Hochschild, 2011).  

 


Almost everyone who has taken a history class remembers the tired narrative that World War I began in June 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his pregnant wife, Sofia in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip.  This unleashed a chain of events wherein Russia vowed to protect Serbia against an Austro-Hungarian invasion. In turn, Austro-Hungary sought to ally itself with Germany against Russia and France vowed to ally itself with Russia against Germany.  Britain justified entering the war on behalf of poor, innocent, neutral, little Belgium (which just years prior was neither poor, innocent, or neutral in King Leopold II’s genocidal rubber extraction from the Congo Free State), a strategic passage for German troops invading France.  The narrative goes that World War I was born from the anarchy of alliances. Of course, the causes of the war are far more profound than upkeeping treaties and national friendships. This method of framing the war as a domino of effect treaties renders the possibility of resisting the war invisible.  It also ignores that these treaties themselves were the outcome of imperialist countries volleying for power.


For historical context, there were massive changes in Europe during the 1800s.  On one hand, the 1800s saw the accelerating decline of the Ottoman Empire, which had been considered the sickman of Europe in terms of empires since it lost at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.  Wars and independence movements of the 1800s shrank Ottoman territory as countries such as Greece, Serbia, Egypt, Bulgaria, and later Albania, became independent. The Ottoman Empire was strained by internal debate over modernizing or harkening back to bygone times.  The century saw the disbanding of the Janissaries, defeat in the Russo-Turkish war, and the revolt of the Young Turks. The Russo-Turkish War saw the establishment of independent Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Treaty of Berlin awarded Bosnia to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which upset Serbians and inspired the formation of the Black Hand, which fought for reunification with Bosnia as well as unification with other areas populated by Serbians.  The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire created territorial concerns as newly emerging countries such as Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania sought to establish boundaries at the expense of one another. The Balkan Wars fought just prior to the start of WWI came out of these territorial disputes. Thus, the Ottoman entry into WWI on the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary was largely in the interest of retaking lost territories. Likewise, Bulgaria joined the conflict on the side of the Central Powers with the hope of regaining territory lost in the 1913 Balkan War, namely southern Macedonia and Greece (Jankowski, 2013).


While Ottomans were in decline, Germany and Russia were struggling for ascendancy.  The 1800s saw the formation of the German state, an outcome of the 1866 war between Prussia and Austro-Hungary and the Germanification of people within this territory under Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The 1800s also saw Germany’s entry into the imperialist conquest of the world as it sought to colonize places such as modern day Namibia, Botswana, Cameroon, Rwanda, Burundi, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, etc (Jankowski, 2013).  It should also be noted that Germany was 50% larger than its present size with one of Europe’s strongest economies (Hochschild, 2011). The Russian Empire saw its own economy growing with the expansion of railroads and a population twice the size of Germany’s (Hochschild, 2011).  Although Russia was hobbled in the 19th century by serfdom and slow industrialization, it won the Russo-Turkish War only to see its gains reversed by the Treaty of Berlin. It was further humiliated by the loss of a 1905 war against Japan and held on to brutal Tsarist autocracy at the cost of hundreds of lives in the face of protests for bread and labor reforms that same year.  The 1800s was also a time of Russian imperial expansion into Central Asia and the Caucasus, with interest in expansion as far as India, much to the chagrin of Britain. After losing the 1905 war with Japan, Russia began to expand and modernize its military, which led to Germany doing the same for fear of being eclipsed (Jankowski, 2013). This drive for global conquest and for gobbling up the shrinking territories is again related to imperialism.


German colonies at the turn of the century


Prior to the outbreak of World War I, European powers expected that war was inevitable.  British and French officials were expecting Germany to go to war with Russia after Russia’s 1905 uprising.  In 1894, France and Russia entered an alliance with one another that if one was attacked by Germany, the other would declare war on Germany to ensure a war on two fronts.  France had lost territory (Alsace and Lorraine) in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, so there was a strong desire for revenge among nationalists who wanted to go to war with Germany to reclaim lost land (Tuchman, 1990).  Between 1908 and 1913, the arms expenses of the six largest countries of Europe increased by 50% and 5-6% of national budgets were devoted to military spending (Hochschild, 2011). For nine years, Britain and France strategized what a German attack would look like and duly prepared.  Belgian had been created as a neutral state in 1830 with Britain a strong proponent of neutrality to secure itself from invasion. In 1913, Germans helped to reorganize the Ottoman Army, which upset Russia. France and Germany had each developed their own war plans, such as France’s Plan 17 and Germany’s Schlieffen Plan (Tuchman, 1990).  Even in popular culture in the years leading up to the war, German invasion became a fiction genre. For example, the Daily Mail ran a novel called The Invasion of 1910, which depicted a German invasion of the East coast of England (Hochschild, 2011).   

     

 

WWI and Imperialism


From a Marxist perspective, the primary cause of World War I was imperialism.  Imperialism was the linchpin of the anti-war socialist analysis of World War I, a topic which we be explored in greater detail in the next section.  The main proponent of this perspective was Vladimir Lenin, who drew his analysis of imperialism from the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote The Accumulation of Capital and Nikolai Bukharin, who wrote Imperialism and the World Economy.  Lenin also developed his theory based upon economist John Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study and Marxist economist Rudolf Hilferding’s Financial Capital (Nation, 1989).  According to Lenin, imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, characterized by such things as monopoly capital, a monopoly of large banks and financial institutions, the territorial partition of the world, the economic partition of the world by cartels, and the control of raw materials by trusts and the financial oligarchy.  Lenin characterized imperialism resulting from a trend towards the concentration of productive power. That is, imperialism features fewer companies with larger worker forces and greater production. To him, the movement towards the monopolization of capital occurred following a series of economic crises in capitalism in 1873 and 1900 (2005)  The fusion of capital into larger blocs was an important characteristic of capitalism observed by Karl Marx.   It occurred when larger capitalists destroying smaller ones and through the union of smaller capital into larger ones, a process mediated by banks and stock markets. Once there were fewer firms on the playing field, they often united into cartels or agreements to limit competition and divide the market.  Banks also became concentrated into fewer powerful banks, which melded with industrial capital and the state (Patniak, 2014). On one hand, imperialism provided the advantage that it increased economic organization, planning, and efficiency, which were economic characteristics that Lenin theorized might serve a transition to socialism. On the other hand, imperialism also resulted in less innovation, stagnation, and an unevenness in concentrations of capital.  This unevenness created contradictions in the development of cities versus rural areas, heavy versus light industry, gaps between rich and poor, and gaps between colonies and colonizers. These contradictions created systemic instability in the long run, which cartels could only temporarily stave off (Nation, 1989).


Imperialism resulted in increased competition of state supported monopolies for markets and raw materials.  World War I was the result of partitioning the world. In this context, workers were given the choice between fighting for their own national monopolies or making revolution.  Lenin believed that workers should turn imperialist war into a civil war against capitalism. This was in contrast to social democrats who wanted workers to fight for their nations or Kautsky who felt workers should defend their nations, but not fight on the offensive.  Kautsky had postulated that the world was in a state of ultra imperialism, which would actually result in greater peace and stability as the stakes of war were higher. Rosa Luxemburg believed that capitalism had not yet reached every corner of the globe, so revolution was not yet possible.  Thus, there was debate over the nature of imperialism within the socialist movement. To Lenin, imperialism allowed the prospect of revolution in both advanced and colonized countries, since colonized countries were brought into imperialist wars as soldiers (Nation, 1989). For instance, 400,000 African forced laborers died in the war for Great Britain.  The first use of poison gas in the war was in April 1915 and the first victims were French troops from North Africa who observed the greenish yellow mist of chlorine, then succumbed to coughing blood and suffocation. Although the horror of zeppelin bombs fell on Britain in May 1915, the first use of zeppelin bombings was actually by Spain and France before the war, to punish Moroccans for uprising.  And while Britain justified the war as a matter of self-determination for Belgium, they crushed self-determination for Ireland when 1,750 Irish nationalists rose up in 1916 for independence. Britain sent troops there, eventually out numbering the nationalists 20 to 1. Fifteen of leaders of the uprising were shot, including James Connolly who was already wounded when executed and had to be tied to a chair to be shot (Hochschild, 2011).  Further, while the European arena is given more historical attention, battles were fought in colonies as well. In 1916 in south-west Tanzania, Germany fought the the British with an army of about 15,000. Of this number, 12,000 were Africans- who fought other Africans fighting on behalf of the British. Because the borders were created by Europeans and did not represent cultural, historical, or tribal lands, these African soldiers sometimes had to fight members of their family.  More than one million East Africans died in World War I (Masebo, 2015). France enlisted 200,000 West Africans to fight on their behalf in the war, calling them Senegalese tirailleurs, even though they came from various West African countries. These soldiers were forcibly recruited, then promised benefits that they were later denied (AFP, 2018). Colonies were inextricably linked, economically and militarily, to imperialist war efforts. Thus, in addition to blaming imperialism for the outbreak of World War I, Lenin postulated that the national struggle of oppressed nationalities was part of the larger struggle against imperialism.     

From Forgotten African Battlefields of WWI, CNN


Lenin noted that by 1900, 90% of African territory was controlled by European powers, in contrast to just over 10% in 1876.  Polynesia was 98% controlled by European powers compared to 56% in 1876. As of 1900, the world was almost entirely divided between major European powers with the only possibility of redivision.  Between 1884 and 1900, France, Britain, Belgium, Portugal, and Germany saw accelerated expansion of their overseas territories. He quoted Cecil Rhode, who saw imperialism as necessary for creating markets for goods and opportunities for surplus British population (Lenin, 2005).  By the time World War I began, the banqueting table of capitalists was full. World War I was a means to redistribute these imperialist spoils. Germany sought to test its power against that of Britain and France. To Lenin, one side or the other had to relinquish colonies (Lenin, War and Revolution, 2005).  Indeed, World War I resulted in a re-division of the world. The war saw the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, whose territories were divided among the victors. For instance, Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates and Britain took control of Mesopotamia, most of the Arabian peninsula, and Palestine. The United States, a latecomer to the war, cemented its position as a world power.  The defeat of Germany resulted in the redistribution of German colonies, such as German East Africa to Britain, part of Mozambique to Portugal, the division of Cameroon between British and French, and the formation of Ghana and Togo under British and French control, respectively. Even New Zealand and Australia gained control of German Pacific island territories German Samoa, German New Guinea, and Nauru.  Various states came out of the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Kingdom of Romania.  Of course, revolution destroyed the Russian Empire before the conclusion of the war, resulting in the independence of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Poland was constructed of territories lost by Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian Empires.        


Socialist Resistance to World War I


Like all wars, there was resistance to World War I.  A group that would have been well positioned to resist the outbreak of the war was the socialist movement.  However, in August 1914, various socialists in Britain, France, Germany, and Austro-Hungary sided with their national governments in participating in World War I (Partington, 2013).  For some context, the Second International was a loose federation of socialist groups which arose out of the collapse of the First International in 1876 over debates related to anarchy led by Bukharin.  Between its founding in 1889 to the outbreak of World War I, the Second International saw success in terms of rising standards of living for workers, mass popularity, and electoral success that brought socialists into various governments.  One the eve of the war, there were three million socialist party members in Germany, one million in France, and a half million in Great Britain and Austria-Hungary respectively (Nation, 1989). The German Socialist Party was the largest party in the the German legislature.  Even in the United States, where socialism was less popular, socialist candidate Eugene Debs garnered 900,000 votes in his 1912 presidential bid (Hochschild, 2011). During this time period, socialists of the Second International certainly had opportunities to debate war, as there was the Balkan Wars, Boer Wars, Italy’s invasion of Libya, and war between Russia and Japan.  However, the international failed to develop a cohesive anti-war strategy. As World War I approached, socialists made some efforts to organize against it. For instance, in July 1914 socialists organized modest anti-war protests and there were strikes in St. Petersburg (Nation, 1989) and strikes involving over a million workers in Russia earlier in the year. In July 1914, socialist leaders such as Kerrie Hardie, the working class Scottish socialist parliamentarian from Great Britain, Jean Jaures, the French historian and parliamentarian from the French Section of the Workers International, and Rosa Luxemburg, the Jewish Polish Marxist theorist from the German Socialist Party (SPD), met in Brussels for a Socialist Conference to discuss the impending war.  Hardie vowed to call for a general strike should Britain enter a war. Jaures spoke before 7,000 Belgian workers calling for a war on war. Unfortunately, Jaures was assassinated in Paris shortly after this meeting by a nationalist zealot. Nevertheless, there were trade union and leftist organized marches in Trafalgar Square in London against the war, where Hardie again called for a general strike against war (Hochschild, 2011). Despite these agitational efforts, the fate of the international was sealed when on August 4th the German SPD voted for emergency war allocations. Socialists in other European countries followed suit, adopted a “defensist” position in which they opted to suspend class struggle in the interest of defending their nations (Nation, 1989).  Only 14 of 111 SPD deputies voted against war allocations (Hoschild, 2011). The fact that the majority of socialists supported the war shattered The Second International, which over the course of the war saw the decline of socialist party membership. For instance, Germany’s SPD lost 63% of its membership between 1914-1916 (Nation, 1989). With millions of members in all of the belligerent countries, positions of political power, and union support, socialists had the power to stop the war.  Putting nationalism before internationalism was one of the greatest failures of socialists.

Rosa Luxemburg


Not all socialists agreed with the defensist position and during the course of the war they formed an small opposition within the Second International, a segment of which would eventually became the Third International and Communist Party.  This opposition had diverse views, ranging from the Menshevik position that socialists should call for neither victory nor defeat of imperialist powers to Lenin’s position of revolutionary defeatism. As her SPD counterparts were calling for war allocations, Rosa Luxemburg called a meeting at her apartment to oppose the war and strategize how to shore up an anti-war opposition within the party.  After this meeting, Karl Liebknecht campaigned around Europe with the slogans that “The Main Enemy is at Home”, “Civil War Not Civil Truce” and echoing Jaures, a call to “Wage War Against War.” They shared a further left position in the party that the only way to end the war was to make revolution. However, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were arrested in February 1915 (Nation, 1989).

  

Another early mobilization of socialists against the war was a Women’s International Conference first proposed by Inessa Armand, representing the left faction of the anti-war socialists and organized by Clara Zetkin, who was a centrist within the anti-defensist opposition.  Zetkin’s centrist anti-defensist position emphasized peace over making revolution (Nation, 1989). After writing An appeal to Socialist Women of All Countries, Zetkin organized the March 1915 Women’s International Conference in neutral Berne, Switzerland for anti-war socialist women.  Although she was not as quick to place blame on the socialists for supporting their governments nor emphasize the need for revolution, Clara Zetkin had a long history of  anti-war credentials. She was the secretary of the Women’s Socialist International and which she founded in 1907. She was also one of the founders of International Women’s Day.  She was a vocal opponent of British war against Boers in South Africa, articulating this position on a May Day speech in 1900. Later, she was an opponent of the First Balkan War and warned that it could develop into a war between greater European powers (Partington, 2013).  

Clara Zetkin


The Women’s International Conference was attended by 28 delegates from 8 countries, who developed resolutions on such things as an immediate end to the war, peace without humiliating conditions on any nation, and reparations for Belgium.  A manifesto based upon the conference was published later in June. Again, slogans such as “war on war” and “peace without conquest or annexations” were called for. The role of financial interests such as the arms industry was spotlighted as well as how capitalists used patriotism to dupe workers into fighting in the war and weakening socialism.  Russian delegates voted to amend this resolution to clearly blame socialists who had collaborated with capitalist governments and called for women to join illegal revolutionary association to advance the overthrow of capitalism. This amendment was rejected as it was viewed as divisive and called for illegal activity. The British delegation added a amendment that condemned price increases and wage decreases during the war and which welcomed other anti-war activists to join them in struggle.  The second part of this resolution was not passed (Partington, 2013). The conference was significant because it was the first anti-war conference attended by representatives from belligerent nations. The conference also set the stage for the Zimmerwald conference, which sought to better organize the opposition within the Second International towards ending the war, reforming the international, or abandoning it (Nation, 1989).

     

The Zimmerwald Conference began on September 11, 1915 in a small swiss village of Zimmerwald under the auspices that it was the meeting of an Ornithological Society.  The conference was attended by 38 individuals from 11 countries. The conference is more famous for its male attendees such as Trotsky, Lenin, Zinoviev, Radek, and Martov.  However, several women attended including Henriette Roland-Holst a poet and Social Democratic Party member from the Netherlands, Angelica Balanoff of the Italian Socialist Party, Bertha Thalheimer and Minna Reichert of the SPD in Germany.  Henriette Roland-Holst went on to oversee the creation of Der Verbote, a journal which served as a mouthpiece for the ideas of the conference. Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg were in prison at the time.  The conference manifesto blamed the cause of the war on imperialism, demanded an immediate end to the war, peace without annexations, and the restoration of Belgium.  Clara Zetkin was actually against the conference because she viewed it as sectarian. A point of contention at the conference was the nature of self-determination. Lenin and the Bolsheviks supported self-determination for oppressed nationalities.  Rosa Luxemburg, not in attendance, felt that this was a distraction and that national liberation was impossible under imperialism. Lenin argued that national struggle complimented socialist struggle. Another point of contention was whether or not to break with the Second International.  Since defenism was still the majority position among socialists, most members of the opposition feared breaking with the international as it would mean being part of a smaller, less viable organization. Rosa Luxemburg disagreed that it was a matter that the organization should decide from within, but should be a worker initiative (Nation, 1989).


The socialist movement continued to debate strategies and the nature of the war throughout the war.  As the war continued, anti-war actions increased. For instance, in July 1916, 60,000 soldiers died in a single day at the Battle of Somme.  In the first six months of 1916 alone, here were one million war casualties. It is unsurprising that in May 1916, 10,000 people protested in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.  The protest was organized by Rosa Luxemburg’s socialist organization, The Spartacist League. There were also strikes and demonstrations in Leipzig that year (Nation, 1989).  In 1916, 200,000 people signed a petition for peace in Britain (Hochschild, 2011). Of course, the most dramatic event was the strike of workers at the Putilov Arms factory on the 3rd of March, 1917.  This spiraled into a general strike in Petrograd, the mutiny of the army, and the abdication of the throne after three hundred years of Romanov rule. The February Revolution in Russia resulted in a Provisional Government.  In the months that followed, there were mutinies in France and Germany, general strikes and protests across Europe (Nation, 1989). Following the February revolution, 12,000 Londoners rallied in solidarity with the Russians and activists began organizing soviets.  In April 1917, there were mutinies in France, wherein soldiers waved red flags, sang the international, and in one case, soldiers hijacked a train and went back to Paris. French troops were diverted from the front to French cities to quell rebellion. At least 30 French army division created soviets.  In Russia, the army fell apart as a million soldiers deserted (Hochschild, 2011). The February revolution strengthened the Bolshevik position within the Zimmerwald left, but it took a second revolution, with the Bolsheviks assumption of power to end the war, as the Provisional Government lacked the political will to exit the war (Nation, 1989).  

February Revolution in Petrograd


The new Bolshevik government announced an armistice on December 15, 1918 and sent a delegation to meet the Germans at Brest-Litovsk fortress.  The delegation consisted of a woman, soldier, sailor, peasant, worker, and at least two Jewish men, all chosen to represent the new society in Russia.  The peasant in the delegation, Stashkov, was pulled from the street randomly, but happened to be a leftist.  He had never had wine before the meeting and had the unfortunate habit of calling his fellow delegates “barin” or master. The female delegate, Anastasia Bitsenko, made the German delegates, all from the higher echelons of German society, uneasy, as she had just returned from Siberia after a seven year imprisonment for assassinating the Russian Minister of War.  Together, these enemies in terms of class, ideology, and war feasted uneasily in honor of the Russian exit from the conflict (Hochschild, 2011). The terms of this exit were settled by a peace treaty in March 1918, which set the conditions of Russia’s exited the World War I at the cost of territorial concessions to Germany. The armistice between the countries antagonized Russia’s allies (Nation, 1989).  Russia’s end to the war meant that Germany could devote an addition half million soldiers to the Western Front. It also resulted in more unrest in the warring countries as activists were emboldened by the Russian revolution and immiserated by the ongoing war. Throughout the war, Germany was blockaded by the Allies, which led to food shortages. German troops were reduced to eating turnips and horse meat and civilians ate dogs and cats.  Real wages in Germany declined by half during the war. In turn, German submarines downed over 5,000 allied merchant ships, sending 47,000 tons of meat to the bottom of the sea in the first half of 1917 alone. By 1918, war cost made up 70% of Britain’s GDP. 100,000 workers protested in Manchester against food shortages. In July, rail workers in Britain went on strike. Even the police went on strike for two days, as 12,000 London police walked off the job (Hochschild, 2011).  


Lenin had pinned his hopes on revolution spreading across the world.  Considering the mutinies, desertions, strikes, and protests in 1918, this does not seem entirely far fetched.  British military officials even considered making peace with Germany as a way to contain the threat of the Russian spreading revolution elsewhere.  March 1918 saw the founding congress of the Communist Party and the Third International, the final break from the Second International. That same year, there were soviets formed in Germany and a sailor mutiny wherein the sailors raised the red flag. 400,000 Berlin workers went on strike in January 1918 demanding peace, a people’s republic, and workers rights (Hochschild, 2011).  Revolutions were attempted in Bavaria, Hungary, Braunschweig, and Berlin. Revolutionaries captured the Kaiser’s palace in Berlin and declared a socialist republic. The Berlin Revolution led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht’s Spartacist League was crushed by Social Democratic Party of Germany in alliance with the German Supreme Command (Nation, 1989). Both revolutionaries were captured, tortured, and executed. The SPD, which had led the member parties of the Second International to side with their belligerent governments, went on to crush other uprisings across Germany, taking its place in the Weimar Republic that followed.  Suffice to say, the chasm in the socialist movement that began in 1914 had become an irreparable trench of millions dead and the graves of revolutionaries.


Other Resistance to World War I:   


The debates and division within the the socialist movement is certainly an interesting aspect of how war was resisted or failed to be resisted.  However, there were many other groups involved in resisting World War One. Another natural source of resistance against World War I might have been anarchists, however, like the socialist movement, the anarchist movement split over how to react to the war.  A number of leading anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin, signed the Manifesto of the Sixteen in 1916, which argued that victory over the Central Powers was necessary. The manifesto encouraged anarchists to support the Allies.  Kropotkin’s support of the Allies may have been the result of a desire to defend France as a progressive country with a revolutionary tradition.  To him, defense of France was a defense of the French Revolution. His approach to the war was pragmatic. He felt that any uprising against the war would be small and easily crushed and that there was a responsibility to defend the country from aggression.  He viewed Germany as particularly militaristic. The year that the Manifesto of the Sixteen was written was particularly brutal and saw the beginning of British conscription (Adams and Kinna, 2017).


Not all anarchists were as lost on the issue of war as Kropotkin, for instance, Emma Goldman believed that the state had no right to wage war, drafts were illegimate and coercive, and wars were fought by capitalists at the expense of workers.  As the United States moved towards war in 1916, she began using her magazine, Mother Earth, to espouse anti-war ideas.  Once the United States entered the war, she launched the No-Conscription League.  Subsequently, her magazine was banned and she was arrested on June 15, 1917 along with her comrade, Alexander Berkman (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Before she was arrested, Goldman had planned on curtailing anti-conscription speeches, as speakers and attendees of her meetings were harassed by soldiers and police. She was arrested for violating the Selective Service Act, which was passed five days before her arrest.  The New York Times covered her arrest and trial, blaming her for two riots that had occurred at her meetings.  However, the reports of riots were overblown, as the meetings themselves were peaceful until disrupted by police and soldiers who demanded to see draft registration cards from attendees. Goldman did her best to use the trial as a platform for her ideas, arguing that she didn’t actually tell men not to register for the draft, as according to her anarchist beliefs she supported the right of individuals to make their own choices.  She also framed her organizing as part of an American tradition of protest and that democracy should not fear frank debate. Despite her efforts of defending herself and ideas, she was sentenced to the maximum sentence of two years (Kennedy, 1999). Upon serving her sentence at Missouri State Penitentiary, she was deported in December 1919 along with other radicals (War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919, n.d.).  Interestingly, Goldman had gained U.S. citizenship when she married Jacob Kershner in 1887, but he had his citizenship revoked in 1909. According to the laws at the time, a wife’s citizenship was contingent on the husband’s. Thus, she was deported based upon the citizenship of her dead husband.

Emma Goldman


European anarcho-syndicalists experienced the same split socialists did, as many came out in support of defensism (Nation, 1989).  In the United States, The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was the target of propaganda from the Wilson administration, which claimed that they were agents of the kaiser who were trying to sabotage the U.S. war effort (Richard, 2012).  The IWW is an international union with ties to both the socialist and anarchist movements. While not specifically anacho-syndicalist, the IWW was founded several anarcho-syndicalists such as Lucy Parsons and William Trautman. Because the IWW was trying to organize industries important to the war such as mining, lumber, and rubber, they were targeted with Red Scare tactics.  To avoid persecution, the leadership of the IWW refrained from taking a public stance against the war, but members were free to critique the war. This tactic did not work and in September 1917, the Department of Justice raided 48 IWW halls and arrested 165 members, some of whom had not been active for years (Richard, 2012). One of the members who was arrested as Loiuse Olivereau, who at the time was an anarchist IWW secretary.  After the raid of an IWW office that she worked at, she went to the Department of Justice to have some of her property returned. Among this property were anti-war fliers, which were a violation of the Espionage Act. Like Goldman, she went to trial and tried to make a political defense. She defended herself and her ideas, arguing that wartime repression and zealous nationalism were not “American” values. She appealed to plurality and nationalism based upon internationalism.  In her pamphlets, she had emphasized that men who avoided war were not cowards, but brave for living by their convictions. The media gave little attention to her arguments, instead portraying her as a radical foreigner with dangerous ideas, as Goldman had been portrayed (Kennedy, 1999). IWW members who were not arrested faced vigilante justice from lynch mobs. For instance, Frank Little was disfigured and hung from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana. In 1919, Wesley Everest was turned over to a mob by prison guards in Centralia, Washington.  He had his teeth knocked out with a rifle butt, was lynched three times, and shot. The coroner deemed the death a suicide (Richard, 2012).


In addition to anarchists and socialists, suffragists were another group of activists with an interest in anti-war organizing.  In addition to the March 1915 socialist women’s conference, there was a much larger women’s gathering at The Hague in the Netherlands.  April 1915 conference brought over 1300 delegates together and was organized by suffragists under the leadership of Jane Addams. It was mostly attended by middle class, professionals though representatives from trade unions and the Hungarian Agrarian union was also in attendance.  Like the socialist movement, the suffragist movement was divided between those who supported their governments and those who were anti-war. For instance, the International Suffrage Alliance did not support the Hague conference. Invitations to the conference put forth the position that the war should be ended peacefully and that women should be given the right to vote.  Attendance was difficult, since it meant crossing war torn countries or asking for travel documents, which was often denied (Blasco and Magallon, 2015). Attending the conference was itself illegal and all 28 delegates from Germany were arrested upon their return. 17 of the 20 British delegates were refused passage by ship when they tried to leave Britain (Hochschild, 2011).  Like the socialist conference, the The Hague conference made a resolution that territorial gains or conquests should not be recognized, though it put the onus of ending the war on neutral countries rather than working people. There was no call for a “war on war” but for mediation, justice, and diplomacy through a Society of Nations. Some of the points of this resolution were adopted by Woodrow Wilson in his 14 Points (Blasco and Magallon, 2015).


The sentiment of The Hague Conference, which focused on progressive internationalism, was echoed by the Women’s Peace Party before the war.  In 1914, 1,500 women marched against World War I in New York. Fannie Garrison Villard, Crystal Eastman, and Madeleine Z Doty organized the first all-female peace organization, The Women’s Peace Party.  After the end of the war, the Women’s Peace Party became the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Jensen, 2014). Despite the peaceful orientation, the WPP also promised to defend America from foreign enemies and worked to get Woodrow Wilson elected in 1916.  They also framed their peace work as a matter of maternal duty as nurturers. Irrespective of their patriotic politics, they were critiqued for being too nurturing or feminine, as this was viewed by men as having a negative and weakening effect on the public sphere (Kennedy, 1999).  At the same time, it seems contradictory that a peace party would support national defense. However, supporting the U.S. war effort might be viewed as an extension of the interest of middle class white women in finding increased state power through voting. The war sharpened the differences between radical and reformist suffragists.  The New York State Suffragist Party argued that the Silent Sentinels protest outside of the White House was harassing the government during a time of national stress (Women’s Suffrage and WWI, n.d). Even before the United States entered the war, The National American Woman Suffrage Association wrote a letter to Woodrow Wilson pledging the services of two million suffragists.  The letter appeared in the New York Times and promised that the suffragists would remain loyal to the war effort by encouraging women to volunteer in industries left vacant by men at war and collect medical supplies and rations (The History Engine, n.d.). The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) engaged in patriotic volunteering, but they did not abandon organizing for the vote.  NAWSA’s president, Carrie Chapman Catt was a pacifist, but supported the war effort by promoting Liberty Loans, Red Cross drives, and War Savings Stamps. Around the country, suffragists supported the war effort by planting victory gardens, food conservation, Red Cross and volunteering. The National Women’s Party took a more radical approach, and during the war 200 of them picketed the White House and were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and were forcibly fed.  In the United States, women finally won the right to vote in 1920, but this mostly impacted white women as Native American women were not U.S. citizens until 1924 and first generation Asian women were not granted the right to vote until after World War II (Jensen, 2014).

         

Silent Sentinels who protested outside the White House during WWI


The divide in the suffragist movement is illustrated in the Pankhurst family.  Sylvia Pankhurst, was a British suffragist who with her mother Emmaline and sisters, Christabel and Adela, founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Emmaline Pankhurst, the matriarch of the family, became engaged in politics after working with poor women to collect data on illegitimate births. She noted that many of these births were caused by rape and also took issue with the fact that female teachers in Manchester made less than their male counterparts.  Thus, sexual assault and the wage gap have a long been observed as social problems by feminists. The WPSU did not allow male members, though they infiltrated meetings of the Liberal Party to demand voting rights. The WSPU eventually split over the issue of whether or not they should support candidates. Emmaline Pankhurst was against this, as all of the candidates at the time were male. Charlotte Despards, a novelist, charitable organizer, Poor Law Board member, and proponent of Indian and Irish independence, was for supporting candidates, as she was a supporter of the Independent Labor Party.  Despards went on to found the Women’s Freedom League (Hochschild, 2011). Again, male membership and supporting male candidates are still issues that modern feminist groups consider.


The WSPU was the most radical of the British suffragist groups and it engaged in arson, window breaking, and bomb attacks (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The WSPU burned the orchid house at Kew Gardens, smashed a jewel case at the Tower of London, burned a church, and carved out “No Votes, No Golf” on a golf green (Hochschild, 2011).  Due to these activities, suffragists were imprisoned and Sylvia herself was arrested nine times between 1913 and 1914. To protest imprisonment, they went on hunger strikes and had to be forcibly fed.  Sylvia was expelled from the WSPU for socialist beliefs and founded the East London Federation of Suffragists. Despite their extreme tactics, Emmaline and Christabel became less radical at the outbreak of World War I and ceased their radical tactics, instead supporting the war and handing out white feathers to shame men to who didn’t enlist to fight (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  The eldest sister, Christabel traveled to the United States to drum up support for the war. Most British suffragists supported the war effort, which may seem surprising as many had earlier denounced war, gender essentializing it as a masculine endeavor. This turn towards national defense over voting rights was strategic, as it did offer mainstream legitimacy to suffragists who had otherwise been arrested and persecuted.  Even the author Rudyard Kipling had expressed concern that the women’s suffrage movement weakened Britain, making it less prepared for war. The WSPU organized a march of 60,000 women, though not against war. The march was to encourage women to buy shells. Perhaps due to their compliance in the war and part because the Russian revolution had granted universal suffrage, women were granted the right to vote in Britain in 1919 (Hochschild, 2011).  


As for Sylvia, one of the few anti-war suffragists, she organized ELFS to set of free clinics to mothers and children, a free day care, a Cost Price restaurant, and a toy factory for fundraising.  She supported strikes against conscription, the Defense of the Realm Act, protested the execution of James Connolly, and her group was the only British suffragist organization which continued to organize for the vote during the war (Miles and McGregor, 1993).  She had even suggested that an anti-war march of 1,000 women should occur in the no man’s land between enemy lines. Throughout the war, she documented the suffering of women, noting that women were forced out of hospital beds to make room for soldiers or struggle to survive on the military pay of their husbands.  The wives of deserters received no pension from the government and women were subjected to curfews to avoid cheating and faced imprisonment if they had a venereal disease and had sex with a soldier (Hochschild, 2011).

Sylvia Pankhurst


In 1916, the organization changed its name to the Workers Suffrage Federation and in 1918 to the Workers Socialist Federation.  It was the first British organization to affiliate with the Third International and she herself articulated that while women could win the vote under capitalism, they could achieve liberation.  She was arrested for sedition in 1920 for urging British sailors to mutiny over poor conditions and for dock workers to resist loading arms to be used by Russian counterrevolutionaries. While in prison, the Workers Socialist Federation joined the Communist Party.  She never joined the Communist Party herself and was critical of the New Economic Program (Miles and McGregor, 1993). Sylvia never joined the party, but paid a visit to the Soviet Union, which impressed her. She continued her activism throughout her life, warning about the rise of fascism and drawing attention to Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia.  She eventually moved to Ethiopia, where she died at the age of 74.


Conclusion:


Resistance to World War I in many ways seems like a series of stunning betrayals.  The socialists, which had the power to stop the war, sided with their national governments at the cost of millions of lives.  The hardships of war created the conditions for unrest in many countries, but it was only in Russia where revolution was successful (at a high cost and with lasting consequences to the shape the new society).  Suffragists, like socialists, sided with their national governments. This Faustian deal, in some ways, secured the right to vote. Today, women can vote to send women to kill other women in war, just as socialists voted for the money to arm workers to fight other workers.  Anarchists were also fractured by the war, when this group seemed the most ideologically unlikely to side with government war mongering! At the same time, activists of all of these groups made hard choices. Anti-war socialists found themselves unable to organize workers early in the war due to their small numbers and the swell of nationalism and prejudices.  Any activist organizing against the war faced imprisonment in beligerant countries, and Emma Goldman, Clara Zetkin, and Rosa Luxemburg among many more were arrested. Some activists faced mob justice and death. Still, there are some lessons to be drawn from all of this. A major lesson is the importance of unwavering internationalism. Another lesson is to take a long, principled view of power.  Suffragists abandoned their organizing in the interest of legitimacy and national power. In doing so, they made powerful allies, but they also took their place in the state apparatus that oppresses of women. So too, socialists, who enjoyed popularity and a share of state power, crushed other socialists and supported the violent, senseless slaughter of workers to maintain their place in capitalism.  Activists should always stand against imperialism and in solidarity with all of the oppressed people of the world.  Doing this may mean standing in the minority or at the margins of history making, but it may also mean keeping alive the idea that a better world is possible and the ideas with the power to build movements that make this happen.


Sources:

 

Adams, Matthew S., and Ruth Kinna. (2017) Anarchism, 1914-18: Internationalism, Anti-Militarism and War. Manchester University Press.   

 

AFP. (2018, November 6). France addresses painful history of African WWI troops. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/africa/2018-11-06-france-addresses-painful-history-of-african-wwi-troops/

 

Blasco, S., & Magallón, C. (2015, April 28). Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://noglory.org/index.php/articles/445-the-first-international-congress-of-women

 

Hochschild, A. (2011). To end all wars: A story of loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918. United Kingdom: Macmillan.

 

Jankowski, T., 2013. Eastern Europe! – Everything You Need to Know about the History (and More). New Europe Books.

 

Kennedy, K. (1999). Disloyal mothers and scurrilous citizens: Women and subversion during World War I. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

 

Miles, L., & McGregor, S. (1993, January 01). Suffragette who opposed World War One. Retrieved October 25, 2018, from http://socialistreview.org.uk/395/suffragette-who-opposed-world-war-one

 

Jensen, K. (2014, October 8). Women’s Mobilization for War (USA). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/womens_mobilization_for_war_usa#Suffrage_Movement

 

Lenin, V. (2005). Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Retrieved October 23, 2018, from https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/  

 

Lenin, V.I. Lenin: War and Revolution, 2005, http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/may/14.htm.

 

Masebo, O. (2015, July 03). The African soldiers dragged into Europe’s war. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33329661

 

Nation, R. (1989). War on War: Lenin, the Zimmerwald Left, and the Origins of Communist Internationalism. Haymarket Books.

 

Partington, J. S. (2013). Clara Zetkin: National and international contexts. London: Socialist History Society.

 

Patnaik, P. (2014). Lenin, Imperialism, and the First World War. Social Scientist, 42(7/8), 29-46. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24372919

 

Richard, J. (2012, November). The Legacy of the IWW. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://isreview.org/issue/86/legacy-iww

 

The History Engine. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5322

 

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. The Guns of August. Ballantine Books, 1990.

 

War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/MeetEmmaGoldman/warresistance-antimilitarism-deportation1917-1919.html

 

Women’s Suffrage and WWI (U.S. National Park Service). (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2018, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/womens-suffrage-wwi.htm

 

Illegal Abortion: Lessons From Romania

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Illegal Abortion: Lessons from Romania

by H. Bradford

7/10/18

I recently read Gail Kligman’s The Politics of Duplicity.  In the past, I had read parts of the book, drawing from it for my thesis on the topic of abortion in formerly communist countries.  In preparation for my upcoming short vacation to Romania, I wanted to read some books about Romanian topics, so I reconnected with the book for that purpose.  Reflecting upon the book, there are some lessons that can be drawn from Romania’s abortion experience.  Abortion access has been relentlessly attacked and restricted since its legalization in 1973 and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will certainly be hostile to Roe v. Wade.  While the spectre of inaccessible, if not illegal, abortion has haunted America for decades, there is fearful anticipation among activists that a new era of attacks on reproductive rights is upon us.  Therefore, Kligman’s book is timely for anyone looking to learn from the historical horrors of illegal abortion.


To provide some context, in 1966 abortion was made illegal in Romania by the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.  Decree 770 made abortion illegal in most cases, spare some medical conditions, age thresholds (40 or 45 depending upon the age), rape, incest, fetal deformity, or having already raised a certain number of children (4-5 depending on the year).  Abortion remained illegal until the collapse of Ceausescu’s dictatorship in 1989.  During this time period, contraceptives were unavailable in Romania, women were subjected to regular mandatory gynecological exams to monitor pregnancies/abortions/reproductive health, abortion seekers and providers were imprisoned, childless people were fined, homosexuality and adultery was criminalized, and divorce was made difficult to obtain.  The state mobilized propaganda, medical institutions, and the criminal justice system towards enforced reproduction in the interest of demographic goals.  According to Kligman’s book, this reproductive dystopia was the inspiration of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  Although the United States is very different from communist Romania in the 1960s-80s, some important lessons can be drawn from these nightmarish decades.


1.Abortion Does Not End With Illegality:

Despite Romanian’s draconian laws and lack of access to birth control, abortion did not end.  Women either found legal channels, such as obtaining an abortion for medical purposes (as some conditions allowed for abortion) or faking a miscarriage or illegal channels, such as willing doctors or underground providers.  Most often it was through illegal channels.  The option of travel was not available to most Romanian women, but for a privileged minority this was also a means to obtain an abortion.  One way or another, women continued to seek abortions.  Of course, the ability to seek an abortion was largely dependent upon privilege.  Women who knew doctors, had more social networks, had favorable connections to the police or state, more money, or other resources could more easily circumvent the laws.  Thus, the burden of illegal abortion hits the most marginalized populations the hardest.  It is the poorest and most estranged from social institutions who were forced to reproduce.   For example, Kligman (1998) relayed the story of a peasant woman who was awarded a Medal of Maternal Glory for having 10 children.  She used the award ceremony as a platform to beg for an extra bed.  While she was celebrated for her large number of children, it may very well been for lack of access to an alternative and certainly, this state celebrated choice was not supported by accompanying material resources.


Within the United States, if abortion was made illegal, abortion seekers would continue to have access to it.  Women with careers, credit cards, no criminal histories, U.S. passports, and paid vacation time could access abortion in other countries if it was made illegal here.  Generally, those with resources such as money and vehicles could travel to states where abortion laws were less restrictive.  Those with social networks or living in urban areas, might have access to underground illegal abortion services.  Thus, once again, abortion would not disappear, though the limited access would have the greatest impact on poor women, women of color, rural women, women with criminal histories, immigrant women, and those whose access is already severely limited by lack of abortion access and funding.  The Anti-abortion movement is inherently a war against the most oppressed members of society.  While illegal abortion would certainly be a challenge to educated, “middle class”, mobile, white women, the impact would be deeper felt by those who face multiple oppressions.


  1.  Unsafe Abortion:

The illegality of abortion in Romania drove women to seek abortions.  Some abortions were performed by doctors looking to supplement their modest incomes and some were performed by those who genuinely wanted to help women.  These abortions were made unsafe by the secretive conditions that illegal abortion created.  Doctors had to hide their tools, work quickly, and perform abortions in private residences.  Others were self-induced or performed by non-professionals.  About half of these illegal abortions were performed without harm to the woman.  As for the rest, women often found themselves suffering complications from the herbs, plants, toxins, or objects used to perform the abortion.  This created the hard choice between seeking medical help and risking criminal charges or the possibility of death.  Around 60% of women who went to the hospital for pregnancy complications had sought illegal abortion.  In all, there was an average of 341 deaths per year from abortion complications while abortion was illegal in Romania.  Illegal abortion is the death sentence for some women.


Maternal death can also be expected if abortion were to be made illegal in the United States.  There are some key improvements in the United States compared to Romania.  For one, abortion medicine is more advanced.  In Romania, abortions were only performed by curettage, as vacuum aspiration was unavailable before 1989.  Mifepristone had not yet been invented, so medical abortion was also unavailable (misoprostol the other drug used to induce abortion had been invented but would not have been available in Romania).  The lack of abortion technology made abortion less safe in Romania than if abortion became illegal in the United States.  Nevertheless, if abortion were illegal in the United States, abortion seekers and providers would still face tough choices if complications arose.  Because doctors in the United States are better paid than those in Romania and their education comes at a steep cost, fewer might be incentivized by earning extra money than those in communist Romania were.  This may put women in the hands of those who have less access to abortion medicine/knowledge.  Illegality means less regulation, oversight, uniformity, accreditation, sanitary conditions, and more dangers.  This isn’t to argue that only medical professionals are capable of providing safe abortion.  There were certainly Romanian women who obtained safe abortions from non-medical providers whose folk knowledge of plants and good fortune were enough to end a pregnancy.  However, illegal abortion creates more unknown variables that can contribute to a lack of safety.


  1. Criminality:

In Romania, both women and doctors were imprisoned for seeking/performing abortions.  Time in prison was generally one to three years.  However, some repeat offenders found themselves in prison for longer.  Even those who facilitated abortion were imprisoned, such as the girlfriend of a doctor who was imprisoned for one year without a change of clothes.  She was believed to have hosted the abortion in her apartment.  Doctors who performed illegal abortions could lose their medical license, or at the very least, had to work in another area of medicine.


If the anti-abortion movement in the United States believes that abortion is murder, then it follows that abortion must carry with it some sort of penalty.  In the U.S. the penalty for murder is often life imprisonment and sometimes capital punishment.  Those who argue that abortion is murder rarely argue for the same punishment as murder, which is odd, as it indicates to me that they do not believe it is actually murder or that if it is murder, it is a different kind of murder.  Why is it different?  And, if it is different, it concedes that a fetus is not the same as a born human, for which the punishment is the harshest among all crimes.  But, supposing that abortion is made illegal but the punishment is more minor, such as a few years in prison.  The United States has the largest prison population in the world.  22% of all of the prisoners in the world are in the United States.  Illegal abortion could potentially add many people to our prison system, as one in three women have had an abortion.  What would society be like if one in three women were imprisoned?  The United States has 30% of the world’s female prison population.  African Americans make up 40% of the United States prison population, despite the fact that they are 13% of the general population.  Criminalizing abortion, like criminalizing anything in this country, disproportionately impacts people of color.

Image result for romania communist prison


  1. Unwanted Children:

One outcome of illegal abortion in Romania was unwanted children.  After all, not all women could successfully access illegal abortion.  Many of these children found themselves on the streets or were put into overcrowded, underfunded orphanages.  Because of unsanitary medical practices and lack of transparency/policy regarding HIV, some of these orphans contracted HIV.  After the collapse of communism in Romania, the Western Media broadcasted the images of underweight, despondent, dirty, neglected children in Romanian orphanages, revealing and perhaps making a spectacle of the horror of their abuse.  Romanian society failed to care for the children that women were forced to birth.  I doubt the United States would do much better.


Romanian society had some advantages over the United States when it comes to the care of children.  In Romania, retirement age was 57 for women (and 55 upon request).  For men, it was 62 or 60 upon request.  Therefore, unwanted children or children that parents simply could not care for, could be sent to retired grandparents or other relatives.  In the United States, full Social Security benefits begin at 66, but many people feel that they can no longer retire.  The pool of retirees who can provide care work for children is smaller as the economy and lack of pension benefits at jobs forces U.S. workers into the job market longer.  Romania also offered 112 days of paid maternity leave, a birth bonus, and a 10% stipend for their second child (more for additional children).  While these government funds were not sufficient to defray the actual cost of raising a child, at least the government made some effort to provide for families.  The United States does not offer free daycare, paid maternity leave, or any additional funds to support families.  In this sense, our country is profoundly unequipped to support mothers and children.  There are programs for needy families, such as MFIP and food stamps, but only the poorest can access these and this does not resolve problems such as affordable daycare and paid leave, which all working parents need.

Image result for romanian communist woman


  1. Ideology of Gender Oppression:

In the United States, it seems that one of the biggest incubators of the ideology of gender oppression is religion.  After all, most anti-abortion groups are religiously affiliated.  Because religion has been used to justify homophobia, lack of abortion access, and the oppression of women, it is easy to view religion as the source of gender oppression.  However, one lesson from Romania is that religion can be completely absent from public life and the state can still propagate ideologies that justify the oppression of women.  Romania, like all communist countries, was an atheist state.  Nevertheless, the state created mythologies about nationalism and building communism, in which the role of women was both that of a worker and glorified mother.  While the case for illegal abortion is often made on religious grounds in the United States, nationalism, economic prosperity, and even science can be mobilized to oppress women.  In Romania, propaganda created a mythology that women were naturally meant to be mothers.  That this was what made them the healthiest, happiest, and most productive.  Any ideology that states that women are naturally “X” should be a red flag.  Women are not naturally anything.  Woman is a social category which has divided the world in an unequal gender binary.  So, while I write now about women and often discuss women’s rights to abortion, it is important to remember that men and non-binary people also seek abortions.  Not all people with uteruses are women.  Part of the fight for reproductive rights is the fight to challenge notions of gender or what is natural, since “natural” is a dog whistle for what is expected and enforced.  The fight for reproductive rights is not a fight against religion, though some religions are involved in the anti-abortion movement.  In a discursive sense, it is also a fight about the very notion of what it means to be a woman.  It is a fight against the demographic and economic interests of states, which are invested in the reproduction of workers and soldiers if not the actual upkeep of children.

Image result for romanian communist women


  1. Culture of Suspicion:

Kligman (1998) noted that Romanian abortion laws created a culture of suspicion.  Women were made to have regular gynecological exams.  Doctors were mobilized by the state to police the bodies of women.  Everyday citizens were recruited by The Securitate to spy on one another.  Relationships between couples, neighbors, co-workers, doctors, etc. deteriorated as it was never certain who could be trusted and who could not.


The United States is not the same sort of police state, but because of our political and cultural environment, abortion is still a matter of secrecy and shame.  Few people discuss their abortion experience even though abortion is common.  If abortion were illegal, this secrecy and shame is likely to increase because of the legal consequence.   Therefore, it is important for supporters of abortion to fight the shame.  In the arena of discourse, we should never accept that abortion should be rare, that it is shameful, regrettable, or that no one is pro-abortion.  I am pro-abortion.  If abortion is medicine, then I am as much for abortion as I am for dental treatment, eye exams, cancer treatment, or any other form of medicine.  Abortion can be life saving.  Abortion is sometimes freedom from poverty or abusive relationships.  Like anything, it can be a positive, negative, or neutral experience based upon social and personal circumstances.

 


  1. Abortion and Abuse

Kligman (1998) did not give as much attention to this topic as it deserves, perhaps because of lack of research in this area.  However, she mentioned that in Romania, divorce was hard to obtain and abuse was considered a personal/family matter.  Even if a woman sought to escape an abusive situation, survival on a single income and the ability to obtain housing would have been nil.  She also wrote that men really did not take responsibility for pregnancy prevention and that it was up to women to obtain an abortion or deal with the consequences of pregnancy.  State health propaganda suggested that couples should have sex several times a week.  The state fostered a society wherein domestic violence was inescapable by virtue of social norms, lack of resources, enforced pregnancy, and state sanctioned male entitlement to sex.


If abortion were illegal in the United States, victims of domestic violence would similarly find themselves forced to have the children of their abuser.  Due to the efforts of the feminist movement, domestic violence is not inevitably viewed as a personal or family matter but a problem related to patriarchy and the exertion of power.  Advocates have pushed back against this narrative.  Shelters, community responses involving education police and social services, and laws that protect victims from such things as eviction or job loss are some of the victories of the feminist movement which Romanian society did not have.  However, illegal abortion would still have an impact on victims/survivors as it would force them to have the children of their abuser and through this connection continue to have to deal with them in courts (for child support, custody, visitation) and in life (if the abuser does have partial custody, visitation).  Enforced pregnancy (through rape or sabotage or denial of birth control) is one of many ways that abusers exert control over victims.  Illegal abortion is essentially the state’s sanction of sexual abuse.

  1.  U.S. Foreign Policy- Exporting Anti-Abortion

One final lesson from Romania is that Western countries were either indifferent or supportive of Ceausescu’s abortion policies.  Nixon visited Romania in the early 1970s, Jimmy Carter hosted a visit of Ceausescu in 1978, and the United States looked at Romania as a potential ally due to its independence from the Soviet Union, relations with Israel, and willingness to engage in trade agreements with the west.  The suffering of the Romanian people and the restrictive abortion laws mattered very little to the two ruling parties of the United States.  This is because ultimately, U.S. economic and political interests as an imperialist power supersede principled concerns about the rights of women.  Lip service may be given to these concerns from time to time, but these concerns meet their horizon where US hegemony is challenged.


Our country’s hostility towards abortion has a global impact.  One example is the Global Gag rule, which began with Reagan and has been squarely supported by Republicans since.  Basically, it means that oversees organizations which receive U.S. aid cannot provide or promote abortion services.  I expect that if abortion became illegal in the United States, we would empower and expand restrictions elsewhere.  In terms of abortion, the worst offenders, of course, are Republicans, but at the heart of the issue is a shared, underlying view that the United States is exceptional, correct, important, and deserves a disproportionate place in shaping the history of the world and lives of the people of other countries.  The United States is not exceptional, or it is only exceptional in its atrocities, war mongering, genocide, racism, mass incarceration, and capacity for immiserating the world.  I believe that if abortion became illegal in the United States, the people of the world would help the oppressed women here.   In return, it is our duty to demolish U.S. power abroad.

Image result for jimmy carter ceausescu

Conclusion:

Illegal abortion seems like a nightmare, but in this nightmarish lens, it is always an Other.  It is an exotic, Eastern, communist dystopia that is distant from the United States on account of time, place, and political/economic system.  But, the challenges faced by Romanians are some of the same faced in the United States before abortion was illegal and which are faced today where abortion has not yet been legalized.  In Romania, the people rose up and killed their dictators.  In the United States, social movements also tirelessly worked to legalize abortion and contraceptives.  While women might not have the power  to “shut things down” when it comes to reproduction (to quote Todd Akin famous rape statement) there is always the power to shut society down through protest, strikes, and civil disobedience.   As challenging as it is, it is our best and only hope in rolling back the tide of attacks against reproductive rights.

Growing Injustice: Several Problematic Plants

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Growing Injustice: Several Problematic Plants

H. Bradford

6/4/18

Warm weather is finally here, so I have spent the last two weeks readying my garden for the season.  Since I’ve been planting more, I have plants on the brain. Lately, I have been thinking about plants and issues of racism (and in one case, anti-semitism).  Some plants have some very questionable names. Other plants have racially sensitive histories that social justice minded gardeners should consider. Plants like Wandering Jew, Kaffir lime, Nyjer seed, Indian Paintbrush, and even Collard Greens may be taken for granted by most growers, but contain issues of race and ethnicity.  Thus, the following blog post offers an overview of some of these offenders, so that we can grow gardens as well as a more just world for everyone! (The list of problematic plants is not comprehensive. I also did not cite sources within the text, but a list of links that I drew from can be found at the end).


Wandering Jew:


If you visit a greenhouse, you may find a plant called a Wandering Jew.  There are several plants that bear this name, including three species of spiderwort plants, four species of dayflower, and two other plants.  The spiderwort species are the sort that seem most commonly used as indoor plants. A few years ago, a local greenhouse recommended a Purple Wandering Jew plant for our home, since they can grow in lower light conditions.  The employee assured my housemate and I that there was nothing antisemitic about the bushy, viney plant. Nearly Natural 27 in. Wandering Jew Hanging Basket The term Wandering Jew comes from 13th Century Christian folklore.  The character is a Jewish man who was said to have taunted Jesus before he was crucified.  As punishment for his taunt, he was cursed to walk the Earth until the return of Christ. In some stories, his clothes and shoes never wear out and after 100 years, he returns to being a younger man.  He was a perpetual traveler, unable to rest, but able to converse in all of the languages of the world. This is not based on any actual Biblical story, though it may have been inspired by the story of Caine and European paganism.  Much like Big Foot or ghosts today, Europeans of the time believed that they had actually seen this character. For hundreds of year, even into the present day, this character has appeared in literature and art. Image result for wandering jew art

Gaston Malingue’s painting “The Wandering Jew”

While the character is very fictional, the antisemitic context the character was born from is not.  In 1290, Edward the I expelled all Jewish people from England. During the middle ages, Jews were banned from owning land.  They were also barred from trade guilds. Medieval cities also relegated Jewish populations to certain areas. In the 14th century, Jews were expelled from France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain.  Expulsions and exclusion from various economic activities provided a material reality for the idea that Jewish people were outsiders or wanderers. Thus, “The Wandering Jew” represents not only a person, but a stereotype regarding the nature of all Jewish people.  This stereotype has been used in modern times to incite hate, such as the Nazi film entitled “Der Erwige Jude,” which revived and modernized the medieval myth and envisioning modern Jewish people as criminal, lazy, and perverse cosmopolitans who controlled the world through banking, commerce, politics, and the media.  The idea of the Wandering Jew has


With this history in mind, calling a rambling, hard to destroy plant a “Wandering Jew” does not seem like the most culturally sensitive nomenclature, to say the least.   Interestingly, the Swedish Cultural Plant Database (SKUD) has changed the name of the “Wandering Jew” plant as well as another plant with an anti-semitic name (Jew Cherry which we know as Chinese Lantern Plants).  I am uncertain what SKUD renamed the plant to, but perhaps Purple Spiderwort, Variegated Spiderwort, or Wandering Spiderwort might be some good ideas. There are other plants with “Jew” in their title and these should be changed as well.   While not a plant, no one should call a wood ear mushroom a Jew’s Ear. I could find no similar examples of plant names that are unflattering/prejudiced towards Christians or other religious groups, but if there were and even if the group did not share the same history of oppression and genocide, there seems no reasonable argument to use derogatory common names.  If I saw such plants at a local store or greenhouse, I would suggest a name change to the manager.


Collard Greens:

A few years ago, I planted collard greens.  I was curious about this vegetable and wanted to grow it because I enjoy trying new things.  However, my housemate suggested that the name was racist since it sounds like “Coloured Greens.”  The leaf green is associated with African American cuisine, so it seemed plausible that the name may have had a more racist origin.  Thankfully, it doesn’t! The word Collard comes from “colewort” in Middle English perhaps influenced by Old Norse “kal” for cabbage, and earlier still, kaulos, which is Greek for stalk.  The “Col” and collard is found in other words like cauliflower, kale, coleslaw, German kohl for cabbage, etc.

Image result for collard green


While the leafy green is more prominent in the cuisine of the Southern United States, it is also used in Brazilian, Indian, and Portuguese cooking.   It was cultivated in Greek and Roman gardens 2000 years ago as is closely related to kale. Prior to this, it is theorized that wild cabbages were in cultivation in Europe 3000 years ago and up to 6000 years ago in China.  Leafy cabbages were also grown in Mesopotamia. While collard greens in particular (in contrast to other leafy cabbages) have long been consumed by Europeans, the history is not devoid of racism or contention. A controversy arose a few years ago when Whole Foods Co-op suggested that customers buy collard greens and prepare them with ingredients such as cranberries, garlic, and peanuts.  Some African Americans felt that this was cultural appropriation of a vegetable used in their cuisine and food gentrification of a vegetable by white people who have recently discovered it and have now re-imagined it as something trendy. This critique is not unfounded. Afterall, Neiman Marcus sold out of their $66 frozen trays of collard greens in 2016. Historically, collard greens, like many members of the cabbage family were poor people food.  (Though Romans actually esteemed cabbages as medicinal and a luxury.) Members of the cabbage family are cool season crops with mild frost resistance, making them part of winter staples or lean time food. Image result for neiman marcus collard green African Americans came to the United States as slaves and were only allowed to grow a small selection of vegetables for themselves.  Collards were one of them. While the vegetable is not African in origin, the methods of preparation were. West Africans use hundreds of species of leafy greens and prepare them in ways that maintain their high nutrient content.  Enslaved Africans found fewer wild greens here and came to rely on collards, which were brought here by the British. (Depending upon where the slaves were taken from, they may have been familiar with leafy cabbages as in the Middle Ages, cabbages of various sorts were traded into Africa through Morocco and Mali).  They are unique among cabbages in that they can continue to produce leaves over their growing season. They can be harvested for months when other vegetables quit in the cold weather. Collards helped slaves to survive due to their productivity. For this reason, poor white people also grew collards. It is a cheap, productive, healthy plant.  Although white Southerners grew the plant, it was a marginal crop to European settlers and African Americans deserve credit for popularizing the use of greens and their preparation. Image result for collard greens

image from Foodnetwork.com

I love plants.  I love gardening.  I have no problems eating vegetables.  But, collard greens do raise the question of how white people (at least those who aren’t poor and from the south) should approach collard greens.  On one hand, when food is gentrified, the cost goes up for those who have traditionally eaten it. For instance, after kale was deemed a superfood, its cost rose 25%.  If food prices rise, it can drive poor people to unhealthier, cheaper foods. Collard greens are also a problem when they are commercialized and fetishized. Judging by the tone and content of internet articles on this topic, I don’t know that most African Americans would take issue with a white individual growing a small amount of collard greens for personal, private use for love of gardening and attempting to try new vegetables.  In the case of Whole Foods and Neiman Marcus, it represented capitalizing on and changing the culinary traditions of Black people. The foods were presented in inauthentic ways, devoid of history, and for profit by cashing in on a contextless notion of the exotic. Since the vegetable is tied to the traumatic history of survival and slavery and has cultural importance (such as a feature of New Year’s meals) it isn’t something to take lightly.   Collard greens have double the iron and protein than kale and 18% more calcium, so there may be legitimate reasons that many people should grow them. Personally, I am curious about many vegetables. Does my curiosity “Colombusize” the culture, culinary traditions, or agriculture of others? In small ways, yes. My hope is that I can be mindful of my decisions and the history/power embedded in even the simplest things.


Nyjer Seed:


Anyone who wants to attract finches to their yard may be familiar with nyjger seed, which is also called thistle seed.  The seed does not come from the thistle plant and the name “nyjer seed” seems suspiciously like another n word. When I was a kid, the seed was spelled “niger” which also makes the seed a little suspicious.  We pronounced it in a way that is similar to Nigeria or Niger in Africa. Unfortunately, some people did not pronounce it this way and instead thought it was pronounced like a racial slur. The bird seed industry actually changed the name of the seed because it had confused people or had been mispronounced.  Nyjer is the 1998 trademarked name of the Wild Bird Feeding Industry. Image result for niger seed While the name might suggest that the seed came from Nigeria or Niger, nyjer seed actually comes from the Guizotia abyssinica plant which grows in the highlands of Ethiopia.  I found a reference to the seed being called Nigerian thistle, which to me indicates that whomever named the seed must have had some confusion about the geography of Africa or, perhaps generically called it “niger” seed as a stand in for Africa itself.  Nigeria, Niger, and the Niger River are all located in West Africa whereas Ethiopia is in East Africa. The genus Guizotia contains six species, of which five are native to Ethiopia. A distribution map of the species shows that it grows naturally in some areas of Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.  It also grows in India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The plants found in and around India are believed to have been brought there long ago by Ethiopian migrants, who also brought millet to the region. Therefore, Nyger seed really has nothing to do with the countries of its (former) namesake and represents a sort of “imagined Africa” rather than any geographical or botanical reality. Image result for niger seed ethiopia

  Field of Nyjer Seed plants in Ethiopia

While in the United States, most people feed the oily black seeds to birds, it is used in the cuisines of India and Ethiopia.  It has been been grown in Ethiopia as an oil crop since antiquity and today, makes up 50% of Ethiopia’s oil seed production. Overall, the main producer of commercial nyjer seed is India, followed by Myanmar and Ethiopia.  About 50,000 metric tons of the seed are imported each year into the United States. It is the only commercial bird seed which is largely imported. This seems to be a tremendous amount of seed- which ultimately goes to bellies of wild birds!  The use of nyjer seed seemingly follows the rise of the U.S. as a post-war global power. Bird feeding became more common through the 1950s, which resulted in demand for commercial bird food. As people increasingly fed birds, it became apparent that certain seeds were likely to attract different (more socially desirable) species of birds.  Nyjer seed was adopted as a bird food in the United States in the 1960s. The first tube feeders used for the seed became commercially available in 1972. In the late 1960s, the seed had to be treated with heat, because it was often accompanied by the seeds of invasive weeds. All nyger seed imports must be subjected to 250 degree heat sterilization treatment. Image result for niger seed ethiopia

image from Northwest Nature Shop

Despite small scale experiments, Nyjer is not currently grown in North America, and in an experiment between N.A grown seen and Ethiopian seed, the birds preferred the Ethiopian grown seed.  Reading between the lines, it is important to think about what the import of this seed actually means. Various countries have tried to grow this seed, including the Soviet Union under the guidance of Ivan Vavilov.  However, the plants do not yield enough seeds to make it economically viable. The region of India which produces the most seed is Madhya Pradesh, which is the sixth poorest part of India (per capita GDP). The regions which grow the seed are also home to ethnic minorities, such as Nagar Haveli which is the home of the Warli tribe.  While I could find no articles which specifically addressed the plight of nyjer seed farmers, it stands to reasoning that because the center of production for these seeds are underdeveloped countries (and even greater underdeveloped regions within those countries) that the work conditions of those farmers is probably characterized by low pay, long hours, and hard work.  Since some of these countries actually used these seeds as an oil and a human food, the movement towards exporting the seeds to the West as bird food has likely reduced its use as a subsistence crop. Finally, the fact that it has not been viable in the agriculture of more developed countries means that it is probably a labor intensive crop (and our labor is too expensive due to labor laws, organization) hence, the fact that it is imported rather than domestically grown.


Personally, I love birds.  I want to attract finches to the yard and provide them with a fatty, seed that they love.  At the same time, it certainly represents a lot of privilege that I can buy imported seeds (sometimes eaten by humans) to give to the birds.  The origin of the seed itself is obscured by its name. There seems to be a lot wrong with nyger seeds. I think that my task as a socialist is to learn more about the specific labor conditions related to the seeds (since there is not a lot of information out there).  If there was more awareness regarding the seeds, perhaps there would be more interest in fair trade or better working conditions for those producers. It is also possible that I could try growing my own seeds for the birds rather than relying on expensive imported seed.  Nyger seed as been experimentally grown on a small scale in Minnesota. I think it is a fascinating seed with a wealth of history. At the same time, more should be done to illuminate the history and economic conditions of the seed.

Image result for niger seed

Image from The Zen Birdfeeder

 

Kaffir Lime:


About a year ago, I picked up some gardening books from the library.  One of the books was about growing citrus indoors. It introduced me to the Kaffir Lime.  I really didn’t think anything of this name at the time. It sounded vaguely Middle Eastern, but I didn’t associate it with any particular meaning.  Little did I know that kaffir is actually a racist term. The k-word is a racial slur in South Africa. The k-word was used in Arabic to describe non-believers, but was used by European colonists in South Africa to describe the African population.  The word is so offensive, that there have been legal actions taken against those who have used the slur in South Africa. The name of the lime itself may come from Sri Lanka, where the lime is grown and where there is an ethnic group which self identifies as kaffirs.  It is also possible that the fruit literally referred to non-believers, as it may have been named by Muslims who saw it cultivated by non-Muslims in Southeast Asia. However, because the word is racially offensive in most other contexts and considered hate speech in South Africa, a different name is an order.  In Southeast Asia, the fruit is called Makrut, which has been suggested as a viable name change. Image result for kaffir lime

Indian Paintbrush:


While this example is not as offensive as the k-lime, there are many plants that are named “Indian x” such as Indian Paintbrush, Indian posy (butterfly weed), Indian Blanket (Firewheel), Indian pipe, Indian grass, etc.  There are many North American plants which have common names which invoke something related to Native Americans. However, the way that these common names are used are not accurate, flattering, or supportive of Native Americans.  For instance, Indian Paintbrush sounds quaint. As a child, I imagined that perhaps the flowers were really used as paint brushes by Native Americans. Indian Paintbrush, also called Prairie Fire, was used as a leafy green, medicine, and shampoo by some Native Americans.  But, it was not used as a paintbrush. While the flower may resemble a brush covered in bright red paint, it could easily be called Paintbrush plant. Using the word “Indian” invokes something wild, mythical, or even something silly (such as literally using the plant as a paintbrush).  It reduces Native Americans into an idea about something primitive, whimsical, or even non-existent rather than actual, living people, with actual uses for plants. This is true of the other plants as well. Many of the “Indian” plants are wild plants that are not commonly domesticated (though some are used in ornamental or “Native” gardens.  There is also a colonizing tone to these names, as these are not the names that Native Americans themselves gave the plants but imagined names from colonizers and their descendents. There are often alternate common names for these plants, so there is no excuse to call them names which invoke a mythical idea of Native Americans. Better yet, maybe some of the plants could be given names from actual Native American languages.  This would demonstrate that Native Americans knew, used, and named these plants long before the arrival of settlers. For instance, Ojibwe called the Indian Paintbrush plant Grandmother’s Hair (though I don’t know what this translates to in Ojibwe). Since plants were used by many tribal groups for different purposes, it would be difficult to determine which language should take precedence over another. At the very least, I think it is important to be mindful of language and consider existing alternative names (which I haven’t always been, since I was raised calling certain plants Indian Pipe or Indian Paintbrush).

Image result for indian paintbrush

image from Wikipedia

Conclusion:

There will always be some people who feel that these issues are no big deal.  Some of these people feel that there is nothing offensive about using traditional plant names or that they know a Jewish person who doesn’t mind “Wandering Jew” or a Native American friend who likes to call plants Indian Paintbrush or Indian Grass.  The world is diverse and certainly there are diverse opinions on these matters. To those folks, this probably seems like much ado about nothing. On the other hand, others may feel that issues of racism or oppression in general are much bigger than the kind of bird seed we use or what we call a lime.  It is better to focus on the big picture than get caught up in the nuances of language. As for myself, I feel that this is a fascinating topic to think about and that to me, it uncovers subtle and not so subtle ways that various kinds of oppression are built into something as simple as what we call a plant or what we grow in the garden.  For me, thinking about these topics is intellectually satisfying (I am interested in learning more about the history of plants) as well as a way for me to be a better, more mindful activist. At the end of the day, helping to grow social movements is far more important than the plants that we grow and know. Growing as an activist means working with others in organizations towards social change, but also the internal change that comes with challenging assumptions and rethinking what is taken for granted.  With that said, hopefully this post helps others to grow in how they think about plants, but also their place in society.


Sources on Wandering Jew:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49614212_Creating_National_Identity_through_a_Legend_-The_Case_of_the_Wandering_Jew

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/feb/21/wandering-jew-history

https://sputniknews.com/art_living/201709151057426161-sweden-anti-semitic-plans/
https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/anti-semitism/medieval-anti-judaism/who-and-where-were-medieval-jews/

https://www.history.com/topics/anti-semitism
Sources on Collard Greens:

 

http://www.vegetablefacts.net/vegetable-history/history-of-cabbage/

A Letter to the Newgrorati: Of Collards and Amnesia

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/18/kale-compared-to-other-vegetables_n_3762721.html
https://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/13531214/?ref_id=13531197

http://www.crossroadsnews.com/news/lithonia-festival-is-all-about-the-collards/article_68af27d0-9968-11e7-a979-17d10f0b5b05.html

http://www.ebony.com/life/hungry-for-history-collards

http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2018/01/25/humble-hardy-leaf-defines-national-character/ideas/essay/

http://www.latibahcgmuseum.org/why-collard-greens/

https://weblogtheworld.com/formats/featured/history-of-collard-greens-extends-far-beyond-north-america

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/whats-leafy-and-green-and-eaten-by-blacks-and-whites/424554/

http://abc7chicago.com/food/neiman-marcus-sells-out-of-$66-collard-greens/1589488/

https://www.trulytafakari.com/ate-white-peoples-collard-greens-tasted-like-oppression/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/09/5-foods-from-africa/

http://meloukhia.net/2014/06/hipsterisation_and_its_hiked-up_prices_kale_quinoa_and_traditional_foods/

https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/11/foodie-without-appropriation/

 

Nyger Seed Sources:

https://www.topcropmanager.com/corn/niger-seed-production-is-for-the-birds-13172

https://www.petcha.com/nyjer-black-oil-sunflower-bird-seeds-a-history/

http://www.birdchick.com/blog/2009/12/growing-nyjer-thistle-in-north-america

https://web.colby.edu/mainebirds/2016/02/05/the-history-of-bird-feeding-ii/

http://www.manoramagroup.co.in/commodities-niger-seed.html

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2011/11/30/winegar

https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/139533/SB571.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

https://www.bioversityinternational.org/fileadmin/_migrated/uploads/tx_news/Niger__Guizotia_abyssinica__L.f.__Cass._136.pdf

https://www.bioversityinternational.org/fileadmin/_migrated/uploads/tx_news/Niger__Guizotia_abyssinica__L.f.__Cass._136.pdf

 

K-Lime Sources:

https://modernfarmer.com/2014/07/getting-rid-k-word/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/07/03/kaffir_lime_racist_murky_origins_suggest_a_racial_slur_might_be_responsible.html

Reflections and Lessons from the Husky Fire

Reflections and Lessons from the Husky Fire

H. Bradford

5/7/18

I learned about the Husky Fire just before 11 am on April 26th when I was about to leave the Women’s Health Center in Duluth.   A co-worker from Superior rushed into the office and announced that just after 10 am there had been an explosion at the Murphy Oil Refinery, that there are evacuations, and multiple deaths.  The director turned on the television in the lobby, which reported 20 casualties.  My initial reaction was horror and anger.  I felt horror because it seemed as though there were many injuries and deaths.  I also felt horror since I was returning home from Superior after working ten hours at Safe Haven (overnight) and three hours at the Women’s Health Center.  I didn’t know what I would be returning home to or if I would be able to return home.  I felt anger because I just wanted to go to sleep!  I had already worked through the night and into the morning.  It was a terribly inconvenient time to have an industrial disaster.   I texted my housemates Adam and Lucas an alarmed text about evacuations and deaths (which later proved to not be entirely true), finished the last 10 minutes of my shift, and headed home to the unknown of Superior.

Image may contain: outdoor

(An image that I believe was used in the Duluth News Tribune)


Traffic was normal on the way home.  For a moment, I panicked that the Blatnik Bridge was closed, as there was a caravan of large street cleaning vehicles blocking access to the bridge.  The bridge was not closed.  The vehicles were partaking in the normal activity of cleaning the streets.  Still, things were clearly amiss as I could see a giant, black cloud in the distance- spreading menacingly away from the Husky Refinery (which I had until that morning thought was the Murphy Oil Refinery.  I was not aware that the Alberta based company, Husky Energy, had purchased the facility in August 2017).  Despite the sprawling black cloud, everything in Superior was oddly normal.  I noticed someone outside doing yard work.  A dog was sitting out in the yard.  Young children were playing in a park.  I thought it was bizarre and reminded me of Pripyat after the Chernobyl accident.  People slept in their beds, then awoke, and went about their business as radiation saturated them.  Chernobyl may seem like an unfair comparison, but oddly, the Husky Fire and Chernobyl both happened on April 26th (a collapsed country and thirty two years apart).   In any event, at that point of time, there was not as much concern.  My roommates didn’t seem concerned yet and the earlier alarm about multiple deaths and evacuations was found to be untrue.  (The word casualty does not mean death, but can mean injury- such as casualties of war.  However, since the word is often used to mean someone who has been killed, there was some initial misunderstanding about the media use of the word.  As for evacuations, as of 11:15 ish when I returned home, there was nothing beyond the immediate area of the disaster (to my knowledge).


I settled into bed, unsettled, but trying not to worry too much.  No one else seemed very worried.  Not the kids playing or person carrying on the yard work.  I spent time looking at the news, but everything seemed to be under control.  Before going to bed, I told my roommate Lucas to shut all of the windows, but he laughed at me.  I think he even made a Chernobyl joke, about how I had been there, and was the expert now.  I couldn’t fall asleep.  The window was shut, but I imagined invisible particles entering the house and breathing them as I slept.  I thought about dying in my sleep or just inhaling carcinogenic debris.  I felt angry again.  I felt mad about having worked the night shift and that I was unable to get the rest I needed.  Lack of sleep often invokes anger in me.  Eventually, I did fall asleep…for about an hour… before Lucas knocked on my bedroom door and said that an area 3 miles around the refinery and 10 miles downwind was being evacuated.  There had been more explosions.  He said he was heading to Duluth.  I was crabby and exhausted, so I said I would just stay in bed.  I pulled two more blankets over my head, as if it would give me added protection from the poisonous smoke.  Lucas texted me what seemed a frantic message that the traffic over the bridge was extremely backed up and he was stuck.  I became more concerned as it seemed that the people of Superior had finally mobilized to escape.  The schools had closed.  I think the area of evacuation at that time was as near as UW Superior (which isn’t that far from where I live).  While I think that I was just outside the evacuation area, three miles is not a magical perimeter- outside of which everyone is safe.  Oh, 3.2 miles- that’s cool!  Those particles are 100% gone at exactly the three mile mark.


I eventually dragged my extremely tired body out of bed.   Tiredness tried hard to battle fear.  But eventually fear won as my boyfriend said he was leaving for work early, but that he thought I should leave the house too.  He said he wanted to know that I was safe.  I am often feel that my needs (such as sleep) don’t matter much to the universe, so it was touching that my safety was concerning.  I told him that I would also go to back to work.  I work at a domestic violence shelter and our employee break room has a futon.  I thought that if I fled Superior, I could go to my job and rest for a while.  It is odd how work can be a place of refuge.  My work is a shelter- so it is equipped to – well, accommodate the needs of people who need a place to stay.  I didn’t rush to go there, but I did call my job to give them a heads up that I would be trying to sleep there.  Once my refuge was secured, I ambled around the house trying to throw a few things together.  My brain wasn’t in evacuation mode.  It was in “What do I need to bring with me to take a nap at work mode?”.   I packed only a few things, such as a toothbrush and some toiletries.  I also took a shower.  Our hot water heater had broken a week prior and had FINALLY been fixed that day.  I went a week with only one shower (which I took at UW-Superior’s fitness center).  So, showering was a priority above escape from the death cloud. Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, house, plant, outdoor and nature


I snapped a few photos of the cloud on my way out of Superior and then when I arrived in Duluth.  After taking the photos, I was happy to report to work and find that my supervisor had fixed up the employee break room nicely for me.  She gave me new, clean bedding (not the stained, worn bedding the residents end up with) and had turned the futon into a bed.  The shelter had been made aware that CASDA, a domestic violence shelter in Superior, had been evacuated.   Safe Haven was ready to accept people staying at CASDA, but in the end, they went to a hotel.  As for our own residents, they were gathered around the television, watching the news coverage.  The cloud was much larger and darker now.   They asked me questions and seemed happy that I was safe.  That was also very touching.  They are all homeless and have gone through truly awful things.  Still, they had enough emotional reserves left to care about a worker at the shelter (who often make their lives harder by enforcing rules or determining the length of their stay.)  As I settled down and tried to sleep, my mother called.  She did not know about the accident until she drove home and noticed the cloud in the distance.  The cloud from the fire could be seen over fifty miles away in Cromwell.  She offered that I could stay with her.  It was an hour away and I was beyond tired (having obtained about an hour of sleep), so I declined, but said maybe I would depending upon how bad the situation was.

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


I really didn’t sleep well.  I checked the news.  There were reports that fire fighters were unable to fight the fire and were just waiting.  It was reported that it could burn for days.  I also read that there were concerns about a tank of hydrogen flouride.  I learned that hydrogen flouride is used at about 50 oil refineries in the US.  I also learned that it becomes hydroflouric acid when it contacts moisture, such as that the moisture of the skin, lungs, eyes, etc.  and causes burns, blindness, fluid in the lungs, and other nasty health effects.  This was the first that I had learned about the tank.  The tank was supposed to be near the fire, but there was no reports of HOW close.  Nor, was there reports that the tank (which was 150-200 feet away from the uncontrollable blaze) was full of a chemical that could kill thousands of people if the tank exploded.   My brain could not turn off.  There was too much information to process and too much lack of information to ponder.  I may have slept an additional 45 min to an hour, but eventually decided to wake up.  Sleep was simply not on the agenda.   Instead, I woke up, gathered myself, and decided to go for a walk.  By then, it was nearly 7pm and there were reports that the fire had been put out and the evacuation would likely be called off later in the evening.  That was encouraging.


Later that night, I joined a few friends for trivia.  I talked to Chris about my concerns about the tank of hydrogen flouride, which she agreed was nasty and would kill/injure thousands of people.  She looked at a google map of the Husky Refinery and we tried to figure out where the tank was in relation to the fire.  This information was not available to the public at that time.  She concluded that it might be one of the smaller tanks by the railroad tracks, as it is unlikely that they would want to transport the chemical that far from the trains that carry it.  This didn’t allay my fears, since these small tanks were not far from the fire (but father away than the ACTUAL tank turned out to be).   Lucas, one of my roommates, decided he was going back to Superior despite the ongoing concern about the tank.  Adam had already been in Superior for several hours, since he needed to take care of his chickens and felt he was safe in the basement.  This made it difficult for me to sustain my concern.  I definitely wanted to go home (since I had slept a sum of two hours in the last day and a half or so).  I hadn’t packed anything.  The evacuation didn’t really come with instructions of what to take or for how long to expect.  Ultimately, I returned to Superior since I didn’t want to be the one roommate out of four who was too chicken to go home.  After all, even the chickens weren’t evacuated.  There is a stigma about being fearful.  It is a sign of weakness.  Personally, I don’t think that I made a rational choice.  I also don’t feel that my house mates were entirely rational about remaining.  But, I think that making smart choices requires information.  I don’t think we had the information required to make smart choices of staying in Superior or not.  The risks of the tank exploding and nature of hydroflouric acid would have been important information.  The suggestion that the evacuation would end as early as 9pm also created false hope and a false sense of security.   Smart choices also require the material support to make a choice.  In my case, in a very real sense I was extremely tired.  By the end of trivia, I could no longer remember my telephone number.  I also could not remember who Anthony Bourdain was (a trivia answer I knew, but could not remember).   I don’t think I had the mental wherewithal to drive a safe distance or make an informed decision.  In a way, I feel that I failed my friends by not being more insistent and concerned for our safety.

 

I returned home sometime after midnight.  I noted that there was a chemical odor in the air, but continued inside to my bed.   The evacuation order was not lifted until 6am.  I was dead tired, but only slept a few hours.  Again, I was obsessed with looking up snippets of news.  But, throughout the night, Facebook and the media were sleeping.   There were no new updates.  By morning, every celebrated how the community came together.  Duluth sent buses to Superior.  Emergency respondents from around the area pitched in.  There were no deaths.  School children were evacuated to the DECC.  People opened their homes to evacuees.  And, the air was said to be normal.  For the most part, life resumed as normal.  Businesses opened.  People went about life as usual.  Despite the air quality being deemed “normal” this seemed impossible, considering that a giant asphalt fire raged on for eight hours creating a plume of black smoke that could be seen 50 miles away.  But, it made me wonder what normal is?  Maybe that amount of pollutants in the air is normal – in places like Los Angelas or Beijing where millions of cars fill the air with exhaust each day.   I considered that perhaps our baseline or our normal is the equivalent of a raging asphalt fire.  What is normal?  Normal does not necessarily equate to healthy….

Lessons:

Conversations: 

The first lesson that I drew from this was that there should be ongoing conversations with friends or loved ones about what to do in the case of disasters.  I feel that we should challenge each other and ask lots of questions.  Where would we evacuate?  Why wouldn’t you want to evacuate? (I have chickens, I like my bed, I feel safe, I don’t like being a guest at someone’s house, etc.)  What would it take to convince you that this is needed?  Where would we take pets?  How would we get somewhere safe?  What are important things  you would want to pack?  I think that these kind of conversations could get everyone on the same page.  There is a social dynamic to evacuating.  People look to each other for cues that a situation is safe or unsafe or if they are too worried or too unconcerned.  I think that conversation could help family groups or friend groups make better decisions in crisis.


 

Expect Disasters:

I feel like a nutty, apocalypse prepared person with a year of food stocked in my fallout shelter.  But really, disasters should be expected.  This is because we live in a profit driven society.   Safety precautions involve increased fixed capital costs to capitalists.  The drive for profits means that there will be short cuts.  I am sure that anyone who has worked anywhere can see this.  Safety is usurped for profits when workers are not properly trained, are given defective equipment, tools or machinery is old or outdated, work days are lengthened, workplaces are understaffed, workers are overly tired, or any of the very ordinary conditions across all sectors of the economy.  Husky Energy has a history of fires and oil spills at other locations and the Superior refinery in particular had a $21,000 fine in 2015 for an OSHA violation related to chemical storage and emergency response.  While the fine was paid and OSHA reported the problem was resolved, the fine is nothing compared to the nearly $10 billion revenue that Husky Energy makes each year.   The drive for profits will always drive the trend towards lack of safety.  Therefore, any work place is a potential source of injury.  However, some work places operate on such a scale or with such dangerous materials that the danger extends from the every day risks faced by particular sets of workers to entire communities.   I remember in 1992, when Duluth and Superior were evacuated due to the benzene spill.  Although I was a child living over 50 miles away, I watched the news as the cloud spread.  I worried that it would come all the way to us.  My father worked in West Duluth (where he had suffered several serious on the job injuries over the years- the individual side of worker safety).  He was among the 80,000 people who evacuated that day.  Thus, I have lived through two disasters of a scale large enough to require evacuation.  Will it be the last?

Struggle is the Only Buffer Against Excesses of Capitalism:

I think this is an important moment for people in Duluth and Superior, since it is an opportunity fight for more safety.  There are plenty of concerned people who want more information and more testing of air and soil.  Many want an end to the use of hydrogen flouride at Husky Energy.  Some want an end to the refinery altogether or have used this as an opportunity to not only critique Husky, but Embridge, which also uses the facility.  The crisis has revealed many gaps in how disasters are handled, how environments are monitored, and how safety is ensured.  If this anger congeals into struggle, we can hopefully curtail some of the worst excesses of capitalism in our community and lessen the risk of future disasters.  The small measures of safety and environmental protection that we enjoy were won by struggle and will only be defended by the struggles of workers, but also social movements like environmental movements.   I have seen some cynicism about the effectiveness of protest, but I think that this is the perfect time for protest, petitions, public hearings, or the number of other methods of resistance which are being planned or discussed.

Challenge Complacency:

Honestly, it is hard to care about everything all of the time.  I have felt fatigued by activism and am often impressed by the amount of emotional energy that others can put into continuing to inform members of our community about this disaster.  I lack that energy.  I care…but I am tired.  Like the day that I didn’t get enough sleep, I just want to pull my blankets over my head and hide from the world.   I commend their efforts.  It is very easy to be complacent.  Should I plant a garden this year?  Should I care?  Everything I eat and drink is inundated with plastics and toxins of some kind.  The air I breathe is full of pollutants from the everyday functioning of our fossil fuel based economy.  At some point in my life, like almost everyone else, I am going to get cancer.  There are thousands of terrible things that happen every moment of every day.  That doesn’t even include the ordinary challenges of simply living.  Everything is terrible all of the time.   The only way to make it better is to fight for a better world  But, that suuuuure is tiresome.   Somehow, we must work together to challenge complacency.   I don’t have an good answer about how to care- but I think it helps to hold on to and grow that kernel of anger.  Anger is frowned upon, especially for women- but I care when I remember something that made me angry.  I am angry that I wasn’t well informed.  I am angry that many people in the world live in the shadow of the next catastrophe.  I am angry that life on our planet is going extinct and that we altering our planet in terrifying, irreversible ways.  I am angry that every day living for workers means potential injury from fast food deep fryers to nuclear reactors.   Yep, there we go.  Anger.  Gotta love it.  It is as refreshing as a hot shower after a week without a hot water heater.

Knowledge is Power:

This is a super cliche conclusion, but really, it is helpful to know things!  I didn’t even know the NAME of the refinery, much less what it does or how it functions.  I still don’t know much about the Husky Energy Refinery.   I am thankful that there are many people in the community who are asking questions and sharing resources to learn more.


I am sure I could draw other conclusions, but that’s all I’ve got for now.  There are other local activists who are far more informed and whose opinions have congealed into more meaningful reflection.   While I have been a lazy activist lately, I am committed to being a part of the struggle in the months ahead.  On Wednesday of this week there will be a protest against the liability waivers that Husky is having injured people sign so that they are not liable for future health problems.   We will all have long memories of the evacuation day.  With time, memories often vanish into novelty.  So, I hope it is not a memory of an isolated event but an ongoing struggle and conversation.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, outdoor and nature

Deconstructing Duluth’s Demographic Crisis

Deconstructing Duluth’s Demographic Crisis

H. Bradford

4/11/18

On February 24th, the Duluth News Tribune ran an article about Duluth’s impending demographic crisis.  I wanted to write a socialist feminist response to this, but never got around to it.  Not that I am the authority on socialist feminism, but I am a feminist and a socialist…and I do think about these things…so, why not break it down?  Now, whenever I hear the word “demographic crisis” I want to run for the hills, or burn something, or both.  Not really, but I think it is one of those sexist, ageist, racist, pro-capitalist concepts that begs to be dismembered.   Here is why…

Ageism:

Early into the Duluth News Tribune article, when describing the shifting population of the Duluth region, the aging population is described as problematic.


“If population levels were even across age groups, this wouldn’t be much of a problem. But, as you may have heard, the largest generation in the country’s history is marching into retirement, leaving many jobs vacant just as unemployment levels are bottoming out and productivity growth is stalling (Johnson, 2018).”


It is true that our population is aging, but, one must consider why this is a problem.  According to the article, it is a problem because there will not be enough workers to replace those who retire.  On the surface, this seems like a problem, as society needs workers to produce things.  However, this frames the post-retirement age population as the cause of a social problem.  Framing the older population as a “problem” is ageist.  It also ignores their labor, as labor does not end when wage labor ceases.  Their contributions to society do not cease when they reach the age of 65 (or higher ages for the many people who do not have retirement savings, pensions, or the ability to survive on social security alone).  Older adults do unpaid work such as volunteering, caring for grand children, gardening, baking, canning, sharing their knowledge, checking up on one another, and a plethora of other important economic activities that are dismissed because they are unpaid.  Just as the invisible, unpaid labor of women is ignored as a natural or unimportant, this invisible labor and its contribution to society is also ignored.


This connects to the socialist feminist concept of social reproduction.  Basically, in capitalist society, the labor force must reproduce itself.  This can literally mean that the work force must replace itself through biological reproduction, but also means that each worker must sustain themselves through sleep, eating food, washing clothes, maintaining their health, relieving stress, and all the many things that are required to survive and work another day.   Typically, women have played an important role in providing the invisible, unpaid labor that keeps the work force …working.  Caring for children, giving birth, caring for the elderly, washing clothes, cleaning a home, doing dishes, making meals, grocery shopping, etc. are all important unpaid activities that ensure that capitalism will continue.  Of course, older adults who leave the work force also provide some of these services as they are “free” to (my own grandparents made many meals for me, baby sat me, bought me school clothes, taught me information, etc.).  Thus, is it really a problem that people grow old?  Aging is a natural process.  It may happen that we have an aging population, but why is this a problem?  Some people might respond that it is a problem because this group requires more care and there are not enough young people to care for them.  The article itself argues that it is a problem that there is not enough workers to fill jobs and that productivity will decline.


I am not an expert on matters of aging, but I imagine that the “problem of aging” could be mitigated by providing quality, free health care to people of all ages, along with clean environments, living wages, robust pensions, housing, etc.  The aging population might very well “age better” if a high quality of life was ensured for people of all ages.  What does it mean to “age well” anyway?  I think to most people means the ability to care for one’s self, enjoy a high quality of life, and live independently for as long as possible.  If this is what this means, the locus of “aging well” is framed as an individual responsibility and the very human need for care is viewed as burdensome.   This concept is very individualistic and puts the rest of society off the hook for taking responsibility of providing and caring for the variable needs of older adults.  It is also ageist, as aging well is basically the ability to live as similarly to a young person for as long as possible.  Maybe it is okay to be wrinkly, sedentary, crabby, or anti-social.  Society is awful.  Living through decades of economic ups and downs, cuts to social programs, pointless wars, and the general nonsense of everything deemed meaningful by society might sour a person against living with youthful optimism and vibrancy.   After years of being alive, “aging well” might seem like a racket to sell beauty products, skin treatments, fitness memberships, etc.

Image result for aging well

(This image leads me to believe that aging well has something to do with being white and wealthy.  Capitalism doesn’t have resources to spare on caring for the elderly, so make certain you stay healthy with fresh air and bike rides in the country.)


If indeed there is a shortage of workers, there are certainly plenty of people in the world and United States itself.  These people might be more inclined to move to this frigid region and provide elder care if this was not low paid, under appreciated service work but unionized with benefits (including retirement plans!), better wages, and better working conditions.   A true shortage of workers might require open borders to allow new workers to enter the country, but this would require a move away from our current racist, xenophobic, nationalist, and exploitative immigration policy.  The “aging population problem” is not a problem with age, but an ageless problem of capitalism to meet the basic needs of humanity.


Of course, the notion of declining productivity must also be challenged.  Why is it a problem when productivity declines?  Why must productivity always increase?  What does this mean for the environment?  When have we produced enough?!  Productivity is a problem in capitalism because of the tendency for profits to decline.  Because competition lends itself to increased investment in fixed capital and there are human thresholds of how much variable capital can be exploited from workers, profits decline over time.  Markets also become saturated as there is only so much people can buy (again because wages only allow so much consumption).  When too much is produced and too little is consumed, capitalism falls into a crisis, which Marx called the crisis of overproduction.  Therefore, productivity is not necessary good.  It is not good for the workers (who must work longer or harder).  It is not good for the environment (as it creates waste and overuse of resources).  And it is not even good for capitalism, since it lends itself to instability.  I think it is important to think against blind productivity and instead think about rational, careful production in the interest of human needs.

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(Capitalism probably produces enough…  though I suppose the gulls don’t mind.)


Sexism:

Another reason why I dislike the concept of “demographic crisis” is that it is sexist.   Although the article only mentions it briefly, increasing birth rates is often suggested as a way in averting the crisis.  Even if it is not mentioned in detail in the article, it is implicit in the premise of the argument.  If the population is aging and this is a problem, that means that not enough new people are being born.  Thus, not only are older adults the problem, the bigger problem is that women are not gestating enough babies.  The bodies of women have long been treated as public property, inasmuch as their reproductive power is harnessed for state interests.  The fight for reproductive rights is a fight to liberate women from their role as the producer’s of the next generation of soldiers and workers.  The birth rate in the United States (according to 2018 CIA World Factbook Information) is 12.5 births per 1000 people.  Our birth rate is slightly higher than the UK, Sweden, France, and Australia which all have 12.x births per 1000.  The rate is higher than Finland, Canada, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Denmark, which have 10.x births per 1000 people.  Our birthrate is certainly greater than South Korea, Japan, and Germany, which range from 8.x to 9.x births per 1000 people.  Despite our higher birth rate, there is enormous pressure upon women to reproduce- to the point that the organized movement against abortion has made birth nearly compulsory in many parts of the country due to restricted access to abortion.  In many of these countries with lower birth rates, the issue of abortion is far less controversial.  Here, anti-choice activists bemoan the loss of millions of fetuses, which they argue contributes to our demographic crisis (fewer workers, fewer students, etc.)   At the core of demographic crisis is a demand to control reproduction- because if population is viewed as a resource, women’s bodies are responsible for producing this resource.


 In the context of capitalism (and unfortunately many economic systems), population is treated as a resource.  Workers need to reproduce so that there are more workers.  This leads to a precarious balance.  Capitalists do not provide for the reproduction of labor (this has often fallen upon women and families) as this requires an investment in workers.  At the same time, workers have to have a basic level of sustenance to continue working and to allow for a new generation.  For instance, if a woman works too hard or consumes too few calories, she may stop menstruating.  Therefore, workers generally have a basic threshold of exploitation which if reached these workers will no longer be able to survive and reproduce.   In the United States in particular, our status as a world power has an economic component and a military component.  The military domination of the world is an extension of the economic component, as military might ensures access to markets, thwarts competitors, offers access to capital (for instance natural resources and labor), etc.  For the United States to remain an economic and military power, babies must be born.  Babies are needed so that there will always be a supply of soldiers and workers.  Reproduction is a national interest.  I think this contributes to the controversy around abortion and the drive to limit it.
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(A piece of art that I created called Capitalism is Built on the Bodies of Women)

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, capitalism has a contradiction.  On one hand, in seeks to increase profit by extracting more surplus value from workers.  Because profits decline over time, workers are pressured to work harder and longer.  This increased exploitation limits the ability to reproduce labor (to reproduce biologically, but also to maintain a certain level of health as workers).   In the United States, not a lot of profit is redistributed towards caring for our existing population (i.e. ensuring the reproduction of labor).   We do not offer paid parental leave.  We do not have free day cares.  There is a shortage of housing.  Health care is expensive.  The list goes on.  The conditions of capitalism are so extreme that 5.8 infants die out of 1000 born.  In Japan, two infants die per 1000 births.  In Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, there are slightly more than 2 infant deaths per 1000.  In the European Union as a whole, there are about 4 deaths per 1000 according to the CIA world Fact Book.  Once again, rather than a demographic crisis, our crisis is an inability to care for our population.  Certainly, anyone worried about our economic or military strength might begin by tackling the causes of infant mortality.  But, this would mean diverting profits towards human needs.  Re-thinking profits and capitalism itself would undermine the logic of militarism and nationalism.


Supposing that the United States provided free access to abortion, birth control, all health care, and social conditions favorable to reproduction (paid leave, free day care, adequate housing, etc.)  Even if these conditions were met, women have no obligation to reproduce the next generation.  They should not be scapegoated for demographic crisis.  In the end, it is up to society to creatively adapt to changing populations- not women.


Racism and Classism:

The article concluded that a key to averting Duluth’s demographic crisis is promoting immigration to the city.   Regarding this point, Mayor Larson said,  “Duluth needs to be a community that is welcoming and open to new experiences, new faces, new ethnicities, new races to solve workforce shortages (Johnson, 2018).”  I think that it is generally a positive, feel good conclusion, since well, who doesn’t want Duluth to be a more welcoming city?  The mayor suggests working with education and health care partners to attract more diversity to the city.  Hmm…alright.  What does really this mean?


In a subtle way, the statement hints at what kind of diversity is acceptable in Duluth.  I interpret working with education and health care partners to mean attracting diversity by attracting professionals of color.  The center of this argument is not “let’s build more low income housing so we can attract all of the African Americans in Chicago or Minneapolis who are on housing waiting lists and house those who already exist in our community!”  Duluth DOES have some racial diversity BUT, this diversity is segregated into poor neighborhoods, homeless shelters, and jail.  Yet, because they are poor and people of color, this population is not seen as a solution to the “demographic crisis” because they are an OTHER at best and problem at worse.  They are those people.  Those people who are blamed for crime or making things not like they used to be for white people.  This is another problem with the notion of “demographic crisis”- since demographic crisis always refers to the shortage of a desirable population.  We have a low income population that would probably be happy to invite friends and relatives and grow if Duluth was a more welcoming, less racist, expanded housing, housing and employers ceased discrimination against criminal backgrounds, day care was expanded, public transportation was more reliable, schools were not segregated and plainly racist, etc.


Truly making Duluth a city for everyone, as the Mayor suggested, would mean changing what Duluth is right now.  Right now, Duluth is focused on being a city for business.  In particular, it is a city for businesses that serve tourists.  Centering the city on the tourist industry makes Duluth a city not for everyone, but for middle class, mostly white people, who have the leisure and money to stay at a hotel or the outdoor gear to enjoy our nature.   Duluth can’t be a city for business and for everyone.  We CAN be a city that is for everyone that happens to attract tourists, but the reverse is not possible.  The reverse is what has made Earned Safe and Sick time so controversial, as segments of the business community that are most opposed to it are those sectors that serve tourists (restaurants and hotels).  The reverse has also been what has stalled the Homeless Bill of Rights- because homeless people are a “problem population” not one that should be accounted for in “demographic crisis” and certainly not one that deserves to be treated with basic dignity.  After all, they might just spook the customers!  If we want to be a city for everyone, then we should start by being a city for workers, for the homeless, for people of color, and all of the oppressed in our community.


Conclusion:

Duluth is just one city.  It would be pie in the sky to try to think we can build socialism in a single city.  Many of my suggestions require a massive struggle on a national scale to accomplish.  I do believe that we have local activists with the talent and audience to contribute to such a national struggle.  I am not one of them, but am a small and marginal voice in that struggle.   Beyond the national, there are some things that can be done on a local level.  We can focus local priorities on meeting human needs and support things such as Earned Safe and Sick Time and the Homeless Bill of Rights.  We can challenge the policies of our schools and police to make the city less racist and classist.  We can also think against business interests and promote diverting profits towards social good.  Beyond these material things, I wrote this because I wanted to challenge the ideological logic of “demographic crisis.”  Like many crisis and panics, it is a social construct.  Inherent in this constructed crisis is ageism, racism, sexism, nationalism, and classism.  There are no population problems.   There are only failures of societies to address the needs of populations.  It is only through struggle that we will win the means to address these needs.


Johnson, B. (2018, February 25). ‘Stability’ not enough for Duluth jobs; aging population isn’t being replaced on pace. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/business/workplace/4408874-stability-not-enough-duluth-jobs-aging-population-isnt-being-replaced

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

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