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April Activist Notes

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April Activist Notes

H. Bradford

5/1/17

Happy May Day activist friends.  It was a dreary, windy, snowy, AND rainy May Day in the Northland.  I didn’t do as much as I would have liked today, but I did take time to write up some notes on some of the activist events that happened in April.  This isn’t the most detailed account, as I should have taken notes while attending these events.  Despite the lack of detail, the ongoing upsurge of activism is encouraging.  It is also a little exhausting!  For a matter of comparison, I have attended about 73 political events (films, protests, meetings, etc.) since January 1st.  This is about the same that I attended for the entire year of 2016.   This is not to brag, as I know people who have attended more than this.  Rather,  I think it is a useful measure of the relative upsurge in social organizing.   April weather may be gloomy, but activism is in bloom!


April 4th: Wage Parity Picket

April 4th was 2017’s Equal Pay Day.  This means that women must work until April 4th to earn as much money as men made the year before (i.e. must work four months longer to earn the same median income.).  In 2016, women earned about 79% of the median income as men.  Of course, broken down by race, this is much less.  If I remember rightly, Black women make about 63 % of the median income of men and Native American women make about 58%.  Women over the age of 55 make about 64% of the median income of men.  A wage parity rally was organized by the Feminist Action Collective and other organizations.  The noon rally at City Hall was well attended and featured a speech by the mayor.  This was also a chance to re-use some of my signs from the International Women’s Day Strike.


April 15th: Veterans for Peace Tax Day Protest

Each year, Veterans for Peace hosts a Tax Day Protest.  The event is meant to highlight how our tax dollars should go towards meeting human needs rather than our bloated defense budget.  This year’s event was very successful!  Anti-Trump sentiment brought out more activists than any other year that I have attended this event.  The event began at City Hall with various speakers.  This was followed by a march to the MN Power Plaza.  Activists held signs to attract the attention of passing cars.  There were a few more speakers and some music at the plaza.

 

April 15th: Feminist Frolic: Cache In-Cache Out

The Feminist Justice League hosts a monthly outdoor adventure + learning activity called a Feminist Frolic.  This month, we tried out geocaching.  In honor of Earth Day, we did a cache in, cache out event.  This involved collecting garbage while we geocached.  Leslie taught everyone how to geocache with her very detailed presentation about the rules, language, and history of this activity.  I gave a presentation on feminism and trash.  It was my first time geocaching!  I really love it and have since found 40 caches in my area!  We also collected two small bags of garbage from the park.

 

April 17th: Bi with Pie: Bisexual Poets

April is National Poetry Month.  In observance of the month, Pandemonium’s monthly Bi with Pizza Pie meeting featured Lucas D.’s presentation on a few bisexual poets and sharing of his own poetry.  He shared poetry from a variety of poets and we had a short discussion about themes that were observed in the poetry.  Lucas has written several books, but his newest is a collection of poems called “Since We Left the Oregon Trail: Poems for the Xennial Generation.”

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April 22nd: Science March

Like many cities, Duluth hosted a March for Science.  It was attended by 1200 people, though I did not attend due to my work schedule.  As such, I can’t report back on this as I was not there.  However, it seems like it was a great turnout!


April 24th: Socialism and a Slice

Once a month, Socialist Action hosts a socialism and a slice event.  This month, various topics were discussed.  The activists at the table discussed things such as racial minority unemployment in Duluth, the lack of low income housing, work on the Homeless Bill of Rights, the Science March, etc.  The purpose of the event is to discuss current events and typically there is a heavy focus on local events and politics.


April 29th: Duluth People’s Climate March

As many as 800 people showed up for the Climate March on Saturday, April 29th.  The event was hosted by Interfaith Power and Light, which organized a climate march near the Duluth Zoo over a year ago.  As such, the event was well attended by religious groups.  Many local politicians were also there and spoke out during the rally.  The rally was followed by a march along the Lakewalk, which ended in more speeches and several tables with information on various environmental groups.  Over 200,000 people marched in Washington DC and tens of thousands more marched across the United States.  I made a few signs for the march, which I thought turned out quite well.

 

April 29th HOTDISH Militia Bowl-a-thon:   

HOTDISH Militia is a local group that has been around since the early to mid 2000s, but became less active over the years.  The election of Donald Trump resulted in a flourishing of feminist activism in the Northland.  This gave new life to the HOTDISH Militia.  The group works to raise funds that help low income women access the Women’s Health Center in Duluth.  This is the only abortion clinic for the northern half of the state of Minnesota, northern WI, and Northern MI.  Thus, these funds and the clinic are extremely important.  One of the major projects that the group has worked on this spring is organizing the Bowl-a-thon.  The Bowl-a-thon is organized through NNAF, or the National Network of Abortion Funds.  HOTDISH is one of two funds in Minnesota.  The national organization has an anonymous donor who has offered $2000 to every team that raises over $5000 for the Bowl-a-thon.  The goal of the campaign was to therefore raise $5000 locally so we could get those matching funds.  With hard work, weekly meetings, and generous donors, the goal was met.  The Feminist Justice League’s team raised over $700 and dressed up like feminist superheroes!  Our super hero team included characters such as Madonna Whore, Traffick Stop, Nasty Bitch, Rainbow Fight, Miss Anti-America, and Riot Grrrl Scout.  Although we didn’t raise the most, I am very proud of the team and our fundraising.  The entire campaign raised almost $8000.

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The Struggle Against Candy Capitalism: A Skit

 

The Struggle Against Candy Capitalism: A Skit

By H. Bradford

01/08/17


The following is the skit which was used at Marxmas, the socialist alternative to Christmas.  Now, I would not take it to represent a serious piece of political theory.  The skit sought to somehow connect the game Candyland with the struggle against capitalism.  This meant creating socialism within a feudal candy society.  So…the politics aren’t perfect by any means.  Still, I tried to insert some real life issues related to capitalism and real life methods of organizing- even if the setting, tactics, and outcome may be unrealistic.  And, it was rather fun to use the skit to raise some issues related to capitalism.   So, here is the skit in case anyone is curious about it!

 


The Struggle Against Candy Capitalism

Act I: Introductions


Narrator: Welcome everyone to Marxmas.  Before we begin, we are going to perform a little skit, which is connected to the game that we are playing.  You’ll notice that some of us are dressed up in costumes.  These represent characters from the game Candyland, by Hasbro.  These characters are going to introduce themselves and hopefully explain what Candyland has to do with the struggle against capitalism.

Mr. Mint:   Greetings everyone!  My name is Mr. Mint, but you can call me Comrade Mint.  I’m here with my friends to tell you about the dark side of Candyland.  This is the story that Hasbro doesn’t want you to know.  You might be surprised to find that there are a lot of things that people don’t know about Candyland.  People who play the game only go to the tourist attractions like the Candycane Forest, Gumdrop Mountain, and Candy Castle.  When you play the game, you don’t see the starving gingerbread children on the streets of Kandygrad.  The ones who prostitute themselves for a few chocolate coins.  You don’t see the candy factories and traffic jams on the Bon-Bon Autobahn.  Or, what about the women who can’t go to school in the Sultanate of Sweets?  Has anyone ever wondered why the police don’t bother the white chocolate community?  And while King Kandy lives in his Candy Castle, most of us live in ramshackle gingerbread shacks.

Jolly: I’m Jolly, but all this social injustice doesn’t make me jolly at all.  These problems are so big!  Why, I heard that the glaciers on gumdrop mountain have shrunk 20% just this year!  The entire gumdrop village was flooded and their candy corn crop was ruined.  In the Sultanate of Sweets, there has been extreme desertification as rivers have been diverted to support their Cotton Candy exports.  This year was the hottest year on record in the Dessert Desert. Poverty, sexism, racism, the environment…it’s too much to think about!

Mr. Mint:  That’s why I’m trying to organize the masses with my minty Marxism!

Jolly: Yes, we’re trying to organize our friends into a mass movement of workers and connect all of the social struggles towards the overthrow of candy capitalism.

Mr. Mint:  To be fair, Candy Capitalism isn’t very well developed in Candyland.  It isn’t like the United States or Western Europe  We have some elements of feudalism and our economy is largely based on the export of candy to more developed nations.  We haven’t been able to develop on our own since we were colonized earlier in the century by Hasbro, who entrenched the power of King Kandy’s dynasty and our export economy.  The truth is, due the nature of global capitalism, we will never become an advanced capitalist country.  Our economy will always serve the interests of more advanced economies.

Jolly: All of this is a sticky situation to be sure!  We can build our small movement in Candyland, but unless we unite with the workers of the United States, European Union, and the rest of the world, our efforts will be for naught.

Mr. Mint: But, we’ve managed to recruit quite a few candy comrades…like Princess Lolly, Grandma Nut, Gloppy, Plumpy, and even some of you in the audience!

Lolly: My name is Lolly.  I was born in the Sultanate of Sweets, but the U.S. invaded our country and overthrow our democratically elected leader and installed the tyrannical Sultan Syrup from the Saccharine Satrap.  My parents fled with me to Lollyland when I was just a baby to escape the war.  I joined Mr. Mint’s movement because wars like the one in the Sultanate of Sweets serve the interest of candy capitalism.  Ever since Sultan Syrup took power, the people have become poor. Our economy is devoted to growing cotton candy and foreign companies own all of our rock candy mines.  We were once a beacon of culture, with a vast trade network along the Ribbon Candy Road.  Before the invasion, women used to attend university, work, and vote.  Now, they must stay inside.  As a feminist and anti-war activist, I know that Candy capitalism has got to go!

Jolly: I was also born in the Sultanate of Sweets and used to be an environmental scientist.  After Sultan Syrup took power, he began killing atheists and leftists like myself.  I don’t want to hurt anyone!  I love people!  I don’t eat meat or even candy…since that candybalism!  But anyone who stands up for candy rights in my country is arrested!  And both the Democratic Party and Republican Party supported the invasion and have given weapons to the Sultan.  This is why I have to take a stand!

Queen Frostine:  

My name is Queen Frostine.  I live in Sweetbearia.  I was put under house arrest in my Icing Castle when I tried to convince King Kandy to give more rights to the people of Candyland.   Since King Kandy took power, Candyland expanded its empire to the Ice Cream Sea.   This expansion resulted in war and genocide against the sweet fairies and nonpar-elves of Sweetberia.  To subdue these indigenous people, King Kandy made an alliance with Kandy Kahn, a warlord whose territory extended into the southern portions of Sweetbearia.  Since then, the land has been ruthlessly plundered in the interest of obtaining gummibear pelts to sell abroad.  The sweetbears have also been killed for their honey.  Why, last year, General Custard killed over 1000 sweetbears and 500 sweet fairies!

The Ice Cream Sea used to team with fish, but now all of the Swedish fish have gone extinct.  The Sweetbearians can no longer subside on gummi bears and swedish fish, so many have either starved or gone to live in the crowded cities of Candygrad, Confection City, Saint Sweets, and Choklabad.   I am a Queen, so I don’t know how I feel about this.  But, living under house arrest has opened my eyes to the world.  More needs to be done than the charity and volunteerism I was doing before.

I’ve even secretly allowed some organizers to seek refuge in my icing castle, including Mr. Mint and Jolly when the sweet secret police were after them.

Grandma Nut:  I’m Grandma Nut, but you can call me Hazel.  I live part time in Kandygrad in a small apartment, but spend the weekend and summers at my peanut brittle dacha in the nut filled forests of Candyland.  I need to collect nuts so I can sell them in Kandygrad.  I don’t have a pension or social security, so I am forced to work in my old age.  Nut isn’t even my real last name.  My real name is Hazel Bopple.  I can’t afford to treat my bipolar disorder, so Hasbro labelled me a nut.  I’m not a nut!  I just need socialized health care and social security benefits!  You’d be a little nutty too if you were spending your golden years in grinding poverty!  I joined Mr. Mint’s movement because old age should not be a time of fear, poverty, and pain!  Now, I’m a real militant granny.  I think that we should overthrow King Kandy, seize his castle and all of the churches and estates, and turn them into housing for the poor.  We’ll use the treasury to fund social programs and take control of the economy so that we can develop other industries rather than rely on candy exports!

Mr. Mint:  That sounds like a great idea!  The Kandygrad Council of Workers, or the Kandygrad Soviet if you will, fully supports this!  But, we’ll meet with some opposition to be sure!


***

Narrator: Meanwhile at King Kandy’s castle….

King Kandy: I am King Kandy, ruler of Candyland.  I hear the plight of my people.  I never really wanted to be king.  But, what am I to do?  Tsar Candybar will not even take my job!  Hasbro has given me arms and soldiers, but the people are talking about revolution!   I have many allies, like Sultan Syrup, Neopolitan Bonapart, General Custard, and Kandy Kahn.  But, I am afraid I must turn to my most ruthless ally of all: Lord Licorice!


Lord Licorice:  I must admit, I was surprised to be summoned from Licorice Castle in my long neglected anise flavored kingdom.  From where I stand, it seems that there is unrest in Kandygrad, Sweetberia, and the Sultanate of Sweets.  You should extinguish the threat posed by Queen Frostine so you can maintain access to the Ice Cream sea.  The ports must remain open so trade can continue and we can receive our arms and supplies from Hasbro.  If the Queen is reticent, she should be assassinated and governance of the Sweetbearia should be given to her younger brother, the Duke of Swirl.


Narrator:  Within the game, there will be now be three rounds of trivia, pictionary, or “hodgepodge”.  The color that your team lands on the board determines your category.  One team will represent the rebels from Kandygrad, the industrial center of Candyland.  The other team will represent the rebels in Sweetbearia, a frontier in the process of being colonized.  Finally, one team will represent King Kandy and his allies.   If the King’s Team wins, Queen Frostine will have to leave her team and join the King.  If other teams win or there is a tie, there is no change.  The Queen’s team may take a non-costumed player from another team to keep things even.


***

Act Two: The Abduction of the Queen

Narrator:  Despite the valiant efforts of the rebels of Candyland to organize, they could not prevent the Queen from being abducted.  The king sent General Custard to arrest her while she was napping.  With the Queen taken, control of her small kingdom fell to her brother, the Duke of Swirl.  The Duke of Swirl is a loyal friend to King Kandy.  The Queen was taken to Castle to speak to the King and his collaborators.

Lord Licorice:  The Queen cannot be trusted, but we can keep her as a prisoner for now.  She may have valuable information about the rebels of Candyland.  My licorice bat spies inform me that she was harboring some of these rebels in her own castle.

Queen Frostine: I will never tell you anything!” (spits towards Lord Licorice).  You monster!  Licorice doesn’t even taste good!

Lord Licorice: I don’t think you’ve ever properly tried it if that’s your opinion.  Every child loves black licorice especially.  But, your opinion is inconsequential.  Your feminine brain cannot comprehend the complexities of the political situation at hand.  You’ve been blinded by your emotions and picked the wrong side.  You should thank us for saving you from their dungeons later.

Queen Frostine:  You are sexist and terrible! (kicks his leg)

Lord Licorice: Don’t make me strike you with my licorice whip! The rebels would take over your icing castle and turn it into an orphanage for gingerbread children.  Then, they would take you to the gingerbread forest and execute you with all of your family, but not before taking all of your pretty things…your dresses, mirrors, make up…and degrading you.  They hate beauty.  They hate refinement.

Queen Frostine: (Sobs)

Lord Licorice:  Perhaps she will speak when she’s spent some time in the dungeon.

King Kandy:  Our enemy is more formidable than we think.

Lord Licorice: Ad lib based upon results of game.   For now, Sweetbearia is secure.  We should turn our attention to Kandygrad.  It is clear that the agitator Mr. Mint is behind the recent strikes there.  We must arrest him and his cohorts.  We can exile him to the prisons of Sweetbearia, where he can freeze to death.  Now that it is under the control of the Duke of Swirl, is won’t be a haven to runaway rebels.

Narrator:  There will be three rounds of the game.  If Mr. Mint’s team is not winning at the end of the round, he will have to switch teams to Sweetbearia, where he will go to the Peppermint Prison.


***

Act Three: The Battle of Sweetberia

Narrator:

The workers of Kandygrad are restless.  Many of the soldiers are tired in fighting in the endless wars to expand the boundaries of Candyland.  The rebels have been working hard to organize.  But, King Kandy has some powerful allies.  He went to his ally, Tsar Kandybar, who lent him several hundred of his best trained secret police, known as the Cocoprichniki.  The Cocoprichniki managed to capture Mr. Mint and several other revolutionaries.  These rebels have been sent to Peppermint Prison in Sweetbearia, where they must do hard labor, such as crushing rock candy all day long.

Grandma Nut:  It seems that no matter how hard we try, we can’t win!  We’ve lost Comrade Mint.  We’ve lost our support from Queen Frostine.  I fear that I am growing too old and won’t live to see change in my lifetime.  What will we do?

Jolly: We can’t let Comrade Mint freeze in a prison!

Lolly:  Don’t despair, I have an idea!  I am a Princess.  Maybe I can pretend to join King Kandy and befriend his advisor, Lord Licorice.  Then, I can help Queen Frostine escape.

Grandma Nut:  That sounds dangerous!

Jolly: How do we even know she is on our side.  She was a queen after all!

Lolly: She helped out Mr. Mint and others in time of need.  Anyway, she could be in danger.  Women have to stick together!  (Lolly defects to King Kandy’s Team after giving her teammates a hug)


***

Lord Licorice is looking over a document with King Kandy.  They ad lib some strategy and Lord Licorice suggests torturing Queen Frostine.  They are interrupted by a knock on their door.  They let Princess Lolly into the room, who curtsies before King Kandy.


Lolly: My name is Princess Lolly, the adopted step-niece of the Sultan of the Syrupy Satrap

King Kandy: Ah yes, what can I do for you my dear?

Lolly: I was sent here to offer the Sultan’s support in subjugating rebellious subjects.

Lord Licorice: I don’t think she should be immediately trusted.  We know little of the sultan’s family.  And, why would they send a solidarity female to your court?

Lolly:  Oh, I didn’t travel alone.  I was joined by the coconut eunuch Mr. Mounds and black licorice cat!  Together, we crossed the Dessert Desert by caramel camels.

Lord Licorice: Everyone from the Sultanate of Sweets speaks in rhymes and alliterations.  Since you are doing neither, it is simply impossible to trust you.  We should throw her in the dungeon with Queen Frostine.

Lolly: But if you throw me in the dungeon, you won’t get to see the special song and dance I composed in honor of the king!  (ad lib a song and dance for the king)

King Kandy:  She seems harmless enough.


***

Narrator:  Meanwhile, while Lolly tries to convince Lord Licorice and King Kandy that she can be trusted.  Mr. Mint languishes in the Peppermint Prison.  He begins writing a letter to his comrades.


Mr. Mint: Reading as he writes

“Dear comrades, don’t lose heart.  Even if I am shivering in a Sweetbearian prison, I will continue writing.  I will organize the prisoners and try to break free.  The prison is not far from Frostine’s Icing Castle, where her younger brother has been tasked with securing the port and ending the Sweatbearian resistance.  We can storm the castle and assassinate the Duke of Swirl.   I am told that the castle is a warehouse for weapons sent from Hasbro.  There is an arsenal of atomic fireballs, warhead sour candy, and pop rocks.  We can arm the prisoners and the Sweetbearians.  I am told that the sweet bears are tired of being killed for their honey and would be attacked if given support.”


Narrator:  There will be three rounds.  If the resistance teams are ahead in points at the end of the rounds, the plot to free the prisoners and take the port will succeed.  If not, Mr. Mint will be captured by King Kandy.


Act Four:The Race for Candy Castle

Narrator:  Mr. Mint successfully organized the prisoners of Sweetbearia, who attacked the guards while they were working.  Some of the workers were made to chop wood.  Others hammered rock candy.  A few others were sent with guards into the woods to trap gummi bears and hunt for provisions for the prison.  Although the prisoners were weak with hunger, disease, and exposure, they managed to kill the guards with their hammers and axes and take the prison.  Once they were outfitted with the guards warm clothes and weapons, they feasted on some of the food stores and waited for nightfall.


At nightfall, the prisoners marched to Icing Castle and killed the Duke of Swirl in his bed.  The few guards in the castle were easily dispatched and the ragtag prisoner militia, under the leadership of Mr. Mint, managed to secure the weapons.  Some of the guards, including the Nutcracker, were tired of fighting on the frontier and joined the side of the rebels.  This was a decisive victory for the rebels which would help them to block the port and return control of the land to the Sweatbearians.  They fled for the woods before General Custard returned from his campaign to subdue a rebellion of sugar fairies.  For now, if Hasbro sends more supplies or personnel, they would be surprised to find the port no longer under King Candy’s control.  With this task done, Mr. Mint decided he would return to Kandygrad to rejoin his comrades.  Honeybear took command of the dissatisfied guards and Sweetbearian rebels.


Meanwhile, Lolly was never able to convince Lord Licorice that she could be trusted.  But, she had a plan B.  This plan was to plant a bomb within Candy Castle, which she kept hidden in her billowy yellow dress.  While Lord Licorice and King Kandy were sleeping, she planted a bomb near a cell where Queen Frostine was kept.  This blew a hole in the wall of the castle and allowed Queen Frostine and Lolly to escape together.  Their goal was to return to Kandygrad and rejoin the rebels.


(United, the rebels (who are on two teams) embrace and ad lib a celebration of their victories).

Jolly: Lolly and Mr. Mint are true heroes!

Lolly: Now that we are united, I think the women of Candyland should lead a march on Candy Castle and demand the King Candy step down!

Grandma Nut: Hurray!  But what if he sends troops to Kandygrad on the gingerbread railroad?

Mr. Mint:  The railroad workers will have to go on strike!

Queen Frostine:  Yes, we should demand a new government.  One that is independent of Hasbro.  But, if the King steps down, there is the chance that Lord Licorice could rule!

Mr. Mint:  Jolly and I will continue trying to organize the workers. If we shut down the economy, King Candy will be forced to abdicate and the country will be ungovernable even if Lord Licorice or Tsar Candybar took his place.  If we put political and economic pressure on them, they will have to forfeit power!

Narrator:  The final rounds will be a competition to try to get more points that the King’s team.  At the end, depending upon when the teams are tired of playing, it will be announced who has won.  (This may be acted out with pretend fencing or fighting. Then, the teams can decide their fate.  1). Execution.  2.) Exile  3.) Invitation to share in the new society and restorative justice.)


Finale:  The Breaking of the Pinata

Candy Capitalism will be symbolically crushed with the breaking of a pinata.

Narrator:  A new society will be built in Candyland.  The struggle is not over.  The people of the Sultanate of Sweets must organize themselves.  Hasbro looms large and is already trying to build a counter revolutionary army based in the Sultanate of Sweets and Khanate of Candy.  This is why revolution must be spread to all lands.  For now, the people of Candyland will try to dismantle sexism, ageism, racism, heterosexism, and all the other isms that kept everyone divided for so long.  They will try to build a more just society.  They will try to build political democracy, but also democracy in the workplace. But, the story is never over.  The struggle continues!


Everyone sings the Internationale

 

Arise, you prisoners of starvation!

Arise, you wretched of the earth!

For justice thunders condemnation:

A better world’s in birth!

No more tradition’s chains shall bind us;

Arise, you slaves, no more in thrall!

The earth shall rise on new foundations:

We have been nought, we shall be all!

 ‘Tis the final conflict;

 Let each stand in his place.

 The International working class

 Shall be the human race!

 ‘Tis the final conflict;

 Let each stand in his place.

 The International working class

 Shall be the human race!

Marxmas: A Commie Candyland

 

 

Marxmas: A Commie Candyland

H. Bradford

1/08/2017

The holiday season is finally over.  To be honest, the holidays were a little depressing.  It has been brutally cold all month.  Also, I experienced a chest cold that lasted from Thanksgiving through Christmas.   I have not been very active because of this.  I have mostly felt like hiding under blankets and sleeping.  I worked on Christmas and New Years at a domestic violence shelter.  So, it was a little grim to have no holiday meal, no time with loved ones, or no celebration.  It was just work and…going home to sleep.  While I don’t believe that my lethargy is seasonal depression, I do think these circumstances put me into a state of semi-hibernation for the past month.   But, perhaps it is alright to slow down and rest from time to time.


Things perked up as I planned Marxmas.  Marxmas is the socialist alternative to Christmas.  Each year, Twin Ports Socialist Action hosts a Marxmas party for our friends.  For the past two weeks or so, I have been frantically planning for the big day.  This year’s theme was “Commie Candyland.”  The theme was chosen because my friends and I dressed up as the characters for Halloween and it was a way to re-use our costumes.  My life for the past two weeks have been related to the preparations for this epic annual party.  The party involved a skit wherein the Candyland characters are trying to overthrow Candy Capitalism.  The skit had four acts.  Each act was punctuated with rounds of Pictionary, trivia, and “hodgepodge” challenges, as three teams competed with each other for the purpose of overthrowing the king/candy capitalism.  The skit/game ended with the victory of the rebels, the singing of The Internationale, and the breaking of a cupcake piñata meant to represent candy capitalism.  All participants received prizes, the house was decorated to look like a version of “commie candyland”, and included a feast of two tables of food.  Oh, and there was also a soundtrack of 36 sweet related songs!  This party was an ambitious undertaking.

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The Menu:


I wanted the menu to be very colorful, but also with a wide variety of sweets to match our theme.  I also wanted the non-desert foods to be as vibrant as candy!  Many of the guests are vegetarian or vegan, so that is also a consideration.

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Desserts: baklava, Turkish delight, revolutionary gingerbread men, cupcakes, cake, dried fruits and nuts, a cringle, a wide variety of candies, fruit fondue, and a giant chocolate chip cookie in the likeness of Karl Marx


Drinks:  Orange Dreamsickle punch, coffee, Cranberry punch


Not Desserts: Pita plate with hummus, falafel, and olives; chips and salsa; vegetarian meatballs; vegetarian orange chicken; phyllo asparagus, Forbidden rice bowl with edamame and mushrooms;  vegetarian sushi-sweet potato, asparagus, and cucumber; shitake; beets and sweet potatoes.


The Decorations:

One enormous time sink was actually decorating the house!  I envisioned that the house should look like a magical candy dystopia.  To this end, I created two large posters that depict scenes from my imagined Candyland universe.  One of the posters represented “Kandygrad” the industrial center of Candyland.  The other represented a battle in “Sweetbearia” the icy frontier of Candyland.  Both are part of the nation state called Chokovia.  The posters introduced new characters.  All of this made me decide that I should really create a graphic novel called “Candywars” (though changing out the Hasbro related things to characters of my own creation).  But, we’ll see if I have time for that..

 


To continue on the topic of decorations, the room was decorated with dozens of balloons and streamers.  I created some candies from tissue paper and cardboard, which were placed in various places around the room.  Admittedly, I did buy some decorations on clearance after X-mas.  I just did not have the time to create elaborate decorations beyond my posters, candies, balloons, and streamers.  Different parts of the room were decorated to represent the regions in the game.  For instance, there was a blue and white color scheme where the team from Sweetberia was meant to sit.  The team from Kandygrad sat in a red and pink area.  The villain team featured a makeshift throne for the king.

 

 


    The Skit/Game:

The party mostly consisted of a skit/game.  The skit began by introducing the characters from Candyland as well as the political situation therein.  I pretended to be Lord Licorice, a villain aligned with King Kandy.  I was also the narrator/game master.  The acts of the skit was broken up by rounds of a game, wherein three teams would compete with each other in trivia, Pictionary, and hodgepodge.  The category was determined by which color block the teams landed on while moving along the Candyland board.  For instance, red and purple were trivia.  There were 19 categories of trivia-each somehow related to candy.  The Pictionary items were all current events from 2016.  Hodgepodge included everything from acting to memory challenges.  One memorable acting challenge involved the marriage of two characters in a Candyland style wedding. The game was integrated into the actions of the skit.  Each act was an event- such as a prison rebellion in Sweetbearia, the abduction of Queen Frostine,  and the ultimate victory of the rebels.  As the game master, I had some discretion over the trivia or Pictionary challenges that I posed.   However, in the end, the rebel teams actually won the game without my intervention!   It was interesting to see the teams become upset when they thought that the game was rigged and how the villain team seemed genuinely disappointed when they lost and genuinely boastful when they were ahead.  While it was only a game, the integration with the skit seemed to up the emotional ante for the players.  This also was likely because everyone was playing “roles” in the game.  I invented a book of non-canon characters so that anyone who attended the party could be a character.

 


The Pinata:

The game ended when we broke the piñata.   The piñata was meant to represent Candy Capitalism.  Personally, I love pinatas.  I try to have them at parties whenever I can.  I even have a piñata song.  However, each party that I host usually ends up with a lot of leftover candy on the floor.  This is a bit of a bummer.  But, the truth of the matter is that adults like the idea of pinatas a lot more than filling themselves with candy.   After a lifetime of candy, there is diminishing returns on the joy that it potentially brings.  Instead, it brings cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain.  Kids love pinatas and candy.  Adults- not so much.  To improve upon the piñata, I filled it with candy- as well as condoms, lube, safety whistles, and carbineer compasses.  I think this improved the outcome of the piñata, as much of the adult centered loot was taken.

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The People:

The people are what makes a party special.  Usually, 20-25 people attend Marxmas.  This year had our lowest turnout in a long while.  But, there was a good quality of people and this made the space less crowded.   I think conflicting schedules and bitter cold kept some attendees away.  Honestly, everyone was a hoot.  My friends dressed up as characters from Candyland and were good sports about the game.  The game ranged from silly to demoralizing.  For instance, when a rebel team was in the lead during a time when the villains were supposed to be in the lead- I gave the rebel team a very difficult Pictionary topic: Muslim genocide in Myanmar.  I would tip my hat to anyone who can successfully draw this in two minutes.   On the silly side of things, I later had Mr. Mint move a gummi bear to this mouth from this belly button-while lying on the floor-without using his hands.   I really love my friends for attending these parties and making my vision a reality.


Aside from attending the parties, I must thank my friends for their help making the party possible.  For instance, Jenny, Angie and I made a chocolate cake.  I have never made a chocolate cake from scratch.  It was the best cake I have eaten in my life.  The frosting tasted as rich as gelato or ice cream.  The cake was epic!  Angie randomly decided to make a giant cookie.  This cookie turned into a Karl Marx cookie.  Wow!  Adam and Lucas helped me decorate and clean.  Adam did all of the cleaning after the party, which is about as fun as cleaning up elephant turds after the circus was in town.   But, he was happy to have the house return to normal, since he was not as fond as I was of the candy wonderland.  He missed seeing the thousands of books we have everywhere.

 


Conclusion:

Each year I exhaust myself to make a great big party.  It costs me a lot for the food, prizes, and decorations in terms of time and money.  But, it brings me joy.  I like to create an experience.  I think of it as my version of a potlatch.  I don’t mean to appropriate a Native American practice, but many cultures hosted big feasts with gift exchanges.  This exhausting event redistributed resources and could build the prestige of a leader.  Now, I don’t think that the event that I host significantly redistributes resources or builds my prestige.  However, I do think it serves the purpose of building social bonds.  My friends always tell me that I spend too much time or money on it.  They want me to scale back the party.  But, I take a lot of joy in creating an experience for my friends and giving them something like this.  I want to create a memorable experience.  I want to create happiness.  This is a gift that I want to give to people on this day- even if it means I have to work non-stop for three days before the event to make the final preparations!  Maybe all of our holidays involve some remnants of a forgotten time (to Europeans)- when we celebrated to give.  This is useful in capitalism as it drives consumerism.  Yet, the urge to give is socialist at its heart, even if it is distorted by free market interests.   Hidden behind the labor, plates of food, and endless trivia is the promise of an economy of plenty.  It seems like an impossible dream, but I think that is the heart of Marxmas.   Celebration is role playing the fantasy of possibility.

Halloween Unmasked: A Socialist Feminist History of Halloween

Halloween Unmasked:

A Socialist Feminist History of Halloween

H. Bradford 9/22/16


    I love Halloween.  I love the color orange and the imagery of bats, pumpkins, black cats, spiders, and creepy things.  I love wearing costumes, carving pumpkins, going to corn mazes, the brilliant hues of fall, pumpkin spice everything, scarecrows, migrating birds, gray skies, and empty fields.  But, I also love socialism and feminism.  I love the empowerment of workers and the quest for social justice.  I love to think about how gender shapes and limits our lives.  Thus, this analysis is the marriage of two great loves: Halloween and social justice.  While Halloween is viewed as a liminal time between seasons and life and death, it is usually quite estranged from social justice considerations.  Like any good activist, I want to pierce the veil between the superficial fun of celebration and the hidden realities of oppression.  Behind the mask of every holiday is a hidden world of inequities.


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Pagan Roots:


Halloween began as the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain.  It was the day when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was weakest.  It also marked the end of summer and the beginning of winter (Dvorack, 2010).  Samhain marked the beginning of a new year and was one of four major festivals observed by the Celts.  It’s celebration was marked with costumes, sacrifices of plants and animals, fortune telling, and bonfires to help the dead find their way and avoid humans (Santino, 1982).   It was a liminal time to be sure.  Samhain was appropriated by the Catholic Church as All Saints Day, then All Hallow’s Eve, and eventually Halloween (Dvorack, 2010).   This process began with Pope Gregory I, who in 601 AD, proclaimed an edict missionaries should try to incorporate the practices of pagans as they converted them (Santino, 1982).  As such, almost every Christian site in Ireland was once a pagan place of worship.  Ancestor worship continued through the veneration of saints (Grunke, 2008).  In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV announced the holiday as All Martyrs Day, to commemorate Christian martyrs.  In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III expanded the holiday to include all saints, and it was thusly named All Saint’s Day (History of Halloween, 2009).  All Saint’s Day was a sanitized version of Samhain, as it was hard for the church to reconcile what seemed to be such a dark and evil holiday with Christian beliefs.  However, old practices and beliefs were slow to die.  Practitioners of the old beliefs were persecuted as witches (Santino, 1982).  In the 11th century, All Saint’s Day was changed to All Soul’s Day to commemorate the dead.   Interestingly, the celebrations continued to feature some aspects of the original Samhain celebrations.  It was observed with bonfires, costumes, and parades (History of halloween, 2009).  Children would go door to door asking for soul cakes in exchange for prayers on the behalf of dead loved ones.  Soul cakes, which were sweets with a cross over the top, represented a soul being released from purgatory (Fraser, 2015).


The assimilation of Halloween into Catholic holidays was part of the broader conversion of pagans to Christianity.  This conversion to Christianity impacted women in a variety of ways.  Even before the Christianization of Celtic people, there were attempts to assimilate them into Roman culture.  By 43 AD, most Celtic territories were under Roman control, under which they remained for four hundred years (History of halloween, 2009).  Under Roman occupation, there were some efforts to stamp out practices such as sacrifice  (Ellis, 1994).  While Roman occupation was generally hostile towards Celtic people, they did add some of their own culture to Samhain celebrations.  For instance, the Roman festival of Pomonia, which celebrated apples, may have added bobbing for apples to Samhain traditions.  The Romans also had a fall festival called Feralia, which commemorated the passing of the dead (History of halloween, 2009).  Whatever the influence of Roman culture on Samhain celebrations, the influence of Romans on gender relationships was less positive.  Roman officials also refused to work with female leaders and even attacked the kingdom belonging to Boudicca because they felt it was illegal for a woman to rule a kingdom.  According to legends, her land was pillaged and her daughters were raped (Ellis, 1994).

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Despite Roman accounts of female rulers or priestesses, the exact role of women in Celtic society is unknown.  Because Celtic people did not have a written language, information about Celtic pagans comes from Roman accounts and archaeological finds.  In Roman accounts,  Celtic women were viewed as angry, strong, promiscuous, shared by men, and more equal to men than their Roman counterparts.  In Gaul, Celtic women shared in their husband’s wealth, with either inheriting it upon the death of the other.  However, women could be interrogated if their husband died and taken as hostages or given away in marriage to cement alliances.  Women were not noted to be in positions of political power in Gaul, though some of the richest Iron Age burials in central Europe were of women and there were two British Celtic queens in 1 AD, implying some power or status (Adamson, 2005).  Various stories cast women into strong roles, such as the tale of Scathach (Sac-hah), a warrior woman who trained Cuchulain.  There is also the tale of Queen Maeve of Connaught, who lead a cattle raid of the Kingdom of Ulster to obtain a bull that was equal to her husband’s best animal.  According to Roman accounts, women could serve as diplomats, judges, and intermediaries.  And, if his account can be believed, according to Cesar, some Celtic people were polyandrous and others polyamorous (The lives of celtic women, n.d).


While the specific gender roles of Celtic women is unknown, generally speaking, Celtic societies were diverse, united by a related language and religious beliefs, warrior centered, yet different in geography and economies.  Central to these societies, were Druids, or pagan priests who acted as bards, overseers of sacrifices, leaders of rituals, philosophers, and intermediaries between gods and goddesses (Grunke, 2008).  Because of this diversity, it could be assumed that the role of women differed from place to place or over time, with some evidence of more power than their Roman counterparts.  Still, it is important to note that Iron Age Celts were patriarchal.  As such, the role of women in Celtic society should not be idealized.  Nevertheless, even after the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, some remnants of female power persisted in that there were two female Bishops in the 5th century: Bridget of Kildare and Beoferlic of Northumbria.  Roman Bishops protested their participation in sacrament and eventually, as more missionaries were sent to the British Isles from Rome, women were ousted from positions of power within the church.  By the Middle Ages, women could only become abbesses and nuns (Ellis, 1992).  Whatever the role of women in Celtic society, Christian views of women leave much to be desired.  Consider the following quotes:


Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.  -St. Tertullian


What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman……I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”  -St. Augustine of Hippo


As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.” -Thomas Aquinas


“If they [women] become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that’s why they are there.” -Martin Luther


The selection of quotes demonstrates the dismal role of women to Christian thinkers.  Women were the originators of sin, inferior to men, and useful for little more than breeding.  With the conversion of Celtic people to Christianity, powerful female religious figures from stories and legends were recast as witches (Ellis, 1992).   Feminists often argue that Christianity actively suppressed female knowledge of herbs, medicine, contraceptives, childbirth, and nature in general.  This suppression of female knowledge and experience was continued through scientific and medical institutions.  Feminists also often argue that witch hunts were a means of controlling women and their knowledge.  Interestingly, despite stories of witches and powerful female figures, Ireland had relatively few witch hunts, with only 4-10 recorded witch trials.  Britain and Wales, on the other hand, had about 300-1000 witch trials, of which 228 were recorded.  Scotland had recorded 599 witch trials.  This is still low compared to Germany, which had 8, 188 recorded witch trials and an estimated 17,000-26,000 trials altogether.  France, Germany, and Switzerland had the largest number of witch trials (Irish witch trials, n.d.).  In all, 40,000 to 100,000 people were killed for being witches.  Of these, 20% were men, though the gender ratio varied from country to country.  The witch hunts were the bloodiest after the Reformation, when Catholics and Protestants were competing for souls (Miller, 2005).  It is beyond the scope of this essay to explore the various theories regarding the cause of these witch hunts, but it is at least safe to assume that notions of gender and female sinfulness at least were convenient tropes that could be drawn upon to justify the threat of witches.


To make a long story short, Halloween originates from the Celtic holiday of Samhain.  The Celts were converted to Christianity, and Samhain, like other pagan holidays, was Christianized into All Saints Day.  The conversion to Christianity resulted in a diminished role for women in society and the denigration of female legendary figures as witches.  However, it was the trade of one patriarchal society for another, albeit one with codified hyper misogyny through religious texts and religious thinkers who believed women were little more than sinful broodmares.


Modern Halloween:

    

Today, most people do not spend Halloween praying for the souls of people in purgatory or honoring saints.  Modern Halloween was made possible by several social changes: the advent of capitalism, the secularization of society, and the invention of childhood.  With the advent of capitalism, the world became more interconnected and globalized.  This interconnectedness has resulted in massive shifts in populations around the world.  Within the United States, this resulted in an influx of immigrants.  As a result of the Potato Famine, 500,000 Irish immigrants came to the United States between 1845-1850.  In fact, half of all immigrants to the United States were of Irish origin at that time.  Between 1851 and 1860, 2 million Irish immigrants came to the United States to escape poverty and disease, or join relatives who had come in the 1840s (Destination America, 2005).  These Irish immigrants helped to popularize Halloween celebrations in the United States, sharing such traditions as wearing costumes while going door to door for food or money and fortune telling (History of halloween, 2009).  Rather than the earlier Catholic traditions of exchanging prayers for food, 19th century children would exchange songs, jokes, or poetry in exchange for money or fruit (Fraser 2015).  This represented a turn away from religious traditions as the public sphere allowed for more secularism.  Another tradition brought by the Irish was, Jack-o-Lanterns, which came from custom of carving turnips for Halloween and the story of Stingy Jack.  Stingy Jack was believed to roam the earth with a lantern, as he was denied entrance to both heaven and hell.  Though the immigrants used the more plentiful pumpkin to carve rather than a turnip (Fraser, 2015).


It is quaint to consider that many of our Halloween traditions came to the United States as a result of Irish immigration.  However, it is important to point out that the tragedy of the potato famine was not caused by an unfortunate fungus.  Instead, the true blight was British colonialism.   In 1801, the Act of the Union went into effect in Ireland.  It was a free trade agreement which sought to integrate Ireland into the British economy by reducing tariffs, merging currencies, ending the Irish parliament, and retooling the economy towards British needs.  In the subsequent years, the Irish economy became centered on exports of barley, wheat, potatoes, linen, cotton, and livestock.  As the economy shifted towards a cash crop export focus, poverty and unemployment increased across the country.  At the same time, the land became increasingly overused.  To enforce the subjugation of Ireland, there was one British soldier per 80 Irish persons, more than any other colony.  The extreme poverty of rural Irish people, resulting from the Act of the Union, increased their dependence upon potatoes.  Potatoes themselves were introduced to Ireland from British colonies.  Thus, when the potato crop failed in 1844, one of several crop failures over the previous fifty years, it hit an already beleaguered population.  And, the Irish themselves were blamed for this as Malthus considered the famine a matter of “survival of the fittest” among an overpopulated people.  Yet, even during the famine, more wheat and barley were exported to Britain than the three years prior to 1845 and livestock continued to be exported even as people starved.  During the famine, impoverished farmers were evicted from their land and former slave ships were repurposed for carrying Irish immigrants to the U.S.  Thus, the famine actually revitalized the shipping industry (McCann, 2011).  In this sense, the spread of Halloween was made possible by the colonial plunder of the Irish economy.

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Aside from the Irish contributions to the celebrations of Halloween, the holiday gained popularity during the Victorian Age with fortune telling, ghost stories, and parties.  However, the biggest boon for Halloween was the commercialization of the holiday during the early 1900s.  Magazines of the era told women how to host Halloween parties and rotary clubs began hosting Halloween celebrations (A most bewitching night, 2008).  In 1927, the word Trick or Treating was first used in the U.S. to describe children exchanging threats of pranks in exchange for treats (Fraser, 2015).   The holiday became a family holiday after World War Two (Dvorack, 2010) and it was during the 1950s that trick or treating became common across the country.  The 1950s also saw the explosion of the horror film industry as well as the manufacture of decoration and greeting cards (A most bewitching night, 2008).  The commercialization and family orientation of Halloween in the post-WWII era was the result of several social trends.  Firstly, the United States emerged from World War II as a hegemonic power with little capitalistic competition in the realm of military, diplomacy, and economics.  The Marshall Plan pumped thirteen billion dollars into Europe to rebuild it, but also refashion the world as a consumer of U.S. goods.  This allowed for an increase in living standards, wages, and employment, but also an increase in births and marriages.  These benefits were not shared equally among society, as the United States was racially divided and actively persecuted anyone who did not share in the consensus of consumerism.  Thus, it is no wonder that Halloween emerged as a family friendly consumer holiday during this time period.  Furthermore, the period also saw the rise of youth culture.  This itself was made possible by Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which outlawed child labor, as well as compulsory education laws from the earlier portion of the 1900s and the high school education movement.  In other words, the spread of trick or treating represented a view that children should be enjoying candy rather than making it in factories, accompanied by living standards that did not require child labor.


Slut Shaming and the Rise of the Sexy Costume:

The United States has long since lost its place as the only dominant economy in the world.  Since the 1970s, the United States has had to once again compete with the rebuilt economies of Europe and Japan, as well as newly emerging economies.  Despite diminishing living standards, the consumerism of Halloween continues.  As the same time, Halloween has shifted from its focus on kids and families to adults.  This shift is best illustrated by the rise of the sexy Halloween costume.  The sexy Halloween costume can be traced to Greenwich village in the 1970s.  Greenwich Village hosted a family friendly Halloween parade, but also was a center of gay culture.  The LGBT community pushed the boundary of sexualized, gender bending costumes.  This is also true of Castro Street in San Francisco and West Hollywood.  The 1970s also saw the commercialization of Halloween (Conger, 2013).  The 1940s and 1950s saw the commercialization of children’s costumes and trick-or-treating, but the 1970s expanded this into the adult market.  Sexy costumes have become so popular that since the early 2000s, they make up 90-95% of the female costumes (Conger, 2013).  As a whole, adults spend 1.4 billion on Halloween costumes  (Stampler, 2014).


As mentioned earlier, costumes have long been a part of Halloween celebrations.  Originally, Samhain costumes were not sexy, as they were meant to confuse the souls of the dead (Labarre, 2011).   Still, the holiday does have a history of testing boundaries.  For instance, young male choristers in churches dressed like virgins on All’s Hallow Eve (Stampler, 2014).  The supernatural obsessed Victorians dressed as creepy characters, such as bats and ghosts, but also exotic characters such as Egyptians and gypsies.  However, these parties were mostly for the upper class who had the leisure and means to host Halloween parties.  The sexy maid costume also originated during this time period among an upper class who actually had maids.  Maids themselves were sometimes expected to perform sexual duties as part of their employment, so the sexualization of the profession was not much of a leap.  After WWII, when Halloween became more of a children’s holiday, adult costumes weren’t particularly sexy.  This matched the conservative atmosphere of the day (Stampler, 2014).  In reality, the 1950s version of Halloween was an aboration from the more adult centered history of the holiday (Labarre, 2011).  The social space for sexier costumes was really opened up by the feminist movement.  Legalized birth control and abortion enabled greater exploration of sexual boundaries in the 1960s and 1970s.  Thus, costumes began to push the boundaries of sexiness, but also violent gore, as these things appeared in popular culture.  Since then, the sexy costume has exploded to the degree that sexiness has moved towards irony, with costumes such as sexy lobsters, sexy peeps, or sexy sesame street characters (Stampler, 2014).  My friend Jenny and I were squarely on the ironically sexy bandwagon with our sexy janitor costumes.

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As many women have embraced revealing costumes, this has resulted in slut shaming.  Halloween itself has been nicknamed “Slutoween.”  Slut shaming is calling a woman a slut or ho as a punishing identity for perceived promiscuity.  At the same time, heterosexual women are expected to be sexy as part of the gender performance.  Someone close to me once criticized an outfit I wore when I went out, telling me that I was asking to be sexually accosted.  The same person has commented on my drooping bottom as I have gotten older.  I am both expected to be sexy and be not sexy.  This is the catch 22 of being female.  Personally, I don’t mind looking sexy or unsexy.  I can be zombie Che Guevara, Lord Licorice, a nerdy Scarecrow, Sailor Socialism, or a sexy janitor.  I like to have fun looking sexy and looking unsexy.  But, in the larger society, shaming is a way for men to control the conduct of women and women to police the conduct other women.  For some women, it might be liberating to wear sexy costumes, as it allows for escapism from everyday life and an opportunity to be someone different.  On the other hand, some women might object to being objectified and regret that there are social pressures to look sexy.  Certainly, the over-sexualization of girl’s costumes is also concerning.  Irrespective of how a woman chooses to dress, she should not be slut shamed because what she wears does not reflect her sexual desires or ask for sexual advances (How to celebrate halloween without being sexist).  Slut shaming is harmful to women because it justifies the sexual assault of women.  At the same time, embracing “slut” isn’t necessarily empowering, as it may put women at risk for sexual assault or being blamed (Tannenbaum, 2015).  Once again, this is another catch 22 of being female.  It is disempowering to embrace “slut” and shaming to reject it.


Halloween should be approached in a nuanced fashion.  Feminists should absolutely stand up to the slut shaming of women who wear sexy costumes.  Nothing is to be gained by shaming women for conforming to an expected gender performance, for escapism, or for expressing their sexuality in this fashion.  At the same time, feminists should also critique the narrow expressions of female gender expressions and the social consequences of costumes which turn women and girls into sex objects.  The glorification and trivialization of sex work, which ignores the social conditions of sex workers, should also be called into question.


Halloween and Women’s Labor:


On the other end of the oppression spectrum is the oppression of women who are mothers.  Thinking back to my own childhood memories of Halloween, I can remember many fond memories of creative costumes, Trick-or-Treating, and parties.  I remember that my mother sewed me a wonderful cat costume.  She also made me a tooth fairy costume and several others.  My mother (and sometimes my father too), would take me Trick-or-Treating.  Some houses had popcorn balls and other homemade treats.  The majority of these memories are possible because of the invisible and unpaid labor of women.  My mother was not paid to make my costume.  She was not paid to take me Trick-or-Treating.  The kindly older women were not paid to make Halloween treats.  My grandma was not paid to make caramel apples or cookies.  These are the labors of love that women do for children because it is expected of them.  As a child, I could never appreciate the magic of these memories.  Childhood was simply created for me to consume and enjoy.  As an adult, I see that these cherished memories represent the exploited labor of women.


According to Marxist feminism, the unpaid labor of women serves a purpose of perpetuating capitalism.  This is accomplished through reproducing workers (the children who are raised to be the workers of the future) and maintaining current workers (through the care of men who are presently workers).  Women provide a service to society by caring for children, the sick, elderly, and husbands (Thompson, 2014).  This unpaid service in the private realm of the household means that capitalists can enjoy greater profits in the public realm.  This may seem to have little connection to Halloween, until one considers the ways in which holidays extract enormous amounts of unpaid labor from women, especially mothers.  While holidays are meant to be fun, and may even result in time off of work, women do not enjoy time off of work if they are expected to create costumes, holiday meals, decorations, treats, or parties for children or family members.  At the same time, society abounds with messages that women are expected to create.  Pinterest perfectly represents this social pressure.  It is no wonder that a survey of 7000 mothers on pinterest found that 42% of respondents felt stressed by the image sharing social media site (The social network that is stressing mom’s out, 2013).


Pinterest, or for that matter Facebook, creates a fantasy of parenthood.   In particular, it constructs motherhood and gender expectations.  After all, in 2012, 60% of pinterest visitors were women.  One in five women over the age of 18 is a Pinterest user (How pinterest is killing feminism, 2012).  It is an ideal world of perfectly carved pumpkins, cute costumes, fun party activities, pretty decorations, and delicious desserts.  The reality is that parenting in the U.S. does not look like this.  In 2011, 40% of all births were to single mothers.  In 2007, 1.5 million children had parents in jail.  In 2012, there were 2.7 chronic neglect cases reported in the U.S. as parents increasingly struggle to meet the basic needs of their children (Balmer, 2016).  The U.S. does not offer paid maternity leave and is woefully deficient in available day care.  In 2015, 20% of adults were in the lowest income tier, compared to 13% in 2003.  In 2015, the middle class (as defined as a household that makes 42,000 to 126,000), comprised of about 50% of Americans, which is down from 61% in 1971.  While there were some gains in the number of Americans in upper income households since 1971, from 4% to 9%, the lowest income group increased from 16% to 20%.  During this time, the wealth of adults over 65 increased, but young adults have become poorer (“The American Middle Class is losing ground, 2015).  If more middle class people are joining the ranks of the poor, arguably there is more pressure for women to care for and maintain the happiness of their families.  Any penny pinching costume ideas, party favors, or treats represent unpaid labor in the interest of diminished buying power and working conditions.  Women are left to tend to the embers of the American dream.  Without unions, home ownership, upward mobility, and nuclear families, women ameliorate the emotional toll of the crisis of capitalism.

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While children have benefited from child labor laws, public education, and legal protections in the United States, children in the rest of the world do not fare as well.  They live as children in our own country lived a century ago.  Two thirds of the world’s cocoa beans come from West Africa and while many countries and chocolate companies have promised to curtail child slavery in the production of chocolate, in Ivory Coast, chocolate child labor increased 51% between 2008 and 2014 (Welder, 2015).  Children in the chocolate industry are sold by poor families or simply kidnapped.  They range from age 11 to 16 and work 80 to 100 hours a week.  The chocolate industry is a $110 billion dollar industry (Omega, 2014).


Beyond the horrors of child labor, are the ethics of Halloween costumes.  Americans were expected to spend $7.4 Billion on Halloween in 2014.  $2.2 billion was on candy and $2.8 billion on costumes.  $1.1 billion was for children’s costumes, $1.4 on adult costumes, and $350 million on pet costumes!  These costumes have been critiqued as “fast fashion” or fashion that is cheaply made and quickly disposed of.  Not only do the costumes end up in the dump.  They are full of toxins like lead, tin, flame retardants, and PVCs (Abrams, 2014).  The costumes themselves are often made in sweatshops in places such as China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, where there is little pay, no rights to unions, and long work hours.  Women make up 90% of the laborers in sweatshops, where they are subjected to sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and physical punishment (“Feminists against sweatshops,” n.d.).


Conclusion:


From sweatshops to slut shaming, modern Halloween is haunted by the horrors of capitalist patriarchy.  Of course, the same could be said about Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and all the other holidays we hold dear.  Further, this piece is missing important histories such as racism, homophobia, ableism, and other forms of oppression.  While this isn’t a comprehensive view of what lies behind the mask of Halloween, it should offer a little insight to how Halloween has changed over history and some gender and class issues related to the holiday.  Finally, it is not enough to uncover the child labor in Halloween chocolate, fast fashions, slut shaming, consumerism, and unpaid labor.  Something must be done to change it.  To this end, building social/labor movements is the best starting point.  Within these movements, we can stand up against sexism and slut shaming and demand pay for unpaid labor, equal pay for paid labor, shame and boycott stores that utilize sweatshop labor, and consider consumer choices while putting pressure on producers to elevate the working conditions and improve the environmental consequences of production.  Rather than being haunted by a world of horrors, the world should be haunted by the specter of revolution.

Sources:

Abrams, L. (2014, October 31). Halloween: America’s no. 1 holiday for wasting money on garbage. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.salon.com/2014/10/31/halloween_americas_no_1_holiday_for_wasting_money_on_garbage/

Adamson, M. (2005, March 14). An Archaelogical Analysis of Gender Roles in Nonliterate Cultures of Eurasia. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from https://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/fms/archaeology_files/dig_library/theses/MikeAdamson.pdf

A most bewitching night: The history of Halloween. (2007). Retrieved September 23, 2016, from history.com, http://www.randomhistory.com/2008/09/01_halloween.html

Balmer, A. (2016, September 8). Childhood, family, and the decline of capitalism. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.marxist.com/childhood-family-and-the-decline-of-capitalism.htm

Conger, C. (2013, October 31). A brief history of sexy Halloween costumes. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cristen-conger/a-brief-history-of-sexy-halloween-costumes_b_4158119.html

Destination America . When did they come? (2005). Retrieved September 22, 2016, from http://www.pbs.org/destinationamerica/usim_wn_noflash.html

Dvorack, K. (2010, February 5). National women’s history museum. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from https://www.nwhm.org/blog/a-history-of-halloween/

How to celebrate Halloween without being A sexist. (2013, October 24). Retrieved September 14, 2016, from https://thinkprogress.org/how-to-celebrate-halloween-without-being-a-sexist-91796455bfbe#.hi2h29r57

How Pinterest is Killing Feminism (2012, October 2). Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/how-pinterest-is-killing-_n_1932168.html

History.com (2009). History of Halloween – Halloween. history.com. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

Ellis, P. B. (1994). The Druids. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Feminists Against Sweatshops. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.feminist.org/other/sweatshops/

Fraser, I. (2016, September 5). Halloween 2016: Why do children trick-or-treat and what’s with the scary costumes? The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/halloween-2016-why-do-children-trick-or-treat-and-whats-with-the/

Grunke, K. (2008). The Effect of Christianity upon the British Celts. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from Journal of Undergraduate Research, https://www.uwlax.edu/urc/jur-online/PDF/2008/grunke.pdf

Irish witch trials – supernatural Ireland: How fairies influenced a culture. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/site/supernaturaleire/irish-witch-trials

Labarre, S. (2011, October 31). Slutty Halloween costumes: A cultural history. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from http://jezebel.com/5854947/slutty-halloween-costumes-a-cultural-history

McCann, G. (2011). Ireland’s Economic History: crisis and development in the north and south. Pluto Press.

Miller, L. (2005, February 1). Who burned the witches? Retrieved September 22, 2016, from http://www.salon.com/2005/02/01/witch_craze/

Redmond, H. (2015, June 2). Pornographic Halloween. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/31/pornographic-halloween/

Stampler, L. (2014, October 30). The definitive history of sexy Halloween costumes. Retrieved September 14, 2016, from http://time.com/3547024/sexy-halloween-costumes-history/

Tanenbaum, L. (2015, April 15). The truth about Slut-Shaming. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leora-tanenbaum/the-truth-about-slut-shaming_b_7054162.html

The American middle class is losing ground. (2015, December 9). Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/09/the-american-middle-class-is-losing-ground/

The lives of Celtic women. Retrieved September 22, 2016, from http://www.celtlearn.org/pdfs/women.pdf

The social network that’s stressing Moms out (2013, May 11). Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/11/pinterest-stress-moms-social-media_n_3253475.html

Thompson, K. (2014, February 10). Feminist perspectives on the family. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from https://revisesociology.com/2014/02/10/feminist-perspectives-on-the-family/

Santino, J. (1982, September ). Halloween: The fantasy and folklore of all Hallows (the American Folklife center, library of congress). Retrieved September 22, 2016, from https://www.loc.gov/folklife/halloween.html

Wedler, C. (2015, October 30). Is your Halloween candy made with child slave labor? Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://theantimedia.org/is-your-halloween-candy-made-with-child-slave-labor/

My Short Stint as a Radical Cheerleader

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Back in 2010, I started up a radical cheerleading group called the Rah Rah Revolutionaries.   You might ask, what is radical cheerleading?  Well, it is a form of performance based activism that began in the mid-1990s by three sisters in Florida (Aimee, Coleen, and Cara Jennings). Generally speaking, it has an anarchist, anti-capitalist, feminist history.  I am not an anarchist, but I enjoy the idea of appropriating cheerleading and twisting it into something subversive.  By the time that I started the group, radical cheerleading was in decline nationally.  This isn’t surprising, as social movements in general were in decline after the Bush years.  Nevertheless, 2010/2011 saw a resurgence of protest and I am glad that the cheerleaders were a tiny part of that.


When I started the group, I had a lot of energy for activism.  I had just returned from a semester abroad in South Korea and I was looking to re-engage in my community.  The trip was a bit of a political isolation chamber.  Weird ideas fester in isolation.  I wanted to start up a radical clowning group at the same time.  For better or worse, that idea never took off.  Anyway, the idea of radical cheerleading had appealed to me for some time, though I am not sure how I first became familiar with the idea.  It seemed like a way to add something fun and interesting to the run of the mill protests that I had been attending.  Admittedly, my main motivation was probably the fact that I had been a cheerleader in high school.  Granted, I was the worst cheerleader in the history of cheerleading.  I was so awful that I actually got hate mail asking me to quit the squad.  This makes for a funny story, especially because the sender did not add a stamp to the letter.  I had to pay postage for my own hatemail.  I feel that paying postage for your hate mail pretty much means you fail at life.  None of this traumatized me enough to squash my fantasy of being an adult communist cheerleader.  To this end, I made some handmade fliers and put them up around Duluth.  I assembled some cheering clothes and recruited a few interested friends.  Thus, this is how the Rah Rah Revolutionaries was born.


The group really came into fruition when we tabled at the Duluth/Superior Pride Festival that year.  This helped us establish an email list.  This is also where we did our first action as the Rah Rah Revolutionaries, which involved cheering and chanting at a group of religious activists who were there to protest the Pride Festival.  In all, I have good memories of tabling at this event as many young people and members of the LGBT community showed interest in our group.

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Following the event at Pride, we had a few meetings at my house.  We never practiced any chants or routines, but we planned some events we could attend.  Our events that fall included a fundraiser for CASDA  (a local domestic violence shelter) and an anti-war rally.  We were able to lead the anti-war march and lead the protesters in chants.  We were also involved in a few “Cheer for Choice” events.  In these events, we counter protested the 40 Days for Life picket outside of the Building for Women.  We did this several times during their 40 day vigil.  Because of my affinity for costumes and red and black clothes, I provided most of the uniforms/clothes to my friends.  After these fall events, the group went on hiatus during the winter.  It re-emerged in February 2011 with a few protests against Scott Walker’s attack against collective bargaining for public workers in Wisconsin.  We also did a few “Cheer for Choice” events that spring in front of Planned Parenthood as a way to counter protest .  In all, only about a half dozen people were actively involved in the group, with a dozen participants altogether. rah6


Unfortunately, I graduated in the spring of 2011 and moved to Mankato in fall 2011 for graduate school.  The group did not continue after I moved away.  Years passed, and while I looked back at the brief stint at a cheerleader with fondness, I figured that it was something that would forever remain a brief moment in the past.  However, after attending the Pride Festival this year, I once again became nostalgic for my pompons and cheerleader outfit.  As I saw young politicized youth wandering around the festival, I thought that they might enjoy radical cheerleading.  Perhaps it would be a way to make protesting fun and accessible.  At the very least, it could add some color and noise to local protests and pickets.  Around the country, there are not many active radical cheerleading groups these days.  I myself am pretty busy with other things.  But, the magnetism of nostalgia and possibility pulls me back to that past moment.  So, I am preparing for round two of the cheerleading squad.  Hopefully we can cheer on the masses to, “Rise up!  Rise up! Rise Up up up up!”

 

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What is to be Danced? The Belly Dance and Cultural Appropriation Question

 

What is to be Danced? The Belly Dance and Cultural Appropriation Question.

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“Oh no, someone let an uncomfortable feminist argument out of the bottle!”

I am going to be honest here. I love to travel. I love to try new things. Historically, I have collected hobbies like some people collect Dragon Ball Z Action Figures, stamps, and nail polish colors. Wait, I’ve collected those too. I am curious about the world and cultures. I have worn clothing that was inspired by ethnic styles. In the late 1990s, I wore a bindi a few times, as it was the trend then and because I imagined that it made me look like I was a superhero that could blast magical magenta lasers from the gemstone. I drew a comic book wherein I did exactly this. I suck.

So, when I talk about cultural appropriation, it is not because I am riding on some high horse looking down on people. It is because I have a carbon footprint that looks like Godzilla walked by. It is because I want to partake in cultures. It is also because I don’t want to be a terrible white person who stomps on people of color. There is already a lot of stomping in the world.

Thus, this leads me to my latest quandary. Is belly dancing a form of cultural appropriation? In 2014, Randa Jarrar, a Palestinian American writer, wrote a controversial article for Slate, wherein she argued that it was cultural appropriation. Jarrar expressed frustration that white women were basically performing Arab drag by dressing up in costumes that caricatured Arab women. She said that growing up in the Middle East, the belly dance (Raqs Sharqi) clothing she remembered was more conservative and women who perform belly dances professionally were looked down upon. She viewed belly dancing as a performance of women for women, done at parties and weddings. When men were present, the dancing was less playful. Because of the stigma of public performance, she observed that white women were being hired to perform in Egypt. In all, she mostly felt angered by the shameless Arab face performance of white women, who she said sometimes adopted Arab sounding performance names and Arab inspired costumes.

In response to her opinion, the internet exploded with articles and blog posts defending cultural appropriation, cultural borrowing, and belly dancing. This is not a literature review of those articles, but in reading some of responses I saw a jumbled discourse of the power, privilege, and entitlement on the dismissive end of the spectrum and appreciation, art, expression, and feminism on the apologetic end of the spectrum. For the most part, it was hard to find many voices who agreed with her. Roughly, here are a few common arguments against her argument:

 

Impossible to Avoid Argument: On this side, it seems that a theme was that cultural appropriation is hard to define and no one owns culture. Cultural borrowings are a part of all societies. If a person were to try to avoid cultural appropriation, it would involve extremes like avoiding coffee, potatoes, and algebra. The merit of this argument is that the world is so interconnected by globalization that it is impossible to avoid appropriation. The outcome of this would be extreme isolation between peoples and the policing of cultural boundaries. Main Critique: This is true, but this also evades tough questions about racism, imperialism, and entitlement.

It’s Art Argument: On this side, dance is art. Art is creative and expressive. The rules of cultural appropriation do not apply to art. If belly dance is performed well and taken seriously as an art, then women will grow in their respect of Middle Eastern cultures as they deepen their knowledge of dance, instruments, language, and dance history. Critique: This is true, who wants to censor art and learning? But, art is not inherently benign. Art is political and promotes meaning. What if the art sends the message that imperialism is okay?

It’s Feminism Argument: Belly dancing empowers women by allowing them to express themselves, explore their identities, accept their bodies, spend time with other women, etc. Some pagan feminists believe that belly dancing is an ancient form of dance that celebrates the feminine divine. Belly dancing builds community and sisterhood. Critique: Wonderful. I truly want this for women. But, what if some women feel that the dance does not respect their culture? What if they feel mocked or marginalized? Feminism isn’t about community and self-actualization of some women at the expense of the community and self-actualization of other women.

Unfortunately, what is lacking is a Marxist feminist answer to cultural appropriation. Here I am…a Marxist feminist, trying to make sense of what is a very difficult question. In the spirit of Lenin I shall ask…

What is to be danced?

I have mulled it over and I don’t think that Marxism can really take a position on dance. Dance is part of the superstructure, or the culture that sits on the economy. Dance evolves over time as society changes. It is entirely possible that the pagan feminists are right and there have been gyrating dances since the dawn of time. These early dances might have celebrated fertility, women, female power, etc. This sort of dance might have been characteristic of a matriarchal or matrilineal society wherein women were valued and equal. But, this is capitalism. This is the heart of the beast of capitalism: the USA. Capitalism has reached all over the globe. In doing so it has subjugated other cultures as it has integrated other economies. It is no wonder that in our globalized capitalist society that we would have a taste for the foods, cultures, dances, and languages of other places. We have had a long time to become exposed to these things through imperialism and colonization. Historically, the West has had the power to discover and take. At the same time, we are oppressed by capitalism. We want to escape. We want to travel. We want joy and fun. We want to celebrate and dance!

Without capitalism, we wouldn’t really know about belly dancing. We’d be feudal peasants who perhaps know only of our own village. In the 18th and 19th century, Europeans travelled to the Ottoman Empire and saw dancers perform. Harems really captured the imagination of Europeans. Now, in our Orientalist imagination, harems are places where women dance around for sultans. In my understanding, harems were places for women. Here, women danced for women and most of them never met the sultan. Harems were guarded by eunuchs because men weren’t trusted. Really, it was a female space. To varying degrees it was a way for women to exert some measure of control over the sultan. But, this shouldn’t be idealized as feminist space or power. The women were trafficked from across the empire. Around the same time that Europe was exposed to belly dancing, it was exposed to many things as it expanded into new territories. This era saw a rise in Orientalism, or art, music, literature, and ideas which popularized certain images of the East. The east was exotic and erotic. Having this vision of the east probably made it easier to conquer it, as it was a backwards place, yet exciting places, with strange values.

Belly dancing as an art is deeply connected to capitalism’s global nature. Belly dancing became popular in the United States in the late 1800s through our World’s Fair, at a time when we were just sinking our milk teeth into global imperialism. It appealed to orientalism. Even at that time, it was performance for an orientalist audience rather than a traditional folk art. The dance shimmied across the globe. It was shaped by U.S. Hollywood movies, returned to Egypt, repackaged, returned to the United States through immigrants, and reshaped. Modern belly dance draws from many cultures. It is a simulacrum. That is, a copy of a copy of a copy. A simulacra, according to Baudrillard, is something which has no origin or is a caricature. Of course, real people contributed to the development of belly dancing through teaching, shaping, performing, and costuming of the dance. Some of these people were indeed Arab American.

As workers were are alienated from the production of things. We don’t control how things are made. We buy them in the market place, where they appear magically from far off places. Where did that coffee come from? Who grew it? How was it roasted? What is the process? So it is with the thousands of things we consume. Since capitalism is so global and everything just appears so magically, it is no wonder that there are so many international things to consume. At the same time, being American is also pretty frustrating. For a progressive person, America is a place of religion, racism, inequality, Donald Trump, endless war, professional wrestling, snow mobiles, and Happy Meals. A taste for international foods and activities seems like a lovely alternative.

This leads to the problem.   Miss Progressive doesn’t want to learn square dancing and eat corn dogs at the county fair. These things represent America. OR, maybe she feels bad about her body. Belly dancing liberates her from the fat shaming. She feels sexy again. Or, maybe she meets some friends. It sure is lonely taking care of the kids. And, these women are fun and cool. They have tattoos. They aren’t afraid of the Middle East. They might even deeply respect the dance. Women are oppressed. All women are oppressed. In the land of plenty and scarcity, there is a tendency to escape or try to escape our oppression through consumption and identity. Dance is an escape. Can we blame women for wanting some joy in the world?! My god, if I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution. Thanks for the perfect quote, Emma Goldman.

 

Okay, so Lenin asked the classic question, what is to be done…not what is to be danced. This is about forming a vanguard party for the purpose of spreading revolutionary ideas to workers. I am not sophisticated nor creative enough to tie belly dancing to the vanguard party. But, I can tie this argument to a basic question which revolutionaries must ask themselves. The question is: how do I make a revolution?

This probably sounds bloody and terrible to my readers. So, maybe a less dramatic sounding question is how do I make significant change in society? From a Marxist perspective, capitalism just has to go. To this end, workers just have to be organized. This is because the entire economic is run by workers and would cease to function without the consent to work. Because of our service economy, maybe workers don’t seem that powerful. Oh nooos who will make the hamburgers?! Think instead, who will run hospitals, schools, drive trains and buses, harvest food, ship the food, can the food, make the weapons, remove the garbage, purify the water, and so on and so on. No other group in society wields the power of workers. But, not just workers. Ties must be made to social movements. A socialist revolution must also be a revolution that wins the hearts and minds of all oppressed people: women, gays, lesbians, transgendered people, ethnic and racial minorities. Capitalism depends upon racism, sexism, and homophobia to function. These things divide people. This divides workers.

Relating to oppressed groups isn’t always easy. There is a lot of false consciousness or bad ideas in the world. I am a product of society and as such, my head is full of a lot of society’s bad ideas. But, if there is one rule of being an ally to these groups it is probably: don’t be a dick.

How do you avoid being a dick?

  1. Listen to oppressed people.

Okay, sounds good. But they say different things! Some don’t even think racism exists any more.

 

  1. Listen to the vanguard of oppressed people.

Listen to the people who you think are in motion. Who are the activists? The radicals? They probably can give you some clues about how to treat them with dignity and be true allies.

 

  1. What if they say that I can’t belly dance? Or Celebrate the Day of the Dead? Or wear dreadlocks?

These are personal choices. There is no golden rule to what is and what is or is not cultural appropriation. But, listen to the arguments. Consider the offense it may cause. Consider how it shapes your relationship with this group of people. If Arab women feel that belly dancing is appropriation, then consider how you could work with them to make it better and more just. Isn’t that the nice thing to do?

  1. Weigh/Learn about the issue:

In the end, Jarrar issued another statement. In this, she said belly dancing isn’t that important. The really important thing were things like the appropriation of Palestinian land. She was upset that her article was given so much attention when she had written more substantive things. The appropriation of a dance is far less important than the detainment of thousands of Palestinians who protest Israel’s occupation of their land or the collective punishment of Palestinians who cannot leave Gaza and the West Bank.

 

  1. Consider Oppression

Since there are no hard and fast rules about how to live one’s life and politics should not be reduced to personal choices anyway, the big question is the movement. The big picture is not the food you eat, clothes you wear, or hobbies you participate in. It is the oppression. The oppression of women must end. To do this, we must build a feminist movement. This is a circle. To build a movement, we need allies. To have allies, we can’t be jerks. We are all oppressed. We all have to work together. It is easy to think that feminism means freedom and choice, but the heart of feminism is ending the systematic oppression of women. This means that some of our freedoms and choices do impact others.

 

Conclusion:

Belly dancing is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. I wrestle with it. Knowing what I know, or thinking what I think, should I do it as an activity? Having been raised in the United States, I like to think I can do whatever I want. I have freedom to choose. The world is a marketplace. It is hard to shake off that consciousness. I don’t want an austere, colorless life that lacks culture. I think the worst offense is probably the racialized costume. In this sense, perhaps I would be comfortable taking classes or practicing it at home, but would not want to wear a costume. I can’t shake the desire to learn and explore. The imperialist urge to sample the world.  I have tried to be involved with a local Palestine group and with an Islamophobia action that happened in Superior. The boundaries of my life are to think about my actions and do the best that I can to be an ally to women. I will do what I can to be the best that I can in those respects. I will dance in the revolution, but my steps will be cautious and thoughtful.

A Communist’s Impressions of Captain America: Civil War

I make it no secret that I am a communist.  But, I am also a dork.  I like comic book movies. With age, I have given up a lot of the dorky pursuits such as collecting action figures, my obsessive love of Dragon Ball Z, and creating comic books for my friends.  Still, I am glad that I can find joy in going to a Marvel movie…alone….for a 11 pm showing.  There is a certain satisfaction that the only solo movie goer in the theater was a female bodied person in her mid thirties.

With that said, I have never been a fan of Captain America.  Obviously, he wears patriotic colors, fought in WWII, has this “Greatest Generation” shtick, and well…represents U.S. interests.   I hated the first Captain America movie as it played up good old patriotic Captain America…fightin’ Nazis…the most.  Not that I am against fighting Nazis.  But, the United States did not play a wholesome good guy role in WWII or any war…nor can it.  While Captain America fought Nazis, or secretly Hydra (groan), with his multiracial Howling Commandos, the U.S. was detaining Japanese citizens and socialists at home.  We were alright with dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese, but not okay bombing infrastructure that supported concentration camps.  Corporations like Coca-Cola, General Electric, GM, and Ford were content to continue reap enormous profits from Nazi Germany through the 1930s and into the 40s through subsidiaries.  I won’t belabor this point as it is not central to the review.  The basic idea is that there was no “good war.”   While I have certainly benefited from being an American, one of the first terrible realizations that I had when I was in college was…well, we are a really awful country in how we relate to the rest of the world.  We have supported dictators and overthrown democratically elected leaders.  Our relative often comfort comes at the expense of others.  Yada, yada, not patriotic…not into Captain America.

At the same time, through the Marvel movies I have come to like Captain America.  As a character, he is pretty nice.  He is polite, square, loyal, honest, and consistent.  The movies have also raised interesting questions.  They make me think more than say Antman and Deadpool did (except maybe think that I was not going to see those movies a second time).  I appreciated that Captain America: Civil War gave me things to think about.  I wouldn’t have anything to post about if it hadn’t!

Thought One-The UN Myth:

Back in my early college days, I had to face the fact that the U.S. was involved in some bad things in the world.  That stinks!  What should I do?  I know, turn to the UN.  The United Nations sounds benign.  It’s pale blue, olive branch framed globe flag looks so peaceful.  It is made up of all the countries of the world…working together for peace and human rights.  My political evolution in support of the UN evolved again when I thought… “Wait, the security council has five permanent members who were the “victors” of WWII and this body can determine peacekeeping/military activities and sanctions.”  That stinks.  And while it seems alright to send internationalist soldiers into situations, these soldiers do many of the same things as soldiers who do not wear pastel blue hats: engage in rape, prostitution (even of children), torture, and other war crimes.   And while the UN may seem like a counter balance against the United States, it has been pretty toothless in standing against any of the United States’ military/foreign policy actions in the world.  Sometimes it is nice to say things like…wow, almost every country in the world has voted on like 20 resolutions about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians or almost every country in the world was against the United States when we did “fill in the blank”, at the end of the day the UN consistently serves the interests of imperialist powers OR, can do nothing to stop these interests.

Anyway, in the movie, in order to make superheroes accountable, the Avengers must sign that they agree to follow the Sokovia Accords.  Basically, about 112 countries have signed an accord that states that the Avengers will be overseen by the UN.  In an interesting twist, the UN will oversee the Avengers directly.  So, decisions will not go through the Security Council.  Rather, the entire General Assembly will vote on every single issue that they decide to send the Avengers to do.  Tony Stark is for this.  Captain America is not.  Thus, the catalyst for the civil war between the Avengers.  Captain America’s critique seems based upon a distrust of large organizations (from his Hydra and Shield experiences) and the fact that organizations or countries can change their minds.  It isn’t a critique of multilateralism or the UN.

If I was an Avenger, I would side with Captain America, though it is because I do not buy into the myth of the UN or multilateralism.  This same theme came up in the Batman v. Superman film.  Again, it seems that people often believe that it is better for a coalition to promote “justice” in the world than an individual or an individual nation state.  However, coalitions of nations can do the same injustices if they are guided by the interests of imperialism.  Hence, the invasion of Iraq would have been no more just had it been approved by the United Nations.  While this would have had a veneer of internationalism and neutrality, but would have been the profit motivated invasion of a sovereign country all the same.  In this same way, the actions of NATO are no better than those of the U.S., even if allies are involved.  In short, the Avengers should have indeed been skeptical about being overseen by the UN.

Though I am pretty curious, who were the 80-85 countries who did not support the Sokovia accords and why?!  Who doesn’t want to oversee the Avengers or superheroes in general?  Did Latveria vote against it for fear Dr. Doom would have to answer to the UN?  Did Genosha vote against it?  Is Genosha a country in the Avengers?   How about real countries?  The Avengers seem to serve U.S. interests, so it seems anti-American countries would want the Avengers to be overseen by an international body.  Maybe those who did not support the accords were countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati, who were upset that time was being wasted on the stupid accords rather than coming up with a solution to climate change.  “You built an underwater prison to house super heroes.  Super.  Underwater is where we will be if we can’t stop climate change” says the delegate from Kiribati.

Thought Two: Black Lives Matter

I appreciated that a black woman confronted Ironman about her dead son.  Her son died because the Avengers could not keep Sokovia safe.  Of course, to make the death more tragic, the son must be the son of a middle class black woman who works for the State Department.  The son was in Sokovia to do volunteer work.  Had the son been a criminal or from a lower class, his story would not have been as tragic to white viewers.  The message here is that black lives matter so long as the black people talk and act like middle class white people.  Still, I liked that Tony Stark thought that the woman was reaching for a gun rather than for a photograph.  I think this represented the fact that because of her skin color, he thought she might be dangerous.  It was only when she identified herself as a member of the upper middle class, she assured him that she could be trusted.  It is possible that the movie wanted to show African Americans in a positive light by highlighting the fact that the son was a volunteer rather than giving him a less favorable story.

At the same time, I was also glad that the movie decided not to follow the trope that black characters must die.  I thought that Iron Patriot was going to die.  I felt pretty bad as the death was horrific.  He fell from the sky when Vision accidentally destroyed his suit’s functionality.  I thought he would be a splatter spot on the ground.  Instead, he was disabled by the fall.  His life mattered to Tony Stark and I felt that there was a genuine message that he wasn’t an expendable character (even if he is a pretty marginal character).

Generally, the black characters acted like white characters.  The Marvel movies approach race with color blindness.  Racism is never depicted, which perpetuates racism by sending a message that everyone is the same, race doesn’t matter, and everyone can be friends and equals.  Everyone can be friends and equals, but to do this…people need to be allies and collaborators in ending racism.

I do appreciate that the movie featured three black characters.  Black Panther was given a larger role than I expected.   Wakanda is an idealized African nation full of jungles, minerals, and lacking poverty.  It is quaint.  It never had to fight a bloody war of independence against Portugal or France.  It has a monarchy.  Color blind Africa is just like us!    No pesky AIDs or legacies of colonialism.  Well, it has survived by extreme isolationism to protect its secrets and avoid the plunder of its valuable vibranium.  So, if you read between the lines perhaps it is not untouched by European power.

Thought Three: Cold War Cool

I liked the stronger Cold War themes in the film. To clarify, I am a Trotskyist, which means I am a critic of the Soviet Union. It is considered a degenerated worker state. Still, I have a soft spot for the USSR. The movie has a scene that takes place in December, 1991. My attention was glued to the screen and I was flooded with bittersweet feelings about the end of the USSR. It is Winter Soldiers final mission for the USSR/Hydra. The movie is ambiguous about the relationship between the USSR and Hydra. In this mission, Winter Soldier kills Tony Stark’s parents! He steals a serum from them so that more super soldiers can be made. The soldiers remain in a frozen state in Siberia. It is assumed that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the program was forgotten. Still, it is a nice story line and one that I have used in my own books (that I have not released to the public). It captures my imagination. It is eerie when Winter Soldier falls under the control of some handler when a sequence of Russian words are spoken. Plus, he is a cool character. A metal arm with a red star on it! Awesome!


Winter Soldier is so interesting. Although this is not part of his Marvel cinematic universe identity, he represents Stalinism to me. So, this Stalinist super soldier killed the billionaire parents of Tony Stark. That is a pretty big blow to capitalism, at least on the level of individuals. Like the degenerated worker state, he is brain damaged. To subdue his free will, he must undergo terrible mental control and torture. This is all in the interest of fighting for the USSR and fighting Captain America. The bureaucratic and nightmarish state was an outcome of war and survival. Trotsky predicted that the USSR would either have a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucratic caste or that the USSR would return to capitalism. Winter Soldier in the film is a Cold War relic that can’t shake off the past. He can’t return to being Bucky Barnes, an American and patriot. Instead, he chooses to freeze his body in the end, so that he can avoid harming others. Perhaps legacies of the Cold War are not easily overcome. At the very least, the United States continues to have an adversarial relationship with Russia. Russia has a weak capitalist economy, but punches above its weight when it comes to foreign policy. So, it remains a villain as it refuses to be relegated to the periphery of nations.


I also like the relationship between Captain America and Winter Soldier. Captain America is a dedicated friend. The movie is not really about holding super heroes accountable, but about friendship. Captain America almost kills Iron Man over Winter Soldier. So, in this way there is real love conveyed in the relationship. Captain America knew all the bad things that Winter Soldier had done, but forgave him and risked his life to protect him. The love between men in the Marvel movies is always more compelling than the love between men and women. I felt that the love was sort of like Thor and Loki’s brotherly love. They are two men who are on opposite sides of a fight, or at least should be. I also think because the characters are portrayed as equals or near equals, it is easier to be moved by their friendship. I don’t feel touched by the relationships between Thor and Jane or Captain America and Agent Carter. These relationships are boring and expected. Of course, despite the closeness, heteronormativity is protected through banter wherein Captain America remembers a time wherein Winter Soldier spent all their money on a red headed woman at the fair. Winter Soldier also nods in support of Captain America’s kiss with Agent Carter. Nope, nothing queer here. Just a lot of attractive guys hanging out, being fit, having close friendships, and keeping female characters busy doing other things. Granted, I don’t really want to “ship” any characters. I wouldn’t mind more variety in sexualities and genders. I would also like it if women could have such compelling relationships with men or with each other.


Conclusions:

Really, I liked the movie.

It gave me plenty to think about and it was entertaining. I would say that it was the best Captain America movie and one of the best in the franchise. The stakes felt higher. The villain was not an overpowered robot or god, but a frustrated human being. There were several times wherein I was surprised by a turn of events. Instead of good versus evil, the boundaries were blurry. Because of the large cast of heroes, it certainly felt like an Avengers movie. The movie was much more emotional. For me, in a way it felt more like the Illiad than Antman. There are deep friendships and possible deaths. Like the Greek tale, it really was about the relationships between men, with little attention to female characters. In a way, to me this shows me how hard it is to imagine deep relationships between men and women. Women aren’t comrades to men. Black Widow is a friend, but a femme fetale who can’t be trusted. Scarlet Witch is a girlfriend to Vision. Agent Carter is a cheerleader.

Thankfully, I am a communist…so I get to be a comrade by default.

 

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Brainy Scarecrow Halloween Costume

 

While shopping at Savers I found the perfect hat.  It appears to be made from a burlap rice bag, perhaps from India or Bangladesh.  I knew I had to have it and this would be the foundation of my Halloween costume: a scarecrow.

Scarecrows are a bit overdone, so I decided that I would be a Brainy Scarecrow.  My reasoning is that there is this awful stereotype that scarecrows are brainless.  Like many stereotypes, this has been reinforced by the media, namely, The Wizard of Oz.  So, I sought to present scarecrows in a different light.

So, the costume consists of a plaid shirt, the aforementioned hat, a craft crow that I found at Michaels, overalls, and a scarf.  To make the costume more brainy, I am wearing glasses from a nerd costume and carrying a calculator, pens, and pencils.

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What does a brainy scarecrow do?  Well, they enjoy reading.  This is me reading a brochure about composting.  The environment and green living are probably very important to brainy scarecrows, as they spend so much time in fields and gardens (when not in libraries and classrooms).

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Brainy scarecrows also have a complicated relationship with crows.  The purpose of scaring crows is to protect crops, but crows are intelligent, beautiful birds that should not be starved or frightened.  So, brainy scarecrows appreciate and study crows as their comrades of the field.  After all, scarecrows are put into the fields by farmers and never paid for their labor nor allowed to benefit from the farming enterprise (but for the hats and overalls they are given to wear).

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Brainy scarecrows are often critical of capitalism.  Thus, here is my hammer and sickle Jack-o-Lantern.

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Brainy scarecrows are also critical of patriarchy and don’t believe that reproductive choice is scary.  They are wiling to raise their voice in support of women and won’t tolerate any “staw man” arguments that we want legalized murder.

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