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COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

Covid 19 and Domestic Violence

a version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/03/26/covid-19-and-domestic-violence/

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

H. Bradford

Posted 04/04/20

Written: 03/26/20


Twenty one states have enacted stay at home orders which will take effect by Friday, March 27 th. By the end of the week, half of the population of  the United States will be ordered to stay at home. Even without state directives, everyone should stay at home to slow the spread of Covid 19. Unfortunately, this critical public health measure will exacerbate the problem of domestic violence as victims are confined at home with their abusers and face fewer resources to ensure their safety. Domestic violence is itself an epidemic, as according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, ten million people are abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. each year. One in four women and one in nine men have experienced either severe intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or stalking. In the face of this crisis, the needs of survivors will go unmet as Covid-19 continues to lay bare capitalism’s deadly failure to provide for human needs.


In response to the pandemic, The National Domestic Violence Hotline has created a fact sheet on how Covid-19 impacts survivors of domestic violence. The fact sheet warns that abusers may use the crisis to exert power and control in their relations. This could be done a number of ways, such as withholding items like sanitizer and disinfectants. Abusers may cancel insurance, hide insurance cards, or prevent a survivor from accessing medical attention. They may share misinformation to control a victim through fear and deception. Beyond the behaviors of abusers, services to survivors may be increasingly limited and survivors may fear seeking shelter because it is a communal living space. Travel restrictions make it harder for survivors to escape. In addition to the information outlined by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, abusers may feign illness to garner sympathy and lure victims back to them. The economic prospects of increased unemployment and limited housing due to the crisis will make it harder for victims to leave. The cancelation of schools and closure of daycare centers creates a barrier for victims trying to leave with their children, who are at home with both them and their abuser.         


The impact of Covid-19 on domestic violence has already been felt in China. According to the New York Times, China has reported more domestic violence during the COVID-19 outbreak. Chinese anti-violence advocate Wan Fei noted that reports of domestic violence doubled during the lockdown. Under Blue Sky, an anti-domestic violence non-profit in Lijiang Province disclosed that reports of domestic violence had tripled during the month of February. In January, a woman from Guangdong province in China was told by authorities that she could not leave her village after she had sustained life threatening injuries in a domestic violence incident.She disobeyed their orders, walking for hours on foot with her children until she reached safety with family members. In another incident, a 42 year old Chinese woman committed suicide by jumping out of the 11th floor of her apartment building while quaratined with her abusive husband in Shanxi province. To counter domestic violence, some women have posted signs in their community urging others not to be bystanders. The hashtag #AntiDomesticViolenceDuringEpidemic on the Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo has also been an online initiative to raise awareness about the issue.


Across the United States, there are already widespread accounts of increased instances of domestic violence. Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center (DVCAC) in Cleveland, OH reported to News 5 Cleveland that calls to their hotline were recently up 30%. Melissa Graves, the CEO of DVCAC, reported that these calls often happened during the day while abusers are at work, but with expanded layoffs and stay at home orders, victims will not have the privacy necessary to seek help. Emmy Ritter, the director of Raphael House in Portland, OR reported to KGW8 News that there was increased call volume and more calls from survivors seeking hygiene products and food. These basic items are necessary to survivors who are struggling to rebuild their lives after fleeing violence. Salt Lake City police reported increased domestic violence calls over the last two weeks. Likewise, Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton, VA reported an increased number of calls in the last two weeks. Tasha Menacker of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual Violence expressed to the Phoenex New Times that her agency had seen increased call volume, but that other agencies in Arizona had experienced a decrease in calls. She attributed this disparity to the increased difficulty that some survivors might have finding the privacy to make calls. To reach out to domestic violence services, survivors must be able to text, email, or call for help. Shelter in place orders, social distancing practices, quarantines, and increased unemployment curtail the privacy necessary to escape abusive situations and cut victims off from social networks that may be able to assist them or intervene on their behalf. Thus, victims are likely to be at home with their abuser for longer periods of time and are at the same time more isolated from the help they need.


The problem of domestic violence is deepened by the atomization of communities into individual households during stay at home orders. Anti-carceral feminists have sought to develop community responses to domestic violence which do not involve police and prisons, such as creating support networks, staying with victims in their home, providing housing and mutual aid, and self-defense strategies. Orders to shelter in place make it harder to connect with victims as neighbors, friends, family members, and activists. This isolation leaves survivors with fewer options outside of police responses, which can be violent and abusive towards racial minorities, chronically homeless, people with disabilities, and the poor. Because of the risk of Covid-19 in prisons, police response to domestic violence punish perpetrators with the prospect of death and illness. Anti-carceral feminists are challenged with the task of developing ways to connect with and offer alternatives to policing in the face of social distancing. Posters and social media, like the efforts made in China, are one solution, but more is needed.    


While the private sphere becomes increasingly atomized, domestic violence shelters are generally considered essential services. This means that in the event of stay at home orders or a lockdown, shelters remain open. It is vital that shelters remain open, as they are one of the few resources that survivors and victims have during this crisis. However, like other essential services, this puts shelter staff at risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19. Shelters are often communal spaces where diseases are easily spread due to cramped conditions, the challenges of maintaining sanitary conditions, and lowered immunity from stress. Shelters must remain open, but shelter staff should receive hazard pay for their work. Shelter staff should also have access to the protective equipment necessary for cleaning the shelter and assisting sick residents. Gloves, thermometers, masks, and cleaning supplies are in short supply due to the needs of medical institutions. Other necessary supplies include tylenol, diapers, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, food, and other items, some of which have become scarce as they are hoarded by fearful shoppers. A social response to fighting Covid-19 should include making certain that these necessary supplies are distributed to shelters. Shelters themselves should be expanded by making use of empty hotels, dormitories, or empty houses, so that conditions are not as crowded, sick residents can be properly quarantined, and the increased demand for shelter space can be met.  


Whereas shelters are essential services, many other services provided by domestic violence agencies are not considered essential. Visitation centers, legal assistance, support groups, and educational programs may not be deemed essential nor safe. Workers in these areas face job loss and clients who need these services are cut off. By expanding the capacity of shelters through the opening of additional facilities, some of these workers may be able to continue their work. The need for safe staffing levels at existing shelters as staff become ill also creates a need for more workers. This potentially increases the number of workers who are exposed to Covid-19, but required to ensure necessary services. At the same time, funding is required to make certain that shelters, hotlines, and other services can continue to operate. Domestic violence resources rely on a variety of funding sources, including grants and private donations. Services which rely on fundraisers and donations may lose funding due to cancelled events. In Dane County, WI, the county government gave Domestic Abuse Intervention Services $58,000 so they could continue to operate during the Covid-19 crisis after they had to cancel a fundraiser. That amount was only enough for the Dane County shelter to operate for two more months. Fundraisers themselves may become less able to support domestic violence services as donors face financial strain in a spiraling economy. Rather than bailing out corporations, public services which have been shuttled away from government provisions to the non-profit and private sector should be fully funded.


Survivors need safe places such as shelters to meet their immediate needs, but they also need the means to rebuild their lives. The mass unemployment arising from the outbreak will make jobs scarce. Landlords may be reluctant to take on new tenants if they know that rent and evictions are suspended. Survivors need the means to rebuild their lives, which means expanding social programs and public housing. Financial abuse is one of the many ways that abusers exert power and control in their relationship. Survivors may not have access to money, their own bank account, or control over financial decisions. The overall economic inequality of women makes it harder for them to leave in the first place, as their abusive relationship may provide them with economic security.  Paid maternity leave, free and safe abortion on demand, guaranteed housing, universal health care, free and extensive day care, free education from pre-school to Ph.d, are necessary to empower women. Extending these rights to women will go a long way to mitigate the power and control abusers have over them, but also the power and control that capitalist society has over them.


Covid-19 presents an unprecedented challenge to activists and advocates against domestic violence. In the interest of public health, billions of people around the world are relegated to their individual households. For those who are homeless or incarcerated, this creates enormous barriers as they lack a safe place to physically distance themselves. For victims of domestic violence who find themselves locked down with an abuser, it can be a death sentence. Response to the pandemic has relied upon the social arrangement of private households, but this is not a safe place for many nor a place that is accessible to all. It is a sphere wherein women have been tasked with the unpaid reproductive labor of capitalism. Domestic violence has historically been viewed as a private matter to be resolved within families or between couples, rather than a social problem. As such, individual households have been and continue to be the hidden arena for all manner of horrors against women. The inequality of women and the violence against them enforces their economic role in the household to sustain capitalism. Considering that the Covid-19 pandemic may last for months, come in waves, and is unlikely to be the last pandemic wrought and exacerbated by capitalism, the question of how to keep people safe during a pandemic without worsening the oppression of women requires deep consideration. For now, keeping shelters open and safe, providing for staff and survivors alike, developing alternatives to policing, building communities in the face of social distancing, and putting demands on the state for increased social provisioning are some of the things that can be done to tackle the epidemic of domestic violence in the context of a pandemic.                     

Galapagos Oil Spill: Another Day, Another Disaster

Galapagos Oil Spill_ Another DAy, Another Disaster


Galapagos Oil Spill: Another Day, Another Disaster


Heather Bradford 

12/27/19

A version of this article can be found at:  https://socialistresurgence.org/2019/12/27/galapagos-oil-spill-another-day-another-disaster/


On Sunday December 22nd, a barge containing 600 gallons of diesel capsized in the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos Islands, which are a UNESCO World Heritage site, are known for their endemism, with 80% of birds, 97% of reptiles, and 30% of the plants found only on the islands.   This unique wildlife includes several species of Galapagos tortoises, lava lizards, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, and several species of Darwin’s finches. The specially adapted wildlife of the islands inspired Darwin’s thoughts on evolution. Because of its important place in the history of science, the fragility of its ecosystems, and exceptional biodiversity, even a relatively small oil spill warrants attention and concern.


The diesel spill occurred at the La Predial dock of San Cristobal Island.  San Cristobal is the easternmost of the Galapagos Islands and was the first island visited by Charles Darwin in 1835. During the Sunday incident, a crane that was loading a barge with cargo containing an electricity generator suddenly toppled over. In a dramatic video of the event, the crane fell into the water upon the barge, sending the cargo into the Pacific Ocean and capsizing the craft.  Several workers jumped into the water to escape the sinking barge. The barge, named Orca, was meant to transport the generator to Isabela Island, the largest island in the archipelago. Orca was used to ferry supplies and fuel from mainland Ecuador to the islands and was carrying 600 gallons of diesel when it overturned. Orca previously sank in February 2018 in the Guayas River due to a weight imbalance.


It is unknown how much of the 600 gallons of diesel escaped the vessel. The Ecuadorian Navy quickly moved to contain the spill by placing absorbent cloth and protective barriers in the water and President Lenin Moreno declared the situation under control via Twitter on Monday, December 23rd. The ecological impact is being assessed by the environmental ministry, but according to an article in Vice, oil can damage the salt glands of sea turtles, enlarge the livers of fish, and becomes ingested by birds as they preen. A local advocacy group, SOS Galapagos, warned that spilled fuel would reach nearby Mann Beach, a popular public beach in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos and population center of San Cristobal. They also called for the illegal and dangerous operations to be moved elsewhere.

Dec. 2019 Galapagos 2 (Heather)

An image of San Cristobal Island


It is not the first time that an oil spill has occurred on the Galapagos. In 2001, an oil tanker named Jessica ran aground off of San Cristobal Island, sending over 150,000 gallons of fuel into the ocean. According to research conducted by Princeton biologist Martin Wikelski, within a year, over 15,000 Marine Iguanas, constituting 62% of nearby Santa Fe Island population, perished.  In a typical year, the mortality rate is 2 to 7%. Marine Iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos and sensitive to even small spills. This may be due to the fact that the previous spill killed the bacteria that aided in the iguanas in their digestion. Dead iguanas were found to have algae, their primary food source, in their stomachs, but starved because they could not digest it. Galapagos National Park sued PetroEcuador for $14 million in damages for the disaster.


Dec. 2019 Lizard 2

Marine Iguana


In another incident, a cargo ship carrying over 15,400 gallons of diesel became stranded off the coast of San Cristobal Island.  The Ecuadorian freighter, Galapaface I, had its 46 tanks of oil it was carrying unloaded and was drained of its fuel to avoid a disastrous leakage. The ship remained stranded for two months until it could be towed 20 miles away, then sunk in an area where it was deemed to have less ecological impact.  In 2015, a cargo ship named Floreana also ran aground near San Cristobal. Fuel and 300 tons cargo were unloaded, which prevented any major ecological impacts from occurring. Thankfully both incidents were not major disasters.


It is fortunate that no workers on the Orca were seriously injured and perhaps the impact on wildlife can be mitigated by early efforts to contain the spill, but the fact that the barge previously sank calls into question the safety of the workers and the integrity of the vessel in the first place. According to the Maritime Herald, the Orca previously sank in February 2018 at the Caraguay dock in Guayaquil, when it was being loaded with asphalt to take to the Galapagos. Protective barriers were erected to prevent the spread of fuel into the Guayas River. A 25 year old worker named Juan Jose C. was trapped inside of the overturned barge. It is uncertain what transpired between the February 2018 incident and more recent capsizing of the Orca.


Almost 87% of the cargo sent to the Galapagos arrives by sea since it is the least expensive means of transporting goods. Since only two of the islands have airports, maritime transport is a structural and geographic necessity. A 2010 report by the Governing Council of Galapagos cited several problems with maritime transport. Problems relevant to incident include the small and aging fleet of cargo ships utilized by the islands and the fact that docks in the Galapagos are multi-use, serving fishing, fueling, and inter island transport. Of course, maritime shipping within capitalism has some inherent risks, such as the introduction of invasive species through ballast water, dumping of sewage and waste, air pollution of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, and accidental spills. These risks could be reduced, but the profit motive incentivizes externalities such as pollution, oil spills, and shoddy waste management. Nearly all cargo ships use diesel engines and diesel generators for electricity, though the industry itself accounts for 2-3% of annual CO2 emissions. While it may be possible that some shipping could switch to zero emissions technology, such as hydrogen fuel cells or electric batteries, as some small research vessels have, technology cannot solve the fundamental flaws of capitalism. In the case of hydrogen fuel cells, this could increase ozone depletion and electric batteries rely on conflict ridden rare earth minerals and cobalt. Alternative fuels also exist within capitalism, the existence of which is predicated upon war and the drive towards the lowest wages. The Galapagos Islands have more environmental regulations than most places, but they still exist within a capitalist framework which relies upon fossil fuels, hazardous working conditions, and a drive for less oversight and regulation. Because of this combination, the islands, as protected as they are, can never truly be sheltered from ecological disaster, because this is the inevitable outcome of capitalism.


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


Each day brings news of the endless stream of horrors inflicted upon the planet by fossil fuel driven capitalism. From wildfires and scorching heat in Australia to this year’s ravaging high temperatures in the Arctic, there isn’t anywhere in the world untouched by the impact of capitalism’s catastrophic dependency on fossil fuels. The recent diesel spill in the Galapagos Islands is one of the myriad of daily reminders of the dire need to end capitalism and build a planned socialist economy based upon renewable resources.


Image may contain: outdoor and water

Always a Man

Always a Man

Always a Man

H. Bradford

10.27.19


There’s always a man


On the corner by the clinic


Telling women what’s what with their bodies.


He cries about the babies,

The babies being killed in the baby killing factory

and how the remains get made into the chicken nuggets served in public school lunches.


Or at least that’s what it sounds like to me,

Since I’m about as sentimental as an old shoe

and as nurturing as an acid oasis.

And he doesn’t speak my language.



His language is the language of old men.

The language of burning witches

and marrying off little girls to old men like him.

It is the tongue of ten thousand years of silencing.

Ten thousand years of raping.

Ten thousand years of telling what’s what with women’s bodies.



There’s always a man on the sky,

telling the man on the corner what’s what

In a conversation that other men began long ago

In a language I don’t speak,

but always translates to

power over women.

And I won’t hear of it.


 

 

 

 

 

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

Joker through the lens of Violence against women

Joker through the Lens of Violence against Women

H. Bradford

10/26/19


October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  This month also saw the release of Joker, a film which had a controversial release due to fears that it would incite violence.  The film is the story of how Arthur Fleck, a solitary, impoverished man with mental illness, becomes the infamous Batman villain.  Joker centers on the experiences of the titular character, whose perceptions and narrative are unreliable.  The movie focuses on the perspective of a violent male and one that the sidelines experiences of the women around him.  The violence against several female characters in the film as well as Arthur’s own experience of domestic violence warrants attention because the film, like the character, is politically neutral on this violence.  Even the concerns that the film would inspire violence were gender neutral, as the type of violence feared was mass shootings rather than the everyday violence that occurs in households and in relationships.  There was no mass panic that a film would inspire this sort of violence, as it is beyond the cognitive horizon of most people to care.  Of course, mass shootings are themselves often carried out by men with a history of domestic violence and misogynistic attitudes.  In this way, the film offers some lessons about the ways in which violence against women continues to be normal, invisible, and misunderstood, as well as its place in capitalist patriarchy.


Domestic violence includes such things as physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse, along with stalking and coercion.  The word generally applies to violence which occurs between intimate partners, but can also include violence in familial relationships, such as against children, parents, siblings, and elderly family members.  While the factors that cause this violence are complicated, a popular feminist theory is Power-Control theory, which originated with the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota during the 1980s.  Through discussions with survivors of domestic violence, the Power and Control Wheel was developed based on patterns and themes in their experiences.  This is a widely used tool for identifying the ways that power and control are exerted by abusers.  Power-Control Theory posits that abuse is the outcome of the abuser’s desire to maintain power and control in their relationship(s).  While this began by examining the dynamics between individuals, it has been expanded to examine the ways that male power and control are maintained within patriarchy as a whole (Evolution of Theories of Violence, 2015).  Within patriarchy, men have had the lion’s share of power and control in society.  Control over women is expected and violence enforces their subservience.  Women and children are particularly vulnerable to violence because of their inequality in economic, political, and social status.  From a socialist perspective, violence against women can be understood as a means to enforce patriarchy, which historically hinged on the transmission of property from father to son and the fact that women themselves have been treated as property.  Violence enforces gender roles and a gendered division of labor.  Within capitalism, the lesser status of women and their economic dependence upon men, helps to extract their unpaid labor.  As such, prior to the efforts of the feminist movement, domestic violence was viewed as private problem within individual families rather than a social problem symptomatic of women’s place within patriarchy.  Today, one in three women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime and 95% of the victims of domestic violence are women.


The film is set in Gotham, a fictional city torn apart by class tensions, an infestation of rats, cuts to social programs, and crime.  It is against this backdrop that Arthur Fleck, a white male in his 30s, tries to eke out a living for himself and his mother, who exist on the edge of the working class.  Along the way, Arthur becomes increasingly violent and through violence, becomes self-actualized as the vengeful, confident, smiling, and dancing Joker.  Arthur Fleck is immediately depicted as having little power and control in his life.  Early in the film, he is attacked by youth while working as a clown.  His employment itself lacks control as is based on the tenuous availability of clowning gigs and as his coworkers and employer are unaccepting of him.  He lives with his mother, Penny, who is the dominant figure in his socially isolated life, and dependent upon him for income and care.  To make matters worse, the medications that Arthur uses to try to control the symptoms of his mental illness become unavailable to him after social services are cut in the city.  Rats and the amassing garbage left uncollected due to a sanitation worker strike, create an atmosphere wherein the entire city seems out of control of patriarchal capitalist power.  As a malnourished, eccentric, mentally unstable, outsider living with his mother and barely getting by, Arthur isn’t privy to much of the power and control that other white males enjoy.  After sustaining a beating, Arthur’s coworker lends him a gun, which he is at first reluctant to take, but quickly becomes the key to accessing the power he has been exiled from.


A turning point in the film is when Arthur uses his gun against a group of young, wealthy white men who attack him on the subway.  Prior to the murder, the young investors are shown talking about a woman, then go on to harass a woman who is riding alone on the subway.  When she ignores them, food is thrown at her and she is verbally accosted.  She is called a bitch when she gets up and leaves.  This is a relatable scene, as 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime (Chatterjee, 2018).  The trio of men themselves are a patriarchal trope.  They are Brock Turner, Jacob Walter Anderson, or young Brett Kavanagh.  They are the kind of guys that wear black face at Halloween parties, bullied kids in high school, rape women in college, excel at sports, and probably get called Chads by Incels.  They are smug masters of the universe.  The woman’s escape is made possible by Arthur, who has a condition which causes uncontrolled laughing.  This draws attention away from the woman, but in turn, causes him to be beaten for laughing at them and then defending himself.  He kills two of the men as they beat him, but pursues the third after he flees.


The trio of murdered men work for Thomas Wayne, the father of Bruce Wayne.  Thomas Wayne represents the pinnacle of patriarchal capitalist power in the film.  He is a wealthy, robust, white, heterosexual, father who is running for mayor because only he can take control of the city.  When Wayne decries the murders of such bright, talented young men and calls the poor of the city “clowns,” his insult launches a movement of clown masked demonstrators who protest the wealth gap in the city.  Arthur becomes emboldened by the murders and the movement it sparked, but remains on his individualistic, anti-social path of violence rather than joining the movement.  This path culminates in the Joker’s live TV murder of Murray Franklin, a popular talk show host and icon of patriarchal power in the form of celebrity, self-assurance, wealth, and bullying.  Both Thomas Wayne and Murray Franklin are fallen father figures to Arthur Fleck, who lose their esteem in his mind as he loses his mind and violently take control of his life.  Along the way, several female characters are casualties in his brutal metamorphosis.


The first casualty is his mother, Penny.  Arthur’s relationship with his mother has unhealthy elements.  Although she is mobile, he baths her, and although she is capable of dancing, he cuts her food for her.  They also share the same bed.  The nature of her health needs are not specified, but the depiction of their relationship is strongly suggested to be codependent.  Penny is portrayed as incapable of meeting her own needs and those of her son’s.  She is verbally and emotionally abusive, as she shoots down Arthur’s idea of becoming a comedian by telling him that he isn’t funny and shows complete indifference to him when he says he went on a date.  His experiences and needs are secondary to her obsession with Thomas Wayne, who she believes will lift them out of poverty.  When Arthur discovers that Thomas Wayne may be his father, she fears he will kill her because she kept this secret.  He eventually kills her after discovering that he is not Thomas Wayne’s son and that she spent time at Arkham Asylum because of her role in the abuse he experienced as a child.  In searching for the truth of his parentage, Arthur learns from an asylum employee that his mother’s boyfriend chained him to radiator, beat him, and starved him when he was a child.  Upon learning this, he smothers her in her hospital bed.


Throughout the film, Arthur suffers from uncontrollable laughter, which is attributed to a brain injury.  This history of abuse is used to explain where this condition originated, as well as give insight to some of his other behaviors.  In 60-75 percent of families where a woman is battered, children are also battered.  Children are 15 times more likely than the national average to be neglected and physically abused in families experiencing domestic violence.  Exposure to domestic violence can impact children in a number of ways, including increased aggression, depression, lowered independence, social withdrawal, reduced social competence (Rakovec-Felser, 2014).  All of these are characteristics that Arthur displays throughout the movie.


When confronted with her son’s abuse, Penny says she didn’t know he was hurt.  She is charged with criminal neglect and sent to Arkham Asylum.  It is not known what happened to her abuser.  Although the film is not clearly focused on this matter, Penny is a victim of domestic violence.  The narrative focuses more on her failure as a mother to protect her son from abuse, but both characters are victims.  The blaming narrative of the film implies that Penny is at fault for failure to protect her son, which begs the question, “why did she stay?”  Why did she stay if her boyfriend was abusing her son? Why did she allow it to happen?   This blaming narrative is very real.  For instance, Ingrid Archie is a real life example of a California woman who fled domestic violence, but had her children taken away and was charged with failure to protect, even though she obtained a restraining order and went to a shelter (Albaladejo, 2019).  Arlena Lindley, was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her boyfriend killed her three year old son.  A witness testified that her boyfriend had threatened to kill her if she intervened and that when she tried to escape with her son, she was dragged back inside the home.  In another case, Robert Braxton Jr. was sentenced to two years for breaking the ribs and femur of a three month old infant.  Tondalo Hall, the infant’s mother, for whom there was no evidence that she had abused the child, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for failure to protect her baby (Banner, 2015).


There are many reasons why women remain in abusive relationships, even when their children are abused.  Fictional Gotham, like the real world, has substandard housing and a lack of social services, making it likely that if she left, she would have been homeless with her son.  The setting of the film is the late 1970s or early 1980s, which was before domestic violence shelters and community responses to domestic violence were well established.  The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when the victim leaves, so leaving might have further endangered them both.  Statistically, women have a 75% higher chance of being killed if they leave than if they stay (Banner, 2015).  Some women fear that their abuser will report them to social services and they will lose their children, which also causes them to stay.  Since failure to protect laws have punished women who have fled domestic violence, this is not an unfounded fear.  Abusive relationships are based on power and control, she may have felt powerless to leave or incapable of living independent of her abuser.  It is possible that she was prevented from leaving.  Whatever the case, Arthur clearly blames her for the abuse, which is not an uncommon response for children to have.  The blame took on its own fatally abusive character when he murdered her.  In the arc of the story, this was done for revenge over the abuse but also as part of his letting go of his life as someone controlled by his mother’s needs.  Rather than remain the care giving, weak, traumatized, and abused son, the murder ushers him deeper into a toxic masculinity wherein he has the power to inflict abuse.


As a final observation about Penny, the character may also have been abused by Thomas Wayne while she was employed by him.  Although there is no direct evidence of abuse, he could have certainly abused his power to silence her and as her employer, would have had immense power over her very livelihood.  Her mental health struggles and dependence upon him for her livelihood renders the relationship far from equal and consensual.  Wayne denies that they had an affair, though Penny tells her son that he made her sign paperwork to cover up the truth.  Arthur discovers his adoption certificate, which seems to support Wayne’s claim that she is delusional.  But in a flashback, Penny again claims that it was drawn up by Wayne.  Both Wayne and Alfred, the butler, insist that she is mentally ill.   While all evidence seems to indicate that this is true, Arthur later discovers a photograph with a message from Wayne on it.  Although he may not have physically abused her, he is able to exert patriarchal power over her without having to resort to violence.  Penny does not need to be beaten or killed to keep quiet, she only needs to be delegitimize.  By calling her crazy, her claims to reality are called into question.  It is an attempt to gaslight her memories and beliefs about the relationship, even though she retains the claim that they were together.  It is clear in the film that she experiences mental illness, but this could be either an outcome of abuse she experienced, a factor that made her more vulnerable to abuse, or both.  Women who experience domestic violence are three times more likely to develop serious mental illness.  Survivors of domestic violence are also three times as likely to have a history of mental illness such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia (Dyson, 2019).


The second victim of domestic violence is Sophie Dumond, Arthur’s neighbor and imagined love interest.  Even before he murders anyone, Arthur begins stalking Sophie and imagines that they are in a relationship.  In this imagined relationship, he has perfect control over her, as she laughs at his jokes, is never threatened by his eccentricities, supports the murders of the men on the subway, and offers comfort when his mother is hospitalized.  After the murders on the subway, he kisses her, as his sexual confidence was bolstered by violence.  The kiss never happened, along with the many other scenes.  This is revealed when he enters her apartment, begins touching her belongings, and sits on her sofa.  She is terrified that he has entered the apartment.  The outcome of this encounter is never depicted on screen, but her character is never seen or mentioned again.  It is easy to read this omission as she was murdered or sexually assaulted.  Certainly, by stalking her, entering her apartment, handling her belongings, and creating a fictional romance with her, Arthur behaves in a way that shows entitlement to her personal space, privacy, safety, and body.  Glimpses at his journal reveal disembodied and altered images of naked women and sexual scenes.  Again, this points to an unhealthy, sexual, and violent imagining of women.


Another woman in the film who is murdered by Arthur is an unnamed therapist.  At the end of the film, he is seen walking out of her office with blood on his shoes.  The fate of both Black characters is left up to the imagination, but statistically, Black women experience a higher risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.  In the United States, 20% of Black women have been raped and 40% have experienced domestic violence.  Black women are also two and a half times more likely than white women to be murdered by a man and 9 out 10 victims knew their murderer (Green, 2017).  It is also important to point out the racial dynamics of a white male perpetrator murdering at least one Black woman and perhaps murdering or sexually assaulting another.  Arthur attempts to exert control over Black women several times in the film, such as when he tries to verbally defend himself against a Black mother when he talks to her child, when he chides his Black social worker for not listening to him, through his imagined romance with Sophie, and through the murder of his therapist.  Angela Davis argued that violence by white men, especially sexual violence, was used to control Black women during slavery.  Their bodies and sexuality were the property of white men.  Sexual assault was used by the KKK as a weapon of terror against Black women. During the Civil Rights movement, white police officers raped Black activists they had arrested (Davis, 1990).  Black women are killed at higher rates than any other group of women.  Yet, Black women are seldom viewed as victims. Violence against Black women continues to be ignored and Black women blamed because they are viewed as violent, sexual, less innocent, their lives less valuable, or somehow deserving of their victimization.   When they defend themselves against violence, they find themselves punished by the criminal justice system, such as CeCe McDonald, Cyntonia Brown, and Alexis Martin (Finoh and Sankofa, 2019).


The violence inflicted upon women in the film goes without police or community response, though police response is often met with blaming, disbelief, or threats of violence and incarceration from the state itself.   Police themselves are often abusers, as 40% of police families report domestic violence, which is four times more than the general population (Police Family Violence Fact Sheet, n.d.).  Two incidents of violence against women occur off screen, whereas violence against men in the film is used to shock the viewer and drive the narrative.  As a whole, women are ancillary to the film.  They are not prominently depicted among the protestors, the violence against them goes unnoticed, several of their roles are unnamed characters, one role primarily exists in Arthur’s mind, and none of them are shown making it out of the movie alive.  Violence against women is canon, as in other iterations of the Joker, the character has raped Barbara Gordon and has an abusive relationship with Harley Quinn (Dockterman, 2019).  Gotham is a world of men and Joker is story of a beaten down male, beating down powerful men.  But, it is also a story of violence against Black women, domestic violence, narratives that blame mothers for their abuser’s actions, the intersections of mental health and victimization, and the continued normalcy of violent masculinity.


The universe of Batman is always a story about capitalism.  The hero, Bruce Wayne, is a capitalist who fights bad guys in the form of villains with mental illness.  He does this with the help of the militarized Gotham police force.  To side with the hero is to side with the ruling class and its enforcers against the dangerous elements of the lumpenproletariat.  Joker takes place before the advent of the central hero or the militarization of the police. If there is a central message of the film, it is that capitalism creates villains. If there is an argument, it is that austerity and trauma begets violence. Through the narrative of the film, Arthur Fleck’s violence can be attributed to childhood trauma, unmet mental health needs, social instability, isolation, and unchallenged misogyny.  But, the film says little about how this impacts women.  This part of the narrative is truncated. Capitalism may indeed create some villains, but it also creates its own grave diggers.  The power of workers and social movements against capitalism is depicted in the form of a sanitation strike and masked protest movement.  These mobilizations must ultimately fail for Batman to rise as the capitalist vigilante who keeps the order of capitalism and patriarchy.  As for the women in the movie, they too fade into Gotham’s eternal night. The dark city swallows their stories. In this way, art mirrors the life of many women.  If there is a feminist message to be drawn from the film, it is the need to Take Back the Night.  Rising above the erasure of capitalists, vigilantes, police, and misogynist villains means doing things that these female characters were unable to do: uniting together, being heard and seen, demanding social provisioning, fighting oppressive narratives of abuse, holding abusers accountable, and creating safety that doesn’t rely on punishing the mentally ill.


Sources:


Albaladejo, A. (2019, October 18). Child Law Penalizes Moms for Abusive Partners. Retrieved from https://capitalandmain.com/child-law-penalizes-moms-for-abusive-partners-10-16?fbclid=IwAR2MyXXcyUclO4IW_NFztLOtUSx8uK2MdjueEbd8jvhx0hIcYmPKfK4RzFk.

Banner, A. (2015, February 3). ‘Failure to Protect’ Laws Punish Victims of Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/do-failure-to-protect-law_b_6237346.

Chatterjee, R. (2018, February 22). A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment.

Davis, A. Y. (1990). Women, culture & politics. Vintage.

Dockterman, E. (2019, October 8). The History of Joker Movies and Character’s Origin Story. Retrieved from https://time.com/5694280/joker-movies-history-origin-story/.

Dyson, T. (2019, June 7). Women suffering domestic abuse have triple the risk of mental illness, study says. Retrieved from https://www.upi.com/Health_News/2019/06/07/Women-suffering-domestic-abuse-have-triple-the-risk-of-mental-illness-study-says/8981559918365/.

Evolution of Theories of Violence. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.stopvaw.org/evolution_of_theories_of_violence.

Finoh, M., & Sankofa, J. (2019, August 22). The Legal System Has Failed Black Girls, Women, and Non-Binary Survivors of Violence. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/blog/racial-justice/race-and-criminal-justice/legal-system-has-failed-black-girls-women-and-non.

Green, S. (2018, August 7). Violence Against Black Women – Many Types, Far-reaching Effects. Retrieved from https://iwpr.org/violence-black-women-many-types-far-reaching-effects/.

Police Family Violence Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://womenandpolicing.com/violencefs.asp.

 

Rakovec-Felser Z. (2014). Domestic Violence and Abuse in Intimate Relationship from Public Health Perspective. Health psychology research, 2(3), 1821. doi:10.4081/hpr.2014.1821

 

The Struggle Against the 40 Days for Life

The Struggle Against the 40 Days for Life

A version of this article appears on Socialist Resurgence: https://socialistresurgence.org/2019/10/23/the-struggle-against-the-40-days-for-life/

The Struggle Against the 40 Days for Life

Heather Bradford

10/21/19


While some people prefer to spend the fall season carving pumpkins, thousands of anti-choice activists across the United States prefer to spend it trying to carve away reproductive rights.  In over 500 cities, from Marietta, Georgia to Bismarck, North Dakota, anti-choice protesters have once again mobilized for the annual fall campaign 40 Days for Life. Beginning September 25th and ending November 3rd, reproductive health clinics are again inundated with demonstrators from dawn until dusk during the 40 day vigil.  In the wake of aggressive abortion restrictions passed last spring and summer and over forty years of attacks on abortion rights, it is critical that pro-choice activists take action against this campaign.        


What is the 40 Days for Life?

For those unfamiliar with these events, the 40 Days for Life is an international campaign which urges participants to use prayer, fasting, education, and vigils to stop abortion.  On the surface, these may sound benign compared to arson, murder, acid attacks, or other less kindly tactics used by the anti-choice movement in the past. Participants must even sign an agreement that they will obey the law and conduct themselves with non-violence.  Nevertheless, these tactics constitute harassment of patients who utilize reproductive health services. If it was truly a matter of religious fasting and prayer, this could be done in the privacy of home or in churches, rather than at hundreds of reproductive health clinics across the country.  While the actions are framed as vigils, these “vigils” are held outside of clinics, sometimes for over twelve hours a day, for the entire forty days. Participants carry signs which say “Pray to End Abortion” and “witness” or engage with staff, patients, and pedestrians. The religious language of vigil obscures the reality that it is a picket and “witnessing” often amounts to harassment.  For instance, at the WE Health Clinic in Duluth, Minnesota a few of these picketers have prayed loudly, played religious music, skirted the property, and entered the physical space of patients and counter protesters. Indeed, it is a movement to end abortion not through the imagined power of the spiritual realm, but in the very real public arena through picketing and marshaling anti-choice activists into action.  While there may be some praying involved, appearing at clinics amounts to preying upon patients.          


The 40 Days for Life initially grew out of anti-choice activism in Texas.  David Bereit, the founder of the group and former pharmaceutical sales representative for Bristol-Myers Squibb, began his activist career organizing against the 1998 expansion of a Planned Parenthood in College Station, Texas.  The Planned Parenthood had operated in College Station for 24 years, but sought to build a stand alone facility to provide abortions. In response to this, Bereit founded the Coalition for Life, which protested the Planned Parenthood on abortion days.  Over the years, he saw decreased engagement in this organizing. Looking for fresh tactics, he envisioned the 40 Days for Life as a shorter, more targeted campaign. Held in the fall of 2004, the first 40 Days for Life recruited 1000 volunteers to picket in the public right away of the College Station Planned Parenthood.  The campaign drew support from local churches and Knights of Columbus, who covered daily shifts from 7 am to 3 pm. The following year, a second 40 Days for Life was launched in Dallas, Texas to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and quickly expanded to Seattle, Houston, and Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Owing to the swift success of the campaign, Bereit went on to work for the American Life League, a national organization opposed to euthanasia, abortion, stem cell research, and all forms of contraceptives.  The first nationally coordinated 40 days for Life began in 2007 in 89 cities and 33 states (Bereit, Carney, and Lambert, 2017). The campaign has since spread to 61 countries, has amassed 1 million participants, is supported to 19,000 churches, and claims to have closed over 104 abortion clinics (Saving lives and ending abortion, 2019)


It is a certainly a bold claim to say they have closed 104 abortion clinics.  But, there has been a precipitous decline in the number of clinics across the country.  For instance, in 1992 Kentucky had eight abortion facilities, but as of 2018 had one. In 1992, Louisiana had 17 abortion facilities and as of 2018 had three.  In Missouri, there were 12 abortion facilities, but in 2018, it was down to one. Many of these closures are due to TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulations of Abortion Facilities.  TRAP laws are among the 1,100 restrictions enacted since Roe v. Wade and target clinics by forcing them to comply with unnecessary regulations such as admitting privileges, minimum room and doorway sizes, and meeting the requirements of ambulatory surgical centers. The Supreme Court struck down TRAP laws in Texas in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (Arons, n.d.).  However, the decision came too late for many clinics.  In 2013, prior to the passage of TRAP Laws under House Bill 2, there were over 40 abortion clinics in Texas. This number was halved by the time the Supreme Court decision was made in 2016 and it is unlikely that many of the clinics will reopen (Ura, Murphy, Daniel, and Carbonell, 2016).  The 40 Days for Life is not specifically related to TRAP laws, but it is part of a continuum of tactics used by the anti-choice movement. With fewer clinics operating across the country, it is easier for anti-choice forces to concentrate their protests on what few remain. The Planned Parenthood that served College Station, where the 40 Days for Life began, itself closed in 2013.  The clinic, along with three other Planned Parenthood clinics, closed their doors the same day Texas governor Rick Perry announced the passage of House Bill 2. However, the clinic cited that loss of funding after the 2011 legislative session was the reason for the closure (Brown, 2013). The closure of the clinic was made more appalling by the fact that the facility subsequently went on to become a crisis pregnancy center called Hope Pregnancy Center and a headquarters for the 40 Days for Life (CCM News, 2015).  Crisis Pregnancy Centers are yet another tactic used by the anti-choice movement. These fake clinics have proliferated across the United States, using the guise of reproductive health care to spread false information and lure abortion seekers away from actual clinics. 


 

The 40 Days for Life Campaign Today


This year in Minnesota, there are seven registered 40 Days for Life campaigns.  The number of campaigns outnumber the actual number abortion clinics in the state, which is five.  According to UnRestrict MN, three of five of these clinics are located within the Minneapolis and St. Paul area (2019).  Wisconsin is hosting seven 40 Days for Life vigils this year, but only has three abortion clinics in the state. Many of these pickets are located at Planned Parenthood clinics, which often do not provide abortions.  For instance, Planned Parenthoods in Mankato, MN and St. Cloud, MN are not abortion providers, but are locations for the 40 Days for Life campaign. The campaign therefore target cancer screening, STI tests, birth control, transgender health services, and other health care.  Make no mistake, they want to end Planned Parenthood. Even communities without reproductive health providers are hosting campaigns. Although Walker, Minnesota has a population less than 1000 and is two hours away from the nearest abortion clinics in either direction, it is home to a 40 Days for Life campaign.  The remote town was even visited by Dr. Haywood Robinson, the director of campaign’s medical affairs and education. Robinson was once an abortion provider, who now describes abortion as genocide and was a founding member of the 40 Days for Life when it first launched in Texas (40 Days For Life’ speaker comes to Walker, 2019).   


The passage of restrictive abortion laws this past year has only increased the numbers of anti-choice protesters at clinics this fall.  The Red River Clinic of Fargo, North Dakota, the only abortion clinic in the state, reported a larger than usual number of protesters during this year’s 40 Days for Life.  Earlier this year, North Dakota passed a law which would require doctors to provide inaccurate information that drug induced abortion can be reversed. A lawsuit against the restriction has been filed by the Red River Clinic and American Medical Association and the law was recently blocked by a federal judge (Hyatt, 2019).  In Alabama, where the Human Life Protection Act was passed in May, protesters have reportedly increased in numbers in the subsequent months. The ban, which sought to make abortion a felony offense for doctors and outlawed abortion even in cases of rape and incest, is being legally challenged by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.  Reproductive Health Services in Montgomery Alabama, one of three clinics in the state, has braced itself for more demonstrators, who have purchased a nearby parking lot for their operations. Their activities include a mobile ultrasound machine called “Life on Wheels,” which offers ultrasounds to abortion seekers in an attempt to sway their decision.  A local pro-choice organization called Power House, provides housing for abortion seekers and escorts them to their appointment by shielding them with an umbrella and navigating the crowds of harassers (Crain, 2019). As a whole, there has been a substantial uptick in anti-choice activities at abortion clinics over the last several years. The number of protesters outside of clinics was 21, 175 in 2015 and by 2018 had risen to 99,409.  Incidents of obstruction at clinics has also increased, from 242 instances in 2015 to 3,038 instances in 2018. One example is Red Rose Rescue, wherein anti-choice activists trespass into health clinics to harass patients under the guise of giving them a red rose. Abortion clinics reported 15,773 instances of internet harassment and hate mail in 2017, which increases to 21, 252 in 2018. Instances of hate mail and phone harassment increased by 1000 since 2015 (National Abortion Federation, 2018).  This increased activity has many causes and no doubt, the election of Donald Trump has emboldened many reactionary elements of society. Further, anti-choice activists may be on the move because their movement has been given new life by their many successes passing abortion restrictions, expanding crisis pregnancy centers, and limiting funding to reproductive health services (such as Planned Parenthood’s loss of Title X funding).     


The Need for a 40 Days for Choice


There are modest, but valiant efforts across the country to counter the 40 Days for Life.  In 2014, the Feminist Justice League in Duluth, Minnesota began counter protesting the 40 Days for Life and have continued this effort each fall, picketing once a week.  The group has also organized “Chalk for Choice” once a week. This event entails creating positive messages and images on the plaza of the Building for Women. The Building for Women is home to the WE Health Clinic, one of the five abortion clinics in Minnesota.  The clinic plays an important role in providing abortion to the northern and central parts of the state as well as Northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Locally, the 40 Days for Choice has grown, as Feminist Action Collective, founded after the election of Donald Trump, has also sponsored a once a week counter protest during the 40 Days for Life.  H.O.T.D.I.S.H. (Hands of the Decision, It’s Healthcare) Militia, an abortion fund also located in Duluth, has also joined the 40 Days for Choice, and last year hosted one night a week of protest and also organizes an abortion fundraiser during the 40 Days. Other Duluth events for the 40 Days for Choice this year included an educational presentation on the constitutional history of reproductive rights, a launch party for the 40 Days for Choice, and an upcoming poetry night that celebrates body autonomy.  University of Minnesota Duluth’s Student Advocates for Choice have also collaborated on community events for the 40 Days for Choice, including participation in the H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia abortion fundraiser and hosting their own protests of the Women’s Care Center, a crisis pregnancy center located across the street from the WE Health Clinic. The statewide UnRestrict Minnesota campaign has sponsored some of these events and sought to involve AFSCME in reproductive rights organizing. The collaboration of multiple groups for the 40 Days for Choice offers an organizing template of what might be possible elsewhere in the country.


Other events are also being organized.  Since 2015, the Guild of Silly Heathens in Missouri has hosted a variety of pro-choice events for a 40 Days for Choice at Planned Parenthood in Columbia, Mo.  Like many Planned Parenthood clinics, the Columbia location does not provide abortions but is still a hot spot for anti-choice protest. The sole abortion provider in Missouri is in St. Louis (Woods, 2018).   Missouri is one of six states with only one abortion clinic, a clinic which was almost closed this past summer in the wake of new restrictions. The Movement for Abortion Defense in Cincinnati, Ohio has also counter protested the 40 Days for Life last spring.  Madison Wisconsin Abortion Defense held a counter protest against the 40 Days for Life last March. Unfortunately, there is no nationally coordinated effort to organize the 40 Days for Life, so these actions are taken by individual groups or small networks of groups in collaboration.


Abortion does not have to be a controversial issue.  It is healthcare that should be available free, readily, safely, on demand, and without stigma.  Beyond healthcare, it is vital to the equality, inclusion and empowerment of women and abortion seekers who are trans and non-binary.   Forced pregnancy is degrading, inhumane, and dangerous. There is a lot of work to be done to fight back against the onslaught of restrictions and barriers that have been passed since Roe v. Wade.  One piece of this work should be a nationally organized campaign against the 40 Days for Life as part of renewed engagement in clinic defense and mass action.  The anti-choice movement is coming out in force and all defenders of reproductive justice rise to the occasion in a time when abortion rights are already barely existent in large swaths of the country.  While this is a movement that has sworn to non-violence tactics, the consequence of illegal abortion is anything but. In a society with widespread sexual assault, domestic violence, economic deprivation, mass incarceration, and marginalization of the oppressed, body autonomy is the leading front in the battleground for liberation.  prochoice


Sources:

Arons, J. (n.d.). The Last Clinics Standing. Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.aclu.org/issues/reproductive-freedom/abortion/last-clinics-standing.

Bereit, D., Carney, S., & Lambert, C. (2017). 40 Days for life: discover what God has done … imagine what He can do. Nashville, TN: Cappella Books. 

Brown, B. (2013, July 19). Planned Parenthood announces closure of Bryan clinic, two others in Texas. Retrieved from https://www.theeagle.com/news/local/planned-parenthood-announces-closure-of-bryan-clinic-two-others-in/article_f5ded327-fe5a-5694-b5e3-35a759a33ef2.html.

CM News. (2015, November 10). Planned Parenthood Facility Repurposed In Bryan, Texas. Retrieved from https://www.ccmmagazine.com/news/planned-parenthood-facility-repurposed-in-bryan-texas/.

Crain, A. (2019, September 25). 40 Days for Life means more protesters outside Alabama abortion clinic. Retrieved from https://www.al.com/news/2019/09/40-days-for-life-means-more-protesters-outside-alabama-abortion-clinic.html.

How many abortion clinics are there in Minnesota? (2019). Retrieved from https://unrestrictmn.org/faq/abortion-facilities-in-minnesota/.

Hyatt, K. (2019, September 25). Protesters gather outside Fargo abortion clinic on start of 40-day campaign. Retrieved from https://www.westfargopioneer.com/news/4678872-Protesters-gather-outside-Fargo-abortion-clinic-on-start-of-40-day-campaign.

National Abortion Federation. (2018). 2018 Anti-Abortion Violence and Disruption Statistics. (pp. 1–10). Retrieved from https://prochoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018-Anti-Abortion-Violence-and-Disruption.pdf

Saving lives & ending abortion. (2019). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://www.40daysforlife.com/about-results.aspx. 

Ura, A., Murphy, R., Daniel, A., & Carbonell, L. (2016, June 28). Here Are the Texas Abortion Clinics That Have Closed Since 2013. Retrieved from https://www.texastribune.org/2016/06/28/texas-abortion-clinics-have-closed-hb2-passed-2013/.

Woods, E. (2018, January 3). 40 Days for Life: Protesting the Protesters. Retrieved from https://reproaction.org/40-days-for-life-protesting-the-protesters/.

’40 Days For Life’ speaker comes to Walker, (2019, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.bluemountaineagle.com/life/national/days-for-life-speaker-comes-to-walker/article_16d52b8a-84c2-567b-b1d9-4815c43db3f8.html.

 

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

H. Bradford

08/20/19


Every socialist I have met has a story about how they became one.  Perhaps they saw someone lose their farm or job.  Perhaps they met some socialists in college and started learning more about it.  For some, maybe it was an interest in history combined with involvement in a union.   It could have been a book.  It could have been a way to be a rebel.  It would be interesting to collect these stories and find the themes.  While I can’t speak to the stories of others, I want to share my own story of how I became a revolutionary socialist, since well, this isn’t an obvious path in life.  I also want to share this story since I am Socialist Action’s Vice Presidential candidate and it seems fitting that I provide a little context about myself so that folks can better understand what we’re about.  With that said, this is my path to revolutionary socialism.


My path to socialism started in college.  When I graduated high school, I was rather lost in life and ended up attending the college my mother had for no other reason than its familiarity and that they accepted me on short notice.  My major was International Studies, and through my courses, I learned many things about the nature of the world.   For instance, I took a class about the history of the third world and really had to struggle to memorize the various leaders that the United States orchestrated to overthrow.   I was astounded that so many countries had such similar histories.  As I poured over notes and flashcards, I realized that the United States was not a benign defender of democracy, but on many occasions destroyed democracy in the interest of profits and power.  The problem was not limited to the United States, as I learned that international institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and WTO enforced brutal austerity, monoculture, export driven economics, and loan dependency that maintained colonial relationships of dependency and under development.  I began to realize that there was a reason why there was such a divide between Haves and Have Nots in the world.  I connected these patterns in history and global policies which to capitalism.  It was through this observation that I became interested in socialism as a solution to global problems such as preventable disease, low wages, hunger, and war. Of course, I didn’t know that socialists existed in the United States outside of a few isolated, Marxist professors.  I thought that socialism, as a movement, was something that died off in the United States during the 1920s or perhaps 1940s.  While I increasingly sympathized with socialism, I kept this quiet as it was somewhat stigmatized.  I didn’t “come out” as a socialist until I was studying abroad in Ireland, since it seemed that socialism was not as unusual there.    


 

The Question of Violence:


At first,  my understanding of socialism was amorphous.  I had studied enough history to know that there were different kinds of socialists and that all modern socialists were to some degree rooted in the thinking of Karl Marx.  There were many things about Marxism that made sense.  The thing that made the most sense was how Marx positioned capitalism as just another system in history.  Before capitalism, there had been systems such as feudalism, slave based societies, hunter gatherer societies, etc.  Each of these societies had different property and class relationships as well as struggles and contradictions which eventually gave rise to new societies.  In this long view of history, it seemed unlikely that capitalism could last forever, as it also had contradictions and class antagonisms.  Indeed, how could a system that creates so many poor, such horrific wars, environmental destruction, and chaotic economic downturns last forever?  So, what then? The answer was that workers should organize and realize their own power by creating a new system that benefits everyone, where poverty and war is ended, and where wealth is redistributed for the social good.  After all, all wealth is from the surplus value of labor.   Where else would profit come from but the workers themselves?  Even early capitalist thinkers posited that labor imbued value into objects, creations, and things in nature.  Workers organizing to take back the profits stolen from their labor couldn’t possibly be utopian.  The incomplete democracy of capitalism, which ended the power of monarchs and rights by inheritance would have seemed impossible under feudalism.  The idea of waged, free laborers would seem absurd to those who only had known a slavery.  Marxism offered the promise that things could be different, as things were already different from how they had been.  Of course, my limited understanding of the time figured that worker revolution was the inevitable outcome of capitalism, when in actuality, capitalism could very well devolve into greater chaos and destruction.  


Marx foretold the possibility of revolution, but beyond that I had little idea how this would occur.   I generally knew that some countries had socialist parties and that some countries had been communist.  Yet, the distinctions between socialists and communists were hazy.  I had read some Karl Marx and other writers, but made no distinction between various sorts of revolutionary socialists such as Maoists or Stalinists.  I knew that some socialists were reformists and some were revolutionary.  I leaned more towards the reformist camp.  After all, I became a socialist because I wanted the world to be a better place.  I had no desire for bloodshed or chaos that occurs in revolution as this seemed to contradict the very reasons I had been attracted to socialism.  Furthermore, communist countries were never very democratic, so it seemed reasonable to me that revolution does not lend itself to democracy.


At the same time, I also knew that there were revolutionary struggles against colonization.  These struggles were often violent, so violence could not be entirely off the table, as sometimes it was necessary to throw off oppression.  It seemed obscene to tell people who are colonized, enslaved, or impoverished not to shed blood in the interest of their liberation.  Finally, there was a contradictory nature of reformist socialists. Avoiding revolution does not mean that violence does not occur.  Violence continues under the watch of democratic socialists as they engage in war (as they did in World War I). War is often normalized so long as it is multilateral or through the UN.  But, war is war, whether or not it is the United States, the UN, or a coalition of progressive countries.  Finally, reformism itself seemed to lead away from internationalism, since reform begins at home within an individual nation station.  Building democratic socialism in Norway or Sweden is great for the people of Norway or Sweden, but it does very little for the people of Malawi, Malaysia, or any other “developing” country.  The deep global problems of poverty and disease seemed to warrant something more than democratic socialism in one country.   I wrestled with these questions, but felt that I was pitting the systems built in China and the Soviet Union against the democratic socialism of Sweden or Finland.  I was not aware of alternatives. 


 

  Finding Trotskyism:       


After I returned from a semester in Ireland, I became involved in the local anti-war movement.  This involved protesting the Iraq war at weekly pickets held at the entrance of my college.  I met a few people at the pickets, but I was unaware that they were socialists.   Unrelated to the pickets, it happened that I google searched for opportunities to play soccer locally and found an NPR article about a “commie soccer” league.  The participants in the commie soccer league were some of the contacts that had been coming to my college to protest the war. It also happened that Adam from the group was hosting an intro to socialism class at UWS.  I attended this class and later attended the same class again when it was hosted at my college.  This was how I became connected with Socialist Action.  Of course, I was overzealous at the time and elated to join fellow socialists.  They were not quite as elated to have me join, since it is unusual to find an excited, unaffiliated socialist who happened to be searching for other socialists. Eventually, I had enough political education and demonstrated that I wasn’t disruptively abnormal and was invited into the group.


Through Socialist Action, I learned about Trotskyism.  For me, that helped to create an alternative to the failures of the Soviet Union and China, but also the more slow paced, nationally oriented, and war supporting democratic socialists.  Trotsky put the outcomes of the Russian revolution into the historical context.  The Soviet Union was a product of attempting to build socialism on a foundation destroyed by war and civil war in an isolating and hostile world that made every effort to see the project fail.  The revolution in Russia survived these impossible odds, but at great cost.  This affirmed the need for internationalism to successfully make socialism work.   We also had continued conversations about the nature of violence.  Our movement did not idealize violence and tactically, in the cases of guerrilla warfare and terrorism, workers can become disengaged and isolated from such tactics.  Revolution did not mean embracing violence, as success would stem from winning over large swaths of society and not by the force of weapons.  The state tends to react violently to movements which threaten their power, hence the need to be prepared to fight back.


Learning about Trotskyism also helped me to balance questions such as reform versus revolution, since the Transitional Program put forth by Leon Trotsky sought to bridge demands for reform with building revolution.  Revolutionary socialists can certainly make demands that reform capitalism, but in doing so, should always try to push the envelope by questioning how capitalism functions and how various oppression will never be resolved under capitalism.  These transitional demands can pose an immediate challenge to the power and profits of the ruling class but also look towards overthrowing the built in mechanisms of this power within capitalism.  Another aspect of Trotskyism that I supported was its focus on addressing the needs of and building movements of oppressed groups and forming united fronts with these movements and like minded parties.  National liberation, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of other oppressed groups are essential to building revolution. These movements are important in their own right as they educate, organize, and empower these groups as they put forth demands that challenge the functioning of capitalism.


 

The Vanguard Party


Joining Socialist Action changed my life in many ways.  For one, it provided me with a political education that even my various college experiences have not provided.  I certainly have some brilliant and dedicated comrades.  Their political knowledge and education will always surpass my own, but, in connecting with them through the party I am always learning, thinking, and growing.  It also connected me with comrades.  It is great to know that there are like minded people all over the country, who generally share the same beliefs and similar experiences.  Locally, I have a core of comrades with whom I collaborate on various local activist projects.  We often strategize and discuss how to build our party, local movements, or local events.  This is the experience of trying to build a vanguard party.   A vanguard party sounds like an intimidating and undemocratic organization.  But, there is strategic practicality in it all.  The idea behind it is that for a revolution to be successful, revolutionaries must be well organized. Workers may self-organize or may rise up on their own, but the odds of successfully making a revolution are increased if some of the workers possess a template of historical lessons, political discipline, and a vision that pushes for the dismantling of the system.  A vanguard party seeks to create the structure and program necessary for making revolution.  In my own party, this is modeled through discipline (democratic centralism) and education.  There are many revolutionary socialist groups and hopefully a future vanguard party is an amalgam of some of these revolutionaries and new elements that emerge in struggle, but in the meantime, we attempt to model what this could look like by maintaining party lines and norms and developing party lines that can speak to workers, are historically tested, push for advanced demands, and provide sharp analysis of the current conditions of capitalism.  Being a part of a revolutionary socialist party is serious business. If we are serious about making revolution, then each member has to put some time into building the party, engaging in the labor movement, building social movements.  I attend between 100-150 political events a year, and I would consider myself a slacker comrade since I don’t put enough time into party building such as writing for the newspaper or engagement in national discussions. Of course, not everyone has to be this engaged, but to some degree belief in the need for revolution necessitates a higher level of engagement.


 

Continued Lessons:


That is my basic path for becoming a socialist.  I was drawn to socialism through internationalism, opposition to war, and a desire for a better world.  I had the fortune of a college education that helped me view history and capitalism with a critical eye.  It was also fortunate that there was a local and active socialist party in Duluth, which I was able to join.  This furthered my education and connected me to Trotskyism. Since then, I have been engaged in various social struggles in my community.  I am always learning new things and seeing socialism differently.   For instance, I didn’t come to socialism because of my own experiences of oppression, but because of the conditions of the world outside of the United States.  However, my income was under the poverty line until about five years ago, I lacked health insurance for over a decade, did not visit the doctor for many years, often work multiple jobs, have massive student loan debt, experienced significant mental health issues in my 20s, and other adverse experiences.   Growing up, my father was seriously injured at his job at least twice and worked very hard.  My mother was a teenager when she had me and money was stressful for my family.  Yet, the oppressed, to me, were always “the other.”  The poorest of the poor, the hardest worker of all the workers, the sickest, the hungriest, etc. are the most oppressed.  I think one area of growth is seeing myself as oppressed as well.  In this way, oppression is normalized.  If we always look to those who have it worse, we never really see the systems of oppression all around us.  Of course, I am privileged compared to many on account of my education, travel, freedom, ability, whiteness, etc.  But, I am a worker, will always be limited, and the horizons of my humanity are narrowed by capitalism.  I am privileged, but I am also oppressed.  I want the liberation of the most oppressed, but also the least oppressed, because I want to end all oppression under capitalism.


With that said, Socialist Action does not have a monopoly on socialism.  There are many socialist groups. For me, a core concern that started me on this path was internationalism and war.  That is why I am often critical of democratic socialists, as I feel that their particular analysis does not seek to end war or U.S. power.  Because it is centered on reform, it orients towards working with the U.S. government.  But, the United States is a brutal destroyer of democracy built upon genocide and slavery.  These were my earliest conclusions as a socialist. U.S. power is grotesque. There should be no U.S., or at least not a U.S. as we have known it. There should be no country on the planet with trillions of dollars in military spending, 1,000 military bases, or nearly seven million people in prisons, probation, and parole.  Yes, of course we must seek reforms, but the goal is not kinder imperialism, it is an end all of this.  An end to borders.  An end to the fossil fuel industry.  An end to the military spending.  An end to making the world unsafe for democracy and the charade of democracy at home.  This end will only be made through socialist revolution.  We need more people building our capacity for socialist revolution.  I have shared my path.  I hope you find yours.


 

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas


 

H. Bradford

 

7/8/2019


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

 


 

Strike! The Walking Tour:


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

Historic Walking Tours

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Strike 1919: Divided City- Manitoba Museum:


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

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights:


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

https://humanrights.ca/

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Bloody Saturday Monument:


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


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


Other ideas:


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


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

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

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

Dalnavert Museum:

http://www.friendsofdalnavert.ca/

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Conclusion:


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

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Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

Book Review_ Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

H. Bradford

6/27/19

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

socialistaction2


 

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

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

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

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

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

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

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