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Birding in Suchitoto

Birding In Suchitoto

Birding in Suchitoto

H. Bradford

6/14/20


In January 2019, I traveled to Central America with Intrepid Tours.  I had a great time, as there were plenty opportunities for free time exploration, choices of things to do, and included group activities. One of the highlights of the tour was time spent in Suchitoto, El Salvador.  The time spent there was marked by an extensive walking tour, visit to the columnar basalt formations of Los Tercios, and a hiking and historical tour of Cinquera Rain Forest Park to learn more about the civil war in El Salvador from an ex-FMLN fighter turned park ranger.  Suchitoto is a great place to learn about history, see colonial architecture, go for a stroll, spend time in nature, enjoy  local art, eat pupusas, and learn about the history of indigo.  If that isn’t enough, another highlight of Suchitoto was two birding tours that I participated in!

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Los Tercios


The two birding tours that I enjoyed were organized through Intrepid with a local tour operator.  I believe the local tour operator was called Suchitoto Adventure Outfitters. One tour involved a birding boat trip around Lake Suchitlan and the other was a kayaking birding trip also on the lake. It is important to note that Lake Suchitlan is an artificial lake which was created in the mid-1970s to serve as a reservoir for the Cerron Grande Hydroelectric dam. The lake bed was once served as a home and farmland to over 13,000 people who were displaced by the project. Thousands of acres of land were flooded in a project that the government claimed would solve the country’s energy problem. The life of these farmers was meager to begin with, as they worked subsistence plots in an area dominated by large sugar cane estates. They attempted to organize for land distribution, price controls on agricultural inputs, and better wages during the 1960s and early 1970s. Organizers were imprisoned, tortured, and sometimes murdered. The thousands of displaced peasants were compensated poorly or not at all, so it is little wonder that the area became a stronghold for the FMLN.  During my visit, many houses and streets in Suchitoto waved FMLN flags. Thus, although Lake Suchitlan is a tranquil haven for birds, it is not a natural lake and is a lake connected to the political and economic struggles of El Salvador.

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Decades later, Lake Suchitlan is the largest freshwater body in El Salvador and consists of over 100 miles of inlet pocked of shoreline and 33,360 acres of water surface area.  It provides habitat for many native and migratory birds, including the largest duck populations in El Salvador. The first tour that I participated in left early in the morning. Participants were offered coffee, juice, and a light snack, as well as binoculars, life vests, bilingual guides and access to bird guide books. I kept a list of the birds that we saw during our journey around the lake.  Among the first birds that I saw were a large number of barn swallows, mangrove swallows, and a few Gray breasted martins. It is honestly difficult for me to differentiate these quick moving birds, which perched on a line across the lake. The branches hanging over the lake hosted a few species of kingfishers, including Amazon kingfishers and the more familiar Belted kingfishers. Several species of flycatchers also made an appearance, such as the Great kiskadee, Tropical kingbird, and Scissor tailed flycatcher.  I have seen Scissor tailed flycatchers in the southern United States and they are always an amazing bird to see. Various species of herons were also easily spotted along the shoreline,  including Green herons, Great blue herons, Cattle egrets, Snowy egrets, and Great egrets.  The lake is home to twelve of the fourteen species of native fish found in El Salvador, which provide a tasty meal to many of these birds.

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


There were also many raptors spotted during the boat ride.  A Laughing falcon, ospreys, Black hawk, and Roadside hawk were among the raptors we saw. Innumerable Neo-tropical cormorants, Black vultures, and turkey vultures were also seen. Another highlight was a White-bellied chachalaca.  As a matter of reference, I brought the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America with me. This was one of the same guides that the birding guides used in the tour. The guides were very knowledgeable about birds and seemed to be glad to have someone who was excited about birds on their tour.  The other guests on the tour were not avid birders nor as interested in birds, but seemed to enjoy helping me spot birds and the opportunity to enjoy nature.  As for myself, I had tried to study the bird guide before and during the tour, so I was happy that I was able to identify some birds I had never seen before. In all, we were on the lake from before 6am to nearly 10 am.

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A not so great photo of a Laughing falcon


The second tour included another early morning adventure, this time combining bird watching and kayaking. I found this a little harder to balance, as it was hard to paddle, use my binoculars, take photos, and take notes of the birds that I saw.  We used tandem kayaks and explored a different area of the lake. I was unable to multitask.  Again, this was a morning tour. Highlights of this tour included large numbers of Red winged blackbirds. Although this is a common bird in Minnesota, it was a treat to see and hear these familiar birds in early January. While Minnesota was enveloped in the silent cold of winter, the beloved birds of spring and summer were enjoying their winter in the warmth of El Salvador. Trees of wood storks, orioles, warblers, flocks of pelicans, shy Northern jacanas, and many of the birds seen the previous day marked the morning journey.  The kayaking adventure ended with a trip to a hot spring, where I searched for more birds as others in the group enjoyed the springs.  Near the springs, I found a Turquoise-browed motmot, Golden fronted woodpecker, Ruddy ground doves, and parakeets. The Turquoise-browed motmot is the national bird of El Salvador.

No photo description available.

No photo description available.

 


Lake Suchitlan is an important wetland area, but it is also heavily polluted. Several rivers empty wastewater and sewage into the reservoir, including the Suquiapa, Sucio and Acelhuate rivers. Untreated sewage from at least 154 municipalities flow into the lake, resulting in an astonishing monthly flow of 8.5 million tons of fecal matter. This is a sad testament to the underdeveloped water and sewage management systems in El Salvador, where this waste typically flows into bodies of water. Scientists have found mercury, copper, cadmium, and aluminum in the water, plants, and fish.  According to The Social Life of Water, 90% of rivers in El Salvador are polluted with industrial waste.  Water issues, such as insufficient waste management, lack of access to clean water, and industrial waste are connected to neoliberal policies imposed upon El Salvador by the World Bank and Inter-American Development bank since the 1990s.  Neo-liberal policies seek to reduce the role of the government in providing and regulating socially important services in the interest of privatization and corporate profits. Lake Suchitlan is one of the most contaminated bodies of water in Central America.  The pollution has resulted in overgrowth of invasive water hyacinth and algae.  I would also be suspicious of the safety of swimming and fishing in the lake, even though locals do fish on the lake.  Investment in the infrastructure and regulations that can keep the water clean, provide ongoing habitat for wildlife, and secure a healthy life and potable water for residents means challenging to the dominance of the neoliberal policies and institutions which advance U.S. imperialism.

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Birding in Suchitoto was a wonderful experience. The area is abundant with bird life.  At the same time, it is a location of resistance. From farmers who were removed from their land to FMLN fighters who hid in the local mountains,  the area is a geography of exclusion. Today, it is a tourist destination and upcoming birding destination, but submerged beneath the surface of fun and recreation is struggle. In 2007, Suchitoto residents peacefully protested the privatization of water and demonstrators were attacked with rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas.  Seventy five people were injured. In 2008, a local water rights activist named Hector Ventura was stabbed to death after meeting with the mayor.  This is always the dilemma of being a tourist.  A tourist passes through the world, enjoying nature, birds, historical sites, art, foods, or any number of the wonders this world offers. But for all the wonders the world offers those who can enjoy them, it is also a world of suffering and struggle.

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Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

locusts

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/17/fighting-the-plagues-of-locusts-and-covid-19/

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

H. Bradford

Written 4/17/20

Posted 4/20/20


In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, parts of Africa, South East Asia, and the Middle East are facing another plague. A dangerous outbreak of locusts has ravaged multiple countries since last year, laying waste to crops and threatening millions of people with food insecurity. The current wave of locusts is the second this year and scientists predict it will not be the last. Currently, the hardest hit area is East Africa, where in February eight countries faced an initial swarm and now are hit by a second wave of the voracious insects. It is the largest locust infestation in the region in seventy years. This pestilence arose from the perfect storm of climate change, war, austerity, and imperialism.


The insect behind this scourge is Schistocerca gregaria or the desert locust. Desert locusts are a species of grasshopper found in North Africa, the Middle East, and Indian subcontinent. Owing to accounts in the Bible, Koran, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, they are the most famous species of locust, though various species are distributed around the world, such as the Australian plague locust, Migratory locust, South American locust, and High plains locust. Like other grasshoppers, locusts are often solitary, but under the right conditions they become gregarious. In their gregarious phase, they band together in large, devastating swarms which have plagued humanity for thousands of years.


Typically, swarming occurs when food becomes abundant due to wet conditions, resulting in a population boom. The perfect conditions for an outbreak of locusts began in 2018 when Cyclone Mekunu struck an area of the Arabian peninsula called the Empty Quarter or Rub’ al Khali, a sand desert which includes portions of Oman, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Normally, this area of desert would dry out, controlling locust populations. However, according to a February article in National Public Radio the Empty Quarter was struck by a second cyclone in late 2018 and another in December 2019. “PBS NewsHour” noted that there were a total eight cyclones in 2019, an enormous deviation from the annual occurrence of one or zero. Prior to a year of flooding and heavy rains, there was three years of drought. Beyond the unusually wet conditions of the Empty Quarter, Space.com reported that the Horn of Africa received four times more rain than usual between October and December, in the wettest short wet season in 40 years. These conditions also fostered locust breeding once the insects moved into the region.


The rare and climate crisis driven bombardment of cyclones to an otherwise arid area increased vegetation and resulted in an explosion of the locust population. The Guardian reported that the second cyclone alone resulted in an 8000 fold increase in the locust population. Locusts reproduce with unstoppable speed as a single female can lay 300 eggs, which hatch in as little as two weeks and take only two additional weeks for larvae to mature and begin reproducing. Once mature, locusts can travel up to 90 miles a day. Their population grows exponentially, increasing 400 times every six months.


The locusts spread from Yemen, hitting Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia the hardest. National Public Radio reported that the locusts crossed the Gulf of Aden last year, arriving first in Somalia and Ethiopia.They were later spotted in Kenya in December 2019, some forming a swarm of over 192 billion insects in a mass three times the size of New York City. The United Nations has cautioned that a swarm the size of ⅓ of a square mile can eat as much food as 35,000 people in one day. The Guardian warned that East Africa is currently being hit the hardest, though owing to climate change and war, Yemen has also been hit hard. According to “PBS NewsHour” the latest wave of insects is 20 times larger than the February swarm, owing to heavy rains in March. It is currently planting season in East Africa and another wave of locusts is expected to hit during June, which is harvest time. Already, 33 million people in the region endure food insecurity.


The impacts of the infestation are already catastrophic. Al Jazeera reported that a half million acres of farm land in Ethiopia has been ravaged and 8.5 million Ethiopians experience acute food insecurity. As of early April, over 74,000 acres of crops were destroyed, including coffee and tea which make up 30% of Ethiopia’s exports.  In a Los Angeles Times report, Somalia had already lost 100% of  staple crops such as corn and sorghum loss by January. In Kenya, 30% of pastureland has been lost and as of mid-March, the pests had destroyed 2000 tons of food in the country. Over 173,000 acres of cropland in Kenya has been decimated, including corn, bean,and cow pea crops. Agriculture accounts for 25% of Kenya’s economy. Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda are among the African countries currently under attack by locust swarms. As of late March, swarms were forming elsewhere in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.140,000 acres of crops have been destroyed in Pakistan. The swarms are expected to hit Pakistan’s cotton industry hard, as the textile industry is the country’s largest employer and accounts for 60% of exports. In Pakistan, it is the worst locust outbreak since 1993.


Efforts to stop the spread of locusts have been hampered by COVID-19 and the social problems already facing these countries. Locusts are usually controlled with pesticides, which are either applied by aircraft that target adult locusts through aerial spraying or by ground crews which target eggs and young locusts that can not yet fly. Closed borders and a global slowdown of shipping has slowed the transportation of pesticides. Reuters reported that in Somalia, an order of pesticides expected in late March was delayed. Surveillance of locust swarms is conducted by helicopters, but lock downs have made helicopters harder to secure. In Kenya, helicopter pilots from South Africa have had to quarantine for fourteen days before they could begin work. On the economic side, 60% of Kenya’s GDP went to servicing debt before COVID-19 and locusts hit.The economic impact of both plagues makes this debt even more punishing than it was before. As of 2017, nineteen African countries were spending more than 60% of their GDP on debt.


Somaliland, a self declared republic in Somalia, has no resources to fight locusts. Keith Cressman of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN said that South Sudan and Uganda also lack programs for outbreaks. In South Sudan, 200,000 people live in UN camps, already in close conditions and at risk of food insecurity and COVID-19. Cressman noted that social distancing makes it hard to train new people to tackle the problem as this involves gathering people together in classrooms. Despite lockdowns and curfews, workers tackling the locust outbreak have been given exemptions for travel. Thus far, nearly 600,000 acres of land have been treated with pesticides and 740 people have been trained to do ground locust control. The FAO has obtained $111.1 million of $153.2 million it requested to fight the swarms. Because most of the world is focused on fighting COVID-19, additional aid to combat the locusts has been hard to come by.


Pesticides are an imperfect solution to the problem. When the pesticides are applied, villages must be warned to move livestock. According to a Kenyan news source, Daily Nation, one of the pesticides that the FAO recommends is Diazinon, which the U.S. banned from residential use in 2004. The pesticide works by affecting the nervous system of insects. However, human exposure can result in symptoms such as watery eyes, stomach pain, vomiting, coughing, and runny nose. Longer exposure can cause seizures, rapid heart rate, and coma. The Pesticide Action Network (Panna) warned that it can be harmful to children and can cause birth defects. A Pakistani news source named lambda cyhalothrin, chlorpyrifos, and bifenthrin as pesticides against locusts and cited worries that the chemicals could impact drinking water, cause respiratory problems, and irritate skin. Ground crews responsible for spraying the pesticides may be at risk. In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and strained supplies of PPE, workers may not have necessary protections.


According to Science, the FAO has also used biopesticides in the form of fungus in Somalia. An article in the Zimbabwe news source, The Herald expressed concern over both pesticides and biopesticides, which mainly rely on spores from Metarhizium sp. The spores may not be as effective because they work best in moderate temperatures and high humidity, conditions that are not common in the areas most impacted by the locusts. The spores take fourteen days to take effect and are mainly used against young locusts. While it is unknown if this is the current practice, the French research program LUBILOSA, which developed the fungus, suggested that the spores should be dissolved in paraffin or diesel, both of which are carcinogens. Pesticides and biopesticides also risk harming other insects. Linseed oil and neem may have some potential as safer, natural insecticides. Likewise, The Locust Lab of Arizona State University has found that locusts prefer carbohydrate rich foods and lower carb crops may deter locusts. For instance, locusts do not care for millet. In the face of such the immediate, cataclysmic attack of locusts and the risk of famine, research into less harmful alternatives is something for future exploration.


A socialist solution to tackle locust outbreaks should begin with prevention. Unusually wet conditions and the bizarre frequency of cyclones last year was a catalyst for the current crisis. To stop the climate crisis, capitalism must end. Anything short of this will only result in more frequent and severe natural disasters and less predictable weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that Africa will experience a 20% increase in cyclones, coupled with 20% decrease in precipitation. These conditions will make future locust swarms more likely. Droughts, mudslides, floods, and infectious diseases are all predicted to increase with climate change. Agriculture that relies on water could drop 50% in some countries and wheat production could disappear by 2080. Climate change will only make the continent more food insecure at the cost of countless lives.


Another immediate concern to socialists should be organizing against imperialist wars. The locusts spread from Yemen, which could have played a crucial role in halting their migration towards Africa. Yemen was in no position to tackle this problem because it has been beleaguered by a brutal war lasting over five years between the U.S. supported Saudi-led coalition and Houthi fighters. The country has suffered through outbreaks of cholera, diphtheria, measles, dengue fever and now COVID-19. According to Human Rights Watch, there have been two million cases of cholera since 2016. Last fall, when the locust population exploded, ten million people in Yemen needed food aid and were already at risk of starvation. When the swarms appeared, people in Yemen actually began to collect them in bags, sell them, and eat them. Locusts are eaten by people outside of starvation conditions, but after experiencing the worst famine in the world in 100 years, they were a welcome bounty to some.


The war has cost at least 90,000 fatalities and the U.S. is complicit in the destruction. The U.S. has provided weapons and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and its allies which have conducted over 20,000 airstrikes, of which ⅓ were against military targets. Hospitals, ports, mosques, and schools are among the civilian targets. Prior to the war, the Ministry of Agriculture was usually able to control outbreaks of locusts. Presently, control of locusts is divided by government and Houthi forces. Both lack the resources to adequately address the problem. Locust infestations must be caught early and perhaps with better infrastructure or the plethora of other social problems faced in Yemen, it might have been addressed more effectively. Several of the countries now facing the desolation of locusts have similarly been destabilized by wars. This hampers their ability to organize a response.


All of the countries impacted have been saddled with debt and stunted by their economic dependency to wealthier nations. The plague hits the economies of these nations particularly hard because of their high debt and dependence on agricultural exports such as coffee, tea, and cotton. The reason these countries lack the medical infrastructure to combat COVID-19 and means to fight locust swarms is a direct result of colonization and the subsequent export economies, austerity, and debt that maintain dependency. Africa will always be a continent of crisis as long as hefty profits can be extracted from it. In this moment, all international debt should be forgiven and aid given unconditionally to prevent the threat of starvation. But, development of impoverished countries cannot happen within the framework of capitalism. The wealth that has been taken from Africa should be reinvested with a commitment to build infrastructure and capital based upon relationships of solidarity over dependency.


Locusts are often imagined as an act of God, but they exist in a material reality like everything else. The reality is that the climate conditions of the planet are increasingly unstable. One hundred year floods, one hundred year storms, and even, one hundred year locust hatchings are becoming frighteningly normal. The ability to mobilize resources to alleviate hunger and fight these pests is obstructed by war, economic dependency, and a global pandemic which already demands what few resources might be marshaled. In a brighter, socialist future, this insect that has tormented humans for thousands of years might again be minimized to a solitary grasshopper, controlled by sustainable and diverse agricultural practices, early detection, and stable climate conditions. In the case of a swarm, food would be abundant enough to be shared, rather than left to rot in the anarchistic, false abundance of capitalism.

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/13/chernobyl-fires-threaten-to-unleash-radiation/

(It should be noted that yesterday the fires drew dangerously close to Pripyat and that conditions can change rapidly. )

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

 

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

Written 4/12/20

Posted 4/14/20

H. Bradford


April 26 marks the 34th anniversary of Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. By some estimates, the ruins of the Chernobyl reactor will remain highly radioactive for 20,000 years. Decades after the catastrophe, the dangers of radiation persist as forest fires rampage across the exclusion zone. The recent forest fires are only the latest in recent years to threaten the region with radioactive ash and smoke. This problem is compounded by the dual impacts of climate change and capitalist profit motives.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster occurred in the early morning of April 26th, 1986 when a safety check to test if the Uranium 235 fueled reactors could remain cool during a power outage went catastrophically wrong. At the time, there were four graphite-moderated nuclear reactors at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, with two more under construction. The reactors were situated two miles from Pripyat, a Soviet city of 50,000 people. Pripyat was constructed in 1970 with amenities such as quality schools, a supermarket, and sports stadium. The reactors were nine miles away from Chernobyl, a city of 12,000. In all, there were over 115,000 people living within an 18.6 mile radius of the power plant and five million people living in contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. During the fateful test, Reactor Four experienced a meltdown resulting in two explosions that unleashed 400 times the radiation of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The accident shrouded 77,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia in radiation.

 

It took ten days for emergency workers to extinguish the graphite fueled fire, resulting in the deaths of 28 workers from acute radiation syndrome in the months immediately after the accident. Over 200,000 people were mobilized to clean up the disaster, exposing these liquidation workers to high levels of radiation. In all, 600,000 people in Soviet Union were subsequently exposed to high levels of radiation, including radioactive isotopes such as Iodine-131, Plutonium-239, Strontium-90, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137, which were unleashed during the explosion. As a result, there have been 20,000 thyroid cancer cases between 1991 and 2015 in people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the accident. 115,000 people were evacuated in 1986 and another 220,000 people were later evacuated and resettled. A 30 kilometer (approximately 18.6 miles) exclusion zone was established around the reactor. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, trees near the reactor died off, becoming what was called a “Red Forest” to denote the russet tone of dead pine. In the decades since, the exclusion zone has become a refuge for returned wildlife and a collection of desolate ghost towns slowly vanishing into the overgrown forest.

 

The cautionary tale of Chernobyl does not end with the return of nature or the story of countless generations tasked with stewardship over the sarcophagus encased Reactor Four. Recent wildfires threaten to release Chernobyl’s radiation. According to NASA Earth Observatory, wildfires in the exclusion zone began in early April and firefighters have been working to put out the blaze since April 4th. The impacted areas include Denysovets, Kotovsky, and Korogodsky forests. On April 8th, the fires blew towards Kiev, which is located about sixty miles to the south. On April 9th, people were evacuated from the village of Poliske. Poliske is a sparsely inhabited village located within the exclusion zone. A few hundred people, mostly elderly women in their 70s or 80s, reside illegally within the exclusion zone. According to BBC News, conflict in the Donbass region has sent some families to seek safety in the area just outside of the exclusion zone, where the housing is the cheapest in Ukraine. The New York Times stated that as of Saturday April 11th, 400 firefighters had been deployed to the area and 8,600 acres had burned the previous week. The article further mentioned that the blaze has increased radiation levels in Russia and Belarus. Live Science reported that the fire is near the abandoned village of Vladimirovka. According to Ukraine’s Ecological Inspection Service, radiation readings near the blaze are 2.3 microsievert per hour. Typically, the exclusion zone’s ambient radiation is .14 microsievert per hour and .5 microsievert per hour is the threshold considered safe for humans. This calls into question the safety of firefighters working to extinguish the blaze as well as the people living in the region.

 

At the moment, fires are not located near the entombed reactor. However, Uranium-238, Cesium-137 and other radionuclides jettisoned from Reactor Four and have since been absorbed by vegetation and dirt. Fires can unleash these from the environment and ash condenses the radionuclides sequestered within vegetation. NASA Earth Observatory stated that smoke plumes can carry radiation long distances and that the severity of wildfires has only increased over the years. According to a study published in Ecological Monographs by Timothy Mousseau of University of South Carolina, wildfires that broke out in 2002, 2008, 2010 redistributed 8% of Cesium-137 released by the original Chernobyl disaster. Wildfires in 2015 came a mere 12 to 15 miles from Chernobyl’s reactors.

 

The most recent wildfire has been attributed to local farming practices, wherein fields are burned in spring and fall. While this may contribute to fires, climate change is certainly the main culprit. A report released by the Atlantic Council in January 2020 noted that the 2019-2020 winter in Ukraine was mild with little snowfall. According to the report, 2019 was the warmest year on record for Kiev and the yearly average temperature in Ukraine was 2.9 degrees celsius higher than average. In 2019, 36 temperature records were broken. Last year, there was 25% less precipitation than average. Droughts have nearly doubled over the last 20 years in Ukraine. In 2015, an article in the New York Times anticipated increased wildfires in the exclusion zone due to drier conditions. Likewise, in 2015 New Scientist reported that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted more fires near Chernobyl in the future.

 

Climate change driven droughts are one of the catalysts for the fires, but radiation itself contributes to the problem. Radiation slows the decay of leaf litter and inhibits growth of microorganisms, which creates more fuel for fires. In the absence of people, forests have expanded, which also generates more combustible material. The danger is amplified by the fact that local firefighters have seven times fewer crews and equipment than elsewhere in Ukraine. The IPCC predicted a similar outcome for Fukushima, which also has significant forests. They also posited that there is no threshold of radiation with zero effect. Climate change driven droughts, expanded forests, slow decay, few local resources, and strained water resources to fight fires create a recipe for disaster.

 

Behind the climate crisis is capitalism itself. All manner of environmental problems can be traced back to the profit motive in capitalism. The drive for lower wages, unsafe working conditions, fewer environmental regulations, the endless creation of waste, the lack of storage for the waste created, the generation of pollution itself, the shuttling of hazardous production and wastes to the third world and oppressed communities, the anarchy of too much production, and the insatiable need for growth are all connected to endless drive for profits. Therefore, sustainability and safety are anathema to capitalism. In the context of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, logging trees within the exclusion zone garners tens of millions of dollars in profits. Since 2004, limited amounts of timber can be cut from the exclusion zone as long as it is scanned for radiation. 90% of this timber is used for furniture. According to a January 2020 article in Al Jazeera, fires within the exclusion zone are started purposefully to justify the sale of timber. In a report released after the 2015 wildfires, Mykola Tomenko, head of parliamentary environmental commission stated that fires can conceal illegal logging. Two thirds of illegal profits derived from the exclusion zone are from timber. In 2007, state inspectors also found radiation contaminated charcoal sold in Ukrainian supermarkets. While the more recent fires have not been connected to the timber industry, the search for profits brings capitalists to the radioactive wilds of the exclusion zone to extract resources no matter the impact on consumers or the threat of unleashed radiation.

 

The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident is a horror story in the closing chapter of the Soviet Union. It is a tale that will last for thousands of years, written in elements with the potential to outlive humanity itself. If there is a moral of the story, it is that nuclear power is dangerous. Despite the threats, there is little motive within capitalism to mitigate the dangers. The only motive, as always, is the profit motive. Fires will certainly revisit Chernobyl and potentially visit Fukushima, once again spreading radiation. Beyond Chernobyl, wildfires have threatened the Hanford Site, a former nuclear production facility in Washington several times. In 2000, the Department of Energy declared an emergency when fires neared a building where nuclear waste was stored. In 2017, a wildfire burned part of the Hanford Site,though no buildings were threatened. Again, in 2019, wildfires burned more than 40,000 acres near the site. The Hanford Nuclear Waste Site is the largest nuclear waste dump in the U.S. and contains 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The danger of aging nuclear reactors in the United States, the question of where nuclear waste is stored, the connection to terrifying weapons of war, and the catastrophic consequences when things go awry are just a few of the many reasons why nuclear energy must be nationalized and ultimately abolished.

Our Reproductive Rights Won’t Be Handed to Us

a version of this article can be found at: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/03/06/womens-reproductive-rights-under-attack-as-abortion-restrictions-tighten/

reproductive rights

Our Reproductive Rights Won’t Be Handed to Us

Heather Bradford

Written 3/06/20

Posted 4/12/20


According to Planned Parenthood, in 2019 there were over 300 abortion restrictions filed across 47 states. Some of these were the strictest since the passage of Roe v. Wade. The most alarming were restrictions, such as the one passed in Alabama on May 15, 2019, which made abortion illegal at all stages and without exceptions for incest or rape. These restrictions were made even more terrifying by the threat of 99 years of imprisonment for abortion providers. Restrictive laws, like those passed in Alabama and six week abortion bans or “heartbeat bills” passed in Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri (eight weeks), and Mississippi have been blocked or delayed by federal judges. But, their aggressive nature sets the tone for the struggle ahead as reproductive rights activists enter a new year and new decade.


An early set-back for reproductive rights this year was the passage of a minor consent law in Florida on February 21. The Florida law requires minors under the age of 18 to obtain written and notarized consent from a parent in order to seek an abortion. It also requires government issued identification and proof of guardianship or parentage and makes no exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or trafficked youth. The consent requirement can be bypassed by a judge, who can determine if the minor is mature enough to have an abortion. The previous law already required parental notification, but not consent. Parental consent, notification, or both is required in 37 states. Consent and parental notification laws put youth at risk of illegal abortions, parental abuse, denies their right to bodily autonomy, and creates barriers for youth whose parents may be absent or deceased. It disproportionately impacts immigrants and racial minorities, as consent and notification laws require documentation, such as birth certificates and identification cards. Despite the barriers consent and notification laws impose upon youth, Florida Democrats were divided over the law. Democratic representatives James Bush, Kimberly Daniels, Al Jacquet, and Anika Omphroy voted to support the bill.


Another concerning development in the struggle for reproductive rights is June Medical Services v. Gee and Gee v. June Medical Services. There are two issues at the heart of these cases, which the Supreme Court will hear in March. The first is the issue of admitting privileges, which is part of larger TRAP laws. TRAP laws, or targeted restrictions on abortion providers, are laws passed under the guise of patient safety, but meant to curtail abortion access by imposing unnecessary regulations on abortion providers. Admitting privileges mean that abortion doctors must be able to admit patients into a hospital near the abortion clinic. Because many hospitals are religious, profit driven, and do not wish to be tied to the controversy around abortion, it can be difficult for abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges to local hospitals. For instance, doctors at the only abortion clinic in Mississippi were unable to obtain admitting privileges because seven local hospitals refused. Requiring admitting privileges effectively shuts down abortion clinics. The Supreme Court already struck down the requirement of admitting privileges in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt because abortion complications are so exceedingly rare ( .025% of cases) that admitting privileges are not necessary for patient health and impose a significant obstacle to access. June Medical Services v. Gee revisits the question of if admitting privileges are constitutional.


The second issue at the heart of these cases is third party standing. Currently, lawsuits against abortion restrictions can be filed by third parties. In 1976, Singleton v. Wulf  granted abortion doctors legal standing in challenging abortion restrictions. This has expanded the circumstances under which restrictions can be challenged. For instance, when an Idaho woman named Jennie Linn McCormack filed a lawsuit against the state over its 20 week abortion ban and restriction against self administered abortion, it was determined that because she was not pregnant she did not have the legal standing to do so (even though she was arrested for illegally taking  RU 486). However, the lawsuit was able to move forward when brought forth by Dr. Richard Hearn, who as a doctor had standing, and the Ninth Circuit court decided that the criminal charges against abortion patients was unconstitutional. Without third party legal standing, the lawsuit would not have moved forward. Lawsuits by third parties has been one of the tools that reproductive rights advocates have relied upon to challenge abortion restrictions. Like the recent parental consent law in Florida, Democrats are complicit in this recent challenge to abortion rights. The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, the Louisiana law at the center of the Supreme court hearings, was sponsored by Senator Katrina Jackson, a Democrat who is anti-abortion.


Following a tumultuous year of abortion restrictions, President Trump attended the March of Life on January 24, 2020, where he gave a speech in which he claimed that he was White House’s best defender of the unborn. He was the first sitting president to attend the event. But, in the shell game of U.S. politics, Trump once declared himself pro-choice, even calling himself very pro-choice in 1999 and stating that the issue hadn’t been important to him on the Howard Stern show in 2013. While it is unlikely that he has convictions beyond courting anti-abortion voters, the Trump administration has been undeniably aggressive in its attacks on abortion. A particularly alarming strategy to reproductive rights activists has been the fact that one in four lifetime seats of federal appellate court judges have been filled with individuals hostile to choice. With standing potentially under attack by the Supreme Court,the strategy of challenging abortion laws in courts may become increasingly limited. But, this should not be the onus of activist strategies to begin with. The lifelong tenure of federal judges and Supreme Court Justices should have no place in a democratic society, generates a sense of dependency on the good will and judgement of powerful individuals, and places false hope in electing a Democratic party president so this positions can be filled with pro-choice judges. Aside from the aforementioned examples of parental consent laws in Florida and TRAP laws in Louisiana, electing Democrats has not ensured abortion access.  Bill Clinton ran for president with the slogan that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. Hilary Clinton also said “by rare, I mean rare.” Obama also said he wanted to reduce the number of abortions. Over 1,200 abortion restrictions have been passed since Roe v. Wade, each seeking to make abortion rare through restriction. The decades of limits to abortion were not passed by Republicans alone.


Despite the ongoing attacks on abortion access, 2019 also saw the passage of pro-choice protections. In 2019, 29 states and Washington D.C. introduced 143 bills to improve abortion access. Illinois, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont passed laws which codified abortion as a fundamental right. Nevada removed pre-Roe laws which criminalized abortion and it also decriminalized self managed abortion. Maine guaranteed that both private and public insurance would have to cover abortion. Massachusetts lawmakers are working to pass the ROE act, which would guarantee abortion no matter one’s income or immigration status and improve youth access to abortion (ACLU). It is also important to remember that in response to abortion bans passed in May, 2019, thousands of activists took to the streets in protest. Across the U.S., more than 400 events were held on National Day of Action on Tuesday May 21, with other events spread out across that week. More than fifty organizations were involved with organizing the nationwide events against the abortion bans which, at that time, had passed in Ohio, Mississippi, and Alabama and were being considered in Louisiana and Missouri. While judges are often credited with halting these bans, mass action gives momentum to lawsuits, raises public awareness, shifts discourse, pressures politicians and judges, and is important practice for broader, bolder, revolutionary actions.


Abortion victories elsewhere in the world attests the power of mass action.  Between 2000 and 2017, 27 countries broadened the legal grounds for abortion. In 2019, Oaxaca, Mexico,  Northern Ireland, and New South Wales, Australia decriminalized abortion. Another success was in South Korea, where Supreme Court struck down the country’s 66 year old abortion ban as unconstitutional. Under the longstanding ban, abortion seekers faced one year in prison and a $1780 fine. Although the laws were over six decades old, they were not enforced until 2005 and this was a specific government response to demographic decline. The fertility in 2005 rate was 1.08, the lowest in the world. This demonstrates the economic function of abortion restrictions in capitalism, which is to force the births necessary for a new generation of workers. The overturn of these laws was won through the efforts of coalition called the Joint Action for Reproductive Justice (Joint Action), which was established in 2017 and brought together feminist, medical, disability rights, youth, labor, LGBT+, and religious groups. The coalition published materials, told stories, and hosted educational events, which all culminated in the first mass protest in Seoul on October 15, 2016. When thousands of Polish activists united in Black Protests for abortion rights, Korean activists hosted their own “Black Protest Korea”  Joint Action lobbied politicians and government agencies to take the matter to the Constitutional Court. In 2017, 235,000 people signed a petition to legalize abortion. They also organized a large rally attended by 5000 activists in July 2018. Joint Action also held a daily one person protest outside of the court building. They also held a press conference outside of the Argentine Embassy to support legal abortion in Argentina. Another large protest was organized in March 2019 before the court decision. Uniting in a variety of organizations and activists, including labor, international solidarity, and protest combined with legal work helped to make legal abortion a reality in South Korea.


In 2018, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets of Argentina to demand that senate pass an abortion bill. Abortion is illegal in Argentina and can result in a prison sentence. The Argentine government estimates that 350,000 illegal abortions occur in the country each year. The bill narrowly lost, but the activists continue to fight to make legal abortion a reality. Tens of thousands of abortion rights activists in Argentina protested on February 19, 2020 to once again demand legal abortion for Green Action Day. Day of action events, wherein activists wore green scarves to represent the demand for abortion, were hosted in over 80 locations across Argentina. The most recent push for legal abortion in Argentina began in 2015, with the anti-femicide movement No Una Menos, which mobilized hundreds of thousands of women against violence (including illegal abortion). In 2017, thirty women in Argentina were reported to have died from illegal abortion, so the issue is absolutely a matter of femicide. In March 2019, an 11 year old girl and rape victim named “Lucia” was forced to give birth via cesarean section after Argentine officials denied her to the right to abortion. She was raped by her grandmother’s boyfriend. A similar situation occurred earlier in 2019 in which a 12 year old girl was also forced to give birth to a baby that later died several days later. Doctors refused to perform an abortion, even though the strict abortion laws in Argentina allow for abortion in the case of rape or potential death of the mother. The green bandanas were also worn during the elections last October to spotlight their demand. President Alberto Fernandez has vowed to legalizing abortion on the basis of public health. Undoubtedly, it would not have been possible for a centrist politician to put abortion on the agenda without the efforts of abortion activists. Likewise, without the demands and efforts of U.S. activists, politicians like Bernie Sanders would not frame abortion as healthcare nor would Elizabeth Warren claim she would wear a Planned Parenthood scarf to her inauguration. This support of reproductive rights and retreat from the discourse of abortion “rarity” would not be possible without the millions of women who marched in women’s marches or thousands who came out last spring against abortion bans.


The 1917 February revolution, which began with striking women at the Aivaz factory in St. Petersburg and International Women’s Day protests over WWI and the high cost of food, overturned three hundred years of Romanov rule. But, the Provisional Government would not grant women the right to vote nor exit the war. In response, Alexandra Kollontai told women that their rights would not be handed to them. In the summer of 1917, women’s suffrage was won after a march of 40,000 protestors. Another revolution was necessary to secure such things abortion rights, the right to divorce, civil marriage, property rights, public kitchens, day cares, public laundries, maternity leave, and an end to the war. Over one hundred years later, many of these things have not yet been won in the United States. But, as Alexandra Kollontai advised, our rights will not be handed to us. Neither by judges nor Democrats will these rights be won. They will be won by the strength of the people united in strike and protest and secured only by revolution. That is the lesson of February, October, International Women’s Day, Black Protests, the Green movement, and the history of all our struggles and victories.


						
					

Abortion and COVID-19

 

a version of this article can be found here: https://socialistresurgence.org/2020/04/06/politicians-use-covid-crisis-to-restrict-womens-abortion-rights/

Abortion and Covid-19

Abortion and COVID-19

H. Bradford

written 04/04/20

Posted 04/06/20

As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, so does the suffering of the oppressed. The oppression of women has worsened during the crisis as they are confined to their homes with their abusers. Within the home, women shoulder the burden of unpaid labor cooking, cleaning, and caring for children who are no longer in school or at day care. As waged workers, women are on the front line of the crisis, as according to CNN, 70% of healthcare and social service workers are women. As women face increased violence, as well as hazardous and exhausting work, reproductive rights are also under attack.      

 

Around the country, the COVID-19 has been used to legitimate restrictions on abortion access. The first states to ban abortion during the crisis were Texas and Ohio. Ohio Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Fulkerson announced that abortions were non-essential medical procedures which should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott ordered a suspension of non-essential medical procedures, which included abortions. Both abortion bans, as well as those which followed, were opportunistically framed as measures to preserve scarce medical resources. Abortion providers which failed to comply with the Texas order were threatened with a $1000 fine or 180 days of jail time. According to the New York Times the ban included both medical and surgical abortions. As a result, Whole Women’s Health in Texas had to cancel 150 appointments on Monday, March 23rd at their three locations. Some patients had already completed ultrasounds before the order went into effect, but could not have an abortion because of Texas’ mandatory 24 hour waiting period. 


Texas patients were referred to Oklahoma for abortions, but on Friday, March 27th, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced that abortions were included in his executive order banning all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures. Also on March 27th, the office of Iowa Governor, Kim Reynolds, announced that abortion was among the states’ suspended elective medical procedures. Elsewhere in the U.S. and also on March 27th, Kentucky attorney General Daniel Cameron called upon governor Andy Beshear to restrict abortion. Cameron pressed the state’s Cabinet for Health and Human Services to certify that abortion providers within Kentucky were in violation of the emergency ban on elective medical procedures. EMW Women’s Surgical Center is the only abortion provider in the state. The clinic continued providing abortions last week, as the governor’s order to halt non-emergency medical procedures did not specifically include abortions. Kentucky’s general assembly is currently considering legislation to expand the powers of the attorney general over abortion laws. The legislature is still open and currently pursuing eight abortion restrictions. Alabama also banned abortions on March 27th under the guise of pandemic response. As in Texas, patients had to be notified that their appointments were canceled. Finally, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves threatened action against the single abortion provider in the state if they did not follow the health department directive to halt abortions as elective procedures. While the pandemic grinds much of society to a halt, there is no end to the assault on abortion rights.


In response to the restrictions, on Monday, March 30th, federal judges blocked Texas, Alabama, and Ohio enforcing abortion bans. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed emergency lawsuits against the orders, arguing that they were unconstitutional. Lawsuits have also been filed in Iowa and Oklahoma. Yet, just a day after U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yankel had granted a temporary restraining order on the Texas abortion ban, conservative judges in the US Court of Appeals ruled that the ban on abortion would be reinstated. Once again, patients were informed that they would be unable to obtain an abortion and referred to other states. As other states move to ban abortions as medically unnecessary, these measures will continue to be challenged in courts. Even if the bans are successfully forestalled by court orders, they create barriers for patients who face uncertainty, confusion, and canceled appointments. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement that abortion should be considered an essential service. The statement asserted that a person’s life, health, and well being can be profoundly impacted by inability to access abortion and because abortion is time sensitive, suspension of services means that it can become riskier or unavailable due to legal restrictions. In addition to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, on Monday March 31, Xavier Beccara, California’s attorney general, sent a letter signed by 21 attorney generals to the US Department of Health calling for expanded telemedicine during the COVID-19 crisis. The letter demanded that the abortion medication mifepristone could be dispensed at pharmacies rather than requiring that clinics give the medication directly to patients.


Even without the efforts of anti-choice politicians to exploit the pandemic to limit abortion, the COVID-19 pandemic presents obstacles to reproductive rights. Economists at the Federal Reserve estimate that the pandemic could result in a 32% unemployment rate. With millions of Americans already out of work, many people seeking abortions will be unable to afford the the procedure. Because employer based health insurances may not cover the cost of abortions and increased unemployment will result both in loss of health insurance and the financial means to afford an abortion, many people may be unable to afford the procedure. As of 2018, eleven states banned private insurance from covering abortions and twenty two states ban insurance coverage of abortions for public employees. Due to the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used to cover the cost of abortions in circumstances other than rape, incest, or life endangerment. Thus, only sixteen states provide coverage for abortion through state Medicaid programs. The cost of an abortion already poses an enormous barrier. Now, more than ever, the Hyde Amendment must be repealed.      


Abortion funds are one way that activists and advocates for choice have sought to overcome the financial bariers to obtaining an abortion. However, these funds are already feeling the financial strain of the economic crisis. Alabama’s Yellowhammer fund reported increased need for funds due to job loss. Yellowhammer has begun sending gift cards to patients to reduce barriers to food access and transportation. Fund Texas Choice, another abortion fund, reported that because of canceled appointments, some patients must travel further to find an abortion provider. With fewer flights, bus tickets, and available hotel rooms, patients who must travel to get an abortion face increased financial costs of travel and a lack of ability to travel. Northwest Abortion Access Fund relied upon volunteers to house and transport patients, but now must rely on hotels and ride share companies. These funds are adjusting to the conditions, but the safety measures will certainly increase the financial strain on the organizations. Because the funds rely on donors, who themselves may be financially pinched, donations will likely diminish as the economy crashes. Finally, many abortion funds rely on fundraising through social events, such as the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) annual Bowl-a-thon. The NNAF Bowl-a-Thon, or Fund-a-Thon, is a national fundraising effort which occurs each spring between February and April. Around seventy funds have participated in the Fund-a-Thon, but this year many have had to suspend their fundraising efforts due to social distancing measures and economic uncertainty.    


Aside from funding, travel restrictions make it harder for patients to access abortion. Many parts of the country are abortion deserts, or areas which are not served by abortion clinics. For instance, patients living in remote or rural areas of Montana, Texas, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota must travel over 300 miles to the nearest abortion clinic. Half of women living in Alaska are over 750 miles from the nearest clinic. Banning abortion as part of the response to COVID-19 will only increase these travel distances during a time when it is unsafe to travel due to potential viral exposure and the resources to travel are more limited. Already, patients in Texas must look to clinics in New Mexico and Colorado to get an abortion. In addition to the barrier of travel, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 27 states require patients to wait a specific period of time between counseling and their abortion procedure. This generally ranges from 24 to 72 hours. Waiting periods, which are medically unnecessary and often require in person counseling, increases the risk of COVID-19 exposure and prolongs travel time. 


Travel restrictions also impact abortion providers because many rely on traveling doctors. Doctors may provide services to multiple clinics. For instance, Whole Women’s Health, which provides abortions in Austin, McAllen, and Fort Worth relies upon traveling physicians. The McAllen clinic is the only abortion provider for hundreds of miles. Flattening the curve of COVID-19 requires social distancing and restrictions travel, which is why it is essential that laws restricting telemedicine, mandating in person counseling, and requiring waiting periods be suspended. This protects patients, clinic staff, and physicians while ensuring abortion access. Texas Governor Abbott loosened telemedicine restrictions on other health care, but this did not include abortion. Texas is one of the states that requires a physical visit to a clinic. Ohio’s senate passed a telemedicine ban on March 4th, which is awaiting a House vote. Abortion is an essential service and should be available by telemedicine. An accompanying demand is expanded access to medical abortions. In an article in the New York Times, Dr. Daniel Grossman, a gynecology professor from the University of California argued that the need for personal protective equipment could be reduced by providing medical abortions up to 11 weeks, ending the requirement that doctors must meet with patients physically, and if physicians could send abortion medications via the mail. Currently, 18 states require that doctors be physically present when abortion medication is taken. Expanding who can legally prescribe mifepristone would also ensure abortion access during the crisis.  


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased reports of domestic violence as women are made to stay home due to state mandates, social distancing measures, unemployment, and the need to care for children who are no longer in school. Women are at increased risk of sexual and domestic violence during the crisis. Although the exact number of abortions due to domestic violence is unknown, an article in Re.Wire suggested a range between 6-22%. Denying reproductive autonomy is one way that abusers control victims. Domestic violence often escalates during a pregnancy and according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 20% of women have experienced violence during a pregnancy. It is barbaric to restrict abortion during a time when women are at greater risk of violence, isolation, and control. It is inhumane to restrict abortion any time, as abortion is an essential service that is necessary for the health, well being, autonomy, and equality of women. While patient safety, the safety of health workers, preserving medical supplies, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 are vital concerns, there are many ways to maintain and even expand abortion access during the crisis. Telemedicine, removing barriers to funding, expanding the means of dispensing mifepristone, overturning medically unnecessary restrictions such as waiting periods and in clinic visits, and expanding the social production of medical supplies are a few ways to improve access during the pandemic. Public safety should not be pitted against reproductive rights. There are ways to secure both. Arguments to the contrary exploit the crisis to deepen the oppression of women.   

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.


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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

 

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