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Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas

Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas


 

H. Bradford

 

7/8/2019


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

 


 

Strike! The Walking Tour:


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

Historic Walking Tours

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Strike 1919: Divided City- Manitoba Museum:


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

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Canadian Museum for Human Rights:


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

https://humanrights.ca/

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Bloody Saturday Monument:


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


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


Other ideas:


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


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

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

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

Dalnavert Museum:

http://www.friendsofdalnavert.ca/

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Conclusion:


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

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Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

Book Review_ Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

H. Bradford

6/27/19

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

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

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

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

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

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

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

H. Bradford

6/5/19

I work at a domestic violence shelter, so much of my work involves care work.  Sometimes this is exhausting and demoralizing- especially the large amount of bodily fluids that appear around the shelter.  So, this is a poem I wrote about the not so wonderful aspects of care work.


Care is a wall,

A car crash for careers

And a barrier more than a connection.

It is blood in the halls

Leaky diapers on laps

And urine soaked sheets.

It is a thousand unmet needs

Needs that ooze biohazards and suffering

from the places quarantined by the state.

Care is the work of women

Women with accents and darker complexions.

Care is the everyday Chernobyl

Of tending to capitalism’s toxic leftovers

With no evacuation in sight.

Care is a wall

To fight, storm, or surrender.

To die hopelessly against.

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

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

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

Why I Fundraise for Abortion Access

H. Bradford

4/9/19


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

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


Abortion is Expensive:


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


Insurance Often Doesn’t Cover Abortion:


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


Abortion Intersects with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:


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


  Abortion Access is Always Under Attack:


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

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


Abortion isn’t Abnormal:


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

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

 


Conclusion:


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

To donate:

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

Capitalism and Self Care

capitalism

Capitalism and Self Care

H. Bradford

3/27/19


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


Capitalism and the Crisis of Care


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


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

Image result for unpaid work around the world


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

Image result for female cashier

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


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


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

Image result for u.s. real wages over time

Just an image of Real Wages over time


The Commodification of Self Care


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

Image result for self care skin care

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


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

Self-Care for the Cubicle-Bound

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


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


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

Image result for Black panther clinic

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


Conclusion:


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


Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rock and a Hard Place: A Story About Poverty and Wishful Thinking

A Rock and a Hard Place

A Rock and a Hard Place:  A Story about Poverty and Wishful Thinking

H. Bradford

3.11.19


I grew up poor.   Of course, poor is relative, and to some degree, everyone was poor where I grew up in rural Minnesota.  The median household income in Cromwell in  2016 was $26,094.  In contrast, Duluth, a city about an hour away, has a median household income of $45,950 So, it is a poor area for this region.  Against this backdrop, my family was poor, owing to the fact that only one of my parents regularly worked outside of the home for most of my childhood, my father’s employment was fraught with periods of layoffs and injury, and because my parents were very young when they had me (my mother was in high school).  While I wasn’t the poorest of the poor and benefited from support from my grandparents, I grew up aware that we didn’t have the nicest home (a trailer in the woods), best toys, braces for my teeth, other families seemed to have more, and that finances stressed my parents out.   I remember one winter when my father was laid off of work, we ate potatoes and eggs during January and February.  I remember wanting things to be better for my parents.  I remember, in about the first grade, wishing that Santa would bring us more money.   As a child, I really didn’t have the tools to understand poverty, how it works, how to escape it, or that escape from poverty is atypical.  In my immature mindset, poverty was something best escaped through some miraculous circumstance.  For instance, Charlie Bucket escaped poverty by finding a golden ticket in his chocolate bar and surviving the maniacal factory trials of a mad capitalist by virtue of his….virtue.  The Beverly Hillbillies escaped poverty by finding oil on their property.  Following this theme, I was convinced that we would escape poverty by finding a valuable rock.  This happened twice.


The swampy yard of my childhood featured at least two large rocks.  I would climb on one of them, which was mossy and would have been a good location for a rock garden if it wasn’t set in a swamp or shade.  Another rock that captured my imagination was located inside the forest across from our driveway.  This rock was also located in one of many swampy pools near our home which was ideal for finding frogs in the spring, but would dry up by summer.  Something about that particular rock captured by imagination.  It was gray and jagged.  Like the other rock, it was large enough to sit and play on.  Perhaps because it was deeper in the woods, surrounded by ferns and other prehistoric plants,  half submerged in a vernal pool, I imagined it was associated with dinosaurs.  I imagined that the rock had something to do with the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It became obvious to my mind that it was in fact, a meteor.  I knew, on a scientific level, that meteors are rare and valuable, so I decided that this was going to be our golden ticket out of poverty.   On a superstitious level, whenever we saw a meteor streak across the sky, my mother told us to say “money, money, money” as fast as we could, until it disappeared and perhaps money would come our way.  I was always disappointed that they never lasted long enough to say the incantation more than a few times, if any at all.  Money certainly never came of it.  In any event, I convinced my brother that it was a meteor.  It probably isn’t hard to stretch the imagination that far, since it was a large rock in the middle of a forest.  Obviously it got there somehow, so why not outer space?  My mind was not geologically grounded enough to consider glaciers.  My brother and I dragged my mother out to this meteor, convinced that it was going to make us some money.  She followed us to the rock.   Maybe she cautiously hoped that we had indeed stumbled upon something of value.  Just like Antique Roadshow, undiscovered wealth was waiting to be found.  I showed her the rock and explained the characteristics that clearly made it a meteor.  It wasn’t.  I don’t remember what happened after we brought her into the woods.  But, we never became wealthy from it and eventually I forgot about the rock and stopped playing in the woods.

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A random image of dinosaurs on a rock from FreePic


The second rock incident happened much later.  I went on a road trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario with my grandmother, brother, and mother.  I was about fourteen years old.  On the way back, we stopped at a rest stop or overlook, and I saw a large, clay colored rock.  I was convinced that this was an agate.  I suppose traveling up the North Shore of Lake Superior I had agates on the brain.  I convinced my brother that it was an agate.  Although it was dull and reddish brown, I was sure that if we loaded it into the car, then cracked it open, it would split into two perfect agate geodes.  The otherwise dull colored rock had a specks that glistened in the sun, which to me indicated that it was secretly an agate.   This was around the time my parents divorced and we were moving on to a new life in a low income apartment, on food stamps, in a new single parent household in Isanti, MN.  A magnificent agate would have been a huge help.  My mother was reluctant, but once again I got my brother on board.  We both convinced her to load the forty or fifty pound rock into our vehicle.  After all, we couldn’t possibly leave this opportunity for wealth behind.  It road around in our vehicle for months.  Eventually, my mother asked a rock collector at the county fair about it.  The expert scoffed at the idea that we would find such large agate.   But, we didn’t know how agates formed or how they would have broken up into smaller pieces over time.  I was disappointed that it was….just a rock.  It was a rock and an unwanted passenger in the backseat of our car.  I think we eventually rolled the rock onto the lawn of our low income apartment complex, which upset the management.  The last I remember was seeing it rolled up against a tree by the parking lot.  Did we get into trouble?  Did they make us move it?  Did they know it was our rock?  I don’t know.  I just know that once again, we pinned our hopes on a mineral miracle. Image result for agate geode

What I imagined we would find inside the rock….

              

I’ve been thinking about these stories lately.   It seems foolish that I believed, on more than one occasion, that we could escape poverty by finding valuable rocks.   But, these ideas are really no different than some of the other faulty thinking regarding poverty or social class.  For one, the idea of discovering something valuable to escape poverty is a common narrative in society.   I already mentioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  The Antique Roadshow, and Beverly Hillbillies.  Any story involving hidden treasure similarly follows the notion that wealth is out there waiting to be found.   Lottery tickets similarly create the notion that wealth is out there.  It is just a matter of the right numbers at the right time….and SOMEONE has to win.  Even if the odds are low, it COULD be you if you just participate.   The Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes also reinforces the faulty thinking that wealth is something that can unexpectedly happen.  Game shows also promote this idea, as contestants compete for money or prizes.   Of course, some skill might be involved, but a person’s ability to solve word puzzles, guess the correct price, or answer trivia questions is generally not a surefire way to make it ahead in society.  In another example, one of my favorite children’s stories was called Silly Simon, about a foolish young man who was abused by his mother and could never do anything right, until his silly antics caused a princess to laugh.  He was awarded gold from a king for this feat.   This teaches that wealth is something that can happen in just the right circumstances or with a not so useful skill-set that suddenly has value.   Another common trope is the orphan who is adopted into wealth, such as Annie, Oliver Twist, or a low rated TV show that aired when I was a child called Rags to Riches.  At least I never once imagined escaping poverty through adoption!   I grew up in a world informed by Publishers Clearing House, scratch tickets, stories of orphans and treasures, game shows, etc.  At the same time, never once did my pre-college formal education tackle the topic of causes of poverty.   This is a disservice to children, who are often bullied for their social class.  I remember my brother was once upset that a classmate of his (in Isanti) said that our family lived in the dumpster by the school.  I remember a classmate (in Cambridge) picking on my family for using food stamps and another teasing me because my family didn’t own our own washing machine (which I hadn’t even considered a sign of poverty until teased for it.  I liked going to the laundromat).   If children are not raised to understand social class, then being poor is mysterious and easy to blame on lack of luck or some kind of flaw.

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Even as I entered college, I really didn’t understand class.  I felt embarrassed that everyone else seemed to have stories about going on vacations that involved sailing in Greece or backpacking in Europe.   I didn’t want to talk about myself.  (Of course, at this point in my life I have traveled a lot, but upon graduating high school I had never been on a plane and felt jealous when I met college students who had studied abroad in high school or went on elaborate family vacations.  I felt less than them!  That this was not a matter of money, but that I wasn’t “good enough” to have these opportunities.  But, these feelings motivated me to prioritize travel).  I felt ashamed that my parents were not doctors, professors, business owners, lawyers, or any of the other prestigious professions that other students’ parents seemed to have.  I felt that there was something wrong with me and my family.  I felt that I was inferior.  That if I was smarter, more attractive, harder working, more talented, more outgoing, less strange, or any number of other qualities, that I too would have an exciting and successful life.  So, rather than analyze the difference between myself and other students I met as a matter of socioeconomics, I felt that I was defective.   Internalizing being poor as a flaw or a failure was just as faulty as believing that wealth could come from meteors (or lottery tickets, sweepstakes, game shows, etc.).  Yet, this is more insidious and pervasive.  It is something that I believe to some degree even to this day.  Being poor….it did make me flawed!   I have crooked teeth because we couldn’t afford braces.  I have a crooked spine as well.  We didn’t have access or an understanding of psychology, so some of these needs also went unmet or unknown.  So, I am not the optimal person I might have been in other socioeconomic circumstances.  Certainly, I am a passable person and everyone has flaws.  Yet, for all of my passion for learning, all of my talent, hard work, or any number of positive attributes, I will never be “living my best life.”   In parts, I am to blame.  A scarcity mindset prevents me from taking too many risks or living too freely.  I will never feel empowered to quit a job I don’t like or make major life changes because in the back of my mind, I know that there is a lot to lose and fear of going without. Image result for living my best life

Yeah, not really.  But life is….okay.


The narrative of self-determination  is perhaps the hardest one to overcome.  I can rationally conclude that success does not come from meteors, agates, game shows, or lottery tickets.  Yet, I have not quite abandoned the notion that with hard work, education, talent, risk taking, determination, etc. I should be able to accomplish my goals and dreams.   This is the narrative that our educational systems socialize us to believe in the most, as in the context of capitalism, educational systems need to justify their own existence by promising that education can help us become self-actualized, successful people.   So, this is why I find myself up against a rock and a hard place.   This is also why I think we need to be careful about what kinds of stories we tell ourselves about class.   We must abandon the language of “living the best the best life,” goal digging, girl bosses, slaying and narratives of self-made successes.   This isn’t to argue that everyone should adopt “learned helpnessness” or the idea that nothing we do has an impact on our environment or life outcomes.   Instead, I think that narratives about upward mobility or class should be tempered by socioeconomic realities rather than individual efforts.  This itself is contested, as conclusions about upward mobility vary depending upon how this is measured and defined.   For instance, the U.S. Treasury Department posits that upward mobility is a reality for low income Americans, who on average see their incomes rise over time as measured by tax returns.  If one defines upward mobility as entering a new tax quintile, then yes, upward mobility is possible.   Marxists define things more broadly, as class is about a relationship to production.  A quintile increase in taxed income may not translate to increased access and control of capital.  Because upward mobility is not operationalized by Marxists as increased status or income, social mobility is less common in socialist interpretations.  In this broader view, capitalism itself is prone to instability and declining rates of profit over time, so income gains are never a given and always challenged by a profit motive that is inherently at odds with high or even stable standards of living for most workers.  But, one does not need to be a Marxist to understand that life is limited by class, and compounding this, it is limited by gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc.  It is also limited by job availability, unemployment trends, globalization, new technology, etc.  You can work very hard, have many talents, educate yourself extensively, make all the right choices, and you can still end up working menial, unrewarding jobs in which you worry about retirement and live paycheck to paycheck.


It was foolish for me to think that we would find money in the form of a meteor or an agate.  Even if we had, that money would not have sustained us for long.  I had so much hope back then.  But, of course, this is false hope and wishful thinking.  My favorite quote is “We must prefer a real hell to an imaginary paradise” by Simone Weil.  Of course, she was probably talking about some spiritual nonsense, but I have always interpreted it as it is better to think clearly without hope, than have false hope in ignorance.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hope that most working people will have a windfall of wealth, much less live their lives without economic hardship and worry.  There are no meteors, agates, winning lottery tickets, etc. to save us.  Even education, hard work, innovation, talent, etc. are not tickets to a better life.  A better life is secured through collective struggle, not individual efforts or accomplishments.  It is class struggle that shortens the workday, promises pensions, provides health care, mandates paid leave, and all of the other benefits that ACTUALLY do improve lives and creates opportunities.   Living our best lives is a function of the mass movements that seek to end war, protect the environment, provide public transportation, end police brutality, empower women, dismantle racism, etc.  So, I do have some hope, or at least, a methodology for betterment.

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

Celebrating Minnesota Chickadees

H. Bradford

2/23/19

There are many Minnesota birds that I have never seen.  Until early February, a Boreal chickadee was one of them.   In previous winters, I made some efforts to find a Boreal chickadee at the Sax Zim bog.  I would check e-bird and scope out the place where they were often seen (Admiral Road Feeder).  No matter how long I waited, I never seemed to catch one.  I listened to my bird call CD, trying to memorize their more nasal song so that if one was in the area, I would know.   Finally, this year, at least according to e-bird, Boreal chickadees were recorded in larger numbers than the last two winters.  So, in honor of FINALLY seeing a few of them, here are some chickadee facts to inspire others to celebrate and cherish Minnesota chickadees!


Chickadees are part of the Paridae family, which contains 55 species of birds that are found primarily in Eurasia, Africa, and North America and include birds such as titmice, tits, and chickadees (Otter, 2007).  In Minnesota, there are three species of Paridae, which include Black-capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees, and Tufted titmice.  Boreal chickadees and Black-capped chickadees are both members of the genus Poecille, whereas Tufted titmice are in the genus Baeolophus (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  The members of the Paridae family arrived in North America from Asia 4 million years ago.  The tufted titmouse traces its lineage to this earliest wave.  A second wave of Paridae arrived in North America 3.5 million years ago and led to chickadees (Otter, 2007).   Speciation was the result of isolation from glaciers and expanding desert grassland (Gelbart, 2016).  Tufted titmice are found in southeastern Minnesota.  Black capped chickadees are the most common Parid in Minnesota, ranging throughout the state with larger concentrations around Lake Superior.  Finally, Boreal chickadees are uncommon in Minnesota according to the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas and can be found in the arrowhead region of Minnesota as well as the far north of the state.  There are estimated to be 1.1 million breeding adult Black-capped chickadees in Minnesota, but the number of Boreal chickadees is unknown for lack of observations.  Tufted titmice are also uncommon, with a breeding population of under 100 birds.  However, due to climate change, winter bird feeding, and the maturation of deciduous forests, Tufted titmice populations in the state are increasing at an average of 1.08% per year.   (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).  Because Tufted titmice are not found in my region and because they are not “chickadees” or part of the genus Poecille, they will not be given further attention in this piece.

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Two maps to compare the ranges of Black capped and Boreal chickadees


Black capped chickadees are extremely common in the winter months in Minnesota.   They are iconic, as their image is often used on holiday cards and ornaments.   Of the seven species of chickadees in North America, the Black capped has the largest range, spanning all the way from Alaska to California and from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (Smith, 1997).   The bird is easily identified by its black cap and bib, white cheeks, and gray back.  To me, these active, curious, even aggressive little birds remind me of tiny Orca Whales or oreo cookies.  Orcas and oreos aside, Black capped chickadees look very similar to the Carolina chickadee, which is found in the south eastern half of the United States.  The two can hybridize and learn each other’s songs, which can make identification harder where the ranges overlap (Galbart, 2016).  So, birds in Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, or Ohio for example might be harder to distinguish, though Carolina chickadees have less white on their wing coverts and have a sharper division between their bib and pale underparts (Smith, 1997).  Northern Minnesota is far from the range of Carolina chickadees, so this is not something that I typically have had to worry about.  Black capped chickadees bear a resemblance to Boreal chickadees as well, but Boreal chickadees have a brown cap, smaller white cheeks, brown and gray back, and rusty brown flanks (Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.).  Despite their similar appearance and northerly ranges, research suggests that Black capped chickadees are more closely related to Carolina chickadees and Mountain chickadees than they are to Boreal chickadees.  Boreal chickadees are more closely related to Mexican chickadees and Chestnut backed chickadees.  These species may have existed for two million years (Gill, Mostrom, Mack, 1993).

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There are a few characteristics that make Black capped chickadees interesting birds.  The first is that they are known for their memory (this is true of chickadees in general).   In studies of Black capped chickadees, it has been found that they are capable of finding their food caches using memory.  Their ability to remember is based upon overall location, position in relationship to other objects, and finally, color.  Chickadees can store hundreds of food items a day and all North American chickadees and tits are food storers.  Black capped chickadees can remember where they stored items for at least four weeks (Otter, 2007).  In an experiment conducted in a large indoor aviary which tested of what, when, where memory, Black capped chickadees were found to have all three types of memory.  The chickadees could remember what (if a stored item was sunflower seeds or meal worms), where (where these items were stores), and when (if the mealworms should be avoided because the passage of time would have degraded the flavor).  However, a similar experiment conducted in a less natural cage did not demonstrate a memory for how long meal worms were palatable, which means more studies should be conducted.  Chickadees are the only food storing birds outside of corvids (crows, jays, ravens) that have demonstrated what, where, when memory (Feeney, Roberts, Sherry, 2009).


Another interesting characteristic of Black capped chickadees is their vocalizations.   For instance, during the winter, spring, and earlier summer, male chickadees studied in Wisconsin were found to make two note Fee-Bee calls while alone and moving through their territories.  A faint Fee Bee vocalization was used by both male and female Black capped chickadees to communicate while the female is incubating eggs.  Black capped chickadees make a gargling vocalization to warn others before they attack.  Probably the most recognizable is the chick-a-dee call, which is used as a warning and to coordinate movements.  There are also broken dee and begging dee vocalizations.  Black capped chickadees also twitter, hiss, tseet, and snarl.  Researchers have identified at least eleven different chickadee calls (Ficken, Ficken, and Witken, 1978).   Chickadees are social birds, forming flocks of six to eight birds in non-breeding seasons.  To communicate with each other, they have developed elaborate vocalizations.  For instance, they have two alarm calls: the chickadee call and the seet.  The chick-a-dee call is a mobbing vocalization, which recruits other chickadees to harass a predator.  But, it also communicates information about food and types of predators.  The alarm for smaller predators vocalized with more “dees” at the end.  When the small predator alarm call was played back, Black capped chickadees exhibited more mobbing behavior.  Smaller predators may be a bigger threat to chickadees because they are more maneuverable.  Predators on the move are vocalized by a seet call whereas those that are stationary are met with the chickadee call (Templeton, Greene, and Davis, 2005).  In sum, quite a bit of information is conveyed in chickadee vocalizations.

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A final interesting quality about Black capped chickadees is that they are great survivors.  Black capped chickadees survive in regions with harsh winters through adaptations such as caching food, cavity roosting, and entering a state of controlled hypothermia at night.  By reducing their body temperature at night, Black capped chickadees may reduce their energy expenditure by 32%.  To survive during the day while foraging in cold temperatures, Black capped chickadees have the ability to increase their metabolism to stay warm.  Their ability to increase their metabolism exceeds other passerine birds that have been studied and approaches some mammals (Cooper and Swanson, 1994).   Black capped chickadees are also survivors inasmuch as they are generalists that make use of a variety of environments.  They prefer mixed deciduous and conifer forests and as cavity nesters, depend upon decaying trees or snags, but can survive in disturbed environments (Adams, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In Minnesota, Black capped chickadees are most commonly found in pine forests, followed by developed areas, upland conifer forests, pine-oak barrens, and oak forests.  Cropland, marshes, and upland grasslands are the habitats wherein Black capped chickadees are the least common, owing the lack of trees (Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. n.d.).   Black capped chickadees have a diverse diet of berries, seeds, and insects throughout the year, except the breeding season wherein they are insectivores.  Although Black capped chickadees are generally widespread, they are impacted by habitat disruption that limits tree cover.  This limits genetic variation as populations are fragmented and indicates that climate change could negatively impact the species as tree species shift and narrow in distribution (Adam, Lazerte, Otter, and Burg, 2016).  In other words, Black capped chickadees could become less common or at least less genetically diverse with the northern expansion of grasslands due to climate change.


Moving on to Boreal chickadees, because they are less common and located in less populated areas, they have not been researched as thoroughly as Black capped chickadees.   But one immediately clear characteristic of these birds is that they are not the generalists that Black capped chickadees are.  Boreal chickadees, as the name suggests, are a boreal species.  Boreal forests are primarily found between 50 and 60 degrees N latitude, have long cold winters and short cool summers, and are sandwiched between tundra to the north and temperate deciduous forest to the south.  Boreal forest climate is wet in the summer and dry in the winter and the forest itself consists of conifer trees and poor soils.  The southern part of Boreal forests tend to consist of spruce and hemlock, while pine and tamarack dominate the forests further north where fewer trees can be supported due to nutrient poor soils (Nelson, 2013).  The North American boreal forest is largest of the five major forests of the world that are considered largely intact.  The others are the Amazon, Russian Boreal forest, Congo basin, and forests of New Guinea and Borneo.  The North American boreal forest is 1.2 billion acres and an important nesting ground to billions of breeding birds.  Boreal forests are also important in moderating the Earth’s climate, as they sequester 208 billion tons of carbon.  Boreal chickadees are permanent residents of Boreal forests and prefer a habitat of balsam fir and spruce.  The northern limit of their range coincides with the northern limit of white spruce trees.  The southern range limit is the northern United States, where boreal forests meet deciduous forests.  As a whole, it is estimated that 88% of Boreal chickadees breed in boreal forests.  Like Black capped chickadees, they eat insects, berries, and seeds and they also cache their food as a winter survival tactic.  Because of its northerly range and preference for the interior of spruce forests, it is observed less often than Black capped chickadees (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).

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A study of Boreal chickadees at Forêt Montmorency in Quebec, Canada, found that the birds had a mean flock size of four individuals and a range of three to eight individuals, which is smaller than Black capped chickadee flock size, which often consisted of six to eight individuals.  Sixteen of 85 flocks contained at least one Black capped chickadee and 24 flocks contained at least one red-breasted nuthatch.  The red-breasted nuthatches were more loosely associated as they foraged together, whereas the Black capped chickadees remained in close contact with the Boreal flock  (Hadley and Desrochers, 2008).   In areas of Michigan where both Boreal and Black capped chickadees were found, Boreal chickadees foraged in three conifer species, with 76% being black spruce.  Black capped chickadees foraged in six conifer and three deciduous tree species.  Both species often forage together in mixed flocks.  Boreal chickadees generally prefer dense conifer forest and Black capped prefer open mixed forests.  Boreal chickadees were found to spend more time foraging higher on the trees.  Both spent similar amounts of time in middle zones of the tree and little time at the bottoms of trees.  Trees used by Boreal chickadees were tamarack, Black spruce, and white spruce, which minimized competition with black capped chickadees.  Both forage for pupae, dormant caterpillars, and insect eggs, but their strategies helped to avoid competition (Gayk and Lindsay, 2012).  Minnesota is unique in that it is one of just a few states in the United States where the ranges of the two birds overlap.

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Although Boreal chickadees are less vocal than Black capped chickadees (Otter, 2007), they do have many vocalizations with which they communicate.  Like Black capped chickadees, they produce a “chickadee” call, which has many variations and is used for such things as communication between males and females during nest excavation and to scold other birds or predators ((McLaren, 1976). ).  Compared to the Black capped chickadee, the Boreal chickadee’s “chickadee” call is often described as more nasal.  Boreal chickadees also make a “seep” call which is similar to the contact call between Black capped chickadees.  A sharp seep call is used to warn against predators.  Boreal chickadees also hiss, trill, and make begging sounds.  Like Black capped chickadees, they make a chit sound, which Black capped chickadees use to warn of ground predators and Boreal chickadees use for unknown purposes (McLaren, 1976).  Unlike Black capped chickadees, Boreal chickadees do not produce a whistled song (Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”, 2015).   In a study of Black capped chickadees at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, a total of eighteen calls were observed (McLaren, 1976).

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Because Boreal chickadees are only adapted to boreal forests, climate change is likely to  have dire consequences for the species.  Models predict that moose, caribou, spruce grouse, and Boreal chickadees will have entirely separate east and west populations as habitat is fragmented and pole-ward shifts in ranges.  The east west divide may occur due to a vulnerable swath of boreal forest on the border between Quebec and Ontario.  The slim section of forest is the narrowest swatch of boreal forest in North America and a place where boreal meets deciduous forest.   By 2080, Boreal chickadees could be extirpated from this region (Murray, Peers, Majchrzak, Wehtje, Ferreira, Pickles, and Thornton, 2017).  Minnesota is particularly vulnerable to climate change because the state is at the crossroads of three biomes: conifer forest, decidious forest, and prairie.  At the same time, the temperature of Minnesota has gone up 3-5 degrees since the start of the last century.  Duluth could have a climate more similar to Minneapolis in 50 years and the state as a whole could eventually become more like Nebraska, with the expansion of grasslands and oak savanna.  Boreal forests will disappear from the state, and with them, perhaps 36 species of birds, including Boreal chickadees (Weflen, 2013).

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Minnesota has two great species of chickadees (not including the tufted titmouse), but both could shift northward out of the state with climate change.  Boreal chickadees are particularly vulnerable, as they are less common and an obligate boreal species.  The loss of boreal forests is further troubling because the role these forests play in sequestering carbon.  Black capped chickadees require trees to survive the winter and roost at night, so the expansion of grasslands or loss of trees does not bode well for the otherwise plentiful and adaptable bird.  Although chickadees are sometimes taken for granted as common bird feeder birds, it turns out that they are intelligent and well adjusted to the harsh winters of Minnesota.  Their vocalizations are complex and convey a plethora of important information about everything from predators to territory.  Chickadees have made their home in the Americas for millions of years, so it would be tragic to undue millions of years of evolutionary history through the wanton warming of our climate through human activity and dependency on fossil fuels.   The best way to celebrate Minnesota chickadees is to mobilize against climate change!


Sources:

Adams, R. V., Lazerte, S. E., Otter, K. A., & Burg, T. M. (2016). Influence of landscape features on the microgeographic genetic structure of a resident songbird. Heredity, 117(2), 63-72.

Boreal Chickadee “Poecile hudsonica”. (2015, November 30). Retrieved from https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/boreal-chickadee

Boreal Chickadee Similar Species Comparison, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Boreal_Chickadee/species-compare/60411301

Cooper, S. J., & Swanson, D. L. (1994). Seasonal acclimatization of thermoregulation in the black-capped chickadee. The Condor, 96(3), 638-646.

Explore the habits of the breeding birds of Minnesota. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://mnbirdatlas.org/

Feeney, M. C., Roberts, W. A., & Sherry, D. F. (2009). Memory for what, where, and when in the black-capped chickadee (Poecile atricapillus). Animal cognition, 12(6), 767.

Ficken, M. S., Ficken, R. W., & Witkin, S. R. (1978). Vocal repertoire of the black-capped chickadee. The Auk, 34-48.

 

Gayk, Z. G., & Lindsay, A. R. (2012). Winter microhabitat foraging preferences of sympatric Boreal and Black-capped chickadees in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(4), 820-824.
Gelbart, M. (2016, March). Pleistocene Chickadees. Retrieved from https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/pleistocene-chickadees/

Gill, F. B., Mostrom, A. M., & Mack, A. L. (1993). Speciation in North American chickadees: I. Patterns of mtDNA genetic divergence. Evolution, 47(1), 195-212.

Hadley, A., & Desrochers, A. (2008). Winter habitat use by Boreal Chickadee flocks in a managed forest. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(1), 139-146.

Murray, D. L., Peers, M. J., Majchrzak, Y. N., Wehtje, M., Ferreira, C., Pickles, R. S., … & Thornton, D. H. (2017). Continental divide: Predicting climate-mediated fragmentation and biodiversity loss in the boreal forest. PloS one, 12(5), e0176706.

Otter, K. A. (Ed.). (2007). Ecology and behavior of chickadees and titmice: an integrated approach. Oxford University Press on Demand.

Nelson, R. (2013, October). Boreal Forest Biome. Retrieved from https://www.untamedscience.com/biology/biomes/taiga/

McLaren, M. A. (1976). Vocalizations of the boreal chickadee. The Auk, 93(3), 451-463.

Mossman, M. J., Epstein, E., & Hoffman, R. M. (1990). Birds of Wisconsin boreal forests. The Passenger Pigeon, 52(2), 153-168.

Smith, S. M. (1997). Black-capped chickadee. Stackpole Books.

Templeton, C. N., Greene, E., & Davis, K. (2005). Allometry of alarm calls: black-capped chickadees encode information about predator size. Science, 308(5730), 1934-1937.

Weflen, K. (2013, April). The Crossroads of Climate Change. Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2015/other/150681/PFEISref_2/MDNR 2009.pdf

 

 

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