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Birding in Suchitoto

Birding In Suchitoto

Birding in Suchitoto

H. Bradford

6/14/20


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

No photo description available.

Los Tercios


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

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

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


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

No photo description available.

A not so great photo of a Laughing falcon


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

No photo description available.

No photo description available.

 


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

No photo description available.


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

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Abortion and COVID-19

 

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

Abortion and Covid-19

Abortion and COVID-19

H. Bradford

written 04/04/20

Posted 04/06/20

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Life Becomes Empty: Covid 19 On My Mind

Life Becomes Empty_ Covid 19 on My Mind

Life Becomes Empty: Covid 19 On My Mind

H. Bradford

03/24/20


Last month, I was busy celebrating my birthday.  There were always things to do, new hobbies to try, events to attend, and a whole world to explore.  I went to the aquarium, saw Harriet at the library, attended VIP Comedy Night, learned about pollinators,  went to Drag Bingo, enjoyed snowshoeing, skiing, birding, various activist events, a Cat Video Festival, had Mexican food on my birthday, got a new tattoo, and read poems for a poetry night.  The world felt more like a smorgasbord.  Now, it feels like life is an empty grocery store shelf.  It has been shocking to go from a socially engaged person to a homebody.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking that I might be able to go on an international trip next month.  I thought maybe things would not be so bad.  Now, I had to cancel plans to see my brother on Friday.   Two weeks ago, staff at my job had a taco pot luck.  Last week, we started having staff meetings by zoom.  My world has become quiet, small, and uncertain.


Like most people, I really didn’t take COVID-19 seriously.  In the past, there had been Zika, H1N1, MERS, SARS, and other viral outbreaks.  These all seemed to pass without much impact on my life.   It was on my radar as a distant thing.  I was substitute teaching when Italy went on lock down and there was the first major stock market crash.  Even then, it didn’t seem like something that would impact me other than the fear that it would complicate my trip and that my meager retirement had lost over 10% of its value in a day.  Later in the week, I met with staff at my job for a potluck.  We ate Mexican food and laughed about the mystery of the missing green Jell-o.  Did a resident abscond with a giant container of Jell-o?  Trump’s travel ban for Europeans coming to the U.S. seemed mysterious and even excessive at that point of time.  I still worried about my trip. Within the next few days, there were more travel bans, closed schools, the cancellation of my trip, the sudden cancellation of meetings and community events, and mounting deaths in Italy.


I was slow to comprehend what flattening the curve really meant in practice.  I attended my final in-person activist meeting on March 16th.  It was bittersweet, since I knew it was the last activist meeting I would attend for a long time. I went out for Mexican food that day because I knew that the following day at 5pm, all the restaurants in Wisconsin would be closed. Had I really understood the importance of social distancing, I would not have gone out. But, there was not that many official cases in Wisconsin. It felt like one last opportunity as the sun set on something I enjoyed.  Within the course of a few days, almost everything that structured my life collapsed.  There were no more activist meetings.  There would be no more trivia nights, reading at coffee shops, eating out alone, going to movies, spending time with friends, no more community classes or lectures, no birding field trips or presentation, no side gigs as a substitute teacher or the Easter bunny, no more travel plans, no more plans at all.   I felt completely lost.  I felt as though a cruel wind had passed through and destroyed the scaffolding that held my mental well being together.  This existential crisis was coupled with my obsessive surveillance of the news for the latest terrible thing.


What is left when everything is gone?  I was left with work.  This is better than many people, who suddenly lost their jobs.  My job at a domestic violence shelter is more secure since it is an essential service.  This is something to be thankful for, but also gave me a sense of impending crisis. Work over the next few months will become harder.  The population at the shelter is often sick. With more people restricted to their homes and more services limited by closures, we will almost certainly be busier.  My shifts have been busier with hotline calls, more cleaning chores, and more intakes.  Residents will have a harder time connecting to services, finding housing, and finding employment.  Staff themselves may become sick.  There are challenges ahead. Normally, I could face these challenges with the hope of travel, escape, hobbies, or other distractions.  Many of the distractions and promises of escape are gone.


All of this has been rather depressing and paralyzing.  I thought that I was a more resilient person and have been disappointed by my response.  On March 17th, I had a panic attack, which is something I haven’t had for quite a long time.  I sat on the floor, trying to breathe.  I felt anxiety again on the 19th.  It was that feeling I would have before running in a track meet or performing in a play.  A fluttery feeling that my heart is too fast and my stomach is too empty.  It is hard to explain to other people.  My feelings are, after all, very selfish and privileged.  While people die, lose their jobs, become seriously ill, or face innumerable traumas as healthcare workers, I am thinking about when I will travel again or the emptiness of not having many of my hobbies, doing activism, or going to restaurants.  And other people seem to be coping much better.  They are watching more Netflix, trying new recipes, organizing online yoga classes, and creating online communities for mutual aid.  I haven’t felt as able to transition.


Eventually, I will rise to the occasion.  The abrupt end to a version of my self was bewildering.  I couldn’t look at my goal book until yesterday.  The goals are a relic of another reality.  I won’t be going to RSOP’s spring frog walk or nature photography class.  I won’t be on the Audubon warbler walks this spring.  I won’t be substitute teaching or taking hot yoga classes before the Groupon expires.  I won’t be going to union meetings or really, any other meetings. I might not be camping at new state parks this summer.  The list of 140 New Year’s will remain incomplete.  I need to find new things and exist in new ways.


Today, I felt a little better.  I had another activist Zoom meeting.  It was again bittersweet.  But, I am thinking more about the future.  Later, I spoke with a coworker who was stressed about her financial situation.  It snapped me out of the selfish mourning of the way things were and the things I hoped for. I have to start rebuilding myself with new scaffolding, so that I can be strong enough to weather this.  I have to be strong and dynamic, vibrant and capable.   I need to find the fuel to fight, support others, and do the things that need to be done.  I will attend educational meetings via Zoom.  There is a talk on Alexandra Kollontai in April that I don’t want to miss.  I can write and read more.  I can look for ways to re-engage in activism.  I can start some seeds next month.  I can join virtual yoga classes and write new to-do lists.  This doesn’t change the fear for the future.  The worry over death or that we are headed for conditions unseen in the U.S. since the Great Depression.  The social distancing seems to remove some of the sense that I have agency in changing society for the better.  Things just seem to happen.  There is endless happening and the powerlessness of being atomized into households.  Still, I think I can pass through demoralization and loss and discover the emotional means for mobilization.  I can do, and fight, and support, and find new ways to be busy.  I won’t be quarantined with my demons.

 

 

 

140 Resolutions for 2020

140 Resolutions for 2020

H. Bradford

2/9/2020


Last year, I had 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  This may seem like a lot, but, sometimes a person needs to Go Big or Go Home.   In all reality, my New Year’s Resolutions are more of a “wish list” of things I should try to do over the course of a year.  Some resolutions (such as reading 40 books) take more effort than others (send Valentine Days cards or wear more leopard print).  Some of the resolutions are more subjective.  For instance, the fruit of the year is apple.  What does this mean?  Eat more apples?  Learn about apples?  Ideally, these sorts of resolutions are a way to focus on a theme or topic to learn about or experience.  If I add more resolutions next year, I may need a microscope to read all of them!  In any event, here are my 140 New Year’s Resolutions in their lengthy glory.  I wonder how many I will check off from the list?


Resolutions140

Always a Man

Always a Man

Always a Man

H. Bradford

10.27.19


There’s always a man


On the corner by the clinic


Telling women what’s what with their bodies.


He cries about the babies,

The babies being killed in the baby killing factory

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


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

Since I’m about as sentimental as an old shoe

and as nurturing as an acid oasis.

And he doesn’t speak my language.



His language is the language of old men.

The language of burning witches

and marrying off little girls to old men like him.

It is the tongue of ten thousand years of silencing.

Ten thousand years of raping.

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



There’s always a man on the sky,

telling the man on the corner what’s what

In a conversation that other men began long ago

In a language I don’t speak,

but always translates to

power over women.

And I won’t hear of it.


 

 

 

 

 

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

H. Bradford

08/20/19


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


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


 

The Question of Violence:


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


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


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


 

  Finding Trotskyism:       


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


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


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


 

The Vanguard Party


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


 

Continued Lessons:


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


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


 

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

Book Review_ Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

H. Bradford

6/27/19

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

socialistaction2


 

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

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

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

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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