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Archive for the tag “Heather Bradford”

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

locusts

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

Fighting the Plagues of Locusts and COVID-19

H. Bradford

Written 4/17/20

Posted 4/20/20


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

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

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

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

 

Chernobyl Fires Threaten to Unleash Radiation

Written 4/12/20

Posted 4/14/20

H. Bradford


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Our Reproductive Rights Won’t Be Handed to Us

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

reproductive rights

Our Reproductive Rights Won’t Be Handed to Us

Heather Bradford

Written 3/06/20

Posted 4/12/20


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


						
					

Abortion and COVID-19

 

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

Abortion and Covid-19

Abortion and COVID-19

H. Bradford

written 04/04/20

Posted 04/06/20

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

Covid 19 and Domestic Violence

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

COVID-19 and Domestic Violence

H. Bradford

Posted 04/04/20

Written: 03/26/20


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Lemonade

Layside Denim Co.

Lemonade


H. Bradford

03.24/20


We’re always making lemons into lemonade

Boiling sun, burning alive, chugging gallons of it

Smiling with a belly of lemons and a stomach ache

One of these days, we’ll move somewhere warmer

Quit that job

Quit that life,

All that lemonade fills the holes inside.

Makes us question if we’re really so unhappy

Or if we forgot to count our citrus flavored blessings.

Lemonade is the Kool-Aid of cult of optimism,

The can-do elixir of capitalism,

If you can’t make it better,

Make the most of it!

And when we die used up, dry, and exhausted,

We can lay our heads on a bed of all those lemon rinds that got

us through the grind

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.

 

 

 

Fabulous Birthday Freebies

Free Birthday

Fabulous Birthday Freebies

H. Bradford

3.1.20


Despite the grandiose name of this blog post, most of these freebies were not actually fabulous.  But, getting something for free is still pretty good.  Hence, I decided that this year for my “birthday month” I was going to try to get as many free things as I could.  Now, there are certainly more free items that one can obtain for their birthday.  But, I feel satisfied with my efforts and what I obtained.  While they might not all be fabulous, I can’t argue with something given to me for free just for being alive!  So, here is the list of my free birthday loot.


Hot Topic: $5 Off


Reward Members can get $5 off of any purchase in store or online.  I chose to buy a pair of snake earrings for $5.90. Thus, the earrings cost less than a dollar plus tax.  You might think that I am too old for Hot Topic. The large amount of Disney products they sell seems to support this claim.  However, I learned that uneven sized earring sets and friendship necklace sets seem to be popular right now. Yep, I am old and keeping up with the trends of the youth.  The offer expires about one month after the birthday.  Free earrings are pretty fabulous, so I will have to try to get another pair next year! http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn%3AANd9GcSi1rJvbDt3d5dmEwRRr655-x5qoXEX0pg1OdtNK6iKbGCm8adiPG0pViyCE10&usqp=CAc

Photo from Hot Topic.


Olive Garden: Free Dessert


This is a pretty good deal, considering that desserts are over $7 at Olive Garden.  I almost forgot to take a photo. Like all of these promotions, you need to be a rewards member to obtain the free dessert, which appears as an emailed coupon.  The featured item is a Black Tie Mousse Cake. I don’t believe that a purchase was necessary, but I ate other food so I am not certain.  The value cannot exceed $8.50 and the coupon expires within a few days of the birthday. Image may contain: dessert and food


Starbucks: Free drink of any size


Starbucks rewards members can receive a free drink of any size.  I redeemed the offer on my actual birthday.  Unlike other promotions, it expires on the birthday, so it is good for one day only.  The pictured item is an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk.  No other purchase was necessary.


Image may contain: drink and indoor


 

Noodles and Company: Cookie or Krispie


Noodles and Company Rewards members can get a free cookie or rice krispie bar for their birthday.  The promotion expires near the birthday. If I remember correctly, it expires within a few days. I redeemed the offer on my birthday.  No other purchase was required.

Image may contain: food

Qdoba: Free Entree


This is one of the better deals, since most places only offer a dessert item.  Rewards members can have a free entree for their birthday. I forget when it expires, but if I remember rightly there was at least a week after my birthday to redeem the promotion.  The pictured item is a vegetarian burrito bowl. No other purchase was necessary.

Image may contain: food Perkins: Free Magnificent Seven


I don’t really like breakfast, but hey, it’s a free meal.  I actually planned on letting my friend Adam eat this, but he was not feeling well.  So, neither of us was keen on eating the eggs, pancakes, and meat item (for Adam). I ended up eating some of the pancakes.  No other purchase was necessary, but I ate an appetizer and iced tea.


Image result for magnificent seven perkins

Photo from Perkins


Caribou Coffee: Any Drink


Caribou Coffee offers a free any sized birthday drink.  To access this deal, you need to be a rewards member. No other purchase is necessary, but the promotion expires a week after the birthday.  My drink of choice was an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk.  It is less sweet than the Starbucks version.  It was pretty fabulous! Image may contain: drink and indoor


  Dairy Queen: Blizzard


This isn’t the best deal, since you must buy one to get one free.  But, if you happen to have a friend who wants a Blizzard or feel like eating two, you can get a “free” Blizzard for your birthday.  This promotion appeared in the Dairy Queen app. I forgot to take a photo until I was nearly done, but this is a Double Fudge Cookie Dough Blizzard.  This was the Blizzard of the Month for February.

No photo description available. Marcus Theaters: Soda


To my great surprise, when I went to see the movie Parasite, I was informed that because it had been my birthday, I could get a free junior sized soda.  Even a small movie theater soda is around $5, so this was a pretty good deal. To get the free soda, you must be a Magical Movie Rewards member.  I didn’t get a free movie, but I went for $5 movie night, so it was a pretty cheap visit to the theater.  That was pretty fabulous!

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


 

Subway: Cookie


The final free food item that I received for my birthday was a cookie from Subway.  To get a free cookie, you must be a rewards member, but no other purchase is necessary.  The coupon was valid until about two weeks after my birthday. It was not the most exciting birthday freebie, but nice to end the month with one final thing.  Yes, this was a bit anti-climatic, as my brother pointed out, but I was happy to add another item to my collection of birthday freebies.

Image may contain: food


It’s March now, so the birthday fun is over (mostly).  I had a fun time trying to find some birthday freebies and it gives me a starting point to up my efforts next year.  Other places with freebies include Applebees (dessert), Texas Roadhouse (appetizer), and Jersey Mike (sub sandwich).  Of course, none of this is really “free” as I am doing the labor of providing free advertising for these corporations by sharing this information.  I also get more advertisements from these companies because of my reward memberships.  The companies most likely recover the cost of these “free items” in my spending over the year.  Nevertheless, it is fun to get something for mostly free!


						
					

Extinctions

Extinctions(1)

Extinctions

H. Bradford

02.23.2010


I’d rather read about dinosaurs

than think about relationships.

Both end in extinctions,

but I prefer the one 65 million years ago

To the here, now, or tomorrow.

Of course, birds are the happy ending

to cosmic cataclysm

But, few will grow feathers and fly free.

Instead, we’ll grow heavy and hard,

fossilize in the muck

all around us.

History is made of calcified hopes.

Nothing is permanent,

Just ask the Permians.

Sometimes it pulls apart like Pangaea,

a tsunami of lava,

or hell from the sky.

Sometimes the end is the slow burn of

410 parts per million of atmospheric carbon.

Acidic endings with starved oceans

and polar bear skeletons.

Whether by man or by mother earth,

in the end….everything ends.

 

 

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

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