Activist Notes: February Review
February is one of my favorite months. It is my birthday month, after all! I had an ambitious list of things to do to celebrate my birthday and Valentine’s day this month, but a busy schedule got in the way of accomplishing most of it. While I didn’t take as much time for myself as I might have liked, I am glad that there is a strenuous amount of activism to partake in. Here are some activist highlights for the month of February! There are some activist events which I attended this month which do not appear on the list, but this provides an overview of some of the things that I was engaged in.
- Solidarity Valentines to Prisoners:
On the day before Valentine’s Day, the Feminist Justice League and Letters for Prisoners collaborated to send solidarity Valentine cards to prisoners. I already wrote about this event, but it was a great way to show love for freedom, social justice, and humanity.
- Feminist Frolic: Women’s March Report Back:
This event was not as well attended as I would have liked, but I think we had a fun time hiking at the Bagley Nature Center. This was followed by Alexa’s engaging activist adventure story as she retold her experience at the Women’s March in Washington. It was a wonderful story involving a broken down bus, gender bending bathroom rush, mad dash to see Madonna and Gloria Steinem, crowded march, exhausting ride, and dilemma over the disposal of signs. She had many thoughtful insights about the experience, so it was great to hear her story over coffee. Otherwise, it was fun to talk to Kristi during the hike and build some snowpeople with her kiddo.
- Letter to Editor: Homeless Bill of Rights:
Following the feminist frolic, the Feminist Justice League hosted a letter writing event in support of the Homeless Bill of Rights. The goal of the event was to write letters in support of the homeless bill of rights to various newspaper. This is the letter which I wrote. It appeared on page four of the Reader. Believe it or not, it was my first letter to a newspaper!
“For the past several years, the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights Coalition has tirelessly worked with our homeless community to draft a Homeless Bill of Rights. The coalition seeks to create an ordinance that provides homeless people with rights such as free movement in public spaces, the right to share or eat food in public, protection from discrimination in housing and employment, the right to speak with an advocate or outreach worker when questioned by the police, the right to choose whether or not to use emergency shelters, the right to equal treatment by city staff, the right to privacy, and the right to 24-hour access to public restrooms. In all, the carefully crafted bill includes eleven demands which come directly from our homeless population. After years of work, the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights is finally up for consideration by the City of Duluth. If passed, Duluth would be the first city to protect its homeless population from the harassment and discrimination that is otherwise commonplace. After a city council resolution, petition campaign, public speak-outs, endorsement of dozens of organizations, this is the final hour for the people of Duluth to stand up and voice their support for this pioneering ordinance.
There are some within the city who would prefer to pass a policy rather than an ordinance. A policy would be non-binding. It could be changed at anytime without debate or notice to the public. Thus, an ordinance is essential for cementing the basic rights of our homeless population. An ordinance would cost little to the city. Even the right to 24-hour access to public restrooms could be met through the rental of port-a-potties that could be obtained for less than a few thousand dollars a year. This provision would certainly benefit any person of any economic background who happens to need to use a restroom while downtown. It would also make certain that our city no longer smells of feces and urine in areas that are currently frequented by those who cannot access restrooms. As a matter of public health, cleanliness, and human dignity, access to public restrooms is a sensible and modest demand.
I hope that you agree that all people, irrespective of their housing, deserve the basic right to eat in public, occupy public space, enjoy privacy, and avoid police harassment, so long as they are acting lawfully. These elementary protections ensure that everyone in our city is treated with the dignity that they deserve. To ensure the passage of this ordinance, please contact city counselors and the mayor.”
- Earned Safe and Sick Time Speak Out
The Earned Safe and Sick Time Task Force is hosting a series of public events, wherein community members can voice their concerns regarding the passage of a Earned Safe and Sick Time ordinance in Duluth. This would ensure that all workers in Duluth can earn sick time and safety related personal leave. I have not been involved in this campaign, but decided to attend one of these listening sessions. I found that the business community is highly organized against this ordinance. I wasn’t going to speak, but the business community launched a series of infuriating and inhumane complaints against such an ordinance. As such, I felt compelled to sign up for the speaking list. I have since condensed my comments into a letter to the editor that I submitted to the Duluth News Tribune.
- Hildegard House Meeting: Beth Bartlett
Early in the month, Jenny and I attended a meeting at Hildegard House. Hildegard House is a Catholic worker house which shelters women who have been trafficked. Beth Bartlett was the speaker at this meeting and shared her thoughts on community. She also shared about her book: Making Waves: Grassroots Feminism in Duluth and Superior. It was great to hear her speak. She even signed my book. We finished reading her book this month in the feminist book club.
- Feminist Book Club:
The feminist book club met in early February to discuss Making Waves: Grassroots Feminism in Duluth and Superior. One of the major themes that we drew from the book was the institutionalization of feminism over time. This was the result of social pressures, scarce resources, laws which required institutionalization, new movement norms, and the doldrums of the feminist movement. In a way, the history is a cautionary tale of the movement from egalitarian grassroots feminism, to the comparatively unequal and structured world of nonprofits and non-governmental organizations. Unless someone was a feminist in the 1960s or 1970s, they probably don’t have experience with the feminist movement outside of established institutions. One fear I have is that this normalizes a certain relationship to the government, political parties, and funders.
- Bi with (Pizza) Pie
Pandemonium meets once a month at Pizza Luce to discuss issues related to bisexuality over pizza. This month, we discussed various bi+ identities. I think it was a rather fruitful discussion. The event was attended by seven members, so the turn-out was pretty good! One of the members was new to the group and another member had been absent since our first meeting, so it was great to have some new and newish faces.
- HOTDISH Militia Fundraiser:
The HOTDISH Militia will be participating in a bowl-a-thon to raise funds so that low income women can access abortion and other reproductive health services from the Women’s Health Center. The goal is to raise $5000. This event is held throughout the country through NNAF, but HOTDISH is unique because it is the smallest (and probably most grassroots) of the organizations which provide funding for women. I will be participating through the Feminist Justice League. We hope to raise $600 for the April 29th event. As a bonus, we will be dressing up as superheroes! You can check out our donation page here to make a donation!
- Immigration Solidarity Rally
Early in February, Idle No More hosted a short rally in support of immigrant rights at the MN Power Plaza in Duluth. This was attended by about 40 people. The event was great as the various speakers connected immigrant rights to other issues such as war, environmentalism, colonization, and poverty. There was some discussion of reviving an immigrant rights group in Duluth at this event, though it remains to be seen if this suggestion will bear fruit.
- Women and Gender Studies Breakfast
Twice a year, UMD’s Women and Gender Studies Department hosts a breakfast which brings together various feminists in the community. I felt very honored to be invited last fall and again this spring. The event is a great way to connect with other feminists and share what we are up to. I was able to share the schedule of feminist frolics and book club meetings for the spring, as well as some information about an International Women’s Day event I’ve been organizing. This event helps me to feel more connected to other feminists. It helps build a united feminist community, wherein we share a meal, our concerns, and our projects.
- Fascism: What it is and How to Fight it
Socialist Action hosted a presentation on the history of fascism and how to fight it. The event was attended by about ten people, which is actually pretty good for an event centered around a theoretical and tactical discussion of fascism. To very briefly summarize Adam Ritscher’s presentation, fascism arose in the wake of WWI. European economy were in shambles, especially in Germany where hyperinflation rendered the currency nearly meaningless as the result of war reparations. WWI saw the collapse of empires and revolution in Russia. Socialist revolution was a real threat to an already destabilized capitalism. Socialist revolution was brutally crushed in Germany and only succeeded in Russia at an enormous cost. Still, throughout the 1920s, socialists and communists enjoyed millions of votes in Germany. However, Stalin’s ascent to power made collaboration of socialists and communists impossible due to his disastrous policy which ordered communists to treat other socialists as more of a threat than capitalism and fascists. Because these massively popular parties could not unite, fascism slinked into power in Germany. Fascism is a political movement which gains ground in times of crisis in capitalism, when the power of workers is so potent and frightening that the ruling class sacrifices some of its own to bring into power a thuggish fiend that can subjugate the working class through violence, dictatorship, and terror. Fascism is the capitalist class’ last and worst weapon against the threat of revolution.
Because of the failure of Stalin to appropriately address the threat of fascism, Trotsky broke away from the communist party, giving up any hope that it could be reformed. He founded the 4th International. Historically, Trotskyists have sought to fight fascism by correctly identifying it as a threat above the run of the mill workings of everyday capitalism and by defending workers with force as necessary. This has entailed organizing armed defense of workers.
Adam provided several historical contexts of fascism and anti-fascist organizing. One of the most important points was an analysis of if Donald Trump is a fascist. From our perspective, he is not. Capitalism is not immediately threatened by the prospect of revolution. The labor movement is relatively weak. While Trump is awful and should be organized against, both capitalist parties have operated in awful and repressive ways throughout history. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. have historically been essential to the functioning of capitalism as they divide the working class and depress wages. The fact that he is not at this moment viewed as a fascist, does not mean he is any less threatening or should be taken any less seriously. It simply means that he does not fit the traditional Trotskyist definition of a fascist, which is rooted in the specific role fascism plays in prolonging capitalism. While Trump has curtailed democratic rights and reversed the gains of social movements, this use of state power is not in the interest of definitively smashing working class resistance. Democracy has not be usurped to save capitalism. Any threats to democracy happen because they can happen, not because they must happen. There is little working class resistance to his policies, or for that matter, the policies of Obama, Bush, or Clinton.
- Socialism and a Slice
Yesterday, I attended Socialism and a Slice. This is a fun way to meet up with other activists, while enjoying pizza. This month, Christine and her family showed up. It was a very special day, since her baby was celebrating his first birthday. We discussed various activist events which are happening locally and the challenge of being engaged in everything that is going on.
I was pretty busy with activism and work, but I tried to take care of myself by doing a few fun activities. One of them was visiting the Sax Zim Bog to do a little birding. I wasn’t there that long, but spotted a gray jay and white winged crossbill. Another fun thing was a short road trip to the mysterious lands beyond Superior, WI. This journey took us to the hopping metropolis of Danbury, WI and onward to answer the siren’s call of Siren. We made a stop at the Clam Dam to wander around and walked a short distance on the Gandy Dancer Trail. This month also included a cold morning walk on the day after V-Day and discounted chocolates.