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My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

My Path to Revolutionary Socialism

H. Bradford

08/20/19


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


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


 

The Question of Violence:


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


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


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


 

  Finding Trotskyism:       


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


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


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


 

The Vanguard Party


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


 

Continued Lessons:


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


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


 

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Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

Book Review_ Abolitionist Socialist Feminism

Book Review: Abolitionist Socialist Feminism: Radicalizing the Next Revolution

H. Bradford

6/27/19

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

socialistaction2


 

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

 

Heather Bradford, 2020 VP Socialist Action

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

The following is from the Socialist Action webpage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

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

New Anti-abortion Laws and the Struggle for Reproductive Rights

New Anti-Abortion Laws: How Should We Respond?

H. Bradford

5/28/19


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


 

April Activist Notes

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April Activist Notes

H. Bradford

5/1/17

Happy May Day activist friends.  It was a dreary, windy, snowy, AND rainy May Day in the Northland.  I didn’t do as much as I would have liked today, but I did take time to write up some notes on some of the activist events that happened in April.  This isn’t the most detailed account, as I should have taken notes while attending these events.  Despite the lack of detail, the ongoing upsurge of activism is encouraging.  It is also a little exhausting!  For a matter of comparison, I have attended about 73 political events (films, protests, meetings, etc.) since January 1st.  This is about the same that I attended for the entire year of 2016.   This is not to brag, as I know people who have attended more than this.  Rather,  I think it is a useful measure of the relative upsurge in social organizing.   April weather may be gloomy, but activism is in bloom!


April 4th: Wage Parity Picket

April 4th was 2017’s Equal Pay Day.  This means that women must work until April 4th to earn as much money as men made the year before (i.e. must work four months longer to earn the same median income.).  In 2016, women earned about 79% of the median income as men.  Of course, broken down by race, this is much less.  If I remember rightly, Black women make about 63 % of the median income of men and Native American women make about 58%.  Women over the age of 55 make about 64% of the median income of men.  A wage parity rally was organized by the Feminist Action Collective and other organizations.  The noon rally at City Hall was well attended and featured a speech by the mayor.  This was also a chance to re-use some of my signs from the International Women’s Day Strike.


April 15th: Veterans for Peace Tax Day Protest

Each year, Veterans for Peace hosts a Tax Day Protest.  The event is meant to highlight how our tax dollars should go towards meeting human needs rather than our bloated defense budget.  This year’s event was very successful!  Anti-Trump sentiment brought out more activists than any other year that I have attended this event.  The event began at City Hall with various speakers.  This was followed by a march to the MN Power Plaza.  Activists held signs to attract the attention of passing cars.  There were a few more speakers and some music at the plaza.

 

April 15th: Feminist Frolic: Cache In-Cache Out

The Feminist Justice League hosts a monthly outdoor adventure + learning activity called a Feminist Frolic.  This month, we tried out geocaching.  In honor of Earth Day, we did a cache in, cache out event.  This involved collecting garbage while we geocached.  Leslie taught everyone how to geocache with her very detailed presentation about the rules, language, and history of this activity.  I gave a presentation on feminism and trash.  It was my first time geocaching!  I really love it and have since found 40 caches in my area!  We also collected two small bags of garbage from the park.

 

April 17th: Bi with Pie: Bisexual Poets

April is National Poetry Month.  In observance of the month, Pandemonium’s monthly Bi with Pizza Pie meeting featured Lucas D.’s presentation on a few bisexual poets and sharing of his own poetry.  He shared poetry from a variety of poets and we had a short discussion about themes that were observed in the poetry.  Lucas has written several books, but his newest is a collection of poems called “Since We Left the Oregon Trail: Poems for the Xennial Generation.”

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April 22nd: Science March

Like many cities, Duluth hosted a March for Science.  It was attended by 1200 people, though I did not attend due to my work schedule.  As such, I can’t report back on this as I was not there.  However, it seems like it was a great turnout!


April 24th: Socialism and a Slice

Once a month, Socialist Action hosts a socialism and a slice event.  This month, various topics were discussed.  The activists at the table discussed things such as racial minority unemployment in Duluth, the lack of low income housing, work on the Homeless Bill of Rights, the Science March, etc.  The purpose of the event is to discuss current events and typically there is a heavy focus on local events and politics.


April 29th: Duluth People’s Climate March

As many as 800 people showed up for the Climate March on Saturday, April 29th.  The event was hosted by Interfaith Power and Light, which organized a climate march near the Duluth Zoo over a year ago.  As such, the event was well attended by religious groups.  Many local politicians were also there and spoke out during the rally.  The rally was followed by a march along the Lakewalk, which ended in more speeches and several tables with information on various environmental groups.  Over 200,000 people marched in Washington DC and tens of thousands more marched across the United States.  I made a few signs for the march, which I thought turned out quite well.

 

April 29th HOTDISH Militia Bowl-a-thon:   

HOTDISH Militia is a local group that has been around since the early to mid 2000s, but became less active over the years.  The election of Donald Trump resulted in a flourishing of feminist activism in the Northland.  This gave new life to the HOTDISH Militia.  The group works to raise funds that help low income women access the Women’s Health Center in Duluth.  This is the only abortion clinic for the northern half of the state of Minnesota, northern WI, and Northern MI.  Thus, these funds and the clinic are extremely important.  One of the major projects that the group has worked on this spring is organizing the Bowl-a-thon.  The Bowl-a-thon is organized through NNAF, or the National Network of Abortion Funds.  HOTDISH is one of two funds in Minnesota.  The national organization has an anonymous donor who has offered $2000 to every team that raises over $5000 for the Bowl-a-thon.  The goal of the campaign was to therefore raise $5000 locally so we could get those matching funds.  With hard work, weekly meetings, and generous donors, the goal was met.  The Feminist Justice League’s team raised over $700 and dressed up like feminist superheroes!  Our super hero team included characters such as Madonna Whore, Traffick Stop, Nasty Bitch, Rainbow Fight, Miss Anti-America, and Riot Grrrl Scout.  Although we didn’t raise the most, I am very proud of the team and our fundraising.  The entire campaign raised almost $8000.

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Activist Notes: February Review

 

 

Activist Notes: February Review

H. Bradford

2/28/17

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.


  1. 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.

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  1.  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.

 

  1. 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.”


  1. 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.


 

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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!

https://bowl.nnaf.org/team/106832


  1. 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.

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  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.

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  1. Self-Care

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.

 

 

 

 

Vote Shaming: Privilege, Conscience, and Third Parties

Over the years, I have often been either annoyed or indifferent to the election cycle.  Elections are more or less something to be endured.  Time and time again, I watch from the sidelines as two capitalist puppets duke it out over just how shitty the country gets to be over the next four years.  It is sort of a Punch and Judy Show.  No matter if Punch or Judy wins, the work is always the same.  The difference each election makes tends to be who and how many people show up to activist events.


One unique characteristic of this election, however, is the amount of shaming there seems to be against those who do not support Hillary.  I have seen various articles which argue that people who vote for third parties are selfish and privileged.  This seems to be a very popular argument this election cycle.  Generally, the argument goes that only those people who could weather the storm of a Trump presidency, could possibly consider voting for a third party.  Anyone with something to lose must chose the lesser evil.  It is a privilege to vote for your conscience.  It is a privilege NOT to vote for Hillary.  Those privileged folks who vote for third parties are really all about themselves.  They are selfish.  Their individual identities are more important than the social responsibility of voting for Hillary.   This rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons beyond simply being called privileged and selfish.


I certainly have privilege and my selfish aspects.  I am privileged by being white.  I am privileged by my education.  I am privileged because I do not have a disability.   I am privileged because I am single and child-free.  I have a tremendous amount of freedom.  I am privileged that I am not obese (which is shamed in society) and not too ugly (again prejudiced against).   The list could go on.  Yes, I do have privilege.  But, my privilege is not a function of my politics.   If you decrease x (x=privilege) it does not increase y (y=democratic party support).   I have been a socialist for around fifteen years.  This was before I had completed a college education.  I was a socialist while on food stamps.  I was a socialist through major episodes of depression.  I was a socialist when working at a hotel.  I was a socialist for the 10+ years that I didn’t have health insurance.  At no point did my support of the Democratic Party increase as my desperation increased.  I imagine that if I became homeless, disabled, unemployed, or any other major drop in my privilege, I would continue to support socialism.  While arguably, certain privileges allowed me to become a socialist to begin with (exposure to different ideas, the intellectual wherewithal to make sense of political theory, living in an area where there was a socialist party, etc.), my politics do not change when I have more to lose.


On the other hand, if my privilege is not a function of my politics, perhaps selfishness is.  I don’t know how selfish I am compared to other people.  I write blogs…about myself.  I shamelessly take selfie photos.  I forget birthdays.  I lose contact with old friends.   I don’t always compromise and do what other people want me to do.  Sure, I have my selfishness.  I genuinely enjoy doing helpful things.  I live in a house with a food shelf on the porch!  Next summer I am building a free garden in our yard so that strangers can just take vegetables!  I try to be involved in my community.  I have done AmeriCorps three times (making less than minimum wage).  I’ve worked with homeless youth, at-risk youth, and survivors of domestic violence.   I think that as a whole, I am probably a mixed bag of selfishness and selflessness, like anyone else.  It is true that being a socialist shapes my identity.  So there is some “me-ness” involved.  But, I became a socialist because I was upset with the suffering in the world.  I was deeply upset by poverty and war.  I feel angry when I think about the way in which most people live in this world.  This comes out of a place of empathy.


Let’s suppose that I am privileged and selfish, which has caused me to vote for socialists all these years.  I certainly don’t think that this would be true of other third party supporters that I know.   I am not a Green Party supporter, but generally speaking, I have never met a Green Party supporter who I thought was particularly self-involved or privileged.   In Mankato, the Green Party tended to be well-meaning older adults on fixed incomes.  In Duluth, those who support it tend to be life-long activists who have tirelessly worked on various campaigns often without reward or recognition.  In Mankato, I found that the anarchists were also nice and pretty dedicated to working for political change.  They tried to work with other groups.  They certainly weren’t that privileged, as they worked long hours in service industry jobs…and ate food from dumpsters.  This week, I even met a nice Libertarian who spent the day picketing anti-choicers with me.  As for my own Socialist Action party members, they tend to be hard working, intelligent people, who are also life long activists…who again have worked tirelessly trying to build social movements across the decades.    Is Adam selfish and privileged?  He works as a janitor cleaning up poop and disease.  He spends his money to fund a food shelf on our porch!  Is my friend Mike selfish and privileged?  He enjoys working low paid jobs at group homes as he is passionate about helping people with disabilities. Socialist Actions VP Candidate Karen Schraufnagel is brilliant, kind, and has dedicated herself to fighting Islamophobia and promoting Palestinian rights!  The point is, in all actuality, within my party, but across other political groups, there are nice, selfless people, who want to better society…and who devote their lives to doing this.   Calling their dedicated work for social change selfish and privileged is offensive to me.  Rather than critiquing these alternatives to the two party system on the basis of their principles, it reduces politics to ad hominem attacks.  Finally, everyone has some privilege.  There are privileged Democrats.  Many of the least privileged people in society may vote for Trump.  Rather than witch hunt privilege across parties it is more constructive to focus on the ways in which systems of privilege could be dismantled.   But…that is beyond the scope of two party politics.


No, my politics really aren’t about my privilege and my selfishness.   I simply have a different vision of the political world.  In my world, it truly doesn’t matter if Trump or Hillary win.  In my world, the Punch and Judy show really isn’t where change is made.  In fact, it is a distraction from where and how change happens!  Politicians grant nothing that hasn’t already been won in the streets.  Woodrow Wilson did not GIVE women the right to vote.  This was WON through 80 years of struggle in social movements.  It was WON by millions of people in the streets demanding this.   So it is with the labor movement, environmental movement, or Civil Rights movement.  The Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, OSHA, and Equal Employment Opportunity Act were all passed under Nixon.  This wasn’t because Nixon was a progressive guy!  It is because there were social movements at the time.  Change is something that is won through struggle.  It is not something that kindly politicians give us from time to time.  I believe in the power of the people.  History is a history of people struggling for their rights.  This is why I am not afraid of Donald Trump.   We have nothing to fear if we mobilize.  Nothing is made or moved in this country without workers.  We have a tremendous amount of power, but lack the vision and organization to use it.


Part of this short sighted vision is the excessive focus on elections!  Elections are a coconut game where everyone is a loser.  At least from a socialist perspective, Trump and Hillary are both representatives of capitalism.  We all lose under capitalism.  Sure, there are some qualitative differences between them.  But, imperialist wars will continue, Blacks will be killed by police, carbon will saturate our atmosphere, corrupt banking will continue, pipelines will be built, immigrants will be deported, and abortion rights curtailed no matter who is in office.   The pace and extent of these miseries is not a function of the party in power, but the people in motion.


Let’s suppose though that Trump is elected and things truly suck.  Rest assured, I will go out and protest every injustice.   I cannot substitute myself for a mass movement, but I can do what I can in my capacity as a human being to fight for a better world.  This is something I try to do already and something I do no matter who is president.


With that said, the shaming will not change me.  My political world view is based upon the power of people and critique of capitalism.  Elections play a very small role in true social changes. When the elections come, there will be people who don’t vote.  That’s okay.  There are voters who will vote for third parties.  That’s okay.  Voting is not a holy quest through which one purges themselves of evil.  Yes, people died so I could vote.  People also died so I could have safe work spaces, they died to protest imperialist wars, they died in those wars, they died to end slavery, they died for basic democratic rights, they died in failed revolutions…people across the world and across history have died for many movements.  Movements are the key.  The right to vote was won by a movement.  Voting was attained, but the story doesn’t end there.  Voting was not the end of history.  The act of voting is not the highest and holiest act, but one small expression of democracy and the realization of a singular demand.  Voting is not self-immolation before the altar of lesser evils.  It is victory, not an idol.  Because my goal is the liberation of oppressed people,  my eye is on victories greater than the promises of capitalist politicians….the sort of victories that won’t be won in elections.

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