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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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