Jul 10, 2017

solidarity against hate

Homophobia and islamophobia are not actually phobias. I do not believe that they are mental health conditions (like agoraphobia or claustrophobia) and it is wrong to put them in that category when they appear to be based on hate, not fear. As such, I avoid both terms and prefer instead the terms anti-gay (or anti-LGBTI) prejudice and anti-muslim prejudice.

It is strange that the words for different sorts of prejudice and hate can sound so different. Racism, sexism, agism, ablism sound similar, but is there a similar -ism version for the two terms in question here? Sherman argues for the term gaycism, but it seems unlikely to catch on. It could be useful for alliance building if all were said using a standard construction that we could put side by side, and I propose here we simply use anti-black, anti-woman, anti-gender queer, anti-Muslim, etc. Whether you then add on the word prejudice, bias, hate, or bigotry could vary.




May 9, 2017

Chances are growing that your research might be weaponized

A few months ago I published the article Beware, your research may be weaponized in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers (AAG), as part of a forum on militarism in geography that came out of and is part of the long standing struggle in the discipline to address the growing use of geography by the US military in particular. (If you are a geographer and have not yes signed this petition, please do! The AAG finally agreed to set up a study group, but we need to keep the pressure on for good recommendations.)

I was honoured to have the web site The Conversation approach me and suggest that I do a popular shorter version of this article. This was my first time trying to do a popular version of an article. It was a bit of a shock at first to see how heavily my draft was edited. Here I thought that my writing was generally fairly easy to read, but this site actually uses software that rates readability. It was a good experience and I'm now motivated to always do a popular version of my academic articles.

As well as being shorter this version is much more practical, and proposes hacks for avoiding weaponization. The other challenge they gave me was to make it timely and start with a hook that connected it to breaking news. So I started like this:

Surveillance has become so ubiquitous that it appears likely that Russia was caught in the act conspiring to fix the 2016 United States presidential election, and at least one of his staffers was basically overheard conspiring with them.

Politicians aren’t the only ones being watched. Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations detailing the US National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance have made clear that, these days, everyone should be thinking about privacy and security.

Read on here ... 

Apr 21, 2017

denim day

April 26th 2017 is this year's #denimday, where you are asked to wear jeans as a way to speak out against sexual violence. As I have blogged before, one of my various critiques of this campaign is that so many people regularly wear jeans that it would be hard for your jeans to stand out on this day.

But I've learned that all cadets and staff at the US military academy West Point have been officially encouraged to wear jeans that day - and in fact the email they got about it explained the history of this solidarity action better than the official site does:

"all of West Point is encouraged to wear jeans to work as a visible means of protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault. Denim Day was originally triggered by a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault."

Well since the military rarely wears jeans, and has a serious sexual assault epidemic, I would be happy to see them all wear jeans on this day. It would be particularly striking if they wore uniforms on top and jeans below!

Jan 23, 2017

solidarity braids

I have blogged here before about various symbolic acts of solidarity, from wearing certain colors, to wearing heels, to going barefoot, to being silent for a day. None have moved me like this beautiful act of art and protest.

As Trump was being inaugurated, 50 women organized through the group Boundless across Borders came together on the US-Mexico border pedestrian bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez and braided their hair together.

I love the way this protest literally and symbolically weaves together the bodily intimate as a way of shaping the global. Global politics are always shaping our daily lives, our bodies, our hair. So too what we do with our bodies day to day is constantly shaping global politics, from what food to how we manage childcare. This is a basic argument of feminist political geography (if you want to read more about it, check out the book the Global and the Intimate).

Xochitl Nicholson, one of the organizers, talked about why they used hair this way, “We wanted something that referenced women directly, but that also sends a message about our common heritage and common backgrounds in a broader context,” Nicholson said. “It’s a symbol of collective strength.”

Of course this protest isn't accessible to women who wear head scarves, or women with kinky hair, or short hair, or no hair - but I still love the symbolism and intimacy of it.

Dec 11, 2016

Ways to make safety pin solidarity actually safer


have posted repeatedly on this blog about people wearing different things to signal solidarity of various sorts. I research how people build alternative securities through solidarity - so I have been following the debates about recent attempts to create safety by wearing safety pins.


If you are in the US, and maybe even Canada, you have probably heard about wearing a safety pin to signal solidarity for safety in the face of a hateful attack. But I will start with a brief explanation for global readers, since I recently presented on it at a workshop in Brussels and no one had heard of it. This was all the more surprising since it was a workshop on 'Nurturing solidarity in diversity' put on by the DieGem research group (see their paper on that page about their work, Putting flesh to the bone).  


People started wearing safety pins in the UK after Brexit, in response to a huge rise in anti-immigrant attacks. It was inspired by the by the #illridewithyou movement in Australia, in which people offered to take public transportation with Muslims fearing a backlash after a Muslim gunman held people hostage in a cafe in 2014. I believe the initial idea was to signal something like 'I will step in to create safety' in the case of an anti-immigrant attack. 

Safety pins were taken up in the US in response to an alarming rash of hateful attacks of various sorts in the US after the election of Trump, against not just immigrants but Muslims, Jews, Latinos, and LGBT people. 

The critiques of the safety pins come from two directions. Trump supporters read them as ‘anti-Trump’ rather than as anti-hate and pro-safety. This argument has been taken so far as to ban teachers from wearing them in at least one school district (Shawnee Mission, Kansas), which said it was banning them as political speech in an effort to maintain a neutral environment. 

There have been many hateful (particularly mysoginist) and violent takeovers of the twitter #safetypin hash tag, which often make plays on the safety pin of a gun. 

But justice activists have also critiqued the use of the safety pins.

The primary critique I have seen online is that the pins are too easy. The concern is that wearing a pin would simply assuage guilt over the election and the hate crimes that have followed and make the wearer feel good about themselves and thereby get them out of taking more concrete actions, like going to protests, or doing media work.

Another critique is that people might wear the pin to support just some of the groups under greater attack after the hate filled Trump campaign, and not others - so, for example, a safety pin wearer might be ready to step in if a woman with a head scarf is being yelled at on the bus, but not a transgender street involved youth. 

But perhaps the most worrisome critique is that it seems that many people are wearing the pins without any real plan for how they would intervene and de-escalate an attack, much less various strategies depending on the situation, or any practice in carrying them out. As such, seeing someone wearing a safety pin could be less than reassuring to someone facing an attack. Indeed, a naive and unplanned intervention could easily aggravate a situation. 

This is particularly true in the current context in the US, where police violence against people of color is a real threat. If your idea of how to intervene for someone’s safety is to call the police, in certain police districts you could actually be making a situation worse. 

But there are other resources to turn to. There are growing sources of training for how to stay safe without the police, which are collated in the google document “what to do instead of calling the police”

One of the various examples there also relies on solidarity symbols. The Audre Lorde Project Safe Outside the System Collective (SOS) gave local businesses decals to show that they were a SOS spot. These businesses received training in how to de-escalate violence (and take in victims of violence) without the police. Queer/POC folks knew that if they saw that decal, they could run into that bodega and get help.
Another model of security through solidarity is the 'Bringing in the bystander' program in place at various universities. Participants receive training in how to intervene in sexual assault. There is a standard training, that was developed at the University of New Hampshire and is being researched at the University of Windsor. Components of the program include
  • Discussion and practice of a range of active, potentially helpful bystander behaviors as well as the costs and benefits of different behaviors.
  • Bystander pledge to increase commitment to intervene.
  • “ABC” card – Active Bystanders Care (Assess the situation. Be with others. Care for the victim) includes reminders of the decision-making process for intervening, lists several examples of ways to intervene and provides contact information for relevant resources.
But again, many people wearing a safety pin have probably not taken any training like this. Is training really necessary? Could you simply read a cartoon with instructions, like this one by the artist Maeril first posted here? This cartoon is great, but this is one of many tactics - and might not always be the best to use. 

At least reading about tactics for intervening in ways that actually increase safety (here is a good start), and talking them through with friends and family (particularly ones we're likely to be with), seems essential. I hope that trainings will also multiply and that more people will have access to them. The "safety pin solidarity deescalation class", at my childhood home library, is inspiring. As the organizer put it

I've enlisted an expert in the mental health space with experience teaching who will:
1) Address recognizing a harassment situation, including hate crimes
3) Teach different strategies for intervening in harassment situations 
4) Outline how to choose the appropriate strategy while prioritizing safety of self and others

There are many people in our communities with these skills. I hope that more spaces will be set up to share them with the many people who have been inspired by the safety pin tactic. 
Putting on this kind of training of course requires more organizing, more collective action beyond the easier connective action of wearing a pin (for more on the concept of connective action see Bennet).

As a geographer I know space matters. Space is both shaped by and shapes our social interactions, and small acts can make a big difference in the feel of a space. I would hope that in the same way a queer student is likely to feel more comfortable in a university where lots of profs have signs like this on their door, a Muslim student might feel more welcome on a campus where a lot of people are wearing safety pins. 

But maybe not. Maybe the safety pins have been so ridiculed, or taken up so lightly, that they will not be seen by others as a real commitment to step up and so will not have much impact on the feel of the space. This will of course vary by context.

The main role the safety pin may actually serve might be to regularly remind the wearer of their commitment - and hopefully inspire them to think about how they might respond, to take a training, and to be on the lookout for even microaggressions. 

Yet I get the sense that maybe many of the safety pin wearers are expecting people being attacked to find them and step towards them, rather than the safety pin wearer having to actively step up (and have a plan for doing so). This widely circulated 'I am safe' image seems to imply that. 

Perhaps my most serious concern with the safety pins, and one that I haven't seen posted though I'm sure others must have also made it, is that the two images that are most widely circulated with the hashtag, 'I am safe' and "you are safe with me" sound a bit saviourish. As I've argued here before, solidarity can easily slip into saviourism. 

It makes a real difference if the person wearing a safety pin frames it as 'you are a victim, I am not - I am here to help you', or something like, 'I believe in safety and human rights for everyone. I am part of the new civil rights movement and in the struggle to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected. When I am a bit safer than someone else under attack, because of a particular privilege, I will leverage that privilege to try to increase their safety.'

Whenever privilege is used in solidarity organizing across difference there is a danger of reinforcing the systems and practices that make some lives worth more than others, but when used carefully and with awareness, sometimes privilege can be used to wear away those inequalities. 

Much as with the international protective accompaniment that I research, a quick and easy use of safety pins could reinforce the superiority of some over others. It takes doing more consciousness raising and organizing - but if safety pins are used as part of a larger project of education and movement building they could play a role in changing the reality that now some people are safer than others.



Nov 17, 2016

the dark sides of empathy

this image comes up when you google empathy -
is this how you imagine it working?
I have repeatedly blogged here about how empathy can be problematic, particularly when it is appropriative. I have argued that when empathy does lead to solidarity, there is a greater risk of it being a more colonial sort of solidarity. Yet I am happy to see that even as empathy experiments abound, there seems to be a growing discussion and critique of empathy. 

The European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts is dedicating its next annual conference to the theme of empathy, or EMPATHIES rather: www.empathies2017.com.

The conference will take place in Basel (Switzerland), from 21-24 June 2017. The deadline is: 10 December 2015. It will be organised along the four streams: (1) Empathy, Morality, Ethics; (2) Empathy, Narrative, Imagination; (3) Empathy and the Nonhuman; (4) Collective Empathy. 

As Manuela Rossini, the president of the association, put it in an email: 


A transversal theme will also be "the dark sides of empathy," which certainly includes critical perspectives from postcolonial studies on the topic. In addition, there will be a pre-conference workshop on 20 June for doctoral candidates and postdocs dedicated to "The Cultural Politics of Empathy."

Apr 24, 2016

yet another bad idea empathy experiment

An intense semester is finally winding down and I'm ready to post again. Thanks to my friend Rachel for sending this bizarre empathy experiment my way.


The odd picture here is of Norway's immigration minister, Sylvi Listhaug, supposedly trying to get a sense of what it is like to be a refugee and lose your boat in the Aegean sea.

It seems to me that she was actually promoting the work of the Norwegian rescue ship, which pulled her out minutes later.

Not surprisingly she has received a fair bit of criticism online, particularly about her wearing a survival suit during the exercise. Said one, “Tonight I’ll sleep with the window open to feel what it’s like to be homeless."

My critique is not about her suit, but about the entire exercise. Do we have to experience what it is like to drown or nearly drown to be moved to take action in solidarity with the refugees? Would they really want anyone to have to experience even the slightest bit of the horrors they have faced?

It reminds me of my wise friend Patricia Isasa, a torture survivor, telling me something like 'of course you could never really understand what it is like to be tortured - and why on earth would I want you to?' As I repeatedly have argued here, we do not have to pretend to be each other to be in solidarity with each other.

Dec 30, 2015

a very different sort of solidarity head scarf wearing

Let me start with a correction. In my last post I used the word hijab when I meant head scarf. I know better, and have been corrected on this in years past by feminist Muslims, but somehow following the media attention around that incident I slipped and used the term hijab that the mainstream media uses. As a translator I loved this explanation of why this is a dangerous slip that supports conservative and anti-woman interpretations of the Koran, as do, the Muslim feminists authors argue, naive empathy experiments to 'walk in her hijab'.

But last week there was a very different, and inspiring, moment of wearing a head scarf in solidarity. Al-Shabab militants, who regularly single out Christians and kill them, pulled over a bus in Kenya. The Mulsims on the bus risked their life by quickly handing head scarfs to the women and helping them to wear them properly so that they could not be singled out. THAT is some brave and powerful head scarf solidarity.

Dec 17, 2015

Hijab wearing as "embodied solidarity"

Dr. Larycia Alaine Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, was placed on leave on December 10th for wearing a hijab for advent, or "from now until Christmas" in as she puts it "embodied solidarity" with Muslim women. She is calling on other women to join her.

I have posted repeatedly here about campaigns that in different ways play that I am you to show that I am with you. In general my concern is that though they may be well meaning, they run the risk of appropriation. They can give participants a false sense of knowing what other people's experience is like, and can actually close rather than open space for the experiences of people they are trying to be in solidarity with.

As Farah Azadi put it in her powerful critique of this action:

"In the case of the Wheaton College professor, I wonder if instead of wearing the headscarf, which will inevitably provoke conversations about Islam and gender, what if she made space in her classes to have Muslim women (hijab wearing or not) to speak about their personal experiences? Or making the commitment to developing a course on gender and Muslim-Christian dialogue? Or even finding her local Muslim community or Muslim women’s group and inquiring with them ways they feel Islamophobia could best be addressed on campus?

Instead, I fear her action will place her in the position of speaking to the experience of being a Muslim woman or about gender in Islam even where she is clearly misplaced to do so. In this way she has robbed a Muslim woman from speaking for herself, and that isn’t solidarity – it is, in actuality, colonialism.

Muslim women, religious or not (hijab wearing or not!) need allies to organise alongside them–to make more room for their voices, not rob them of opportunities, or speak -for- them. Though it may take extra effort and more time, and though some might have to risk starting some uncomfortable conversations, it is more likely to lead towards a fuller and ultimately more meaningful understanding of what it means to be a Muslim woman. Those acts may not make headlines, or twitter tags, but they are the necessary ingredients of moving from charity to solidarity."

I couldn't agree more.

I was also disturbed this morning when listening to the news to hear that in Hawkins' statement to the press she said that solidarity required "bodily sacrifice". Though I understand that her job is on the line, it seems problematic to me to frame wearing a hijab as a 'sacrifice'. It sets her up as a martyr, as a savior rather than a sister. 

I think and write about international accompaniers, who show solidarity by putting their body in the line of fire, walking next to peace and justice activists under threat in conflict zones. I am interested particularly in whether and how it works to use the fact that in our current global systems of inequality some lives count more, to work for a world where everyone's life counts, where every life is respected.

It is problematic to frame as a bodily sacrifice even this sort of solidarity action, which puts accompaniers at much more risk than wearing a hijab does. Accompaniers seem to sense this as I have very rarely found them using this language. Indeed more than a sacrifice it could be seen as a privilege and honor to walk alongside and learn from some of the bravest peace and justice organizers in the world.

Likewise, women who choose to continue to wear the hijab even when this makes them subject to Islamophobic attacks are brave, righteous, and important to listen to and learn from. Empathy experiments like Hawkins' (or like the many wear a hijab for a day exercises) do not amplify those voices, or even seem to learn much from them - but get a good deal of media coverage that can instead actually drown them out.



Dec 1, 2015

Syrian solidarity socks?!

The socks in the picture here are marketed as "Syrian refugee crisis socks" by stand4socks. Your purchase of the socks funds one week of education in a refugee camp. Another model will fund the clearing of two square meters of land from landmines. 

I am generally dubious about showing solidarity through consumption. Our planet needs dramatically less consumption, not excuses to justify more.  You probably already have way more socks than you need (I sure do). Why not donate a pair of winter socks to your local group organizing to set up house for one of your local Syrian refugee families? Not connected to one of those groups yet? Look for one, there are plenty. Quaker Meetings and Unitarian churches are a good place to start if you don't know where to look.

Let's stand in solidarity with Syrians in more transformative ways than through buying, or even donating, socks.  What will do more to change the situation for Syrians is asking the hard questions about why the war is raging there, and working to end the bombing of civilians in Syria that is making things worse and only serving to recruit more and more fighters for ISIS.

Nonviolent organizing for peace and justice continues in Syria, under incredibly difficult conditions. We can stand in more meaningful solidarity with those brave activists by following and sharing the stories posted on facebook by the Syrian Nonviolence Movement. Another resource is the site Syria Untold. I would love suggestions of other sites and ways to support this organizing.

Update: Another site recommended to me by Ebru Ustundag is the Syria Solidarity movement, but note that they support the Syrian government and the Syrian Army, so not exactly nonviolent grassroots organizing. Still, it's a perspective on the conflict that is not widely available in English.

I was quite moved this morning that the whole front page of the Toronto Star is a large and warm welcome to Canada for Syrian refugees, the first full official planeload of whom are arriving today. 
One of the issues here in Canada is how this will affect First Nations here. Ebru also recommended this podcast by native activists. As they describe it, "Trudeau announces nation to nation relationship and then proceeds to invite 25,000 Syrian refugees to come live in this land without consulting any Indigenous nations. We tackle this contentious topic on a late night ramble in the truck."

Nov 17, 2015

Geographies of empathy

Geographies of empathy is the great title that Judy Han gave this map when she posted it on facebook. I have also seen it in Spanish and on various other social media networks.

There have been many cogent critiques published in the last few days about the global unevenness of solidarity, so I won't write another. Instead let me point out that for at least two days the entire front page of amazon.com (the US version) was replaced with simply a French flag and the word solidarité.

Since when does the corporate world promote solidarity? And what exactly does it mean coming from a corporation that is famous for having horrible worker rights? I'm afraid that the term is being co-opted.

Likewise I was struck by Obama's recent pledge to “stand in solidarity” with French authorities as they hunt down the perpetrators. Does this mean that the now increased mass bombings of civilians in Syria by the French and US forces are now solidarity bomb drops? That is not what solidarity means to me.

I do stand in loving solidarity with the French, and Lebanese, and Afghani, and Nigerian, and Iraqui, and Colombian, and so many other people who are creatively building alternative securities and new ways of keeping each other safe through solidarity.  They have guns but we have flowers, as these two fabulous analysts put it in this short video.



Jul 9, 2015

I am you

This gorgeous video of the powerful solidarity song Latinoamérica by calle 13 uses an I am you trope that does not feel appropriative to me, because the I seems to be Latin America itself, a land and people together as a living being.  I don't know who did the translation in the subtitles here, and they're not fabulous, so also check out the translation below by my friend and compa Michael Joseph. The two women who sing in this video are some of my favorite singers of all time, both of whom I've had the honor of hanging out with. The first is Toto la Momposina, and the second is Susana Baca. If you don't know their work check them out too.  I'm looking forward to seeing calle 13, they are coming to Toronto for the Panamerican games!



Soy, soy lo que dejaron, Soy las sobras de lo que te robaron,
Un pueblo escondido en la cima, Mi piel es de cuero por eso aguata cualquier clima,
Soy una fábrica de humo, Mano de obra campesina para tu consumo,
En el medio del verano, El amor en los tiempos del cólera,
Mi hermano!

I am, I am what was left behind, I am the leftovers of what they stole from you,
I am a town hidden on the peak, My skin is leather so it can handle any climate,
I am a smoke factory, Peasant labor for your consumption,
In the middle of the summer, Love in the time of cholera,
My brother!

Soy el que nace y el día que muere, Con los mejores atardeceres,
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva, Un discurso sin saliva,
Las caras más bonitas que he conocido, Soy la fotografía de un desaparecido,
La sangre dentro de tus venas, Soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena,
Una canasta con frijoles.

I am the one who is born and the day that dies, With the best sunsets,
I am development in flesh and blood, A speech with no saliva,
The prettiest faces I have ever known, I am a photograph of a disappeared person,
The blood in your veins, I am a plot of land that is worth it,
A basket full of beans.

Soy Maradona contra Inglaterra Anotándole dos goles.
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera, La espina dorsal de mi planeta, en mi cordillera.
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre, El que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre.
Soy América Latina un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.

I am Maradona against England, Scoring two goals,
I am what holds up my flag, The spine of my planet, along my mountain range
I am what my father taught me, S/he who does not love their country does not love their mother
I am Latin America, a people without legs but who walk

Tú no puedes comprar al viento,
Tú no puedes comprar al sol
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia,
Tú no puedes comprar al calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes,
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría,
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

Chorus:
You can’t buy the wind,
You can’t buy the sun,
You can’t buy the rain,
You can’t buy the heat.
You can’t buy the clouds,
You can’t buy my happiness,
You can’t buy my pain.

Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos, Tengo mis dientes pa cuando me sonrío,
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas, Tengo el sol que me seca y la lluvia que me baña,
Un desierto embriagado con peyote, Un trago de pulque para cantar con los coyotes,
Todo lo que necesito!
I have the lakes, I have the rivers, I have my teeth for when I smile,
The snow that adorns my mountains, I have the sun that dries me and the rain that bathes me,
A desert drunk on peyote, a shot of pulque to sing with the coyotes,
All I need!

Tengo a mis pulmones respirando azul clarito,
La altura que sofoca, Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca,
El otoño con sus hojas desmayadas, Los versos escritos bajo las noches estrelladas,
Una viña repleta de uvas, Un cañaveral bajo el sol en cuba,
Soy el mar Caribe que vigila las casitas, Haciendo rituales de agua bendita,
El viento que peina mi cabello, Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello,
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial porque el abono de mi tierra es natural.
I have my lungs that are breathing clear blue,
The altitude that smothers, I am my jaws chewing coca,
The autumn with its fainted leaves, Verses written under starry skies,
A vineyard full of grapes, a sugarcane field under the sun in Cuba,
I am the Caribbean sea watching over the little houses, Doing rituals of holy water,
The wind that combs my hair, I am all the saints that hang from my neck,
The juice of my struggle is not artificial because my land’s fertilizer is natural.
We are walking, we are drawing the way!
[Chorus in Spanish and Portuguese]

Trabajo bruto pero con orgullo, Aquí se comparte lo mío es tuyo,
Este pueblo no se ahoga con maruyos, Y si se derrumba yo lo reconstruyo,
Tampoco pestañeo cuando te miro, Para que te recuerdes de mi apellido,
La operación cóndor invadiendo mi nido, Perdono pero nunca olvido, oye!

Brute work but with pride, Here we share, what’s mine is yours,
These people don’t drown in the waves, And if it collapses I’ll rebuild it,
I don’t blink when I look at you either, So that you’ll remember my last name,
Operation Condor invading my nest, I forgive but I’ll never forget!

Vamos caminado, aquí se respira lucha.
Vamos caminando, yo canto porque se escucha.
Vamos caminando, aquí estamos de pie.
Que viva Latinoamérica.
No puedes comprar mi vida!
We are walking, here we breathe struggle,
We are walking, I sing because you listen,
We are walking, here we are standing up,
Long live Latin America.
You can’t buy my life!

Jun 23, 2015

playing the other to show your solidarity with them

There seems to be widespread agreement that it was wildly unethical for Rachel Dolezal to pretend to be black, and particularly to use her false identity to gain a job working for racial justice with the NAACP.  Perhaps she didn't consciously think of it this way (did she really have much clear self-reflection?), but one (perhaps too charitable) interpretation is that she was pretending to be the other as a misguided way to be in solidarity with them.  

It has been much more common in the US and Canada for white folks to pretend to be native (a la Grey Owl) - so much so that there is an entire book about it, and the fabulous term pretendian. Actually Rachel also claims to be native and, get this, to have been born in a tipi.  Because I guess being pretend black wasn't enough?

I assume that most readers of this blog would think it was a bad idea to dress like a stereotype of a native person to express your solidarity with indigenous people, and to repudiate and raise awareness of ongoing violence against them. Even if it were only for a day, I think most of us would think it was offensive to, say, do a campaign to wear a headband with a feather for a day to raise donations to end the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada (#MMIW).


How is it then that campaigns where men dress up like stereotypical women for a day to raise awareness of sexual violence are somehow more acceptable and gaining traction? There is not only one but two of these that are spreading across the US, Canada and Australia and happen annually in April and May.

The Australian campaign is called 'red my lips' (see photo) and money raised goes to a, as they put it, "rape and domestic violence" 24-7 hotline.

Recently Toronto media was full of photos from the annual Walk a mile in her shoes action, which has the slogan "heels heal". A bit bizarre really, since in my experience, and according to most podiatrists and back experts of all sorts, they actually hurt you. 

Heels are certainly not my shoes, and these days they're really not most women's shoes, but somehow for this action they are being used to symbolize standing with women against gender based violence.

As they put it, "By wearing heels and acting in solidarity with women, we want to show that we'll do whatever it takes to make this a safer world for everyone." Because, you know, wearing heels is an extreme act for a cisgendered (ie, not trans) man. So much so that many seemed to feel the need to otherwise assert their masculinity. Even the headline in the Toronto Star proclaimed, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is no small feat, and the article writes about men feeling women's pain. Well, I regularly write on this blog about the dangers of empathy experiments, but let me say it again. Men who walk a mile in pumps that few women wear really have only the very slightest taste of what it is like to live as a woman in a patriarchy - but thinking that they know more about it than they do might actually do more harm than good. 

For the record, I do appreciate that the money that the Toronto event raises goes towards educating men and boys on how to build healthy equal relationships, how to stop street harassment, etc.. But the main site for this event, based in the US, seems to be quite a business.  It's full of trademark signs and merchandise.  You can buy your extra large red high heels here, as well as branded t-shirts, stickers, etc. 

These play the other campaigns are even more problematic than the dress like an "indian" for a day scenario, because of the additional complication of transphobia.  Rather than blurring it, these campaigns seem to harden a gender binary. Rather than making it more normal to think that more male identified people might sometimes choose to dress in more feminine ways, it is presented as something slightly outrageous, courageous even. It is done only one day a year, to great acclaim, and rewards of actual donations to your cause. 

Ironically these campaigns reinforce the heteropatriarchy's systems of power that they claim to be working against. This is just not the kind of respectful solidarity I would appreciate as a woman living in a world full of gender based violence.  But 

I realize that this is a cranky feminist post and I'm open to hearing other perspectives on these actions, please respond in the comments!

May 28, 2015

using your privilege for solidarity: a comedic take

I think a lot about how we can use our different forms of privilege to tear down the very systems that give us those privileges.  Sometimes we can use one system against another, for example.  But all too often when solidarity activists use their privilege for social change, they inadvertently reinforce those systems. Here is a short video that takes a funny poke at that.

May 20, 2015

an update on my favorite 'blue for you'

Recently I posted about several campaigns that ask folks to wear blue in solidarity.  My favourite is the campaign against fracking in the Seneca Lake region of New York state in the US, where folks wear blue to show that they stand with and for the lake.  I previously reported that they won their campaign and stopped the fracking.

I am sad to have to report that the campaign continues, because now the company is planning to store fracked gas, extracted from other parts of the region, in large abandonded salt caverns underneath the lake. There is a horribly likelihood of leakage into the lake, which provides drinking water for 100,000.  A lot of these storage facilities also blow up, and are very hard to put out (as in, they burn for three weeks).

Josh Fox, who directed Gasland about the harms of fracking, has a new short explaining this called We are Seneca Lake (as I've posted before, this is a 'we are x' I actually like - as the campaigners put it, we drink the water, we literally are Seneca Lake).  Josh's video showed recently on Democracy Now.  It is here and well worth watching.




May 14, 2015

Do you do zombie solidarity?

It is so well worth reading that I am reposting below (with her permission) an entire post by Ann Deslandes, who regularly writes great pieces on solidarity issues.

I'm not sure I really want to think of myself as a zombie, or what I do as ever a form of zombie solidarity (I like to think of myself as fully alive and I am trying to be more and more awake!), nevertheless the concept is intriguing and she has a fantastic collection of examples to learn from here.

Zombie solidarity


Kristian Adamson and I wrote an essay for the forthcoming book Zombies in the academy: Living death in higher educationYou can read a pre-publication version here.
We use the term “zombie solidarity” to describe certain practices of refusal and reconfiguration of power on campus. Zombie solidarity is affiliated to working to rule, go-slows and work bans, but has a more latent and perhaps less recognisable character when it is in action.  For example:
“Salaried academics who hire casuals might commit to ensuring that they are contracted and paid properly and that their conditions are monitored even where that, as it often seems to, involves frustrating and/or lengthy interactions with the appropriate people in financial or human resources administration on campus.
Senior, tenured and/or salaried academics could contribute to a fighting fund that would pay the wages of casuals for a day or a week of mass strike action. Under current conditions it is not widely considered as realistic for casual staff to join a union, and it is not realistic for them to participate in strike action. However, a mass strike of casual staff would doubtless have an effect, given that they now perform 50 per cent of university teaching (Jonas 2009; see also Bexley et al. 2011).
‘Zombifying’ audit measures might be refused as a measure of academic productivity and value. Sympathetic consortia of academics might decide to cease reporting audit points or decide among themselves which journals they believe are worth publishing in for the reporting of research and promulgation of ideas.
Staff might opt to do their own cleaning and catering on occasion – by way of providing relief to precarious and low-paid workers, or to demonstrate the refusal of a class designation whereby such work is not considered to be appropriate for a person at that level of the social hierarchy.
At the behest of leaders in departments and schools, ‘administrative’ and ‘academic’ tasks and skills could be shared more equitably. Collaborative management of this kind is particularly apt given the number of so called ‘general staff’ who hold academic qualifications. Such a program may also assist in making visible the widely reported shortfall across the system of funds required for effectively administering universities.”
Two articles in our patch of the cloud particularly helped our meditation along:this primer for the book, which appeared in The Australian, written by the book’s editors; and this spray on the Times Higher Education blog by a UK-based professor. We wanted to reflect on the power that tenured academics in particular have to intervene in (indeed, to notice) the features of power relations on campus associated with audit culture, casualisation, impossible workloads, the consumerisation of students and other processes at work as higher education becomes increasingly corporatised; the yokes of which many feel unable to resist. Turns out Romero’s zombie (among other zombies) was also able to help.
Since writing the essay we’ve started using ‘zombie solidarity’ in conversation with each other and our friends to describe certain events and practices that we see around us, as people with an extensive combined experience of student, adjunct and administrative university work. This has included the manycampaigns and projects promoting open access academic publishing, including those that make closed-access publications available. The united front at LaTrobe University to claim unpaid casual wagesThe English Department at UC Davis openly supporting the call for Chancellor Kathei’s resignation over her actions towards protest on campus. Dean Spade’s public reflection on drawing an academic salary. Yvonne Hartmen and Sandy Darab’s “call for slow scholarship”Diane Nelson’s public thanks to Duke students for paying her salary.  Hugh Gustersen’s entreaty to ‘just say no’ to the prevailing model of academic publishing. Melissa Gregg’s encouragement of “strategic complacency”, and her continuing work on the ‘contract careers’ of newer university workers as cultural workers (see also her quotation from Ruth Barcan’s forthcoming book on “the need for senior scholars “to be aware of the power of what they embody.” “). Projects like Review my Review and UWSDissenter. ‘Means-based’ fees for academic conference participation. The borrowed university login that has enabled many aspects of this post.
There are examples in other industries too, such as the realisation of demands, advanced by the Precarious Workers Brigade, to make visible the unpaid labour of art workers as well as interns and other students. Then there’s “[the] small number of graduates from the Design Futures program” profiled by Linda Carroliat placeblog. These graduates “have made a promise to themselves and each other to opt out of the prevailing employment and workforce regime to, as one person explained, adjust their expectations about income and lifestyle to dedicate and rededicate to the project of sustainment…”. As Carroli explains, this “challenge is not so literally about risking your life but facing fear; to create and nurture conditions whereby doing that has more complexity and vitality than the apparent banality and monotony of faith or sacrifice.”
A few quotes from our reading, over the course of our writing:
“We repeat the primal scene of academic formation, and need to keep proving our being smart… Smart is an assurance of our intrinsic merit, to explain our class distinction to ourselves, perhaps to explain why our brothers and sisters or the people we grew up with and went to high school with might be waiting tables, or driving trucks, or shingling our roofs, or teaching our grade school children. That is, it dispels our class guilt, providing a rationale for why we have attained and deserve our class position—which for many of us, is a rise, or if hailing from the middle class, an anxious prospect to be assured. Or, for the less abject, it connotes class pride, providing a rationale for why we have superior positions (tenure, time off, etc.) and why others have less privilege.” – Jeffrey J Williams, ‘Smart’
“Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them.” – William Deresiewicz, in The Nation
“if the future is kid stuff, the zombie precariat does not disavow it so much as disembowel it and play in its entrails.” – Jack Halberstam, ‘Bullybloggers on failure and the future of Queer Studies’
We’d love to know what you think about the essay. And stay tuned for the book, it’s going to be gorious.

Apr 28, 2015

I'll wear blue for you

I've posted before about the successful campaign against fracking in the finger lakes of New York state in the US, where the 'We are Seneca Lake' activists took direct action wearing blue to symbolize their struggle to keep their water clean. 

Last week people around the world were asked to wear blue shirts in solidarity with Burma's political prisoners. As the US Campaign for Burma put it in their email to me:

"In Burma today, hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars and over 300 activists await trial. The number of political prisoners has risen by almost 600 percent since the start of 2014.

U Win Tin, a journalist and, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a founding member of the National League for Democracy, was one of Burma’s longest serving political prisoners from 1989 until 2008. He described his time in prison as that of a living hell. Once released he refused to hand over his blue prisonshirt, and pledged to wear a blue shirt every day until all political prisoners were released. He carried on wearing ablue shirt until his death on April 21, 2014.

Stand in solidarity with political prisoners alongside fellow activists around the world next week and share your photo on social media. On Twitter and Facebook, please use the hashtag #BlueShirt4Burma, and on Instagram tag the photo to @BlueShirt4Burma. "


It's too late to wear a blue shirt (though it will be repeated next year) but tomorrow, April 29th, is being promoted as 'denim day' by the organization Peace over Violence. They would like you to wear blue jeans to express your support for sexual assault survivors and educate about sexual violence.  

Why jeans? Well, as the website puts it "There is no excuse #1: she was wearing tight jeans."  So, um, am I supposed to wear tight jeans tomorrow? That is not specified on the site - nor are there any instructions for how to make it clear that I am wearing jeans for this purpose and not just because I tend to.  

It seems like so many people wear jeans regularly that it would be hard to notice if more people are wearing them tomorrow, but then, maybe asking you to wear your normal clothes in solidarity is a way of highlight how normalized and common sexual assault is? The website does not frame it that way however. 

Now, obviously, I am against sexual assault and in solidarity with survivors, but this campaign seems truly odd to me.  As readers of this blog will know, I am wary of solidarity actions and empathy experiments where you, in some way, try to be (or play at being) the one you're with. I have posted about many of these, like the day in Colombia for rolling up your pant leg in solidarity with land mine victims, or living on what you would get on welfare, etc.

I know that these campaigns are well meaning, and there is absolutely something powerful about embodying our solidarity this way, with actual corporeal markers - but it seems to me that these markers aren't necessarily easy for others to read.  What worries me more is that these actions run the risk of being appropriative, and of over-simplifying the lives and struggles of others. This seems more true of the blue jeans action than the blue shirt one, particularly since it seems to play with the idea that we could all be victims.

I don't think sameness, or even similarity, is required for solidarity. I can be quite different from you and still see your wellbeing as tied to my own. Our differences are a strength - we can work from our different positions for a better world for all of us.  

I am much more comfortable with the anti-fracking activists wearing blue and "being" water - maybe because it's not human? But then again, some huge percent of our body is made up of water, so in a sense it's a way of highlighting who we already are.  

#denimday #solidarity #fracking #blue