Today at 3 P.M. EST, AlterNet and GlobalGrind will lead a multi-racial, cross generational intimate public conversation via Twitter chat on men and domestic violence as part of #31forMARISSA, the month-long letter writing campaign inviting all men to write letters of support in pursuit of the freedom of Marissa Alexander. Alexander is the Florida mother who was sentenced to 20 years for aggravated assault after firing a warning shot in the air as her abusive husband — against whom she had an injunction — threatened her. The second part of the letters is inviting men to share their stories of domestic violence in their families, circles, communities with a specific emphasis on the role, action, reaction or inaction of men, and the legacy of that violence on the men around them, including themeselves. 

The campaign has attracted letters from black and brown high school boys to white male scholars acknowledging their privilege and seeing connection in the stories of their white mothers and that of these black mothers. All their letters have or will continue to run on a blog called theSWAGspot, dedicated to starting conversations by men, throughout the month of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Hard copies of the letters will be sent to Marissa Alexander.

This is the third Twitter chat as part of the social media conversations created by this campaign. Follow AlterNet and GlobalGrind on Twitter, and join our Twitter conversation today. 

For more on the  #31forMARISSA campaign, check out AlterNet's coverage here as well as excerpts of the letters here and here

Oliver Stone, Cenk Uygur, Tom Morello, Henry Rollins, and Shepard Fairey -- all progressive heroes and leading forces in their field -- have lent their voices in praising Robert Greenwald’s upcoming investigative documentary Unmanned: America's Drone Wars and proclaiming the need for us all to see the film and then take action.

"In keeping with his fine documentaries on Fox, Wal-Mart, and the Koch Brothers, Robert Greenwald now puts a face on U.S. drone policy. Unmanned is essential viewing if you want to understand what’s going on.” -- Oliver Stone, Filmmaker

 

"A powerful movie that shakes you to your core unless you're a person with no moral core to begin with." -- Cenk Uygur, Host of The Young Turks

 


"The film reveals why the US war on terror makes America less safe, not more safe, by creating tremendous hostility with indiscriminate drone attacks. Brave New Films scrutinizes the U.S. drone policy with far greater depth than the mainstream media in an effort to get the truth out to people. Anyone who sees value in human life and due process should be appalled by the human rights violations this film exposes." 
-- Shepard Fairey, Artist

 


"Did you know your country is doing this?! This film finally puts names and faces to the nameless and faceless victims of the USA's awful drone wars. I hope this great film is one step down the road towards justice for the innocent victims." -- Tom Morello, Musician

 

"Unmanned shows you that the euphemism 'collateral damage' is flesh and blood and the resultant misery, pain, anger and trauma will be passed on through generations. The images of the dead children in Unmanned are heartbreaking--imagine if they were yours. You want war without end? Unmanned shows us just why we can expect it." -- Henry Rollins, Musician, Actor and Activist

 

Coming out on October 30th, Brave New Foundation's latest documentary Unmanned: America's Drone Wars investigates the impact of U.S. drone strikes at home and abroad. 

The film will be available to stream for FREE for a limited time. Be among the first to see this daring documentary by signing up now at www.AmericasDroneWars.com.

San Francisco broke ground in defense of immigrants this month, taking an important step towards turning the tide against the criminalization of communities of color. In a unanimous vote, the Board of Supervisors supported a due process ordinance that Mayor Ed Lee has signed, which will reduce deportations by setting strict limits on collaboration between federal immigration enforcement and local authorities. Our city will make history by refusing to implement the federal “Secure Communities” program which allows the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to request an immigration hold without cause, regardless of immigration status, at local expense.

This victory didn’t trickle down like fog from the “progressive Bay Area bubble.” It was hard fought, from the bottom up. Immigrant and undocumented people most impacted by the problems led the fight, and they built a movement too strong to ignore. Causa Justa :: Just Cause helped organize the groundswell, as part of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee, a broad grassroots collaboration. We had support from progressive champions John Avalos, Eric Mar, David Campos and five additional co-sponsors.

This movement builds on the fights in the 1980s to make San Francisco a “Sanctuary City” welcoming survivors of the wars in Central America. We build on the fights in the 90s to re-commit to those values in the face of a new wave of migration, when economic refugees arrived, fleeing the hunger caused by US-imposed Free Trade Agreements. We build on the very personal fights of everyday people, like a woman we’ll call Silvia, a domestic violence survivor who met with the DA repeatedly, demanded that the DA lead meetings in Spanish so she could participate fully, advocated for herself and her community, and ultimately won the DA;s commitment of support for this ordinance. This victory belongs to the hundreds of community leaders who, like Silvia, overcame intimidation, organized their families and neighbors, and showed our elected officials the way forward.

In a national context where states like Georgia, Alabama and Arizona hunt down immigrants, we in California, a majority immigrant, majority people of color state, have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to follow Silvia’s leadership. It’s time to reject criminalization, and build community. Every time there’s a new way to label someone a “criminal” more families and communities are torn apart. Millions of Black and Latino people are behind bars already, thanks to criminalization policies like the war on drugs, structural unemployment, decades of divestment from working class communities, and racial discrimination. Creating new immigration violations only makes that problem worse, trapping whole new sectors of our society in the prison dragnet. This advance in San Francisco should inspire our state as a whole not only to reject the “Secure Communities” program, but also to take bold action to address the profoundly problematic prison system, and challenge the racism and poverty it depends on.

But, for our state to stand up like that is going to take a serious transformation. Governor Brown recently announced plans to expand the prison system with revenues from CA Prop 30 — the grassroots progressive tax passed last year to support public schools and social services. Causa Justa :: Just Cause, as part of California Calls through SF Rising and Oakland Rising, was one of hundreds of community groups that helped pass this progressive tax.  We are outraged to see the governor literally betting on the criminalization of the next generation, with money that was supposed to support their success.

Programs like “Secure Communities manufacture the need for more detention facilities, ultimately benefitting corporate interests like GEO private prison group. Their lucrative business depends on criminalization, and a culture of fear. If politicians aren’t brave enough to survive the accusation that they are “soft on crime” in order to champion real change, then we the people will have to take it into our own hands. Immigrant communities, black communities, communities of color and poor communities need to keep building the solidarity and the movement that will allow us to win, from San Francisco, to Sacramento, to DC.  There is much more to be done, and we can only do it together.

Although the US and Russia have agreed to a deal in which Syria's Bashar al-Assad would hand over his regime's chemical weapons, civil war continues to rage throughout the country and millions remain homeless as refugees. It is more imperative now than ever that anti-war sentiment remains mobilised in the US.

The repetitive mantras political leaders cite in support of war should be thoroughly interrogated. Among the most problematic of these mantras is the phrase "women and children". US wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - and, most recently, a possible attack on Syria - have been justified by calling for the protection of "women and children".

US President Barack Obama, for instance, defended his proposal to attack Syria by citing the danger of chemical weapons to "women and children" - and US Secretary of State John Kerry has used the same phrase.

Patriarchal gender distinctions are often invoked to supposedly protect one's nation - but this form of nationalist rhetoric in fact seeks to discipline and punish.  If the use of chemical warfare is inhumane, it is inhumane for each and every human body, not just for women and children. Age and gender need not be specified.  Yet the patriarchal, nationalist narrative insists on distinguishing women and children from the rest.

Furthermore, by declaring that poison gas is unacceptable and crosses the "red line" drawn by President Obama, other forms of warfare are thereby sanitised and neutralised in comparison.  Yet no one, let alone "women and children", can be saved as long as war continues.

On ‘womenandchildren'

Before the first Gulf War, anti-militarist academic Cynthia Enloe coined the one-word phrase "womenandchildren", which was a rallying cry at the time for US involvement in Iraq - and is now so again in Syria.

My first question: Why invoke "womenandchildren" when condemning the use of chemical weapons by Assad?  Chemical weapons cross a line of human decency - although one might argue that all weapons do so. Calling for the protection of "womenandchildren" allows leaders to frame wars as matters of national security, under the assumption that women and children must be protected for nations to be secure. 

But this does not make sense, unless you have adopted a patriarchal stance that women are not equal participants with men and a deep part of our common humanity. Misogyny separates women from men as different, lesser than, and in need of protection.

True, some women may need protection from domestic violence, and children in places as far apart as Afghanistan and Detroit need safety from assault weapons and poverty. So what gives here? Why invoke protection now, in this particular instance?

My next question is: Why is it worse to gas "womenandchildren" than men? If the use of chemical weapons violates the notion of a "common humanity", as Obama says, why single out a particular part of humanity for special protection?

But perhaps even worse is that this kind of manipulative rhetoric continues the myth that women in war can actually be saved. Everyone's life in war is in danger and at risk to varying degrees. Life is precarious to begin with, and becomes almost impossibly dangerous in war.

So instead of making wrong-headed paternalist directives singling out "womenandchildren", why not argue for a full end to war, food supplies for Syria's two million refugees, funding for schools in the refugee camps, and so forth.

Misogynist nation-building

Meanwhile, many politicians and leaders persist in referring to their nations as "motherlands". The countries are depicted as mothers, or reproducers, of the nation and are neutralised and naturalised as such. 

This female, maternal body becomes the lens through which the nation is viewed: an imagined and imaginary site.  All nations are gendered and raced, but silently so. Women are a metaphor of fantasy: more prescient for what they symbolise than the things they actually are. 

No matter that hundreds of thousands of US women serve in the armed forces, or that Afghan women have been active fighters against US forces, or that Syrian women have fought on both sides of that country's civil war.

When cast as a "mother of the nation", woman is a symbolic fantasy; she is, paradoxically, both invisible and visible. Nations must stop using this misogynist and nationalist rhetoric to avoid the real agenda. Rather than protecting "womenandchildren" from chemical warfare, or calling for their early exit from a fire, or entry on a life-boat, we should create equitable and sustainable human communities free of all weaponry.

If this seems too idealistic for most, at the very least, this sort of outdated and misleading rhetoric should be put in the dustbin of patriarchal history.

It’s been almost a year since I traveled to Pakistan to investigate, film, and interview drone victims and their families. While there, I met Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children, who shared with me the story of how Rafiq’s 67 year-old mother, the children's grandmother, was killed by a drone strike. Not only did Rafiq lose his mother that day, but his daughter Nebila, 9, and son Zubiar, 13, were also injured.
 
Rafiq’s situation moved me deeply. It was clear that this was no abstract instance of collateral damage. As a father of four, I am haunted daily by the stories of children being injured or killed by drone strikes.  The story of Rafiq and his children was so powerful that I wanted to be sure that Congress heard it from Rafiq and his heroic lawyer, Shahzad Akbar. All applied for visas to enter the U.S., invited by Congressman Alan Grayson to share their story in front of members of Congress. Reprieve, an international organization fighting for justice across the globe, has been working tirelessly to get the necessary documents so that we in the U.S. can hear first hand from a family whose loved one was killed by a U.S. drone strike.
 
While Rafiq and his children’s visas were approved, the visa request for their lawyer, guide, and mentor, Shahzad Akbar, has been held up in “administrative processing.” This means that their ad-hoc hearing has been indefinitely postponed, as the Department of State is refusing to issue his visa despite requests from members of Congress. Without Shahzad, Rafiq and his family will be unable to come to DC, and their story will never be heard. You can help Rafiq speak with members of Congress – but we need you to act today. Click here to be directed to our direct action page. 
 
Is the State Department delaying approval of Shazhad Akbar's visa to try to silence drone victims? Shazhad used to regularly travel to the United States and was even a consultant with USAID. It wasn’t until 2010, when he began representing drone victims and their families, that the Department of State began holding up his visa requests. 
 
The State Department needs to hear from us now, here are three simple ways to help with the campaign: 
  1. Call the State dept. directly at 202-647-9199
  2. Follow up with an email @ nvcinquiry@state.gov
  3. And sign our petition now to demand that the drone victims be allowed to speak in the U.S.
Congressman Alan Grayson issued this statement: "I encourage the State Department to approve Shahzad Akbar’s visa immediately, so that Rafiq ur Rehman and his family can share their stories with Congress and the American public." The time for Rafiq and his family to speak in front of Congress is running out.  Sign the petition and join with others to urge the Department of State to immediately approve Shazhad Akbar’s visa. Without it, the Rafiq and his children won’t be heard.

 

I started writing this before Bradley Manning came out as Chelsea. At the time, I was trying to piece together the niblets and whispers of news about Manning's sexuality - that she was gay and also transgender. My use of Manning's three names - Bradley, Breanna, and Chelsea - is to respect the complex historical process that is gender identification. 

Before going public, Manning had an online presence as Breanna on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The New York Times quoted Manning as saying to a former hacker, "I wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me … plastered all over the world press … as [a] boy."

Interestingly, no further comment followed. Mainstream news remained pretty much silent on this issue. It did not help matters, at least for me, that early on Manning's defence team raised her "sexual confusion" and "gender dysphoria" as a possible explanation for her whistleblowing. This complex matter of Manning's personal and gender choices and how it related to her public and moral stances obviously was too complex to be discussed by mainstream news outlets, or dealt with in a courtroom.

Feminists of all political types, races and genders have brilliantly argued since the early 1970s that the "personal is political", that there is a sexual politic to each moment; that the so-called divide between sex and politics, and the private and the public, is blurry and messy but also crucial. When it comes to transgender peoples, add in race and class and stir wildly.

So I will use these long-established anti-racist feminist insights and extend them to the realm of sexual choice and gender non-conforming people of all fashions. Paisley Currah, a transgender rights activist and researcher committed to the rewiring of law for transpeople; and Gayle Rubin, a long-time feminist and radical sex activist, make clear the necessity of opening our democratic hearts to the freedom of sexual beings in all their gendered variety and individuality.

Do not confuse all the cultural noise about sex with gender freedom. There is so much reporting of sexual scandal in our surroundings that one could wrongly assume that our culture is wildly free about sex or gender choices, rather than quite disciplining.

Whistleblower or traitor?

My embrace of Manning is as a whistleblower of keen ethical clarity, and as a member of a sexual minority and distinct gender identity who deserves equal rights and treatment. I am against all forms of terror - especially the kind that makes it hard to feel comfortable in our own bodies, whatever they may be. Manning was terrorised as a youth for being gay and now will probably suffer dearly for transitioning to a woman.

Manning's gift to the US public is to have exposed a militarism that is harmful, deceitful and devastating, alongside a full transparency of her personal/sexual self. That she has done so in a public statement read on the Today show by her lawyer David Coombs makes clear that her commitments are to the wider public, not simply to herself. In her own words, "As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female" … and have "felt so since childhood". We should embrace this public declaration with a careful scrutiny of our sexual and gendered culture and its anti-democratic lens.

Manning does not stand alone here. In 2011, a 23-year-old black transgender woman in Minnesota was convicted of second degree manslaughter in a transphobic incident, which her supporters say was an act of complete self-defense. She remains in a men's prison for her 41-month sentence. The day after Manning came out to the world, Islan Nettles, also a 21-year-old transgender black woman, was brutally beaten in Harlem and died the next morning.

And then there is the TV character Sophia Burset who is a transgender black woman in prison on the hit seriesOrange is the New Black. She has to struggle to maintain her right to hormonal therapy given cutbacks in prison medical care. She is in a women's prison, and is played by Laverne Cox, a transgender black actress. There is also the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which has been working for the past ten years to support incarcerated transgendered people.

Manning has initiated a rare moment of opportunity that makes mainstream silence a bit more difficult. She is a patriot and demands radical sexual and gender rights for anyone wishing to simply be who they are, regardless of institutionalised gender. These alliances and allegiances are complicated and complex. The extra-legal nature of misogynist, heterosexist and transphobic gender rules increases the problems that Manning will now face in a military prison for men.

Manning's story

Manning came from a background with limited familial support so she joined the military to get an education, despite being only 157cm tall and a closeted gay. She also hoped that military life would curtail the desire to become a woman. She is described as smart and technically brilliant. She was horrified, maybe somewhat naively, by the cruelty and deceit that she discovered were integral to the Iraq war. Once she saw the carnage of wanton murders and the lies to cover them up, she felt compelled to tell the American people. 

Living as Bradley/Breanna, Manning leaked 700,000 documents exposing aspects of an illegal war and the torture and killing of unarmed civilians. She was sure that no one would support these actions if given the choice - and bravely decided to risk everything to give the US public a choice.

Alexa O'Brien, who followed the Manning trial every day, says Manning is more a moral person than a political one. She believes Manning is hard to sell to the American public because she is not easily packaged for US media.

It's a difficult sell, because Chelsea Manning reveals just how complex human beings are. She knew she was gay since her early teens and then started to feel uncomfortable as a man. She started to cross-dress a bit and came out as a woman to her master sergeant Paul Adkins, saying that she suffered from gender dysphoria and attached a photo dressed as a woman. Information on hormone replacement therapy was found in her room. Bradley's commanding officer Captain Steven Lim knew she had been calling herself Breanna.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, O'Brien reveals that the largest leak by Manning was in January 2010, around the same time she was on leave in the US and had started to dress as a woman. Whereas Manning said she had been "troubled" and that this may have led to harming others, it is more likely that the terror she faced for being a woman in a male body caused whatever confusion there was. But maybe Breanna and Chelsea's loneliness and pain assisted her identification with the powerless against US military policy.

A civil rights matter

Feminists of all types must widen their commitments to see how anti-militarism is part of the larger sexual, gender and racial democracy. The civil rights movement should see an ally in Manning, who has stood openly against the US military's killing and maiming of Arabs and Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have a rare opportunity to create an anti-war coalition of anti-racist feminists of all sorts, no matter their biological body. This would be a coalition that embraces sexual, economic, racial, and gender rights for each and every one of us.

Chelsea Manning should be free and not incarcerated for whistleblowing. But if not, the military prison system should recognise her rights to her female body. Feminists and progressives of all sorts must continue to enlarge their visions and their dreams in whatever sexual and gender and racial formation we desire.

We are approaching the 2014 date for withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Now, finally, a clear majority of people in the US think that the Afghan war was a mistake. So, I am wondering if there will be much re-telling and misuse, again, of the discourse of women's rights as a justification both for the initial war, and, possibly as a justification for an incomplete withdrawal. 

The lead up to the Afghan war in post-9/11 used the rhetoric of "women's rights" to mobilise the American public. We were supposed to save their women from the Taliban and their "backward ways". Laura Bush used the language of women's rights to wrap the bombs of war with supposed democratic purpose. But not then, or now, should women's rights ever be launched in the name of imperial democracy.

Many anti-imperial feminists in the US mobilised against the initial rollout for war by the Bush administration with its misuse of women's rights as justification. US bombs were wrapped in the defence of "women's rights" - even though these bombs killed men and women alike.

Global misogyny

It is important to pause and to remember the misuse of women's rights as a US strategy to mobilise for the Afghan war in the first place. So I was troubled by the New York Times a few days ago choosing to highlight on their front page: "Despite West's Efforts, Afghan Youths Cling to Traditional Ways". Actually, the discussion is about male youths and their continued embrace of misogynist practices and beliefs. The young men are recounting what they expect of/for their mothers, sisters and wives. 

Afghanistan is labelled a patriarchal society because of Islam, rather thanalso because of its history of war and militarism. As for thinking that the "west "corrupts traditional culture(s), well, yes, it often does. The fear is expressed when one male youth says: "If my sister dressed like that, I would kill her." On the other hand, the women's rights legislation that many Afghan men reject and is also seen as corrupting would establish protections that are not yet institutionalised against child marriage, polygamy and violence against women

This is more than messy: Islam is not congruent with women's oppression, and hardly a singular example of it. Yet, right-wing aspects of it allow "western" women's rights discourse a specific entry site and should not simply be reduced to imperial interests.

Instead of recognising the deep connection between war, militarism and misogyny, Afghans are labelled simply as traditionalist patriarchs. The Taliban and radical Islamist zealots have been abusive and punishing of Afghan women. But little is simple here. Many Afghan feminists believe in the democratic promissory within Islam as it is articulated by women themselves. And, we should at least remember our own dirty little misogynist secret - the US armed services' epidemic of sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Global misogyny has its many aspects. In Afghanistan it is often a deadly mix between right-wing Talibanisation and imperial war. Yifat Susskind of MADRE, which sponsors local women's actions in Afghanistan, said in a correspondence to me concerning the New York Times article:

"There is no recognition whatsoever that tethering women's rights to US militarism is a sure-fire way to turn people against women's rights. There is zero understanding of the fact that sustained (as opposed to easily-rolled back) progressive change needs to be steeped in an environment of peace.

"War only shuts down the spaces for women's rights. They quote Amina Mustaqim Jawid, the director of the Afghan Women's Coalition Against Corruption, but still can't see her point: 'These young men grew up in a war environment. They don't know about their own rights; how can we expect them to know about their sisters' rights, their mothers' rights or their wives' rights?'"

Afghan women's continued resistance

There is a complex set of realities for women in Afghanistan. Poverty is overwhelming and getting an education a constant struggle. Afghan women continue to suffer poor nutrition, lack of education, prenatal and preventative health care, and suffer the highest infant mortality rate in the world. Any women's rights agenda must first address these issues that are part and parcel with a ruined war economy and a devastated countryside.

Nevertheless, many Afghan women also have been activists on their own behalf long before the US invaded. They have been determined to fight for their rights - to their bodies and their minds, as they understand this in a myriad of ways. The constraining blue burqa is/was an attempt by conservative forces to curtail their incredible determined resistance.

Many Afghan women activists say they are tired of being saved by others. The Russians, the Taliban and now the US government have all claimed women's "protection" as their agenda, to only soon forget or redefine this determination and turn it towards their own use. And for Afghan women, like others elsewhere, there is a huge difference between "protection" and "equality". 

This is not to erase the horrific problems that many girls and women face in Afghanistan, but rather to say that the US war on Afghanistan has been as deadly and troublesome to them as is the Taliban. The US has a horrific record of supporting the Taliban during earlier periods of Afghan history, and continuing to negotiate with them during US occupation with little attention to women's rights, despite Hillary Clinton's promises.

The often-used equation between women's rights and the "West" confuses a needed women's agenda. Women's rights are then negated on the linkage with imperial ends and it makes it all too easy to reject US imperialism and the awful war we levelled as one and the same as democracy for women. And, women's rights US-style will not necessarily be the same as Afghan feminist beliefs. Anti-militarism is a necessity of any Afghan women's agenda, but what "peace" will look like for women "rights" and "equality" is to be determined by Afghan feminists on the ground.

I want to emphasise just how utterly important it is to see the fanatic assault on women's rights - no matter where it occurs - as completely antithetical to any expression of democratic living. I am reminded of the Right Wing of the Republican party in the US as it hammers away at women's rights to their bodies - whether it be contraception or abortion - with no regard for our wellbeing. The New York Times piece speaks of tribal justice in Afghanistan, but some of this "tribal" justice sounds not all that different than pockets in Mississippi, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas and Florida in the US.

It is important to be critical of the US for its imperial wars while recognising that women's rights are not a Western plot; nor are rights simply of the "west". Women from across the globe demand their rights in their own form, and in other than western ways. Women's rights, however feminists across the globe choose to define them, are always subversive of misogyny, especially in its imperial forms.

Women in the US must look to Afghan women to expand the meanings of democracy beyond its "western" forms. This is next on the agenda for democracy across the globe, alongside the full withdrawal of US interests in Afghanistan. 

The minimum wage debate is a shining example of the left’s vigour and academic prowess. There has been an extensive and effective appeal to the various economic data that blast gaping holes in the argument that a higher minimum wage will somehow increase unemployment or drive prices through the roof.

Economists on left have aptly noted that productivity has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, with no similar increase in wages (Schmitt). Others (Card and Krueger, but more recently Dube et al) have noted that apocalyptic predictions of mass unemployment have proved wrong in the past. Economists of the middle-out persuasion have shown how a higher minimum wage would stimulate demand.

But, in a sense, we don’t really have to prove this. When debating the Kyoto protocol we don’t ask whether unemployment will drop by 1% or 2%, but whether it’s morally appropriate for two dozen or so developed nations to benefit from GHGs that will primarily affect the world’s poorest people. When Ford executives released the Pinto, it would have been preferable had they asked, not whether the car would be profitable, but whether it’s moral to knowingly sell a deadly product.

Similarly, even were some businesses to fail, unemployment rises and prices increase, a higher minimum wage could still be an acceptable policy. We must ask ourselves whether we want to live in a society when the poorest working people can not afford to purchase basic necessities. Or, put differently, should a business that cannot afford to pay its workers enough to survive be allowed to exist, grow and prosper? This question is not entirely absurd, and we have had to ask, and answer similar questions before. We once had to ask ourselves whether a company that could only remain profitable by releasing toxic chemicals into the air should be allowed to exist. We answered no. We once had to ask ourselves whether a company that could only remain profitable by employing child labour should be allowed to exist. We answered no. We once had to ask ourselves whether a company that could only remain profitable by paying women too little, pushing workers too hard, or maintaining a dangerous workforce should be allowed to exist. We answered no.

It would seem rather boorish to suggest today that were McDonald’s to stop hiring 10 year olds to cook burgers, its prices would have to rise 68 cents and therefore we shouldn’t ban child labor. And yet, because of a similar price rise, workers at McDonald’s must work two jobs or go without health insurance.

That means that what many Americans take for granted: time to read, enjoy coffee in the morning and play with their children are not all luxuries for the employees from whom we purchase burgers. Is that the type of society we want to live in? One in which workers at Wal-Mart must also accept food stamps to keep your “everyday low prices” around?

Walmart and McDonalds brutally crush any attempt for workers to get a decent value for their time and labor. This same brutality occurred frequently during the industrial revolution, a time of environmental degradation, worker abuse and widespread inequality.

This is the left’s strongest argument. Markets are not divine incarnations of revealed wisdom; we must modify them to suit our demands as a society. When markets produce negative consequences, we don’t accept them and move on, we demand public action. So it is now. Some on the left have suggested some sort of Negative Income Tax as a solution (and I would heartily accept a guaranteed minimum income, if it would compliment a higher minimum wage); but this fails to get at the problem. There should be a dignity in labor. Those who work should have enough money to eat, live comfortably and enjoy time off. I’m rather tired of wealthy writers, economists, politicians and businessmen who believe that they should enjoy these benefits, but other members of society should not. I’ve always held the relatively simple belief that profits should always be in service to people, not the other way around.

On the Economist blog, however, Will Wilkinson writes that, “Subsidising the worker, to bring her up to a certain baseline minimum, counts as a subsidy to the employer only if we think that was the duty of business all along—to pay workers not only a wage commensurate with the market value of their labour, but also sufficient to finance a life of a certain dignity and security.” His argument against the living wage is based on two dubious propositions; the first is that businesses will pay employees commensurate with the value of their labor (belied by the empirical data) and the second, that businesses have no obligations further than that. The market is once again, “the institutionalization of irresponsibility.” If a corporation can make a profit, it should, human considerations be damned!

The great economist, E.F. Schumacher once noted that we should study economics “as if people mattered.” Economics can tell use how to stimulate aggregate demand, estimate inflation and predict GDP. But it can’t tell us what we as a society should value. Economics can tell you that one billionaire buying a yacht for a $10 million dollars will stimulate the economy to the same extent as ten thousand working-class families purchasing $100 worth of diapers. But they can’t tell you whether one purchase is morally superior. That is for us to decide.

Those who argue against raising the minimum wage are not seeking some moderate middle ground; they are arguing to abolish it. The value of the minimum wage has slowly eroded to the point that today it is worthless. Liberals and progressives still clinging to Victorian notions of progress are under the illusion that we have become a more compassionate, more fair society. Rather, the fact that we must still advocate for the minimum wage, progressive taxation, unions and Social Security - programs taken for granted decades ago - indicates how barbaric our society has become. That is why raising the minimum wage is the only moral option available to us today.

I am white and female, like the almost-white jury that acquitted Zimmerman of murdering Trayvon Martin.  But I am also an anti-racist feminist.  My head spins.  I grew up in a family dedicated to civil rights and lived in communities that ostracized us because my father taught at Black Atlanta University, or when my mother worked with Black women on welfare at the South Side Community Center in Columbus, Ohio.  My sisters and I were seen as worse than black; as race traitors.

When I write about race I think it is complex, fluid, unchanging and also changed—and that whiteness matters as structurally privileged, always.  Being Black is frozen in slavery and also evolves in incredibly new ways—and it is always implicated with gender, sex and class meanings as well.  I am not using “white” or “Black” as pre-determined meanings. We know that Clarence Thomas would have his own take on the trial, despite his color.  But color matters most when it is said to not matter.

Race and Gender 

During the trial the 6-woman jury was described as such with little or no mention of their race.  They were not described as five white women because whiteness has a silent neutrality—you name race when it is other than white. One juror is described as Black/Latina so that may also have allowed for a lessening of the “whiteness” description for some.  After the verdict the jury is more often described as white as well as female but with little attention to this fact.  There is little examination of the relationship between being white and female, or what (white) motherhood might mean to and for these women, or their fears of young black men, as they sat in judgment of Trayvon Martin.

We know little of these women and my attempt to think deeply here is not to form some kind of personal attack or demonization of them.  We know that 3 of the women are gun users, that 5 are mothers, and now we know given the CNN interview with juror No. B37 that 3 of the jurors started out in deliberations for acquittal, 2 for manslaughter, and 1 for murder.  And Ms. Anonymous also tells us that she feels equally bad for Trayvon and George; they “both” got themselves into a regrettable situation that they could not get out of; and race played no part. Yet she speaks disparagingly of Rachel Jeantel for an assumed lack of education with little regard for who she really is.

The entire interview is stunning.  Trayvon is dead but yet her feelings are “equally” extended to both victim and assaulter.  Zimmerman is the predator and race mattered in who he chose to surveil, but race is e-raced here.  The erasure masquerades as neutrality and fairness.  Maybe given the silenced racism of the trial these jurors in the end cannot really allow themselves to wonder and imagine Trayvon as their own son. Why?  Because he is Black and they are white and/but race supposedly does not matter.  So the possibility that their gender—being mothers—that might be helpful to having them see the unfair danger that Trayvon was put in does not get put into play.  Their race—white—silently, “objectively” trumps their gender.

I am white and female and a mother.  I asked my lawyer spouse what would he have done, as a (white) male when he was 17 if he thought someone was tracking him.  Would he run and try and get away? Would he turn around and challenge the aggressor?  Before he could answer I said that I thought as a female I might run, no matter what, fearing that I would be overpowered.  I was/am not sure—but I do think men and women think differently about assault, and aggression.  So I was trying to think like I was Trayvon—what would he have done to get away.  No matter what, he was trying to protect himself, and save his life.  I assume he was terror filled.  That he was terrorized because he was a young black boy being stalked by a white (Hispanic) man.

Thinking like Trayvon means that I first have to know how I am different than him, and then maybe also similar.  So I have to try really hard to imagine what it feels like to a young black man/boy who is racially profiled and wary of a man who is stalking him.  Whatever the provocation and the series of events that led to his death Trayvon was not initially the predator, or stalker, or gun carrier.  It really is just not fair that Trayvon, who is dead has the total burden of proof at his end—so he has to be beyond doubt faultless.  It is impossible to be a young black man and assumed to be faultless in this country. There is no neutral/objective starting point for this legal case so the best that the jury could do is try to become neutral and not think like a “white racist.”  That did not happen.

If you are thinking “like a white female”—which would mean that you do not think you need to be self-conscious about this limitation for seeing and hearing and listening to the facts about an assault that involves racial profiling—then you are not able to see the difference between reasonable doubt and racism.  If you see “racially” to begin with, “like a white female” with no recognition of white privilege, then you won’t see the racial motivation in the killing.  If Trayvon Martin were white, he would still be alive.  And if Zimmerman were Black he almost assuredly would have been arrested immediately and found guilty of murder.  What more does one need to know here?

Of course I know almost nothing about these women of the jury other than what we have been told which is hardly anything. But I can wonder what they were not thinking about when they followed the strictures of the court the way they did.  This same wondering should be applied to the white female judge who gave a total endorsement to the stand your ground law in her instructions to the jury along with her insistence that racial profiling was disallowed as a term in her court.

No one is bias free.  And no one in this country is racially bias free.  But you have a chance at controlling the limitations of bias if you recognize it, name it, and curtail for it.

I hate the fact that the jury’s race seems to have trumped their gender—they could not see themselves like Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother.  Instead they allowed a piece of sidewalk to be a weapon; as though Trayvon had done something to cause his own death.   Instead of “imagining” themselves as a Black mother (maybe) these women allowed their own fears about (sexual) assault by a black male youth to stand in for the actual crime.  We will not know given that racialized viewings and their sexualized meanings remained silenced and “irrelevant.”

I am wondering if they ever wondered if they were Trayvon what they would have done?  Or what their child would have done if caught in such a circumstance.

(In)justice and White Privilege

The U.S. justice system in unjust.  It is rooted in law that pretends to be impartial and objective and rational when it simultaneously protects inequalities of race and gender and sex and class.  Ta-Nehisi Coateswrites of the trial and the verdict, that it is “not a miscarriage of justice but US justice itself”; that it is not a mal-functioning of law, but its effective functioning.

I live with my spouse who is an attorney.  For the past 28 years I have heard about “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the “burden of proof,” “insufficient instruction to the jury,” and “procedural (in)justice.”   Given Florida’s stand your ground law many have argued it was impossible to find Zimmerman guilty beyond a “reasonable doubt.”  There is no reasonable doubt that Trayvon Martin was racially profiled. The facts by now are well known. Martin was doing nothing out of the ordinary.  Zimmerman had a thing about Blacks in his neighborhood.

It was clear mid-way through the trial that Zimmerman was not truthful.  He lied about knowing stand your ground law. He knew enough to know that he needed to lie in order to not be seen as a vigilante, or at fault as a stalker.  Again, my lawyer spouse says that usually the client, if innocent, takes the stand.  It is also not insignificant to learn, post-verdict, that Zimmerman was a thug with domestic abuse charges filed against him on two separate occasions.  Zimmerman supposedly feared for his life?  Really?  And Florida law backs him up.  Again, really?

Trayvon’s story intersects with multiple crises today. The problems are ferocious.   Guns are too plentiful and the access to them is too easy, especially in Florida.  Stand your ground laws are inherently aggressive and lethally dangerous.  Juries of 6 are too small to make racially mixed juries more probable, especially in the predominantly white parts of Florida.

Racism—the profiling of others as dangerous because of their skin color—is not named or called into question so it parades silently and dangerously.  The whiteness of the jury is not inevitably a pre-determined problem, but it usually will be.  Neither is the all femaleness of it.  But when unquestioned and unconsciously so, the homogeneity is.  Racism has blurry lines.  The law knows only true/false; cause/effect; guilty/innocent.

The only hope for justice in a racially, gendered, class unequal society other than fundamentally changing this is to try and take responsibility for seeing the injustice in the system of justice.  Otherwise, it is simply one injustice on top of another.  The only hope to counter prejudice is to recognize it, name it and try to see more by pushing yourself beyond it.  This is the closest we can get to fairness while pushing hard for structural change.

Marissa Alexander was recently sent to prison for 20 years for shooting into the air to avert a violent and abusing husband, also in Florida.  Clearly, (Black) women do not get protection under “stand your ground” law in Florida.  It is reserved for (white) men.

I do not think the legal system in the US can attempt justice as long as it pretends to have objectivity as its pretense when inequality of race, gender and class obfuscate the possibility of fairness.  Racism in its gendered forms remains the problem here, not simply the law.

Racialized gender in the form of the dangerous black boy/man is a form of white privileged terrorism.  With new laws like “stand your ground” and with the anarchy of guns and gun laws the verdict in this trial endorses a terror filled society, most especially for Black people and people of color other than white.  Let us begin a real war on terror: begin real gun control, dump stand your ground law, and re-structure white privilege.

 

Despite knowing that racism pervades our society and how that affects our justice system, there was still something that left Americans shaken after Zimmerman was found not guilty that ultimately sparked nationwide protests.  

Perhaps it was the sheer clarity of the verdict’s meaning: in this country, a person can racially profile, stalk and kill a minor — and walk away free.

Just as the government and corporations attempt to hide their power, we also attempt to hide just how destructive this country has become. We tell ourselves that we can still have some trust in America’s economic, political, legislative and justice systems so we don’t have to deal with the reality — so we don’t have to recognize that there is absolutely no trust left to be had in these corrupt, murderous systems.

And so, we were all hoping that there could at least be a façade of justice, despite already knowing that putting Zimmerman in prison alone would not fix our broken justice system, end racial profiling and end the systematic racism in our country. We were hoping that the verdict would be at least be a symbol of what America stands for — even if it was just a veneer.

But the verdict illustrated, clear as day, that America doesn’t care about black people.

And recently, we are seeing firsthand that America doesn’t just not care about black people, but it doesn’t care about women, poor people, people overseas, immigrants, education, free speech or the environment either. The country openly restricts abortion access, takes away food stamps, kills home and abroad with drones, criminalizes undocumented people, closes dozens of public schools, imprisons whistleblowers and fracks up our land. Thus, any attempt by this country’s government and corporations to keep its oppressive forces hidden is quickly falling apart.

With the bandage off our wound, we remember that this national wound runs deep and we have a lot to heal. And in order to heal it, we must take justice in our own hands. That’s why protests began nationwide after the verdict was read, and then continued into the following day.

Thousands of people took to the streets in cities around the country including New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Denver and Austin.  In New York, it’s estimated that 10,000 marched from Times Square to Harlem. In Los Angeles, people shut down a highway for 20 minutes.

I marched with thousands in Oakland for more than three hours. The beeps and waves we received illustrated a mutual acknowledgement that we are all not alone in our despair for our country. And together, we can turn that despair into a resistance that demands completely new political systems, because it couldn’t be clearer that ours are not working.

I’m not sure what the next step in getting justice for Trayvon will be, but I know the first step toward resistance is to get angry and stop business as usual. And that’s what thousands did on Sunday and will continue to do this week.