From Che Gossett:
[Correction: The word limit is 2,000 words, not 5,000 words.]
Sometimes I am the person who criticizes the AIDS movement for not being radical enough… and other times I poke the Left for perpetuating the marginalization of communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS. This critical blog post by my friend and old comrade Kazembe Balagun challenges other leftists in some ways that I think are sorely needed. With the economic crisis, some of the best and brightest thinkers on the Left have argued that we should organized the “oppressed majority” — meaning, in my interpretation, that we should not concentrate on fighting homophobia, racism, transphobia, the prison industrial complex, etc. and instead focus somewhat narrowly on economic issues like foreclosures and unemployment, without an analysis that talks about how all of these issues intersect. In the AIDS movement, we know that the same people losing their homes are often those with loved ones in prison, LGBT people, people who will become marginalized and isolated after becoming homeless due to eviction…
What I’ve learned from the AIDS movement about the importance of confronting stigma is amazing. Cathy Cohen argues in The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-Blackness-Breakdown-Black-Politics/dp/0226112896 that the failure to fight the stigmatization of Black queers, homeless people, drug users, prisoners — everyone most at risk for HIV — has hurt the whole Black community by allowing the proliferation of prisons, the War on Drugs, gentrification, etc. What I see in movements that take on stigma and celebrate our vulnerable, creative, marginal humanity is this incredible, energetic defiance that really moves people to participate and become leaders.
Now more than ever we have to bring the margins to the center, as Kazembe argues. See the full post on his blog by clicking here:
here is a snippet:
“…the vitality of any movements come from bringing the the margin to the center, not the other way around…. There is an overwhelming logic that the only way for activist movements to be effect is to bring the center to the margin: tone down the rhetoric, clean up your act and then people will listen.And maybe they will. But whats the point of speaking if you have forgotten what to say?
That is understandable because the center has gravity: money, connections, power, and popularity. But movements don’t grow from the center. They grow from the margins and take over the center. Think about it; every musical movement in this country has come from the oppressed experiences of Black and Brown people. Blues, jazz, salsa, hip hop are common currency and they all occurred at the bottom.
At the same time, successful social movements have married avant garde elements with vanguard elements. The Black Panther Party was as much into Bob Dylan, Cuban Poster art and film as they were into Mao Zedong. The German Communists of Weimar married expressionism with jazz and a free sex movement. The Harlem Renaissance was as purple as it was red, with queers like Langston Hughes going to Moscow after the Russian Revolution.”
I’m a huge fan of Wyclef Jean’s music, from 1996’s height of Fugees glory, The Score — an album played nonstop at every activist dance party that year — to his solo efforts, which never fail to lift my spirit. I was intrigued to hear that Wyclef was running for president of Haiti, one of the first places in the world to be hit hard by HIV in the ’80s. So was the AIDS activist group Housing Works, which does some organizing there and asked on August 2nd, Would President Wyclef Jean Make HIV/AIDS a Priority? Unfortunately, my research on Wyclef’s politics sang me a tune that was not music to my ears. It turns out Wyclef Jean supports the policies that keep 90% of the population desperately poor and without the resources to recover from famine, tropical storms’ destruction, and HIV/AIDS.
Well, the question may be moot, as Wyclef was kept out of the race by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP). He has declared his intention to sue the CEP for deciding he has not lived in Haiti the past 5 years, but this may do no more than keep him in the election spotlight for the next few months. The media spectacle he is creating — with his song hating on the CEP and onstage pot shots at Sean Penn — may be exactly the point. Wyclef is global capital’s answer to the nation that freed itself from slavery in 1804 and refuses to accept the kidnapping and banishment of its beloved president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. Haiti is still not free, but neither has it been defeated, because it has successfully resisted what Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera called “laughter and forgetting.”
I’ve always loved Wyclef Jean’s goofy humor, but lately he’s looking more like a minstrel show, playing the fool for the powers that be. He actually supported the right-wing coup against Aristide, who as president refused to sell the phone and electric companies, using their profits to cut illiteracy in half and make food accessible. Aristide wanted to raise the minimum wage to $2 a day, while Wyclef Jean supports Bill Clinton’s plan for more sweatshops. Even before January’s devastating earthquake, Haiti’s elected government was not allowed to implement its own recovery plans after the food crisis and the economic crisis. Haiti is occupied by UN forces, and its only resources for recovery are controlled by nonprofit organizations from the countries that staged the coup.
Yet Haiti’s popular movements remain strong, demanding Aristide’s return and $21 billion in restitution from France, which forced Haiti to pay French slave owners for its freedom after the revolution.
Aristide’s political party, Lavalas, remains the largest and most popular in Haiti. When Lavalas was officially banned from last year’s Senate elections, a popular boycott resulted in a meager voter turnout of 3 to 5%. This year, Lavalas was disqualified again despite full compliance with all requirements. To prevent another boycott, what else but the distracting dazzle that American voters know so well — the meaningless spectacle of celebrity posturing?
The challenge for AIDS activists in the U.S. is to reject our own brand of laughter and forgetting: our pragmatic acceptance of the status quo in fighting HIV/AIDS and poverty here, where large nonprofits only take on one “issue” at a time and are not accountable to any kind of popular democracy. Because we can’t imagine a different kind of system, one based on solidarity not charity, we can’t hear the demands of Haiti’s popular movements to control their own recovery from the intertwining crises of food, jobs, HIV, and environmental destruction.
For more information, please read this August 28, 2010 article by Haiti Action Committee member Charlie Hinton: “Haiti’s Election Circus Continues, and Wyclef Jean Won’t Take No for an Answer”
For more than 2 decades, activists have fought for a coherent, human response to the devastating losses of our communities to HIV/AIDS. As of last Tuesday, the United States finally has a national plan to fight the epidemic. This is such a non-event in terms of what it means for us in reality that I won’t blather on about it here.
OK, I will say that Obama’s plan is a relief after W’s anti-science administration brought the Christian Right in to run the country’s HIV prevention efforts. In 2002, Republicans threatened PBS funding at the mere thought that South Africa’s HIV positive muppet Kami might come to the U.S. (see this brilliant scathing critique in POZ magazine). After all, the Obama administration actually lets members of the AIDS community physically enter the White House.
But if this plan is the best we can get when we have Democrats running the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. Why is the best we can ever get from Obama all talk and no action? We are so happy with the talk that we forgive the fact that we are not getting any tangible resources. We need to look deeper than party politics for the answer to that.
The economy is tanking, but also, the economic system we are part of has gone through some crazy changes that mean we are up shit’s creek for ever getting our social safety net back. The New Deal is gone forever. So is this country’s economic base as a producer of real products that you can use — our factories are gone, and most of our jobs exist because of some financial bubble or another that is bound to burst. I can’t explain this stuff very well, so please check out this reader-friendly analysis from Midnight Notes.
Basically, the budget cuts we have received as body blows for the past 10+ years are the new reality, but only if we let corporations continue to control the government. We know this is what’s happening. But we are at a loss for an alternative, so we are kind of scared to say it out loud.
I think our big AIDS advocacy organizations have worked for so many years, for such long hours — and I mean the kind of long hours when activists get so sick and tired that having a “life” is not an option but they keep fighting because they believe in a better world — to make this National AIDS Plan finally happen, Continue reading
My favorite session at the U.S. Social Forum was organized by LA COiL (Communities Organizing Liberation), a collective of revolutionaries who work with the teachers’ union, the Garment Workers’ Center, and in hospitals in Los Angeles. [For more information, contact them at coil.losangeles (at) gmail.com.] They asked us to imagine in detail the world we want to live in, starting with what we want our schools to look like (windows on every floor! peer evaluation! all students, faculty, staff and community members involved in decisions about budget, curriculum, etc!) and then exploring how we can build accountability and support structures in our neighborhoods to replace police and prisons. These folks are for real.
LA COiL members gave workshop participants a little green booklet with a fresh design (trippy rippling circles that intersect) and reader-friendly layout. I am going to zerox the hell out of this thing and start handing them out like candy. I don’t think it’s available on the internet yet (although you can download a scrappy pdf here), so I’m going to type up a few short excerpts. The pamphlet, which LA COiL wrote together with a group named Another Politics is Possible, is called, “So That We May Soar: Horizontalism, Intersectionality, and Prefigurative Politics.” What does that mean? Basically, these folks are putting into words the kind of politics many of us have been trying to develop and have been searching for in every organization we work with. Here are some brief quotes from the pamphlet that can be used as definitions:
1. “Horizontalism challenges each individual to break out of the patterns of allowing others to be the agents of change, and to begin to trust, grow and develop ourselves, politically and personally, alongside others…. It is about investing the time and energy in education, support, and encouragement in order to allow for full participation and decision-making…. This requires the development of structures that truly embody collective work, collective leadership and decentralize power.” (pages 11-12)
2. Prefigurative politics: “We offer our vision of a different world, not as a promise of a place that is far off in the distance where one day we can hope to dramatically arrive, but rather as a set of principles and values that guide us in our practice of liberation now. We want to talk about how to build movements and organizations that both challenge current conditions and practice liberation. We practice liberation now in order to build experience with holding power differently in our own lives and communities, to reclaim our agency, creativity, humanity, dignity, and our capacity to love and be joyful…. We understand revolution as a process rather than an event and are working to build movements that transform power, rather than merely seizing or democratizing power in its current forms.” (page 1)
3. For Intersectionality, the term I think is most relevant to the AIDS movement, I’m going to type up a whole section of the pamphlet here:
Making an Intersectional Analysis Central
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.”
— Audre Lorde
We all live at the intersection of multiple identities, privileges and oppressions. As a result, radical politics that rank oppressions or attempt to identify a “primary contradiction” all too often end up addressing one aspect of domination while reinforcing others. Continue reading
So the US Social Forum starts tomorrow in Detroit!
I had a life-altering, mind-blowing experience at the first-ever USSF, in Atlanta in 2007, and wrote this open letter to the AIDS movement and the Left: https://aidsandsocialjustice.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/open-letter-to-the-left-and-the-aids-movement-two-ships-passing-on-our-winding-way-to-a-new-dawn/
This will be the second-ever USSF. I’ll be blogging about sessions I go to that are inspiring. But I probably won’t post anything here til after I get home, exhausted as my aching bones get at conferences, and me without a laptop.
Here are some sessions I’d recommend for AIDS activists and all social justice activists who are blessed to be going to Detroit!
WED, 10am-noon, Cobo Hall: O2-42
Join in the Whirlwind: A Cooperative Panel on Research and Movement Building
Team Colors Collective
WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: D2-08
The Take Back the Land Movement: Realizing the Human Right to Housing in the US
Take Back the Land (Miami), Survivors Village (New Orleans), Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition
WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: W2-67
US Social Forum Queer People’s Movement Assembly
co-hosted by The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, which works on prison issues, along with other groups including Queers for Economic Justice, SONG: Southerners on New Ground, and more groundbreaking LGBT groups Continue reading
The Politics of Impatience:
An open letter from anarchists to the anarchist movement
As anarchists from a variety of different projects and political perspectives, mostly in the U.S., we are inspired by the courage of students fighting for access to public universities in New York, California, and everywhere. At a time when politicians take money out of schools and build prisons to fill with young people of color and poor people – while giving away trillions to the banks, health insurance companies, and war profiteers – any movement that takes back space and resources for public use wins our hearts. Many of us are not students, but we will continue to demonstrate our solidarity in whatever ways we can when students are beaten and arrested, and colleges themselves start to look like jails because administrations are afraid of the power of student organizing.
We are shocked that on March 4th at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), some anarchists harmfully disrupted a protest against tuition hikes, budget cuts, and childcare cuts. Some of the facts of what happened are in dispute. Some are not, including the following: A faculty member and longtime media activist was injured in the head, sectarian graffiti was spray-painted, and a parent from Defend Hunter Childcare was targeted with a sexist epithet that was heard by some as a rape threat. Some of the individuals involved have apologized for their actions. But we still need to ask why this happened, how anarchists could be responsible for these things. And how to make sure it never happens again.
At the root of the incident was an impatience by some anarchists with a rally and walkout that they decided should have been an occupation. This letter will talk about the politics of impatience and offer some ideas for action.
A movement that stands for childcare, healthcare, and education for everyone means more to most people than slogans shouted by those who are “pushed by the violence of our desires” to act as individuals. A statement with that phrase as its title, written by some folks involved in the altercation at Hunter, claims, “We do not need the ‘consent of the people.’” But militant direct action needs to take place within the context of a movement, not outside of it. To single-handedly declare that a protest is not radical enough without participating in the democratic processes of the movement is vanguardist. It’s ironic–and tragic–when it comes from anarchists. When we want to occupy, let’s reach out to those who might want to occupy too, so there’s a chance they might occupy with us.
Peace to the villages, war to the palaces
We are deeply frustrated with the lack of militant resistance across the U.S. while the powers that be are murdering millions of people with impunity, transferring our wealth to the richest, and destroying the planet. In many areas, the only options being offered are lobbying, actions pre-determined by media-savvy advocacy nonprofit staff, and grassroots campaigns that only demand what they believe to be immediately “winnable” from local, state, or federal governments.
We’ve all felt the transformation and possibility that resonates in the air at more spontaneous mass protests where, however briefly, the streets or the schools are truly ours. If that moment of freedom can also feed the bellies and minds of people’s children, people will do it again, and more will be inspired to try it on their own terms.
Learning our movements’ histories can give us a few ideas. CUNY, for example, has a tremendous militant history of student occupations, Continue reading
|An 1890s photo of Carlisle Boarding School graduates. Carlisle, the first Native American boarding school, was opened by Captain Richard Pratt in 1878.|
“Many of the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse now prevalent in Indian country can be traced back to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of our keepers in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and mission boarding schools,” Lakota journalist and boarding school survivor Tim Giago wrote in the Huffington Post. Government-sponsored boarding schools have created a legacy of trauma among Native American peoples in the United States. The Boarding School Healing Project documents the abuse and demonstrates how it has led to high rates of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, violence against women, alcoholism, and drug use in Native communities. In addition to the homophobia the schools enforced in children from cultures traditionally welcoming of gay and gender-nonconforming people, most of these symptoms of trauma are the same factors that make Native communities vulnerable to HIV. A look at the brutal history of these boarding schools can teach us a lot about the ways that social injustice fuels the epidemic – and how to fight back.
“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”
In the late 1800s, the U.S. government debated how to remove Native Americans from their land – “extermination or civilization,” as one former commissioner of Indian Affairs put it – and it paid Christian churches to run boarding schools as a “civilizing” alternative, Cherokee activist Andrea Smith writes in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and Native American Genocide. Army captain Richard Pratt opened the first of the schools in 1879, arguing that they would “kill the Indian and save the man” by destroying the cultural link between children and their communities. Until the 1930s, Native children were forcibly taken from their families at age 5, and parents who resisted were jailed.
For 100 years, from the 1880s through 1980s, about 100,000 Native people grew up at the schools. Abuse was rampant, and children were physically punished for speaking Native languages or practicing their religion. “I want people to know how we were beaten with leather straps, shorn of our hair, and used as child slave-laborers at these boarding schools,” Giago writes. “My eight-year-old sister, along with dozens of Lakota girls the same age, was raped at the mission school …. [she] told me about her abuse on her deathbed and I, along with her three children, finally understood why she had become a violent, alcoholic woman for so much of her life.”
“I agree that the effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses,” activist Charmaine Whiteface told the Native Press. “My parents both attended a Catholic boarding school and experienced, as well as saw, all these types of abuses. They refused to speak the Lakota language to us and only wanted us to be ‘white.’ There was alcoholism and major physical, emotional and mental abuse in our home. They knew no other way: They were terrified of being Indian. If it were not for my grandmother who taught me in secret, I might not have even a little knowledge about my culture.”
|“The effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses.”|
Canada forced Native children into residential schools until the 1970s, and abuses there are better documented. According to the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, churches and government are responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children. Survivors tell of witnessing church and school officials murder their classmates through beatings, hangings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. Many children starved because the schools were run on chronically low budgets. Until the 1940s, students were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis. Survivors say they were forced to play and share beds with children dying of the disease. There is testimony that babies born to Native girls raped by church officials were killed and buried on school grounds. The Canadian government issued an apology this year, but activists say that nearly half the survivors will be left without compensation, and witnesses will not be allowed to give the names of perpetrators or describe any misconduct. Continue reading
— Suzy Subways
|Abahlali organizers and sisters Nellie and Nosipho Mtshali amid the wreckage of a shack demolished by the city of Durban, South Africa, in the Arnett Drive settlement on January 17, 2008 (photo courtesy of Abahlali baseMjondolo).|
|Abahlali marches on Mayor Obed Mlaba, September 28, 2007, demanding an immediate moratorium on forced evictions, as well as land for more housing and basic city services (photo by Mnikelo and Richard, courtesy of Abahlali baseMjondolo).|
South Africans living in the imijondolo – shack dwellers – have by far the highest HIV prevalence in the country. Sometimes called shantytowns or informal settlements, these communities of people, living in shacks made of materials like tin and paper, usually have no water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare or garbage removal. According to the 2005 South African National Household Survey on HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication, commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, HIV prevalence among 15- to 49-year-old shack dwellers is 25.8%. Nationwide, women ages 15 to 24 are up to four times more likely to be HIV positive than their male counterparts.
“Our women and children are vulnerable to HIV because they become homeless through eviction by the government from the shacks,” explains Zandile Nsibande, an AIDS activist and member of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the shack dwellers’ movement. “Others are unemployed and find it hard to rent an accommodation. They involve themselves in conditional love, because they need a place to sleep with their children, and they are voiceless when it comes to condom use,” she says. “That is how our women become vulnerable to rape and HIV infection.” Also, without access to toilets in the imijondolo, women are raped in the bushes.
Abahlali baseMjondolo began in the large port city of Durban in early 2005, with a road blockade organized by people living in the Kennedy Road settlement to protest the sale to a local industrialist of nearby land that had long been promised by a local government representative to the shack dwellers for housing. The movement grew quickly, and now includes tens of thousands of people from more than 30 settlements, according to a history of Abahlali written by the Abahlali baseMjondolo Book Collective in October 2006. The document reports, “Amongst other victories, the Abahlali have democratised the governance of many settlements, stopped evictions in a number of settlements, won access to schools, stopped the industrial development of the land promised to Kennedy Road, forced numerous government officials, offices and projects to ‘come down to the people,’ and mounted vigorous challenges to the uncritical assumption of a right to lead the local struggles of the poor in the name of a privileged access to the ‘global,’ i.e., Northern donors, academics and non-government organizations (NGOs), that remains typical of most of the NGO-based left.” The group’s peaceful demonstrations have frequently met with police beatings, rubber bullets (and sometimes live ammunition), and arrests. Continue reading
by Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project
SEP. 2007 • Issue 6
Many different types of jobs and trade can be defined as sex work. And many people around the world may call themselves sex workers, including people who work as escorts, prostitutes, erotic massage workers, exotic dancers, or hustlers; do phone sex, lingerie modeling, adult internet sites, or adult films; live with the support of a sugar-daddy or sugar-mama; or have sex for housing, food, clothing, drugs, or other things they need. In this issue of the Solidarity Project, we discuss ways that sex workers are building their power to protect themselves from violence, arrest, stigma, and HIV.
“Sex workers organizing as HIV prevention workers, especially in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada, South Africa, and some Asian countries have, with funding for HIV prevention programs, fostered a thriving sex workers’ rights movement,” says Priscilla Alexander, longtime activist and researcher on sex work and HIV. “The best HIV prevention is designed by vulnerable communities themselves, so it’s essential that sex workers have a say. But the gag rule has damaged global organizing.” The gag rule is a policy requiring all organizations outside the United States to denounce prostitution in order to receive global HIV prevention money (see sidebar next page).
In this issue of the Solidarity Project, we spotlight activist groups, such as Davida in Brazil and EMPOWER in Thailand, that work creatively without U.S. funding. We also explore how arrest, deportation and police abuse, as well as the stigma and violence sex workers often experience from clients, in their workplace and in society, put them at risk for HIV – and how
organized resistance to these threats is an essential element of HIV prevention.
“The first reason for not using condoms is the fear of violence,” says Yaya Liem of Project SAFE, a street outreach program for sex workers run by volunteers in Philadelphia. “The rate and visibility of violence is sky-high.” Continue reading