Category Archives: imperialism/colonialism
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”
Be sure to check it throughout the week! The conference only happens every 2 years, and activists fiercely make their presence known while the corporate media is paying attention to AIDS and world public health leaders are assembled. Activists are angry that wealthy nations are using the financial crisis as an excuse to renege on their commitments to make sure everyone in the world who needs AIDS treatment has access to it. Here are some photos from day one of the conference by Kaytee Riek:
“We die — you make money!” That’s what we shouted at the stock exchange in 1997, during ACT UP New York’s 10th anniversary Wall Street action. How is Wall Street doing today? It’s hard to tell. The Campaign for America’s Future reported in April that “multiple federal agencies have disbursed $4.6 trillion dollars in supporting the financial sector since the meltdown in 2007-2008…. This is an astonishing 32% of our GDP (2008) 130% of the federal budget (FY 2009).”
OK, so how are people living with HIV and AIDS doing? Well, The Body reports that as of July 1st, 2,090 individuals in 12 states are now on waiting lists for lifesaving medications through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Since its founding more than ten years ago, ADAP has always been in crisis. But this is the longest the waiting list has ever been.
According to a July 1 New York Times article, Arkansas and Utah have dropped people from the program, cutting off meds they were already receiving. New Jersey plans to cut eligibility on August 1st, removing 600 of the 7,700 people in ADAP in that state. The article goes on to say, “Louisiana capped enrollment on June 1 but decided against keeping a waiting list. ‘It implies you’re actually waiting on something,’ said DeAnn Gruber, the interim director of the state’s H.I.V./AIDS program. ‘We don’t want to give anyone false hope.’”
OK, so how are the drug companies doing? A September 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation chart shows us that the pharmaceutical industry is doing quite well, thank you very much, while other industries are tanking due to the recession. I’m not exactly sure what 19.3% profitability means, but I’m told it translates to very fucking profitable, and try to chase our asses to our private island resort to get some of your money back, suckers!
I worked at a pharmaceutical advertising agency for a year to pay off my credit card debt and learn medical copyediting. They threw money at me — a $45,000 salary to make zerox copies and put them in a binder. Why is the pharmaceutical advertising industry so rich? Why does it even exist?
What if, like every single other country in the world except for New Zealand (according to ABC news), drug companies weren’t allowed to advertise to consumers? What if instead of spending $5 billion in TV, radio, magazine and newspaper ads each year (says Nielsen Media Research, cited in the ABC news article above), they simply lowered their prices? What if corporations weren’t allowed to sell lifesaving medications at a profit? Imagine that.
Advocates from the Fair Pricing Coalition have negotiated rebates and better prices from drug companies for ADAP in recent years. But their hard work and success have not been able to prevent the current ADAP crisis. Activists from every major AIDS advocacy organization are issuing action alerts this week. Currently they are asking everyone to call the president. Go to the Bilerico Project to take action: http://www.bilerico.com/2010/07/president_obama_address_the_adap_crisis.php
Check out the AIDSConnect.net blog for ideas on how to build a lasting and powerful movement to fight for our community’s right to the medications that keep people with HIV and AIDS living strong.
Highlights from the US Social Forum: LA COIL on Intersectionality, Horizontalism and Prefigurative Politics
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
Che Gossett on AIDS activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s legacy and the intersections between all movements for liberation
At Movements For Change, an event in honor of Kiyoshi Kuromiya on June 10th in Philadelphia, student activist Che Gossett incited a room of sleep-deprived AIDS activists to shouts and tears, reminding us why we are doing this work and inspiring us toward new ways of doing it. The event was hosted by longtime activist Chris Bartlett at the Church of St. Luke and The Epiphany, where ACT UP Philadelphia meets each Monday night at 6pm, and strategized for the future while remembering Kiyoshi, a beloved member of ACT UP who died 10 years ago.
“Kiyoshi believed in intersectionality long before that was a term people used,” Chris said in his opening remarks. “He brought what he learned from the Civil Rights, Gay Liberation and other movements to all of the work he did, and wherever people struggled for human rights and dignity, he was there.”
Che generously shared the text of their talk with us here. Enjoy!
“The white middle-class outlook of the earlier [homophile] groups, which thought that everything in America would be fine if people only treated homosexuals better, wasn’t what we were all about…We wanted to stand with the poor, with women, with people of color, with the antiwar people, to bring the whole corrupt thing down.” Kiyoshi Kuromiya
This quote, especially the call to stand with the poor, women, people of color, anti-war people and for a radical alternative is what, in my understanding, animated Kiyoshi’s life. To me, it represents the core of his legacy and stands as an imperative for discussions of the future.
My talk is supposed to be about the future of gay rights, but how do we talk about a future that, as defined by homo-normative groups and political formations like the HRC [Human Rights Campaign], neither centers nor sometimes even includes those categories Kiyoshi mentions — women (trans and non trans), the poor and people of color? How can we hold a mirror up to a future in which we are not reflected? How is it that we, as queer and transgender people of color are evacuated and disappeared from a future we helped to create?
The Lawrence v. Texas legal decision that struck down sodomy laws has been heralded by gay rights groups, yet it is haunted by the racial violence of its past — the legal basis for the police invasion of Lawrence’s apartment was not “consensual sodomy,” but a false report of a weapons disturbance — the Harris County police dispatcher was called and told, “There’s a nigger going crazy with a gun.” How is it that this racialized past now exists as a sign of a post-racial queer future? In which gay rights are the new civil rights, and the civil rights battles of the 60s have been won? How did we move from gay and trans liberation to queer neoliberalism? From gay anti-capitalism to the depoliticized neoliberal gay market niche? How did we get from the gay anti-imperialism of the Gay Liberation Front, the Philadelphia chapter of which Kiyoshi and Basil O’Brien created in May of 1970, to homonationalism — the marriage and military rhetoric — of today? Why, instead of fighting US imperialism, and standing in solidarity with anti-occupation struggles and against political repression, such as the recent Israeli military attack on the Gaza aid flotillas — are queers rushing to join wars rather than protest police and state violence? Continue reading