Last night on my way home from Oakland to SF, I boarded the bart train with no intention of handing out any flyers. It was late; I was tired; also feeling a little shy.
I’d been burned the day before while trying to hand out a different flyer on a similar theme. This one announced an October 23 rally sponsored by the Oakland/SF local (Local 10) of the ILWU longshoremen’s union, in solidarity with the Oscar Grant movement. The ILWU has a history of militant, class- and race-conscious organizing: to challenge apartheid South Africa, they shut down the shipping yards along the whole US West Coast. It’s a pretty inspiring labor-community connection (more explanation over at Advance the Struggle blog), and I was jazzed to be talking to folks about it at the Ashby BART seller’s market on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
But you know, rather than talking politics, most of the men I approached were more interested in hitting on me.
Now. As I’ve discussed here before, hollering doesn’t alarm me too much and I generally respond with friendliness or neutrality rather than coldness or anger. But this day, man, I was not in the mood. The previous night I’d been up at a radical politics discussion in Oakland from 9pm til 3 in the morning. Exhaustion left me exposed and tender, with little energy to break through the banter and engage the humans behind the Gaze.
Demoralized, I began to look for Ryan, who was also out flyering, to let him know I’d be taking a 10 minute break or something to regroup. But when I explained the situation to him, with immediate compassion and understanding he asked if I’d like to try team-flyering (with the idea that his straight-looking maleness might put off would-be objectifyers). Sure enough, the partnered approach led us into a few great conversations and successful dissemination. We even got contact info for a couple folks interested in coming to planning meetings.
Political organizers: take note! Sexism (in this and other permutations) undermines class consciousness. People couldn’t even bother to listen to what I had to say. My chest was much more compelling than my analysis. And while I’m not trying to vilify anybody, it’s sad to me that the dehumanizing effects of patriarchy (and transphobia, and racism, etc.) foil our political activity on this level.
On the flip side, though, the more effectively and diligently we unlearn patriarchy in our own community contexts, the better ground we lay for building class power.
My experiences distributing the “disarm bart police” flyers haven’t met with the same obstacle, happily. I think it’s partly because everyone on the train is so damn silent and grim-looking most of the time. You feel watched by disapproving eyes.
Anyhow, the conversations I’ve entered into through the disarm bart flyering have been super encouraging and positive. First of all, the simplicity and graphical emphasis of the flyer make people more open to taking one in the first place. (The other side of Flyer #2 has the same lotus and crumbling gun.) No giant block of text. Then, the premise of the flyer is assertively positive, with a clear goal. Makes for an easy opening to ask, “So how do you feel about the bart police carrying guns?”
Of course, those who glance at the flyer and decline to take it probably feel the cops should keep their deadly weapons. Or they’re just habituated to refusing street lit. But out of those who take one, it seems like they are really, genuinely feeling the message. My favorites, naturally, are the people who initially say they support the cops arming themselves (“After all, it’s dangerous out there”), and then after one or two simple queries (“Do you think there’s a lot of deadly violence on BART that they encounter? Does their being armed make you feel safer?”) change their minds entirely (“Well yeah, the guns don’t help anybody. They just kill people. I agree, it’d be better if the police didn’t carry them.”).
So back to last night: despite the majority positive or neutral encounters with the BART flyering, following the ILWU incident I was retreating into my shell. After some deliberation, I decided that instead of hitting up the whole train car like I normally do, I’d just hand one to the woman on my left across the aisle, and one to the woman in front of me, perpendicular.
And wouldn’t you know — the one in front (a middle-aged, butch-working-class-looking Black woman) talked with me the whole way home. Wonderful conversation; very warm, laid-back person. She was one of the converts (yes police guns to no police guns), and boy was she feelin the spiritual/humanist approach to the politics! When I mentioned that I belong to the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC), her eyes lit up. Meditation! she says. I’ve always wanted to learn that.
She wound up taking both flyers, and extras to give to other people.
And this week, we’ll be heading together from the City to EBMC.
Again, if you live in the Bay and would like to make more friends out of strangers, hit me up for some flyers!
“Political organizers: take note! Sexism (in this and other permutations) undermines class consciousness.”
Please sign my petition to disarm BART police: http://www.change.org/petitions/disarm-bart