Nuclear Meltdowns As A Feminist Rupture

Via Umi of No Nukes Action: super eye-opening (for me) interview with Mari Matsumoto: Nuclear Energy and Reproductive Labor – The Task of Feminism. How events like the Fukushima disaster put pressure on the reproductive labor sector, in terms of securing radiation-free homes, food — even breastmilk — and protecting children, who are highly vulnerable to radiation. Also points to ACT-UP as inspiration: “AIDS activism has a very thorough resistance against healthcare authorities and pharmaceutical companies, which is exemplary for us.”

Matsumoto’s reflections make me wonder: if neoliberalism can use “disaster capitalism” to manipulate crises into opportunities for privatization and neocolonization, perhaps the Left can begin to see crises as opportunities for deliberate communization: amplifying people’s boldness, sense of collective working-class entitlement, and attempts to seize means of production and reproduction.

Disaster communism? Well, we might want to work on the phrasing, haha.

I Used To Tell Stories

My parents started sending me to summer camp at age 8.  This seems young to me, but I think they were eager because their own families had never had the money to send them.  I’m sure it was my mom who picked the first one: Circus camp.  Trapeze, stilts, tightrope and everything.

But I didn’t care for that camp, and so the next summer I went to a different one.

And a different one the next summer.

And the next.

It was tough to find a fit, I guess.  I was, I admit, a reluctant participant.  I fainted off the saddle (semi-on purpose?) in horseback riding camp; tried to fake amnesia to get out of soccer camp.  And I was embarrassingly far beyond age 8 at the time of that little stunt.

All told, I dipped my summer toe into circus camp, golf camp, soccer camp, marine biology camp, choir camp, horse camp.  Never finding a home, until … writing camp.

Eight weeks practicing creative nonfiction.  Memoir; ‘true’ stories.

I think those were the only two institutional summers where I didn’t care a whit about the food we ate.  I was immersed.  Hours melted away as I tap-tapped my six typing fingertips (still haven’t fully recruited the pinkies and rings) in a sterile, airless, white-walled computer lab at the University of Virgina.  I might as well have been on top of Mount Everest.  It was joyful one-pointedness, a feeling familiar, seven or eight years later, during my first deep formal meditations.  This was the summer I turned 13, and back again at 14.

This memory came back to me today, and I realized: I used to tell stories.

Then I learned to argue.


People’s Award Association

give the people what they want

I talked with my folks tonight: slow, nothing-much, touching base. The dog has tapeworms, but seems more chipper since getting his medicine. Mom doubts Pop’ll make it through this weekend’s performance of Fiddler On the Roof without dozing off. At times the silences sagged between our phones. Tomorrow they (my parents) will be moving all the furniture so the carpets can be deep-cleaned.

Suddenly my dad’s voice brightened. Can I tell you one thing about today, he said.

As he was cleaning out the study, he came across a leaderboard from my golfing days. Based on our conversation I’m still not sure exactly what kind of object he’s describing (I remember leaderboards being huge, like billboards — not something you could fit in our study chock-full of files and wires and junk), but he said it had that fine, pristine writing (those gray, permed, chalk-wielding old ladies keeping public score always cut the most dashing sevens), and at the top, number one, my name: Katie Loncke. Shot a 78 the first day; 72 the second. Below me (my father’s voice grows incandescent) are players who went on to be really serious. Casey Gee, who fell just shy of the PGA, and now works at a bank. Christina Stockton, who’s gone pro. Danielle Civitanov — we think she’s in school to be a nurse. The top Sacramento girl golfers from my middle-school and high-school years. Proof that I had bested the whole lot of them at least once. Dad mused aloud about sending the board to my Oma. Your granddaughter, number one! I could picture his smiling apple-cheeks, shaped just like mine.

If you know me well you probably know that golf and I have had a fraught relationship. I once tried to break my own finger with a hammer to get out of playing a tournament. When that plan failed, I turned to a bottle of pills.

Enough time has passed that I’m not so tense about it anymore. I can even contemplate dusting off my clubs for fun, maybe with a couple of novice guy friends. I would probably run circles around them, even though I haven’t played in years. I used to be that good.

And I made my dad proud. If he shadowed me for a round, weeks afterward he could tell you every single shot on every single hole.

Tonight, despite a thorny past, I let myself rejoice a little in his shine.

not sure why my picture’s not there, but find it hilariously appropriate

I’ve been thinking lately: we need some kind of People’s Award Association. For those of us who might choose unconventional paths, or never have a real shot at mainstream prestige in this fucked up, pseudo-meritocratic, hyper-competitive society. Our unpaid work organizing against the prison industrial complex, or fighting foreclosures, or founding radical sanghas may not yield a trophy, medal, plaque or certificate, but our excellence still matters, and people in our lives should know about it. They should have more chances to be proud of us.

Ideally a real, beautiful object for display, but even just an email — to a grandparent, mentor, partner, whomever — stating ceremoniously:

Congratulations: your loved one, {____________}, has been awarded an Outstanding {What They Do Well} Prize.  This honor is conferred by the People’s Award Association in recognition of {___________}’s excellence in transforming oppression and building toward a better world: a world with freedom for all.

The Double Consciousness of the US Revolutionary

Raised fist via Colorlines
“Maquila: Sweatshop” by Favianna Rodriguez

Janie found out very soon that her widowhood and property was a great challenge in South Florida. Before Jody had been dead a month, she noticed how often men who had never been intimates of Joe, drove considerable distances to ask after her welfare and offer their services as advisor.

“Uh woman by herself is uh pitiful thing,” she was told over and again. “Dey needs aid and assistance. God never meant ’em tuh try tuh stand by theirselves. You ain’t been used tuh knockin’ round and doin’ fuh yo’self, Mis’ Starks. You been well taken keer of, you needs uh man.”

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

The representation of her sources of language seems to be her principal concern, as she consciously shifts back and forth between her “literate” narrator’s voice and a highly idiomatic black [sic] voice found in wonderful passages of free indirect discourse. Hurston moves in and out of these distinct voices effortlessly, seamlessly … It is this usage of a divided voice, a double voice unreconciled, that strikes me as her great achievement, a verbal analogue of her double experiences as a woman in a male-dominated world and as a black person in a nonblack world, a woman writer’s revision of W.E.B. DuBois’s metaphor of “double-consciousness” for the hyphenated African-American.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in the Afterword

Binaries are false, and suck in many ways. Categories, even when there are more than two (black white yellow red brown; astrological signs) still inherently oversimplify. And yet, in the midst of an embattled year of trying to figure out where I belong within radical traditions, what a great relief it is to me to create two nice neat columns and try to map out some ideas. (Non-column schemas in the works.)

“Malcolm X” by Favianna Rodriguez
“Everything Counts” by Favianna Rodriguez

These categories came as blessings from this weekend’s Everything For Everyone conference, a festival for radical anti-capitalists that was hosted in Seattle and attracted militants from across the country. In their closing plenary speeches, Mike Ely of the Kasama blog and Kali Akuno of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement each raised the importance of “building alliances” between the oppressed and the employed working class.

But before I can think about building alliances, I want to try to understand the two groups. Who are they, exactly? How are they delineated — different from one another? As a first step I want to deeply and compassionately ‘interview’ these groups. Ask, in my mind, what they want. And to be clear, these groups and their characteristics Do Not Exist In The Real World in any sort of neat and tidy way. It’s just that the categories represent patterns I’ve witnessed in the Left/radical movements I’ve been around, and witnessed within myself, too.

*MOP = Means Of Production, the land, water, machines, and other material resources human beings use to keep ourselves alive, to reproduce our society.

These categories are not necessarily or always in opposition to one another! Which is what makes them tricky to puzzle out. I’ve seen revolutionaries try to reconcile them by pointing to certain common examples of overlap.

1. Indigenous/Latin@ Immigrants & Economically Displaced People
In the US, economically displaced workers from central and south america who toil at miserable jobs play a key role in the national economy. They are both “most affected” by and “vulnerable” to certain strands of racist, gender-oppressive, and economic persecution, and strategically positioned within the economy to fuck shit up for capitalism for real, as we’ve seen in beautiful explosions like the enormous immigrant strike on May Day 2006.

2. Queers
Queer Liberation Is Class Struggle, a piece put out a minute ago by members of Unity and Struggle, lays out this argument super thoroughly, and in many dimensions: critique of the heteropatriarchal family, re-visibilizing the queer working class, exposing the ways labor disciplines our gender expressions, etc. One part I’ll come back to in a second:

I’ve heard vague calls for queers to [ally] with labor.

An “alliance” or “intersection” should not even be necessary, it is only made necessary by the fact that the union bureaucracy dominates “labor” and the gay elites dominate “queerness.” If we can break down these twin dominations then it will be much easier to build an “alliance” because most queers already are labor and many laborers are queer. This involves struggle and organizing.

3. Women
Women make up the majority of the world proletariat, comrades remind us. Furthermore, capitalism deploys patriarchy as a kind of leverage or bonus round for surplus labor, systematically labeling women’s work as “unskilled” and “domestic,” which conveniently justifies paying little or no wages for it. To organize for the liberation of women as a group, or even just “Black and Brown” women, the argument goes, is to make tremendous headway in organizing the working class as a whole.

But the working class is not a monolith. Over the weekend, for the first time in my memory, I heard revolutionary comrades start to use the term “employed working class” as a way of being more specific about which part of the working class they’re talking about. Before, I’d usually hear a broad-sweeping definition of the working class as “Those of us who have nothing to sell but our ability to work.” This broader definition, while sometimes helpful in pointing out what we share in common, and who our opposition is, frequently glosses over important strategic differences within the working class.

Some of us, whether because of racist systems of criminalization (got a felony? much harder finding a job), heteropatriarchal gender coercion (want to present transgressive gender or dramatically transition your gender at work? again, not easy in most cases), disabilities, or other reasons, cannot sell our ability to work. When the U&S piece says that “most queers already are labor and many laborers are queer,” this may be true, and yet transgender folks face double the average rate of unemployment in the US. Folks with non-normative gender or sexuality presentations are often only precariously employed.

Industrial Workers of the World

It is this harsh material reality that helps maintain informal economies (selling sex, drugs, under-the-table labor) and is also prompting large-scale experimentation in solidarity economies: ways of taking care of one another when the labor market rejects us. Networks of survival have always existed for those on the margins, but as Kali from MXGM pointed out, at this moment even more Black and Brown people are transitioning out of “surplus labor” populations (think: bringing in scabs of color to break up white strikes) into “disposable” populations, more like First Nations people and other resisters of genocide. No longer are Black folks needed in the US as a labor-substitute threat which helps maintain downward pressure on working conditions. Increasingly, this is a role brown migrant and undocumented workers play, terrorized under the threat of ICE. (again, i’m oversimplifying since black and brown aren’t always separate. Also, it’s possible that if and when the migrant surplus population organizes to strike as well, capital will call in a second reserve army: people in cages / prisons.)

The scale and speed of this process, marginalizing the criminalized and oppressed poor to the point of barring access to basics like food and shelter, is serious enough that oppressed groups are innovating systemic new ways of coping, or new versions of old forms. These innovations fit the logic of survival and sometimes even self-determination (Maker movement, urban farming), but rarely do they seem to translate into revolutionary threats to the capitalist system as a whole.

And this is where I often feel stuck, or torn. As a person of African descent in the US, should I set aside my people’s struggles simply because large numbers of us no longer occupy a central or strategic place as the employed working class, like we did in auto plants of Detroit in the 60s? Should revolutionary queers de-emphasize queer liberation just because anti-assimilationist queers are excluded from the formal labor market? Should people with disabilities that make wage labor impossible sit on the sidelines of revolutionary transformation?  How will the dispossessed fight both to stay alive and to help make communist revolution in the US?

Arundhati Roy interviews guerilla fighters of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), 2010

I feel this double-consciousness within myself. I don’t know how to choose between, nor how to reconcile the two.

I read and read, but nothing seems to quite capture it. Blogs like Mia McKenzie’s Black Girl Dangerous exemplify the Self-Determination-Of-The-Oppressed logic, quite beautifully and sharply at times, as in her Open Letter to Folks of Color.

Despite your children being gunned down by cops like every single day, despite your mothers being sent to prison for “stealing” public education, despite your sisters dying in the heat of the desert while “sneaking” into a land that belongs to your own ancestors, not to mention being deported from that same land in record numbers, despite the CONSTANT beatings inflicted on your souls, you somehow still have souls. That’s fucking amazing. I mean, I’m not surprised. Your ancestors couldn’t have survived slavery and genocide without some damn serious sturdy genes. But still. It’s impressive.

I love you for all of these things.

From cultural workers and artists to Non-Profit-Industrial-Complex warriors, I see oppressed people and allies pouring heart and soul into defending and uplifting one another: trying to fight off reactionary laws, plant community gardens, bash back, feed bellies that need filling, pull teeth that need pulling. Not always doing it wisely, but coming on some level from different types of love.

Other pieces of McKenzie’s take a flip side of the POC-love coin, throwing a sharp tongue at ignorant white people and white queers. Today on a Facebook thread, two talented Bay Area queer revolutionaries called on McKenzie for “a bigger analysis” of white supremacy that “strives to look at the totality of the system, the capitalist patriarchal system, and the ways it has created and oppressed queers through placing us outside of the system.” Defying my categorized columns above, one of them argues, “Writing and writing our truths in particular is healing and important work. But I am also needing some strategy for liberation.”

But despite the brilliance that comes from so many writers, cultural workers, and organizers resisting oppression and developing new ways of being together, I have yet to see anywhere a strategy of communist revolution, even from revolutionaries in a Marxist tradition, that stems from an anti-oppression analysis, framework, and spirit more deeply rooted than the happenstance overlap of the oppressed and the employed working class. Folks in the anti-oppression liberation tradition tend to be amazing at critiquing the system, often with highly sophisticated analysis. Oppressed people articulate the cruel ironies of capitalism, a system that supposedly generates innovation and abundance but in practice murders, exploits, degrades and immiserates the majority of beings and the earth, reserving special forms of torture for different groups. This is true and important. But I don’t know how we propose to move from critique to strategy, without switching modes and focusing by default on the employed working class. I haven’t seen this done in the US. Have you?

I can’t reconcile the contradiction here. My impression is that many communist revolutionaries believe that the employed working class is in the best strategic position to overtake the means of production, a key step in making a worldwide revolution to overthrow capitalism and usher in a better system of social relations. This, then, becomes the focus of their strategy.  Although many groups aim to “race, gender, and sexuality seriously,” this cannot ever equal the commitment of a Black person to the Black Liberation Movement, or a queer mujerista to the abolition of gender oppression.

“Distribution of the Arms” by Diego Rivera

Meanwhile, I am not sure what the focus of revolutionary strategy is for oppressed people seeking to overthrow oppression. A lot of the work seems to be in building faith in the worthiness of the oppressed (so systemically denied and crushed, ideologically and in the stupidity of everyday work — that’s real), building their/our autonomy, resisting attacks from capitalists and fellow working-class people, and having faith that they/we will discover for ourselves how to build new systems of social relations autonomously, even under capitalism. Eventually, we will transform society for the better. At the very least, we want to survive with dignity and exuberance.

I do not take this goal lightly. And yet, and still, I feel stuck.

When Skip Gates lauds Hurston for achieving unity of two unreconciled voices in her writing, he fails to mention that even within this double-ness, hierarchy persists. There is a reason that the white voice is the narrator (third person, omniscient) and the Black voice is the dialogue. Can you imagine reversing them? Can you imagine that a book with a Black-idiom omniscient narrator and white dialogue would make it in a white-controlled publishing market? Can you imagine it would sell in a white-dominated literary industry, as anything other than a curiosity (probably with porn themes)?

Similarly with revolutionary double-consciousness, I sense an implicit hierarchy. When people call for building alliances between the oppressed and the employed working class, I think oftentimes they really mean, organize the oppressed to support the employed working class so it can make the biggest moves to abolish class altogether.

I can empathize with this reasoning.

At this moment, I believe that the Employed Working Class perspective has a more plausible strategy for putting an end to the exploitative social relations of capitalism.

But this perspective seems extremely weak in its methods and strategy for sustaining healing and liberation from social oppressions that won’t automatically disappear even if we someday kick out capitalism. And it is therefore fundamentally limited in its ability to transform the world for the better. Not only limited, but self-undermining in its own quest for freedom, and tending to subordinate the struggles of the oppressed. They matter strategically only insofar as they link up to the employed working class.

This is not only a problem for the future, but a conflict right now.

Am I alone in thinking and feeling this? Do you agree? Disagree? Have you felt this revolutionary double-consciousness? Is Maoism an attempt to reconcile these two logics?  What the fuck is even going on?  Please help — I am rambling on too long. :)



Love-Hate Relationship to Meetings

phew. 2.75-hr organize-the-organizers meeting with housing defense coalition. sometimes i wish my body could be possessed by a ghost who adores doing admin.

even though the host cooked a meal for us, even though half the mtg took place on a nice deck among the redwoods, and even though a large part of me thrills at the part of life where you get to accomplish stuff, i still left feeling the way i leave most meetings: drained.

relatedly (maybe, who knows, i’m tired). how the fuck do you build horizontalism when ppl so clearly have different strengths, skills, and time/energy capacities? and when the capacities are not always clear/consistent? (answer: have clear ways of plugging in at different levels of commitment. answer-beneath-that-answer: this still requires someone(s) to figure out how those duties should get split up, and who will bottom-line them, and who will collect and sort the information that comes out of them, which requires a certain level of standardization but not so much that people have to learn a stupidly specific and unintuitive vocabulary just to accomplish simple things. ultimately, even with more people on board, the workload does not actually decrease! aaah!)

i admit it: i thrive in projects where there’s a certain amount of hierarchy. not that i can’t do the collective thing, but in order for that to work well it seems like you need a good handful / majority of people who really know what the fuck they’re doing, and who are dedicated and won’t flake.

sigh. anyway, bout to finish this novel and pass out! good night, internet.

Hella Hiccups…

…in orchestrating today’s doorknocking session to fight foreclosures in oakland, but it was lovely to see new folks from the different coalition organizations come out, and a crew of 90% spanish-fluent folks! blessed to be around bilingualism! buena suerte, compañer@s!