More reasons that the PIC needs to be abolished:

Every single day, the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) commits horrific abuses. These are just two examples that I read about today:

  • A woman who was raped is arrested after reporting the rape to police, and then the prison denies her a Morning After Pill. Read more here.
  • A pregnant prisoner was shackled during labor. “It was not until she was tripping over [the handcuffs around her ankles] while trying to put on her hospital gown that they removed them.”Read more, and sign the petition here.

[image from justseeds]

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Summer Reading

Making a reading list for an academic who is in the process of dissertating is sort of silly. While researching and writing, reading becomes a sort of spontaneous and unpredictable hodge-podge symphony. I’ll write a paragraph using one theory, but it will totally remind me of a concept from another theorist, which will then remind me of an article I read in the NYT, which will then lead me to a blog post someone wrote. It’s actually quite fun—a treasure map, of sorts, but to a treasure that does not yet exist.

That being said, there are a few books I’m definitely going to be reading, even if I’m lead to a million other things along the way, and even if I realize that only a couple chapters of something might be valuable. (Interested in what non-academic books I’m reading? Check out my health/food-related reads here, and my “fun reads” here).

The Toughest Beat: Politics, Punishment, and the Prison Officers Union in California

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Joshua Page (2011)

This book “argues that the Golden State’s prison boom fueled the rise of one of the most politically potent and feared interest groups in the nation: the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA).” I’m interested in reading this because I plan to make an argument in my diss that says if labor really wants to be committed to serving their most marginalized and oppressed workers, they can’t continue to maintain the same relationship to prisons.

We Are the Union: Democratic Unionism and Dissent at Boeing

Dana Cloud (2011)

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I’m excited to read this book for a lot of reasons. I think I’ll gain a lot from Cloud’s argument, but I’m also excited to read more from a Comm scholar who writes from a political activist perspective.

Outline of a Theory of Practice

Pierre Bourdieu (1977)

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I flirted with the idea of habitus in my master’s thesis, mostly drawing on questions of space, but I’m interested in deciding how I feel about habitus as it relates to class-position. Several scholars have found it useful to use Bourdieu’s theory to present a less rigid conception of class, and I might end up finding it helpful in discussing the LGBT working-class population (and the general shifting conceptions of class qua labor unions in the US) We shall see!

Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State

Chandan Reddy (2011)

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I’ve already read two chapters of this, and had some problems with it, but I have a feeling it’s going to be very useful for my diss, particularly as a way to build on already-existing queer and queer of color critiques of “rights”-based and “anti-discrimination” discourse.

The Production of Difference: Race and the Management of Labor in US History

David Roediger, Elizabeth Esch  (2012)

This book looks fascinating, and totally important for anyone who does any work on labor history. And while I’m no historian, I think reading this will help me articulate the current conjuncture of work and particularity with more insight.

 

Also:

A MILLION MORE THINGS! Articles! Books! Blogs! It doesn’t end!

Leslie Feinberg’s Statement After Being Arrested for “FREE CECE” Grafitti:

From Colorlines.

“Many people across the United States and around the world are watching, and history will record what happens on June 4, 2012. CeCe McDonald survived a fascist hate crime; now she’s sentenced as she struggles to survive an ongoing state hate crime. As Martin Luther King Jr. reminded: “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” As a white, working-class, Jewish, transgender lesbian revolutionary I will not be silent as this injustice continues! I know from the lessons of histories what is means when the state—in a period of capitalist economic crisis—enacts apartheid passbook laws, bounds up and deports immigrant works, and gives a green light to e white supremacists, fascist attacks on Black peoples—from Sanford, Florida, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to a courtroom in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The prosecutor and the judge are upholding the intent of the infamous white supremacist Dred Scott ruling of 1857. The same year Fredrick Douglass concluded: “Without struggle, there is no progress!” CeCe McDonald is being sent to prison during the month of Juneteeth: celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation—the formal Abolitionist of “legal” enslavement of peoples of African descent. The Emancipation Proclamation specifically spelled out the right of Black people to self-defense against racist violence. Yet, the judge, the prosecutor, and the jailers are continuing the violent and bigoted hate crimes begun by the group of white supremacists who carried out a fascist attack on CeCe McDonald and her friends. CeCe McDonald is being sent to prison in June—the month when the Stonewall Rebellion ignited in the streets of Greenwich Village in 1969. From the Compton’s Uprising to the Stonewall Rebellion, defense against oppression is a law of survival. This is Pride month, and will be bringing the demand: “Free CeCe—now!” to the regional Pride march where I live. I believe many other individuals, groups, and contingents will thunder that demand in Pride marches and rallies all over the world—informing millions who take part, and millions more who support.”

Defiant Through Care: A Tribute to My Mom

This post was originally published on In Our Words.

my best friend, my momma, and me. ❤

Growing up, I was surrounded by strong and inspiring women and mothers. My Nana, my mom’s stepmom, was a divorcee with two daughters, who raised them mostly on her own before marrying my Gramps. She is also a cancer survivor who lost her arm during treatment, but continues to bike, swim, and drive. Ammie, my mom’s mom, was also a divorcee who raised my mom and uncle, taught fitness classes and, after re-marrying, seemed to emulate a perfect balance of feminine party hostess, and brainy, independent lady (she and my grandfather never merged their bank accounts, for example).

And then there’s my mom. My amazing, extraordinary, awe-inspiring momma. After a drunk driver hit my father in 1989, my mom was forced to join the ranks with other working-class single parents. She wasn’t employed at the time, and the trauma inspired by my father’s tragic car accident, coupled with horrible family feuds between his side of the family and ours, led her to months of alcohol abuse. In a bout of courage I am forever inspired by, my mom—a diagnosed alcoholic—quit drinking. Today, she’s almost 22 years sober.

She found work at nearby business’ cafeteria where she worked for several years. Eventually, she ended up getting a job in the office part of the company, working in the print shop. Like most jobs for non-college educated women, the hourly pay was not enough to live on, especially with a child. So, when I was nine years old, she took up a second job delivering newspapers in the early morning before her “real” job. Everyday she would wake up between 3:30-4am, go to the depot to assemble papers, then drive through neighboring towns, tossing some, but, for the old folks, getting out of her car to deliver the papers neatly on people’s door steps.

My entire family hoped she’d find a way to quit the paper route. Once I started working more in college, and stopped relying on her to help with rent money, I thought she might finally have enough money to work only at her office job. She was always so close to stopping, feeling almost financially secure enough to let it go.

In a devastating and cruel twist of fate, she lost her office job in the fall of 2010. The paper route became her sole income. Even when she found work as a home health-aide—something that was exciting given her decision to go to school and become certified in some sort of nursing profession—she was still unable to stop the paper route. For those of you who don’t know, being a home health care worker is one of the worst jobs you could possibly have. My mom gets no benefits, no guaranteed hours, no compensation for the gas money she uses to get to and from client’s homes, and not a penny above minimum wage. She had a steady two clients, meaning she worked 40 hours as an aide, and over an additional 20 hours doing the paper route (7 days a week). Even with this, she was not making enough money to afford to live on her own, and continued to live with my grandparents, where she’d been staying temporarily right before losing her office job.

This past September, my grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer. Around the same time, my grandmother had several falls and was showing signs of memory loss, and increased physical instability. Even if my mom had the money to move out, it was clear she was needed at their home to help care for them. In the months following, my mom’s days were non-stop work: paper route, client #1, client #2, home to do my grandfather’s feedings (he was eating through a tube), and to provide general physical, mental, and emotional support for him and my grandmother.  I don’t think my mom has slept for more than four or five hours straight in almost 20 years.

Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. The sadness of our loss is mitigated only by the peace we all have in knowing he is no longer suffering from the pain he experienced in his final weeks. This past weekend, I was back in Cleveland for the funeral, and got to see first-hand the way my mom functions as the backbone of our family. My mom, on top of her two jobs, managed to take care of a bulk of the funeral arrangements, and, more importantly, took care of my grandmother during one of the hardest experiences of her life.

To watch and experience the role-reversal of care-taking between mother and child is difficult, poignant, and nearly indescribable. My grandmother has always been fiercely independent, and physically capable. At first, I felt sad to see her lean on my mom—literally and figuratively—so necessarily. But that moment of sympathy for the loss of my grandmother’s former illustrations of strength was quickly replaced with an understanding that this too was an illustration of strength. My grandmother was strong enough and brave enough to say she needed my mom.

In a similar way, my mom has simultaneously had to take on more responsibility than ever, and also ask for help. Or at least allow help and care to come to her. Before my mom got her office job we were legitimately poor, but after a few years of her working we were able to afford a bit more. During my college years, my mom was always able to afford a plane ticket (or at least a bus ticket) to visit me in Chicago. After losing her job, the only way mom’s been able to visit me is if my partner and I buy her a ticket, and now, every time I’m home for a visit, I have to make sure she doesn’t try to treat us to meals out. The tables have turned, but each of these shifts has done nothing but demonstrate our resilience as mothers and daughters, caretakers and care-recipients.

And make no mistake, both giving and receiving care are equally complicated tasks. Joan Tronto notes,

Care work is devalued; care is also devalued conceptually through a connection with privacy, with emotion, and with the needy. Since our society treats public accomplishment, rationality, and autonomy as worthy qualities, care is devalued insofar as it embodies their opposites. (p. 117)

In this way, my mom displays acts of defiance on a daily basis. Intentional or not, she perseveres through the embodiment of a role that, in her professional job, is often degrading and thankless, and in her private life is understood as weak.

It is not a surprise that my mom is capable of doing this. She has always been immeasurably selfless and generous. And her heart is enormous. More than that, she does all of this without a word of complaint. Through it all, she continues to smile and sing on a daily basis. Her sense of humor is as corny as ever, and she is the proud owner of Justin Beiber toothbrush (it sings as you brush!). She is unique, and funny, and brave, and gets joy from the simple things, like walking her dog, or hearing her favorite song on the radio.

On Mother’s Day and everyday, I am thankful for her. I am proud of her, and proud for her. On Mother’s Day and everyday: I am one lucky daughter.

CeCe Update

I’ve written about CeCe McDonald on here before, so for now I just want to provide an update for those who are interested in helping support her during the trial.

-Trial begins April 30th, but official call for court support starts May 1st.

-If you don’t live near Minneapolis, you can support CeCe in numerous other ways. Visit this link to learn more: http://freececemcdonald.tumblr.com/post/22018071120/ceces-trial-starts-monday-april-30th-at-9am

Please consider doing something to stand against a racist, cissexist, classist system. Say no to a system that targets the most marginalized and oppressed populations for imprisonment. Say no to a system that seeks to deny citizenship to disenfranchised groups as a way to maintain power. Say no to a society that makes villains of victims, and heroes of oppressors.

And, to close, some relevant words from Angela Davis:

“Well, prisons create the assumption that those who are a threat to our safety and security are behind bars, but in actuality, the techniques of violence, the techniques of terror that are most dangerous, are the ones used within the system itself. And I would say that it’s not simply a question of racist repression. It’s also a question of gender repression. It’s also a question of repression of sexualities. You know, one of the — as I’ve been pointing out, one of the most interesting developments within the anti-prison movement looks at the way in which the prison itself serves as a gendering apparatus, looks at the violence inflicted on people who do not identify as male or female in the conventional sense, who identify as transgender or as gender-nonconforming, the violence that is inflicted on people who do not subscribe to compulsory heterosexuality, violence against lesbians, violence against gay men, so that you might say that the prison is this institution that is grounded, in so many ways, in violence.

And the violence of slavery, which we assume was abolished with the Thirteenth Amendment and afterwards, is very much at work within US prison institutions.”

(from an interview on Democracy Now)

Voter ID is a Queer Issue

This article was originally posted on the In Our Words blog.

It is currently mandatory in 31 states to show a form of identification before voting at the polls. Of the fifteen states that require photo identification, only seven will allow the voter to prove their identity through another list of criteria. That means that in Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, you are unable to vote without a photo ID, and more states are trying to get similar legislation passed before the 2012 presidential election. [1]

Proponents for strict voter ID laws argue that this rule will prevent “election fraud,” an ominous-sounding phenomenon that has little to no evidence of actually being a problem. What is more likely, particularly after taking into account that most voter ID advocates are conservatives, is that rich, white men in power want to take all measures to maintain that power. And one of the easiest ways to maintain power is to deny citizenship to marginalized members of society who tend to vote for more liberal candidates.

If there was any doubt that fear of “election fraud” was actually code for fear of “brown people,” consider this disturbing image used in the Minnesota efforts to pass voter ID.

According to the head of the Minnesota Majority, the main group backing the amendment in Minnesota, these images are meant to represent “dead voters [ghosts/zombies] and fictitious identities [superhero]” and “[t]he prison-striped figure refers to the problem of felons voting…and the mariachi character represents illegal immigrants.” [2] In the same breath, he wondered how people could possibly say that the amendment had racist implications.

Of course, this amendment is undeniably racist and harkens back to the days of Jim Crow when blacks were barred from voting. In response to the recent influx of voter ID legislation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) announced that it would seek support to fight it from the United Nations Human Rights Council. [3]

That Voter ID is a matter of human rights is certain. The denial of full citizenship to members of the minoritized public sphere happens in subtle and insidious ways that works to suppress the voice of those who are most victimized by the maintenance of the status quo.

And the denial of full citizenship is something with which queers are entirely familiar. While the mainstream LGBT movement begs to be included in the public sphere through a marriage license, it does so without interrogating the ways that the very system works to deny other minorities access to full personhood through other, more violent means of exclusion. The mass incarceration of black men and the war on “illegal” [brown] immigrants erase entire populations from our so-called “democracy,” and, in doing so, enables the continuation of systemic racism. Acknowledging similar relationships to oppression is important, but it is equally important to acknowledge that some of those prisoners and immigrants are queer themselves.

In addition, this act could also potentially harm the transgender population. If voters are required to present an ID that matches their appearance, those transfolk who no longer present as they did on their licenses may be denied access to the polls.

This is a queer issue not just because it’s a matter of solidarity—it’s a matter of survival.

I have to admit it’s a bit odd for me to be this fired up about voting. It was not so long ago that I identified as a full-fledged anarchist, and every November would remind people that “our dreams won’t fit inside their ballot boxes,” and that, as Emma Goldman noted, “If voting changed anything they’d make it illegal.”

But it’s Emma’s words that actually make this seem so necessary. They are making it illegal. This law structurally denies voting-rights to a population that is proving to be a threat to the hegemonic order.  Conservatives wouldn’t be pushing for it so hard, if they weren’t afraid. And although a vote is not a revolution, it is, if nothing else, a strategic move for power.

In Freedom With Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State (2011), Chandan Reddy argues that we think about the exclusions of particular racial and sexual subjectivities as “not about rights, equality, or identity” but rather “it is about the speech of bodily groups that are the material foundations of the US nation-state” (p. 218). This is the difference between having a voice and having access to legible speech. The former can be ignored, but the latter must be recognized. The Voter ID Act is a tool that functions to continue a cycle of racist, classist, heterosexist exclusion, and queers should be some of the loudest voices that demand it be stopped.

Not the ENDA the Struggle

(This piece, originally published on In Our Words, reflects some main arguments made in my dissertation).

 It is currently legal in 29 US states to fire someone because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual; in 34 states, it is legal to fire someone based on gender identity. [i] Because of this, there has been a push by LGBT rights groups to get ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, passed under federal law. ENDA would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, although the latter is only a recent inclusion. Although prominent LGBT leaders like former Senator Barney Frank and the HRC have supported proposing an ENDA bill that would remove gender identity and expression from the list in order to make it easier to pass, the current ENDA now includes gender identity. Neither version of ENDA, however, has ever been signed, and the current bill is sitting idle in the 111th congress.

Freedom at Work, an organization “committed to banning workplace harassment and career discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender Americans through public education, policy analysis, and legal work,” is currently leading the fight to get President Obama to sign an inclusive ENDA Executive Order. [ii] Their efforts have re-energized the struggle for LGBT workplace rights, and have made it their goal to succeed in getting an inclusive ENDA passed in the new 2013 Congress.

I too support the signing of a fully-inclusive ENDA, but I fear that framing ENDA as the solution to ending workplace discrimination is both deceptive and dangerous. At the same time that Freedom at Work, the mainstream gay press, and a slew of dedicated gay and allied advocates promote ENDA as the most pressing issues for LGBT workers, insidious anti-union legislation like “Right to Work” [iii] is being passed without a stir from most of the LGBT community. And attacks on unions, in my opinion, are far worse for LGBT workers than a continued stall of ENDA.

Relying on federal law to protect marginalized people is historically ineffective without the complement of organized struggle. For example, not only did the Civil Rights movement enable the end of Jim Crow laws, but it also empowered black Americans to fight against the discrimination that would inevitably continue, even after it was legally prohibited. Similarly, while ENDA may provide someone legal ground to file a charge against an employer, the ability to find the strength to file a charge would be enormously more difficult without the help of an organized body of workers and a contract.

As a PhD candidate whose dissertation is focused on the importance of a strong LGBT/organized labor relationship, I could give countless examples of workers who say the union has been more help to them than anti-discrimination laws. In an interview I did with a transgender boycott coordinator from UNITE HERE in Chicago, he explained that although Illinois has a state-wide policy prohibiting employment discrimination of LGBT-identified people, he has more than one friend that has been fired for transitioning. “Very few laws that get passed really change a whole lot if you don’t fight to enforce them [at work],” he said, and then pointed to the union as the best platform from which to have that fight.

Several other queer scholars and activists have been publically skeptical about the value of putting energy towards passing ENDA. In Out at Work: Building a Gay/Labor Alliance (2001), Patrick McCreery offers the example of a gay middle school teacher who was fired after someone revealed that he used to be an actor in gay pornography. The school was able to fire him, not because he was gay, but because he had “deviant” sexual practices, something ENDA would never protect. He continues, “ENDA clearly seeks not to subvert heteronormative culture but rather to assimilate gay workers into it. As written, ENDA attempts to categorize and organize sexuality, not to acknowledge its fluidity or instability.” Riki Anne Wilchins (2001), an activist and executive director of GenderPAC [iv], makes similar arguments, suggesting that ENDA would be unlikely to give any protection to the gender non-conforming, even if it was explicitly written in the bill.

Unions, unlike federal law, provide the opportunity for self-determination and power. In a union, an LGBT worker is able to set the standards for a safe environment in a contract, and instead of having to take a boss to court as an individual, they can go through the union to fight against contract violation. If they get push back, the union is there to rally on their behalf.

Of course, not all unions are sensitive or supportive of LGBT-related issues, but in my years of research on this topic, I’ve read overwhelming numbers of stories about queer unionized workers—from waitresses, to auto workers, to nurses—that have found support from straight co-workers when they faced discrimination on the job. A transgender grocery store worker who was made uncomfortable using the bathroom at work during his transition explained that he was able to rally the support of his co-workers to get gender discrimination prohibited in their contract through a combination of “union pride” and “putting a human face on the issue.” [v] In addition, organizations like Pride at Work [vi], a contingent of the AFL-CIO, have had great success in their mission to make unions safer spaces for queer workers, illustrated by things like major union’s public support of gay-marriage, and the existence of at least two lesbian presidents of international unions (Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU; and Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT).

Focusing only on ENDA as the key to protecting LGBT workers correspondingly increases the lack of awareness about the detrimental Right to Work legislation, as well as numerous anti-collective bargaining bills that are becoming more and more common throughout the country. Again, I’m not arguing that ENDA isn’t necessary, important, and long overdue, but I am arguing that it is likely not the best answer for LGBT workers who need protection from discrimination on the job…Unions are. And to dismiss these pervasive attacks on organized labor as a non-queer issue is to risk the livelihoods of working and middle class queers across the nation.

 


[iii] A “right-to-work” law is a statute that prohibits union security agreements, or agreements between labor unions and employers that govern the extent to which an established union can require employees’ membership, payment of union dues, or fees as a condition of employment, either before or after hiring. Right-to-work laws exist in twenty-three U.S. states, mostly in the southern and western United States. Such laws are allowed under the 1947 federal Taft–Hartley Act. (Wikipedia.org)

[iv] GenderPAC is a national nonprofit organization devoted to pursuing gender, affectional, and racial equality.

[v] From The Trouble Maker’s Handbook.