Tag Archives: politics

Resurrecting Bayard Rustin

Happy 100th birthday to a man whose expansive justice work across multiple sites of oppression, earned him a marginal place in history, Bayard Rustin, our “Lost Prophet.”

While we are on the topic of birthdays of awesome queer folk who have facilitated the arc of the moral universe in bending toward justice…Audre Lorde would have turned 78 on February 18th! Ellen had a birthday in January, so did Michael Stipe (R.E.M. anyone? anyone?)…eh hem.

Hey, I’ve got a birthday coming up in April and my partner’s was in March! We are all part of this bending the arc of the moral universe thing. So, shout out some names of people who you know are ok with having their names shouted out and celebrate them and their presence on this planet!

Happy birthday to us Two-Spirit people and trans* folks and queers and questioners and same-gender lovers and bois and queens and kings and everybody else who has other words that I do not know because I just do not know everything. Our very existence is resistance!

“When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him.” Bayard Rustin

Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011

Gil Scott-Heron, well known musician and artist, died over the weekend. He’s most famous for his spoken word piece The Revolution will Not Be Televised, which is about the need to begin the revolution inside your own mind before it can spread anywhere else.

Racialicious did a nice piece compiling some of his videos and quotes from interviews and articles. Well worth checking out.

 

In solidarity,

Maggie

Wanted Dead or Alive: why we should not be quick to rejoice the death of Osama bin Laden

Recently, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death has taken the United States by magnificent surprise and wondrous joy as swarms of Americans crowded the White House gates with their American flags and the President announced the success of the US Navy SEALS mission to storm into a village in Pakistan and to “smoke” bin Laden out of his compound. The mission was filled with intrigue and danger: military helicopters swooshing out of the sky, commandos caught in a deathly crossfire, shooting at America’s Most Wanted, killing one of his wives in the process, and finally declaring a victory after a decade of war and destruction in the region. An adrenaline-rush of American hypermasculinity on display, as the raid team penetrated the town where bin Laden was staying in, Abbottabad, Pakistan. But it is not just a show of macho military might. It is also the elevation of the masculinity of our soft-spoken and diplomatic President.  As one BBC commentator has noted, this has elevated Obama’s status from “wimp” to “warrior”. This has also significantly improved the President’s ratings (15% increase among the Republicans in fact) and has given a sense of relief and justice to many families of victims of 9/11 attacks. In short, the death of Osama bin Laden has returned the President to the status of a “man”, the United States to the status of world leader and savior, and the American people to the status of self-righteous sense of entitlement and justice. Everybody’s happy.

Sunday night, I was enjoying a nice hot cup of tea with my family members around a pit-fire when I received a text from a friend simply stating, “We killed Osama bin Laden!” At first, I thought it was a drunken joke. But then I received a similar message from a friend in D.C. celebrating in front of the White House. I quickly checked the online news and informed my family of the development. Everyone was obviously surprised. However, after 15 minutes of trying to figure out what had actually happened, we went back to our usual discussions. I, however, tried to follow the news online as the days went on. One of the articles that caught my eye was one on BBC explaining how the code name for bin Laden was, in fact, Geronimo. The name is derived from a 19th century Apache warrior who fought against white North American and Spaniard soldiers, to resist white supremacist efforts of Westward expansion and to preserve Native Americans’ lands and way of life. According to the BBC article, “[Geronimo’s] struggle to resist the white Americans has led to him being depicted in a sympathetic light by many cultural historians.”

It is, therefore, no surprise that many Native Americans are upset by the use of the name Geronimo as a code word for bin Laden. To associate a great warrior in their history with a ‘known’ terrorist merely perpetuates negative stereotypes about indigenous peoples and “undermines the military service of native people.” To me, their sentiments of outrage make sense, are warranted, and should be taken seriously. However, I cannot help but to analyze the situation from a different perspective. It make sense to me that the code name for bin Laden would be Geronimo. Indeed, the projects of white supremacy, racism, westward expansion and ‘Manifest Destiny’ have not stopped in the deserts of the Wild West.

Nobody knows why the code name Geronimo was chosen in the first place. However, we should not be surprised by its appearance. Indeed after the attacks of 9/11, a lot of the rhetoric of the fight against terrorism and against bin Laden, such as “wanted dead or alive”, remind us of the old Hollywood Westerns: white dudes with rifles going into uncharted territory (usually deserts) to “smoke out” those “savages”. Of course in the movies, the white dudes with rifles are the good guys. Just like how US’s presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq is seen as the ultimate battle between the nation of “progressiveness, democracy, human rights, civilization, good” and the culture of “backwardness, dictatorship, barbarism, savagery, evil.” It is Us v. Axis of Evil. It is our objective and impeccable justice system v. shariaa law. It is our women running for president v. women wearing burkas and staying at home. It is Manifest Destiny Version 21. We have heard this same rhetoric many times during Colonialism and the “white man’s burden”. In our history, we have very rarely allowed the possibility that people of color and people from the Global South have agency, can determine their own paths, can fight for their own rights, and can provide for their own livelihood and happiness. Nevermind that decades of colonialism, pillage, militaristic occupation, and neo-liberal economic policies have left the Global South the unhappy short end of the deal. Nevermind the lack of education, development and opportunities in those countries. Our yardstick for determining “progressiveness” has been how well a nation treats its women/gays/minorities. It is a new Imperialism of tolerant, “multicultural” diversity, because our state has never treated its women/gays/minorities poorly. And should a nation fail to meet the requirements, the United States military (and allied nations) will descend upon it in all of its hypermasculine might and throw the torch of enlightenment into the Heart of Darkness. Colonel Kurtz-style. The irony as always lies in the fact that in our rhetoric of ‘liberation’ we are using the state and the military, two sexist and homophobic institutions, to push forward an agenda of equality and freedom. Naturally then, we are at ease to ignore the violence that emanates from these institutions as we support them to be our protectors against the monstrous Others.





In the War on Terror, we constantly tell ourselves “those people hate us”, but we are never to blame for that hatred. We are logical, humanitarian, and right. They are irrational, monstrous and evil. This is the basis for the new Eastward Expansion. Yes, we are fighting terrorism. Yes, we are getting rid of dictators. And we are doing all of that by murdering innocent people, destroying entire towns and villages, illegally detaining people in Guantánamo Bay, torturing them in black sites around the world (aka having other countries do the dirty-work for us), and spreading our militaristic influence in the region. Let’s not even consider the trillions of dollars spent in these wars and the outrageous military spending of the United States (which, by the way, is more than the combined military spending of the next 45 highest-spending states, accounting for almost half of the world’s entire military spending).

This is not a question of Osama bin Laden’s crimes, which deserve punishment. But we are quick to forget our own history of racism, imperialism, and militarism in the Middle East and South Asian countries. Since the attacks of 9/11 we have been given many reasons for invading Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Actually, I take that back. We didn’t really give a reason for rolling our tanks into Pakistan, nor did we ask for permission when sending troops into the territories of a sovereign state. Practically everything is justified in the War on Terror. Branding Islamist fighters as “illegal combatants” under international law covers our legal bases. Asking NATO to join our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan covers our diplomatic bases. Branding our quest to profit off of oil and other business ventures in Iraq as a mission to bring down a terrible dictator with nukes (which he didn’t have) covers our public image as the harbingers of democracy and human rights. Even if there are things that are not justified, who is going to stop Us? Our crimes against humanity will go on with virtual impunity while we point the finger at authoritarian brown/black people whom we once financed, sponsored, supported and protected. When do we see American leaders brought before the ICC, or UN-sanctioned special tribunals? Not with the United States’ veto at the Security Council.

There was a time when the United States had the sympathy of the world. On September 12, 2001, when I was still in Iran, my fellow Iranians went to the streets and lit candles for the victims of 9/11 in solidarity with the American people. And now the same people face heinous sanctions, horrifying inflation rates, and the horrendous prospects of war from Western powers. Clearly, attacking Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan is not just about revenge/justice for 9/11.

So again I ask, why wouldn’t bin Laden’s code name be Geronimo? Different century, same imperialism. Indeed, Geronimo was probably considered a terrorist back in those days. I wonder: about a century from now, would bin Laden be a martyred hero who was just trying to preserve a way of life and resist American Eastward Expansion and imperialism? Well, we don’t need to wait a century: he already is.

SH

Loretta Ross on ‘Women of Color’

This video of well-known activist Loretta Ross talking about the origin and the political nature of the phrase ‘women of color’ made the rounds through our staff emails lately and I thought it would be particularly relevant in light of the fact that the UW Women of Color Reception just happened last week. Also, because March is “Women’s History Month” (how about Women’s FUTURE Month? because for some of us Women’s History/Future Month is every month).

“… and it was in those negotiations in Houston the term ‘women of color’ was created, ok? And they didn’t see it as a biological designation – you’re born Asian, you’re born Black, you’re born African-American, whatever – it is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color who have been minoritized… We self-named ourselves. This is a term that has a lot of power for us.” –Loretta Ross

In love, solidarity and respect,

Maggie

I am a hypothetical zygote-American murderer

I just read this Feministe post about Georgian state Representative Bobby Franklin’s new bill that would require Georgian women to report instances of miscarriage (since, in the words of Jill from Feministe “fetuses are Georgian citizens and their deaths are potential crimes”).

Jill issues this challenge:

“I think we should help Georgia out. Since life begins at conception, and a fertilized egg is a human being with all of the rights of any other citizen of the great state of Georgia, we need to make sure that all egg-deaths are properly accounted for, and that all zygote-Americans receive a proper burial and an investigation into whether their deaths were caused by foul play.

Devery Doleman, an Actual Woman, writes a letter to Rep. Franklin requesting that he investigate the potential murders going on in her pants. I think she’s on to something. I suggest, based on Devery’s idea, that we send Rep. Franklin the evidence of the potential murders committed in our uteri. Now, we can’t actually send used tampons through the mail — sending bio-hazardous material to an elected official can get you in BAD TROUBLE, so don’t do it — but we can certainly send photos. So! Next time you’re on the rag, photo-document the results. Why? Because somewhere around 50% of fertilized eggs naturally don’t implant, and are flushed out of the body. It’s an act of God, sure, but still — that’s a 50% prenatal death rate for Georgia’s smallest citizens. Your womb, basically, is a serial killer. And Rep. Franklin is very, very interested in using the Georgia state police to investigate any possible death of a Georgia citizen.

“So! I recommend you photograph your period paraphernalia, and attach it to a letter thanking Rep. Franklin for his good work in standing up for human life. Here’s a form letter you are welcome to use.”

While this is a great idea, it leaves me with unanswered questions. How do I, as a “Gay” “Lady” fit in to this picture? I wrote my own letter to Rep. Franklin urging him to also take on the Georgian Gay Lady population, because they are potential zygote-American killers too! Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Rep. Franklin,
Your new bill requiring Georgian women to report any instance of potential zygote-American murder makes me feel seriously guilty. You see, as a “Gay” “Lady”, I don’t even allow potential zygote-Americans to come to glorious, beautiful, tear-fucking-jerking fruition inside that hateful, useless thing which I have made my uterus by being a Gay Lady. I am very concerned about this, and I’m sure you would tell me that by not even passingly attempting to procreate I am not doing my best to protect the possible zygote-Americans that I could make. All of my eggs are just lying there useless! Ultimately some leave my body each month without ever having the chance to become true zygote-Americans. I’m depriving them of their hypothetical future! I am, again, very concerned about this. Perhaps your next piece of legislation can require all Georgian Gay Ladies to report every instance of sex wherein it is biologically impossible to produce a zygote-American so that they can be investigated for the murder of potential zygote-Americans. Because they are clearly being murdered, these hypothetical zygote-Americans!

Best Regards,
“Gay Lady”

In love, solidarity, and snarkiness,

Maggie

Obama on DOMA – thanks for the gesture?

I don’t mean to come off super pessimistic about this, so first of all I want to unequivocally state that I think Obama’s reversing the administration’s position on defending DOMA is awesome, and a great step in the right direction for gay rights.* Among other things, it states their legal opinion that “‘classifications based on sexual orientation’ should be subjected to a strict legal test intended to block unfair discrimination.” (NYT article, quoting Attorney General Eric Holder)

This is a big step because it expresses the idea that people of non-hetero sexual orientations should be considered a marginalized group that needs extra special legal protections against discrimination (such as hate crimes, getting arbitrarily fired, getting arbitrarily evicted, etc). The reason why this argument is being made now is because of two recent lawsuits against DOMA that were brought in districts with different rules than districts where previous lawsuits had been filed. If it sticks, this precedent could potentially lead to lots of changes in laws and policies that benefit queer people.

However, I don’t really share in all the excitement and hype that this move has gotten in the past day or so, for the following reasons -

1. The president doesn’t have the authority to repeal DOMA because it’s an act of congress, so the administration saying that it doesn’t support DOMA won’t have any immediate practical outcome.

2. Any repeal of DOMA that tries to go through congress right now would likely fail to get through the republican-controlled House.

3. Even if the federal government were to completely repeal DOMA and begin recognizing same-sex marriages, that still wouldn’t mean that the country has same-sex marriage all over. It would still be up to the individual states to decide what rights to marriage, if any, queer couples receive.

4. If this goes to the Supreme Court in its current iteration (5 conservatives, 4 liberals) they will probably uphold DOMA. The Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on legal issues in this country with little oversight of any kind, and if they don’t want to take the Administration’s opinion on this then they don’t have to.

5. A pessimist could see this as Obama throwing a bone to the mainstream liberal gay organizations, since it doesn’t change anything and might make them back down from criticizing him as much as they have been.

6. The president’s views on same-sex marriage are “still evolving” – meaning that he either doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed or that he can’t say that for political reasons (cough, 2012, cough). Also, even though this change in position won’t lead to any immediate change it could be a rallying point for conservatives in the next election, putting his chances at reelection in more jeopardy than they already are.

7. I’m tired of seeing the gay/queer movement as singularly defined by the issue of marriage. There are so many more issues, so many more important issues, that are desperately in need of attention and advocacy that this tunnel-vision focus on marriage seems sadly inefficient. I could go on and on about this, but I’ve done that in other forums before so I won’t get into it here.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear others’ opinions.

In love and solidarity,

Maggie

*I’m consciously using the word ‘gay’ here instead of queer.