Mar 26, 2015

Telling wider and deeper solidarity stories

art by Rini Templeton, copyleft
Certain stories tend to get told about solidarity work, so I am excited by this effort to pull together an edited book to tell the stories we hear less of. I have great hopes that someone will write about the fabulous queer to queer US/El Salvador work in the 80s. Note that this book will be a mix, with scholarly papers, analytical essays, first person reflections and other creative submissions and expressions (poetry, spoken word, etc.) of between 6,000 and 7000 words  (though presumably memoirs and poetry could be shorter). Have an idea for something that might work? Send them a 500 word abstract by April 6th. Or send the call on to someone else you know who has a story that should be told!
Living Archives: Third World, Indigenous and Anti-Colonial Queer and Feminist International Solidarities
a volume co-edited by Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi (San Francisco State University), Anna M. Agathangelou (York University), Paola Bacchetta (University of California, Berkeley) and Tamara Lea Spira (Western Washington University)
The 1960s -1980s witnessed an explosion of transnational exchanges between women, feminists and queers from the global south and north who were engaged in feminist, queer, transgender and lesbian liberation and anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements worldwide. They constructed powerful imaginaries and practices of social justice and liberation that deeply altered the landscape of movements for sexual and gender justice. Radical and critical Indigenous, Third World and anti-colonial women, feminists, queers, transgender subjects and their movements inscribed traces of their theories, expressions, practices and activisms in alternative journals, leaflets, posters, pictures, poetry, artwork, music and personal writings. Yet, many of these histories have been erased, distorted, co-opted or forgotten. These earlier activists and activisms have been largely occluded from historiographies of feminism, Gender and Women’s Studies, LGBTQI Studies, Queer Studies and Ethnic Studies - indeed from all academic narrations - with serious implications for practices and projects of liberation today.
Living Archives is concerned with a range of subaltern voices and with the epistemic violences to which some are subjected, made unhearable, or even impossible. This anthology seeks to address the effects and results of such a historical omission. It brings together participants and scholars of these movements with a younger generation of activists, artists and scholars to open up, re-assemble, re-animate and re-theorize this archive of feminist, queer, transgender and lesbian anti-colonial internationalisms from the perspective of the present. The anthology is interested in heterogeneous contemporalities that include visions of building another world. The anthology will also engage with the relations of power and ethico-political implications regarding the authority, authorship and authorization involved in the very process of constructing archives and of the many ways of engaging with them.
This anthology seeks to bring together multi-generational analyses of solidarities and alliances across theories, expressions, practices, activisms and movements of Third World, Indigenous and anti-colonial queer and feminist internationalisms of the 1960s-1980s. We invite contributions from scholars and activists who were directly involved in that era, as well as reflections from a younger generation.
This anthology is interested in addressing power entanglements in heterogeneous contemporalities. What relations of power are implicated in the production, erasure, revival and diffusion of subalternly positioned archives? What traces exist and have been re-framed and sanitized? What traces have been elided or erased, and why and how? What is at stake in retrieving, passing on, editing or discarding archives that are produced at the intersections and in the overlappings of multiple formations of gender, sexual, racial, religious, secular, ethnic and colonial violence? What does it mean to do so in the context of advanced global capitalism, neoliberalism, war and security states, wherein a premium is assigned to certain lives while others are subjected to increased marginalization, death-boundedness, brutality and death itself?
We are interested in the implications of this knowledge production upon our ability to conceptualize and enact radical politics today. What does it mean to “archive”? And what does it mean to archive liberation enactments, collective daily life, affect, confrontations with power including violence, multiple modes of solidarity, and their contingent internationalist imaginary of radical justice and freedom? What does the commitment to reassemble radical histories and solidarities, and to re-theorize them, bring to bear upon contemporary radical justice and freedom movements and expressions, and to our intimate lives? What are the stakes, effects, and results of such projects today?
Possible Topics for consideration in the context of the overall arch of 1960s-1980s Black, Third World, Indigenous and anti-colonial feminist, queer, transgender and lesbian international solidarities and alliances include, but are not limited to:
  • Genealogies of Third World, Indigenous, internationalist and transnational feminist, queer, transgender and lesbian solidarities;
  • Genealogies of internationalist and translocal feminist, queer, transgender and lesbian activisms in and across movements against colonialism, settler colonialism, occupation and racism, and for peoples’ liberation;
  • Reflections upon the politics and relations of power implicated in the production, erasure, or sustenance and deployment, of archives.
Movements’ Relationships and Entanglements with Contextual Relations of Power:
  • The place of differential formations of colonialism including settler colonialism, as well as capitalism, globalization and neoliberalism in relation to movements;
  • Movements and the co-constitution of spaces and scales;
  • The ways that entanglements with power inform the remembering or forgetting of radical histories;
  • Materialities and the political economies of movements.
Experiences of Resistance, Solidarities, Political Action and Movements:
  • Materialities and political solidarities and action;
  • Embodied and lived experiences and affect of struggle and political action;
  • Communes, communities and other configurations of collective life of movements and political solidarities;
  • Erotics, imaginaries, utopic visions, heterotopics, freedom dreams, resistance and revolution;
  • Poetry, art, film, documentary and other cultural labor and production in radical justice and liberation movements;
  • Internal problematics and politics of movement and coalition building.
Experiences of Repression and Multiple Forms of Violence:
  • Incarceration, surveillance, torture, repression, intimidation, assassination, and other forms of violence and death;
  • Displacement and exile;
  • Affect, trauma and Repression;
  • Disciplinary mechanisms as they pertain to the suppression, elision, re-writing and distortion of historiography.
Knowledge Production and Approaches to Archives:
  • Terminologies and languages of radical justice and freedom of the 1960s to the 1980s;
  • Traces, memories, memorials, and memoralizations;
  • Trauma, affect and amnesias of the archive;
  • Radical critical archiving historically and today.
The Contemporary:
  • How contemporary desires and imaginaries of justice are linked to multiple historical struggles;
  • Affective economies of ongoing struggle;
  • Inter-generational memories and movement building;
  • Continuities and ruptures with earlier liberation movements in the present;
  • Simultaneous temporalities of solidarities and radical movements.
Scholarly papers, analytical essays, first person reflections and other creative submissions and expressions (poetry, spoken word, etc.) of between 6,000 and 7000 words are welcomed. For consideration, please submit an abstract of 500 words to by April 6, 2015 to: Inquiries may be sent to the same email. Full article submissions are due on September 28, 2015.

Mar 12, 2015

Academic strike solidarity

Canadian academia is on a roll in the struggle to defend truly public quality education for all. TA’s and RA’s are on strike at York U and U of Toronto, and faculty are striking for their first contract at UNBC. We are at the forefront of fighting the global neoliberalization of the academy and the precarization of academic work.  University is where students learn what ‘work’ is like and what to expect and be willing to put up with throughout their work lives – so it is a crucial frontline in the broader struggle against precarity and for dignified work for all (a point well made by Alan Sears at a recent cupe3903 free school event).

I have been particularly inspired by the solidarity of York TAs, whose main demand is to keep the tuition indexation that currently ties tuition increases to equivalent salary increases. They have been offered a tuition freeze for themselves, but it would knock out the bottom rungs of the ladder for future students, who would continually have to pay more at the company store with the same salary. As Eve Haque put it at the free school, we know what groups are the first out when it becomes harder to go to graduate school. Not only are York TAs striking then to keep graduate school open to lower income and racialized students, but they are also explicitly asking for LGBTQ Equity Language.  I have been astounded that a university with a social justice mandate has been so intransigent on this request. Perhaps they think we are somehow not only ‘post-racial’ but also ‘post-gay’ – but surely even they can see that transgender people face employment hurdles? 

At any rate, the solidarity of the graduate students is deeply inspiring to me.  I am also moved and heartened by the solidarity of faculty, including the following letter from my own department at York in the face of administration attempts to force us back to teaching. 


We, the undersigned faculty members of the Department of Geography, feel strongly that the resumption of classes in Geography’s multiple programs during the current labour disruption is ill advised. The Department strongly urges the University Administration to continue working through the collective bargaining process and achieve a settlement before resuming any further courses. There are compelling pedagogical, safety, and ethical reasons for our position. 

1. Pedagogically, specifically in the discipline of Geography but others as well, there are a number of large classes (100s of students) where tutorials and labs are deeply integrated with lectures in first year offerings. Holding lectures without accompanying labs and tutorials is incomplete course content delivery. At the first year level, our new general education course (GEOG 1000) and other first year courses (GEOG 1400, GEOG 1410) are Teaching Assistant (TA) dependent offerings. There are many other courses in physical geography (at all year levels) that also include labs instructed by TAs. We cannot and will not perform TA tutorial duties. 
2. Tests and exams in several courses are not based solely on readings but on lecture content. TAs are often required to attend lectures so they can assist students and grade material. The absence of TAs during a labour disruption does not allow for lecture attendance. Further, the diminished undergraduate attendance that results from students refusing to cross a picket line to attend class (as Senate rules allow) limits what lecture content can be fairly examined. We cannot and will not perform TA exam grading duties. 

3. In order for students to progress through course material effectively, regular feedback must be given on previous tests and assignments. In some cases, students must receive feedback on one part of an assignment before they can complete it. Many tests and assignments from the first half of the winter semester have yet to be assessed by TAs. Again, we cannot and will not perform TA marker/grader duties. 

4. As students may refuse to cross a picket line without academic discipline or disadvantage, the resulting lower attendance threatens overall course integrity. For example, fourth year seminars (capped at 25 in Geography) with large discussion components are not easily carried out with low attendance. At the same time, students who miss discussions can’t easily reproduce the inclass learning experience. 

5. While Geography is not a large program, we do have members of Unit 1 teaching ‘ticketed’ winter semester courses through the exclusion program. These instructors will still be on strike and the classes will not resume with the others. We cannot and will not perform Unit 1 teaching duties. 

6. The last experience the Department had with the continuation of classes during a labour disruption was 20002001. During that time, attendance in classes was approximately 20% – this in a period when students had fewer protections via Senate regulations. The resultant remediation period was frustrating
for students and instructors as some material had to be repeated after the labour disruption in any case in order to ensure the academic integrity of the course and the program’s learning objectives. 

7. Safety for students and the entire York community is a major concern. Even the most disciplined picket lines have, can and, in all likelihood, will experience violence as people enter and exit campus. We have reports of one of our Geography TAs and others already being injured on the picket lines with classes cancelled. We imagine a much more tense situation if the Administration attempts to resume programs. Violence on York University’s campus is consistently captured by the media. Indeed, York’s reputation will only be further harmed by incidents that depict student against student conflict in what is already a divisive situation. 

8. Lastly we feel that there are ethical reasons for not resuming classes during a labour disruption. Picketing and the disruption of production and services through the withdrawal of labour are all legal and democratic tools workers in an unequal power relationship with employers have to guarantee reasonable working and living conditions. Attempting to resume normal activities in the face of pickets is counter to respected democratic values and principles. These sentiments were eloquently expressed in a recent letter from Osgoode Hall law students to their Dean. 

9. We are in solidarity with all students affected by the current labour disruption. These include: the graduate teaching assistants currently exercising their democratic right to strike; the 4000+ undergraduate students who have expressed that classes should not be continued during a labour disruption (many from LA&PS); undergraduates who regardless of their views on the strike deserve to be taught in stable conditions; and future graduate students in Geography and other disciplines who may very well benefit from what TAs are currently protecting through the collective bargaining process. 

For these reasons, we strongly urge that classes not be continued until the Administration expeditiously negotiates a settlement that ends the current labour disruption. 


Alison Bain
Ranu Basu
Richard Bello
Ulrich Best
Raju Das
Jennifer Hyndman
William Jenkins
Philip Kelly
Sara Koopman                    

Min-Jung Kwak
Elizabeth Lunstrum
Valerie Preston
Tarmo Remmel
André Robert
Robin Roth
Steven Tufts
Peter Vandergeest
Patricia Burke Wood

Mar 4, 2015

geographers on and with social movements

I have a chapter in the forthcoming new edition of the Blackwell Companion to Political Geography on social movements.  A long version of it is available here and I have hopes that it could be interesting and useful not just to geographers but also to activists and other academics interested in social change. It comes with a collaborative zotero bibliography that you can add to.

Rather than an abstract, below are some nuggets from it:

... Social movement is not a clearly defined or well agreed upon category for collective action and organizing for social change, and that is true in geography too (Keith & Pile 1997, Routledge & Cumbers 2009. McCarthy 2011, Chatterton et al 2013). What counts as a social movement, how to categorize them, and even what they should be called, have been contested, both by academics and by activists - sometimes for theoretical or methodological reasons, sometimes for political or ethical ones. Issues have included: How many groups does it take to count as a movement? Do they have to be connected and/or coordinated? Do they have to be effective at creating social change to count? Can groups have paid staff? Can they be involved in electoral campaigns? Can they take up arms? Engage in property destruction? What if groups have no office, or no formal structure? ...

... These are not “new social movements”, a term that is now fairly old, and broadly refers to movements shifting in the 60s to be more cross-class, issue specific, and tied to identity (though, for example, women’s and gay rights organizing happened before then, but the argument is that these changed and flourished at that time). There are plenty of critiques of the term, for example, environmentalism is not really about identity per se, but the term continues to be widely used academically. Entertainingly the recent shift has been referred to as the ‘new new’ movements (Feixa, Pereira, and Juris 2009), but that term has not caught on....
... New ICT (information and communication technology) tools are yet again changing the look and feel of organizing and what it means to ‘do’ politics. As burgeoning smart phone use makes the internet available to many more people in the global South these dynamics are growing fast. But widespread autonomous horizontal organizing in many ways similar to this recent wave in the global North also has a longer history in Latin America on the other side of the digital divide, notably in the El Alto uprising in Bolivia in 2005 and the ‘Que se vayan todos’ (throw them all out) uprising in Argentina in 2001. But these were not entirely without ICTs of a sort, for pirate and community radio stations have played an important role in organizing throughout Latin America. ...

... Whether they use the term movement, network, NGO, contentious, collective, or connective action, what geographers have brought to understanding the work of movements is a focus on space. Social movement studies had until recently tended to write about movements as if they happened ‘on the head of a pin’ (Nicholls 2007). Geographers have asked, how do movements use space, how does space shape movements, and how do movements shape space? We have used different spatial concepts to get at this: place, networks, and scale in particular, though also sometimes territory, city, and region. Nicholls, Miller, and Beaumont (2013) argue that in the 1930s to 1950s it tended to be region, 1960-1970s: space, 1980s: place, 1990s-2000s: scale, and now networks and mobility, and they offer a helpful review of how each has been taken up for movement studies....

... Through their work on, with, and across social movements, geographers have also contributed to broader debates about the spatialities of solidarity. Much of political geography is about the relationship between here and there, us and them. Some of what political geographers have offered, as I will review here, is a perspective on what can shift and bring those categories together, and how movements build connections across distance and difference. This has ranged from analyses of commonalities, to how difference is reworked, to the emotional work involved...

If that makes you want to read more, the full chapter is here.

(All art by Rini Templeton, copyleft and available at

Feb 7, 2015

the dangers of using art (and privilege) for solidarity

Tina Fontaine
If you are not from Canada, you may not know that we have a crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.   Even some people in Canada don't seem to understand that indigenous women here are being killed and taken at a dramatically higher rate than other women.  There have been nearly1,200 women killed or disappeared in the last 30 years. Both Amnesty International and the UN consider this a crisis.  Of course for many years these women's lives didn't 'count' and their deaths were not investigated, not only because they were aboriginal, but often because they had been living on the streets, perhaps self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and doing survival sex work. Their killers clearly thought they could get away with killing these women, and to a large extent, they have. (For an academic take on how these women are seen as homo sacer check out this article by Gerry Pratt).

It was thanks to the hard work of the Native Women's Association of Canada and their research of cold cases that this issue is more present in the Canadian media (which before was widely using a figure of 600 when they mentioned the issue at all).  I'm fascinated by the politics of death counts and so impressed at how they have made their sisters 'count'. 

There was another hideous murder late last year that finally got more media attention.  Tina Fontaine (picture above) was only 15 last August when she was sexually tortured, murdered, and dumped in the river in Winnipeg. Shamefully our prime minister Harper, when pressed on this case, said publicly that the killing of aboriginal women was not a "social phenomenon" in Canada and that no inquiry is needed.

Recently Evan Munday, a non-aboriginal artist, wanted to press Harper on this issue and raise awareness.  He committed to drawing the face of one these murdered or missing woman a day and sending it to Harper and posting it on social media. Doing all of them would take three years.  He got a surprising amount of attention for this - not only on twitter, which retweeted the images widely, but also on the CBC and in the Toronto Star and in their freebie version that is all over the subway here, the Metro news. He got much more attention than most if not all actions organized by native women in the past few years. 

(Clockwise from upper left): Elaine Frieda Alook, Danita Faith Bigeagle, Maggie Lea Burke, Amanda Bartlett, Abigail Patrice Andrews, Roberta Marie Ferguson, Angel Carlick, Sharon Abraham. drawings by Evan Munday.
 But he stopped after the eight drawings above, and that's really what I want to tell you about.  He issued an apology which I'm sure was difficult to write. I am so thankful for the strength of the families in speaking to him and for his ability to listen.  I have great respect for his decision and this process, and think it is one we can all, artists and not, learn from as we work to build more respectful solidarity for social change across all sorts of differences.  As he writes:

"... After extensive conversation with a group formed of families of some of the missing and murdered women, I believe I cannot continue the project in a way that respects these women’s autonomy or a way that helps rather than harms the families of these thousands of women. I apologize for hurting the families of these women and for making them relive painful memories.

As a man of no indigenous background, I realized the project tread a very thin line, and I tried to be very cautious to avoid things like self-aggrandizement, appropriation of image, and overshadowing the real work of advocacy groups. I started the project on impulse (never a good idea), realizing I was a dilettante in indigenous culture and issues, and so, I tried to be as open and non-defensive about the project as I could. I spoke to representatives of NWAC (the Native Women’s Association of Canada) and WWOS (Walking With Our Sisters) early on to see if they were supportive of the project and how I could help direct attention to their organizations. I tried to divert many of the journalists who reached out to me to these groups. The last thing I wanted to be was a Macklemore, showing up with concern to an issue late, having no personal connection to (and not much knowledge of) the issue, and receiving much undue credit for a symbolic gesture.

However, over the weekend, some of the families of the missing and murdered indigenous women got in touch with me about a number of concerns they had about the initiative. Some relatives had been in touch earlier and were supportive of the project. But other family members saw the project as extremely problematic. They outlined a number of concerns, primary among them being the issue of permission. (The women’s families had not consented to have their loved ones’ images used in this manner.) They were also concerned that the attention the project was receiving was drawing attention away from the indigenous-led efforts, and the very illustrations themselves – which were thought to be too cartoony – were seen as inappropriate. Additionally, as I realized earlier, there is great dissent within the indigenous community as to whether a public government inquiry or an independent inquiry would be more beneficial. As these concerns came from family members, I took them very seriously. I told the group I’d work on a plan that would (I hoped) address those concerns. I presented the plan on Sunday.

The five-point plan is too long (and probably irrelevant) to include here, but it involved voluntary participation from the women’s family members through an open call (that is, people would have to request their missing relative to be drawn – I wouldn’t seek out family members and harangue them) and an offer to donate the illustrations to an indigenous advocacy group, rather than tweeting from my personal account. A few other alterations, such as refusing to speak to media about the project, were also included.

This plan did not adequately address the family members’ concerns. They felt the illustrations themselves were very problematic, because cartoon drawings denoted, to them, fun and jokes. “There is nothing funny or cute or joking about my mother being killed by the police. My journey for justice for the past thirteen years has never been fun,” said one family member. If this comic-booky look was my style of illustration, perhaps I wasn’t the most suitable artist for this memorial project.
More than anything, I don’t want to antagonize the families of the victims.  Whatever the initiative has accomplished – and I admit, it may have accomplished nothing at all – if the family members feel it hinders rather than helps advocacy efforts on this issue, there’s no reason for me to continue. I need to respect the autonomy of these women (or in this case, their autonomy as represented by their next of kin) and stop the project.

Again, I apologize for the harm I’ve done to the families of missing and murdered indigenous women and to any indigenous-led advocacy groups that I’ve harmed through this media distraction. Thank you for your interest in the project and your concern about the thousands of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. Thank you for calling me out and bringing your concerns to my attention. I apologize, also, if this statement reads as defensive. I’m trying my best to not be. Instead, I’m hoping you can see this lengthy statement as a process of me learning what I did wrong, so I don’t make the same mistakes in the future.

If you were supportive of the illustration project, please consider donating to the indigenous-led organization, It Starts With Us (, as I’ve done, and will do so again. If everyone who retweeted one of my illustrations donated even a few dollars, it would make a huge difference to their advocacy initiatives. Please also consider getting involved in one of the Women’s Memorial Marches on February 14.  And if you’re more into Twitter, Gregory Scofield (@gregoryscofield) and Lauren Crazybull (@LCrazybull) are both doing very important projects regarding #MMIW that you may want to follow.

Please don’t be upset this initiative is ending. There are many other ways you and I and we all can help bring attention to this extremely crucial issue and be allies. And if any indigenous-led advocacy groups could ever use some cartoon illustration for a project or two, I invite them to get in touch. I will happily volunteer my skills.

Thanks for understanding."

His ending the project got much less twittter traffic, but there was a short article about it in the Star in which he is quoted as saying, “It’s been an uncomfortable process, but it’s been an important learning process.” Amen to that.

I share this story and Evan's letter because I hope it can serve as an important lesson and reminder to us all of the importance, when doing solidarity work, of coordinating well with those most directly affected by a situation.  In Canada we are all affected by this tragedy, but some live it much more directly.  I want to work for change with those most affected, rather than try to enact change for them.  To me this is the difference between solidarity and charity. But it's not always easy or obvious how to do this, so my hope is that sharing this story can offer some lessons.

The first tweeter Evan mentioned in his letter, @gregoryscofield, has been tweeting one name a day of the missing women, with photos. Why has his work received so much less attention than Evan's got? Is it because he is native and Evan is white? Because Gregory is using photos not doing drawings? Is it because Evan somehow worked the media more?

The photo on the right is from January 27th: Name A Day:Keana Benson, 14. Find our little sister. Prince Albert, Sask.

I appreciate that the photos that Gregory posts are of the women who have not been found, and always say the city where they disappeared and the line "find our missing sister" or, in this case, little sister.  In comparison to Evan's drawings it seems much closer, more urgent, more real to me - whereas Evan's seem more like commemoration.  Gregory's project personally spurs me more to take action than the drawings do.  But I heard of these only through Evan. 

If you're in Canada please consider going to one of the annual February 14th marches and ceremonies to honor the missing women.  There are actions in most cities, and they are even extending in to the US now.  The details are here. If you're in Toronto please join me.
(I do, by the way, think that comics can be used well to tell painful stories of loss and violence.  This short strip does a good job of telling the story of Marlene Bird, an aboriginal woman who recently survived an attack where she lost her legs. I especially appreciate that the artist, Dan Archer, incorporated audio of her own voice.)

Jan 9, 2015

Nope, I'm not Charlie either

The I am x solidarity meme is back. This time people are not claiming to be a person, or a place, but a newspaper, albeit a newspaper with a persons name.  I have repeatedly blogged here about the dangers of this meme, so let me instead this time echo the voice of Scott Long by reposting much of his fabulous post below. Many thanks to my colleague Catherine Eschle for tweeting this to me (she's at @DrCEschle, I'm @spaceforpeace).

Here's Scott's fabulous post:

Why I am not Charlie

There is no “but” about what happened at Charlie Hebdo yesterday. Some people published some cartoons, and some other people killed them for it.  Words and pictures can be beautiful or vile, pleasing or enraging, inspiring or offensive; but they exist on a different plane from physical violence, whether you want to call that plane spirit or imagination or culture, and to meet them with violence is an offense against the spirit and imagination and culture that distinguish humans. Nothing mitigates this monstrosity. There will be time to analyze why the killers did it, time to parse their backgrounds, their ideologies, their beliefs, time for sociologists and psychologists to add to understanding. There will be explanations, and the explanations will be important, but explanations aren’t the same as excuses. Words don’t kill, they must not be met by killing, and they will not make the killers’ culpability go away.

To abhor what was done to the victims, though, is not the same as to become them. This is true on the simplest level: I cannot occupy someone else’s selfhood, share someone else’s death. This is also true on a moral level: I cannot appropriate the dangers they faced or the suffering they underwent, I cannot colonize their experience, and it is arrogant to make out that I can. It wouldn’t be necessary to say this, except the flood of hashtags and avatars and social-media posturing proclaiming #JeSuisCharlie overwhelms distinctions and elides the point. “We must all try to be Charlie, not just today but every day,” the New Yorker pontificates. What the hell does that mean? In real life, solidarity takes many forms, almost all of them hard. This kind of low-cost, risk-free, E-Z solidarity is only possible in a social-media age, where you can strike a pose and somebody sees it on their timeline for 15 seconds and then they move on and it’s forgotten except for the feeling of accomplishment it gave you. Solidarity is hard because it isn’t about imaginary identifications, it’s about struggling across the canyon of not being someone else: it’s about recognizing, for instance, that somebody died because they were different from you, in what they did or believed or were or wore, not because they were the same. If people who are feeling concrete loss or abstract shock or indignation take comfort in proclaiming a oneness that seems to fill the void, then it serves an emotional end. But these Cartesian credos on Facebook and Twitter — I am Charlie, therefore I am — shouldn’t be mistaken for political acts.

Among the dead at Charlie Hebdo:  Deputy chief editor Bernard Maris and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (aka Cabu), Stephane Charbonnier, who was also editor-in-chief, and Bernard Verlhac (aka Tignous)
Among the dead at Charlie Hebdo: Deputy chief editor Bernard Maris and cartoonists Georges Wolinski, Jean Cabut (aka Cabu), Stephane Charbonnier, who was also editor-in-chief, and Bernard Verlhac (aka Tignous)

Erasing differences that actually exist seems to be the purpose here: and it’s perhaps appropriate to the Charlie cartoons, which drew their force from a considered contempt for people with the temerity to be different. For the last 36 hours, everybody’s been quoting Voltaire. The same line is all over my several timelines:
From the twitter feed of @thereaIbanksy, January 7
From the twitter feed of @thereaIbanksy, January 7

“Those 21 words circling the globe speak louder than gunfire and represent every pen being wielded by an outstretched arm,” an Australian news site says. (Never mind that Voltaire never wrote them; one of his biographers did.) But most people who mouth them don’t mean them. Instead, they’re subtly altering the Voltairean clarion cry: the message today is, I have to agree with what you say, in order to defend it. Why else the insistence that condemning the killings isn’t enough? No: we all have to endorse the cartoons, and not just that, but republish them ourselves. Thus Index on Censorship, a journal that used to oppose censorship but now is in the business of telling people what they can and cannot say, called for all newspapers to reprint the drawings: “We believe that only through solidarity – in showing that we truly defend all those who exercise their right to speak freely – can we defeat those who would use violence to silence free speech.” But is repeating you the same as defending you? And is it really “solidarity” when, instead of engaging across our differences, I just mindlessly parrot what you say?

But no, if you don’t copy the cartoons, you’re colluding with the killers, you’re a coward. Thus the right-wing Daily Caller posted a list of craven media minions of jihad who oppose free speech by not doing as they’re ordered. Punish these censors, till they say what we tell them to!
Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 12.34.32 AMIf you don’t agree with what Charlie Hebdo said, the terrorists win.

Screen shot 2015-01-09 at 12.22.15 AMYou’re not just kowtowing to terrorists with your silence. According to Tarek Fatah, a Canadian columnist with an evident fascist streak, silence is terrorism.

Screen shot 2015-01-08 at 11.46.59 PMOf course, any Muslim in the West would know that being called “our enemy” is a direct threat; you’ve drawn the go-to-GItmo card. But consider: This idiot thinks he is defending free speech. How? By telling people exactly what they have to say, and menacing the holdouts with treason. The Ministry of Truth has a new office in Toronto.

There’s a perfectly good reason not to republish the cartoons that has nothing to do with cowardice or caution. I refuse to post them because I think they’re racist and offensive. I can support your right to publish something, and still condemn what you publish. I can defend what you say, and still say it’s wrong — isn’t that the point of the quote (that wasn’t) from Voltaire? I can hold that governments shouldn’t imprison Holocaust deniers, but that doesn’t oblige me to deny the Holocaust myself.

The post continues and has more great points, please keep reading here.

Dec 22, 2014

I am not a place

I have written repeatedly about why it's important to remember that I am not Eric Garner, though I am most certainly WITH those who are targeted like he is, and those struggling to end police violence, against black people in particular. 

The other twist on this problematic solidarity slogan I've seen more and more lately is for people to say We are x place, instead of We are x person. So We are Mike Brown becomes We are Ferguson, or #WeAreAllAyotzinapa, #AyotzinapaSomosTodos.  Generally this is said by people not actually in or from that place.

I am absolutely concerned about what is happening in those places and stand with the people struggling there, but I again have qualms about these slogans being appropriative.  That said, if you haven't taken action to protest the massacre in Ayotzinapa, here is a great letter you can sign, under that slogan. 

This sort of slogan makes a lot more sense to me when it is people in a place using the slogan to protest environmental destruction of that place.  This is the case of the We are Seneca Lake site, that details the larg ongoing civil disobedience campaign by people in the area to stop fracking that would destroy the finger lakes of New York.  The short video below describes this struggle. I love that they dress in blue to show their solidarity to and connection with the lake.  And happily, since this video was shot this campaign was won! Fracking has just been banned in New York! 

Dec 11, 2014

actually I CAN breathe

I have been deeply moved and inspired by the protests against police violence against black and brown folks, but yet again I am concerned that a solidarity slogan is being used in appropriative ways.  I've written here repeatedly about the dangers of trying to BE the one you're with, and appropriating their identity.  I've also argued that it's slightly better to say WE are x person (Trayvon, Juan, etc) than to say I am Malala.  But even the WE can be screwy.  It's very different for a group of mostly white folks to march and say WE are Mike Brown than for a group of black youth to march saying that, like they have been in Ferguson.  Black youth will likely be targeted in the way that Mike was, and it is powerful for them to dramatize that. 

There are some good critiques circulating of the dangers of turning the slogan black lives matter into all lives matter.  Likewise a mixed or mostly white group saying we are Mike Brown is not only appropriative but waters down and weakens the message. 

I have also seen a fair number of white protestors with I can't breathe signs - or tweeting We can't breathe.  Given the horrific context this line comes from, this is even more disturbingly appropriative.  I CAN breathe, I am NOT Eric Garner, and I don't want to deny that - I want to use my privileges to change the structures and culture that give those privileges only to some.  I struggle for a world where black lives matter. 

(Apologies for the long blog silence.  This has been my first semester as full-time faculty. I'm thrilled to be teaching geography at a people's university and grateful for the support of my colleagues and my fabulous students at York U this semester.)

Aug 16, 2014

do men not count?

Naomi Klein wants you to remember Samih.

She took this photo for the campaign, which collected these photos into the video, below.

Unlike the I am Trayvon meme, or even the We are José campaign, here folks aren't saying they are someone else, even collectively, but instead remembering the dead.  Standing with them you could say.  I am moved by this tactic, but notice that people are much more likely to write the names of children on their signs. Ads are taken out with just the names of the children killed.

At the protest against the assault on Gaza that I went to last weekend in Toronto there were signs specifically saying stop killing women and children.  Wait. What? Not stop killing everyone.  Just the ones that are very clearly innocent in your minds.  Hmmm.  Dangerous.

What about the men?  Is killing them somehow more ok? Well, the New York Times published an article on the tallies of the dead in gaza - "civilian or not?" - with a hideous graphic of the deaths by age and gender, which implies basically that all men between ages of 20 and 29 are ok to kill because they may well be militants.

But really, that seems to have been a common attitude across history. Helen Kinsella has an amazing book about the history of the figure of the civilian, which I found disturbing. What struck me was how deeply gendered and infantilized the figure is, and how disempowering it can be - how difficult it is to be seen as both a civilian and a citizen. 

Maya Mikdashi wrote a powerful piece over on Jadaliyya asking, Can Palestinian Men be Victims? Gendering Israel's War on Gaza.  She reminds us that Cynthia Enloe coined the term “womenandchildren” in order to think about the operationalization of gendered discourses to justify war. It is no less problematic to use it against war! It not only infantilizes women but, as Mikdashi puts it, it creates men as always already dangerous. Their status as civilian is always circumscept she wrote, shortly before that hideous NYT graphic came out proving her point.

She writes, "The emphasis on the killing of womenandchildren, to the exclusion of Palestinian boys and men, further normalizes and erases the structures and successes of Israeli settler colonialism. “True civilians” and “possible civilians” are chosen. Men are always already suspicious, the possibility for violence encased in human flesh. The individual and personal extinguishing of female lives and the lives of children is massified and spoken of in statistics. Palestinians are framed as having the ability to choose whether they are a threat to Israel, and thus deserving of death, or not, and thus deserving of continued colonization clothed in the rubric of “ceasefire” or, even more elusively, “peace."

It is a strong argument against a hierarchy of victims and mournable deaths (not only by gender, but prioritizing deaths by bombs over the slow death of restricted food and medicine while trapped in what has become an open-air prison they cannot leave).  As she puts it, "To insist on publicly mourning all of the Palestinian dead, men and women and children—at moments of military invasion and during the everyday space of occupation and colonization— is to insist on their right to have been alive in the first place."

I get it.  I deeply agree.  And yet. And yet.  The deaths of the children particularly tug at me. I can see why they get used, because they have such a strong impact on us, even if this is not the most strategic form of solidarity in the long term.  When I went to this list of the names of the dead, the name that jumped out at me was that of a little tocaya, a name sister.

Even after reading all this theory, I couldn't resist, and at the protest last weekend I carried the name of my tocaya, Sara Omar Sheikh al-Eid, age 4, killed in Rafah on July 14th, 2014.  I hold her and her family in the light, to use the Quaker expression.  But I use her as a reminder, a way in as it were, to hold all Palestinians in the light of my heart.

It is much harder for me to hold the Israelis in the light, but I try.  It's hard for me to wrap my mind around how only 4% of Israelis could think they were using excessive force in Gaza.   There might be a media haze, but there is the internet.  So their fear must be overwhelming any facts.  It's hard to understand.  I mourn that they are so out of touch with their shared humanity. 

I mourn and am outraged that my countries, the US and Canada, make this possible.  Quite literally, the US supplies the bombs - but they also pressure Egypt to keep the border closed so that people can't flee.  When else in history have people been bombed and not been able to flee from it like this? They are trapped.

The bombing must stop, but then the slow deaths of being trapped with limited food and water and medicine must end.  This occupation must end for us all to be free of this outrage against everyone's shared humanity.

Aug 2, 2014

South Africa stands with Palestine

I was moved by this amazing singing, above, and the beautiful solidarity statement, below, by South Africans who have served as accompaniers in Palestine through the World Council of Churches program.  

31 July 2014

We, as a group of 70 South African ecumenical accompaniers who have monitored and reported human rights abuses in Palestine cannot remain silent at a time like this. We remember how often Palestinians told us that if we as South Africans can have a just freedom, then it must be possible for them too.

South African ecumenical accompaniers have worked side to side with other internationals in occupied Palestine since 2004 in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI was established by the World Council of Churches in response to a call from the Heads of Churches in the Holy Land. EAPPI provides protective presence to the vulnerable Palestinian communities and supports Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. We have witnessed multiple and layered injuries and losses by Palestinians whether Christian or Muslim. We value and recognise the safety and dignity of all those in Israel and Palestine. Yet we are not impartial when it comes to international law.

SA-EAPPI is appalled and devastated with the ongoing bombings, shelling and rocket firing in Israel and Palestine. However we absolutely reject any arguments that position the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis as two equal sides. The disproportionate killing of civilians including so many children horrifies us. That people are deprived of shelter, food, electricity, water and the hope of freedom is a source of shame to all who value the sacredness of life and the protection of international law. The current escalation in the conflict is not a war, let alone an act of self-defence, but a punitive, planned, strategic, militant expedition by a regional super-power to deepen Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. Moreover, Israel’s systematic, systemic, institutionalised oppression of the Palestinians that violates international law on a daily basis makes the conflict a-symmetric.

SA-EAPPI endorses the Memorandum to the South African Government issued by the National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P) on 28 July 2014 in Cape Town. In addition, we appeal to:
  • South African citizens to not buy any Israeli produce or services;
  • all faith communities to critically review their interpretations of sacred texts in a quest to uphold those values and principles that foster the flourishing of life for all;
  • South African churches to take a clear and unequivocal stand for justice and a viable peace;
  • the South African government to break its resounding silence and to demonstrate to the world what sustained, visible solidarity can mean for the freedom of an oppressed people;
  • the United Nations’ Security Council to agree on resolutions to end both the conflict and the occupation, and to appoint an honest and an impartial broker for peace talks between Palestine and Israel; and
  • the international society to ensure the consistent implementation of international law.

Jul 25, 2014

Who gets whiter where?

I’ve been busy settling in to a new job (Assistant professor of geography at York University and a new home (in the fantastic West St. Claire neighbourhood of Toronto) and haven’t had much time to blog, so please forgive me for responding way late to a media tizzy back in late May and early June about increasing numbers of Latinos identifying as white on the US census. 

In case you missed this, the basics are that the New York Times published a piece by Nate Cohn under the headline More Hispanics Declaring Themselves White. Julio Ricardo Varela, over at Latino Rebels, argues that the article was made sweeping generalizations based on someone else’s blog post, that was based on a third person’s conference presentation of unpublished research.  Wow, academics, just imagine where your next power point could travel! Crazy. Perhaps in response to Varela, Nate Cohn seems to have later actually interviewed the author of the original study and published a second clarifying article: Pinpointing Another Reason That More Hispanics Are Identifying as White.  Here he clarifies that perhaps more are identifying as white in part because of a major change in the way the census asked the question, but argues that would only explain about half of the change.

What is strange to me about both Cohn’s two pieces, and Varela’s two responses, are that neither mention that the long and sordid history of blanqueamiento in Latin America.  Cohn writes as if Latino immigrants suddenly gain a desire for whiteness once they arrive in the US, and Varela seems indignant and deeply disagree that people are trying to become white. 
But what of the terrifying prevalence of whitening creams throughout Latin America? (I found them in every major drugstore and grocery store in Bogota, for example) What of hair straightening and dying? And blue and green contact lenses? Or ‘ethnosurgery’ for ‘whiter’ noses? And what of the long history of policies across Latin America to promote  ‘white’ immigration, supposedly as a way to become more ‘modern’? It’s a creepy history, and one that I detail for Colombia in particular in my article “Mona, mona, mona!” Whiteness, tropicality, and the international in Colombia. In it I try to think about how this history shapes the ways international solidarity is done and read today in Colombia. It’s still a draft and I’d love any comments and suggestions. 
It all sent me looking for the mona lisa photo above, which is a play on the word mona, Colombian slang for white girl.  Well, I discovered there is also a version circulating that says this is what happens after a week in the US.  Hmmm.
 (Note, this scuffle also led to the hashtag #whatlatinoslooklike, which seemed to be about denying claims to whiteness, but then, strangely, the colorlines article that collates some of those starts with a pic that features a girl who appears to be albino.)

Jun 12, 2014

stories and stereotypes

I am back in Colombia on a fairly short trip, and having fantastic research conversations.  I'm so grateful to get to think with smart committed activists who are up for having difficult conversations about different ways to do solidarity.  In particular I've been talking about gender and how it shapes international accompaniment day to day, and different ways that accompaniers respond to various forms of sexism, sexual harassment, and the possibility of sexual violence.

Since I'm busy chewing on that, rather than write my own blog post I want to share one related to those issues.  I've long been a fan of the blog the Llama Diaries and was lucky enough to finally get to sit down with the author Anna on this trip. She recently wrote a great post about the difficulties of sharing stories about violence in Colombia without reinforcing stereotypes.  With her permission, I'm reposting it below in its entirety.

Storytelling, Ethics and Violence

In the peacebuilding Olympics, I am a medal contender for the storytelling event. There is nothing I enjoy more than a dramatic (complete with arm flailing and sound effects) recital of something that I have experienced. My favourite is my motorcycle accident.  Each time the pus explosion is a little larger and the audience is a little more awed by my survival.

Currently, my job is telling stories, but what I tell and how I tell it is more than a job. It is an ethical responsibility, especially because my the majority of my audience is not made up of Colombians, but people whose only experience of Colombia is based on my stories and general stereotypes. I write from a position of power. What I say is taken as truth about the realities of this place. I am developing a Spanish section, but not everything I write is accessible to those I am writing about. The stories I tell about my experiences are filtered at home through Canadian experiences, knowledge and culture. Representations are easily misinterpreted.

Taking pictures of people taking pictures in Mampujan
Taking pictures of people taking pictures in Mampujan

We like to rescue people. We love individual heroes. My facebook newsfeed is constantly filled with petitions and stories of violence and victims worldwide, especially related to sex trafficking and rescue industries. We share these stories because, as human beings, we care and want to make a difference in the lives of others and the stories that we tell have the power to move people into action. But what action? And based on what information? Who is actually telling the story? And how does that story play into globalized realities of colonization, economic structures and power inequalities?

Money and other resources are funnelled into situations and towards people because of the stories we tell. Last month, Newsweek’s cover story was an expose about Somaly Mam, a famous Cambodian woman in the sex trafficking rescue industry. It turns out, how she was portraying herself and the supposed victims of trafficking, was blatantly untrue. Yet, in part because of her stories and the prominent support she received from influential people in the US, billions of dollars have been poured into an industry which does little to actually examine the structural causes of migration, labour, and economic policies; it’s main goal is to make us feel good about ourselves and our power to save. In reality, many of the woman “rescued” in Cambodia  end up in foreign funded sweatshops, creating our clothes.   (An excellent book on the topic is Laura Agustin’s Sex at the Margins.)

As Chandra Talpade Mohany reminds us in Feminism without Borders, “Writing is itself an activity marked by class and ethnic position. However, testimonials, life stories, and oral histories are a significant mode of remembering and recording experiences and struggles. Written texts are not produced in a vacuum. In fact, texts that document Third World women’s life histories owe that existence as much to the exigencies of the political and commercial marketplace as to the knowledge, skills, motivation, and location of individual writers…After all, the point is not just to record one’s history of struggle or consciousness, but how they are recorded; the way we read, receive, and disseminate such imaginative records is immensely significant.” (78).

Documentary making in Mampujan. As far as I know, no one is the community has seen the end result.
Documentary making in Mampujan. As far as I know, no one is the community has seen the end result.

What happens when I, as a Canadian, write a graphic description of an experience of personal violence in Colombia,  for a Canadian audience, as a blogger for Canadian Mennonite recently did? There is a good chance that the context in which the situation took place will not be familiar or understood by my Canadian audience because they do not live here. Instead, their understandings of violence in Colombia may be be further cemented towards stereotypes. The victim of the incident may become the hero, for being brave enough to live and work for change in such a dangerous place, while the Colombians already working for change remain unseen and unheard.

Even though the experience is true, Colombia is misinterpreted and the structures and stereotypes that have helped contribute to increasing urban violence across Latin America are perpetrated. Policies of structural adjustment, free trade deals, deportation of migrants, military interventions: all of these global  realities remain unacknowledged and an opportunity to think critically about our negative role is lost because no context is provided.

When our stories portray Colombia as a land of chaos, filled with terrorists, random violence and poverty, we justify Plan Colombia and other interventionist policies. We rationalize the spending of development dollars, such a the collaboration between mining companies and giants of the development world, on economic policies that end up harming the people we believe we are helping. We ignore the Colombians already working for change and become heroes. It helps to remember, as Magaly Sanchez points out, that “Rather than viewing violence as a personal deviation from societal norms, it is more appropriate to consider it a product of structural inequalities, a social phenomenon in which multiple actors resort to the use of violence under similar social circumstances and in mutually reinforcing ways, not as isolated individuals.”

This does not mean that we cannot share our stories of violence. #yesallwomen is a powerful opening to talk about the global violence against women everywhere.  To deny our own stories simply because they happened outside of our local context is to also become a victim. But by choosing to work and live in another context, we also must accept the ethical responsibility of how and where we tell our stories so that violence and stereotypes do not continue to be perpetrated, especially when, because of language and publication location, those we write about are not able to respond. Even the way I tell my accident story or write this blog is implicated and requires revision.