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.

Jun 3, 2014

solidarity poetry

Like You
By Roque Dalton (Translated by Jack Hirschman) (original Spanish in the image)
Like you I love love, life, the sweet smell of things, the sky- blue landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up and I laugh through eyes that have known the buds of tears. I believe the world is beautiful and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life, love, little things, landscape and bread, the poetry of everyone.

May 20, 2014

solidarity can easily veer into saviorism

I am horrified by the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria. I am disgusted that teachers asked not to hold the exam, because an attack was likely, and that the government insisted it go ahead. I am outraged that the government knew four hours before that the Boka Haram was moving in to attack and did nothing. I am sickened that the police and military are deeply corrupt in Nigeria, and ineffectual at protecting civilians. I am heartbroken that the parents found where in the woods they had been taken, and though they stayed there for some days, could not get a police response. I am saddened that impunity in Nigeria appears to be even more rampant than in Colombia, and criminals can engage in these sorts of acts knowing that it is extremely unlikely they will ever be brought to justice.  I am not surprised that the Nigerian president has used the #bringbackourgirls campaign to extend 'emergency rule' (the state of exception, suspending even the very limited protections that normally exist).

I am heartened that there has been an outpouring of global concern for the girls who were taken.  I am astounded at how quickly attention and concern can grow through social media and the pressure it can create.  I am worried that this pressure, instead of targeting the Nigerian government, has veered to pressuring the US, and will be used to support even greater US military involvement in the conflict, and in Africa generally (as the Kony campaign was - and apparently John McCain has called for the US special forces to go in even without Nigerian approval).  I am fearful that instead of negotiations for their release this campaign will lead to a military rescue by a deeply corrupt and dangerous Nigerian military that is likely to put not only these particular girls but all Nigerian civilians at greater risk of harm.  I am amazed at how few people in the US seem to realize that Nigeria is a major oil producer and thus a key part of the US's geopolitical chess game.

Without a clear ask for action, it is easy for the campaign to be misused for militarized ends. I was reminded by my compa William Payne of this quote:

"Compassion is an unstable emotion.  It needs to be translated into action, or it withers…  And it is not necessarily better to be moved.  Sentimentality, notoriously, is entirely compatible with a taste for brutality or worse."  
-Susan Sontag (Regarding the Pain of Others)  

I am not surprised at how hard it has been to hear the actual voices of the girls and their families, and their specific asks for specific actions. Most stories don't even give a number of the missing (53 escaped, 223 were taken). The website chibokgirls was set up to encourage families to share the photos and individual stories of each girl. But it seems unlikely these families have the means to do that, or would want to since it is likely this would increase the stigmatization the girl will already face in her community once she is returned (since it will be assumed that she has been raped). So the website is left with no stories, and instead just this creepy picture representing each girl instead. Much better is this interview with school girls about what it's like to be a school girl in Nigeria - but note that they are in school in Lagos, which is quite different than the rural North in the heart of this armed conflict.  I have only found this one interview with one of the escaped girls, and it is literally very hard to hear her, it seems because of her fear though probably also because of the lack of an English interpreter - a key thing to have if you want to listen well to people who are afraid and don't speak English as a first language.

There has also been little analysis of the context in most stories. Have you read any stories about this that talk about how dangerous it is to protest in Nigeria? How frequently protesters are killed by the army? Maybe you saw one of the few stories about one of the mother's of the girls being arrested at a meeting with the First Lady - but she wasn't actually even one of the mothers, as often portrayed, but an ally who lived in the city and had been asked by the mothers to go to the meeting because the leader who was meant to go wasn't able to get through on the bad roads from Chiboke. She was released a few hours later when it was confirmed that she was not an imposter, but really?

And what about the context of the conditions all girls in Northern Nigeria face, where only 4% of girls finish school and it is one the areas with the most unschooled girls in the world? Or what about the massive environmental degradation across the country, thanks in large part to Shell oil? Meaningful solidarity requires some sense of context, and dialogue with and leadership from the folks most directly affected. Both of these seem in scarce supply on this campaign, and the huge outpouring of solidarity has frequently veered into saviorism.  

As Teju Cole put it in his White Savior Industrial Complex article in reference to the Kony campaign, "If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement." He went on to say, "there is much more to doing good work than "making a difference." There is the principle of first do no harm. There is the idea that those who are being helped ought to be consulted over the matters that concern them. .... One song we hear too often is the one in which Africa serves as a backdrop for white fantasies of conquest and heroism."

But there are plenty of heroes in Nigeria, who are incredibly brave and struggle for justice even though it is crazy dangerous.  This has been an African led campaign, as you can clearly see in this tweetpic. And there are plenty of elder African statesmen that could negotiate a prisoner swap. Rather than saving, in the US and Canada we could be doing more powerful solidarity to support this work.
If the US government wants to 'help', I suggest it pressure president Jonathan to meet with the brave Nigerian women leading the campaign, and pressure the Nigerian government not only to effectively pursue the kidnappers, but also to end human rights abuses against its own people (like killing and arresting protestors, and not protecting school children). Perhaps the US could also offer funding and training to the legal system. But then, ending impunity is not nearly as sexy as sending in the special forces.

Amnesty has a petition for folks in the US to sign to pressure the Nigerian ambassador. I do appreciate that this is one of the few that goes beyond asking for their safe return to ask that they "ensure that all children are able to access their right to education in safety, and to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all Nigerians without discrimination." This petition by human rights first is to the US Defense Secretary, and says the  Department of Defense should partner with State and USAID to support anti-corruption, rule of law, and police reforms. It should also ensure that the United States is not allying with people complicit in the victimization of the kidnapped girls or other civilians.

But still, I wish that the asks were more clearly coming from the women leading the campaign on the ground in Nigeria, that we could listen better and hear them and the escaped girls more clearly, and that the hashtag was connected to more context and less militarism.

But there is one critique of this campaign that has been circulating that I disagree with. Megan MacKenzie, amongst others, argues that ‘our girls’ implies ownership rather than solidarity.  I disagree, and am surprisingly ok with this 'our'. It does not feel appropriative or silencing to me, in the way that the various ‘I am’ campaigns have (I am Malala, I am Trayvon).  For the same reasons that I liked We are all Juan, I like #bringbackourgirls. I don’t think it implies that I AM their mother (or sister, or aunt), but that I am part of their larger community, and that I stand with them. 

May 2, 2014

... and I'm back!

The blog has been quiet because I've been on the road for a month, between conferences and an international interview tour.  Still getting my feet under me, so just a quick note about feet - to say that TOMS one day without shoes event just came around again a couple of days ago.  I have posted before about the TOMS shoe giveaway, and about this baring your feet in solidarity action. 

Rarely does cause related marketing (a la buy a bottle of water and 10 cents will get donated to those without water) ask you to pretend to 'pretend to be the one you're with' quite like this.  This year's action came with the hashtag #withoutshoes.  It had a lot of photos of people's bare feet on it, and reminded me of the photos from the Colombia solidarity action a few years ago where the Movement of Victims of State Crimes asked folks to send pictures of our feet around the world to express that we were walking with them virtually from around the world on their big march against impunity and for justice. The flicker stream I linked to that post has changed since then but you can see some of the feet photos they collected at the bottom of this page.  Quite a different feel to these feet photos! In comparison the TOMS photos feel even more like charity, as opposed to solidarity. 

I would rather walk with others, than walk without, for others. 

Mar 24, 2014

ISA brain candy

I'm looking forward to another International Studies Association conference this week.  There is a vibrant feminist security studies community there that I always learn a great deal from, and I still get a kick out of the Cynthia sightings.  How is it that there are so many fabulous Cynthias in that bunch? Cynthia Enloe, Cynthia Cockburn, and Cynthia Weber are all fun to get to hear. 

There is also an active peace studies group.  It's really striking every year how many more sessions there are on peace at the ISA compared to the geographer's conference (AAG), which I will be going to two weeks later.  I am pleased to be presenting, with my colleague Nick Megoran, geographers' takes on peace and geopolitics.  We are in fabulous company on that 'presidential panel' and I'm particularly thrilled that Lorraine Dowler and Jo Sharp will be there speaking on feminist geopolitics.

In a separate session I will be presenting my work on the gendered dangers of women playing the civilian card when working to build peace across borders, trying to think my fieldwork through the fabulous recent work on the gendering of the civilian by Helen Kinsella (The image before the weapon) and Charli Carrpenter (Innocent women and children).

Mar 21, 2014

Pope Francis on solidarity

For the record, I'm a Quaker, not a Catholic, but I'm still a huge fan of the new pope. 
Pope Francis greets refugees during a visit to the Astalli Center of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome Sept. 10. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)
He's been talking about solidarity alot in the past year.

"Solidarity, this word that strikes fear in the more developed world," he said. "They try not to say it. It's almost a dirty word for them. But it is our word!"

He also said that solidarity is "a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable.”

He called for more solidarity in the world in his first New Year blessing, "We all have a responsibility to act so that the world may be a community of brothers who respect each other, who accept their diversity and who take care of one another."  Ok, so it would have been nice to have the word sisters in there, but I appreciate the call. 

Entertainingly, he also said that the internet is a gift from God that can help us build solidarity. 


Mar 13, 2014

peace as the fruit of solidarity

I have been trying to think through the differences between Christian and labor/socialist imaginaries of solidarity.  Solidarity is a core Christian value, generally interpreted not as a unity of interests or common cause, as per the more labor or socialist take on solidarity, but instead as a sense of connection and mutual responsibility of all for all as the children of or expressions of God, or the light within, as Quakers would put it.

In the process of thinking about Christian imaginaries of solidarity I ran across this description of solidarity and geopolitics by none other than Pope John Paul II. It starts out sounding like charity to me, and I'm not sure that wealthier nations 'surmount imperialism' by having a sense of responsibility for other nations, but I'll admit, I love the idea of peace as the fruit of solidarity.  Of course, his idea of peace and mine are probably different, but the full quote is below.  More later on Francis's visions of solidarity.  

"The exercise of solidarity within each society is valid when its members recognize one another as persons. Those who are more influential, because they have a greater share of goods and common services, should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess. Those who are weaker, for their part, in the same spirit of solidarity, should not adopt a purely passive attitude or one that is destructive of the social fabric, but, while claiming their legitimate rights, should do what they can for the good of all. The intermediate groups, in their turn, should not selfishly insist on their particular interests, but respect the interests of others. 

"Positive signs in the contemporary world are the growing awareness of the solidarity of the poor among themselves, their efforts to support one another, and their public demonstrations on the social scene which, without recourse to violence, present their own needs and rights in the face of the inefficiency or corruption of the public authorities. By virtue of her own evangelical duty the Church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests, and to help satisfy them, without losing sight of the good of groups in the context of the common good. 

"The same criterion is applied by analogy in international relationships. Interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces through the processing of raw materials, with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all. 

"Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for the other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundation of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences. The economically weaker countries, or those still at subsistence level, must be enabled, with the assistance of other peoples and of the international community, to make a contribution of their own to the common good with their treasures of humanity and culture, which otherwise would be lost for ever. 

"Solidarity helps us to see the "other"-whether a person, people or nation-not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our "neighbor," a "helper" (cf. Gen 2:18-20), to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God. Hence the importance of reawakening the religious awareness of individuals and peoples. Thus the exploitation, oppression and annihilation of others are excluded. These facts, in the present division of the world into opposing blocs, combine to produce the danger of war and an excessive preoccupation with personal security, often to the detriment of the autonomy, freedom of decision, and even the territorial integrity of the weaker nations situated within the so-called "areas of influence" or "safety belts." 

"The "structures of sin" and the sins which they produce are likewise radically opposed to peace and development, for development, in the familiar expression Pope Paul's Encyclical, is "the new name for peace."68 "In this way, the solidarity which we propose is the path to peace and at the same time to development. For world peace is inconceivable unless the world's leaders come to recognize that interdependence in itself demands the abandonment of the politics of blocs, the sacrifice of all forms of economic, military or political imperialism, and the transformation of mutual distrust into collaboration. This is precisely the act proper to solidarity among individuals and nations. 

"The motto of the pontificate of my esteemed predecessor Pius XII was Opus iustitiae pax, peace as the fruit of justice. Today one could say, with the same exactness and the same power of biblical inspiration (cf. Is 32:17; Jas 3:18): Opus solidaritatis pax, peace as the fruit of solidarity.

"The goal of peace, so desired by everyone, will certainly be achieved through the putting into effect of social and international justice, but also through the practice of the virtues which favor togetherness, and which teach us to live in unity, so as to build in unity, by giving and receiving, a new society and a better world." (SRS, 39) - See more here 

Mar 6, 2014

This is really happening

"Just because it isn't happening here doesn't mean it isn't happening" ends this video, which is yet another creative attempt to bring a war over 'there' home 'here' and help you imagine what it would be like if it happened to 'us' as a way to build solidarity (or maybe charity given that it uses terminology of saving).  This is the first I've seen to use a second a day format, and it works well for drawing you in.  But do we really have to imagine it happening 'here' to a white girl that looks like 'us' for it to matter? Does this video escape being appropriative of the experiences of actual Syrian girls? I have my doubts.       (thanks to @suitpossum for pointing me to this on twitter)

Feb 26, 2014

Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements

One of the most useful books out about geographies of social movements is the new (2013) Spaces of Contention, edited by Walter Nicholls, Justin Beaumont, and Byron Miller.

Sadly (and a bit ironically) the book is through Ashgate, which charges truly outrageous prices.  But you can get a 50% discount with the code A14IIR50 at  That still makes it £35.00 + post and packing. Offer valid until 31/12/2014.

Spatiality has been an important contribution geographers have offered to social movement studies, who often wrote about movements as if they happened ‘on the head of a pin’ (Nicholls 2007).  How do movements use space, how does space shape movements, and how do movements shape space? Geographers have used different spatial concepts to get at this: place, networks, and scale in particular, though also sometimes territory, city, and region. Nicholls, Mill, and Beaumont argue in their introduction that in the 30s to 50s it tended to be region, 60-70s: space, 80s: place, 90s-00s: scale, and now networks and mobility, and they offer a helpful review of how each has been taken up for movement studies.

Yet each of these concepts exist in relation to movements and to each other, which does not mean that they are endlessly entangled but that if we look at actual practices, different ones will the stronger notes in the chord in a particular conjuncture. This argument was first made by Leitner et al (2008) who have been widely cited for arguing that too often, as they call it, a favorite ‘master spatiality’ has been plopped down on a movement rather than recognizing that these spatialities are, as they put it, co-implicated (a la intersectionality). Scale and territory, for example, not only shape each other, but also, as Neil Smith put it, "the scale of struggle and the struggle over scale are two sides of the same coin" (Smith 1992,74, cited in Martin 2013, 332). Miller argues this is true for all of these spatialities, which movements work to shape, and also shape movements.  Though this will always be contextual he offers a complex grid in his concluding chapter in this book.  For a full-on geography geek out see this grid that, in relation to movements, grafts the Jessop et al framework for the relationship between territory, place, scale, and network (TPSN) on to the Lefebvrian triad of material space, conceptual space, and lived space, and points to the different socio-spatial power relations created in each (334). 

A more fluid and process oriented take on these relations is the assemblage approach.  Rutland, for example, in his chapter in this book uses actor networks to great effect in detailing how the movement for a new Portland energy policy was made possible and constituted through a concatenation of human and nonhuman elements associated across time and space. But he warns that Latour's approach ignores processes of disassociation and exclusion, and attends to minute details at cost of obscuring broad systemic conditions, like capitalism and patriarchy, under which associations are formed (2013, 255).

If you read only one chapter of this book, I recommend the conclusion by Miller, entitled Spatialities of Mobilization: Building and Breaking Relationships.

Leitner, Helga, Eric Sheppard, and Kristin M. Sziarto. 2008. “The Spatialities of Contentious Politics.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33 (2): 157–72.

Martin, Deborah G. 2013. “Place Frames: Analyzing Practice and Production of Place in Contentious Politics.” In Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements,

Nicholls, Walter J. 2007. “The Geographies of Social Movements.” Geography Compass 1 (3): 607–22.

Rutland, Ted. 2013. “Energizing Environmental Concern in Portland.” In Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements

Feb 8, 2014

savior or consumer? is that the choice?

I appreciate that this video makes fun of stereotypes and, as they call it, the 'gringo cliche' of white savior solidarity. I'm not a fan though of being a good consumer as the other option.  It still has plenty of savior dynamics.  For more on "shopping to save lives" see Roberta Hawkins' work.

The particular certification plugged in this video, the rainforest frog, is widely critiqued as a form of greenwashing.  The standards for the certification are low - and only 30% of the product in the can has to meet even those! Their response is that getting big multinationals to be even 30% (sort-of) fair and green is a step forward.  But it may actually be a step back, as many are now buying 'frog' certified instead of truly fair trade certified. 

And what happened to the street protests shown in the beginning of the film? Or even online actions? All of the money spent to develop this video and they don't even ask you to send a quick click email? Not only might the frog be cutting in to more truly ethical consumption, but the way this video is pitched, it makes me wonder how much ethical consumption cuts into more direct solidarity actions people might take.

Feb 3, 2014

Geographies of Social Movements

art by Rini Templeton, copyleft at
I recently finished a draft of a chapter on social movements for the next Blackwell Companion to Political Geography.  As part of that work I created this open public bibliography of geographies of social movements on zotero and I would love to have you add to it.

If you are not a zotero user, you can still see the list on the site above, and sort by year, but I've also posted a static version here that you might be more comfortable with.  And here is a report version, sorted by date, that includes abstracts.  Note that I did not clean up the typos, etc that can come through with zotero quick click downloads, and the static versions do not include ongoing updates. 

Zotero is reference management software.  It does what Endnote does, but more, and more easily - and it's free! It makes my life better daily and I am wildly grateful to the Carnegie Mellon foundation for funding it to promote collaborative scholarship, like this sort of list. 

What all is included in this bibliography? It has literature about social movements in/across/as/with space, place, scale, networks, regions, territory and/or any other spatial concepts. Most of this work is by geographers, but of course work by others is welcome!

This list also includeds analyses of who organizes where, how, and for, or against, what; and how different whos organize against similar whats, or how organizing here is or is not like organizing there, and how each is facing similar dynamics of not only capitalism but other systems of oppression.

The list currently includes work in English, Spanish, and Portugese. It would be fantastic if you could suggest resources in other languages.