Dec 30, 2015

a very different sort of solidarity head scarf wearing

Let me start with a correction. In my last post I used the word hijab when I meant head scarf. I know better, and have been corrected on this in years past by feminist Muslims, but somehow following the media attention around that incident I slipped and used the term hijab that the mainstream media uses. As a translator I loved this explanation of why this is a dangerous slip that supports conservative and anti-woman interpretations of the Koran, as do, the Muslim feminists authors argue, naive empathy experiments to 'walk in her hijab'.

But last week there was a very different, and inspiring, moment of wearing a head scarf in solidarity. Al-Shabab militants, who regularly single out Christians and kill them, pulled over a bus in Kenya. The Mulsims on the bus risked their life by quickly handing head scarfs to the women and helping them to wear them properly so that they could not be singled out. THAT is some brave and powerful head scarf solidarity.

Dec 17, 2015

Hijab wearing as "embodied solidarity"

Dr. Larycia Alaine Hawkins, a tenured professor at Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian institution, was placed on leave on December 10th for wearing a hijab for advent, or "from now until Christmas" in as she puts it "embodied solidarity" with Muslim women. She is calling on other women to join her.

I have posted repeatedly here about campaigns that in different ways play that I am you to show that I am with you. In general my concern is that though they may be well meaning, they run the risk of appropriation. They can give participants a false sense of knowing what other people's experience is like, and can actually close rather than open space for the experiences of people they are trying to be in solidarity with.

As Farah Azadi put it in her powerful critique of this action:

"In the case of the Wheaton College professor, I wonder if instead of wearing the headscarf, which will inevitably provoke conversations about Islam and gender, what if she made space in her classes to have Muslim women (hijab wearing or not) to speak about their personal experiences? Or making the commitment to developing a course on gender and Muslim-Christian dialogue? Or even finding her local Muslim community or Muslim women’s group and inquiring with them ways they feel Islamophobia could best be addressed on campus?

Instead, I fear her action will place her in the position of speaking to the experience of being a Muslim woman or about gender in Islam even where she is clearly misplaced to do so. In this way she has robbed a Muslim woman from speaking for herself, and that isn’t solidarity – it is, in actuality, colonialism.

Muslim women, religious or not (hijab wearing or not!) need allies to organise alongside them–to make more room for their voices, not rob them of opportunities, or speak -for- them. Though it may take extra effort and more time, and though some might have to risk starting some uncomfortable conversations, it is more likely to lead towards a fuller and ultimately more meaningful understanding of what it means to be a Muslim woman. Those acts may not make headlines, or twitter tags, but they are the necessary ingredients of moving from charity to solidarity."

I couldn't agree more.

I was also disturbed this morning when listening to the news to hear that in Hawkins' statement to the press she said that solidarity required "bodily sacrifice". Though I understand that her job is on the line, it seems problematic to me to frame wearing a hijab as a 'sacrifice'. It sets her up as a martyr, as a savior rather than a sister. 

I think and write about international accompaniers, who show solidarity by putting their body in the line of fire, walking next to peace and justice activists under threat in conflict zones. I am interested particularly in whether and how it works to use the fact that in our current global systems of inequality some lives count more, to work for a world where everyone's life counts, where every life is respected.

It is problematic to frame as a bodily sacrifice even this sort of solidarity action, which puts accompaniers at much more risk than wearing a hijab does. Accompaniers seem to sense this as I have very rarely found them using this language. Indeed more than a sacrifice it could be seen as a privilege and honor to walk alongside and learn from some of the bravest peace and justice organizers in the world.

Likewise, women who choose to continue to wear the hijab even when this makes them subject to Islamophobic attacks are brave, righteous, and important to listen to and learn from. Empathy experiments like Hawkins' (or like the many wear a hijab for a day exercises) do not amplify those voices, or even seem to learn much from them - but get a good deal of media coverage that can instead actually drown them out.

Dec 1, 2015

Syrian solidarity socks?!

The socks in the picture here are marketed as "Syrian refugee crisis socks" by stand4socks. Your purchase of the socks funds one week of education in a refugee camp. Another model will fund the clearing of two square meters of land from landmines. 

I am generally dubious about showing solidarity through consumption. Our planet needs dramatically less consumption, not excuses to justify more.  You probably already have way more socks than you need (I sure do). Why not donate a pair of winter socks to your local group organizing to set up house for one of your local Syrian refugee families? Not connected to one of those groups yet? Look for one, there are plenty. Quaker Meetings and Unitarian churches are a good place to start if you don't know where to look.

Let's stand in solidarity with Syrians in more transformative ways than through buying, or even donating, socks.  What will do more to change the situation for Syrians is asking the hard questions about why the war is raging there, and working to end the bombing of civilians in Syria that is making things worse and only serving to recruit more and more fighters for ISIS.

Nonviolent organizing for peace and justice continues in Syria, under incredibly difficult conditions. We can stand in more meaningful solidarity with those brave activists by following and sharing the stories posted on facebook by the Syrian Nonviolence Movement. Another resource is the site Syria Untold. I would love suggestions of other sites and ways to support this organizing.

Update: Another site recommended to me by Ebru Ustundag is the Syria Solidarity movement, but note that they support the Syrian government and the Syrian Army, so not exactly nonviolent grassroots organizing. Still, it's a perspective on the conflict that is not widely available in English.

I was quite moved this morning that the whole front page of the Toronto Star is a large and warm welcome to Canada for Syrian refugees, the first full official planeload of whom are arriving today. 
One of the issues here in Canada is how this will affect First Nations here. Ebru also recommended this podcast by native activists. As they describe it, "Trudeau announces nation to nation relationship and then proceeds to invite 25,000 Syrian refugees to come live in this land without consulting any Indigenous nations. We tackle this contentious topic on a late night ramble in the truck."

Nov 17, 2015

Geographies of empathy

Geographies of empathy is the great title that Judy Han gave this map when she posted it on facebook. I have also seen it in Spanish and on various other social media networks.

There have been many cogent critiques published in the last few days about the global unevenness of solidarity, so I won't write another. Instead let me point out that for at least two days the entire front page of (the US version) was replaced with simply a French flag and the word solidarité.

Since when does the corporate world promote solidarity? And what exactly does it mean coming from a corporation that is famous for having horrible worker rights? I'm afraid that the term is being co-opted.

Likewise I was struck by Obama's recent pledge to “stand in solidarity” with French authorities as they hunt down the perpetrators. Does this mean that the now increased mass bombings of civilians in Syria by the French and US forces are now solidarity bomb drops? That is not what solidarity means to me.

I do stand in loving solidarity with the French, and Lebanese, and Afghani, and Nigerian, and Iraqui, and Colombian, and so many other people who are creatively building alternative securities and new ways of keeping each other safe through solidarity.  They have guns but we have flowers, as these two fabulous analysts put it in this short video.

Jul 9, 2015

I am you

This gorgeous video of the powerful solidarity song Latinoamérica by calle 13 uses an I am you trope that does not feel appropriative to me, because the I seems to be Latin America itself, a land and people together as a living being.  I don't know who did the translation in the subtitles here, and they're not fabulous, so also check out the translation below by my friend and compa Michael Joseph. The two women who sing in this video are some of my favorite singers of all time, both of whom I've had the honor of hanging out with. The first is Toto la Momposina, and the second is Susana Baca. If you don't know their work check them out too.  I'm looking forward to seeing calle 13, they are coming to Toronto for the Panamerican games!

Soy, soy lo que dejaron, Soy las sobras de lo que te robaron,
Un pueblo escondido en la cima, Mi piel es de cuero por eso aguata cualquier clima,
Soy una fábrica de humo, Mano de obra campesina para tu consumo,
En el medio del verano, El amor en los tiempos del cólera,
Mi hermano!

I am, I am what was left behind, I am the leftovers of what they stole from you,
I am a town hidden on the peak, My skin is leather so it can handle any climate,
I am a smoke factory, Peasant labor for your consumption,
In the middle of the summer, Love in the time of cholera,
My brother!

Soy el que nace y el día que muere, Con los mejores atardeceres,
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva, Un discurso sin saliva,
Las caras más bonitas que he conocido, Soy la fotografía de un desaparecido,
La sangre dentro de tus venas, Soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena,
Una canasta con frijoles.

I am the one who is born and the day that dies, With the best sunsets,
I am development in flesh and blood, A speech with no saliva,
The prettiest faces I have ever known, I am a photograph of a disappeared person,
The blood in your veins, I am a plot of land that is worth it,
A basket full of beans.

Soy Maradona contra Inglaterra Anotándole dos goles.
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera, La espina dorsal de mi planeta, en mi cordillera.
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre, El que no quiere a su patria no quiere a su madre.
Soy América Latina un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina.

I am Maradona against England, Scoring two goals,
I am what holds up my flag, The spine of my planet, along my mountain range
I am what my father taught me, S/he who does not love their country does not love their mother
I am Latin America, a people without legs but who walk

Tú no puedes comprar al viento,
Tú no puedes comprar al sol
Tú no puedes comprar la lluvia,
Tú no puedes comprar al calor.
Tú no puedes comprar las nubes,
Tú no puedes comprar mi alegría,
Tú no puedes comprar mis dolores.

You can’t buy the wind,
You can’t buy the sun,
You can’t buy the rain,
You can’t buy the heat.
You can’t buy the clouds,
You can’t buy my happiness,
You can’t buy my pain.

Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos, Tengo mis dientes pa cuando me sonrío,
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas, Tengo el sol que me seca y la lluvia que me baña,
Un desierto embriagado con peyote, Un trago de pulque para cantar con los coyotes,
Todo lo que necesito!
I have the lakes, I have the rivers, I have my teeth for when I smile,
The snow that adorns my mountains, I have the sun that dries me and the rain that bathes me,
A desert drunk on peyote, a shot of pulque to sing with the coyotes,
All I need!

Tengo a mis pulmones respirando azul clarito,
La altura que sofoca, Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca,
El otoño con sus hojas desmayadas, Los versos escritos bajo las noches estrelladas,
Una viña repleta de uvas, Un cañaveral bajo el sol en cuba,
Soy el mar Caribe que vigila las casitas, Haciendo rituales de agua bendita,
El viento que peina mi cabello, Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello,
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial porque el abono de mi tierra es natural.
I have my lungs that are breathing clear blue,
The altitude that smothers, I am my jaws chewing coca,
The autumn with its fainted leaves, Verses written under starry skies,
A vineyard full of grapes, a sugarcane field under the sun in Cuba,
I am the Caribbean sea watching over the little houses, Doing rituals of holy water,
The wind that combs my hair, I am all the saints that hang from my neck,
The juice of my struggle is not artificial because my land’s fertilizer is natural.
We are walking, we are drawing the way!
[Chorus in Spanish and Portuguese]

Trabajo bruto pero con orgullo, Aquí se comparte lo mío es tuyo,
Este pueblo no se ahoga con maruyos, Y si se derrumba yo lo reconstruyo,
Tampoco pestañeo cuando te miro, Para que te recuerdes de mi apellido,
La operación cóndor invadiendo mi nido, Perdono pero nunca olvido, oye!

Brute work but with pride, Here we share, what’s mine is yours,
These people don’t drown in the waves, And if it collapses I’ll rebuild it,
I don’t blink when I look at you either, So that you’ll remember my last name,
Operation Condor invading my nest, I forgive but I’ll never forget!

Vamos caminado, aquí se respira lucha.
Vamos caminando, yo canto porque se escucha.
Vamos caminando, aquí estamos de pie.
Que viva Latinoamérica.
No puedes comprar mi vida!
We are walking, here we breathe struggle,
We are walking, I sing because you listen,
We are walking, here we are standing up,
Long live Latin America.
You can’t buy my life!

Jun 23, 2015

playing the other to show your solidarity with them

There seems to be widespread agreement that it was wildly unethical for Rachel Dolezal to pretend to be black, and particularly to use her false identity to gain a job working for racial justice with the NAACP.  Perhaps she didn't consciously think of it this way (did she really have much clear self-reflection?), but one (perhaps too charitable) interpretation is that she was pretending to be the other as a misguided way to be in solidarity with them.  

It has been much more common in the US and Canada for white folks to pretend to be native (a la Grey Owl) - so much so that there is an entire book about it, and the fabulous term pretendian. Actually Rachel also claims to be native and, get this, to have been born in a tipi.  Because I guess being pretend black wasn't enough?

I assume that most readers of this blog would think it was a bad idea to dress like a stereotype of a native person to express your solidarity with indigenous people, and to repudiate and raise awareness of ongoing violence against them. Even if it were only for a day, I think most of us would think it was offensive to, say, do a campaign to wear a headband with a feather for a day to raise donations to end the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada (#MMIW).

How is it then that campaigns where men dress up like stereotypical women for a day to raise awareness of sexual violence are somehow more acceptable and gaining traction? There is not only one but two of these that are spreading across the US, Canada and Australia and happen annually in April and May.

The Australian campaign is called 'red my lips' (see photo) and money raised goes to a, as they put it, "rape and domestic violence" 24-7 hotline.

Recently Toronto media was full of photos from the annual Walk a mile in her shoes action, which has the slogan "heels heal". A bit bizarre really, since in my experience, and according to most podiatrists and back experts of all sorts, they actually hurt you. 

Heels are certainly not my shoes, and these days they're really not most women's shoes, but somehow for this action they are being used to symbolize standing with women against gender based violence.

As they put it, "By wearing heels and acting in solidarity with women, we want to show that we'll do whatever it takes to make this a safer world for everyone." Because, you know, wearing heels is an extreme act for a cisgendered (ie, not trans) man. So much so that many seemed to feel the need to otherwise assert their masculinity. Even the headline in the Toronto Star proclaimed, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is no small feat, and the article writes about men feeling women's pain. Well, I regularly write on this blog about the dangers of empathy experiments, but let me say it again. Men who walk a mile in pumps that few women wear really have only the very slightest taste of what it is like to live as a woman in a patriarchy - but thinking that they know more about it than they do might actually do more harm than good. 

For the record, I do appreciate that the money that the Toronto event raises goes towards educating men and boys on how to build healthy equal relationships, how to stop street harassment, etc.. But the main site for this event, based in the US, seems to be quite a business.  It's full of trademark signs and merchandise.  You can buy your extra large red high heels here, as well as branded t-shirts, stickers, etc. 

These play the other campaigns are even more problematic than the dress like an "indian" for a day scenario, because of the additional complication of transphobia.  Rather than blurring it, these campaigns seem to harden a gender binary. Rather than making it more normal to think that more male identified people might sometimes choose to dress in more feminine ways, it is presented as something slightly outrageous, courageous even. It is done only one day a year, to great acclaim, and rewards of actual donations to your cause. 

Ironically these campaigns reinforce the heteropatriarchy's systems of power that they claim to be working against. This is just not the kind of respectful solidarity I would appreciate as a woman living in a world full of gender based violence.  But 

I realize that this is a cranky feminist post and I'm open to hearing other perspectives on these actions, please respond in the comments!

May 28, 2015

using your privilege for solidarity: a comedic take

I think a lot about how we can use our different forms of privilege to tear down the very systems that give us those privileges.  Sometimes we can use one system against another, for example.  But all too often when solidarity activists use their privilege for social change, they inadvertently reinforce those systems. Here is a short video that takes a funny poke at that.

May 20, 2015

an update on my favorite 'blue for you'

Recently I posted about several campaigns that ask folks to wear blue in solidarity.  My favourite is the campaign against fracking in the Seneca Lake region of New York state in the US, where folks wear blue to show that they stand with and for the lake.  I previously reported that they won their campaign and stopped the fracking.

I am sad to have to report that the campaign continues, because now the company is planning to store fracked gas, extracted from other parts of the region, in large abandonded salt caverns underneath the lake. There is a horribly likelihood of leakage into the lake, which provides drinking water for 100,000.  A lot of these storage facilities also blow up, and are very hard to put out (as in, they burn for three weeks).

Josh Fox, who directed Gasland about the harms of fracking, has a new short explaining this called We are Seneca Lake (as I've posted before, this is a 'we are x' I actually like - as the campaigners put it, we drink the water, we literally are Seneca Lake).  Josh's video showed recently on Democracy Now.  It is here and well worth watching.

May 14, 2015

Do you do zombie solidarity?

It is so well worth reading that I am reposting below (with her permission) an entire post by Ann Deslandes, who regularly writes great pieces on solidarity issues.

I'm not sure I really want to think of myself as a zombie, or what I do as ever a form of zombie solidarity (I like to think of myself as fully alive and I am trying to be more and more awake!), nevertheless the concept is intriguing and she has a fantastic collection of examples to learn from here.

Zombie solidarity

Kristian Adamson and I wrote an essay for the forthcoming book Zombies in the academy: Living death in higher educationYou can read a pre-publication version here.
We use the term “zombie solidarity” to describe certain practices of refusal and reconfiguration of power on campus. Zombie solidarity is affiliated to working to rule, go-slows and work bans, but has a more latent and perhaps less recognisable character when it is in action.  For example:
“Salaried academics who hire casuals might commit to ensuring that they are contracted and paid properly and that their conditions are monitored even where that, as it often seems to, involves frustrating and/or lengthy interactions with the appropriate people in financial or human resources administration on campus.
Senior, tenured and/or salaried academics could contribute to a fighting fund that would pay the wages of casuals for a day or a week of mass strike action. Under current conditions it is not widely considered as realistic for casual staff to join a union, and it is not realistic for them to participate in strike action. However, a mass strike of casual staff would doubtless have an effect, given that they now perform 50 per cent of university teaching (Jonas 2009; see also Bexley et al. 2011).
‘Zombifying’ audit measures might be refused as a measure of academic productivity and value. Sympathetic consortia of academics might decide to cease reporting audit points or decide among themselves which journals they believe are worth publishing in for the reporting of research and promulgation of ideas.
Staff might opt to do their own cleaning and catering on occasion – by way of providing relief to precarious and low-paid workers, or to demonstrate the refusal of a class designation whereby such work is not considered to be appropriate for a person at that level of the social hierarchy.
At the behest of leaders in departments and schools, ‘administrative’ and ‘academic’ tasks and skills could be shared more equitably. Collaborative management of this kind is particularly apt given the number of so called ‘general staff’ who hold academic qualifications. Such a program may also assist in making visible the widely reported shortfall across the system of funds required for effectively administering universities.”
Two articles in our patch of the cloud particularly helped our meditation along:this primer for the book, which appeared in The Australian, written by the book’s editors; and this spray on the Times Higher Education blog by a UK-based professor. We wanted to reflect on the power that tenured academics in particular have to intervene in (indeed, to notice) the features of power relations on campus associated with audit culture, casualisation, impossible workloads, the consumerisation of students and other processes at work as higher education becomes increasingly corporatised; the yokes of which many feel unable to resist. Turns out Romero’s zombie (among other zombies) was also able to help.
Since writing the essay we’ve started using ‘zombie solidarity’ in conversation with each other and our friends to describe certain events and practices that we see around us, as people with an extensive combined experience of student, adjunct and administrative university work. This has included the manycampaigns and projects promoting open access academic publishing, including those that make closed-access publications available. The united front at LaTrobe University to claim unpaid casual wagesThe English Department at UC Davis openly supporting the call for Chancellor Kathei’s resignation over her actions towards protest on campus. Dean Spade’s public reflection on drawing an academic salary. Yvonne Hartmen and Sandy Darab’s “call for slow scholarship”Diane Nelson’s public thanks to Duke students for paying her salary.  Hugh Gustersen’s entreaty to ‘just say no’ to the prevailing model of academic publishing. Melissa Gregg’s encouragement of “strategic complacency”, and her continuing work on the ‘contract careers’ of newer university workers as cultural workers (see also her quotation from Ruth Barcan’s forthcoming book on “the need for senior scholars “to be aware of the power of what they embody.” “). Projects like Review my Review and UWSDissenter. ‘Means-based’ fees for academic conference participation. The borrowed university login that has enabled many aspects of this post.
There are examples in other industries too, such as the realisation of demands, advanced by the Precarious Workers Brigade, to make visible the unpaid labour of art workers as well as interns and other students. Then there’s “[the] small number of graduates from the Design Futures program” profiled by Linda Carroliat placeblog. These graduates “have made a promise to themselves and each other to opt out of the prevailing employment and workforce regime to, as one person explained, adjust their expectations about income and lifestyle to dedicate and rededicate to the project of sustainment…”. As Carroli explains, this “challenge is not so literally about risking your life but facing fear; to create and nurture conditions whereby doing that has more complexity and vitality than the apparent banality and monotony of faith or sacrifice.”
A few quotes from our reading, over the course of our writing:
“We repeat the primal scene of academic formation, and need to keep proving our being smart… Smart is an assurance of our intrinsic merit, to explain our class distinction to ourselves, perhaps to explain why our brothers and sisters or the people we grew up with and went to high school with might be waiting tables, or driving trucks, or shingling our roofs, or teaching our grade school children. That is, it dispels our class guilt, providing a rationale for why we have attained and deserve our class position—which for many of us, is a rise, or if hailing from the middle class, an anxious prospect to be assured. Or, for the less abject, it connotes class pride, providing a rationale for why we have superior positions (tenure, time off, etc.) and why others have less privilege.” – Jeffrey J Williams, ‘Smart’
“Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them.” – William Deresiewicz, in The Nation
“if the future is kid stuff, the zombie precariat does not disavow it so much as disembowel it and play in its entrails.” – Jack Halberstam, ‘Bullybloggers on failure and the future of Queer Studies’
We’d love to know what you think about the essay. And stay tuned for the book, it’s going to be gorious.

Apr 28, 2015

I'll wear blue for you

I've posted before about the successful campaign against fracking in the finger lakes of New York state in the US, where the 'We are Seneca Lake' activists took direct action wearing blue to symbolize their struggle to keep their water clean. 

Last week people around the world were asked to wear blue shirts in solidarity with Burma's political prisoners. As the US Campaign for Burma put it in their email to me:

"In Burma today, hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars and over 300 activists await trial. The number of political prisoners has risen by almost 600 percent since the start of 2014.

U Win Tin, a journalist and, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a founding member of the National League for Democracy, was one of Burma’s longest serving political prisoners from 1989 until 2008. He described his time in prison as that of a living hell. Once released he refused to hand over his blue prisonshirt, and pledged to wear a blue shirt every day until all political prisoners were released. He carried on wearing ablue shirt until his death on April 21, 2014.

Stand in solidarity with political prisoners alongside fellow activists around the world next week and share your photo on social media. On Twitter and Facebook, please use the hashtag #BlueShirt4Burma, and on Instagram tag the photo to @BlueShirt4Burma. "

It's too late to wear a blue shirt (though it will be repeated next year) but tomorrow, April 29th, is being promoted as 'denim day' by the organization Peace over Violence. They would like you to wear blue jeans to express your support for sexual assault survivors and educate about sexual violence.  

Why jeans? Well, as the website puts it "There is no excuse #1: she was wearing tight jeans."  So, um, am I supposed to wear tight jeans tomorrow? That is not specified on the site - nor are there any instructions for how to make it clear that I am wearing jeans for this purpose and not just because I tend to.  

It seems like so many people wear jeans regularly that it would be hard to notice if more people are wearing them tomorrow, but then, maybe asking you to wear your normal clothes in solidarity is a way of highlight how normalized and common sexual assault is? The website does not frame it that way however. 

Now, obviously, I am against sexual assault and in solidarity with survivors, but this campaign seems truly odd to me.  As readers of this blog will know, I am wary of solidarity actions and empathy experiments where you, in some way, try to be (or play at being) the one you're with. I have posted about many of these, like the day in Colombia for rolling up your pant leg in solidarity with land mine victims, or living on what you would get on welfare, etc.

I know that these campaigns are well meaning, and there is absolutely something powerful about embodying our solidarity this way, with actual corporeal markers - but it seems to me that these markers aren't necessarily easy for others to read.  What worries me more is that these actions run the risk of being appropriative, and of over-simplifying the lives and struggles of others. This seems more true of the blue jeans action than the blue shirt one, particularly since it seems to play with the idea that we could all be victims.

I don't think sameness, or even similarity, is required for solidarity. I can be quite different from you and still see your wellbeing as tied to my own. Our differences are a strength - we can work from our different positions for a better world for all of us.  

I am much more comfortable with the anti-fracking activists wearing blue and "being" water - maybe because it's not human? But then again, some huge percent of our body is made up of water, so in a sense it's a way of highlighting who we already are.  

#denimday #solidarity #fracking #blue 

Apr 14, 2015

Gracias Galeano

Yesterday we lost one of the great thinkers and writers on solidarity.  I feel blessed to have discovered him early in life and to have had a chance to meet and talk with him. 

You have probably read Galeano's great quote on solidarity, widely repeated in movements if all too often shortened.  The full quote is:

“I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

My ongoing quest is for how to do solidarity that is in some sense horizontal even when in fact there are gulfs of privilege between you.  Rather than ignore those differences and just say solidarity must be horizontal, I'm interested in how we can each leverage our positions for the larger struggle - including positions of privilege. Ideally we could do so in ways that break down the systems that give some more privilege than others, rather than reinforcing those systems. 

That said, I really appreciate Galeano's inspiring us to think about the difference between solidarity and charity - a conversation worth having again and again when working together across gulfs of privilege. 

Below is a video with a montage of him saying some of his most famous lines - including several great bits on solidarity. Thanks to Fiona Jeffries for pointing me to it!

Apr 6, 2015

Inspiring solidarious academic strike win report

I am thrilled to report that after a month on the line, last week workers/students won the strike at my university (York U in Toronto, Canada). They won basically all that they asked for, which, as I described in a previous post, were very solidarious asks.

Yes, I know that the word solidarious doesn't exist in English - I'm importing it from the Spanish solidario because it's useful to have a way to describe strong solidarity like that shown in this strike, where the 'an injury to one is an injury to all' slogan was really taken to heart and folks walked out largely for issues that either affected only a few (people with kids, LGBT folks, international students), or only affected future students, not themselves.

As someone not on strike but who showed solidarity by not crossing the picket line, I was also inspired by the impact that our solidarity had.  At first classes were cancelled, but after a few weeks faculty were ordered to cross the line and start teaching again, or risk our jobs.  I wish that more of had stayed out, but enough of us did that it had an impact. I'm sure we were not the only reason, but it was shortly after many of us ignored the final order to cross that the administration started bargaining again.  I'm sure that various construction worker unions and the bus drivers union not crossing the line also helped pressure the administration.  I was impressed to learn that those unions have negotiated into their contracts the right not to cross a picket line - since by Canadian law you can lose your job for not crossing if ordered.

This is an important victory that I'm sure will inspire the academic workers and students that are rising up at other universities across Canada and across the world to defend quality, accessible public education.  Sessional instructors and TAs at Simon Fraser, one of the other large universities in Canada, just voted 92% in favor of strike authorization, with a record turnout.

I hope that it will also inspire students to be more supportive of unions in the future.  In our first week back I opened discussions with students in all three of my classes about what they learned from the strike. I was heartened by how many of them took away the power we all have to create change when we come together and stick together. They were also impressed by the idea that grad students were on strike so that it would be more possible for undergrads to go to grad school themselves in the future.

I personally also learned a lot about how the ratio of administrators to faculty is growing at universities across the US and Canada, how the pay of administrators has been growing at a much higher rate, and how the contracts of university president's are increasingly looking like those of CEOs (with chauffeurs, personal entertainment budgets, and bonuses). I learned to see this as part of a growing stealth privatization of public education.
me on the left, YUFA is our faculty union

I also gained a growing sense of being part of not only a national but a global movement fighting the neoliberalization of the university. It was exciting to be in a city with two of its three universities on strike (one of my favorite chants was "On strike! Shut it down! Toronto is a union town!), while a third major academic strike happened at the same time at a university across the country (UNBC).  It was also fantastic to read all of the strike solidarity statements sent in from far and wide, and to feel connected to the sit-in and free school in Amsterdam, a one day walk out by adjuncts around the US, and student actions across the UK.

Many geographers from around the world stepped up and signed an open letter pressuring the president of the University of Toronto, himself a geographer, to negotiate.  That strike ended by both sides agreeing to binding arbitration.  Hopefully they built some of the organizing capacity to win next time.  Even when there is not a clear win, strikes build organizational capacity- and people make all sorts of connections with each other on the picket line that make not only the union and the struggle for quality accessible public education stronger, but it also, since many of those activists are or go on to be involved in other social change projects, helps to build connections across various social movements.

photo courtesy of Alex Felipe
I am left believing even more deeply that public education should be considered a right and a public good all the way through graduate school. This is true in some countries, and some, like Argentina and Germany, even offer free tuition to international students. The wikipedia entry on this is sorely lacking if anyone is inspired to add to it, or make a map for it. I am left wishing there were a wikipedia entry on academic strikes where we could collate and connect with all of these actions around the world.  I would appreciate any recommendations (in the comments) of recent academic work that draws lines of connections between our struggles and the similar dynamics that we face as academic workers and students fighting for accessible quality public education.

(fantastic photos of the strike by Alex here)

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