president has posed a hard question to the nation. “My fellow Americans,
what is long and hard and full of seamen?”
With that lead-in, the commander-in-chief announced the
commissioning of the first out gay ship in the nation’s history, though
there has long been speculation about the USS Abraham Lincoln. The submarine
is to be equipped with gaydar-controlled cruise missiles. It is to be named
for gay sailor Harvey Milk.
“Nothing could be more appropriate than to name a
battleship for an antiwar activist who had to be in the closet while in the
Navy,” the president said, with his trademark gaze into the distance.
The Pentagon explained that the president has evolved on
this issue since seeing the moving biopic, “Milk:
The Cleve Jones Story.” Hot Wiener, local politico and leader of the
GaysAreStraightToo Democratic Club, noted that he has a special affinity with
submarines. “It’s my favorite
sandwich,” he said.
The San Francisco-based Old Lesbian Dowagers Clamoring
Over War occupied the lobby of the Old Federal Building on Monday, demanding
that the nation’s stealth air craft program be christened after lesbian Del
“Lesbians are, after all, proudly invisible,” said
OLDCOW spokesman and leader, Bob Braggert.
Sunday, June 24
Meet up at 9:30 am
Howard and Main Streets
Saturday, June 23
18th and Dolores
“Trans Generations: Define Your
See & Be Seen @ Dolores Park
3:30 – 6:30 pm
March to UN Plaza @ 6:30
Rich died in March of this year. She was 82 and the cause of death was
complications of rheumatoid arthritis. Rich was one of the most influential
poets of the last 60 years and she brought the oppression of women and
lesbians to the forefront. She was one of the most widely read poets in this
country and in her poems and essays, wrote about progressive issues and
especially about the disenfranchisement of women in a society run by men. The
personal, the political and the poetical were always linked in everything she
When I lived in Portland in the 1970’s, as a younger lesbian in a
different world, I had friends who
wrote poetry and I went to poetry readings
and I tried to see what was good in all that. It didn’t come easily
but Adrienne Rich’s poetry was readable and I could even understand what she
was saying and appreciate the way she was saying it. Tho I haven’t read very
much poetry since, I can still remember the effect she had on me.
I know now that she had that effect on millions of people. I learned
that poems didn’t have to be obscure or abstract but they could affect how I
saw the world. Rich herself never thought that verse alone could change
entrenched social institutions. “Poetry is not a healing lotion, an
emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy,” she said in 2006, on
receiving its medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.
“Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard.”
But rather she saw poetry as a way women’s lives could be illuminated.
Rich became active in the civil rights and anti-war movements in the
1960’s and came out as a lesbian in 1976 in her book, ‘Twenty-One Love
Poems’; a book considered at the time “dangerous and disarming.”
For her part, she made no apologies for her writing or herself. “I
write as woman, lesbian and feminist,” she said in 1981. “I make no claim
to be universal, neuter or androgynous.”
Rich lived in Santa Cruz for years and taught at the university.
She never stopped writing and speaking about radical ideas and
movements, even if they were unpopular. She supported women political
prisoners in this country and in 2009, she signed on to the Cultural and
Academic Boycott of Israel. Her statement explaining her decision was so
eloquent that we are reprinting most of it here: “As an American Jew, over
almost 30 years, I've joined with other concerned Jews in various kinds of
coalition-building and anti-Occupation work. I've seen the kinds of organized
efforts to stifle—in the US and elsewhere-- critiques of Israel's
policies--the Occupation's denial of Palestinian humanity, destruction of
Palestinian lives and livelihoods, the "settlements."
Until now, as a believer in boundary-crossings, I would not have endorsed a
cultural and academic boycott. But Israel's continuing, annihilative assaults
in Gaza, and the one-sided rationalizations for them have driven me to
re-examine my thoughts about cultural exchanges. Israel's blockading of
information, compassionate aid, international witness and free cultural and
scholarly expression has become extreme and morally stone-blind. Israeli Arab
parties have been banned from the elections, Israeli Jewish dissidents
arrested, Israeli youth imprisoned for conscientious refusal of military
service…U.S. media, institutions and official policy have gone along with
To boycott a repressive military state should not mean backing away from
individuals struggling against the policies of that state. So, in continued
solidarity with the Palestinian people's long resistance, and also with those
Israeli activists, teachers, students, artists, writers, intellectuals,
journalists, refuseniks, feminists and others who oppose the means and ends of
the Occupation, I have signed my name to this call.”
In a 1984 speech she summed up her reason for writing. What she and her
sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply “the creation
of a society without domination.” How could anyone say it better?
On May 6, police shot and killed 18-year old Alan DeWayne
Blueford near 90th Avenue and Birch in East Oakland. Initially, opd claimed he
had shot at the cops and wounded one in the foot, but it soon became clear
that the officer had been wounded by a police weapon. On May 12 over 100
people marched to the east Oakland police station to demand justice for Alan,
and on May 15 several hundred people, including people from Occupy Oakland and
Occupy the Farm joined the family in bringing the issue to the city council
meeting. Civil rights attorney John Burris is representing the family.
Maurice Sendak, the highly unusual children’s writer
and illustrator, died on May 8 at 83.
According to a New York Times article:
“His hatreds are fierce and grand, as if produced by Cecil B. DeMille.
He hates his uncle (who made a cruel comment about him when he was a boy); he
hates anything to do with God or religion, and Judaism in particular (“We
were the ‘chosen people,’ chosen to be killed?”); he hates Salman
Rushdie (for writing an excoriating review of one of his books); he hates
syrupy animation… ‘I hate people,’ he said at one point, extolling the
superior company of dogs, like his sweet-tempered German shepherd, Herman
He also hated Where the Wild Things Are, by far his
most famous book.
Sendak did not come out until 2008, one year after the
death of his lover of 50 years, a psychoanalyst named Eugene Glynn.
He told Stephen Colbert, in a hilarious interview
broadcast a few months ago, that his favorite of his books was the
controversial In the Night Kitchen. The
controversy is because it’s about a boy named Mickey who has a naked dream.
Sendak drew Mickey with a penis because … well, because boys have
them. Another of his favorites
(also beloved by members of LAGAI) was Higgledy Piggledy Pop, about a dog
named Jennie who goes off to join the circus and doesn’t come back.
Here’s an excerpt from one of our favorite Sendak
PIERRE: A Cautionary Tale
There was once a boy named Pierre
who only would say, “I don’t care!”
Read his story, my friend,
for you’ll find at the end
that a suitable moral lies there.
One day his mother said
when Pierre climbed out of bed
“Good morning, darling boy,
you are my only joy.”
Pierre said, “I don’t care!”
Tumbling makes rocks and sand shiny and smooth in rivers
and beaches or like the rock tumbler set a friend had that we meant to use but
never did. Now tumblr is a web-based blog site where people grab images and
words from places on the web and post them on their own site and then they get
re-posted again … on and on. And what gets posted most? Images of sex and
sexualized images, of course. Its
easy to add spice by re-posting images of lesbians or group sex or what we
used to call “kinky” sex in between the banal statements about life and
love and sadness. Each image is
its own context as they tumble by or converge in sense and nonsense.
The love that once dared not speak its name is rolling
across the internet and even tumbling off the tongue of the President.
But does this tumbling make it shiny and smooth? Or is it wearing the
images and words away until their meaning is gone?
When being lesbian or gay or trans or queer was transgression – we
had sharp edges and made the world around us squirm with discomfort and
sometimes change. Now as we are tumbled towards the mainstream where the
couple is the center of the world with marriage and divorce as prime demands,
sometimes it feels like other queers and their “supporters” are trying to
knock off all our rough edges.
Why seek liberation and create families of choice when you can be
accepted and live “just like” a nuclear family?
And on the other side of the screen, the stone fruits are
ripe – apricots and cherries tumbling into bags at the farmers market -- and
the light is getting longer still as we tumble towards summer solstice. When
we dared not speak of it, perhaps the long nights of winter tumbling between
the sheets were prime-time for queer sex? Or like Brokeback Mountain, were the
long days of summer the queerest if you could get far enough away from
civilization? And now that images
of queer sex are tumbling across the internet do the seasons matter at all to
those in thrall to the screen?
But the world cannot be ignored and the debris from
Fukushima are tumbling onto the shores along the west coast although no one
has a plan for cleaning them up. And
the radiation is still spilling into the ocean more than one year later—it
continues its tumbling course across the pacific—Brownian motion, currents
and tides all conspiring to bring us these gifts.
Perhaps hiding in the internet would be safer if it were only possible.
Some of our friends are tumbling into new homes and new
paths in wheel chairs and on skateboards and others are tumbling along
effortlessly as aikido rolls -- while I am still working on my handstand and
tumbling into walls still looking for ripe fruit, love, and revolution.
If you want to help track the debris heading for the
coast (most of which are likely not radioactive according to government
scientists), check out http://usresponserestoration.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/track-marine-debris-japanese-tsunami/
they even have an app for it!
Often I think of November 2, the first Occupy Oakland general strike, during
which massive numbers of people marched on the Port of Oakland after a day of
mass actions targeting banks, big corporations, capitalism, all that is wrong,
demanding everything that is good for all our communities.
The outpouring of people at the port in the evening felt like a
celebration, a carnival, a real rising tide of resistance.
Just for a minute I had the feeling that worldwide revolution,
insurgency, upheaval might really happen.
On December 12, OO targeted the port again with a second port shutdown,
in the face of an enormous criticism from the powerful, now becoming nervous
about repeated port shutdowns. Still,
in the face of this pressure, enough people went to the Port to shut it down
again, this most deserving of political targets, as no money from the port
goes to help Oakland, not for schools, for roads or other infrastructure.
Since that glorious time Occupy has been trying to find
its rebel way without the encampment to give a specific community-building
focus. A number of successful barbeques were held in various parts of Oakland,
bringing Occupy to those communities. Oakland
Occupy Patriarchy also had a vibrant BBQ. Recently there has been twitter
noise and even the odd article saying that Occupy Oakland is dead.
The last Oakland Occupy Patriarchy meeting discussed the feeling of
discombobulation in the movement after the fractious lead-up to May Day.
One person said they cry often over the loss of the encampment, but
went on to express optimism about new things ahead for this movement.
The Occupy movement as a whole put out a call for a
general strike on May Day: No Work! No School! No Business as Usual!
Locally, Decolonize Oakland called for a coalition to organize a mass
immigrant rights/labor May Day March in keeping with a long standing
tradition. Decolonize is a group
of Queer People of Color and People of Color who left Occupy Oakland in
December 2011 after proposing to the Occupy Oakland general assembly that the
name be changed to Decolonize Oakland because the word occupy evokes the
vicious historical occupations of indigenous land and people.
Decolonize Oakland also presented careful criticisms of Occupy Oakland
around racism sexism and homophobia. The
May Day coalition included immigrant rights groups, fired Pacific Steel and
American Licorice Company workers, other unions, people from Occupy Oakland
and Occupy San Francisco, as well as nonprofits and various left groups.
I represented Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism! (QUIT!) and LAGAI-Queer
Insurrection. I also started out
representing Occupy Patriarchy but that group became increasingly ambivalent
about the coalition.
Occupy Oakland also began its own May Day organizing
group. They planned three strike
stations with different themes: the anti capitalist, anti gentrification and
anti patriarchy stations. The plan
was to have different marches and direct actions with reconvergences
throughout the day. People from OO
also worked on a coalition to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge, called Occupy
the Bridge, in support of ferry and bridge workers who have been working
without a contract.
The May Day coalition began planning a large mass
march. People from the immigrant
rights groups insisted on applying for a permit from the city, feeling it
would make it easier for the undocumented community to participate.
People from these groups spoke eloquently and with great feeling about
that the community of undocumented people has been left out of the political
process for far too long and if it took a permit to help make participation
more possible, then we needed to get permits.
Occupy Oakland, on the other hand, took a principled stand against all
permits. A protracted set of
negotiations went on between the Dignity and Resistance March/May Day
Coalition and Occupy Oakland. Occupy
Oakland agreed to put time and space between more militant actions which might
bring police repression and the Dignity and Resistance march.
The OO General Assembly passed a resolution to support the march.
No agreement was reached about permits, including a permit for the use
of Oscar Grant Plaza. People in OO
felt strongly that no permit should be taken on the plaza because it was the
contested place of the encampment. Some feared that a permit for some part of
the day would give the police more license for brutality when the permit
ended. There was also much
discussion of maintaining solidarity against the idea that there are
“good” protesters and “bad,” an idea constantly pushed in the
mainstream media. The immigrant
rights people in the coalition wanted to work with OO and at the same time did
not feel comfortable letting go of any part of the permitting of the march and
the rally at Oscar Grant Plaza. A
brief abortive attempt was made to put out a joint statement, but in the end
the groups worked separately. It
is important to note that the coalition included a number of people from OO
who attempted to bridge the political gap throughout the process.
Other complicated relationships existed between the
Dignity and Resistance Coalition and Oakland Sin Fronteras, a nonprofit who
has organized the immigrant rights march in Oakland for the last five years.
They were actively invited to participate in the coalition,
particularly because they had been doing this work previously.
They came to one meeting early on, then came to the last meeting right
before march saying they would provide security if they could be the lead
contingent. The coalition had
already made a decision to have the Pacific Steel workers lead the march and
had been working on a plan for security. While
the coalition wanted the support of Oakland Sin Fronteras, who were bringing a
flat bed truck, a community of young Latino activists and a lot of experience,
they could not agree to this very last minute proposal.
Oakland Sin Fronteras participated on May Day but left
the march just as it arrived at San Antonio Park, before it went to Oscar
Grant Plaza. They left when a group of people from Occupy Oakland, some
dressed as black bloc, tried to get into the front of the march.
There are varying descriptions of this event; some people say that the
“black bloc people were rude and hostile,” others from OO saying that this
group wanted to join the march in support. Oakland Sin Fronteras may have
always been planning to leave the march at this point, but the black bloc
people were the reason they gave for leaving when they did.
May Day, in part because of the previous eight months
of organizing and political work spurred by Occupy Oakland, for the first time
in my memory entered the consciousness of the mainstream.
ABC actually felt compelled to explain the history and worldwide
importance of May Day to workers and immigrants.
The California Nurses Association struck sutter hospitals on May Day
and any nurse who went on strike was subsequently locked out for the next four
days. The International Longshore
Workers Union which has a contractual right to suspend work for one day a
month for a union meeting chose to do it on May Day so the Port of Oakland was
shutdown on the day shift. The
Golden Gate Bridge District employees including ferry operators went on strike
on May Day causing a disruption of the morning commute.
The unions stopped short of supporting the call to close down the
golden gate bridge (there’s a shock).
Although the organizing for the Dignity and Resistance
March seemed arduous, the march was quite wonderful. Somewhere between
7-10,000 people came, and in spite of the permits it felt like a militant
community uprising thronging the street. It
was led by the Pacific Steel workers. There
was a contingent from the American Postal Workers Union and Aztec dancers.
Decolonize Oakland made a boat-shaped float which said FREE THE LAND,
denouncing the colonization by Columbus. LAGAI
carried our QUEERS FOR OPEN BORDERS banner, which people really liked.
The march was big, strong and militant but got little coverage in the
mainstream press who favored showing police repression of Occupy Oakland.
The police, of course, were out in force, riding around in their
homeland security grant funded armored personal carrier and these dune buggy
affairs (your federal tax dollar at work).
They spent the day doing snatch and grab forays into OO demos, beating
and arresting people, with their usual single-minded anti occupy viciousness.
While May Day was unfolding, on April 22 -- Earth Day,
a group of people now known as “farmers” took over what is call the Gill
Tract, land owned by the University of California.
The farmer activists arrived with rototillers and 15,000 seedlings
which had been growing in various green houses just waiting for this radical
farming opportunity, and planted a two acre farm in the grand tradition of the
Brazilian landless peasant movements. The
Gill Tract is 10 acres of class 1 agricultural landed located in Albany
California. It was used for
agricultural research but in November of 2011 uc berkeley stopped the research
and announced that the land was to be used for a whole foods store, a
for-profit senior housing complex, ball parks and a dormitory.
In short, they want to pave it over!
Community people in the area have been fighting UC for the last decade
trying to use the land as an urban garden resource.
I made a number of visits to the farm, as did many from
the neighboring community, including the graduate student housing next door.
It is a big expanse, bordered with a wild patch of gone-to- seed fava
bean plants belonging to uc researchers who cooperated with the
farmer-activists. Within a couple
of weeks, the guerrilla farm was complete with scarecrows, chicken coops, a
mobile school house, a children’s garden and 70 rows of new vegetable
plants. I was greeted at the
entrance to the land by the welcome tent and a sweet person who brought my old
dog water. There was a huge
kitchen tent serving food to the farmers, staffed by many people from Occupy
Oakland, escaping the disagreements of the political organizing fray.
One said to me “I love it here; it is so peaceful”.
People were camping, playing music and a lot of people were watering
the little plants by hand, as immediately after the take-over the university
had shut off the water so irrigation was down by trucking in huge containers
of water and then hand watering. The
farm felt like a rest cure for the movement, something sufficiently militant
but noncontroversial, direct action urban farming everyone could support.
Three weeks later uc police locked the gates, arrested
nine people both inside and out of the farm, served 14 people with lawsuits
and named 150 john/jane doe defendants. This
was after constant police harassment with daily visits by the uptight
uniformed uc police reading dispersal orders and threatening farmers with
trespassing charges. First they
locked the gates so that water brigades had to be formed to get the water over
the fence and to the plants. A
slide was built so that children and others could slide into the farm.
The supportive researchers from uc tried to get in to start this
year’s research but were stopped by the police.
Finally it ended. The
police could be seen driving over the beautiful rows of vegetables for the
people, although the farming collective continues to resist uc and was last
calling for people to build planter boxes outside the farm gates.
Many from LAGAI went to the reconvergence march to the
Farm after the police crackdown. It
was spirited, militant, moving through the streets chanting FUCK THE COPS,
GROW CROPS. There was a rally
outside the gates of the farm and then the people were urged to get on the bus
or bicycle down to the Oakland city council to demand an end to police
violence and protest the murder of Alan Blueford, a young African American
murdered by the police in Oakland on May 6.
Many in the crowd did so.
While May Day was more recognized and bigger than ever
and as such was a success, the Oakland organizing suffered from never being
able to agree on a joint plan. In
New York the same political disagreements about permitted marches went on
between Occupy and the immigrants rights march, but they were able to work
together and had a really huge demonstration well attended by unions.
This fracturing leaves us open to COINTELPRO tactics and
scandal-mongering by the mainstream media, who are not interested in the real
issues but love controversy.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
On April 6, about 250 Bay Area AIDS activists
commemorated the 25th anniversary of ACT-UP (New York) by marching from the
wells fargo bank in the Mission to the Mission Dolores, and then to Harvey
Milk Plaza. (The name ACT-UP was not used in San Francisco until 1988.)
At the church we threw the ashes of Stephen
Fish, a member of LAGAI, ACT-UP, and Stop AIDS Now Or Else. Waiyde Palmer, who
helped organize the march was quoted by Pride at Work in an email as saying
that the church’s regulations on sexuality, contraception, and a woman’s
right to choose “are mirror images of its attitude and policies toward
HIV/AIDS… If you oppose contraception on every level beyond the rhythm
method, as they do, then HIV is going to spread and unwanted and unplanned
pregnancies will occur. Both can be avoided if one has adequate access to
health care that isn’t shrouded in shame or religious doctrine.” Stephen
hated the church, the government, and all the other institutions that have
condemned millions in this world to die of AIDS, poverty, and oppression.
ACT-UP chapters still exist in a few cities
including New York, but ACT-UP/SF exists no more, after going through several
dysfunctional phases in the mid 1990s that included misogynist attacks and
Some of the activists who organized the
commemoration announced a meeting to re-start ACT-UP. Unconfirmed rumors have
them meeting some Thursday evening at Muddy Waters.
Bahrain is a tiny island kingdom in the Persian Gulf.
I never understood what a desert island was before I went to Bahrain.
It’s surrounded by water, dotted with palm trees and boasts miles of
beaches (which are off limits to most of the people), but the land is mostly
sandy and saline. Less than 1% of
the country’s GDP is from agriculture; they import nearly all of their food.
It’s an oil state and also the finance capital of the Arab world.
Of the 36 islands making up the archipelago, only 5 are
inhabited, and on those, the majority of the land is set aside for the king
and his cronies, making it one of the most densely populated countries in the
Legend recounts that almost 5,000 years ago, Gilgamesh,
the epic hero, landed in Bahrain in search of paradise, where he is said to
have found the “flower of eternity,” aka the pearl.
Bahrain became famous for its pearls, which have a particular luster
due to the combination of freshwater springs and ultrasaline sea.
The country was colonized by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the
Persians. It was conquered by
Portugal in 1521; the Portuguese were thrown out in 1602 by Iranian rulers,
who declared Shia Islam the official religion.
The Khalifa, a Sunni Muslim family from the Arabian
peninsula, has ruled Bahrain since 1820, mainly through an agreement with the
British Empire, which held it as a “Protectorate” until 1971.
In 1972 a constitution was enacted, providing for the election of a
National Assembly. The electorate
was defined as “native-born male citizens aged twenty years or older.”
After one election, the emir (king) suspended the constitution and
ruled the country under martial law until he died in 1999.
In 1994, partly inspired by the Palestinian intifada,
the Shia majority launched an intifada. Leftists,
liberals and Islamists joined in a sustained campaign of protest and civil
resistance, demanding the restoration of the constitution, democracy and
equality for all Bahrainis. Forty
people were killed and thousands jailed during the six-year uprising.
When Prince Hamad ascended to the throne on the death of his father,
Issa, he agreed to restore the constitution and institute democratic reforms,
leading to the end of the Intifada.
On February 14, 2001, he introduced a National Action
Charter, which was overwhelmingly ratified by the electorate (which included
women but not foreign nationals, who make up almost half of the population).
Under the charter, the National Assembly would include an elected lower
house which would have total legislative authority, and an appointed upper
house which would be strictly advisory. In
2002, however, Hamad unilaterally imposed the constitution, giving equal power
to the two houses, in effect allowing him and his appointees to override
decisions of the elected assembly. In
response, the leading opposition parties boycotted the elections.
On February 14, 2011, the anniversary of the National
Action Charter referendum, Bahrainis launched the first (and to date only)
Arab Spring uprising in the Gulf. Between
February and March, as many as 100,000 Shia citizens took over Pearl
Roundabout, the center of the city, which featured the iconic Pearl Monument,
built in 1982. (The Shia make up
about 70% of the Bahrini population of roughly 650,000, which means nearly one
in five Bahraini Shia actively participated in this intifada.)
On March 16, 2011, 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops and 500
police from the United Arab Emirates helped the Bahraini riot police – who
are nearly all foreigners from South Asia or Yemen – drive the people out of
the square using tanks, water cannons and massive amounts of tear gas.
On the morning of March 18, 2011, the government tore down the Pearl
Monument, announcing on state broadcaster BTV that the monument had been
“violated” and “desecrated” by the “vile” anti-government
protests, and had to be “cleansed.” In the government's haste, a migrant
crane worker was crushed to death by a falling cement arch.
In the aftermath of the brutal suppression of the
protests, the government arrested 20 doctors, nurses and medics who worked at
the main hospital, Salmaniya. They
were accused of various crimes including “using the hospital for a political
platform” and “inviting foreign media and other non-medics into trauma
areas.” They were also accused
of stockpiling weapons in the hospital. The
medics, many of whom were not actively involved in the uprising before their
arrests, believe they were arrested because they had witnessed the injuries of
those chased away from the square. After
six months of hearings and trial, some were sentenced to death, others to life
or twenty years in prison. In
response to an international outcry, the convictions were overturned and a new
trial ordered. The retrial is
currently in progress. All but one
of the medics were fired from their positions, as were many other government
workers. Hundreds of people were
imprisoned, most of those beaten and/or tortured.
Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, cofounder of the Bahrain Center
for Human Rights, was arrested along with his brother and two sons-in-law.
Abdulhadi was eventually sentenced to life in prison; his brother was
sentenced to seven years. Abdulhadi’s
jaw was broken during torture. On
February 8, he began his fourth hunger strike, demanding his freedom and that
of all political prisoners. He is
a Danish citizen, having lived there in exile between 1990 and 2002, and the
Danish government has requested that he be released to them, but the Khalifa
regime has not responded to their request.
In early May, the Bahraini high court ordered a new trial for fourteen
political prisoners including al Khawaja, but did not order them released on
bail. When he was on the brink of
death, after 70 days on hunger strike, the government began force-feeding him.
Zainab al Khawaja, a leading activist in her own right and the mother
of a two-year-old daughter, has been arrested several times for trying to
visit her father in the prison hospital.
Bahrain is a close ally of the united states.
The u.s. fifth fleet has been based there since the buildup to the
first Gulf war in 1990-91. In
2010, the U.S. gave Bahrain $19 million in military aid. In 2011, the aid was
held up by Patrick Leahy because of the government’s human rights
violations. Leahy chairs the senate appropriations subcommittee in the
Department of State and Foreign Operations.
Some u.s. media, especially the Washington Post, have also pointed out
the obvious double standard of helping to suppress a democracy movement in
Bahrain while professing support for the movements in other Arab countries.
I arrived in Bahrain on February 7, 2012, part of an
international group of witnesses invited by the Bahrain Center for Human
Rights and other local activists. The
many grassroots pro-democracy movements, which have continued demonstrating
daily over the last year despite the crackdown, were planning massive protests
to commemorate the one-year anniversary of what they call their ongoing
revolution. The people were
determined to return to Pearl (Lulu) Square on February 14, 2012.
Ahead of the planned protests, the government denied visas to all
international human rights organizations and most foreign journalists.
Even al Jazeera was forced to cover the protests from Qatr because they
could not get anyone into the country.
The activists feared that the government was planning a
bloodbath and wanted to avoid having any witnesses, so they reached out to
some people from the International Solidarity Movement whom they had met
through Palestine solidarity work and asked if we could come as observers and
citizen journalists. Voices for
Creative Nonviolence (formerly Voices in the Wilderness) and Code Pink also
recruited volunteers. We ended up
with a group of 12 internationals in the country by February 13.
By February 18, every one of us had been arrested and deported.
They used teams of undercover agents to track us down individually; the
Bahraini activists also suspected they were monitoring cellphones of those of
us who had put our numbers on press releases.
On February 14, as armored personnel carriers lined the
roads leading from the villages to the capital city, and tear gas filled the
streets outside the fancy hotels and banks in the center of town, I and five
others were arrested in three separate operations involving dozens of cops
armed with our names and photos. Some of us were accused of having
participated in “illegal” (unpermitted) gatherings.
Others were told they were being deported for the crime of not spending
all their nights in the country in the same hotel, or participating in
“nontourist” activities while on a tourist visa.
I had planned to spend about twelve days in the
country, but was deported after only one week.
During that time, I fell in love with the spirit of the people.
I went to demonstrations almost every day; some held at night in
villages after people got off of work, some during the day in the center of
the capital city as people made attempt after attempt to get back to Lulu
Square. Some of the demonstrations
were completely nonviolent on the part of the crowds; others involved a
diversity of tactics, including Molotov cocktails and stone-throwing.
The biggest, permitted marches I attended drew tens of thousands of
people, perhaps as many as 50,000. The
smallest involved a few dozen people.
All but one of the protests I attended was attacked by
riot police with tear gas; some were also attacked with water cannons, rubber
bullets, buckshot or birdshot. The
organizing groups buy gas masks by the case in advance of major
People have developed creative forms of protest.
At the protests, they chant, “Down, down Hamad,” but it is illegal
to say that, so when people are in smaller groups, they beep out the rhythm on
their air horns or car horns. For
ten days leading up to the February 14 anniversary, people went up on their
roofs every night, in every village, and chanted “Allahu akbar” (Allah is
the greatest) for ten minutes. A
friend, Mohammed, explained that it is not really a religious chant, but
rather represents purification before a battle or test.
(You can hear this powerful expression of solidarity in the al Jazeera
documentary “Shouting in the Dark,” about last year’s uprising, which is
Every demonstration I witnessed was at least half
women, and women were very active in organizing.
The movement in Bahrain does not seem to be gender segregated at all.
Most of the Shia women I met worked outside the home, many as lawyers,
doctors, engineers, journalists. I
met a woman – the sister-in-law of a friend – who runs a domestic violence
counseling program. Not everyone
was participating in the movement, but all of them supported it.
Someone who has not actively participated told me that she believes 50%
of the Shia supported the intifada in the 1990s, but 90% support the current
one. I also talked to the Filipina
maid who works for Nabeel Rajab, director of the Bahrain Center for Human
Rights, one of our hosts. She was
very supportive of the movement herself, saying, “We [the Philippines] won
our freedom in 1987. This is their
turn.” The taxi driver who drove
me from the airport, who was South Asian, also expressed support, though I did
not see any foreign workers participating in the demonstrations.
The government portrays the movement as orchestrated by
Iran and Syria to impose a Shia Islamist government.
The people are adamant that it is not about religion; they just want
equal rights for everyone in the country.
Zainab al-Khawaja said that at the beginning of the uprising last year,
one of the chants was “Shia and Sunni are brothers.”
Even when I asked people what they thought should happen to the king,
they said, “Well, he’s Bahraini, he should be able to live here like
anyone else. We are against the
regime, not the person.”
In early May, Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Center for Human
Rights and one of the people who hosted our delegation, was arrested at the
airport after a trip to Lebanon. Nabeel was charged with “insulting the
statutory bodies”. The charges were based on tweets deemed “insulting”
to the Ministry of Interior. Nabeel is one of the leading tweeters in the Arab
world, with over 140,000 followers. On
May 12th, Mr. Rajab was again presented before the Public Prosecutor, who
informed him of a new case against him for charges of “calling for and
participating in an illegal gathering”.
He is scheduled to return to court next week.
Just as I arrived in Bahrain, the obama administration
had sent to Congress a request for $54 million in arms sales to Bahrain.
Partly because of the publicity we were able to do about the repression
of the demonstrations, working with sympathetic journalists at home, that deal
was put on hold. However, the
administration made plans to go ahead, by breaking up the deal into smaller
ones that do not require Congressional approval.
Two weeks ago, when the crown prince was in washington, hillary clinton
announced that the u.s. would be resuming arms shipments to the Bahraini
The regime receives more than arms from the u.s.
They have also hired a u.s. public relations company, Qorvis, to manage
their spin. Qorvis’s other
clients include the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Sugar
Association, the Smithsonian, Adobe and GQ magazine.
The khalifa regime has also hired John Timoney, former police chief of
Philadelphia and Miami, as a consultant in crowd control.
Timoney was the chief during the republican convention in Philadelphia
in 2000, when police broke into activist convergence spaces and ransacked them
for puppets, and arrested organizers preemptively for talking on cellphones.
Working with John Yates, a former London police commissioner, Timoney
was the architect of the plans for suppressing the demonstrations around
February 14 as well as the recent Formula One Grand Prix, an annual car race
which was met by large protests.
Timoney explained to u.s. press that it is legitimate
to use violence to quell demonstrations if they threaten to tie up traffic or
interfere with business. (Sound
familiar?) I couldn’t help
wondering if they didn’t think that shooting onto the highway and filling
downtown with tear gas might be more disruptive to business and traffic than a
But as our dear departed friend Joan Kaye used to say,
“They don’t make them bosses because they’re smart.”
We continue to send international observers to Bahrain.
Check out www.WitnessBahrain.org (@WitnessBahrain) for news, interviews
By Chaya and Deni
The Hunger Games: When we first heard about The Hunger
Games, it sounded violent and weird (teenagers forced to kill each other and
it’s all televised), but Deni knows some progressive teachers who have read
it with their classes and recommended it. So out of curiosity, we read the
book. The story takes place in Panem, a futuristic country (formerly North
America before the apocalypse). The wealthy Capitol controls the surrounding
12 poor districts with a brutal, repressive, Big Brother style, as punishment
for a failed rebellion against the Capitol. Our heroine is 16-year-old Katniss
Everdeen, played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence. Katniss winds up as one of
the representatives from her district to fight to the death in the annual
games, for the amusement of the Capitol. Author Suzanne Collins, who
co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay, says that her inspiration came from
flipping by a reality show on one t.v. channel and the invasion of Iraq on
another; this juxtaposition "began to blur in this very unsettling
way" and the idea of a ruthless government forcing people to fight to the
death as popular entertainment was born.
Chaya: I liked the book and I
liked the movie, and I tried not to hold it against the movie just because
it’s the successor to the blockbuster adolescent franchise after Twilight
(we abandoned the first Twilight movie about half way through). Unlike
Twilight, Hunger Games has some interesting political themes about government
control, authoritarianism, and use of economic class (keep the people poor and
starving) as a political strategy. When Collins was asked in an interview what
she hoped readers of the book would come away with, she said, “Questions
about how elements of the book might be relevant in their own lives. And, if
they're disturbing, what they might do about them.” The violence was there,
but it wasn’t much compared to your average episode of CSI.
Jennifer Lawrence is the best
actor to come down the pike in a long while (we loved her in Winter’s Bone).
As with all novels that get made into movies, most of the details and
backstories have to be cut, which makes the movie shallower than the book. But
the movie had a few other things going for it besides Jennifer Lawrence.
Collins (you can see some of her previous work if you watch Clifford the Big
Red Dog on PBS, no violence there) has a spare style, and the book was not
terribly descriptive about what District 12 (an Appalachian coal mining area),
or the Capitol looked like. Taking a cue from Oz’s Emerald City, the
movie’s visual creation of the Capitol was pretty spectacular, with its
fantastical styles and colors. The movie also did a really good job of
depicting how the Gamemakers manipulated the games as they progressed. And
Collins has created a very strong, self-sufficient, pro-active character in
Katniss Everdeen. Which is why it was a tad crushing that Collins also created
not 1 but 2 male love interests for Katniss. Oh well, you can’t have
everything and I guess Collins didn’t share my idea that Katniss was the
second coming of the Amazons.
The movie provoked many controversies. Some reviewers
felt that Jennifer Lawrence was miscast as Katniss because she didn’t look
like she had been starving her whole life. Oh my. First of all, the body
standard for female actresses seems to have no bottom, they just can’t be
thin enough no matter how very very thin they may be. Jennifer Lawrence is
definitely thin, but she’s very athletic (“toned” as they say about
women) and she has curves. She could be a real woman! L.V. Anderson of Slate
pointed out that nobody complained about Lawrence’s buff male co-stars.
Responses to an audience poll by MTV reported that most found criticism of
Lawrence's weight “misguided.” Lawrence herself said, “Girls should
never put their health at risk just because they feel they must attain some
ideal of beauty that is both ridiculous and risky. It’s not right and it’s
not healthy. I’m just so sick of these young girls with diets. I remember
when I was 13 and it was cool to pretend to have an eating disorder because
there were rumors that Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie were anorexic. I
thought it was crazy. I went home and told my mom, ‘Nobody’s eating bread
– I just had to finish everyone’s burgers.’ I think it’s really
important for girls to have people to look up to and to feel good about
themselves.” Sounds like Amazon material to us!
Deni: I liked the book in the beginning but about half
way through, it began to bother me, and this same unease carried over to the
movie. There was something slightly shallow/manipulative in the writing of
plot and characters that left me vaguely on edge. Also, the “love
interests” were annoying in the book, and worse in the movie. Though I did
feel that the book described District 12 and gave me a picture of Katniss’
home, the visuals in the movie made the contrast very pronounced between the
poverty of District 12 and the wealth and abundance of architecture, food, and
clothing in the Capitol. I followed the “racial controversy” that arose
through blogs on racialicious.com, the controversy being the racist reaction
of some white fans of the book to the casting of three black characters in the
movie, two of whom are clearly described in the book as black. Through back
and forth online commentary, one can hope that these fans will actually learn
from their racist reactions and be willing to challenge their own
preconceptions. As for the movie, I wanted it to hit as hard as Winter’s
Bone, to get deep inside in that way. I think the characters are fighting a
slight glibness of writing and Hollywood, in addition to the Capitol…
Monsieur Lazhar: This excellent French Canadian film
takes place at an elementary school in Montreal. A teacher kills herself in
the classroom, and the school is in grief and shock. Bachir Lazhar, an
Algerian immigrant, is hired to take over the class. He tells no one that he
himself is in grief and shock from his own personal tragedy. He has a few
other secrets also. Engagingly played by Mohamed Fellag, Mr. Lazhar tries to
adapt to the cultural differences between Montreal and Algeria, but often he
isn’t even aware that he has done something wrong (for example, on his first
day at the school, he has the students rearrange their desks from a semicircle
back into more traditional rows). The movie explores the themes of loss,
cultural differences, educational techniques and teacher-student relationships
with depth, but director-screenwriter Philippe Falardeau avoids the big cheesy
Hollywood moments that would have detracted from the charm of the film. Great
acting from the supporting cast including Sophie Nélisse as Mr. Lazhar’s
favorite student, Alice. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
This stunning film stayed with us for days after. See it!
The Last Mountain (review by Cole): Appalachia is
pretty much off the national radar screen, which may explain why the mountain
top coal mining that's decimating the region doesn't get much attention.
This documentary points out why our myopia needs to be corrected. Communities
adjacent to the sites are subject to shocking rates of cancer, autism, and
asthma -- all of which is serving to de-populate the area - but the impact
reaches further to poison large segments of the water supply in the South. The
film chronicles residents' efforts to organize against the coal companies and
highlights women's leadership in the struggle. The description of the
depth and breadth of the companies' influence is chilling and it's
acknowledged that Democrats share the blame with Republicans. The
locals are successful in developing a proposal for a wind turbine project that
would generate more energy than the coal, create more jobs than mining and
significantly increase county tax revenue (not surprisingly, the coal
companies enjoy a special tax break). While it's unclear whether
this project will come to fruition, the organizers' courage, dedication
and creativity are heartening. Seeing this movie is a priority!
Habibi (review by Deni): Director-screenwriter Susan
Youssef's film won the best Arab feature award at the Dubai Film Festival for
this film drama that she’s been working on since 2002. The movie, shot in
Occupied Palestine, was based on an ancient Sufi parable with a “doomed
lovers” theme. Political issues throughout the film range from the effects
of the Israeli occupation on life in Gaza (where the two main characters
lived), political tensions/differences within the Palestinian community, to
the feminist struggle of Layla to control her own life, opposed by her family
and the community at large. Unfortunately, the film was quite disappointing on
many levels. The writing and script were more trite than challenging and the
film was poorly edited, with some important scenes chopped and less important
scenes dragged out. The character Qays (Layla’s lover) was annoying and
naively jeopardized both families’ safety in a way that didn’t seem
believable. The film’s ending was unnecessarily confusing. Despite some good
acting by Maisa Abd Elhadi (Layla), we hoped for a more forceful film. This
Autumn Gem: This documentary about Qiu Jin (1875-1907), a
Chinese radical women’s rights activist, has been shown internationally, on
Chinese TV in the U.S. and in many Bay Area locales. The film was made by
local artist-filmmaker-media workers Rae Chang and Adam Tow. It tells the
story of Qiu Jin who defied traditional female roles and became the first
woman leader of a revolutionary army, attempting an armed uprising against the
Qing dynasty. Her role in this uprising was discovered and she was executed in
1907. She was part of the nationalist struggle that put Sun Yat Sen in power
in 1911, and worked with him in exile in Japan. She was an eloquent orator who
spoke out for women's rights, such as the freedom to marry, freedom of
education, and abolishment of the practice of foot binding. She was also an
accomplished poet, fond of martial arts, and known by her acquaintances for
wearing Western male clothing, and for her left-wing ideology. Qiu Jin is a
well-know heroine and martyr in China, but largely unknown in the U.S. When
the filmmakers themselves (both American born Chinese) realized they’d never
heard of Qiu Jin, though their parents (born in China) were familiar with her
story, they decided to make this first documentary in the U.S. about her. With
a combination of dramatic recreations, archival materials, and interviews with
scholars, Qiu Jin and her struggles are illuminated. There are striking
performances by Li Jing, a martial artist and Hollywood stunt actor who
portrays the adult Qiu Jin, and by Melissa Chin, a martial artist who plays
Qiu Jin as a child, which add to the strength of this film. Check out the
website autumn-gem.com for more info. We leave you with a first line from one
of her poems: “Don't tell me women are not the stuff of heroes…”
In Time (review by Cole): Science fiction has the
potential to raise political issues in a creative fashion; In Time achieves
that goal. Perhaps as homage to Bladerunner, the movie is set in a
near-future Los Angeles where time has replaced money as the medium of
exchange. Everyone is guaranteed the first 25 years of life; after that,
you must earn, borrow, steal or beg time to ensure your continuing
existence (how the human race arrived at this point is never explained, but
I'm a big fan of artistic license). Inequities in time possession have
become the substitute for uneven distribution of money, with
usurious time lending institutions serving as a comment on check cashing
centers' pay day advances. Justin Timberlake (who does a better job than
you might think) is the beneficiary of a rich guy's generosity and
decides to go full throttle in beating the system. While the film may not
be great art, there's a good enjoyment level and a popular culture
display of undisguised anti-capitalist sentiments provides a pleasant
BITS AND PIECES
DOLL (Dangerous Older Lesbians Leafleting): Ok, truth in
reporting compels us to admit that only one of the lesbians (Deni) is
“older,” but we couldn’t resist the acronym. QUIT (Queers Undermining
Israeli Terrorism) started a leafleting campaign at Cliff’s, the
ever-popular hardware/all-purpose store in the Castro.
The campaign (which is not a boycott of Cliff’s) is aimed at
encouraging Cliff’s shoppers to tell Cliff’s to stop carrying SodaStream.
SS is a product that fizzes up water and there’s an international boycott
against it because the product is made in illegally occupied Israeli
territories, (though labeled Made in Israel so it can continue to get the tax
breaks). Prior to leafleting, we spoke with the housewares buyer at Cliff’s
to give him the info and the choice to stop carrying the product on their own.
The housewares buyer said that “Israel seems to be working within the
relative rules of an occupying country.” (Whew… kind of a low bar!) The
first time we leafleted, Cliff’s warned us we were violating the law by
standing on “their” sidewalk and threatened to call the cops. When we told
them to go ahead and call, they did! The cops (both women, of course –
we’ve come a long way, baby) came and (surprise surprise) finally decided we
were in fact legally allowed to hand out leaflets. However, one cop strongly
warned that we were blocking the sidewalk when we engaged in even a 1 minute
conversation with someone about the leaflet, so we had to STAND BACK or be
cited. What an advance in the defense of our civil liberties! But keep track
of the main issue here: go into Cliff’s – whether you shop there or not
– and tell them to STOP carrying SodaStream!
And Speaking Of Boycotts: Actress Emma Thompson (loved her
in Sense and Sensibility and Angels in America) and director Mike Leigh
(Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake – two of our favorites of his many films) were
among a number of leading British actors, directors and authors challenging
the Globe to Globe World Shakespeare Festival, part of the London Cultural
Olympiad. GTGWSF invited an Israeli theater company, which performs for
settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian land. In an open letter published
in The Guardian (a major British newspaper) the signers say the Israeli
National Theatre, Habima, “has a shameful record of involvement with illegal
Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
They call on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London to
withdraw the invitation “so the festival is not complicit with human rights
violations and the illegal colonization of occupied land.” Habima is
scheduled to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew at the Globe on May 28
and 29 as one of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 world languages during the seven
week festival. The Globe’s response to appeals from Israeli, Palestinian and
British campaigners to withdraw Habima’s invitation has been a resounding
no, with the tired chestnut that the World Shakespeare Festival “must be
inclusive and keep channels of cultural communication open.” David Calder, a
British actor who’s played many Shakespearian roles there, said that Habima
“placed itself outside the general case of ‘bridge-making culture’ by
being prepared to play before a segregated audience of illegal settlers in a
theatre from which Palestinians themselves are barred.” Calder said that
leading Israeli company Habima is part of “a cultural fig leaf” for
Israel’s daily brutality. We really like that “cultural fig leaf” phrase
– you may see it again in the MOCHA column…
Cultural Fig Leaf Hits Philly Queer Community: About 20
people gathered outside the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Philadelphia on May 3
to demonstrate against the decision of the “Equality Forum” (a group which
coordinates LGBT month in Philadelphia) to have Israel as this year’s
“featured nation.” Equality Forum is also partnering with the Israeli
Ministry of Tourism and the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Brand Israel and
Pinkwashing were targeted at the protest. It was truly nauseating to look at
the website for this event and see the Israeli flag shining on a globe filled
with rainbow flags. Wait! We still have some stunning “No Pride In
Occupation” bumper stickers left over from QUIT’s campaign against holding
“World Pride” in Tel Aviv in 2005. Perhaps our queer Philly Palestinian
supporters could use them…
Spin This One, George Orwell: On May 8 and then again on
May 19, both Israeli authorities and Zionist settlers uprooted olive trees and
leveled fields in the Palestinian villages of Beit Ula and Beit Amar near
Hebron. Bulldozers demolished stone terraces and uprooted irrigation networks,
claiming that the land was Israeli state property. The MOCHA column is
wondering if perhaps this will be the next exhibit site for a current
exhibition at the SF Contemporary Jewish Museum entitled “Do Not Destroy:
Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought.” The exhibit’s online description says
that “The tree is a universally potent symbol with particular significance
in Judaism, especially now as global environmental concerns have begun to
impact contemporary Jewish practice. The title of the exhibition Do Not
Destroy (Bal Tashchit in Hebrew), is taken from a commandment in the Torah
(Deuteronomy 20:19) that forbids the wanton destruction of trees during
wartime. This concept has been broadened to encompass humanity’s
responsibility to shield all of nature from unnecessary harm.” We guess
“all” really means “ABP” – all but Palestinians.
You Win Some, You Lose Some: The list of honorees of the
Presidential Medal of Freedom was announced at the end of April. Some of the
honorees are truly amazing people, like Toni Morrison, the author of so many
stunning, heart-rending books, and Gordon Hirabayashi, who openly defied the
forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
However, Israeli president Shimon Peres is also on the list (he left his own
party in 2005 to support Ariel Sharon, the butcher behind the 1982 massacres
in Sabra and Shatila). Sharon is joined on the list by Bob Dylan, who in 1983
wrote a horrible Zionist song “Neighborhood Bully” and just this last
summer ignored the cultural boycott of Israel to play a concert in Tel Aviv.
Clearly, these two will have a lot to talk about.
Stand-Your-Ground Not Just for Florida: We’ve all been
appalled by the justification of the murder of Trayvon Martin under
Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law, but did you know that California has a
similar rule? Court decisions going back 100 years have held that you can use
whatever force in self-defense is needed if you reasonably believe that you
are threatened with death or serious injury from an attacker. If you’re on
your front porch, you don’t even need to go in the house! Just shoot first,
ok? Deriving from old English law, this Castle Doctrine (no duty to retreat)
will protect you. Your home is your castle, after all (well, it was back in
merry old England if you were a white, male landowner). Since 2005, over 20
states have passed laws expanding the right to use deadly force in
confrontations. Go ahead, make my day, and overturn these laws.
LAGAI Leads Lesbians: Some years ago, LAGAI held a great
Queer Divorce rally at Harvey Milk Plaza. (You remember Harvey Milk – the
gay anti-war supe who may have a battleship named for him!) Though not a fan
of “gay marriage,” the rally anticipated how much fun/fury could be had at
the sure-to-be divorces. Now, taking its cues from LAGAI, the state of
Maryland’s highest court has just ruled, in a case brought by two lesbians
married in California, that gay couples can divorce in Maryland, although the
state itself does not permit same-sex marriage. (Got it?) Ok, let’s see you
evolve to that, Obama! That’s yes on divorce, no on marriage…
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF
Making It Through
I'm here for a mammogram. I am practically a charity case
at my local health care provider, a private organisation with some kind of a
grant to guarantee all their female patients free yearly mammograms. It's a nice
gesture, especially in a climate where unmarried, non-child-bearing women are
considered expendable and useless and even procreative women are deemed useful
only as bearers of children....
The Near North Health Service Corporation is staffed by
lovely people and even some decent doctors, but it habitually messes up its
paperwork. This has meant that, on the one hand, it allowed me a free
appointment for a lingering ear infection with an ENT specialist at Northwestern
University Medical Hospital. On the other hand, it failed to file my
“charity” papers on time – testifying that I would not have to pay because
of my income bracket. As a result, the hospital sent my bill, for a
service that was to be paid by Near North, to a collection agency.
So, understandably, even though I had called Near North
ahead of time to confirm that my appointment was indeed free, I arrived that
morning at the gleaming doors of The Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center at
Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago (I call it, "The Breast
Place") with some trepidation, anxious about being turned away, marked with
a scarlet P for too fucking Poor to qualify.
Being a charity patient also meant that my appointment
was scheduled for a year after I had asked for one. Apparently, charity cases
need to be extra careful in watching their health. My appointment sheet came
with strict instructions: I was to wear no perfume, make-up, or deodorant.
Somewhere, written in invisible ink, was an additional injunction: You must
guarantee that you will not actually develop any mammary irregularities for an
entire year from this date.
... I am led through another door, and a nurse hands me a
hospital gown with instructions to disrobe in one of the changing cubicles and
to “cinch it nice and tight.” She is a slender white woman, and I wonder if
she's terrified of large brown breasts, in the familiar racism of Chicago, or is
simply echoing the American hospital industry's fear of naked bodies in general.
Perhaps both. I'm reminded of how, every single time I've had my vagina
examined, the doctor in question has always done so decorously, with a large
cloth between the two of us, screening us both from the horrific possibility
that we might see my pussy at the same time and, who knows, be overtaken by a
lusty yearning for it and each other.
So here I am, waiting for a mammogram among people who
are terrified of seeing my breasts out of context.
My mind wanders on Whitmanesque lines: In my breasts, I
The Absurdity of It All
...I was asked if I wanted to make an appointment for
next year. I said, “Yes,” feeling a kind of
we-are-women-we-must-be-responsible-for-our-breasts kind of peer pressure. But
the truth is that I had woken up that morning struck by the absurdity of it all
and had even considered cancelling my appointment.
I knew that there was one of three diagnoses I could
receive after the mammogram: nothing, benign, or malignant. None of them would
make a difference to me.
All of this strikes me as exquisitely absurd for a number
The first is that, lacking healthcare, a diagnosis of
breast cancer would mean little to me other than my impending death. Without the
proper resources – such as a health corporation that would even bother to file
my poverty papers on time, or money to pay for medications – I would be at the
mercy of the state. I know too much about what unpaid/free health care looks
like in the United States and at Chicago's notorious Cook County hospital, where
the poorest and most indigent get their “health care.” I know that I would
die of bureaucratic ineptitude before I died of the cancer.
Upon receiving a diagnosis, I would simply roll over and
choose to die a long lingering death without treatment of any sort. I would
first call my friends R. and K., who would need to be told so that they could
sort through my utterly disorganised effects and my burgeoning Hello Kitty
collection, and take care of my cat. I would then proceed to fundraise for six
months of rent so that I could finish my book. I would find a way to painlessly
kill myself before the stench of my putrefying breasts became unbearable.
Lesbian? Breast Cancer? Marry or Die!
If the Centers for Disease Control were to include
“sexual orientation” in its breast cancer surveys, I would have to be
counted as a lesbian. “Queer” is still a word that causes discomfort among
well-meaning straight people who don't want to be accused of being homophobic.
At home, I google “lesbian breast cancer” and find that the entire movement
for lesbian women's health care has already been co-opted by the gay marriage
On the website of the National LGBT Cancer Network, I
find a piece on breast cancer by Liz Margolies. Her words pretend to offer
comfort to women suffering from the adverse effects of being lesbian in a
homophobic society and seeking culturally competent health care; yet she also
echoes the pervasive medicalised logic that the blame either rests with lesbians
who get sick or with the sad, unfortunate fact that the poor dears cannot be
It's the pregnancy link that jumps out at me. Writing
about, “The four most-cited cancer risk factors in the research on lesbians
and breast cancer risk,” she states that “lesbians are less likely to have
biological children before age 30, which would offer some protection against
Pregnancy. Of course. I knew I had missed something. And,
alas, my cat, no matter how hard I try, will never substitute for a child.
...If you didn't want breast cancer, you should have had
children, you fucking freak.
Margolies gets worse, as she develops a rationale for why
lesbians are more likely to develop breast cancer:
To begin with, lesbians are less likely to have
adequate health insurance coverage than heterosexual women, as most employers do
not offer coverage for unmarried domestic partners ...
...So there you have it. GAY MARRIAGE WOULD SAVE MY
BREASTS. Having children would make breast cancer less possible. Silly, silly,
Get A Pair!
Such narratives about breast cancer abound everywhere,
and they are echoed by various “institutes” and foundations which purport to
do studies on queer poverty but always manage, through mysteriously frequent
studies, to place the blame for all our woes on...you guessed it, the lack of
gay marriage. It is much more rare to find centers or foundations willing to
place lesbian breast cancer in its proper context: the lousy, non-existent
health care in the United States which is killing more people than we care to
...I don't deny that inclusion and expansion of
categories to include lesbians/queer women are important (although I suspect
that the medical industry will freeze alongside hell before it begins to think
that poly/slutty/non-familial queers actually deserve care of any sort). I do
think that if we are to consider people's health care needs in the larger
contexts of how they live and fuck, then considering lesbian sex lives and the
effects of cancer upon them is as important.
But. If any of these foundations or people like Margolies
were to grow a pair of, well, firm melon-like tits and actually speak to the
truth of the situation, they would admit that lesbians don't get breast cancer
because they are lesbians who demonstrate characteristic lesbian behavior (i.e
they don't have children or smoke or are larger than straight women) but because
they, like transgender people, poor and indigent people, and a lot of
non-conforming queers who can't get jobs, let alone have the capacity to sue
their employers for non-discrimination in the first place, are fucked over by a
larger cultural rationale that they simply don't deserve health care – after
denying them employment precisely because they are seen as people who will never
fit in the workplace.
When Margolies imagines that couple in Utah, she is only
imagining what she wants them to look like: safe, normal, cute, with perhaps a
few quirks, like the couple in The Kids Are All Right. ... She and her ilk have
quietly absorbed the message from the gay marriage movement in the U.S., a
message which states, as baldly and boldly as possible, that the primary reason
for gay marriage is that it would provide health care for gays and lesbians.
This leaves out millions of queers who don't want to marry or simply don't, for
any number of reasons. In states like Massachusetts where gay marriage is now
legal, you will not be allowed to share in your partner's healthcare if you
don't get married. The logic is simple: Because you can get married, you must.
This means that straight and queer couples who might prefer the relative
flexibility of civil unions or domestic partnerships are left out in the cold.
Even in Illinois, which only grants civil unions at this point and which
proclaims how progressive it is for granting healthcare to couples in such
arrangements, the state mandates that you must enter one in order to gain
You want health care but not marriage or commitment?
Tough titties. Get married or die.
Gay marriage is supposed to help my breasts. The gay
marriage movement, in its relentless search for rationales for what is
inherently a conservative movement around “normalcy” and acceptance, often
makes the case that healthcare is a primary reason to make it legal. In the
process, it has created a climate where the most progressive/lefty people, gay
and straight, fail to see that healthcare is an economic matter and something
that should go to everyone, regardless of their marital status...
Titty Terrorism: My Plans for the Future
My breasts may be more pliant but they are no less
In the event of a breast cancer diagnosis, I will let my
breasts rot and putrefy into a state that few of these pink narratives, with
their tidy, nervous pinkitude, ever care to discuss (what happens to a breast in
the late stages of cancer is not pretty). I have already decided to send little
bits of my cancer to all the gay marriage proponents. Although I’m not good
with pain or even with discomfort, I will hack away at and chop off bits and
pieces of my rotting breasts and engage in a form of titty terrorism. Instead of
anthrax, I will send bits of my stinking boobs to gay marriage proponents like
Evan Wolfson and the heads of the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force and to, yes, Liz Margolies and Dr. Susan Love.
In my breasts, I hold multitudes.
This is war, baby. And my tits are the mighty
I will take no prisoners. I will squish my floopy
breasts against the windows of Lambda Legal's Freedom to Marry galas. I will use
my dripping, pus-laden blood from the open sores to create a poster with the
words, Gay Marriage Hurts My Breasts, and march alongside those walking for
“gay rights” (read: marriage or else). I will stalk and flash gay marriage
activists (Dan Savage, you've been warned) on the subway and on the streets,
exposing their rot and stench, allowing them to smell the potential success of
their campaign. Look, I will say, This is what gay marriage does for me.
My non-diagnosis brought me as close to death as I will
ever want to be. I will not go quietly into that good night. I am angry; my
breasts are rotting.
In my breasts, I hold multitudes.
“I don’t think taxpayers want their money used for political
protests.” -- Toronto deputy mayor
doug holyday, in conveying the threat to withdraw over $100,000 in city funding
for 2012 Toronto Pride if Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) march in the
parade. Last year, a similar threat caused QuAIA not to march. We have little
sympathy for the idea that marches for liberation require hundreds of thousands
of dollars (like SF Pride, for example), and less for the idea that queer
liberation isn’t political. QuAIA
can be found at queersagainstapartheid.org/
“Frameline is an arts and culture organization, and we don’t take
political points of view,” Kenneth C. Price, executive director of Frameline,
in responding to calls for Frameline to honor the cultural boycott of Israel. In
April, it was revealed that he had colluded with the israeli consulate to
counter the campaign initiated by QUIT!. Emails also revealed that he had
consulted with the Israeli consul general in selecting films for the 2011
festival, prior to the actual official selection procedure. You can read all
about framelinegate at: Philip Weiss’ blog,
or Tom Leger’s blog, www.prettyqueer.com/2012/04/17/leaked-emails-expose-israeli-control-of-frameline-at-highest-levels/
by V.I. Lenin*
Brandy Martell, a 37 year old African American transwoman from Hayward,
was shot and killed near 13th and Franklin in Oakland at about 5 a.m. on Sunday,
April 29. The Oakland police, who eventually responded to the shooting, did not
try to save her life, although a passerby first aider (who had been trained by
Occupy Oakland medics) was trying to stop the bleeding and had asked them for
help. The police have not said whether they are investigating this murder as a
hate crime, although Brandy was shot in the genitals before being fatally
wounded in the chest. Brandy had been a peer advocate at the Tri-City Health
Center in Fremont.
According to press reports, a witness said that at about 3:30 in the
morning, she, Brandy and other transwomen were sitting in a car when they were
approached by two men, who were hitting on them. The women told the men that
they were trans, and the men went away. She said that it was one of those men
who came back and shot Brandy.
On April 29 Occupy Oakland held an emergency response demonstration, and
a sidewalk memorial was set up. Brandy’s family had her buried dressed as a
man, under her birth name on May 9. Later that day, some of Brandy’s friends,
queer activists, and other supporters held a memorial at 13th and Franklin,
where they celebrated her life. There was also a speak-out for justice at Oscar
Grant Plaza on May 13.
In Minneapolis, a 23-year old Black transwoman, CeCe McDonald, is being
prosecuted for having survived an attack by several white bigots outside a bar.
CeCe and several other Black friends were walking to a grocery store around
midnight June 5, 2011, when they passed the Schooner Tavern. Four white
individuals were standing outside, including Dean Schmitz and Molly Flaherty.
Schmitz, Flaherty and maybe others,
made racist and transphobic remarks to CeCe and her friends. CeCe tried to walk
away, but Flaherty smashed a glass across CeCe’s face, which cut through her
cheek and lacerated her salivary gland. CeCe defended herself from Flaherty and
Schmitz. CeCe tried to leave to get medical care, and made it to the
intersection, but Schmitz ran after her. CeCe pulled scissors out of her purse
to defend herself. Schmitz pulled CeCe toward him and the scissors ended up in
his chest. Schmitz died of his stab wound, and CeCe had to be treated at a
hospital for her injury.
CeCe was originally charged with
second degree murder, a charge carrying a possible 40 year sentence. An active
support committee put pressure on the county attorney to recognize the
transphobic and racist nature of the attack and drop the charges. They gathered
worldwide support, including 15,000 signatures on a petition. Stone Butch Blues
author Leslie Feinberg visited her in jail. CeCe was eventually offered a plea
bargain, reducing the charge to second degree manslaughter, with a sentence of
41 months, which will be further reduced by time served and by one-third for
“good time”. As part of the plea
bargain, on May 2, CeCe had to give up her right to plead self-defense and admit
she had handled the scissors in a way that created an “unreasonable risk” to
Schmidt. At a rally after the plea hearing, Katie Burgess of the Trans Youth
Support Network said, “Over the past 10 months I have witnessed the legal
system isolating and attacking another young trans woman of color in our
community, CeCe McDonald. And over the past 10 months, I have also witnessed our
community say very clearly, ‘You are not alone, CeCe! And we have had
“With the whole world watching,
Freeman’s office consistently chose not to take the opportunity to stand up
against racism and transphobia. Freeman [the prosecutor] himself said, and I
quote, ‘The criminal justice system is not built for, nor is it necessarily
good at, solving a lot of society’s problems.’
“We know that this system is not
designed to deliver justice to young trans women of color. We are going to
continue to support CeCe as she goes through this process and continue to stand
for justice for all trans people and people of color so that this is the last
time a young trans woman of color has to go through this.”
Supporters will pack the courtroom
for the sentencing on June 4th and continue to rally support for McDonald and to
demand justice for all trans people and people of color. For further updates,
Patreese Johnson, NJ 4
Meanwhile, Patreese Johnson, of the New Jersey 4, was moved from the new
york state prison at taconic to beacon correctional facility, where she no
longer has access to programs such as college courses, and is further away from
her family. Patreese was one of 7 young Black lesbians from New Jersey who on
August 16, 2006 were accosted in New York City’s West village by Dwayne
Buckle, who eventually grabbed one of them. The others came to her aid. Buckle
sustained a stab wound during the fight. It is still unclear whether his
subsequent surgery was due to the wound or another condition. Patreese was
charged with using a steak knife that she carried for self-defense. Buckle
survived his wounds, spent some time publicly speaking against the NJ4, and
trying to find someone to sue who had money.
They were all charged with gang assault, and branded in the media as a
“lesbian wolf-pack.” Three took a plea, and the other four, Terrain
Dandridge, Renata Hill, Patreese Johnson, and Venice Brown were put on trial in
2007. The prosecution and trial were so biased that NY’s first district
appellate court reversed all of Terrain’s convictions, and dismissed the
indictment with prejudice, although by that time she had served almost two years
in jail/prison. In October of 2008, a retrial was granted on the felony gang
assault charges against Renata and Venice, and they both got out on bail after
serving more than two years. Patreese’s sentence was reduced to 8 from 11
years, but not overturned. Renata was later returned to prison for over a year,
as part of settling the remaining charges against her. Patreese is due to be
released on August 13, 2013. You can
write to Patreese at:
Beacon Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 780
Beacon, MY 12508-0780
In Florida, home of the “stand
your ground” law that the state attorney initially applied in refusing to
prosecute George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, Marissa Alexander,
a 31 year old African American woman was sentenced to 20 years for firing a
warning shot over the head of her abusive husband, who had confronted her when
she returned to their house to retrieve her belongings. Her two 11-year old sons
were allegedly with the husband when she fired the shot. She was not allowed to
plead self-defense or “stand your ground,” despite the fact that she had a
restraining order against him. The jury deliberated for 12 minutes. Alexander
was sentenced under a state law mandating a 20 year sentence if a gun was fired
during the commission of certain felonies. The NAACP has said the case
illustrates how these laws often result in long sentences for people of color.
Greg Newburn of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said, “The irony of the
10-20-life law is the people who actually think they're innocent of the crime,
they roll the dice and take their chances, and they get the really harsh prison
sentences. Whereas the people who think they are actually guilty of the crime
take the plea deal and get out (of prison) well before."
Congresswoman Corinne Brown, who has
been an advocate for Alexander, was present at the sentencing. The Huffington
Post quoted Brown as saying to demonstrators outside the court, "The
Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today. One is that
if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the
`Stand Your Ground Law' will not apply to them. ... The second message is that
if you are black, the system will treat you differently."
* On May 7, 2012 the New York Times reported that Dr. Harry Vinters, professor of neurology and neuropathology at UCLA and Russian historian Lev Lurie addressed a clinicopathology conference on May 4. They have determined that V.I. Lenin was probably poisoned, leading to his sudden death on January 21, 1924. The leading suspect was Josef Stalin.
Marilyn Buck’s Poetry Released
In s i d e / O u t , a
significant and stunning
selection of the poetry of
Marilyn Buck has just been
published and released by
City Lights Books in San
Francisco. May 16, a standing
room only group of friends,
supporters and admirers of
Marilyn celebrated the
opening launch at the historic
Trevisan and Devorah Major read
from Inside/Out and
spoke emotionally about their creative
relationships with Marilyn. Activist/ /emcee
Gemma Mirkinson noted that
the occasion was both joyful
and bittersweet— celebratory
because Marilyn’s work is now
available to all—and bittersweet
because Marilyn could not be
there in person to be the voice
of her own work.
Just short of two years since
her death, Marilyn Buck was
and remains a loved and
dearly missed friend, comrade,
political prisoner, revolutionary,
writer, translator, artist and
acclaimed poet. Many of Marilyn’s poems
have appeared on the pages of Out of Time
over the years, and we are
thrilled that now a substantial selection
of her powerful work can be shared.
Marilyn served over 30 years
of an 80-year prison sentence for
actions undertaken in support of
selfdetermination and national
liberation and in opposition to
racial injustice and U.S. imperialism.
Throughout her years in prison,
Marilyn remained a steadfast
supporter of fellow political
prisoners and an advocate for the
women with whom she was imprisoned
During her incarceration, Marilyn
participated in a series of poetry
workshops led, behind prison walls,
by June Jordan’s Poetry for the
People. She went on to earn a
Master’s degree in Poetics from
New College of California. Marilyn
was awarded three prizes by the
PEN Prison Writing Program, including
first prize for poetry in 2001 for
her chapbook, Rescue the Word.
In 2008 Marilyn published a translation
of Uruguayan poet-in-exile Cristina Peri
Rossi’s extraordinary collection, State of
Exile. The book, also published by City
Lights, includes two personal/political
essays on exile, one by Peri Rossi and
one by Marilyn.
Additional book launches for Inside/
Out will be held May 16, Resistencia
Books Austin, Texas; May 19, Chuco Justice
Center, Inglewood California; June 17,
East Side Cultural Center, Oakland; June
27, Modern Times Bookstore, San Francisco.
Other events are planned for New
York, Philadelphia, Albuquerque and
Inside/Out: Selected Poems by Marilyn
Buck; Foreword by David Meltzer (2012:
City Lights Books, San Francisco); Paperback;
128 pp. List Price: $13.95; ISBN-13:
9780872865778 You can obtain Inside/Out online for 30% off the cover
price at www.citylights.com
Sites with more information
about Marilyn include:
Trans Detainees Lives At Risk
from: Advocate.com—Andrew Harmon, May
Recently The Advocate featured an article
exposing the prison rape and solitary faced
by transgender detainees in
U.S. Immigrations and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) facilities.
According to Just
Detention International trans prisoners in general
are disproportionately abused.
Because prisoners are detained based
on their gender at birth, trans
women with breasts may be locked
up with men, leaving them vulnerable
to violence and sexual assault. 67%
of LGBT prisoners in California
report being assaulted while in
The Advoca te tel ls
the story of Kripcia, a transgender
woman, a native of El Salvador, who
was arrested for failure to pay a
cab fare. She was held in solitary for eight
months at Rappanhannock Regional Jail, south
of DC in Stafford, Virginia. ICE calls this
“administrative segregation” but it is 22
hours per day in a tiny cell with little access
to recreation or other people and not because
she had defied any jail rules. She was told it
was for her own good, for her safety. Kripcia’s
cell was located in a special unit of the jail
usually reserved for male sex offenders.
problem, Ruby Corado and other immigration
advocates say, is that ICE detention
standards aren’t legally binding. There
is a “turf war” going on between the Justice
Department and the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS), which
DHS (ICE) insists the laws and
regulations concerning the treatment
of federal prisoners do not bind it.
Key among these laws in question
is the Prison Rape Elimination Act,
which is meant to address the
epidemic of sexual assaults in
Ms. Corado, a relentless advocate
and transgender activist believes
“Segregation is inhuman. And how
they’re treated, how they’re
abused? It’s inexcusable. Even if
they’ve done something wrong, you want the
best for these people. But I’ve never seen a
case of a transgender detainee who was actually
treated like a human being.”
For more information on transgender prisoners,
Gender Variant Intersex Justice; query@
transgenderlaw.org,Transgender Law and
Policy Institute n
Extreme double standard in Florida
Free Marissa Alexander!
By Monica Moorehead
from Workers World, April, 2012]
Marissa Alexander is a young
African-American mother in Jacksonville, Fla., who
was arrested in August 2010 for defending herself against her abusive,
estranged spouse. At the time of her
arrest she had just given birth to her third child. Angela Corey,
the special prosecutor assigned to the
Trayvon Martin murder case, is seeking
a 20-year prison sentence for Alexander.
Corey’s actions in this case completely
ignore Florida’s “Stand Your Ground”
law that supposedly justifies the right
to self-defense—including taking someone’s
life—for anyone who feels he or
she will be harmed by anyone in any
way. This is the same law that the Sanford,
Fla., police allowed George Zimmerman
to use to remain free for 45 days
after he shot and killed unarmed, 17-year-old
Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26.
Once Zimmerman claimed that he felt “threatened”
by a “suspicious” looking Martin, who was wearing a hoodie, the police
refused to even arrest him. It was only after a massive, sustained outcry
of protests throughout the U.S. that
Corey was forced on April 11 to arrest Zimmerman, who was
then freed on bail on April 23.
Alexander defended herself against a violent attack on Aug. 1, 2010, by
her estranged spouse, but she is now
facing many years in prison as the alleged assailant. It didn’t seem
to matter to the prosecutor that she had an order of protection against
her spouse and that she only fired a
warning shot in her own home to scare him of f.
Alexander’s case is an important example of the double standard that
African Americans, in this case
particularly African-American women, face in defending themselves against
attack, including domestic violence. It makes clear that the so-called
Stand Your Ground laws — which
exist in many states — are really only designed to protect white male gun
An open letter by Alexander, written on April 3 in consultation with her
lawyer, states in part:
“On August 1, 2010, my premature baby girl, born nine days earlier, was
in the Baptist South N.I.C.U.
fighting for her life and I would too be fighting for my life in my own
home against an attack from my husband. I am a mother of three children,
but at the present time, I am not
able to be with them due to the following circumstances. I am
currently sitting in the Pretrial Detention Facility in Jacksonville,
Fla., Duval County awaiting a
sentence for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with
no intent to harm. …
“I am a law-abiding citizen and I take great pride in my liberty,
rights, and privileges as one. I
have vehemently proclaimed my innocence and my actions that day. The
enigma I face since that fateful day I was charged [and throughout the]
trial: Does the law cover and apply
to me too? A step further and more importantly is in light of recent
news: [Does] justice for all include everyone, regardless of gender, race
or aristocratic dichotomies? I
simply want my story heard, reviewed, and the egregious way in which
my case was handled from start to finish serve as an eye-opener for all
and especially those responsible for
upholding judicial affairs.”
To read the entire letter, sign the national petition to demand
Alexander’s freedom, and find out
how to get involved in this struggle for justice, go to justiceformarissa.