People, in support of their Occupy Main StreetTM brand, staged demonstrations in
different markets across the country to celebrate the recent Supreme Court
decision to uphold Mississippi’s law that a corporation’s life begins at
A spokesman for the People Right Is Corporate-right (P.R.I.C.),
a radical front for the left-leaning United States Chamber of Commerce, released
a statement saying that “Today, we are proud to say, is beyond business as
usual. Finally, America is really open for business.”
Congress is expected to pass the Defense of Mergers Act
with little opposition. This would finally legalize the merger of AT$T. Up to
now many human people of the right-wing Occupy Wall Street anti-Corporate People
terror organization had contended that those mergers were just a big
poly-corporate, incestuous joining of the offspring of Ma Bell.
Hundreds of corporate lawyers, holding proxies for their
corporate people, have lined up outside the Lt. Governor’s office in
Sacramento, California. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has been a strong supporter of
Congress is also considering the creation of a Department
of Headquarters Security with authority over the SEC. “We will take especial
care of commercial banks and venture capitalists. They hold the love juices that
are our unborn corporate babies. All human people are forbidden from making
withdrawals. Human people need to understand their proper place in
society—prone and consuming.”
It was announced that privately held corporations would
be recognized as honorary corporate people while the veil of corporate
personhood with finally be striped from imposters like non-profits and not for
profits which are an abomination.
Corporate people are lining up to finally obtain their
full rights. BP is seeking dual
citizenship so it can sue the U.S. government for the $25.00 it paid out in
damages for everything it has ever done. “Those assets are our children. Under
U.S. law a parent corporation can do anything it likes to its children.”
And Godfather Pizza announced it will replace Herman Cain on the
Republican primary ballots.
“In case you haven’t noticed by now there’s a lot
of gay people involved in the Occupy movement and with good reason, we too are
the 99%.…A large percentage of those fed up with seeing corporate greed and
corrupt politics are queer.” So
begins a blog post entitled “Call To Action: #Occupy #Queer #Solidarity”
from, of all places, Idaho. http://idahoagenda.com/2011/10/18/call-to-action-occupy-queer-solidarity/
In Baltimore, queer activists have established their own
camp within the occupation, called Mortville.
An article explains, “Occupy Baltimore’s Queer Camp is occupying
space within the occupation, waving two large banners, declaring its proud
existence. As Queer/Trans caucuses spring-up in few other occupations,
Baltimore's Mortville goes a step further. Applying the Occupy rhetoric to
themselves, they refuse to merely coalesce under the idea of identity. Rather,
they take public space and organize with that reality in mind and practice, to
go forth from that place of identity and ACT.
And act Mortville has. With open arms, queer camp
founders: Mike, Ryan, Joy, and Kory – welcome me, and then later Steve, Anne
Marie, and others. They care little if you identify as queer (though the
majority does identify that way), but rather, that you embrace the Mortville
motif. Organize with spectacle tactics and the belief that glamour is for
everyone, not just the one-percent.
They have done actions as varying as a 'Military
Industrial Complex S&M Pageant Protest' to mark the Ten Year Anniversary of
the Invasion of Afghanistan – to a Susan Sarandon Costume Appreciation
Party/Rocky Horror Picture Show screening – an immensely clever “coupon”
action: where they passed out coupons to two local big businesses.”
In Oakland, the march to shut down the port on November 2
(well one of the several marches, this was the one that left a few minutes
before 5:00 pm) was led by a “Feminists and Queers Against Capitalism”
contingent. Their call-out said:
- Our labor in this society is unacknowledged, underappreciated and ignored, both when it is waged and when it is free.
- Women, trans people, and queers
bear the brunt of capitalist crisis in the form of budget cuts and reactionary
- The police are attacking our
communities: putting us in jail, in the ground, or leaving us to pick up the
- We are tired of having children
whose only future is to be workers or prisoners of The Man’s world.
- Inside and outside the
workplace our bodies are controlled, cut up, restricted, abused, beaten, and
We may seem like mere victims in
this capitalist, patriarchal, racist system, but in reality these systems cannot
sustain themselves without our participation. Which is why today we STRIKE!
FEMINIST STRIKE MEANS: No
business as usual
We meet in the streets and become stronger: If you
mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!
In San Francisco, a group of gay men, mainly from the
Tenderloin, have been instrumental in setting up the camp and keeping it running
more or less smoothly. (If you
haven’t been there lately, check it out. As
of this writing, they have two huge new tents for meetings and teach-ins.)
Marc, a long-time queer activist, is working with others to set up the
Howard Zinn School, a series of workshops on people’s movements.
According to one straight man who has been very involved in OccupySF,
“It’s a sexist but not homophobic space.”
At Occupy Oakland, Arab queers have their own little area
of the camp (for obvious reasons, many Palestinian and Arab activists are not
that fond of the word “Occupy” and prefer “encampment”).
Even some of those irritating “Legalize Gay” t-shirts from HRC can be
spotted hanging out in the camps. All
is not perfect, but there is an atmosphere of joint struggle.
I WAS INVOLVED WITH Act Up-San Francisco and Queer Nation
in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I am definitely Queer, and I was drawn to
the Occupy movement by the energy, the commitment, and the willingness to try
new and creative approaches. It was
one of the first times in my
lifetime that I have seen the mainstream rise up, be inclusive, and try to make
I love the movement for the broad range of issues that it
embodies. It is not neat, and tidy, they could care less about “sound bites”
and talking points, instead they are about making connections, and having a real
dialog around issues! The group OccupySf is committed to unlearning a lot of the
non-community building techniques we have been force fed as a society, and is a
whole new social experiment in how things can work, and work better!
I think it is energizing to be around creative people
that want change, and aren’t afraid to try thousands of things till they find
one that works. OccupySF is a true
microcosm of our Society, and all the systemic issues that exist in society
exist there. The different is that
society sweeps them under the carpet, at OccupySF were are trying to meet the
challenges face on, and be creative about what to
try to fix problems and address issues.
The one thing we can ALL agree on in OccupySF is that
what we have now (status quo) is broken and just isn't working for anyone, none
of us have a clue what will work better, so we will try and try and try again
till we find that better way, that 3rd way that the status quo has hidden from
Come take part in this vibrant community and social
I was at Occupy Oakland on the Friday evening prior to
the General Strike, and was pretty impressed.
I haven't spent enough time there to see what things are like in the
middle of the day or night, when most of the many hundreds present from just
after work through the tapering off of the GA aren't around.
That night, though, one of the queer occupiers took the mic at the start
of the GA to share the ugliness. “Sissy”’s
story was not a happy one, but I found the group’s response heartening.
Sissy told a long, tangled, emotion-inflected tale
involving a conflict with a resident of the Occupy Oakland camp. It occurred
late at night, as best I could make out, and involved someone misidentifying
Sissy as a person making noise while he was trying to sleep.
A series of accusations and challenges followed, escalating to a point at
which the woken sleeper pulled a folding-knife and Sissy brandished a stick in
self-defense, then ran for safety.
That wasn’t the worst of it.
What had Sissy most upset is that many -- some dozens
perhaps -- of fellow Occupiers ended up surrounding him and insisting that he
was making a big deal out of something minor, or something that didn't actually
happen the way he experienced it, and that he needed to be quiet. Needless to
say, this made him feel altogether unsafe.
The first heartening thing is that Sissy had the guts to
come back to Frank Ogawa Plaza, stand up in front of five hundred people, and
tell what happened. The second is
that he ended his story with a set of demands that boiled down to insisting that
people at Occupy Oakland have to hear, respect, and deal with the experience of
someone who comes forward to say they have been attacked; and that this includes
creation of a safe space in the camp for women, kids, and queer people. The
third was that the facilitators made time for Sissy at the start of the GA, and
that he received near-unanimous support from the crowd.
All these suggest that the Occupy movement is largely
populated by people who want to build real, mutually-respectful, and safe
community. That desire won't be easily fulfilled. But building that sort of
community starts with large groups of people who get that dealing with incidents
like the one Sissy told about -- including hearing about how they were handled
badly, and resolving to do better going forward -- is a fundamental part of this
nascent political movement's work. It was almost enough to make this weary
50-something a wee bit hopeful.
Venice Lebby, known as Sandy in her youth, and Padma and Ama later as her
spiritual names, was born in Harlem in New York City in 1947.
She was raised by her grandmother, Doll, and her myriad aunts: Aunt Lou,
Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Edie. Her
mother, Mary Berry, left the household as a young adult but became very close
with Saundra later in her life. Her
grandmother came to Harlem from South Carolina.
Saundra always said “I’m a geechee girl” (the name used for the
Gullah people of African descent hailing from the Georgia Sea Islands and South
Carolina). Saundra went to George
Washington High School on the upper west side.
Ever a child of the sixties, early on she chafed at the traditional
constraints of her most cherished elders and left, as many did, for the bohemian
life of the Village. She came out as
a lesbian , had lovers and much turmoil, frequented the art and music scene, and
wrote poems. She did office
work to make a living and raised her son, Damian.
I met Saundra in 1979 at a Greenwich Village lesbian
Valentine’s Day dance. I had fled
California and a problematical relationship, weeping all across the country in
my truck. In New York I soon rallied
and became mostly committed to a women’s bar called Bonnie and Clyde’s,
nightlife and hanging at the Village piers.
I fancied myself a player. It
was the height of the disco days and we danced the rock to Donna Summers and
Michael Jackson late into the summer night, then wandered the mystical steamy
nighttime Village: Washington Square
Park, Sheridan Square, Christopher Street, eventually taking long subway rides
back to distant boroughs: Brooklyn
,the Bronx, East New York. We went to movies in Times Square during the day.
If Saundra found a movie she liked she saw it over and over. We may have
seen “The Empire Strikes Back” seventeen times, along with the people
dressed up in Darth Vader costumes!. Saundra
and I moved into a little apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant, upstairs in a
dilapidated brownstone, with two dogs. From
there we helped each other grow up. She
went to undergraduate school at Fordham University and I attended nursing school
at City College. Saundra wrote poems
continuously and was part of a Black lesbian writers collective which produced
After both finishing school, in 1985 we drove back across
country with the two dogs to East Oakland or “The land of the Oak,” as
Saundra called it. We lived and
loved for many years(fifteen all told), and had a never-ending friendship.
Saundra loved the West Coast and all the alternative spiritual paths.
It became a renaissance of sorts for her.
She became involved with the Sydda Yoga Ashram and found Gurumyai, the
beautiful south Asian guru and leader of Syyda Yoga.
She spent months during the monsoon season in the Sydda Yoga Ashram in
Ganeshpouri, India, returning emaciated and completely mildewed.
She studied a wide and varied spiritual traditions.
She chanted, meditated, painted and wrote journals and poems. She
listened to Anita Baker and Luther Vandross for hours and days without stopping,
to the point that I may never be able to listen to either artist again in my
life. During that time she got a
Masters in social work from San Francisco state and worked for some years doing
case management for people with mental illness.
In 1994, Saundra decided to move out of our East Oakland
house to be closer and more involved in the Sydda Yoga Ashram.
While we stopped being lovers at that point, we transitioned to a
lifelong friendship. She moved to an
apartment in Emeryville, across the street from the ashram, which quickly became
sort of center of spiritual community activity.
She took many people in at different times.
She brought her son Damian and his girlfriend and their three kids from
New Jersey to stay in her living room until they got established, a move Damian
credits with helping him get his life going in a better direction.
In about 2003 Saundra moved to Mt. Shasta, longing for
the peace and quiet of country living. A
number of Sydda Yoga devotees moved there. She
read poetry in local coffeehouses, meditated at the lake, went up on the
Mountain ‑ a place of special power as she perceived it.
She was interviewed and read poems on West Coast Live on NPR, an exciting
event for her whole community. I
traveled there when it was first aired to be in attendance.
In 2009 she moved to Ashland, Oregon with a friend, to
escape the brutal snowy winters and be in a somewhat more cosmopolitan
environment. “There is a lesbian
group that meets there, Tory,” she told me excitedly.
Her life then changed dramatically.
In November of 2009, while visiting Damian in Oakland shortly after
moving to Ashland, Saundra developed an aortic aneurysm and miraculously
survived the repair surgery done at Summit hospital.
She spent months in a horrid nursing home called mclure in Oakland, and
was finally able to return Ashland in February of 2010.
This catastrophic illness took its toll but she was able to hang out in
the lovely independent Bloomsbury bookstore/coffeehouse, see friends and go to
movies (she saw “Mamma Mia” 26 times).
Then in June of 2011, Damian and I got calls from
panicked friends: “It ‘s bad,
come immediately.” While trying to
diagnose a severe shoulder pain, her doctor discovered a huge new aneurysm a
ticking time bomb of a medical problem. The
same day on a mammogram they discovered breast cancer.
A biopsy done that week found an aggressive cancer, not sensitive to
estrogen or other hormones, with positive lymph nodes outside the breast.
What came after that was a nightmare of a week trying to decide what to
do. A young, uncharacteristically
frank and down to earth surgeon said that he could do a complete extensive
replacement of the aortic arch but that it was extremely risky, with poor
prognosis, rarely done, but he was willing to try.
Given the choice of walking around waiting to drop dead in the near
future even with this bad cancer hanging over her head, it was understandable
that with much thought Saundra decided to do the surgery.
It is to his credit that the surgeon gave Saundra the opportunity to make
her own decision. Had she been in
the Bay Area or had another surgeon, it would have never been on the table.
Saundra survived the surgery and went on to have a double
mastectomy. She survived that too,
but the cancer spread rapidly and viciously.
Her friend Lynn from back in the day came from England to stay for a
month. Damian and I made multiple
trips up Interstate 5 over the next months. She stayed in Medford Rehab for four
months, recuperating and trying to establish if treatment could be done to stay
the cancer. A relatively new and
wonderful friend, Maggie, a former university acting teacher, lived nearby the
rehab and visited daily, making life tolerable and even exciting at times.
Finally it was clear that Saundra was dying.
The cancer had metastasized to her brain, her lungs, and her bones.
Damian, Maggie and I took her home to her apartment filled with spiritual
books, poetry, pictures of Gurumyai ,beautiful African art, wine colored
brocaded comforters, and a red
couch. She was so sick, confused and
in excruciating pain, short of breath but seemed relieved and maybe a little
peaceful to be home. We gave her lots of morphine and ativan. On the last night
Maggie Damian and I talked about old times in Oakland, listened to her
performance on West Coast Live, ate Kentucky Fried Chicken in her honor (one of
her favorites) after we wafted it through the house and over her sleeping self.
She just died right then.
Paralleling this intensely personal dying story was the
experience with the decaying health care system which is shared by all in
amerika. When I first walked
into Saundra’s apartment, when this was unfolding, I was struck by the piles
of bills on every single surface as far as the eye could see.
Saundra had been telling me she just couldn’t keep up with all the
bills. She owed large sums to money
to the evil mclure nursing home in Oakland where she had stayed in 2009.
She owed money to every single doctor she had been to see over the last
two years, and there were many. She
had an endocrine specialist because of a drug induced hypothyroidism, a cardio
thoracic specialist, the oncology practice, the radiation oncologist.
She had been to the local Ashland hospital, and the regional center
hospital, each one generating co-pays and percentages, the list was
interminable. As her health failed I
tried to help with these bills. As
her grandmother had done, her family tradition to stave off endless persistent
bills on a fixed income, she was faithfully paying a few dollars on each bill
every month . It was a night mare
and there was no possibility that she could pay them.
Now Saundra had medicare and a medicare supplement, yet still the bills
came. It was a heartbreaking stress
that plagued her last months of life.
Even more fundamental,
rather than have a workable not for profit health care system, which
would have made it possible for her to stay at home with full time attendant
care, Saundra spent what precious time she had languishing in Medford Rehab.
She needed more care than friends could possibly have provided and she
felt safe there to a certain degree. Indeed
she needed her friends to be her friends ,not to have to press them into
service. But a people-oriented
single payer health system could have made it possible for her to be cared for
at home. Even after we decided to take her home at the very end with the help of
hospice, I felt the abysmal lack. Hospice
health care people are wonderful and it is probably the only place in health
care unconcerned with productivity, but it is completely limited; a full time
family member caretaker must be in the home( so if you live alone, as Saundra
did, you cannot qualify for hospice), treatment options must be ended and there
is no help for the long nights with the sweet confused Saundra as she
wandered/stumbled around her apartment.
So as usual one arrives at
the PERSONAL IS POLITICAL and we need a
HEALTH CARE REVOLUTION and
HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT
Good bye sweet poet Saundra, the ambulance driver of my
In the morning
My people look at me
They wonder who I am,
What I am
I can answer them
In my familiar way
So they will recognize me?
my too big pants
& no bra,
My sneakers and
aren’t I dressed down
in seersucker &
newly polished (&arrayed)
For my 9-to-5?
dare I be different?
not such as we
doing our little
jobs, staying in
bodies & blood in
a daily masquerade
to leave the caste
to shuck off the mold
to be an agent
to your own people
mean the majority
of your own people
one’s who don’t
Know who you are
Lebby 1982 from
Back: A Back Street Girl Testifies
Saundra self published two books
Saundra self published two books
Back: A back Street Girl Testifies
The Sun Still Shines
was published in
A Magazine of Third World Lesbians in 1979
Nineties in 2007
Harris, a long-time lesbian activist, died at home in Palm Springs on June 25,
at the age of 66.
Jean was a butch dyke who moved to San Francisco in the
mid 1980’s. She had grown up in Long Beach and went to California State
University there. In 1971 she became a field organizer on the McGovern campaign,
and then worked on a number of committees and campaigns with the democratic
party, including Harry Britt’s congressional campaign in 1986. She became
supervisor Britt’s chief of staff in 1987. She worked on SF’s first domestic
partners initiative in 1989, which lost, in part due to opposition by the SF
catholic diocese. In 1990, the measure passed. She helped to engineer the
so-called “Lavendar Sweep” in SF in which Carole Migden and Roberta
Achtenberg were elected to the BOS, Tom Ammiano was elected to the school board,
and Donna Hitchens to the Superior Court. In 1990 she went on a LGBT delegation
Many of us remember Jean from the press conference held
by ACT-UP just prior to the 1990 6th International AIDS Conference.
The sf police officers association new vice president Gary Delagnes (he’s the
president now), went on television to say that ACT-UP had threatened to throw
blood, and that if they did, “I’m not going to say I’m going to shoot
them, but I’m not going to say I wouldn’t.” We held a press conference
denouncing the AIDS and homophobia of the cops, and Jean was there to say that
the administration wasn’t going to permit the cops to shoot us.
Jean became the president of the Harvey Milk LGBT
Democratic Club in the early 1990s. During her term, a number of African
Americans left the club, and formed Lesbians and Gays of African Descent for
Democratic Action. Among other
things, they charged that she had stacked the club with new members and of 25
members of the executive board, only one was a person of color.
In 1992 ex-police chief frank Jordan appointed her as
deputy mayor. She worked to legalize needle exchange. She was also the chair of
the lesbian and gay caucus of the california democratic party. She moved to
Oregon where she worked to defeat an anti-gay ballot measure, and in 1996 became
the executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. When she moved back to
California, she became the executive director of the California Alliance for
Pride and Equality, the predecessor to Equality California. Jean remained active
in the democratic party until she retired a few years ago. She is survived by
her partner, Jean Penn, and a number of children and grandchildren.
Today, as UV “goes to bed” (a lovely old newspaper
term that is quickly becoming anachronistic) there are thousands of climate
activists encircling the white house. They
are trying to influence the upcoming decision whether or not to allow a second
tar sands pipeline from Canada. TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL would go
further than the first, 1,700 miles all the way to the gulf coast oil
Obama has as usual made some equivocal statements about
whether or not his administration will approve the construction.
Despite some nice rhetoric and a few gestures from the white house in the
past, mountain top removal coal mining continues apace and it is not clear which
way the pipeline decision will go. Not surprisingly, the corporate owners have
tried to confuse the debate on the pipeline with the promise of jobs—inflated
promises of thousands of mostly temporary construction jobs—and energy
security. But the push towards the
gulf is all about exports, undermining the claim that this is about energy
security at all.
The approval of this pipeline, which would carry up to
900,000 barrels of crude a day, has recently become a flash point for the
climate change debate. Native groups
in Canada and the states have been protesting about the destruction wrought from
mining the tar sands for almost a decade and now, with the proposed pipeline
that would bisect the states to the gulf, it looks like the rest of the movement
has finally caught up with them. Jim
Hansen, the preeminent climate scientist from NASA’s Goddard Institute for
Space Studies, says if this pipeline is built it will be “game over” for any
chance of limiting climate change when emissions from burning the tar sands are
combined with the coal we keep burning as well.
(Hansen also constructed an unfortunate metaphor about oil addicts and
dirty needles I am trying to forget.) But
even without this pipeline, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions keep rising and
recent reports showing an increase of 6% over the last year.
Many scientists have said we need significant GHG reductions to get to
350 ppm as a goal although we are already at 392 ppm (as of July 2011).
Unfortunately, the truth may be that the game was over a decade ago.
Tar sands (called oil sands by the industry to make them
seem more liquid and viscous) are found in layers or seams with sand and clay
and oil deposits mixed together. The large deposits at issue now are beneath the
boreal forests on native lands in central Canada.
In order to “use” these tar sands first the forest must go (along
with all the animals and plants and sacred sites), then open pit mines are dug
and once the digging reaches the tar sands a lot more energy from natural gas
along with water and steam are needed to loosen the tar from the sand and clay
enough to make a very thick viscous liquid. The process leaves lots of waste and
depleted aquifers in its wake. Just
getting the tar sands to that stage takes a lot of energy—it used to be about
90% of the potential energy in the resulting oil, now they claim its down to
50%-- still a dismal figure. Next
the resulting heavy crude oil (still mixed with lots of sand) is pumped into
pipelines which use more energy to keep it moving along and travels thousands of
miles and as a bonus, this low grade crude eats away at the pipelines causing
ruptures and spills. The existing
pipeline which has only been in operation since June 2010 has already ruptured
multiple times (at least 14) in many places spewing heavy tar/oil into once
pristine waters where it crosses under creeks and rivers and through aquifers
including the Ogallala aquifer.
It will be a real victory if we can stop this pipeline
approval. But even if the pipeline
is stopped the extraction of tar sands will continue.
Not only will the companies continue to fill the existing pipeline but
after some delay they will undoubtedly try to find another way to get their
toxic product to market.
I always thought it was supposed to be two steps forward
one step back but these days when it comes to climate change its one step
forward, two or three steps back. We
are already seeing climate chaos, droughts, floods, and rising seas.
We have seen the future and it is wet and wild, but not in a good queer
Castlewood Country Club in Pleasanton is the Woodfin
Hotel of the teens. Just as the
Woodfin workers finally got the back pay that the anti-union hotel had refused
to pay, in defiance of city ordinances and court orders, Castlewood locked out
its 61 union employees. The workers,
who are mainly cooks and food servers, are represented by HERE Local 2850.
Castlewood wants the workers to pay $849.75 per month for
family health insurance, which is more than 40% of the average worker’s wages.
When the union rejected that contract clause, in March 2010, the club
responded by locking the workers out. Five
months later, the club made another demand – that it be allowed to lay off or
reduce workers’ hours out of seniority. That
demand, along with their refusal to meet regularly with the union negotiators,
led the NLRB to rule in September that the lockout is illegal.
The club has filed an appeal, but if they lose, they will have to pay
penalties as well as back wages.
The club’s own financial statements indicate that they
lost $300,000 in 2010, due to golf tournaments being cancelled and members
leaving. They also have spent
$300,000 in attorneys’ fees so far. Club
dues have been raised 5 percent to help cover the costs of attorneys and other
expenses associated with the lockout. The
union pickets nine times a week, and in June, 24 people were arrested (including
Kate), after blockading the club’s annual “Men’s Invitational,” their
biggest tournament of the year. (Watch
the video at www.endthelockout.org,
it’s hilarious. You can see the
golfers tearing up their own fence, then pushing their carts over an embankment
and crashing into each other.)
At the same time, the union’s latest proposal would
save Castlewood nearly $9,000 per month over the old contract – about 30% of
the Club’s total spending for the workers’ health care.
Yet the club refuses to do the logical thing, and
continues to lock out the workers. The
union has a never-ending series of clever actions; the most recent was the
Halloween Zombie Picket Line. It’s
worth the trip out to Pleasanton. Check
out their website for a schedule, www.endthelockout.org.
Information taken from Prisoner
Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), a coalition based in the Bay Area made up of
grassroots organizations & community members committed to amplifying the
voices of and supporting the prisoners at Pelican Bay & other CA prisons
while on hunger strike, (http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com)
In the Spring of 2011, prisoners inside Pelican Bay State
Prison contacted prisoner-rights and anti-prison activist organizations
announcing 50-100 prisoners would be beginning a rolling hunger strike on July
1st, and that they needed support making sure their voices and demands were
heard outside prison walls.
The prisoners in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at
Pelican Bay State Prison (California) began what became a historic hunger strike
to protest the cruel, inhumane and tortuous conditions of their imprisonment
& to improve the treatment of SHU-status prisoners throughout California. At
least 6,600 prisoners across the state of CA joined in solidarity with the
Pelican Bay hunger strikers’ demands.
After entering negotiations with the California Department
of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) and refusing food for nearly four
weeks, the prisoner hunger strike representatives at Pelican Bay’s SHU called
for a stop to the hunger strike on July 20th to give the CDCR a few weeks to
implement substantial changes to their policies & comply with the
prisoners’ demands. The CDCR failed to follow through, so
prisoners throughout the state resumed the hunger strike on Sept 26th, 2011.
On Oct. 13th, the CDRC agreed again to the demands.
The strike ended, hopefully forever this time.
the first time CDCR has committed to reviewing the cases of all prisoners
currently in SHU who were placed there due to being labeled as members of gangs.
new criteria are being reviewed and should be in place by the beginning of next
year, according to CDCR officials. This plan was confirmed in a memo
signed by both CDCR officials and mediation members.
The hunger strikers have developed these five,
straight-forward, core demands:
1. End Group Punishment &
2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status
3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s
Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary
4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food
5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for
Indefinite SHU Status Inmates.
This courageous action falls within a long legacy of
prisoner-led resistance throughout the world, including inside both women’s
and men’s prisons in the US. These struggles are connected to global struggles
against inequality and powerlessness, for self-determination and liberation.
For more info, contact Prison Focus at www.prisons.org or 1904
Franklin, #507, Oakland, CA 94612
Sometime in late September I joined an Occupy SF march
that went through many parts of downtown SF and ended up back at the Fed Reserve
encampment on Market St. This long march gave me time to observe many men who
had all had the bullhorns all the time. No wait, one woman had a bullhorn for
about 15 minutes, during which time a man came up to her to suggest she speak
louder, giving her tips on how to lead a chant. (But he said it soooo nicely.)
Also, there were men carrying the main banners, and doing most of the speaking
back at the rally. Do I sound appalled? I was. Why should I have thought the
last 40+ years of women's liberation organizing would actually make a
difference, especially since for at least the last 25 of those years we were in
the “post-feminist” world and feminism and women’s liberation were
Initially I felt concerned about ranting to all my
friends about this sexism. Perhaps I was focusing on the wrong thing. Of course,
I thought it was great the movement was happening, blah blah. And there was that
one very cool woman speaking back at the encampment (though when I asked her
about women's leadership, she told me "there were no leaders.") When I
asked another woman (taking notes and looking somewhat journalist-y) about what
she’d seen of women’s participation in the encampments, she thoughtfully
considered my question but said she wasn’t sure that was the main focus right
now. She added that if I was concerned about it, I should go to a General
Assembly meeting and bring it up. (Earlier, I’d been told that one woman at
the encampment had said that “sometimes it’s hard to get the men to do the
dishes but here they are doing them!”) I didn’t want to go to a GA and talk
about male domination. I knew the men wouldn’t want to hear it and I wasn’t
sure about the women. Most were a lot younger than I, with other differences as
well. The sound/look/feel of OccSF reminded me of commune and collective days of
decades past, and we all know where that led. Or maybe we don’t all know that
at this point. It led to women getting fed up, the Women’s Liberation
Movement, Robin Morgan’s essay Goodbye To All That! as women took over
“Rat” in 1970 (Rat was a NYC movement alternative newspaper), women moving
out of the New Left and into women’s groups and women's households and coming
out in droves as we continued our leftist politics. Seeing the way things looked
now in the Occupy movement, I grew disheartened (read: furious). I started going
online to check out what was happening at other Occupy sites re male domination.
Then I started to feel better, not because there was a lack of sexism
(surprise!) but because it was being written about all over the net. On the
excellent racialicious website was a powerfully moving October 3 blog by Manissa
called “So Real It Hurts” writing about her experiences at Occupy Wall
Street. One of the main issues she wrote about was dealing with racism and how
it manifested within a line from a document OccWS was about to release: “being
one race, the human race, formally divided by race, class…”
About this line, Manissa wrote : “This movement was
about to send a document into the world about who and what it was that included
a line that erased all power relations and decades of history of oppression. A
line that would de-legitimize the movement, this would alienate me and people
like me, this would not be able to be something I could get behind. And I was
already behind it this movement and somehow I didn’t want to walk away from
this. I couldn’t walk away from this.”
In this same blog she also addressed patriarchy: “I
went to the anti-patriarchy meeting because even though I was impressed by the
General Assembly and its process I also noticed that it was mostly white men who
were in charge of the committees and making announcements and that I had only
seen one women of color get up in front of everyone and talk. A lot was said at
the anti-patriarchy meeting about in what ways the space of the occupation was a
safe space and also not. Women talked about not feeling comfortable in the drum
circle because of men dancing up on them and how to change this, about how to
feel safe sleeping out in the open with a lot of men that they didn’t know,
about not-assuming gender pronouns and asking people which pronouns they would
In her blog, Manissa described how she hung in there and
fought the good fight with people on all these issues.
To read her whole blog, go to:
A commenter on Manissa’s blog later added:
Dear “Maybe it will be different this time,”
It WILL NOT be different until indigenous women from the
most marginalized and environmentally devastated communities are the organizers.
And in an anonymous note posted from mid-October Occupy
i feel like i
can't talk there[OccOak] because if i did i'd just be screaming that i'm sick of
straight men hitting on me, drowning me out, and threatening me and i'm not
alone in that by a longshot.
A piece on
Alternet “Occupy Wall Street:
The Other 99% Is Not 90% Men” began with the fact that the media covering Occ
focused on men (wow – there’s a shocker), but it also included examples of
women being excluded, marginalized, and oppressed within the movement itself.
One of the best
sites that addressed my own reactions is http://againstallevidence.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/our-brethren-in-struggle-i-presume/
includes a comment response to a Ms. Magazine article “We Are the 99%, Too: Creating a Feminist Space Within Occupy Wall
“What I am
describing is OWS at Zuccotti Park – it’s there, it’s happening and some
of us have been witness to it. As I went around yesterday distributing condoms
to young women since they are at particular risk for HIV and Hep C infection in
such a chaotic, oppressive environment, I was overwhelmed with despair and
anger. How could we, who survived the various male dominated social movements of
the 60′s and 70′s fail our young sisters? How could we allow our
young women to be so oppressed, so disempowered, to have their voices silenced,
to be subject to neglect regarding their safety in an environment that professes
to create change?...
Perhaps if we could confront the
leaders we could change it. But wait there are no leaders of “leaderless”
OWS. Perhaps that is part of the design.”
Wow, I thought, a
woman even more upset than me, and working even harder to deal with it.
One Ms. blogger,
while concerned and upset about various aspects of sexism at OWS, seemed to have
a positive sense that it was being addressed and taken seriously. http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/10/21/are-feminists-occupying-wall-street/
But from Susan at
Your Voices Are Needed on the Ground: A Feminist Experience at OWS
my extremely gendered critique of the occupation and how it is being organized.
It’s crazy to be in a paradigm where you have more of a right to call out
patriarchy and oppression, but it still exists in much of the same dynamics as
the “outside” world. I find myself struggling to identify with the movement
because I am constantly trying to make space for myself in it. And that’s
exhausting…. The interactions I have in that space, in Liberty Square, are
frustrating and sometimes quite disempowering. It is usually assumed that I have
no experience, or a low experience level. I’ve noticed this doesn’t happen
as much to my male bodied/identified friends in that space. It means that I have
to work twice as hard to gain confidence and authority for my opinions,
feelings, and emotions…. when it comes to deeper issues of inclusion and
validation, I feel exhausted and upset at the hypocrisy of it all. An
anarchistic, horizontal space that doesn’t have a huge critique of sexist
behaviors and hierarchies makes no sense to me. In the end, I don’t want to
spend my time fighting for a voice in that space. I came there expecting that
space and want to spend my energy fighting injustice and organizing.”
site to check out with much great writing and analysis is
There’s also http://www.facebook.com/pages/Women-Occupy/233866043333736?sk=wall
but this site looked a little more mainstream to me.
So now, having said and read, here’s my final comment. I stopped by Occ SF
about 2 weeks ago. I wandered around, seeing mostly men. Then I saw a circle on
the grass of about 12 people, mostly women, so I stood and listened to see what
they were talking about: childcare. Taking care of children’s needs at the
encampment. Now we all know children
are important. And we all know how overwhelmingly they are a “woman’s
issue.” I left, feeling angry and saddened. As I passed by again a few hours
later, I vowed not to go back in. But I saw that they were having a GA and I
could see a woman holding the bullhorn, so I thought, what the hell-stay
positive and check it out Deni. Yes, the woman had the bullhorn and was
“taking stack” of who would speak, but in the 5-10 minutes I stood there,
every speaker was a man. We’ve come a long way, baby.
did all this stop me from going to the Occ Oak to march to shut down the ports?
No, and it was great. I am thrilled
the movement exists and even more thrilled that there are so many incredibly
strong, insightful, analytical, radical women acting and writing about the fight
against patriarchy/male domination in the movement.
Sisterhood is Powerful! Still, again, and always.
by Julie, Chaya, Deni, Blue
Occupy Half Moon Bay (HMB)
started a few weeks ago after one person put an announcement in an online local
news site. The first week, ten of us stood with big signs at the intersection of
Hwy. 92 and Hwy. 1 from 12-2PM. The next week there were 25 and the next, 35.
Hundreds of cars go thru that intersection and the response has been
overwhelmingly positive. The few negative comments have been rather outdated:
“dirty communists” and “get a job,” also rather missing-the-point since
one of the main demands of all the demonstrations is for more jobs!
In my mind, all the people
who honked and waved in HMB will now look at the ‘Occupys’
in other places and feel a connection, will feel less separate from the
demonstrators on the five-o-clock news, and that is only a good thing.
Occupy HMB will continue
every Saturday at the same intersection until the revolution.
Comments about Occupy taken from Pinto Beans, Wallstreet
and Me by Jo Nubian
I’ve been trying to figure out why I hold a bit of
disdain for the Occupy movement that is sweeping the nation and world.
It’s nice enough, I guess, but there is something to it that hurts my feelings
and I have been, until today, unable to pin point what that “thing” is.
I look at the photographs (and yes I’ve investigated my local movement- live)
and the display reeks of a privilege I simply can not connect to or own. I
am of a tribe of invisible women and men- one that has had to toil and box
through hundreds of years of strife in order to even be considered human. My
people, as citizens in this country, were bombed from the sky in places like
Tulsa, Oklahoma because they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps they had to
themselves sew together. Dead bodies lined the streets of our Black
Wallstreet. Some of the corporations that create this nation and
world’s economic center made their fortunes selling insurance policies
purchased on and cotton picked by my ancestors.
When people like my mama have asked to be compensated for
the building of a nation that these young, White hipsters demand justice and
assistance from, they have been not only denied, but ridiculed. There is a
certain amount of volcanic rage that I feel coursing through my veins when I
consider what that says. I am angry that they have a voice. I am angry that
they have a choice. I am angry that an entire nation of citizens, obviously
unlike myself, have told me and continue to tell me that I should stop
whining. I am sick to fucking death of my struggle being mocked while the
struggles of others are given sympathy and accolades.
I am also cognizant of the fact that if I join this
movement, once success is reached, me, my mama and her big pot of beans will be
forgotten. Our contributions will be erased, which history explains may be
a certainty. I no longer want to be the ladder that others stand upon in
order to build a better, freer, fairer world- while I am left with war stories,
eyes nearly blinded by being incessantly sprayed with pepper, and the same big
pot of beans that my family has been cooking to survive for hundreds of years.
I admire all grass roots movements and believe them to
really be the ways towards change. I can’t knock the hustle, family. A
friend commented earlier that nothing ever changes until White folk struggle. My
grandma used to say that when Whites have to tighten their belts we are usually
already naked. Until there is some sort of universal poverty against which
we all are struggling, how can we build? The emergence of a class struggle
can only exist when those in the differing classes begin on some semblance of
equal footing. When that day arrives, I will make signs damning the man for
not being able to pay my student loans. Until then I will continue my
community work, and making my mama’s famous pinto beans.
So yes, I am the 99%, but in a very different and even
more beautiful way than has been explained in this movement.
Taken from Race, Gender, and Occupy by Maoquai
I just read the most beautiful piece called Pinto Beans,
Wall Street and Me at JoNubian.com
I also hold a bit of disdain for the Occupy movement, but
i have also been disappointed in the claims against it. I’ve been equally
perturbed by its whiteness and yet fiercely protective of what it is that the
movement is attempting to accomplish. I am ambivalent – drawn by the promise
of a new experiment in an un-led dis-organization and perturbed by the
whiteness, maleness, and apparent middle-classness (who has time to protest?).
I think this partially comes down to who
has the privilege to protest? Who has the political language? Who
has the populace language? Who is included and who is excluded? And while the
movement has worked furiously to make room for “all voices”, does it make
room for all histories?
Yesterday, when i finally went down to Occupy Seattle at
Westlake, i found that a Latina woman was MCing the open mic, a South Asian was
organizing speaker order, and a young African American man was speaking about
the war on people of color that is happening in America. Behind the stage,
a Native American woman began banging on a trashcan, screaming angrily and
crying. A group calling themselves the Peace Team quickly moved in and offered
her kind words, space to speak.
This is not meant to be a tally of The Number of People
of Colour i saw yesterday. I just happened to walk up at a strangely diverse
moment – particularly strange as it was in downtown Seattle. So what is my
I avoided the marches and protests, even as my colleagues
went en masse from the university campus to downtown, and again as they tried to
organize amongst departments and schools. I wondered where my people
were – the brown folks whose land was stolen to make this country. Where are
the women of color – where are the working mamas, the grandmothers who will
never retire? Where are the disenfranchised – my brothers and sisters who make
up 16% of the US population and only 5% of the graduate programs at my school?
So… do we
make this our movement? Do we take up this struggle, or do we turn away and
simply wait it out? What is that balance in the ambivalence?
Taken from Occupy
Harlem: 'Occupy Wall Street Is Not A White Thing' by Trymaine Lee
Veteran Harlem activist Nellie Hester Bailey, who has
fought and protested and rallied for fair wages, tenants' rights and against
police brutality here for years, said:
“Occupy Wall Street is not a quote-unquote white thing.
It is a white thing that the 1 percent and the bankers are representing white
oligarchy and white plutocrats for the most part,” Bailey said. “But this is
an organic movement from the bottom up. Now we have to take advantage, seize the
time and the moment ... and it is time that we become part of this landscape so
we can begin to highlight our issues.”
Thoughts on Moving Forward With “Occupy Oakland,” Indigenous People’s Day,
And All Of Our Struggles by Rich Ejire
So the thing that seems to be consistent about the
“occupies” is that although the rallying cry is for the “99%”, most of
the occupiers, and especially organizers thereof tend to be male and white.
Although the movement has been open, inviting and encouraging of People Of Color
(POC) involvement, it still requires POC organizers to enter a space that can be
culturally alienating, and the power dynamic of POCs bringing POC issues to a
predominantly white forum, even with the best intentions of progressive and
radical white folks.... can be problematic.
Even the wording of the movement, “Occupy” evokes
histories of European domination and colonization. Movements to rename it
“Decolonize Oakland” “Liberate Oakland” & “(re)occupy oakland”
have arisen on the tongues of Native folks and POCs. And Monday was, after all,
Indigenous People's Day (in some parts known as Columbus Day...boo).
I give props to the other POCs who I have seen organizing
in this movement, making sure that the lens of racialized economic oppression is
present in the living documents. I know it's not easy and a lot of us have been
torn. This feels like an opportunity for change, but is this the opportunity?
After some meditation on the whole thing, and getting some wisdom from a
particular Native elder, I have come to a new place on this. This new place is
still evolving, but I am feeling some things pretty strongly.
This is not the only revolution. This is a movement
around class and economic oppression.
These are important issues that affect everyone, more so
the less privileged in this society. But while it intersects with all of our
oppressions, it is not the only form of oppression. And many of us are trying to
annex our struggles onto this one. The environmental justice movement is feeling
left out of the living documents, and wanting to annex this struggle. What about
queer rights? Native sovereignty? Abolishing the death penalty? Dismantling the
prison industrial complex? Disarming BART police?
I believe we should support the “occupies” but I also
believe that this is in fact a struggle that specifically progressive people of
European descent should get behind. I believe that this is the time to use your
sheer numbers and white privilege to effect real change. Those of us who do not
have white skin are the most policed people on the planet. OPD shoots unarmed
black men, and takes white men who engage police in shootouts into custody
alive. White folks, for change to happen, you need to be on the front lines. In
this regard, the more of you that are present, makes it safer for everyone. This
is the time.
And the rest of us can still support and engage. But more
importantly, we all need to organize our struggles now. While Occupy Oakland
moves in to Frank Ogawa Plaza, we need to get with our peeps around our own
issues. There are currently 12,000 prisoners on a hunger strike in California.
This is major. We need to surround the prison grounds and give more power and
love and solidarity to those in the racist/classist labor camps inside. We need
to surround federal courthouses around abolishing the death penalty. We all need
to act around whatever our communities are passionate about while the
"occupies" keep OPD... occupied.
I want to go support manifesting Queer Power actions.
Actions to reinstate Native Elders into positions of power on this land. Actions
to end gender oppression, ableism, institutionalized racism, anti-immigrant
initiatives, actions that defend Mother Earth and hence the health of all of
us... I want to be a part of all of it. And we can and should all support
each other's struggles, because none of us are free until all of us are free. But
we shouldn't have to try to fit all of our struggles in one movement that is
focused on class and economic oppression.
I work at the Oakland state building, and get to see
Occupy Oakland practically every day going to and from BART. I have gone with
co-workers to various marches and rallies, met friends at the queer march, etc.
My friend Cora has danced with the Occupiers on her way to BART after work. This
is possibly the most convenient movement of my life.
I wasn’t able to take the day off for the General
Strike, so was particularly pleased that twice during the morning demonstrators
stopped by. Then at 3:00, a management representative came down to read an email
from the building manager, indicating that both the front and back doors were
closed due to demonstrators, and if you want to leave the building you have to
go out through the loading dock . The 2:30 disabled march, including my friend
Lin, had come to protest brown’s cuts to adult day care and other programs.
The building manager, sensing the threat, then issued an email closing the
building, forwarded by our management as an instruction that we “may evacuate
immediately.” Class dismissed, and off we went, in plenty of time to join the
5 p.m. march to the docks. Says Lin, “they never should have given [us] those
chairs with wheels.”
By Chaya and Deni
Mocha Column Quiz
1. Which of the following are NOT using some form of
social networking to further their ideological goals and stay in touch with
their followers? See answer at the end of the column.
A. Queen Elizabeth
B. The Pope
C. Israeli Intelligence
D. The Mocha Column
E. All of the above
2. Here’s an advanced version of the quiz for those of
you who excel in standardized testing:
A. Queen Elizabeth
B. The Pope
C. Israeli Intelligence
D. The Mocha Column
E. All of the above
F. None of the above
G. A and C only
H. C and D only
I. A, B, C, and D, but not E
J. Just abolish standardized testing
Ides of March
This political thriller is
supposed to be pulse-racing, but it was not particularly original or complex and
our heart rates never got off the couch. George Clooney co-wrote and directed
it. He should stick to acting and looking cool. It had a lot of star power (Ryan
Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei)
but with a weak plot and not-so-great script, the actors just didn’t have
enough to work with. We wish we had seen Point Blank instead, not political, but
one of the good action/suspense movies that French filmmakers have been making.
Skip Ides of March.
I (Deni) really wanted to like this Steven Soderberg film
with its star-studded cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Laurence
Fishburne, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard) because I enjoy a “terse and
exceptionally smart” (per Rotten Tomatoes) movie as well as the next person
who’s afraid of someone sneezing next to you on a bus. The film’s premise
was about the medical and social effects of a highly contagious and deadly
virus. (According to friends in the Public Health field, seeing it with others
in the field and laughing at all the inaccuracies and in-jokes made it more
fun.) Unfortunately, I ultimately found the movie forgettable, somewhat silly,
and occasionally racist. It kept my interest in an annoying, macabre sort of
way, but later I wondered what the point of the film was. I decided the point
was to scare people. Make them afraid of living their lives and afraid of other
people, even more than they’re already afraid. It made me think about one of
Michael Moore’s themes in “Bowling For Columbine,” when he stated that he
believes U.S. society is based on “fear and consumption.” This movie
promoted fear of contagious disease, and scarcity/consumption of goods,
services, and cures. Turning this around, there might be a progressive theme for
a movie obscured in here somewhere, but this film didn’t have it. Skip it.
The Black Power
This documentary about the black power movement was
compiled by Swedish director Goran Olsson from footage shot decades ago by
numerous Swedish journalists. The journalists were given access to interviews,
meetings and events that were not usually covered by the media. We assume that
by calling the film a “mixtape,” Olsson wants to make clear it’s not a
comprehensive analysis of the time. He says “This is not a film about the
black power movement, it’s a film about how it was perceived in Sweden.” The
4 of us who saw it together were involved in radical politics in the 1960s and
70s, so we watched through the lens of our own experiences. The film may be
confusing in places if you aren’t familiar with some of the history but it is
a powerful journey.
It starts with Stokely Carmichael (one of the early
leaders of SNCC – Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee) disagreeing with
Dr. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent approach because “I’m not as patient
as Dr. King, or as merciful.” It moves on to the assassinations of King and
Bobby Kennedy in 1968, and the Black Panther Party’s newspaper, breakfast for
children and community clinic programs. Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Eldridge
Cleaver are interviewed. It also covers the takeover of Attica prison by the
prisoners, many of whom took the time to have the camera record their black
Angela Davis is shown in prison, awaiting trial for
allegedly supplying a gun that Jonathan Jackson used in the failed attempt to
free his brother George Jackson, a renowned political activist. In a dynamic
segment, the interviewer asks Angela about violence. Her response is stunning in
its eloquence: “You ask me, whether I approve of violence? When someone asks
me about violence, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is that the
person asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone
through, what black people have experienced in this country since the time the
first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.” She expressively
continues to describe the ways police terrorize black communities. To see a clip
of this amazing interview, go to http://blogs.indiewire.com/anthony/archives/2011/11/03/the_political_monologue_of_the_year_angela_davis/
By the time the film got to the rise of drug addiction in
the black community and the war in Vietnam, it had begun to wander and lose some
focus. Commentary by contemporary African American activists and artists
(including Erykah Badu, Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Cleaver, Louis Farrakhan, John
Forte, Robin Kelley, Talib Kweli, Abiodun Oyewole, Sonia Sanchez, Questlove, and
others) gave more context to the footage. See it.
Between Two Worlds
This relatively new documentary, made by Alan Snitow and
Deborah Kaufmann, looks at the way the Jewish community has been divided over
Israel. The film opens with the reactions and fallout from the 2010 SF Jewish
Film Festival showing of the film “Rachel” about Rachel Corrie. It continues
into an examination of the filmmakers’ backgrounds vis a vis issues of Israel
and leftist politics, as well as addressing some ethnic/religious attitudes in
the Jewish community. It also includes an examination of the issue of divestment
from Israel at the UC Berkeley campus. In the film’s attempt to be “fair
minded” and appeal to a cross-section, I (Deni) felt it had a slightly
anti-left bent. Interestingly, I noted that the LA Times’ positive review
included a still shot from the film
of UC Berkeley divestment supporters, standing with fists upraised and mouths
taped (reflecting being silenced) as the UCB senate upheld the veto of
divestment support. This still shot gave the film a more radical/militant
appearance than it actually had. In general, the film had a lack of depth that
was frustrating (with too much focus on the filmmakers’ families). Or maybe it
was the “even-handedness” on Israel that was frustrating.
The Mill and the
The Mill and the Cross
Of the 4 of us who saw this movie, reactions ranged from
boredom to dazzled. Director Lech Majewski centers the film on Pieter Bruegel's
well-known and controversial painting, “The Way to Calvary” (painted in
1564), which is the story of the crucifixion. At the time Bruegel made the
painting, Flanders (part of Belgium) and the Netherlands were under the control
of the Catholic Spanish Inquisition, which persecuted and killed Protestants.
Bruegel’s painting depicts the crucifixion as if it had taken place at that
time. The painting itself was a sharp commentary on political matters of the
day. With visually stunning imagery, the film enabled some of us to enter the
painting as different parts of the painting came to life. Deni: The contrast
between the “live” parts of the painting and the static yet beautiful
background of the actual painting was transfixing for me. Though portraying an
oppressive, gory, hierarchical world, I found myself wanting to stay inside the
film as it ended. (Rather than return to our real world with those same
attributes, I guess…) Despite the film’s somewhat weak acting by the major
characters (with Rutger Hauer as the artist, Michael York as his patron, and
Charlotte Rampling as the Virgin Mary), you enter into the lives of others in
the film and are compelled by their circumstances. I found the film striking and
entrancing, like entering a dream.
BITS AND PIECES
Busting the Unions
Utah style: It’s been so long since we’ve columned you (it’s now
perfectly correct linguistically to turn EVERY word into a verb), there’s lots
to catch up on. In Ogden, Utah last July, the Ogden School District refused to
negotiate with teachers over a contract and based their pay on performance
instead of experience. The District notified teachers in the mail that it would
not negotiate with the union for a collective 2011-12 contract. Teachers had to
sign and return an individual contract no later than 4 p.m. on July 20, or their
jobs were advertised as open for hire. The District also said it will move
toward “performance-based pay.” For those of you not in the ed biz, that
basically means “how much did your students’ scores go up.” Doug Stevens,
union president, called the changes “unprecedented” in Utah.
Hmm, since the summer, there’ve been reports of many
teachers leaving Ogden. Have they landed in our fair state of California (now
ranking 46th in the country in per-pupil spending)? Let’s hope not,
for their sakes. Secretary of Education Arnie (“we hated him in Chicago”)
Duncan’s plan to allow states to opt out of the abysmal No Child Left Untested
comes with really bad strings attached. Even California Superintendent of Public
Instruction Tom Torlakson, not the most flaming radical in the state, is
concerned that the waiver will require states to link teacher evaluations to
student test scores… and round it goes.
Highland Park, Michigan?: We’ve all heard how the recession has hit the
Detroit area hard. When the debt-ridden town of Highland Park (population
12,000, 6 miles from Detroit), could no longer afford to pay its monthly
electric bill, elected officials not only turned off 1,000 street lights, they
had them ripped out, bulbs, poles and all. Gee, maybe if the feds taxed the
rich, communities could get funded for public services. Fight the power!
the Throne: Ok all you
activists out there, bet you don’t know what CHOGM is. Hint: it just met in
Australia and took some very radical
actions. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings is a forum for nations
with current or former ties to Britain to discuss economic growth, climate
change, yadda yadda. But at its recent meeting, the leaders of the 16
Commonwealth countries that have the Queen as head of state did something
unprecedented!! They did away with hundreds of years of British law by agreeing
to change the royal laws of succession. Perhaps those wildly popular, highly
photogenic newlywed royals William and Kate had something to do with it?
Effective immediately (but not retroactive), the sons AND DAUGHTERS of
any future UK monarch will have equal right to the throne. If William and
Kate’s first born child is a daughter, she will eventually become queen, even
if she has younger brothers. As the Queen said, “Your sons and your daughters
are beyond my command, The times they are a-changin’.”
there’s more! The ban on the monarch being married to a Roman Catholic was
also lifted! Apparently, the monarch was forbidden to marry a Catholic (this is
all due to Henry VIII’s split from Rome), but a royal spouse of other
religions was ok. Who knew? So all this time the British monarch could have
married a Wiccan! Egads, what’s next?
London/More News about the Church of England
(we can’t just harp on the Pope all the time): Three high ranking clergy of
St. Paul’s Cathedral in London resigned recently because of the Occupy London
encampment on the cathedral’s grounds. Sounding a lot like the city of
Oakland, church officials cited the old health and safety hazard excuse and
closed the famous landmark cathedral on October 21 for a week, the first time
since the bombing of London during World War II. The senior priest who resigned
had welcomed the encampment, and felt he had to leave his post because he feared
moves to evict the protesters could end in violence. The Church Dean, on the
other hand, felt his position had become untenable as criticism of the cathedral
mounted in the press and in public opinion. On November 2, London officials said
the protest encampment will be allowed to stay at least until the end of the
year, and the church is no longer opposing it. The Archbishop of Canterbury
said, “There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’, It’ll soon shake your
windows and rattle your walls, For the times they are a-changin’.”*
travesty, quoting Bob even though he performed in Israel in June despite much
pressure to get him to respect the cultural boycott.
Speak of the Devil
and He Appears (Italian proverb): Turns out it’s not the 40th
Anniversary of the film of The Exorcist, but of the book. No matter. As the
proverb says… The film itself has been showing up all over and if you
haven’t seen it, you should! (Well, it’s one of Deni’s faves with the
beloved Ellen Burstyn but Chaya never saw it, so there’s a slight disagreement
on that.) But the Devil has been appearing all over, too. Some policy-wonk
columnist for the Catholic bishops wrote that the Devil creates same-sex
attraction, but then (under pressure from the LGBTQ community) the Catholic
Church had to apologize for printing that and the columnist resigned! Uh-oh:
Idle hands and all that… Then images of The D were recently discovered in a
fresco painting on the ceiling of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Italy. The D
was hidden within a cloud no less! Poor Devil will probably be blamed for
climate change now too… Don’t forget to see The Exorcist!
Mocha Column Quiz:
If you said “D,” the Mocha Column, you’re right! We don’t tweet, friend
anyone, and no one likes us. We’re very happy that way. Believe it or not, the
Queen, the Pope, and Israeli Intelligence share a facebook page. Or so we’ve
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF
While I was waiting for “Crime After Crime,” the
moving documentary about Deborah Peagler’s struggle for justice, to begin, I
saw the trailer for “We Were Here,” a movie about the early days of the AIDS
epidemic in San Francisco. Having
been an AIDS activist in those years, I was anxious to see it.
It got great reviews, such as this one from the LA Weekly:
“It’s impossible for a single film to capture the devastation wrought by
AIDS, or the heroism with which many in the LGBT community responded to it. But
director David Weissman’s documentary is such a powerful achievement because
he just about does it.”
When I finally saw it, I concluded that I had been living
in a parallel universe with the people who made that film.
There were certainly a lot of moving moments.
But there was a lot more wrong with it.
It profiles, I think, five people, of whom three are white gay men, one
is a white lesbian nurse and one is an African American gay man who sold flowers
on Castro Street. One of the white
men is the guy who started the AIDS store, Under One Roof, which is my least
favorite of all my unfavorite AIDS related projects.
One of the things that made me want to see the movie was
that in the trailer, one of the men said, “Wherever I looked, lesbians were
there, on the front lines.” So I
thought, well, at least they are mentioning us.
But it turns out that the good lesbians were the ones who stopped talking
about sexism and went back to taking care of gay men.
The rich activist tradition that both informed and grew
out of the AIDS movement was barely mentioned.
After about 45 minutes of sadness and fear – which was real, don’t
get me wrong, I remember it – suddenly, “treatments became available, there
was some funding.” Nothing about
what it took to pry loose that funding and make those treatments – horrible as
they were – available; the sit-ins and the blockades, that endless march to
Burroughs Wellcome (I believe it was a 20 mile walkathon from San Francisco to
Burlingame) and climbing on the roof to demand that they drop the price of AZT
– which they did, a year or so later. Nothing
about people getting arrested at the FDA to win parallel track testing.
There was a small section on the LaRouche Initiative,
which was proposing various draconian policies like mandatory testing and
quarantine, and the movement to stop it, but it focused on the mainstream
movement. Nothing about Stand Together and the coalition we formed with people
fighting the English Only initiative. Nothing
about the AIDS Action Pledge, which was born then and which later became ACT
UP/San Francisco. After a while, we
were told, people just “lost interest” in that kind of repressive solution.
Finally, just when I thought I was going to jump up and
yell, “What about ACT UP?” they mentioned, “a group of creative young
people from New York.” And what
did that creative group do? Blockaded
the AIDS Conference (the 6th International, in 1990), forcing the
nice lesbian nurse to cross her first ever picket line in order to “go in and
get the information she needed to save their lives.”
Not one word of explanation about why we needed to blockade the
conference, the fact that it wasn’t just us who were picketing, there was
actually an international boycott of the conference because the U.S. banned
(until January 2010) foreign nationals with HIV from entering the country.
Or the fact that we were demanding that the high price of the conference
be waived so that People with AIDS could actually attend the sessions and get
information to save their own lives.
They did not show people at the conference cheering as ACT UP members
drowned out bush administration representative Louis Sullivan (secretary of
“health and human services”). The
did not even mention the AIDS/ARC vigil that began in 1985 when two gay men with
AIDS chained themselves to the doors of the old federal building in UN Plaza and
lasted ten years – the longest running protest in San Francisco history.
The blockade of the Golden Gate Bridge and the disruption of opening
night at the opera, two of the boldest direct actions of the eighties and
nineties, were completely ignored.
The history that “We Were Here” tells is important.
But the history it leaves out is, in my opinion, even more important.
It created not only parallel track testing (making drugs available to
people who need them while double-blind tests were being conducted) but also a
politicized approach to “disease” and “natural” disasters that carried
forward into groups like Breast Cancer Action and some of the responses to
climate change. AIDS did wipe out
much of a generation of gay men, whom we still mourn deeply, but it also
radicalized a generation of queers, some of whom are floating around the Occupy
movements even as we speak.
Our history is under attack, what do we do?
Act up, fight back.
I volunteered at the new exhibit of Palestinian
children's art called "A Child’s View From Gaza," that opened in
September.This show was supposed to open at the Museum of Children's Art
(MOCHA) in Oakland but was cancelled by their Board of Directors at the
last moment because of pressure from the Jewish Federation and the Jewish
Community Relations Council of the East Bay. MOCHA and the Middle East
Children's Alliance (MECA) had been working together for several months to bring
this exhibit to the Bay Area community. After the Board cancelled the
show, in effect censored the show, many people wrote letters asking them to
reconsider, not to give in to the bullying. There were several demonstrations
including a small preview showing of the children’s drawings in the courtyard
in front of MOCHA. Meanwhile, MECA scrambled to find a new place for the
show. Luckily they found an excellent place around the corner from the museum at
917 Washington St. in Oakland.
What’s the history behind this exhibit?On December 27th
of 2008, israel invaded Gaza and for 23 days, that small stretch of land was
bombarded in a brutal, large-scale attack from land, air, and sea that killed
more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 352 children according to Defense
for Children International-Palestine Section. The invasion was called
’Operation Cast-Lead’. More than 3,500 residential dwellings were destroyed
and 20,000 people were left homeless. This sustained military attack
had a lasting effect on the children in Gaza. Just after these attacks, the Gaza
Community Health Program estimated that half Gaza's children—around
350,000—will develop some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. And as
recently as February 2010, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian
Affairs found that 73% of Gaza children are still suffering from
psychological and behavioral disorders, including psychological trauma,
nightmares, involuntary urination, high blood pressure and diabetes. The
continuing blockade of Gaza that allows only “essential items” (as defined
by the israelis) exacerbates the hardships and the traumas.
“A Child’s View from Gaza” features drawings
created by children living in the Gaza Strip during the invasion and resulted
from a coordinated effort between MECA and different community centers in Gaza..
The art reflects the children’s experiences and the pictures are often hard to
look at with their depictions of israeli missiles and shattered homes. Other
drawings show the childrens’ dreams of a more peaceful life. The pictures come
from several centers and are done in different mediums. The drawings
exhibited were created by children aged seven through fourteen. Despite the
blockade, many centers in Gaza offer programs in the arts: dance, drawing, music
and writing. They provide creative outlets for children living in cramped
quarters; 1.5 million people in 134 square miles. Crayons and paper are
considered non-essential by the israeli government and therefore not allowed
into Gaza; for children, however, these materials provide a needed outlet for
relief and a means for creativity.
The new exhibit space is airy and light, with room to
walk around and examine the pictures at your leisure. T-shirts are for sale. It
is beautiful and horrifying, and something everyone should see. The exhibit, at
917 Washington St. in Oakland, is open Fridays 10am-3pm, and Saturdays and
Sundays 12pm-6pm, until it closes November 27th. To volunteer at the exhibit or
read more info about this and other projects of MECA, firstname.lastname@example.org
or write them at 1101 8th Street, Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94710 or call
On November 3, the syrian government fired on protesters,
killing 22 people in Homs. The following day, an additional 6 protesters were
killed in the Baab Amro area of Homs, two in Hama, one in Hamouriya, and two
people were killed trying to cross the border into Jordan. In addition,
ambulances were prevented from entering the Baab Amro area to treat wounded
people. According to Al Jazeera, the army attacked Homs with rockets, tank
shelling, and chemicals dropped by plane.
This is a violation of the Arab League agreement of
November 2, which called for an end to all violence, the release of people held
during protests, and the clearing of cities and neighborhoods of “all military
displays.” The Arab League plans another emergency meeting on November 12.
The National Organization for Human Rights in Syria
has reported that 4000 people have been killed since protests started 8 months
This Fall, the Against
Equality collective will be publishing its second anthology, Against
Equality: Don't Ask to Fight Their Wars, edited by Ryan Conrad and with an
introduction by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore.
Featuring essays by
writers such as Kenyon Farrow, Bill Andriette, and Jamal Rashad Jones, the book
includes three mini-posters by the always provocative Mr. Fish. Taken together,
texts and images question the mainstream gay community's decades-long campaign
to repeal DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell). As
of September 2011, DADT is no longer official policy.
You might wonder: Why do
we care? If DADT no longer exists,
why continue to mount critiques of the mainstream gay community's campaign to
allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military?
answers to those questions emerge here, in the writings of activists and
commentators whose lives and communities have been bound up in and often
shattered by the expansion of the military industrial complex.
Working from within a distinctly queer perspective, one that favors
radical and multi-sectional thinking over monocular identity politics, they
recount the ways in which the nearly two-decades-long movement to repeal DADT
has fostered a gay and lesbian fealty to a U.S military that wreaks havoc here
and elsewhere in the world in the name of “inclusion” and “equal
Just as importantly, the
idea that inclusion matters above all else erases the complex ways in which the
military industrial complex, the largest employer in the U.S, has encroached
upon and exploited the most vulnerable amongst us by offering itself as a
conduit for upward mobility.
Sycamore's introduction describes what it meant to be a young, teen queer who
began her activism in the years when AIDS was still a rallying point for queers
and who saw the connections between that activism and anti-war protests.
Sycamore reminds us that queerness once
meant acting against the naked aggression of a state that would simultaneously
deny health care to queers and deploy its troops in other countries.
Tamara K. Nopper's “Why
I Oppose Repealing DADT and Passage of the DREAM Act” looks at how the DREAM
Act [Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, designed to provide
a pathway to citizenship for those who are undocumented because they were
brought here as minors by their parents] will “increase the size and power of
the U.S. military and the Department of Defense...” by effectively exploiting
a desire for citizenship amongst a
As Nopper points out,
those who critque the DADT and the DREAM Act are usually silenced both by
straight progressives and immigrant communities who are afraid of being labeled
homophobic or who wish to use the most politically expedient tactics to gain
documentation for some.
It is this sort of
silencing, political inaction, and suppression of radical energy that compels
the existence of our anthology. We see it as an archive of dissent and critical
thought around the issue of DADT. We
argue for the possibility of a queer present and future where the military is
not our dream fulfilled but only a nightmare of a past filled with relentless
aggression and exploitation.
Against Equality: Don't
Ask to Fight Their Wars is available
and our distributor AK Press. Copies
will be provided at no cost to incarcerated queer and trans prisoners, simply
write to us at: AE Press, 8 Howe Street, Lewiston ME 04240.
Yasmin Nair is a
Chicago-based academic, activist, and writer. Her work can be found at www.yasminnair.net.