September 9 – God today announced that He was so pleased with recent trends that He was cancelling global warming. He specifically commended humanity for the decision at the democratic party in charlotte north carolina to carve his name into their platform, the severe sentences pronounced for pussy riot who had annoyed church icons with sexual rock and roll, the running of errant nuns out of town on the rail (or bus), and the appointment of the antigay drunk driving salvatore cordileone to be the arch bishop over his arch enemy -- San Francisco.
LAGAI agreed to perform an act of contrition, by also placing God into our newsletter. “We had not understood that the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient “Creator” could, like Tinkerbelle, be brought down by disbelief,” said the contrite Daniela B. Warned. “By golly, we will put the “god” back in “godless atheism,” he exclaimed, “so, help me God.” LAGAI also announced that it was looking for suggestions for changing its name. “The G, for God, is of course central. All we need are words to put around it.”
When asked whether, like after the flood, He would send a rainbow as a sign of the new covenant, God responded that He felt the rainbow had been overdone in recent years, but He was considering an ice pick, in case the cancellation of global warming got out of control.
Tita Caldwell, 81 years old, died September 5th from a heart attack that blasted a large hole in her heart. It happened so fast , leaving a community of devoted friends in profound grief. She had been at Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) meetings only days before, and was working on plans for S17, the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. It is just too soon to write about her for our newsletter. I am still absorbing that this women, a relatively new friend in my life, has died. I wanted many more coffee/lunch meetings to discuss politics and the life problems of aging, having had only a few such spectacular meetings. I can only imagine what her lifelong friends must be feeling now. One friend, Pnina, talked to me yesterday in the midst of overwhelming grief. She said “I want Tita’s history to get out. I want people to know about her passion for fighting injustice. She would have wanted her story in UltraViolet.”
Pnina started by saying that she and Tita talked every single day for the last 40 years or so. They had met in the early 1960's in LA when they were both wives of neuropsychology academic men at UCLA. They lived the surface lives of academic wives attending faculty parties, but really were developing their own deep friendship. Tita had three children and Pnina was pregnant with her first. Their friendship evolved as they talked about everything in their changing lives In the 60's they were both involved in anti-war demonstrations. Pnina remembers them demonstrating against LBJ’s bad policies in Vietnam at Century City.
“There was really bad police brutality going on at that demonstration. Tita always got into the moment whenever she felt injustice was happening. So I literally had to pull her back from going after the police. She was always like that when she believed in something. She was so adventurous. I loved doing things with her. She made it so exciting I would want to join her.”
Tita was born in Sweden in 1931. She spent much of her childhood in Guatemala because her father, a match salesman, moved there when Tita was one years old. Tita often told the story ( I heard it during one lunch meeting) about how she came to political consciousness during a time of resistance in Guatemala. At age 13 one of the teachers in the school she attended was a Marxist. Tita described being fascinated with radical ideas she was learning. During one such times of social upheaval, she was at the school with sounds of gunfire and revolution going on outside and she was given a job of directing traffic as part of the resistance. She said at that moment she knew she wanted to work for social justice .
So Tita did that. Pnina describes how they supported each other in embracing the women’s movement divorcing their respective husbands and eventually coming out as Lesbians. Tita and Pnina were part of the first feminist march in LA. “It was so exciting we both became really involved in feminism.” For a while Tita was the assistant director for one of the first battered women’s shelters in Santa Monica. She came out in 1976 in Venice. Tita writes in the OLOC reporter “It was a wonderful time to be a Lesbian feminist.” She then became part of the Lesbian land movement. She lived on the OWL farm on the Wolf Creek Women’s Land in Oregon for three years, and later at Pt. Arena in California.
Tita eventually settled in the Bay Area. LAGAI-Queer Insurrection knew her in the 1980s, when we were Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention in Latin America and she was working with the Guatemala News and Information Bureau (GNIB). Tita and GNIB disseminated information and raised money for the indigenous struggle in Guatemala. Tita also went to Nicaragua during that time.
She was also active in the anti-nuclear movement, getting arrested several times at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
Tita raised four children, Bryan, Andre, Kris and Douglas. Andre was a high school friend of her oldest son’s, who was living in foster care and having a rough time, so he moved in with Tita and family at age 16. He later contracted AIDS and Tita cared for him as he died, with the help of the Shanti Project. This experience led her to become involved in AIDS activism.
During one of our coffee meetings she talked about the sadness of losing this child to AIDS and how important it had been for her to be part of his dying.
In 2005 Tita found OLOC and quickly became active on both steering committee and the national board. Tita wrote:
“When I found Bay Area OLOC in 2005 I felt as if I had finally come home, after having been an activist and a feminist since the age of thirteen. Here were the women I had been looking for all my life. Two years later I moved into Coleridge Park senior housing in San Francisco, joining six other OLOC members already living there. In 2008 I attended my first National OLOC gathering in Los Angeles and it was one of the peak experiences of my life. I am delighted to be part of the Steering Committee.”
Tita wanted OLOC to connect with the upcoming generations of queers. She was instrumental in creating an intergenerational panel in April 2011, in which old lesbians and young queer women discussed their respective self identification and their political reference points as it spans today’s generations. It was a fabulous and interesting event that was a beginning in communication between two very different queer identities.
Tita also was working on increasing accessibility for the oldest lesbians in OLOC, struggling with the contradiction that OLOC , an organization whose purpose to fight ageism and promote visibility of old lesbians, has trouble being inclusive of the oldest among us. Tita told me during lunch that was one of the issues she was bringing to the national steering committee and why she liked being the Bay Area OLOC representative to the national steering committee.
Most recently, Tita became very active in the Occupy Wall Street movement. She, with other women in OLOC, got together with some women at Coleridge House wand began weekly occupations of a bank of america down the street from Coleridge on Mission street. The bank management got so freaked out by a dozen old women on their doorstep that they would shut their doors to patrons and call the police as soon as they saw them coming. Tita was so thrilled when at the first BofA demo, the bank tuned tail immediately and closed the bank against the old lesbian peril at its doors. Soon Tita and others had connected with Occupy Bernal so the momentum grew. It was always quite a scene on these bank demos with people in the neighborhood coming by many of them greeted by Tita. (Tita was tri-lingual in English, Spanish and Swedish). Occupella, a singing group which alters songs to fit the Occupy movement, started participating in the protests.
Tita was familiar to me. She was someone bitten by the activist bug like me. She loved a good demonstration . Her eyes would sparkle and she would draw people in. She was optimistic and believed the only way to live fully was to fight injustice all the time. She gave me hope that we could win! At the very least she helped me accept the smaller victories for their importance. Tita was an important Lesbian Feminist presence in the left in the Bay Area. We in LAGAI admired her and loved her over the many years of our activism.
Tita died with close friends and her son with her. Her friends washed her body after she died. The next day a spontaneous demonstration on the usual Thursday, honoring Tita happened at the bank of america on Mission. OLOC members Pnina, Simi, Lynn, Polly, Pacifica, Pat, myself and others wore pictures of Tita and held signs ˇTita Presente! Women from Ocupella sang songs with lyrics about Tita. A woman named Sydney had written a poem for Tita. People in the neighborhood stopped by to say she would be missed. Pnina told me that Tita had been very happy that she was in a new relationship with Sandy and was excited by all the political work she was doing. The demonstration was so very sad and important and an excellent tribute to this spectacular Lesbian Feminist leftist.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
Moher Downing, born Patricia Downing, died May 25 after a five-year struggle against breast cancer. Her life was marked by hard work, social activism, and a commitment to justice, freedom, and joy, at all levels, from the cosmic to the personal. Moher was a founding member of Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Disease (WORLD) and the Women’s AIDS Network, as well as San Francisco’s Prevention Point Needle Exchange and the 1980s feminist street theater troupe, Ladies Against Women.
Born June 11, 1946, in Jersey City, New Jersey, Moher came to California in 1975 with her first husband and two sons. Here she completed college and got a Master’s degree in Anthropology which she put to use in public health, becoming an early and effective front-line worker in the fight against AIDS. She worked in the Youth Environment Study, the MidCity Consortium Against AIDS, and the Urban Health Study, and helped to create and promote harm reduction in prevention and treatment of HIV among drug users. Eventually her work took her to Africa, where she worked with international agencies to develop programs for both AIDS prevention and for healthcare and quality of life support in Namibia and Kenya.
Her name came to her during one of the many non-violent anti-nuclear actions she joined in the early 1980s. She had been dissatisfied with her birth name for a while, feeling that “Patty” did not adequately express her personality and presence. There was a brand of cigarettes at the time named “More:” this inspired her, as she said: “That’s what I want: more! More peace, more justice, more fun, more everything!” It was a fitting name, as Moher was a person who, as her partner Luis Kemnitzer said, “worked hard and played hard.” Soon afterwards she changed the spelling to Moher to match the cliffs of Moher in Ireland, which are near the area where her family came from.
She was one of those activists who believed activism should always be fun, and with her it always was. She pioneered the technique of putting a condom over her head to counter the arguments of men who claimed they weren’t big enough. She would work it over her head and then blow to inflate it until she looked like Marge Simpson.
During Moher’s last trip to Africa in 2005, she had a severe stroke, which forced her to retire from her AIDS work, but neither that nor the death of her partner kept her from being active. For the last years of her life she was a devoted volunteer at St. Martin de Porres soup kitchen, and visited convalescent homes with her dog Scarlett.
After living in a long-running collective household known as Suburban Palace, first in the Sunset and later in the Outer Richmond, Moher went in with some friends to buy the Poole-Bell Mansion in Glen Park. The mansion was allegedly built by Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant, a slave-born madam and abolitionist, for her lesbian lover at the turn of the century.
Moher was a great believer in the inclusive family. Her phone message was: “This is the home of the antinuclear family of Moher and Luis. Leave a message.” At the memorial held for her at Martin de Porres Soup Kitchen, dozens of young people spoke about their “Grand-Moher.”
“Everything has a beginning. AIDS has a beginning. AIDS and men. AIDS and women. AIDS and injection drug users (IDUs). AIDS prevention has a beginning. AIDS and outreach has a beginning. Scores of epidemiologists, medical historians, anthropologists, journalists, social scientists, and other armies of commentators will author their versions of the beginning. This is one such comment on the history and the beginning of AIDS prevention for women IDUs. It is not epidemiological. It is not social science, and it will not pretend to be objective. It is simply one woman’s localized view of how the powerful forces of politics, racism, sexism, classism, and traditional scientific inquiry shaped the delivery of AIDS prevention messages to women at highest risk for HIV—injection drug users.
It feels strange to be framing events that happened only nine years ago as “the old days” or “ancient history,” but that is what AIDS has done to history and to our sense of time. For those with HIV/AIDS and for those struggling beside them, AIDS has compressed time and irrevocably altered our sense of history. Now there is only AIDS, and then there was simply that time somewhere, far back in our distant memories, when the word did not exist. Nine years is a lifespan for someone infected with HIV.”
-- Moher Downing, “Some Comments on the Beginning of AIDS Outreach to Women Drug Users in San Francisco” (1994) in Women Resisting AIDS: Feminist Strategies of Empowerment.
--by Kate (with thanks to WORLD)
Robert McMullin, Eddie’s father, passed away September 4, 2012. He was 60 years old.
A lifelong union supporter and member, Robert was one of the first generation of emigrants to the u.s. from Samoa. He was born in Samoa and moved here with his parents as a child. He remained a part of and committed to Fu’a Samoa (the Samoan Way).
After a stint in the navy, he worked in San Francisco’s dockyards for many years, where he first joined a union. The memories of solidarity he experienced stayed with him for the rest of his life. He was mentored in those early days. When he was shop steward at his last gig (something he endured but did not like) he felt strongly that his younger coworkers needed to know what unions are.
Robert was a strong man. He died unexpectedly from the effects of a vicious and fast-acting cancer.
He supported all of his children and grandchildren (and great-grandchild). He died knowing they are all headed in the right direction. Whether he was presiding over a barbecue or watching a Giants game on three t.v.’s in the garage surrounded by the noise of family or helping Eddie and me move to Oakland he was a presence. He still is.-- Daniel
On August 5, QUIT! member Jack Fertig died from liver cancer. He had entered hospice care and died at home, in the company of his lover, Elias Trevino, and other family members.
Jack was born in Chicago in 1955 and grew up in Maryland. His parents were civil rights activists, and he attended demonstrations with them when he was a child. He came to San Francisco in the early 1970s, where he helped start KPFA’s bygone gay radio show, Fruit Punch. He also worked at the Pacific Center in Berkeley.
In the early 1980’s he joined the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who at the time were a radical drag/camp group that targeted among other things, right-wing xtians such as phyllis schlaffly and jerry falwell (they performed an exorcism), and the kkkatholic church. Jack was known as Sister Rose of the Bloody Stains of the Sacred Robes of Jesus. In 1983 he ran for mayor of SF as Sister Boom Boom, occupation, “nun of the above”. LAGAI was among the groups that worked with the Sisters to organize a large counter-event and protest (brutally attacked by the sfpd) against a moral majority program held a week before the democratic convention in 1984. In 1985 Jack left the Order.
Jack became active in the Bay Area recovery and leather communities, and was a member of Trusted Servants, a sober leather group. He was a professional astrologer, writing regular columns for the Bay Times and other publications, as well as doing private consultations, giving in-person and on-line classes, and speaking at conferences. You can find some of his writings at starjack.com.
In 2003 Jack converted to Islam, and was a coordinate for al-Fatiha, a national advocacy group for gay Muslims. He also participated in Muslims for Progressive Values. In the past couple of years, he appeared occasionally in hijab with the Sisters, as Sister Boom Boom XXX, an action that many people, including many of us, did not agree with.
From the early 1980s Jack’s paths have crossed with LAGAI’s as we worked on many queer issues such as economic justice, stopping u.s. wars and invasions, AIDS, the right-wing, abortion rights, racism, gentrification, and the struggle to live our lives in a decent and humane society. He is quoted describing the Castro as having become “a shopping mall built over a graveyard.”
Jack got involved with QUIT! 8 or 9 years ago, out of his deep commitment to the liberation of Palestine. It was in his basement that we whipped up our (unsuccessful) scratch and sniff product for the Estee Slaughter campaign. We last saw Jack in May at the Al Naqba vigil in Union Square, and at the Occupride disruption of SF pride in June.
Jack is survived by Elias, their two rescue dogs Chloe and Perry, his siblings David, Louis and Kate, and many close friends.
Jack was a life-long activist, an active creator of the fight for a better world, and despite some disagreements, a beloved comrade of ours. We will miss his dry comments, his friendship, and just seeing and hanging out with him at the many events he would have been at.
A few years ago, some friends and I were working on a series of posters to hang in San Francisco buses. The project faltered for a number of reasons, but one of them was that we couldn’t agree on the design.
The one I liked best was this one:
A public relations consultant we talked to nixed anything using maps. She said they were too dry. She recommended using pictures of people, especially women and kids, and the women should not wear head coverings.
As I said, we dropped the project, and I started doing more freestyle postering with other friends. But a couple years ago, Friends of Sabeel, a Christian-based group working for a just peace, started running a series of ads in Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations. The main message of the Sabeel ads is “End U.S. Military Aid to Israel” and that’s supported by pictures of Palestinians and Israelis saying, “Be On Our Side.” Some of the pictures include kids and most are of women. Most of the women are not wearing head-coverings.
Flash forward to 2012. A group in New York, who apparently did not listen to any PR consultants, has posted ads in several subway stations.
The Jewish-Zionist establishment tried to get those ads censored, saying,
“This is anti-Semitic because when people think of Jews they think of the Jewish state.… Jews have seen this happen so many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”
Henry Clifford, chairman of the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine, was quoted as pointing out that, “If the facts are inflammatory, then they are inflammatory.”
Well said, Mr. Clifford. I always find it incredible that the people who work so hard to create the association between Israel and Jewishness then want to claim that you can’t criticize Israel because people associate it with Jews. It’s not like people are showing pictures of Bugsy Siegel (though interestingly, I don’t remember any pickets of Warren Beatty’s house).
The whole idea of putting ads in transit came about because a group called BlueStar PR had several years ago purchased a series of ads in BART stations and trains promoting various versions of the familiar message that Israel’s the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. When the Sabeel ads began to appear, the Zionist publicity machine reacted as if it was unprecedented and condemned BART for allowing them. BlueStar’s more aggressive cousin, Stand With Us, countered with a new campaign of their own. The first design, which showed two “hate-filled eyes” peering out of a kaffiyye, was criticized for being racist imagery. BART agreed to take those down and told SWU that they needed to come up with a design that didn’t use cultural symbols in offensive ways.
In June of this year, Stand With Us announced it was taking a new approach.
“For the fourth time in this past year, StandWithUs is countering anti-Israel BART ads that call for ending US military aid to Israel. But this time, StandWithUs has decided to change the subject. Instead of correcting the misinformation, the StandWithUs ad campaign will highlight Israel’s gifts to the world and to the Bay Area in particular.
One poster underlines that “Israel Saves Water” through cutting edge water conservation technology that is being used in Sonoma County. A second poster shows how “Israel Saves Lives” through its innovative AIDS treatment which targets infected cells without harming healthy cells, and may lead to a cure for this dread disease.”
Some intrepid Bay Area arts activists managed to change one of the AIDS-focused ads to say: “Destroys Homes Without Affecting Profits/Israel Destroys Lives”..
A month later, this propaganda war exploded when Pamela Geller, the Islamophobe responsible for the campaign to prevent an Islamic Center from being built near the World Trade Centers, brought her hate campaign to San Francisco buses. The ad she placed on ten Muni buses features a quote from Ayn Rand: “In Any War Between the Civilized Man and the Savage, Support the Civilized Man.” Under that it says, “Support Israel/Defeat Jihad.” It’s red, white and blue on a black background.
New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority rejected the ads, saying “they violated its prohibition on ads that demeaned individuals or groups on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and five other specific categories.” The group was given the opportunity to revise the ad, but it refused, and instead sued in federal court, claiming the MTA policy was unconstitutional.
The [federal district court] judge “… ruled that the rejected ad was “not only protected speech — it is core political speech…protected by the First Amendment.” The judge granted the MTA an injunction allowing them not to carry the ads while they revise their policy to expressly state that you cannot call anyone savages.
The day after the judge ruled in favor of Geller’s organization, American Freedom Defense Initiative, they signed a contract with San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Agency, known as Muni, to carry the ads. Muni says it just wanted to avoid a costly lawsuit, since it seemed like it would lose.
The ads went up, and a furor broke out in San Francisco. Some people started online petitions. Others wrote letters to the editor. Still others didn’t bother waging a campaign to get the ads removed, but set out to modify them with creative graphics. One such graphic superimposed a hand stamping “Hate Speech” over the text, while another remade the words to say, “In Any War Between the Colonizer and the Colonized, Support the Oppressed. Support the Palestinian Right of Return. Defeat Racism.”
Geller, who has been branded an extremist hatemonger by the ultra-Zionist Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center was disinvited from speaking at a Zionist Organization of America event. Not surprisingly, Geller lashed out at the Zionist establishment, which is a regular pastime. She has described Abraham Foxman, long-time director of the ADL, as “a Soviet-style, Soviet born leader” and claims that “New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg … has never met an Islamic supremacist he didn’t bow to”. One prone to conspiracy theories might suspect that Geller is really a shill to make the mainstream Zionist organizations look moderate.
After a week, during which the buses carrying the ads seemed to grow scarcer and scarcer on the street (don’t ask why I know), Muni put up a disclaimer opposite the ten “Savage” ads. The disclaimer ad reads:
“SFMTA policy prohibits discrimination based on national origin, religion, and other characteristics, and condemns statements that describe any group as “savages.”
There’s an arrow pointing to the ad it’s criticizing.
The disclaimer begs a lot of questions, including whose idea that ridiculous arrow was. One friend wondered why they didn’t post it as a “surgeon general’s warning” right on the thing it was criticizing. Probably they fear that would violate their contract and let them in for a lawsuit. Personally, my biggest wonder is why it took them a week to put it up. Did they think no one would notice? Did they feel they needed the pressure to justify the unusual step of putting up a message countering something running on their own buses? Or did it actually take them a week to figure out what they wanted to say?
Geller is now preparing a new campaign to attack Muni for its rebuff: “Why Is the City of San Francisco Enforcing Sharia Law?” the headline asks. Seriously.
She’s also put up different anti-Islam ads in Westchester, NY train stations and is getting ready to launch the “Defeat Jihad” ones in New York, now that she’s won her case.
Meanwhile, a group of wealthy donors kicked in to run a counter ad on 50 Muni buses, borrowing Geller’s color scheme to promote the message, “Stop 30 Billion/Spend Our Money at Home Not on the Israeli Military”. Rumor has it the price tag was $20,000.
A friend in Seattle has been involved in some similar battles up there. A couple years ago, Seattle Mideast Awareness Committee planned to run ads on buses saying, “Israeli War Crimes–Your Tax Dollars At Work.” The bus company initially accepted, but backed down in response to pressure from the Anti-Defamation League and other Zionist organizations – the same ones Pam Geller calls apologists for promoters of Sharia law. After that affair, the bus company revised its advertising policies to state explicitly that the goals of advertising on its buses are “Maximizing advertising revenue; maximizing ridership; maintaining a position of neutrality on controversial issues; preserving the marketability of advertising space by avoiding [potentially objectionable] content.”
As a result of this change, according to my friend, they are only accepting ads that are actually selling something.
My biggest question is, does anyone actually look at bus ads? Or is this all a scam by cash-strapped cities to get activists to finance public transit?
Last week some of us in LAGAI went to the opening/screening/ fundraising party for a new movie about Occupy called “Occupy the Bay.” The film was produced by Kevin Pina of KPFA and Haiti struggles fame and directed by Jonathan Riley. It was held in a refurbished uptown warehouse and a huge anticipatory crowd of people from occupy and friends arrived. It felt festive, wine and food were served, DJ Teardrop was on hand. Familiar performers such as Shreef Ali and Jabari Shaw were scheduled for later in the evening. It felt slightly odd to be in this somewhat fancy setting with people most often seen in the streets. It was celebratory and sparkly.
This was the first film documenting the exciting political events of Occupy in the Bay Area.. The audience cheered for comrades, held collective breath at the footage of Scott Olsen being shot by the oakland police, booed arch enemies such as Oakland mayor Jean Quan and Chris Hedges who wrote “The Cancer in Occupy,” referring to the black bloc tactics sometimes used in demonstrations. The movie focused a lot on the street fights with the police, juxtaposing 1950's era PR clips of the police as our laudable public servants with the realty of police brutality in Oakland. The film used a number of people as sort of spokespeople, interviewing the same five or so people throughout the movie, some from Occupy Oakland, such as Melvin, Tova, and Mollie, and others less obviously connected like Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz. The movie made the point well about the extreme police repression that happened, the Fuck The Police marches, the nationally coordinated raids of the encampments, the Longview, Washington longshore struggle, the port shutdowns and the spark that Occupy ignited and is still igniting around the Bay. It was great to see the shots of the takeover of the Cathedral Hill Hotel and the Archdiocese building on Turk Street in San Francisco.
As we left the event we started going back over all the many important things the movie didn’t cover. There was no discussion of the importance of the life in the encampments or what it was like. Instead there were only a couple quick pictures of tents. None of the feeling of the Oakland Commune, to which the encampment itself was so essential, was conveyed. There was no discussion of how the GAs functioned, and no shots of the beautiful pink communications tent at Occupy SF, with its bicycle powered generator. The film left out the work of the anti-repression committee which supported arrested comrades including comrades and led the way for analysis about the arrests.
Occupy Patriarchy and its many actions were never mentioned. There was no discussion of the complicated political differences between the Dignity and Resistance Coalition and the Occupy Oakland May Day committee, and no mention of the big Dignity and Resistance march. The film did not talk about the Decolonize movement and their subsequent split from OO. The film did not explain the difficult but thoughtful and self-critical discussions of diversity of tactics The movie very briefly covered the Lakeview school occupation but left out the Biblioteca Popul/ Victor Martinez People’s Library. There was no note of Chalkupy or Aquapy or Occupella. Occupride was conspicuously missing also. There was nothing about Occupy Bernal, which to this day continues to mobilize to stop foreclosures, disrupt auctions and force the banks to listen to homeowners. It excluded the huge mobilizations in San Francisco which shut down wells fargo and bank of america headquarters for several days, and the coalition building with anti-foreclosure groups like Association of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).
The list goes on and is reflective of just how much activism grew out of Occupy over this last year. In fairness to “Occupy The Bay,” no one movie could really cover the breadth of the movement.
Finally it is indicative of the pressure from the evil mainstream media that we consign our fledgling movement to history before it has fully developed. We should not be quick to relegate out movements to documentaries. Occupy/Decolonize is still a fluid and vibrant movement. Nothing is the same this year politically in the Bay and that can be attributed to the Occupy movement. It shook things up.
DEATH TO CAPITALISM
DECOLONIZE OAKLAND, THE BAY AND EVERWHERE
About 200 queers broke into SF pride this June immediately after dykes on bikes. The theme of the unauthorized contingent, which joined the march by removing police barricades, was “Community Not Commodity.” We stopped the parade at a couple of points along the route, leading the narrators of the clear-channel broadcast to exclaim how “refreshing” it is to see the grassroots “handmade” signs, and explaining that Occupy wants people to hear their message, “whatever that might be”. Apparently the message on the CNC streetwide banner wasn’t clear enough for their channel.
The disruption was organized by an adhoc coalition of groups and individuals, Occupride, including Occupy SF, Oakland and Oakland Occupy Patriarchy, SF ACT-UP, LAGAI and QUIT!, Code Pink, and Pride at Work/HAVOQ. Occupride helped organize 5 actions during pride weekend, including a banner drop in the Castro on pink Saturday, and the Community Not Commodity break in at the front of the March. Pride at work/HavoQ “accompanied” the large kaiser permanente contingent, breaking into the parade to protest kaiser’s refusal to cover transgender surgery. Most of the people who joined in the initial disruption circled around and joined with HAVOQ. Another group, including people from Occupy Bernal and Occupy SF waited for the wells-fargo contingent, and blocked it with their stagecoach and cardboard homes to be evicted.
There were, of course, a couple of incidents. When four Occupriders opened a barricade and ran in to join our contingent, a cop grabbed Ralowe (Gay Shame), the only African American person among the four. As we gathered around them, the cop, realizing this was NOT the right context for the intended racist harassment, said, regarding Ralowe, who was characteristically dressed in flimsy shorts/tanktop, and a furry horn hat, “is he with you?” Who else would he have been with, we asked, but anyway, the cop let him go. Parade monitors also formed a line to prevent HAVOQ from being next to the kaiser contingent, but that tactic failed, and HAVOQ and supporters accompanied kaiser throughout the route.
In the mid-afternoon, those who were still able, had a rally at the Compton Cafeteria, to commemorate SF’s pre-stonewall riot. Compton Cafeteria was a hangout for transpeople, who were often excluded from “gay” bars. In 1966, the owner of the cafeteria called the police on some “rowdy” customers, and when the police came to bust people, one of the transwomen threw coffee in the cop’s face. This led to a riot in which the plate glass window of the cafeteria was shattered. The following night, transgender and other LGBT people held a picket, and the newly replaced window was broken again.
Occupride organizers continue to meet, though inconveniently, at noon on Sunday. Occupride is organizing a S17 action, Hoardwalk, starting at 2 p.m. at 18th and Castro, the one-year anniversary of occupy wall street (see notice, page 1). After marching to various banks, people will join the 5 p.m. Occupy SF Convergence at 555 California St. at Kearny.
By Chaya and Deni
Robot & Frank: This offbeat film is about an older man with increasing dementia, whose son gives him a robot as a caregiver/housekeeper. It’s a tour-de-force for Frank Langella who plays the older man, and who develops a relationship with the robot that helps him thrive. Interesting and fun at times with many cute bits and a robot to envy. It didn’t give Susan Sarandon a strong enough part, and got a little bogged down in gimmick and sentimentality. It could have been better but had an innovative story and was often funny.
Brave: How daring of Pixar (bought by Disney in 2006) to make its 14th
feature film with a female lead! The one thing they got right was the beautiful
animation with stunning Scottish landscapes. But the animation technology
exceeded the predictable storyline. The clichés kept coming! Did the female
character have to be a princess? Did the sorceress have to be unattractive and
somewhat incompetent because she was kind hearted and not an evil enchantress?
Did it have to base humor on the mocking of physical attributes and gratuitous
violence? Worst of all, did Princess Merida, after seeking an independent
girlhood in which she taught herself to ride horses and shoot arrows (this is
the season of the young woman archer, after all), have to suffer guilt for not
wanting to be married off? As savvy Australian critic Thomas Caldwell put it,
“It is astonishing just how much Brave presents Merida’s desire for
independence as a selfish act that could destabilize society and potentially
result in war.” So our female heroine must learn the moral that she really
should stay within the limits she can negotiate with her family, because her
independence is actually bad. And since this is a moralistic Disney tale, it is
up to Merida to “mend the bond torn by pride” – HER selfish pride, of
course. Many reviews described it as a charming mother-daughter story. We say:
disappointing. In our sequel, Merida leads a band of lesbian celtic warriors in
the Scottish fight for independence from England. How about it, Pixar?
Moonrise Kingdom (review by Deni): This Wes Anderson movie is a delight: sweet, off-beat, rebellious, visually captivating, with wry social satire and commentary. It’s the story of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two 12 year olds who fall in love and defy the adults in their worlds to run away together. The acting is stellar, with standout performances by Frances MacDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Bill Murray. Also excellent was Tilda Swinton, always an interesting actor and persona. Check out her 2011 appearance in Vogue wearing a Palestinian scarf, which she describes as “her favorite.” Mondoweiss has the photo and some interesting commentary. See Moonrise Kingdom – while it certainly doesn’t present a totally idyllic picture of life, you can enter the world Anderson creates and escape for a while to this place where difference becomes accepted and even honored.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (review by Deni): This film has some memorable performances and striking visuals, but ultimately didn’t hang together for me. It’s the story of a poor, tight-knit bayou community, living outside a levee and facing a massive impending storm. The events are seen through the eyes of a 6 year old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis in a stunning performance) who navigates her challenging life through reality and fantasy. Dwight Henry, Hushpuppy’s father, also gave a compelling performance. This movie was a hit at Sundance and has gotten lots of great reviews (including close personal friends), but I felt bothered by it. I found the portrayal of the black characters somewhat romanticized and patronizing. The lens of the filmmaker (Benh Zeitlin) seemed trained on the people in the movie as “other” in the curio sense, and the characters often seemed more like caricatures. Zeitlin claims the world he created in the film is meant to be a mythic one, and says “It's a utopian world that doesn't judge people. There is no politics, no religion, no money.” It’s hard to imagine that real people in these very real circumstances would experience their own lives this way. There’s a kind of “Look, see these exotic people in their quirky devastating life circumstances and how they rise above it all” attitude. See the movie for Wallis’ performance, and also because it’s thought provoking, no matter where you fall on the authenticity of its perspective.
Total Recall (review by Cole): This remake of the original Arnold Schwarzenegger version is an improvement over the original for reasons beyond Arnold’s absence. The film, based on the classic Phillip Dick short story, does a better job of capturing the author’s sensibilities and provides an interesting example of how the dystopia genre frequently speaks in a progressive fashion.
The movie’s premise is that as result of environmental devastation, only two habitats can support human life - Great Britain and its subordinate, Australia. Australia, known as the colony, is predominantly populated by people of color who commute to Britain daily via subway system that goes through the center of the earth (makes you wonder why it’s taking so long to complete the SF Central Subway). Colin Farrell plays an alienated worker who seeks escape from his dismal job through a futuristic neurological procedure that permits him to experience a mental/emotional simulation of a more exciting life (I checked and sadly, this business doesn’t have a branch in the Bay Area). In the process, he learns that he’s actually an undercover agent who was previously selected to infiltrate the anti-colonial rebel movement and then switched sides after developing anti-colonialism sympathies. The colonial regime, which monopolizes the media and disseminates misinformation in an effort to discredit the resistance movement, subsequently manipulates Colin into leading them to the location of the resistance’s leadership. To their credit, the filmmakers demonstrate laudable restraint with regard to the beef cake factor – one brief shirtless scene at the movie’s beginning.
I’m confident that many UV readers could find much to criticize in this movie and I’m sure I’ll hear all about it in the re-education camp, but I was heartened by how many of the author’s prophetic themes survived a Hollywood treatment. It’s an interesting reminder of science fiction’s potential.
Men in Black 3 (review by Chaya): Fun fun fun! We need fun these days.
And watch for: “Wadjda,” a new film about a rebellious 10 year old Saudi girl challenging the social restrictions placed on girls and women, which just had its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival. The film was made by Saudi Arabia’s first female feature film director, Haifaa Al Mansour. Hopefully coming to a theater near you soon!
TOTALLY WATCH IT: For some sharp, progressive political commentary, catch W. Kamau Bell’s new show Totally Biased on FX (late Thursday nights), produced by Chris Rock. Hopefully it will be renewed after its initial 6 week run, but you can see the episodes you missed on FX’s website.
TEAR DOWN THE WALLS: Did you think the FBI and federal prosecutors would
finally nail notoriously abusive Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio?
Apparently not. Arpaio just won a round, when the U.S. Attorney's Office
recently announced it would not file abuse of power criminal charges against
him. Do they need help gathering evidence? There’s certainly a lot of it out
there. But Arpaio is not out of the water yet, there are 2 pending civil cases
against him for racial profiling, racial and gender discrimination policies,
To help the federal government get more documentation on Arpaio’s human rights violations, the Mocha column is referring the U.S. Attorney to the website for help. Oh wait, there’s an election coming up – guess this will have to be put on the Dems “do-not-go-near” list for now. For the full list of controversial topics that the Dems are avoiding, go to www.demswillnotdiscuss.WIN.
And speaking of Arpaio, we’d like to give a shout out to Jon in Arpaioland – hang in there! And a general shout out to all UltraViolet readers in prison – we’re with you!!
WHAT’S YOUR SIGN?: And for those folks saying that Obama may lose the election because of his support for gay marriage, the Mocha Column, under the corporate sponsorship of our parent company UltraViolet/LAGAI, is pleased to announce that we will be selling house signs, bumper stickers, and tweetables that say: We Told You So: Fight for Queer Liberation, Not Gay Marriage!
Solidarity Greetings To Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) Members And Supporters: As UltraViolet goes to press, the CTU is still in last minute negotiations. We hope that the CTU beat back union and public education-busting Rahm Emmanuel and got a good contract! If not, we’re with you in spirit on the picket line.
Boycott And Picket, Don’t See It: This anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public education feature film, “Won’t Back Down,” was shown at the DNC and opens late September. It’s part of a national plan led by Dems and Repubs alike to destroy public education and teachers' unions. Once again, Hollywood is a mouthpiece for reactionary propaganda – surprised? It’s got big stars in it and will get much hype. Hook up with others to protest this malicious malevolent movie!
TORONTO TRAVELS! First stop on our Toronto Tour: The Toronto International
Film Festival (TIFF) opened in early September. The Mocha Column covered TIFF in
2009 when many progressives in the film industry supported a boycott of TIFF.
The boycott was initiated by queer filmmaker John Greyson, because TIFF had
chosen Tel Aviv as its inaugural City-to-City Spotlight. This year at TIFF,
Salam Fayyad, prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), is
scheduled to appear at the Toronto International Film Festival in connection
with the screening of a new film, Dan Setton's documentary, "State
194." The documentary follows Fayyad’s efforts to gain United Nations
recognition for the Palestinian territories as the 194th independent state.
But will Fayyad make it to Toronto? It’s probably not uppermost in his mind
right now. After days of street protests against high living costs across the
occupied West Bank (which included Fayyad being burned in effigy), Fayyad said
he was willing to resign (though not actually saying he would resign). With
Palestinian President Abbas distancing himself from Fayyad, major concerns about
PNA corruption, and the ever-present Israeli occupation’s increase in
settlements and rigid trade restrictions, couldn’t a Fayyad trip to Toronto
for a movie night out be a welcome relief?
Stop #2/Hop On/Hop Off: If Fayyad gets to Toronto, the Mocha Column would be
happy to facilitate a meeting between him and the fabulous Toronto-based Queers
Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), which had a resounding victory in its fight
to march as a contingent in Toronto Pride this past summer. Many complaints from
Zionist groups and individuals were filed against QuAIA marching, including one
from B’nai Brith (a Zionist Jewish service organization), but the Board of
Arbitration ruled that the activities of QuAIA didn’t contravene the City of
Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination Policy. According to a QuAIA comrade, “We all
could not believe the extremely warm reception we were getting. I remember
commenting to people during the march how amazing the crowd reaction was. People
cheered, whistled, gave the thumb's up, along the entire route.” Search for
QuAIA on YouTube for some cool video of QuAIA at Toronto’s Pride, Dyke and
BREAKING NEWS!: New SF Archbishop Cordileone is going to gay traffic school for his recent DUI. “I’m sorry I blamed my DUI on my mother,” Cordileone said, “and I’m looking forward to going to the Folsom Street Fair with my new gay friends. I already have my outfit.”
WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF
You may not have heard much about Proposition 35. Unfortunately, the rich funders behind the proposition have done a very good job lining up the support of women's and other progressive organizations, as well as law enforcement. There is very little information out there about the problems with Prop 35.
Prop 35 exploits the public’s concern about human trafficking and the trafficking of minors to heighten criminalization of sex workers and all those associated with them. It increases prison sentences and fines, expands sex offender registration for all those convicted of trafficking, and clamps down on internet use for anyone convicted of trafficking.
The UN defines human trafficking as recruiting, transporting or harboring a person through a use of force or coercion in order to exploit them. It does not refer exclusively to sexual exploitation, although that’s the most publicized form of trafficking. Coercion can include luring someone through false promises or making threats against family members.
Human Trafficking is already illegal in California. Prop 35 broadens the definition of trafficking and makes the penalties more severe, expanding the role of law enforcement agencies in targeted raids against sex workers and fueling the growth of the prison system. Feminists disagree on what the Act, which is vaguely worded, would do, and on how we should look at sex work and trafficking, but most agree that it’s unnecessary and would strengthen the police and Homeland Security, which never helps women.
According to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, with information supplied by US Prostitutes Collective (USPROS), Prop. 35:
Further criminalizes sex workers, most of whom are women (majority mothers) and young, transgender and immigrant people. It can be used as a pretext to label sex workers themselves as pimps and traffickers. Prop 35 will discourage sex workers from seeking help when they are subjected to force and violence for fear of being caught in the criminal legal system.
Proposition 35 was initiated by non-profit California Against Slavery and is funded primarily by millionaire Chris Kelly, former Chief Privacy Officer for Facebook who ran unsuccessfully for state Attorney General against Kamala Harris in 2010. CASE may be his bid to win elected office in the future. By using emotionally charged terms like slavery and trafficking, Prop 35 has won the endorsement of a wide range of politicians and groups across the state – no one wants to be accused of being for human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a real problem but it cannot be solved by harsher laws and more police crackdowns. Sex workers and real victims of trafficking need supportive community services, options for employment, and educational programs that do not work hand-in-hand with law enforcement, Homeland Security and ICE .
The law enforcement, pro-prison, anti-woman, anti-trans agenda behind Prop 35 needs to be exposed and defeated!
For more info, California Coalition for Women Prisoners or USPROS.
The Bahraini court of appeal has upheld long sentences for twenty opposition activists, including eight life sentences. One of those whose life sentence was upheld is Abdulhadi al Khawaja, who was on hunger strike for 113 days earlier this year. The activists, including bloggers, human rights leaders and academics, were charged with attempting to stage a coup against the monarchy. Seven of those charged are outside the country and were sentenced in absentia. The others, known as the “Bahrain 13” were originally sentenced in a “semi-military” court (whatever that is). In June, the high court set aside their sentences and ordered the case retried in civilian court. That civilian court has upheld the convictions and reimposed the sentences. The activists were not released on bail pending their retrial.
In August, Nabeel Rajab, director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and one of the country’s best known activists, was sentenced to three years for his role in organizing “illegal” demonstrations against the autocratic government. A week later, Rajab’s three-month sentence for “insulting tweets” was overturned by the court of appeal, leaving him still in prison on the other charges. He is in solitary confinement reportedly under abusive conditions, including insufficient water to drink.
Convictions for 9 medical workers (doctors, nurses and medics) were overturned in June, while nine were upheld and received sentences of up to five years in prison. The medical workers were arrested following the eviction of the Pearl Roundabout encampment in March 2011, during which dozens of protesters were killed and hundreds injured and arrested. All of the medics worked at the public hospital in Manama, where the injured protesters were treated, and all but one have been fired. The government claimed they were stockpiling weapons in the hospital.
In the most recent signal that the government intends to continue escalating attacks on the opposition movements, the government initiated legal action against the largest opposition party, Al Wefaq, after it refused to cancel a march protesting the sentences. The banned march was attacked by riot police with teargas, and at least six marchers were arrested. Wefaq usually holds large permitted marches; the week before the banned march, tens of thousands attended a march which went off without incident.
The obama administration has joined UN secretary general Ban ki Moon and high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay in condemning the repression in Bahrain. The u.s. has not, however, made any move to suspend arms sales to the country. Arms deals were suspended by congress in October, because of concerns about the government’s suppression of the democracy movement. The obama administration unilaterally resumed sales in May of this year, just weeks after the government’s crackdown on protests around the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Bahrain is home to the u.s. Fifth Fleet and is seen as a key ally in the Gulf.
For up-to-the-minute info on the Bahraini freedom struggle follow @angryarabiya and @nabeelrajab on Twitter.
Twenty Palestine solidarity activists briefly interrupted a screening of “The Invisible Men” at the Roxie Theater to protest the San Francisco LGBT International Film Festival’s relationship with the israeli government. KC Price, Executive Director of Frameline, which presents the annual festival, was introducing the film when the group “mic-checked” him and presented Frameline with an award for being the “Grand Pinkwasher of 2012.”
The award consisted of a giant pink sponge and a scroll, which read:
“In recognition of Frameline’s unwavering support of the Israeli
Its leadership in silencing queers who want their film festival to stand up for the human rights of Palestinians
Its willingness to ignore the international outcry against Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, Gaza and the international freedom flotilla
Its craven pursuit of funding from corporate raiders and terrorist governments
And its steadfast defiance of the demand by Palestinian queers to stop partnering with the Israeli Consulate
Friends of Israel Apartheid hereby honors FRAMELINE as
GRAND PINKWASHER 2012
And proudly presents you with the
FIRST ANNUAL PINK SPONGE AWARD”
Reaction from the audience was mixed. Some people erupted in applause when the protesters revealed their “Stop Pinkwashing Israeli Apartheid” t-shirts, and there was a hearty round of applause when they finished reading the scroll. An equally loud chorus of boos followed.
Price and the other Frameline officials present were quiet during the reading of the scroll, but then ushers stepped in to hustle the protesters out of the theater. Filmmaker Yariv Mozer, whose appearance at the festival was funded by the Israeli consulate, followed the protesters out to argue about the value of the cultural boycott. One activist asked how he felt about the call of Palestinian queer organizations for Frameline to end its relationship with the consulate.
“I disagree with it,” he responded. “I am sponsored by the Israeli government. I could not make films without the Israeli government….I am helping Palestinians, risking jail to help them….Israel is not some perfect pink society; we have homophobia too….But what’s happening with Israelis is that they still live in a society which is somehow more liberal and democratic than what is happening in the West Bank and Gaza. These regimes that are controlling the West Bank and Gaza are very primitive.” (You can hear the full interview and sound from the protest on YouTube.)
Later that evening, activists from OccuPride and ACT UP dropped banners from roofs in the Castro during Pink Saturday. One of the banners said “Frameline: Stop Pinkwashing Israel’s Crimes.”
In 2011, the israeli consulate and its supporters were all over Oakland Pride, handing out DVDs, “Gay Israel” brochures and rainbow beach balls. In a clear victory for militant queer activism saying no to pinkwashing, the zionists were nowhere to be found at this year’s event. Today Oakland, tomorrow the film festival, next week the nation!
In August I went to El Salvador with a group of healthcare students and professionals from across the US. We traveled under the auspices of El Salvador’s Ministry of Health to learn firsthand about the health reforms initiated by the current FMLN government to provide free health care to all. We went with CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the people of El Salvador, who has been providing solidarity and opposing US intervention in El Salvador since 1980 (along with many other activists, including LAGAI members). One of the things that we heard repeatedly from former guerillas was how much solidarity from US activists meant to them while up in the mountains. Also, we were told what a precious moment this is for the FMLN to hold electoral power…the first time in El Salvador’s history that the left has led the country. “Transformation is not easy but it is possible. We have the opportunity to rewrite and construct a new history.”
Before talking about the specifics of the new health care system, I’ll give a little general background. El Salvador is about the size of Massachusetts with a population of nearly 7 million, most of whom live in the capital, San Salvador. The major natural resources are its beautiful people and fertile, volcanic soil. It is the only country in Central America without a Caribbean coast. Earthquakes and hurricanes are common, often with devastating destruction.
Generations of people have been fighting in El Salvador for an end to oppressive and brutal conditions. El Salvador was originally inhabited by Pipil, Lenca, and several other indigenous tribes. The Spaniards arrived in the 1500’s and, despite decades of fierce resistance by the indigenous peoples, eventually established settlements. In the late 1800’s campesinos, largely indios, had their communal lands expropriated so that the wealthy could use the land for plantations to grow coffee for export and exploit the labor of those whose lands were stolen. With the world depression in 1929, the bottom dropped out of the coffee market and starvation became rampant. An armed insurrection in 1932 by campesinos and the young communist party resulted in the massacre of over 30,000 people and the near genocide of the remaining Indian population. Indians who weren’t massacred went underground and denied any Indian heritage in order to survive. Decades of dictators and the wealthy skimming off whatever they could produced conditions for a protracted guerrilla war in 1980, under leadership of the FMLN coalition (named after Faribundo Marti, one of the martyred leaders of the 1932 rebellion). The US backed the right wing to the tune of $3.5 billion, nearly $1million/day. The right wing was forced to enter into negotiations with the FMLN and declare a cease fire in 1992.
Until the FMLN victory of the presidency in 2009, El Salvador was run by the right wing ARENA party, with continued US backing. Neoliberalism flourished with privatization of many sectors and an end to market regulation. In 2001 a decision was made at 3:00 am to switch El Salvador’s currency from the colon to the US dollar, cementing Salvadoran dependence on the US, profiting the ruling class, and worsening the poverty for all others. El Salvador was the first country to ratify CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) in 2006, which decreased tariffs on US imports and made it no longer economically viable for El Salvador to grow its own food. What was left of the agricultural sector was destroyed. Tax -free business zones were established with maquiladores and KFC, McDonalds, and the like sprang up in San Salvador. Corruption was rampant. IMF loans for hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared with nothing to show. Twice funds were borrowed to rebuild the Maternity Hospital destroyed in the 2001 earthquake; not a brick was laid. (Former officials and an ex-Minister of Health have been recently arrested on corruption charges.) Millions of dollars were borrowed to upgrade the telecommunication infrastructure which was then privatized and sold for less than the IMF loan. Corruption was rampant; the state sold businesses without any transparency or accounting. The petroleum industry, banks and financial institutions, the cement company, electricity distribution, and technological institutes were all privatized. Property taxes were eliminated and income taxes, import and export taxes were slashed. A sales tax was instituted making poor and working people bear the tax burden while greatly reducing the State income. The government is stuck paying on this huge foreign debt; one of the priorities of the FMLN government is to restructure it.
In 2002, with pressure from the World Bank, an attempt was made to privatize the country’s public healthcare system for workers, the ISSS. The powerful Social Security Workers Union (STISS) fought back against privatization of the health care system, organizing months of massive marches. Students shut down the University of El Salvador in support of the union’s demands. 1,800 doctors and nurses went on strike for months, marching in their whites, while keeping emergency services open. Support came from many sectors of this impoverished country who understood that privatization would result in a “pay or die” health care system.
When the FMLN came to power, the country was an economic disaster. The previous administrations had deliberately restricted access to health care as part of the attempt to privatize. In 2006, 47% of Salvadorans were outside of any health care system. To go to a public hospital, a “voluntary” donation was demanded; that was abolished the day that FMLN President Funes was inaugurated. El Salvador had the most expensive medicines in the world as the right wing politicians were also the owners of the biggest pharmaceutical industries with a monopoly so that even the Ministry of Health had to buy medicines from them. (A major triumph of the FMLN was the passage of a law in February 2012 which cut medication costs and assures quality control). Under the 2009 Health Reform, medicines, clinic visits, specialty services, and hospitalization are free. The two-year-old reform, still in its initial stage of implementation, has sought to retain healthcare in the public sector, maintaining a pledge to health as a human right for all Salvadorans. Pregnant women and children under 5 are prioritized for food and vitamin supplements as well as outreach for preventative care. The Ministry of Health says health is dependent on access to a health care system, political will, economic justice, and a more equal distribution of resources.
The health care reform is based on primary care, prevention, and public health. Clinics, Ecos, have been located out in communities, where people “live, love, and have fun.” The Eco team is composed of a nurse, doctor, nurse’s aid, and several health promoters. This team is charged with surveying the entire population in their area (6-9,000 people) through home visits to document health risks of individuals and families as well as community/public health problems. Patients also come into the clinic for preventative care and sick visits. There are “clubs” of adolescents, pregnant women, seniors, and others which meet regularly for health education and fun. We attended a number of very well-attended meetings. People are very well-informed; all pregnant women we visited could name the danger signs of pregnancy. The health care workers are all extremely committed, work long hours with a lot of love and care. We walked hours with promoters to visit patients who live at the end of muddy paths, across rivers, up mountains, in areas with no vehicle access. The health promoters live in the area and know all the people. They go into schools to present health education and can be mobilized to travel to areas where immediate attention is needed. Recently all the health promoters in the La Palma area we visited were sent for a weekend to the nearby city to help local teams prevent a Dengue epidemic and conduct door to door visits to educate people about public health measures they could take.
In two years, 450 Ecos were created in the poorest areas, largely rural, which had the least available health care services. There are plans to expand the Ecos to the entire population as resources become available. They are now in 153/262 municipios. A network of 4-6 Ecos have a specialty clinic for referrals with a lab, pediatrician, internist, gynecologist, dentist, health educator, nutritionist, and physical therapist as well as psychological and ER services. I was repeatedly told that people who needed emergency specialty evaluations could get seen in 24 hours and that routine consultations were available within 15 days. Compare that to the many months my patients in the US have to wait! There is a local hospital for more serious referrals with primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of care available at the regional and national level, all in an integrated system. The Ecos also treat Hondurans and Guatemalans who cross the border for health care; “we take responsibility for them as their government won’t”.
The FMLN’s healthcare reform raises the standards for other countries by providing world-class universal healthcare. These programs improve and sustain the health of people that have been historically underserved. The Ecos have been able to accomplish so much with so little. In just two years, and with limited resources available to them, they have made extraordinary progress. Maternal and infant mortality have been decreased. The FMLN government increased the budget for the Ministry of Health from 1.7% to 2.5% of GDP despite the opposition of the right wing, US, and the IMF. The fight for continued increases in financial support will be made possible by fiscal reform including requiring corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share. (Sound familiar?)
We met with union workers at the Children’s Hospital in El Salvador who told us there is a serious lack of resources and “free health care” can still mean parents of a patient may have to go buy a syringe so that an injection can be given to their child when the hospital has no syringes. Their yearly budget for supplies only lasts 6 months. The union had to raise funds themselves for a refrigerator to store vaccines. A nurse told us that she cared for 29 patients by herself at this tertiary level hospital which sees children from all over Central America. These workers were organizers of the marches that saved health care from privatization and are very supportive of the FMLN government but are concerned about the conditions of their hospital. These militant workers were very clear that fiscal reform to make the wealthy pay taxes is the solution.
International evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that health care systems oriented towards primary care produce better outcomes at lower costs and with higher user satisfaction. In its initial phase, the primary care model of the Ecos has improved health outcomes in rural communities. As it is expanded, more municipalities, including urban regions, will experience the positive effects, both by reducing demands on the far more costly tertiary and more specialized urban care centers and by the bolstering of urban ECOS. This initial investment in preventive integrated care will ultimately pay off as the burdens on these sectors are reduced.
Health care is a basic human right. We must call upon our government for universal healthcare with access to quality care for all instead of enriching the insurance companies. We must also oppose any attempt by the US government to intervene in El Salvador in an attempt to privatize their health and other social services. There are proposed Public-Private Partnerships, pushed by the US government under the Partnership for Growth, which would divert funds away from the public sector and undermine the amazing work being done. The World Bank and IMF are constantly pushing for a decrease in social spending. The health reform is based on the political will of the FMLN Funes administration, not law. A change in government could end the reform. Supporters are hoping that the political cost will be too great as millions of people are benefitting daily. People must learn to internalize their right to health care and a better life and be able to struggle against the well-funded right-wing, US -backed opposition to these rights.
In the last two years FMLN’s social reforms in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, and education are fundamentally transforming the lives of all Salvadorans. School children now receive free shoes, uniforms, school supplies, and a meal at school. For many children this was their first pair of shoes ever. The government contracted with small producers to make the shoes, uniforms, and provide the food at a fair price. A literacy program has begun.
In El Salvador there is an intense class struggle. Nearly half the population is poor with nearly 20% in extreme poverty, not having enough to eat. Many families live on less than one dollar a day. Meanwhile, the wealthy live well with the lowest tax collection rate in Central America.
In the 2009 election, ARENA and the other right wing parties had plenty of money for TV ads and lots of media. People were told if the FMLN won their children would be taken away like in China under Mao, and the old people would be turned into soap. With little money, the FMLN was still able to win the presidency. However, the Right is intent on making it impossible for the FMLN to govern with chaos and unprecedented challenges through the judicial branch. With the FMLN popularity, changes have been made to the way elections are conducted to do away with party slates and only have individual names listed on the ballots. Numerous electoral irregularities were noted in 2009, many more are likely in 2014. The US is already planning on how to intervene in the 2014 elections in El Salvador to get rid of the FMLN government. Cuts have been proposed to the Millennium Challenge Fund to help defeat the FMLN.
The messages I was asked to covey to the US people were that El Salvador is a small country struggling to make a better world. The FMLN government is young and still learning, making mistakes, and working to improve. I was asked to let people know about the health reform so that we in the US can help prevent the destruction of its gains. “Our big fear is that the US will intervene in the internal affairs of El Salvador. We have the maturity to solve our own problems. Please tell the US not to intervene in our internal election process.”
The pioneering reforms that I’ve seen in action are inspiring. As this effective healthcare model continues to be developed and implemented, the Salvadoran people will achieve better health and the Salvadoran government will meet its goal of improving people’s quality of life, even with limited resources. The FMLN’s social reforms in areas such as healthcare, agriculture, and education are fundamentally transforming the lives of all Salvadorans. I am grateful for the opportunity to have witnessed the gains being made by Salvadoran society. I will fight for their right to continue. Stopping the intervention of the US government will be a challenge for us all.
To see photos and hear more, please come to my report back on October 16 from 6-8 pm at the Dimond Branch of the Oakland Public Library, 3565 Fruitvale Ave, just off McArthur Blvd.
Proposition 32, masquerading as a “paycheck protection” initiative for union workers, is just one more attack to cut back the power of unions and increase the power of the 1%. Although the initiative states that “public and private sector labor unions, corporations, and government contractors” will all be restricted from participating in local and state campaigns, “Citizens United” has ensured that corporate money through Super PAC’s can impact elections from Wisconsin to every coast. Corporations such as Wal-Mart, Kaiser, Blue Cross, and Political Action Committees (PACs) such Michelle Rhee’s “Students First PAC” will have no limit on what they can spend. Corporations already outspend unions 15 to 1 on politics.
Right wing propaganda would have voters believe that union workers are ignorant of their rights. What the proponents of Prop. 32 never mention is that state law already gives the power to union workers to decline to give their dues to political action and opt out of joining the union.
Why then is Proposition 32 on the ballot? Billionaires such as the Koch brothers want to destroy and silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of workers. Unlike corporations, who speak for the wealthy few, labor unions speak for all their members and often for the communities which they serve. Every dollar that unions spend on election campaigns and lobbying the state legislature represents thousands of people. Nurses speak out for better care for patients when they picket and strike for better working conditions. Educators, as part of the California Teacher’s Association(CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) speak out for funding for public education, smaller class sizes and programs for students at the same time that they work for a quality working and learning environment. Other unions such as SEIU and AFSCME defend workers from loss of pay, benefits and increasingly difficult working conditions. By defending the right to better working conditions and quality jobs in our communities, unions protect the next generation of workers who deserve a living wage. Without labor unions the pay and working conditions of all workers, even non-union workers, will decline.
So when you go to the polls in November and when you speak with your friends, remember that this initiative is not only unnecessary because current law protects workers’ rights, it will hurt all of us -- union and non-union workers -- by tilting the balance of power even further towards the 1%. The only true paycheck protection in an increasingly anti-worker environment is the strength of a united labor movement and public and private sector unions.