Author: roqchams

Class Struggle With a Stack of Pancakes.

In 2012 a federal lawsuit was filed against the restaurant chain IHOP and franchisee, Anthraper Investments Inc. on behalf of four Arab, Muslim managers in Texas, all of whom were fired in 2010. This lawsuit alleged in part that their terminations were unlawful and discriminatory in nature, and came after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that their accusations had merit—not only had these men faced discriminatory harassment at work based on their race, and religion, there were witnesses, and corroborating evidence, determining that there was “reasonable cause to believe that…Arabs were discriminatorily harassed and discharged based on national origin.”

One of the most revealing incidents came during an employee meeting, during which Larry Hawker, hired to replace one of the fired managers, told IHOP workers that, “Arab men treat women poorly and with disrespect. We’re going to let these people go and have new faces coming in.” Prior to this event, and before their respective terminations, the district manager would be emailed warnings in time for the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, asking that Arab and Muslim employees “lay low”.

The CEO of this specific IHOP chain, John Anthraper, even referred to Muslims waiting to break their fasts during Ramadan as “dogs”, and would complain that any work related incidents that occurred at one of his stores came about as a result of the district manager hiring “those fucking Arab friends” of his. And so, these four men sought damages for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Texas Labor Code.

One of these men—the man whose face would be plastered across countless publications and television screens as the story and subsequent backlash went viral—was my father.

Pay Your Goddamn Writers

The last thing I thought to myself this morning after checking my email was, “oh great, another excuse from these fuckers.”

In August, I was published by ELLE Magazine, and as of this moment in time I still haven’t been paid by that august publication. Since the article went up, I’ve dedicated a small portion of each day to sending out emails trying to find out why ELLE Magazine, whose editor-in-chief has a net worth is estimated to be around $3 million, has yet to deposit $325 into my bank account.

These days, writing is a precarious endeavour. It is made so in my case by non-staff employment, better known as freelancing. This is reflective of the exploitative relationship between writers and the publications they work for. When you are a freelancer, getting paid for the work you do becomes a second job in and of itself; you’re sending countless emails to dozens of people over weeks, months, and (in some cases even) years just to get paid for the labor you did. “This is how it is,” they tell you. And so, you bite your tongue and hope that your bank account doesn’t overdraft, and that your part time job doesn’t cut your hours. The emails do no good, and soon it becomes clear that, despite your cordiality, your demands for updates are being ignored.

In talking with, two friends in the same boat as me, I found out they were waiting to be paid some $3,500 in back pay from an outlet that offered us $150 or less for 800+ words. We would all whisper in the background about how enraging and humiliating it was, that not only were we being paid so little but that we had to wait months for the scraps that we got. “If we go public we’ll get blackballed,” we say to each other, and it’s true. There’s an unspoken threat that hangs over this tiring process, one whispered to writers that they shouldn’t make noise about being screwed on their pay, especially not the kind of noise that involves naming the publications that make them wait to get paid.

At least, if we ever want to get published again.

On top of it, people who aren’t writers think that dragging them on social media with a name and shame will get a publication to immediately stop fucking people like us on their pay. This is ludicrous. If anything, you’d be seen as an inconvenience or nuisance, and it may result in you being offered less work. It’s mind boggling that publications, as big as they come, expect writers to wait for whatever meager pay we manage to fight for while they reap the fruit of our labor.

What’s more, these kinds of shitty pay practices only serve to cut off working class writers from media work. People whose families come from money, or have supportive partners with steady employment, then have the luxury to keep pitching to these exploitative publications while those of us who are trying to write for a living lose time for writing to doing other jobs or our bills go unpaid. This is, in part, how the media sorts out working class voices and oversamples those from privileged backgrounds.

Websites such as Who Pays Writers highlight not only the number of publications that offer abysmal wages, but just how pervasive late payments, and non-payments are in this industry. What’s horrifying is that writers are not asking for anything even remotely unreasonable. We need to be paid in a reasonable amount of time for the work that these publications build their brands on. And it should go without saying that paying someone for work done months afterward is pretty damn far from reasonable. Despite this occurring as a matter of habit for a lot of publications, it is not acceptable and should be treated as a kind of theft. While things like accounting and responding to invoices are not easy services to provide, any publication that can’t manage to do this isn’t organized enough to deserve to profit from the labor of the writers it publishes.

The only way to address this epidemic of wage theft is through collective action, and the way has already been marked out. In September of this year, The Nation magazine and the National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 signed an agreement about how freelance writers would be treated by The Nation. The agreement included minimum payments, kill fees, and a guarantee that freelancers would be paid within thirty days of an invoice being submitted. As those on staff at publications of the online media continue to organize under the auspices of WGA East and The News Guild, freelancers must take up the fight as well to fight for the basic dignity that the NWU’s agreement with The Nation represents.

I should not have to send ELLE Magazine nearly 20 emails in order to get a straight answer out of them as to when I’m going to get $325 for an article that has made them more than that. It’s safe to assume that these same editors wouldn’t accept the type of exploitative relationship writers are so commonly forced into were it their paycheck we’re talking about. The piece I wrote for ELLE came with a deadline, so why can’t they meet my deadline for payment?

Pay your goddamn writers. And pay them on fucking time.

Who Are You Actually Fighting For?

I was a teenager when I first felt this shiver so deep that it made my blood run cold.

I still remember his face, and what he told me after I grabbed his hands as forcefully as I could, and moved them away from my breasts. “What, are you a lesbian?”, he laughed. His friends smirked as a rage quickly swelled up inside me. Yet all I could muster was a balled up fist, and clenched teeth. I would fight myself each day for months, asking why I hadn’t been brave enough to excise every tooth from his face. I’d go through these same battles as I grew older, and one day I realised that all the harassment, and violent assaults began dictating not only how I behaved but what I thought of myself and my humanity.

There is no way to describe what it feels like to know that once the totality of what you’ve endured leaves your lips you’ll be forever changed in someone else’s eyes, even those of your loved ones, and comrades. It is now out in the world, and the consequences are beyond your control.

Theft As Redistribution In A Time of Crisis

(Editors’ Note: It is our profound pleasure to announce that Roqayah Chamseddine has decided to join The South Lawn as a co-editor and writer to Douglas and Bryan. There’s other big changes in the offing so keep your eyes peeled!)

In parts of Texas, floods have overwhelmed entire streets to the point that houses are seemingly bobbing in gushing streams. An estimated 450,000 people, at the very least, will be needing some form of disaster assistance after Harvey made landfall —touching down twice near the Texas-Louisiana border. The destruction of dozens of small cities has been catastrophic, with the governor of Texas estimating the costs to be somewhere around $180 billion. Homeowners are also scrambling to find a way to deal with rebuilding their lives, and coming to terms with the agonising reality that their policies likely won’t cover damages. In addition, an overlooked result of Harvey has been a climbing death toll, which currently stands at 45. The hurricane has unleashed hell on countless families, and yet focus has once again shifted to the media’s most prized and sensationalist concern: looting.

In the midst of what can best be described as a small apocalypse, ABC News anchor Tom Llamas reported looters to the police and then notified Twitter—because there can be no frenzied public reproach without the spectacle. The response to Llamas was quick and tempestuous, but unyielding execration from a few good people isn’t nearly enough to rid the world of this pitiless attitude of those who so intensely hate the poor. Too many people are quick to froth at the mouth at the very thought of someone stealing; a loaf of bread, a half-empty till, a television screen. As 50 inches of rainwater drowned out streets and highways people still managed to feign concern for grocery stores that would soon be littered with rotted products.

Poverty is a sentence, and much of society would rather the poor serve out their terms with little noise—do not beg, do not take, and do not entertain the idea of making demands for more than whatever pittance the State will offer you. It’s no wonder then that even with a torrential hell playing out in the background that people are aroused by the images of armed men guarding convenience stores from looters. The racialized caricature of the modern-day thief, pictured carrying a television screen, and sneakers, stealing from little ol’ Mom n’ Pop, is an ever-present image. It’s a picture of chaos; of shattered glass, and fire; of a hyper-militarized police response that drowns out streets with pepper spray. Hell for the upper class isn’t a world in which the poor are forced into living under bridges, but one in which the poor take, and demand more than charity with as much zeal and intensity as the rich steal from the working class. Hell isn’t the water rising, but the doors of a convenience store being forced open, and people running out with arms full of food.