Category: Social justice

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.

Between Ta-Nehisi Coates And Us

Something I have always said about Ronald Reagan is that his “greatness” depended largely on the haplessness of his opponents. Whether it was a fading Gov. Pat Brown, whom Reagan defeated in a nearly one million vote landslide in the 1966 California gubernatorial election, or former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose 1984 annihilation by Reagan is unlikely to be repeated by any presidential candidate, the Gipper had a talent for drawing the weakest opponents as he blazed his path through American political history.

If the incoherent balderdash that the New York Times published from Thomas Chatterton Williams is any indication, Ta-Nehisi Coates has much of the same kind of luck.

Williams places his piece within the German concept of sonderweg, the notion that the German people traveled a particular path on the road from a collection of nation-states to the democracy that it would eventually become. While this was seen as a positive thing prior to World War I — in that Germany did not experience the kinds of sociopolitical upheavals that, say, characterized France’s transition from monarchy to republic to empire and back again — the rise and fall of the Third Reich transformed this historiography into a profoundly negative inquiry with a simple question: what prompted Germany’s turn towards fascism? It is hard to disagree that such a discussion casts a pall over German life as a whole since the war, as the debates around the rise of far-right formations such as PEGIDA and the Alternative For Germany party continue to  show.

Williams argues that Coates is at the helm of such a push in the United States, except that the all-encompassing issue is white supremacy. It is from here, however, that Williams’s argument goes terribly awry.

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Because the Comeback™ would not be complete without a celebration of displacement and gentrification.

In case you have been living under a rock, Detroit Is Coming Back™.

For years, Detroit has been the poster child of American neoliberalism and austerity. In Michigan, the state is allowed to appoint officials that supplant those who have been duly elected by popular vote in times of financial distress. These officials, known as emergency managers, are granted sweeping powers to do whatever it takes to “balance the books”, even if it means shredding the public sector and the services that they provide to the working class. The institution as a whole is not simply an attack on services; it is an attack on democracy itself, especially since emergency managers have the power to remove “uncooperative” elected officials.

Realizing this, Michiganders went to the polls in November 2012 and rejected Proposal 1, which ended the authority of emergency managers in the state. Not to be deterred, Gov. Rick Snyder — who had campaigned for the office in 2010 on being “One Tough Nerd” and “running government like a business” — and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature passed Public Act 436, which made mild modifications to the previous statute but kept in place the emergency management system.

The emergency manager for Detroit had one job: make the city safe for capital again. Kevyn Orr, the corporate lawyer who was appointed as Detroit’s emergency manager in March 2013, took to the job with aplomb. Union contracts were cancelled, retirees saw reductions in their benefits, and city services were sold to private firms. Orr directed the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to cut off water to those who were behind on their bill, adding another layer of cruelty to working-class families in a city devastated by capital flight and a toxic brew of violence from white supremacy and spatial segregation.

The financial bankruptcy may have ended in 2014, but the social and moral bankruptcy continues amongst those who rule this city. Talk to any long-term Detroiter and they will tell you the same. But if you are unable to make it to this city — a gem full of culture, great food, and even better people — then I direct you to a shining example of such elite turpitude: Detroit Homecoming.

Another Harvest In An Orchard Of Strange Fruit

It was a cold night in the fall of 2002 when me and my then-girlfriend pulled up to the public parking lot at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis to relax and snuggle a bit. I was 17, a country kid from southeastern Virginia who had just moved to the area with my father the previous summer to start college.

Doing this in the front of my car was not a particularly comfortable experience, so we decided to hop in the back seat. I had to clean it out first, of course, so I did just that before we settled in to watch the moonlight glistening off the lake. It was to be, it appeared, one of those nights that sticks with you long after the moment has passed. Not because anything dramatic happened, but because we tend to remember those little instances in our coming of age where things might have been a bit simpler and sweeter, particularly as the grind of adulthood makes such moments difficult to come by.

And, without question, that night has remained stuck in my mind. I wish that I could tell you that the memory was positive; it might have been, were it not for the Minneapolis Police Department.

I saw the police car entering the parking lot just a minute or two after we had settled in. I tensed up a bit — my parents gave me The Talk just like any other — but I figured they would just pass us by and leave us be. That changed when the cop in the driver’s seat flashed the spotlight into my car. I am thinking, “Oh God, I hope they don’t think I’m trying to fuck out here.” Figured that I would just explain to them how my parents would not particularly approve of such behavior and hope that they would just let us alone.

“Is this cup yours?,” asked the officer with the blinding spotlight.

In my rush to clean the car, snuggle for a bit, and then get home before it got too late out, I had forgotten to pick up a Wendy’s cup that I had dropped due to my hands being full of trash from the back seat. I stated that it was mine, apologized profusely, and went to throw it away. I figured that would be enough. But while one of the cops looked over my driver’s license, his partner kept getting more and more agitated.

“Oh, so you think that you can just throw your shit all over the place whenever you feel like it, huh? You think we’re gonna just pick it up like mommy and daddy do at home?”

You can probably imagine that I do not particularly care for people who speak of my parents this way. But having grown up with the highlight reels of Your Friendly Neighborhood Law Enforcement Officer At Work  — Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell — I knew that getting angry would result in a situation even more unpleasant than the one I was currently facing. So I simply stood my ground and said that he did not need to take it there and asked for their last names.

“Who do you think you’re talking to, you spoiled bitch?!”

At this point, the officer checking my driver’s license has to, basically, hold his partner back and tell him to calm down. My driving record was obviously spotless, and the officer handed back my license after a few minutes. With an admonition to “pick up your trash next time,” the two Minneapolis cops drove away in their patrol car. I never got their names. I never got their badge numbers.

When that cop stood there on a cold Minneapolis night and disrespected me so forcefully, every bit of anger and bile inside of me exploded. I yelled. I pounded the roof of my car. I spit. I cried. I punched my steering wheel.

And then I did something stupid: I got in my car, turned it on, and said that I was going to go after those cops. My girlfriend begged me not to do so, but I was not listening to anything she had to say. She was quick to pick up on this, and threw herself across my lap in order to prevent me from driving anywhere. I did not chase after those cops, which is probably why I am here to tell you this story in the first place.

I felt powerless then. And on July 6, 2016, that feeling of powerlessness came flooding back to me as news of a police shooting in St. Paul, Minnesota came flooding through Facebook in graphic detail.

An Open Letter to Rep. John Lewis.

Representative Lewis,

Yesterday, you stated the following about Bernie Sanders’s record on fighting for civil rights in the 1960s:

“I never saw him. I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed (the) voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President (Bill) Clinton.”

We are going to ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl, or that you once stated to a Clinton biographer that, “[t]he first time I ever heard of Bill Clinton was the 1970s”, or that it has already been well-established that Sanders worked with the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. We are also going to leave aside the fact that every mention of Bill Clinton in your book Walking With The Wind described an instance that he opposed some policy that you cherished.

Instead, we are going to talk about another person that you never saw or met.

On Solidarity and Flint

A lot has already been written about the ongoing atrocity in Flint, where a city of 100,000 people that is largely responsible for building the conditions that created prosperity in postwar America has been deliberately poisoned with lead and legionella by a dictatorial emergency financial manager system created by Rick Snyder, the sitting governor. The widely-reported reason of why the poisoning happened (to save a comparatively small amount of money) has also come under question, adding another dimension of horror to what’s already a horrible story. In a just world, what has been done to the people of Flint would result in a cigarette, a blindfold, and a firing squad for a lot of right-wing technocrats. We do not, however, live in a just world, more’s the pity.

The Value of Small Changes: A Canadian perspective

(Allison Sparling is a social democratic political activist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. This post was originally posted on her blog Always, Always Something.)

Something that’s struck me a lot, especially since living in Toronto, is how frequently we mistake progressivism for some sort of brand to be consumed instead of a movement dedicated to tackling hard changes to save the planet and make humans more equal. When Conservatives decry the latte sipping elite, it’s a facile stereotype but they’re not wrong: social justice is not about what kind of coffee you can afford to drink, even if it treats its workers better.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t drink coffee that treats its workers well! This is good. This is important. But this is the one of the smallest parts of a social contract that needs to change. Businesses that exist in this type of economy need a competitive edge to justify their cost and continue their existence so they amplify their social good as a form of marketing to make you feel like this small choice is what you needed to to do end inequality, save the planet, justify your spending $3 when there’s cheaper coffee elsewhere. And if you spend that $2-3 at a locally owned business that treats its workers well, that’s even better.

But that’s still not social justice.