Paul Seltzer

Paul Seltzer has worked with community and labor groups in Washington, DC; northern Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; and currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

How the corporate university exploits sexual assault

Sexual assault happens on university and college campuses.  It happens a lot.  More often than not, women are on the receiving end of this violence.

How does the university respond when it becomes aware of such violence?  It responds with blaming and insulting survivors, with bogus advice about not drinking alcohol, and with purposely underfunding resources for survivors.  One way or another, the university removes itself from the narrative and responsibility, and places the work of preventing sexual assault on individual students, often individual women.

This is institutional violence, the violence that flows from institutions like the university through the active neglect of certain groups deemed extra, or surplus.  The story of institutional violence is the story of a crisis, and that crisis is a lack: a lack of institutional responsibility, a lack of proper safety measures, a lack of proper resources for survivors, and a supposed lack of a proper amount of time for the university to put together a proper response.  The university actively creates these lacks, crises, and violence.

Stories of sexual assault and university neglect repeat, campus to campus.  These cases of sexual assault appear to fit the model of the “crisis ordinary,” when crisis is everywhere and inescapable.  The crisis ordinary gives the university the excuse to hide behind resources it fails to provide or else provides paltry, inadequate sums.  The crisis ordinary of sexual assault lets us see the inherent instability in the university’s bumbling, ineffective responses to this violence.  It also allows us to re-narrate the crisis, and the new narration might go something like this:

There are women who have been sexually assaulted.  These women do the work of finding and utilizing resources for survivors, the work of telling and re-telling their stories, and the work of demanding accountability from the university and its administration.

The university increasingly wants diversity.  But it has not provided adequate resources to survivors of sexual assault and further pressures survivors to do their own work of coordinating resources.  Then, the university shows its cruelty by insulting survivors for not following “widely accepted” advice.  Within the supposedly diverse community of the university, survivors and their labor are produced as victims, as extra, as surplus, as valueless, as the university backs away slowly.

The university passes off the actual work of diversity, of maintaining a safe and inclusive community, onto survivors of sexual assault—and it makes a profit!  It diverts the savings from this unpaid work to projects that are in its real interests: accumulating as much capital in as little time as possible.  The university is not merely the university, but the corporate university.

The corporate university appears diverse through the spectacle of branding, but this hides the violence underneath: the violence of sexual assault, the violence of workers’ rights abuses on its ever-expanding campuses, and the violence of producing women, people of color, LGBTIQ people, disabled people, and others as key members of its so-called diverse community at the same it produces them as victims.  None of this is shocking—it’s business as usual, ordinary business, for the corporate university.

To abolish institutional violence, we must abolish the farce of the institution that is the corporate university.  It is in organizing for abolition that we find alternatives.

 

(Photo Credit: Nicholas Mirzoeff)

Fierce: Una visión de voces diferentes

Por casi dos semanas, un grupo de mujeres latinas de Arlandria, Virginia han estado organizando una organización nueva.  Recientemente esas mujeres decidieron formar una cooperativa de limpieza.  Sus antecedentes son diversos, de países diferentes de Latinoamérica.

¿Qué es una cooperativa, y porque esas mujeres quieren formarla?  Una cooperativa es un negocio, pero no solo.  Un negocio tradicional tiene una dueña con más poder de una trabajadora individua.  La dueña recibe la mayoría de la ganancia y las trabajadoras reciben mucho menos.

Sin embargo, en una cooperativa la situación es completamente diferente.  En una cooperativa, todas las trabajadoras son las dueñas del negocio.  Cada persona individua tiene la misma poder y recibe la misma ganancia.  Es un sistema democrático e igual.

Es importante que esas mujeres, esas trabajadoras, estén organizando una cooperativa de limpieza.  El sector de limpieza, como todo el sector del trabajo doméstico y trabajo de cuidar (incluyendo limpiar, cocinar, y cuidar de niños y ancianos) es trabajo duro y difícil.  El valor de este sector, en que la gran mayoría de la mano de obra son mujeres inmigrantes, es desvalorizado por varias razones—el patriarcalismo y el racismo son gran factores—y esta desvaluación es impuesto por el estado y su falta de leyes y regulaciones.  Trabajadoras domesticas individuas usualmente no reciben salarios o tratos justos en esta situación.  Estas normas son las normas globales en la época del neoliberalismo.

Las mujeres de Arlandria ya lo saben, y la cooperativa es una manera en que ellas pueden luchar esas injusticias.  Se dan la cuenta que juntas, en una estructura en que todas son iguales, con una visión de cinco puntos:

  • La cooperativa pagará salarios decentes a las trabajadoras.
  • Las trabajadoras trabajarán en condiciones justas.
  • La cooperativa proveerá horas flexibles a las trabajadoras.
  • La cooperativa no servirá solo las casas, sino también los negocios pequeños del área.
  • Las trabajadoras se apoyarán la una a la otra con cuidar de niños, con compensación correcta.
  • La cooperativa edificará solidaridad entre las trabajadoras y en toda la comunidad.

Sus visiones son más de visiones.  Son demandas, demandas por respeto, dignidad, y un modo de vida mejor, articulado por voces diferentes.

Porque una cooperativa no es solo un negocio; sino, es una comunidad, una comunidad diversa.  Las mujeres de Arlandria edifican su comunidad y su poder en esta manera, como mujeres, trabajadoras, y participantes en una democracia auténtica.

 

(Photo Credit: DCIntersections)

Nicaraguan feminists protest for their bodies, autonomy, lives

The news of the day was that Democratic representatives walked out of a hearing on “religious liberty and birth control.” Republicans had blocked the testimony of a woman who wanted to speak in favor of the Obama administration’s compromise on birth control.  But the Republicans allowed representatives, men, from conservative religious organizations to testify.  House Representative Carolyn Maloney remarked, “What I want to know is, where are the women?”

A picture tweeted by Planned Parenthood illustrates this question completely.

Where are the women?  In Nicaragua, some women are in the streets.

Yesterday, at the International Poetry Festival in Granada, there was a parade, with dancing and singing and cheers.

There was also a protest by Nicaraguan women.  Nicaraguan feminists.

On the parade route, a group of Nicaraguan women, wearing signs that read “Fui violada y ahora estoy embarazada.  ¿Te parece justo?” (“I was raped and now I am pregnant.  Does that seem just?) lay down in the middle of the parade, stopping the flow of the marching.  They passed out flowers in protest of the ban against therapeutic abortion in the country.

Therapeutic abortion—an abortion performed to save the life of a pregnant woman—had been constitutional in Nicaragua up until October 2006.  When Sandinista politician Daniel Ortega re-assumed the presidency, he kept the law intact, a complete reversal from his stance before his re-election.  Women’s groups have been pressuring the State to repeal the ban, but Ortega’s switch came with the support of an important Catholic bishop.  Within a year of the law’s passing, 82 women had died due to lack to life-saving abortion procedures.

The State passes regulations preventing women from accessing health care that would save their lives.  Then the State uses religious institutions to embolden its position.  Sound familiar?

Violence against women more than often flows from patriarchal institutions trying to police their bodies and autonomy.  It happens globally, outside the United States, and inside the country just as easily.

Women are defending their equality all over the world, in the State and in the streets.  That is where they will be until the job is done.

(Photo Credit: Esteban Felix / AP / Guardian)

 

War on Workers? “Ladies First!”

A teach-in about the War on Workers took place recently in Washington, DC.

“The war”’ was described and analyzed by four panelists and a moderator. The moderator was male. Three of the panelists were males.  The one woman came from the National Education Association.  The panel discussed at some length the state of union activities in the U.S. given the struggles in Wisconsin and other areas of the country. Then the panel took questions.

I asked about gender politics, about the relation between the attacks on the funding of women’s resources, such as reproductive health, the general attack on collective bargaining rights from the State, and what labor unions were doing about it.  When Scott Walker and friends decided to eliminate collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin’s public sector workers, they only did it to female-dominated fields like teachers and nurses, but not to male-dominated ones like police and firefighters.

The panel did not answer my question.  But all four men did look to their right at the woman at the end of the table.  One of them then said, in a loud voice, “Ladies first!”

The response from the NEA representative was that women’s rights were something that unions had fought for as part of the broader labor movement, and that these attacks from the right were typical reactionary nonsense.  There was no discussion on what labor unions were doing to address this intersection between gender and the labor movement.

Needless to say, this response did not satisfy me.  But then I realized—the panel had relayed the philosophy that haunts women in the workforce, from the local to the global, from unions to the State: Ladies first!

Politicians can’t use the necessary vocabulary when discussing reproductive health, but a congressman can viciously tell lies about Planned Parenthood and alter records to get away with it.  The House of Representatives tried with all of its might to redefine the definition of rape to include a stipulation of whether the act is “forcible” or not, all for the sake of denying women access to safe abortions.  In the words of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the proposed bill was “a violent act against women.”  Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that the Constitution does not grant the same protections to women or the LGBTQ community as it does to other groups.

What is the logic behind who should be eliminated from the State’s dialogue, whether it’s in debate or in established law?  Ladies first!

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the poster-child for attacking teachers’ unions, whether he is stumping or berating individual teachers.  The rhetoric involves insults and putting dissenters “in their place,” as well as comments that sexualize State actions against teachers’ unions.  In the same period, Christie told the press to “take the bat out” against a female state senator, prompting two other women politicians from New Jersey to criticize his comments as advocating violence against women.  Earlier in the same year, Christie vetoed a bill that would have provided funding for women’s health and family planning through an expansion of Medicaid programs because of New Jersey’s budget crisis. Christie has blamed this budget crisis on teachers’ unions as a scapegoat to pass austerity measures, even though his administration “forgot” to apply for federal educational funding.

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s administration’s attempt to take away collective bargaining rights from public-sector workers has targeted women workers.  Other austerity measures being debated cut funding from women’s reproductive health services.  All of this austerity against women is in the service of a budget crisis that isn’t even real.

When the austerity State decides to cut funding for social services and get rid of basic workplace rights, which population does it look to?  Ladies first!

After the panel was over, the one woman panelist came up to me and said that although many high-ranking officials of the NEA are women, she and others in the organization never thought of the attacks on collective bargaining as a “women’s issue.”  Often women’s rights in reproductive health and in the workplace are painted as two separate issues, but they are not.

The panel’s response reproduced the same narrative.  And this narrative of women as secondary to the “movement” as a whole, brings up a final question:

When a progressive movement needs to react to the State’s austerity measures, what representation is conveniently forgotten in the overall narrative?

“Ladies first!”

It’s time to move beyond the chivalrous, neoliberal logics of “Ladies first!” and talk about, teach, and organize for all workers’ power and rights, equally and at the same time.

 

(Photo Credit: Workers World)