Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States.

About Brigitte Marti

Brigitte Marti is an organizer researcher who has worked on reproductive rights and women's health initiatives in France and in the European Union and on women prisoners' issues in the United States. She is a member of Women Included, a new transnational feminist collective, that is part of the Women 7, a coalition that advocates for the inclusion of women's rights in the G7.

On the assassination of George Floyd, anger and hope bring justice #BlackLivesMatter

Another murder by police officers, this time in Minnesota. The video of the assassination of George Floyd, a Black man, by white police officers has shocked, as if it was new and surprising. North or South, the location has no importance. The justification for murders, lies, and other means of destruction of the Other, the otherness grows unscathed from any sufficient doubts. Modern society talks about training, well-trained police officers, well-trained doctors, and well-trained nurses, but what is training if life is annihilated quickly and with “legitimate power”.

The headlines are descriptive: Four Minneapolis officers are fired after video shows one kneeling on neck of black man who later died. Although the article raises questions, it fails to tell the evidence of constructed racism, which is gendered as we observe the incommensurable level of violence imposed on women’s, intersex’s, transgender’s bodies. 

This time, it was a Black man. 

Numerous books, studies are available from which those who would like to learn more about the reasons for this blatant injustice can educate themselves. Still, there is always someone to create a rationale of destruction, of wars of all against all. 

Women are also part of the making of these destructive rationales, as now white women tend to assimilate with their men. The story is different for women of color; they have survived invasion, slavery, and all these “beauties” that were totally justified and still are.

I affirm that being a feminist is not only about having the right to vote (finally), to control our own body, it is about injustice, it is about crude, violent domination by patriarchal thought. This very domination that has created these ice men that can take all their time to assassinate someone because he is a dark-skinned man. There is no separation of good and bad, what makes the difference is the justification, the construction of violence and discrimination as legitimate means.

I have written on many issues that are clear examples of this justified violence. I have written about the cold-blooded decision to send drones to kill women, men, and children far away in Yemen, using a perfect justification of war against terrorism. In reality, they killed people who were in the wrong location, wrong class, wrong belief system.  

I have written on the massive incarceration of gendered bodies of color in Baltimore, a majority Black and Brown city which the man in power in the United States “discredited”. That mass incarceration was justified despite all the work and studies that demonstrated that these policies were non-sense. 

I have written on the shackling of pregnant women while they are in prisons or jails in the United States. The cruelty of shackling women’s bodies for no other reason than asserting power over women’s bodies is apparent and yet invisible, another evidence of madness justified.

I have written about economic cruelty that has deprived women, men, and children of their dignity and sometimes killed them. That’s how the so-called “crisis” in Greece that was actually driven by speculation was justified. 

I have written about new ways of exterminating the undesirables, using the Mediterranean sea as a means of extermination. The justification was easy to find: defend the borders in a time of obscene globalization. That justified Frontex, a legitimate army, to “defend” borders against precarious lives. 

In all these examples, and many more, justifications serve a market driven killing of this Black man, George Floyd. Look at the armaments, observe the development of digital blindness, and the overwhelming growth of inequalities with our worldly wealth being held in very few hands. 

At the end of her life, Hannah Arendt anticipated this danger as she saw the new justification for madness coming: it was called neoliberalism. She declared that if it takes over the world, life would become superfluous. Life has become superfluous for many and for a long time. 

Excuse my anger, although Audre Lorde taught me that anger is sometimes necessary. I want to end acknowledging all the sisters and brothers that have fought these justifications to crude injustice with a passion. All the writing, poetry, and art have been made in the name of justice to inspire us. 

Thank you to all of you, and let’s again remember Audre Lorde, who wrote Sister Outsider to convey hope, encourage solidarity, and instill power to fight sexism and racism that make these things possible. Emmanuel Levinas enounced that at the decisive hours when the lapse of values is revealed, human dignity consists in believing in their return. More than their return, let’s imagine these values and organize everywhere to defend them in solidarity.

Justice for George Floyd is justice for all, #BlackLivesMatter

(Photo credit !: CityBeat) (Photo Credit 2: Jurien Huggins)

Now more than ever, supporting abolition of the debt is a priority!

The covid 19 pandemic has demonstrated that the neoliberal system that leads the world is detrimental to health care systems, public services, and bad for people, especially for the poor and third world populations. We should remind the globalized neoliberal leadership that they asserted not long ago that austerity measures were indispensable to save the economy of an indebted country. There was no alternative. Austerity policies were touted as the only way to save the population of a country. Now, those same countries have their underfunded public services and health care systems unable to guarantee proper safeguards to the people. This scenario exposes that the distribution of poverty is based on exploitation that is gendered, racialized, and divided by class. 

The abolition of the public debt in third world countries has been discussed in supranational assemblies such as the EU, but what exactly is public debt? In the 1980s, “development” became synonymous with  Structural Adjustment Programs, (SAPs), which forced developing countries to incur enormous public debt. The purpose of building public debt is to indebt the entire society, begetting a system of inequality. Today those countries subjected to SAPs are facing the coronavirus pandemic without health resources as they have been whittled away to satisfy repayment of the debt. 

OXFAM’s recent press release reveals two faces of the same coin. One pertains to public debt management of the third world countries and the other one to the budget priorities imposed on these countries. According to Oxfam, 64 countries of the Global South have to spend more on repayment of their “public debt” than health care. For instance, Ghana spends 11 times more on its public debt than on its health care system. Although this reality is not new, it has gone mostly unnoticed and not been considered as a risk for the population. Oxfam highlights that 500 million people in the Global South could face dire poverty, according to UN researchers. Already, 265 million people are facing acute hunger, according to the WHO, showing that “the pandemics are also hunger.”

Meanwhile, since January, the IMF’s wealth has grown by $19.4 billion, while the third world public debt is about $12.4 billion. The IMF and the World Bank promoted Structural Adjustment Programs, SAPs. Will it be time for the IMF to repay its ethical debt to these countries, now that these countries are facing pandemics without protection of any kind? The people in these countries, far from being protected by development, have lost their protection, because the governments of indebted countries were forced to serve the market, not the people. The great ideal of human rights has too often been a place mediated through the neoliberal market-take-all ideology.

The overwhelming influence of the US economic power has influenced the way health care systems around the world work, and the US health care system is the worst system among the OECD countries. It is a for-profit system that has no interest in providing care for the sake of care. In this system, money should not be spent on health care or public services but only on a guaranteed return on investment, removing the idea that health is a basic necessity to guarantee human rights. This approach to health care has dominated the world’s health systems for decades, infecting universal health care system like a contagious virus.

Rebecca Solnit recently asserted: “Coronavirus does discriminate because that’s what humans do.” But who are the ones who discriminate? We certainly don’t feel that we do, and still, we do. We do by not paying attention to systems that promote discrimination while asserting that they do the opposite. We need to organize to persistently denounce, expose, and fight what the globalized neoliberal economy has created. The coronavirus has shown that the prescriptions made by the neoliberal even liberal economists, the gurus of modern power, kill. They warped any political debate to install a mechanism of inequality keeping the entire society eternally indebted. Politics of austerity have spread in every possible niche, including in industrialized countries, affecting all public services. Every nation has seen the number of their hospital beds melting away. France, which had the best health care system in 2000, has seen its health care stripped;, for example the number of beds for 1000 people went from 11 in 1980 to 6 in 2019. In the US that number went from 7.9 in 1970 to 2.8 in 2016. By the same token, funding allocated to fundamental research on virology was curtailed. When the coronavirus spread, the absence of adequate health care resources and research transformed the contamination into a health crisis. This situation is cruel and absurd, and people are starting to talk about it. 

Women, especially women in the Global South, are the most vulnerable to reductions of public services. About 2/3 of their work is unpaid work. This unpaid work represented about 13% of total GDP in 2018. This discrimination is systemic and profoundly anchored in the patriarchal system. Their unpaid work accounted for 13% of global GDP in 2018. It is particularly important in third world countries.  

The priorities have not been on health, clean water, education, local agriculture. They have not been on building a more just society between the North and the South, between the wealthy and the poor. Being poor is determined by gender, race and class. This health crisis has demonstrated that neoliberal leadership had no interest in the protection of the population. In this time of pandemic, the populations who are paying a heavy price are the most vulnerable of the society, whether they live in developing countries, refugee camps, prisons and jails in the United States, or detention centers. This pandemic also offers a window to build kindness and expand global solidarity at the grassroots level. Debunking the official mythical discourse through a transnational feminist lens has to occur to transform the system. The priorities are clear, treating life with respect is the basic of global well-being. This means remove the financial burden on the poor as the wealthy have built hell. Support debt abolition!

Support the abolition of the debt : http://www.cadtm.org/English

(Photo Credit 1: Sara Bakhshi) (Photo Credit 2: Ian Espinosa)

What can we learn from the recent win of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe?

There are various pandemics, some are viral, some are neoliberal, sometimes meeting with deadly results, and sometimes defeated by consistent grassroots efforts, and sometimes life prevails. Recently, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won against the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, in Federal Court. The court validated everything that the Tribe has argued against DAPL.

First, came the oil industry, then the pipelines, then the Dakota Access Pipeline, DAPL, was conceived to move fracked oil from North Dakota to Illinois, with a plan of 450 000 barrels (71 544 282,7 liters) flowing through every day. In 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USAGE) approved the project using a Nationwide Permit 12 that allows examining such projects without a full evaluation and without a thorough environmental impact evaluation. The route of the pipeline crossed many sacred lands of Native American Sioux. It also crossed under the Missouri River, the main source of water for the local population. The oil companies have honed their skills at profit-making at all costs. They are also known for their disastrous safety record with millions of dollars spent on fines and reparation. For instance, DAPL’s leading company Sunoco Logistics, spent over $53 million for property damage between 2006 and 2016. Meanwhile, land and water has been polluted, sickening the local population. 

For the Sioux Nation situated in North Dakota, DAPL’s environmental damage and disregard for Native rights were unacceptable. They opposed the latest life-threatening actions of the oil industries and their financial investors, pointing to the imminent water pollution with its resulting impact on the land. 

Lakota women were fast to organize in the defense of life against the pipeline, the black snake as they called it. Several sites of resistance were established such as the Sacred Spirit and the Oceti Sakowin camps near Standing Rock reservation. These sites saw the largest gathering of the Sioux Nation since little Big Horn in 1876. Many non-native American supporters assembled with Native Americans in resisting the construction of the pipeline. This struggle attracted international attention, with indigenous peoples from other countries showing their solidarity. 

Lakota women, men and children and national and international protesters showed the world what an inspired coalition building meant. They opposed the oil industry and its financial supporters’ oafish strategies by articulating their veneration of their environment with the strength of their spiritual invocations and prayers in defense of “mother Earth.”  The words Mni Wiconi, water is life, roared from the camps, sacred words which transformed people into water protectors. The beat of their drums were in rhythm with the heartbeat of mother Earth. The water protectors stoically faced the uniformed seemingly unconcerned police and militias who were fully equipped with weapons to hurt the defenders of life. 

The Sioux Nation also fought USAGE’s decision in court, demanding the Nationwide Permit 12 be revoked. They wrote to President Obama who first abandoned another deadly project, the Keystone pipeline project, and then before leaving office, hastily, denied the permit for DAPL.   

After the inauguration, Donald Trump signed a memorandum to forcibly evacuate the camps to clear the way for the construction of the pipeline. The ultimatum said that total evacuation of the camps would have to be effective on February 22, 2017. The menace was dire. Donald Trump resembled more a predator than a president. 

Before leaving the sites, on February 18 to 19, the ceremony “Honoring our grandmothers” was organized. This ceremony was echoed in many indigenous sites around the Americas. 

The invitation to Honoring our Grandmothers was clear:

“As Women of Sovereign Nations, Lands, and Waters, we have been given the honor of caring for the earth, the water and all living beings on it.” “We welcome women of all Nations and ages to come together for this special time of prayer, teachings and unity here in Standing Rock, as a powerful movement to acknowledge the sacredness of Unci Maka, Mni Wiconi and the living grandmothers of the Oceti Sakowin.”

 “Location has nothing to do with how we pray, we are going to keep fighting these big oil companies even if we have to fight for the rest of our life,” declared one of the participants, a grandmother committed to defending life and children’s future.

And continue fighting they did. 

The victory of the Sioux in the Federal court should be an inspiration for many who are fighting for justice. No `pragmatic compromises’ were accepted. The native message is loud and clear: if life is sacred, then the sacred should prevail. A sense of solidarity expanding beyond tribes brought victory on many fronts. Before this decision, Native lawyers lobbied foreign banks that invested in the pipeline to withdraw their support. 

In this moment of a global viral crisis, born from the recklessness of neoliberal globalization, maybe it is time to learn some lessons from this fight for the preservation of water as water is life.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Mike Faith declared, “It’s humbling to see how actions we took four years ago to defend our ancestral homeland continue to inspire national conversations about how our choices ultimately affect this planet. Perhaps in the wake of this court ruling the federal government will begin to catch on, too, starting by actually listening to us when we voice our concerns.”

Contrast this hopeful message with other decisions taken by the heartless in power. In mid-March, the governors of Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia signed laws to give more power to the states to protect the oil industry and repress protest against oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructures labeled “key” or “critical.”

We are at the crossroads of two visions of the same crisis. In one vision, the heartless system – with its destructive projects generated devastating impacts such as deforestation, extinction of 60% of species, climate change, elimination of public services for the common good, resurgence of authoritarian regimes serving vested interests – will finally come to a change of paradigm. The other vision keeps the delusional neoliberal short-term view in place. The latter may work until climate change and/or another virus or spill of crude oil challenges neoliberal non-sense. 

Maybe this is the time to learn from the unrelenting, uncompromising fight of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies for the source of life. 

(Photo Credit: Taylor Ruecker, Janine Robinson

In response to proposed pension changes, people in France are learning what solidarity means

Once again, the way the government presents a new law perpetuates gender/class disparity. Government officials use communication techniques to render this disparity invisible. Women’s unpaid domestic work, and women and men’s precarious work are marginalized and rendered invisible. French President Emmanuel  Macron and his government have been pushing neoliberal policies hidden behind the rhetoric of public policies made for the public good to save the country from imaginary disaster. France is still a rich country whose elite pulls the strings of a postcolonial world, and the goal of its market-oriented president is still to serve the market and move the wealth of public goods to private markets.

Since his election, Macron has undertaken “to reform” French public services, diminishing the publicly funded safety net. A safety net is of special importance for women who have typically had very little control over their career because of lower wages and interruptions to their careers because of family responsibilities: women receive an average of 42% less in pension money than their male spouses. Among the 10% of couples who have the lowest level of revenue, one finds the highest proportion of women with either no revenue at all or unemployed or working part time. 

Most recently, President Macron took on reforming the French system of pensions, which is based on solidarity and includes 42 exceptions according to levels of difficulty of work, replacing the solidarity system with a system based on points in which everyone can claim the same point regardless of their social conditions and difficulty of work. The French public noticed the discrepancy between the discourse of universality of the proposed system and the reality of growing economic disparities. The new so-called “universal” plan only pretended to be universal, failing to account for social and gender differences. In the difference of life expectancy between a factory worker and an executive, the latter may enjoy up to 10 more years in retirement because of life expectancy difference. Meanwhile, women’s unaccounted reproductive and domestic work were underrepresented in the 42 special schemes based on work difficulty.

While the reform purported to be more for women, some of the basic protections that widowed and/or divorced women could count on were removed. 

The pension reform triggered complete mayhem in the public transportation services and other services such as distribution of electricity and public education, with the longest strike ever. France has been known for its integrative public transportation, the jewel of the country. And still nothing is more fragile at this time of restrictive funding and austerity measures than challenges to publicly funded services. 

The scam of privatization was hidden in many reform proposals by then candidate Macron. He has changed many of these proposals for the worst claiming that he had been elected on the promise to change French society and to make the country more competitive. Actually, he won elected in the second round with a large number of votes from people who wanted to bar Marine Le Pen, an extreme right candidate who almost won. 

Many economists criticized the proposed pension reform plan, arguing that the system is not financially failing and does not require such an ill-prepared, unfair plan that might bring more privatization than social solidarity. Even the “Conseil d’Etat” declared that the plan was amateurish and opposed it. 

What was unforeseen, however, was the level of support from the general public for the strike and the social movement against this reform, despite the fact that it made going to work a real struggle. 

I had the experience several times of going to work in Paris, having to take my car (which I almost never do) and leave in the early morning (around 4:30), then find a parking space near the city line, then take the subway that would work only during rush hours (a few hours in the morning, a few hours in the evening). The platform was always overcrowded and a few trains passed before I could get on. But the conversations were lively, with people talking about the parts of the reform that were unacceptable. Despite being squeezed to a level I had never experienced before, the conversation on the train was all about the importance of fighting for our rights and the future of our children as well as the importance of remaining in solidarity with the movement. We were squashed in a friendly atmosphere, sharing humorous political jokes and helping each other, a rarity for Parisians. 

Although the current system is in financial equilibrium, that the government decided to rush to design this reform raised suspicion. While the pension system could have been improved and made more just, the government chose to ignore unions’ and economists’ proposals. The goal of this hastily proposed reform was not to gather consensus. The hidden piece concerns the incentive to subscribe to private retirement insurances for the higher revenue bracket, while encouraging feminization of poverty among older people. The Swedes, who passed a similar reform two decades ago, know that women getting older have lost rather than gained the comfort of retirement. 

Some American asset-manager firms, such as BlackRock, were identified as having lobbied the government to open the pension system to the marketplace and more business opportunities for their French branches. In January, when the head of the French branch of BlackRock was tapped to receive a Medal of Honor for service to the nation, there was an immediate outcry. Olivier Faure, the head of the socialist party, declared, “It is anything but anecdotal, BlackRock, it is quite simply the dark side of the pension reform”.

The government is currently introducing its reform to Parliament while the opposition brings thousands of amendments to the floor to block the process. Throughout this process, women are used as an adjusting variable; gender disparity between classes and ethnicities are systematically ignored. Yet again, women lose. Meanwhile, on subway trains they regrouped and talked about their unstable careers, the lack of consideration for their invisible yet crucial work. Women in the global south have done that for a long time and now that the neoliberal and pseudo adjustment programs are reaching the north, people in France are learning what solidarity means.

Solidarity in the French Alps

(Photos by Brigitte Marti)

The heartless in power: Making it impossible to seek refuge in the United States

We are living in a modern time. The president of the United States has been impeached by the House of Representatives. Two articles of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress were adopted. He was not impeached for having separated families of asylum seekers, sending children away from their parents, leading to child deaths and missing children. He received no official reproof for all kinds of suggestions he made to make the southern frontier of the United States a place of cruelty. When he suggested to shut down the border, his advisers, reportedly astonished, told him that this decision would trap American tourists in Mexico and would affect the precious asymmetrical NAFTA trade agreement and therefore the economy. The president made many other cruel suggestions, for instance, building an electrified wall with spikes to pierce human flesh (the precision is important), fortifying the wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators. He also had the idea of shooting the legs of people, of the wretched of the earth to use Franz Fanon’s terms, who are crossing the border without proper documentation.

This is the same president who ordered the veto of UN resolution 2467 on ending sexual violence in war unless the health section including sexual and reproductive health was removed. These decisions are real: they show the schism between rights and laws and rights, between precaritized women, children and men, and the laws of men of power. 

The heartless reveal themselves in their hypocritical policies, flouting basic ethical principles. The Trump administration has shaped a new level of cruelty with its immigration policies. The president explained in the simplistic and shallow language of his policy: “Our country is full—can’t take anymore—so turn around that’s the way it is.” They even came up with a senseless title for this policy, “Migrant Protection Protocols” (MPP), which forces asylum seekers reaching the southern border of the United States to return to hazardous and dangerous areas in Mexico. There have been numerous reports of rape, kidnapping, and torture of asylum seekers stuck in Mexico. 

To prove the insensitive character of this policy, the acting commissioner Department of Homeland Security justified it as an alternative to family separation; communication is key in pushing heartless policies.  Alternative is a big word in neoliberal language, either we don’t have any and public systems have to be dismantled or the alternative is to dismantle the asylum system, claiming to “restore integrity in the immigration system.” Meanwhile Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), dismissed the numerous public reports (about 636) of rape, torture, kidnapping as “anecdotal stuff.” 

Meanwhile, asylum seekers have no chance to get a hearing that lasts more than a few minutes in the tent courts making it practically impossible to pass these screenings, according to US senator Jeff Merkley’s office. In the spirit of unfairness, fake hearing notices have been sent to asylum seekers. MPP combined with two other immigration policies will bar the asylum process, making it impossible to seek refuge in the United States, a country fully in the hands of white supremacist and heartless people. 

(Photo Credit 1: Loren Elliott / Reuters / Washington Post) (Photo Credit 2: Time)

On (mis)representation: Baltimore, El Paso, violence, death

I moved from Europe to Baltimore more than 25 years ago. I came to develop a kind of chauvinistic attachment to this peculiar city. After all its nickname is Charm City. Baltimore is slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, post slavery. 2/3 of the city is black. The white establishment of the city and the state incessantly try to sweep under the carpet these elements of its past and present. A segregated city with liberal feelings, Baltimore developed as an industrial city in the 19thcentury with one of the most active ports in the United States. Certainly, the tensions from the industrial revolution to deindustrialization are colored by the stigmata of slavery, racism. 

Baltimore got its international fame with the series The Wire described by its author David Simon as a “Greek tragedy for the new millennium,” in which institutions such as the police had increasing power with growing impunity, in part due to the lack of oversight from the state government which has controlled the Police Department since its inception. David Simon explained that the series showed “the triumph of capitalism over human value.” Nevertheless, Baltimore is a place of resistance and debate, a place where people are trying to imagine a sense of community despite class, gender, race/ethne systems that are part of the history of Baltimore and the United States.  

On July 30th, the 45thpresident of the United States missed a chance to celebrate the 290th anniversary of the creation of the city of Baltimore, but he never misses an occasion to express his basic racism and xenophobic political ideals. His attacks on Baltimore particularly the Baltimore of Elijah Cummings, in short Black Baltimore (Cummings represents the 7thMaryland’s district, which encompasses over half of the city of Baltimore), is his latest strike on humanity. For a president who has made a career in reality shows, it is difficult to understand the true reality of an abusive system of police, justice, poverty and violence generated by a capitalistic society that reduces human dignity to a racialized, gendered determination of human value. The murder by police of Freddie Gray in the streets of Baltimore is one example. Why did Freddie Gray decide to run away from police?  When people demanded justice for Freddie Gray, the entire city was punished. Remember, Baltimore is where Central Booking was invented, where the parallel economy of narcotics trafficking is a variable to undermine any emancipation of the Black community. But none of that was expressed by the president of the nation, because he is just president for the racist and xenophobic part of the population oblivious to its history.  

There is a special spirit of resistance in Baltimore, as the day that followed the last presidential election reminded me. A bar near Penn Station, the train station of Baltimore, put a sign on the sidewalk saying: “Happy Hours, it’s a terrible day”. The sign was inviting in the bleak context of the day and the years to come to enter a nondescript place. The crowd inside was mainly Black and some White, the discussion was about resisting and the sense of solidarity was present. 

Donald Trump was designated 45thpresident of the United States. He immediately demonstrated an unapologetic and nasty understanding of what wielding power means. His caricatural, white supremacist, misogynistic position is not new but as the president, he supposedly must have attempted to be the representative of the people of the United States, all of them. I am joking!  His base is white, some are supremacist, other have simply grown up cajoled by the idea of the natural superiority of their race or their social position. His base and his financial and business supporters are now the only nation. 

On this basis, he aimed at four women of color, duly elected members of Congress, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar.  The four congressmembers have been the target of outrageous utterances and threats coming from the occupant of the White House. He accused them of hating the United States, advising them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they come. For clarity, three are American born and Omar came as a refugee when she was 11. These muckraking comments indicate that xenophobic, anti-feminist hatred is part of his campaign strategies for 2020, but beyond this is a sign of the desperate attempt to maintain white supremacy as well as the supremacy of the capitalist neoliberal system that has been under the control of the “non-representative” leaders of this world. 

Instead of being vilified, the four women should have been applauded for their achievements, their commitment against oppression and marginalization. Their constant engagement against the villainy of the current immigration policies pushed by the president, the violence of the treatment of refugees. They should be an inspiration for anyone who thinks about representing a population. 

Representation is at the heart of the current political tensions surrounding elections. These women were elected on a ticket that demanded health care not health insurance, respect for the dignity of asylum seekers, respect for women’s rights and for the principle of the law and justice. 

Representation is a gendered and racialized battle field. When the leader does not obey the community, he (rarely she) commands the community in response to their votes. The struggle is global, the rise of extreme right intolerant voices has many causes; the responses should encompass the ideals of an open participatory democracy. This utopian vision is far from the reality in Baltimore and elsewhere in the United States. Black lives still don’t matter, women are still persecuted for wanting to decide when to be pregnant and keep their body safe, all that in the reality of climate change. Vested interests still manage the system of representation in the United States and in the globalized world. It’s time to end misrepresentation. In the United States, after this deadly week-end, we see once more that racist, xenophobic representatives entail xenophobic violence that leads to killing. End misrepresentation now. 

(Photo Credit 1: Baltimore Sun / Julio Cortez / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Vox / Mario Tama / Getty Images)

The politics of suffering, a growing project in Europe

In France, the yellow vests movement, some of whom are inspired by nationalistic racism and others need community and support, continues to monopolize the attention of social media, forging a large variety of opinions. Some talk about the suffering that pushes them to hit the roundabouts, others talk about shattering the government, all are the product of the neoliberal austerity creed. 

The trigger was the implementation of a new tax on diesel fuel that was going to impact mainly the population who has older cars in the outskirts of big city suburbs and the rural population. 

Additionally, diesel fuel was once subsidized to serve the interest of oil companies and is now officially identified to be responsible for premature death due to deadly micro particles released in the air after combustion. 

Should the concerns be also about climate change with the building of a disaster? Should the perpetuation of economic interests be questioned? Instead of asking these questions, the official discourse from a large political spectrum revolves around consumer purchasing power and unemployment. In this European setting, the term suffering is largely used to depict a large range of social situations. 

What does it mean to be suffering in France and elsewhere? Who is suffering? 

Here is Trump’s understanding of the notion of suffering: “On behalf of our nation I want to apologize to Brett and the entire Kavanaugh family for the terrible pain and suffering you have been forced to endure.” The suffering endured by Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans who were facing death at home and now are facing repression going north does not qualify as suffering for Trump and his cronies. 

In Europe, the suffering of 49 migrants who had been rescued by humanitarian ships in January has been ignored. This came after the closure of many ports of access, decided arbitrarily by the Italian Government against sea-rescue organizations. These organizations, such as SOS Mediterranée, were created after the end of Mare Nostrum to compensate for the absence of official rescue ships. Now, it is the turn of these non-governmental organizations to be dismantled by the authorities. 

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, just released a report about refugees/migrants arriving in Europe and at European borders. Reports come with numbers. With an estimated 2,275 people drowned in 2018 in the Mediterranean Sea, the year is a record of deaths compared to the number of arrivals in Europe.  More than 1500 people have already died attempting to reach Europe since the beginning of 2019. This situation casts doubt on the decisions by nation-states to remove rescue ships and close land routes rendering traveling to safety very dangerous. 

The UNHCR’s Director Pascale Moreau declared: “With the number of people arriving on European shores falling, this is no longer a test of whether Europe can manage the numbers, but whether Europe can muster the humanity to save lives.”

Saving lives would be a good idea, but there is a good deal of suffering awaiting the saved lives when they face asylum process. Incarceration of migrants is on the rise in Europe; that is the project of the Italian minister of interior, Matteo Salvini. 

There is another way, leaving them in the streets with the increasing homeless population, thanks to neoliberal austerity. Women are particularly vulnerable when homeless.  Every year, the Abbé Pierre Foundation sarcastically rewards the best initiatives to impede the homeless from finding a place to rest in cities. The award called “Les Pics d’or” (golden picks) goes to municipalities, metro stations, even banks. They render public spaces uninviting and uninhabitable with all kinds of devices, picks, individual seats instead of benches, rocks, and massive planters. And then there are the police raids slashing tents given to migrants by humanitarian helpers. 

So much work done by the neoliberal technocrats to make the Wretched of the Earth  suffer, while the richer are thirsty for help and assistance for their leisured life. Although it seems cliché, this reality of asymmetry is well described in the most recent World Inequality Report.   

There is no crisis of migration: only 3% of people migrate, 97 % stay where they are, 70% of African’s migrants remains on the continent, and, in 2017 only 10 % of migrants migrated for economic reasons. In France, only 0.5% of the population is undocumented; although they are eligible to free health care some are dreaming to create administrative devices to impede their access to health care services.

So much confusion about suffering generated by economic austerity, migration.  Let’s remember:  “Sapiens Africanus was born not in a lattice of sharp borders but rather an open ecosystem, punctuated by climates, shortages, abundances, droughts, and floods, ruptures and junctions, alliances, parasitisms, antagonisms, sharing, and exploitation….” Patrick Chamoiseau in Migrant Brothers, imagine migrant sisters! 

(Photo Credit: SOS Mediterranée / Laurin Schmid)

Italy: The cause against disqualification of women, men and children

There is a cause that mirrors the cause of political feminism because it confronts the same principle of disqualification. In Italy, the cause of welcoming with dignity and respect “migrants/refugees” is being vilified by the new extreme right Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini who has engaged in a war against the most vulnerable women, men, and children who are looking for safety. 

The humanist initiative that has taken place in Riace, a small village of Calabria, under the leadership of its mayor Domenico Lucano, in his third term, has been recognized as a model of integration. For this, Lucano became the perfect target for Matteo Salvini, who first had him arrested and placed under house arrest and then deported him away from his villageusing false pretenses of misusing funds and supporting a “business” of immigration.

When Domenico Lucano became mayor in 2004, Riace was on the decline. He had a vision, he imagined an alliance between the local people and the people in need of a place to live. He had plenty of ideas to initiate a different kind of socio-economy that involved community building beyond the usual norms and appearances. His policies revitalized the villagewith the development of a small craft industry with artisanal shops as well as an efficient co-operative waste sorting unit that has been run with migrants for the past 7 years. That was unbearable for the anti-migrant Italian Minister of the Interior. Domenico Lucano proved that a global villagewas possible. His arrest and deportation are part of the global destruction of a sound system of social politics of integration. The goal is to curtail any sort of solidarity, despite that working in cooperation is always more efficient for a more sustainable society. 

Italy has a new policy: close all human size structures and build huge centers in which to park the refugees/migrants. The Italian government wants to reduce the number of refugees admitted under a humanitarian program which reduced the number of refugees by 60 %. Once again, some people coming from the South are not qualified to be alive, and women are the first ones to be isolated and disqualified.

Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean Sea, the Aquarius, the rescue boat from SOS Mediterranéeis now permanently harbored, missing a flag to navigate. Médecins Sans Frontières announced that it stopped its operation with SOS Mediterranée. The Italian government declared a war against the most vulnerable women men children, the refugees trying to escape the hell of Libya, and further ensured that no country would provide them with the all-important flag. Despite petitions and demonstrations, France, Spain and others did not come to the rescue of the rescue ship.

The resultant reality is death in Mediterranean for people who need the most support for having escaped extreme climate conditions, violence, rape, and for having endured slavery-like situations. Not long ago, the infamous international community was shaken by the image of the slave trade in Libya on CNN. Congratulations went to the work of the journalists who uncovered it, expression of moral outrage burst out in all circles. Where did that outrage go? Where is the outcry as Matteo Salvini degrades our fellow human beings using the rhetoric of migration crisis to lie about the reality of the situation. Matteo Salvini knows no limits. Cruelty is now his official policy. 

Last week, the NGO Mission Lifeline accusedFrontexand Eunavforof crimes against humanity and called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the case of 25 migrants drifting without water and food on a dinghy for 11 days, 70 km west of Tripoli, Libya. Nobody moved to rescue them, and the Aquarius was no longer available.   In this time of climate urgency, crossing borders is becoming an impossible task for the people the most affected by the policies and actions of rich countries. The dehumanizing populist extreme rights developing in our world institutionalize the criminalization of migrants. Migration is presented as a source of crisis, even though only 3% of human beingson earth migrate. Who needs migration crisis? The mayor of Riace and many others have demonstrated that there is another way. Why are their initiatives being hampered? 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / SOS Méditerranée France)

Keep the civilian rescue ship, the Aquarius, at sea on the Mediterranean Sea!


As authoritarian leadership governs our world, democracies become less and less inclusive. Consider the treatment of people who have to migrate from situations of violence.  There are growing reasons to migrate, with climate change and climate change violence affecting the south enormously. Affluent people are not called migrants, but rather expatriates. Since the most affluent are also the most influential, they shape the discourse of crisis prominent in the linked domains of economics and migration. “Crisis” leads the public to believe that no human being is directly concerned. The bodies of color drowning in the Mediterranean Sea are not human, are not people. They are just a crisis!

In Italy, a close election brought to power a coalition of right wing and extreme-right wing leaders described as populist. They used the fear factor associated with “crisis” to eliminate the reality of the political situation in Italy. Italy’s parliamentary regime makes it hard to have a leader when elections are tight. After the so-called populist Giuseppe Conte became the head of the government, he nominated the leader of the extreme right-wing group “the League,” Matteo Salvini as Minister of the Interior. As good populists, they abhor the arrival on the coasts of Italy of what they call the migrants, especially those of color; their campaign was mainly based on fear of foreigners of color. Meanwhile, it is precisely people of color who are roughly exploited in Italian industries that count on these populations without rights to extract heavier profits. When Matteo Salvini stated that Italy will not receive migrants anymore, he used the word “migrants” to signify the Other, a large category of human beings mostly non-Caucasian.

Recently in Europe the odyssey of the only civilian rescue ship of the Mediterranean has epitomized this reality. They would cruise the Libyan waters. The Aquarius is a humanitarian ship chartered by SOS MEDITERRANEEwith the collaboration of Medecins sans Frontieres, Doctors without Borders. The story of this maritime rescue team is emblematic as this ONG was formed after Mare Nostrum was dismantled. The last blow for the Aquarius came from the Italian government, which pressured the Panama Maritime Authority to deflag the Aquarius.  Not having a flag makes it impossible to dock although the ship can stay at sea. That occurred while another show of force took place when the Aquarius had another 59 people who had been rescued off the coast of Libya.

One of the sailors on board of the Aquarius spoke with a journalist.

Where are you?

“We are 30 nautical miles away from the Maltese coasts, it has been five days that we have been going in circles in bad weather with sea swells over 5 meters. We have 58 people on board. We have 12 children under the age of ten. It’s very dangerous for them and very difficult to keep an eye on them at all time. The Aquarius is a working boat not a passenger boat. These people share with us exceptional moments of life.” 

What are you able to tell them?

“To tell them? They tell us thank you and I ask them to forgive us, I feel ashamed.

When we arrive at a rescue site, there are no numbers, no migrants. We see children in the arms of their parents who are drowning. We see people covered with oil. We hear screams. We see people who have been adrift for days, without food, without toilets, with oil leaking everywhere. We see gazes fixing us. We have outreached hands. We see all that. And then what to tell them? I don’t know. Sorry it’s shameful, it doesn’t reflect our values, this is not what Europe is about, sailors don’t abandon people at sea. 

“We can see Malta, and it has been 5 days. Where they come from, they have survived atrocities. They faced inevitable death until our rescue boat arrived. Now we have them on the deck, they are still thankful and trustful. Therefore, sorry, sorry for the people who make decisions, they don’t respect you. They call you migrants, who am I to call you migrants? Here onboard people are simply human beings with names, there are no migrants here. These people, these policy makers, they must come onboard. We will provide them with boots and sailor gear and they will see. 

“We have children who are running around on the deck, they are full of life and playful with us. So just our apologies that you are not welcome. 

“For political reasons, we cannot cross this imaginary line 12 miles away from Malta, because you are not allowed there, but I, because I am a good French boy, I am allowed there. Apparently, your life doesn’t have the same value than mine.”

The European Union faces its own contradictions. With the rise of the extreme right wing, the Aquarius has become that annoying ship that must remain moored in Marseille. After the end of Mare Nostrum, the goal for some in Europe has been to bring the civilian rescue intervention of SOS Mediterranée to an end. In 2017 the Aquarius rescued 15 078 people from 40 countries, 34% more than in 2016. 14 % of the survivors were women. On October 7th, across Europe, from Berlin to Madrid, thousands of people demonstrated in support of SOS Mediterranée. Petitions are circulating to demand France provide a maritime registration to the Aquarius and to allow the ship to return at sea. Nobody is questioning anymore the Libyan torture camps and yet, if the Aquarius doesn’t return to the area, the Libyan Coast Guard will be left in charge of “rescuing” the people escaping the violent grip of the system of migration. Please consider signing the petition, here.

(Photo Credit: SOSMEDITERRANEE)

France contracts the epidemic of “tough on immigration” laws

Some issues come back to the scene of “democratic” states at the time of neoliberal battles. In this time of globalization, there is a disparity of sanctions between movements of vulture capital and movements of people, themselves often victims of the economics of globalization.  While no one of late has offered a bill against vulture venture capital, in France, the Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb has offered Parliament a new bill on asylum and immigration, nicknamed the law of shame.  Fitting into the European Union eagerness to crack down on the rights of people in exile, the bill aims to cut down the appeal time for asylum seekers as well as increase the time in immigration detention center. With an eye to society-market language, the bill promises “controlled immigration, effective asylum rights, and successful integration”.

While the Minister of the Interior claims the bill is balanced, NGOs involved in immigration services, such as la Cimade, warn of the danger of increasing levels of dehumanization with a law that treats everyone reaching France with suspicion. The Minister responds, repeatedly, that France cannot receive all the misery of the world. Remember the Geneva Convention? The Geneva Convention defines rights for refugees, not rights for countries to get rid of refugees.  This “controlled immigration”  bill has already passed the first chamber.

The bill doubles the maximum number of days spent in detention center from 45 to 90 days. Ostensibly, that gives the authorities more time to find solutions other than allowing the person in exile to stay in France, in other words, reaching an agreement with the refugee’s original country about the possibility for return.

According to Mireille Delmas-Marty, French law scholar and professor, before the end of the 1970s there was no separate notion of immigration, and no detention center existed for administrative detention, but, over time, the confusion between immigration, being illegal and delinquency has changed with changes in the law. In 1980 the “Bonnet Bill” marked the beginning of the criminalization of immigration. The bill allowed 7 days of administrative detention under specific conditions. France’s Supreme Court ruled that was too long and censured the bill. In 2018, 90 days is described as a reasonable length of time behind bars for non-criminal people. “Administrative” incarceration for people who are accused of nothing other than traveling without documentation should be challenged in the context of a record number of incarcerations in French prisons with 70,367 behind bars, 21 000 awaiting trial, and 120% occupation rate.

French civil society has resisted the principle of administrative detention on immigration issues. Recently, parents, students and teachers united to demand and obtain the liberation of the father of two high school students from Kosovo who was placed in administrative detention for his immigration status. Such acts of resistance have occurred repeatedly.

Collomb’s bill accelerates asylum procedures so people will have to apply for asylum within 90 days instead of the current 120 days. If their application is denied, they will have 15 days instead of 30 to appeal. The asylum process is already extremely difficult to maneuver for most people in need. Many NGOs, such as the Primo Levy Center, describe the process as too fast and shallow to be fair. Right now, judges and employees of the court of appeal for refugees and the immigration lawyers’ guild are on strike, denouncing the impossibility of treating everyone given the lack of resources.

The bill contained some progressive elements such as a better protection for women victim of sexual mutilations, stateless people, reunification with their family for minors traveling alone, and removing countries denying rights to homosexuals from the list of safe countries.  But the debate in Parliament revealed a larger resistance as the positive sections didn’t make up for the overall lack of protection for the dignity of people in exile. Many MPs from the majority opposed the bill and denounced the absence of necessary altruism and benevolence. With the bill, France is neither a land of integration nor of hospitality. Christiane Taubira remarked that the bill catered to a certain sector of French voters rather than taking into account the human reality of the migrations of our time.

Can numbers change the suspicious side of the law of shame on immigration? At a recent conference on migration, refugees, and exile, French historian Patrick Boucheron argued that more statistics are necessary to understand the human reality of today’s migrations. The world is made of 244 million migrants, with 100 million forced to migrate, 21 million refugees under the status of the Geneva Convention, and 3 million migrating to developed countries. The 10 countries that receive over 50 % of people migrating make up 2 % of the world’s GDP. Boucheron explained that in a time of capitalist crisis accompanied by environmental crisis, hospitality becomes a key political question.

What will transform the vision and understanding of people who are migrating from the perspective of the people who migrated before them?  President Emmanuel Macron’s nickname is Jupiter, a mythological god that reigned over other gods. Jupiter was also the god of hospitality. We should remind the young President of France of that. How can people and the government transform distrust into trust?  What will make a politics of hospitality possible?

 

(Photo Credit 1, 2: La Cimade)