The Second Coming

Nebuchadnezzar outcast in the wilderness

At the risk of evoking the wrath and ire of my own faith community, I am using the metaphor of Donald Trump’s incumbency to describe the ascendancy of so many things that are so wrong with the idea of a Trumped up world. Like most sane and caring quarters of humanity, I was and remain somewhat shell-shocked by the US election result not least its decisive outcome.  Even though it could have gone either way, I had no idea that it veered so far away from an ethical universe.  During his thundering and violently divisive approach to the White House, Trump already created the sort of racist, misogynist, anti migrant, anti-anything that is not full-blooded American sentiment. Whatever that means. Whoever those are including himself, his many wives and children. Even in locker rooms, his coming is a bizarre apparition.

He is certainly anti-anything thoughtful, decent, kind, inclusive, nuanced. Which brings me to the second coming.  A second coming of a rabid re-invention of a polarised and razor thin interpretation of privileged whiteness.

America is in an era that has been marked by a new civil rights movement, one that has necessarily taken social and race solidarity global again. This internationalism had in many ways diminished since the end of the South African apartheid colonial struggles.

Globalised struggle was subverted by most countries’ hard battle to remain afloat in the midst of ongoing assaults of market fundamentalism, state retreat, social exclusion and disenfranchisement that have accompanied society’s underclass and marginalised. The ‘Black Lash‘ against Obama has been apparent by the increased lynching of Black people.  Although largely seen as male targeting men, several Black women and girls have also been targeted.  The othering of non-whiteness has been a rehearsal of the Second Coming. A rehearsal to lynch the reality that America and the world beyond are not the White bastions.

Attempting to recreate and impose a misplaced post Darwinian imagination on the rest of the world is beyond naïve. In today’s global power matrix, it is a risk that the US dare not assume will be met with passively. The world beyond the United States has moved on, and the centrality of the United States as the axis of global power has plummeted probably beyond repair. Like Great Britain before, their era of invincible imperial domination has ended. However like a macabre scene, the decapitated chicken runs dead with its head off causing chaos and blood letting in their wake particularly for those who do not know they are dead yet.

Hillary Clinton remains a deeply divisive candidate who polarised many of my friends on the progressive left. She has a recent history of presiding over Gaddafi’s extra judicial killing and her centrist, hawkish stance did not differentiate her from the bland establishment. Unlike Bernie Saunders, she did not evoke excitement and support. Her and Bill’s race baiting when she ran against Obama in the 2008 are also not entirely forgotten, and the rumours that she ran her husband’s many mistresses out of town have not been quashed. Nevertheless, she is a better option if only because she is a known quantity and somewhat familiar adversary particularly in the Global South. So I remain annoyed at my friends who opted to sit this one out or to vote elsewhere thus splitting the vote and enabling the second coming.

The community insurrections in Ferguson and Baltimore have resonance with the demands made in Cairo and Tunis in 2011. Across South African metropoles, recent protests form a part of a constant reclamation and reiteration of every liberation dividend that was conceded in 1994. It is from one of these cities that I write, in a country that is facing its own paradox of a leader who defies insurmountable odds, using or bypassing democratic, legal and constitutional processes. So Trump is the second coming of familiar phenomena of political impossibilities that become not only tangible realities but almost immoveable beams of obstruction.

His comments on trade policy are complicated mainly because they are a zealously protectionist part of the re-invention of a great America in which Trump predicts America will  ‘win so much that they will get sick of it‘. A world without bi-lateral agreements and international trade obligations that require reciprocity and demand full access to markets for the bullying Northern countries. Trump’s reluctance to proceed with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] has caused some consternation from markets and cautious relief from some countries in the southern hemisphere who have been resisting the potential assault of global mode of free trade.

Yet Trump is coming from such a toxic place of  ‘Ameri-absorption‘ that any potential gains must be counted and calculated carefully. Indeed the climate denialists have come out to play and global action in this regard is unlikely to be easy. The second coming of increased militarisation of international life and domestic instruments notably the US police give me a cold sweat. How Trump will deal with the insurgencies that sometimes arise on my continent given his hawkish tendencies can only be speculated.

His remarks on South Africa as a crime-ridden mess were ill judged and inflammatory, typical of a parochial invention of Africa as a basket case that Trump favours. Unfortunately for him, we have long memories. There are multiple democratic deficits that have been revealed about the US electoral system (re-counting in three States is taking place at the time of writing) and I have proposed external election monitoring particularly from African, Asian and Latin American countries.  What is particularly disgusting about the Trump moment is that despite all these and his flaws, a whole bunch of people believes him. Along with Brexit, the Global South can only ponder and recalibrate these moments. The re-invention that they represent is as thin and fragile as a reed and subject to the sort of head winds that varied social forces can easily demolish or manipulate for their own ends.

 

(Image Credit: William Blake / Art and the Bible)

Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves?

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Women prisoners protest at HMP Styal

Today’s news out of England and Wales is predictably grim: “2016 becomes worst year ever recorded for suicides in prisons.” According to the Howard League, “The Howard League for Penal Reform has been notified of 102 people dying by suicide behind bars since the beginning of 2016 – one every three days. With five weeks remaining until the end of the year, it is already the highest death toll in a calendar year since current recording practices began in 1978. The previous high was in 2004, when 96 deaths by suicide were recorded.” And so now another end-of-year Round of Concern occurs. Absolutely none of this is new, and absolutely nothing positive will happen until the concern is manifested by more than the usual suspects.

From incarcerated refugee women in India to women prisoners in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Den- mark, England and Wales, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, and Sweden to women in prisons in the United States and Canada, the news is and has been the same, and for quite a while. Reporting on suicide rates in Canada in 1999, scholars noted, “The fact remains, however, that the suicide rate among female prisoners is abnormally high.” In 2010, scholars reported, “In England and Wales over a quarter of a century, suicide rates in prisoners were reported to be approximately five times higher in men than age-standardised general population rates.” And here it is, the end of 2016, “with around 3,900, mainly vulnerable, women locked up in English jails and 19 deaths already recorded this year (the highest for 12 years)” … and that was three weeks ago.

Today, the Howard League and the Centre for Mental Health released Preventing Prison Suicide, “the latest in a series of reports published by the two charities as part of a joint programme aimed at saving lives in prison.” Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote, “Whilst the government has promised (yet again) to recruit additional staff, we cannot wait months for them to appear, especially as such promises have proved empty in the past. The only way to save lives, make prisons safe for inmates and staff and help people to live law abiding lives on release is to reduce the number of prisoners. Once the number of prisoners is down, the challenge is to make prisons work properly in the public interest but that is such a distant prospect at the moment. Today’s challenge is simply to keep people alive.”

Scotland said NO! to the casual wreckage of women’s lives and provided alternatives, which include tearing down many women’s prisons, sending women who need help to places where they will receive assistance and where their dignity, as women, will be respected. Women don’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of carceral efficiency in which the challenge is simply to keep people alive. How have we arrived at a place where the challenge is simply to keep people alive? By turning our backs on the imprisoned women. Suicides in prisons and jails have risen more or less steadily over the past decade, at least, and that rise has been noted and documented, occasionally deplored, and then generally forgotten. Now is the time to stop forgetting, to remember in advance what you will say when someone, years from or tomorrow or tonight, looks at you and asks, “Where were you when all those women prisoners killed themselves? What did you? What have we done?”

 

(Photo Credit: New Statesman / Don McPhee/ Guardian) (Image Credit: Inquest)

Women, the invisible migrants

While the US election demonstrated that abject racist, anti women, xenophobic speeches lead to power; people continue to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Last month another 90 people died off the Libyan coast. 3800 persons seeking safe land drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since January 2016. The UN ‘s refugee agency predicts that 2016 will be the deadliest year despite about 700 000 fewer people having made the crossing compared to 2015. The likelihood of dying is one in 88 arrivals in 2016 while last year it was one in 269 arrivals.

The European obsession with stopping the crossing of people escaping war zones – signing shameful agreements with the violent and authoritarian Turkish president, increasing surveillance forcing smugglers to use less detectable rafts – has created more hazards for women, men, and children. The preservation of migrants’ lives come after catering to populist mindsets and vested interests.

This year, the number of women and children migrating for survival has outnumbered the number of men, with 60% of the refugees being women and children while they were about 30 % last year. Women face more hardship and gender-based violence with an increase of war violence committed on women.

None of this is new. In 2010 Smaïn Laarcher looked at the violence, persecution, and death threats that women faced on the road to exile. He described the various agents of violence denouncing the denial of humanity to women, which led to sexual torture committed in total impunity.

Meanwhile, once in Europe they can be stuck in places like Calais in France. In 2002, the UK demanded the closing of the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, on the pretext that the French authorities had been too lenient with the refugees. Then, in 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, then Interior Minister of France, signed an agreement to control migration to the United Kingodm. The treaty is both complex and simple; it turns France into a police structure for the UK preventing the English-speaking wretched of the earth with family or friends in the UK from crossing. This treaty has created misery and the camp of Calais also called the “Jungle.” The latter was recently dismantled.

The hardship and suffering of the refugee women has been mostly invisible and ignored. Where are the women who are trying to escape violence in increasing number? According to the NGO France Terre d’Asile, in 2015, in the department of Pas de Calais about 1000 women migrants lived in various camps including in “the jungle”. 120 of those women were minors. Many NGOs have worked to help these women. All the aid workers say the same thing, “We don’t see them.” They only walk in groups at certain times of the day; some have created their own women-only campsite in a field.

There is a place in Calais, the Jules Ferry Center, that receives about 300 women in a safe environment. The doors are locked; only the women can decide to go in and out. Even personnel have to get clearance. A spokeperson for the center explained, “They don’t want journalists in because they don’t want people to look at them like circus freaks.” They are safe in this center; they have access to psychological support as well as medical care and they can stay with their children; but this is not enough. Women can be invisible and attacked in refugee centers that have not been conceived for the safety of women, as it has occured in Germany.

Gynecologie sans frontieres (gynecology without borders), or GSF, is a very active NGO in the camps. They provide care, sexual education and access to reproductive services including abortion, and they treat women with respect. In France, abortion is free for all women.

While women may have been raped and need and demand access to abortion when pregnant after the rape, they also face all kind of issues coming with constant patriarchal violence. They have a chance to talk when they meet these helpers.

Sometimes women sell their bodies for money; a network of pimps prowls the camps. They may be also the smugglers who get paid that way. The clients are not only the migrants but also the local inhabitants.

A world of silence is wrapped around the women’s bodies. The migrant women should be able to find their own words to explain what happened to them. GSF has designed methods to liberate these voices in an attempt to make the invisible migrant women visible. The volunteers of GSF or other NGOs want to help them to reclaim their rights and dignity but it should be again a collective responsibility.

As we have seen with the election of a sexual predator who is ignorant of UN treaties, the western elites are increasingly showing their disdain and disregard for international treaties to protect women, children, civilians, and the environment, in order to galvanize the most racist energies for electoral gain and power. In this period, women are becoming increasingly vulnerable and migrant women are invisibly dehumanized. Once again solidarity is required!

 

(Photo Credit: Gynécologie sans frontières)

Where Have All Trump’s Victims Gone?

It is barely two weeks since Trump won the election and suddenly the media attention on the women who came forward about being sexually assaulted by him has vanished. The networks are now intent on normalizing Trump and are not touching the questions: How did we elect a sexual predator as President? How come the women who came forward with their stories have now disappeared? Will our judicial system throw out cases brought forward by women who have experienced rape? Will students in fraternities be emboldened to rape with impunity on the basis of the precedent set by Trump?

At a recent National Organization of Women’s New York convention. Jane Manning and Emma Slane, prosecuting attorneys for two women who were raped after being drugged unconscious spoke about their cases. They described their cases as difficult particularly because they had to prove that because the victims were unconscious they had no memory. They won their cases because the victims had used the rape kit, and the attorneys were able to use techniques such as the hair test, where the DNA matched the hair sample from the attacker.

In Trump’s case, the women not only remember being assaulted by him, but they had told their close friends about it; therefore, we also have credible testimonies. So isn’t it bizarre that at a time when prosecuting attorneys are able to win difficult cases, Trump’s victims have vanished into the woodwork? What’s more, in New York the statute of limitations has been lifted, a victory that should make some of Trump’s victims press charges more easily.

The woman who said she was raped by Trump when she was 13 has now withdrawn her charge on account of receiving death threats from Trump’s supporters. Does this mean women will be more afraid now to bring cases against attackers who are powerful, because they will be threatened by a society that sees the victim as the “problem,” not the rapist? So, what is the difference between this current crisis and of sexual assault that goes unpunished in countries like Pakistan that we are quick to criticize for the same problem?

Remember Dominique Strauss Kahn who assaulted a maid in a New York hotel? His trial lasted 4 years and it prevented him from running for the Presidency in France. It is indeed deplorable that Trump who is more powerful is not held accountable. And the media’s silence is deafening.

And why aren’t we taking any action, even if major women’s organizations like NOW have devoted much of their energy to fight sexual violence and bring perpetrators to justice? Why aren’t millions marching outside Trump Tower so a sexual predator is not elected President? How come millions are marching in South Korea to impeach their President for her criminal offences while we who believe ourselves to be a superpower are laboring under a pall of silence about this horrendous double crime—that of sexual assault and the crime of electing a perpetrator?

Just when we thought we are finally able to fight against hegemonies such as economic class and status of perpetrators of sexual violence, we are now encountering someone who indeed believes, along with a puppet media, that he is immune from the law.

 

(Photo Credit: Cisternyard)

Calling On White People to Organize Other White People

For many white folks the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States elicited shock, disbelief, confusion, and outrage. Conspicuously missing was the realization that the impossible had long been possible and that many of us either weren’t aware of or didn’t want to acknowledge that. For many waking up in a Trump America, it was never in doubt as to whether or not the seemingly impossible was possible. The country was founded on stolen land and genocide, whose system was designed from the start to protect the interests of the wealthy, landed, slave-owning white males who created it; centuries later that system continues working as planned. Deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States are biases, prejudices, rationalities and tools of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They were here long before the 2016 election, and won’t be addressed by voting in a new administration. So, where do we go from here?

With the holidays upon us, many articles are suggesting how to avoid the ‘difficult’ conversations with family members at the dinner table, how to sidestep `those’ issues. What we need now is not a guide on how to sidestep conversations, but rather a path for engagement. The answer lies in organizing.

Bob Zellner, son and grandson of members of the Ku Klux Klan, recently shared his experience organizing for civil rights deep in Mississippi in the 1960s. When he and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were told, “You can’t organize in Mississippi,” they replied, “Okay, that’s where we’re going, we’re going to Mississippi, because yes we can organize there and we’ve got to take this terror of lynching away from the enemy. We’re not afraid, we know that we may die, but we’re going to go ahead and do it anyway.” Using a model of organizing he was taught by Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, Zellner recounts, “So we were working with [Ms. Hamer], and she says to us, ‘Well a lot of these people you have to work with them on a material basis: They need a job, and they need their kids to be taken care of. And so whatever they feel about race, that’s secondary to whatever they need.’ We extrapolated that to, if people need a good union, a good strong union, they’re going to have to work Black and white together to get that.”

This isn’t new, and doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. Organizers have long been implementing strategies to organize in spaces that are often written off as impossible to reach or too entrenched in their ways. Having a strategy, being able to actively listen, drawing connections between shared experiences, speaking to matters of material needs, and allowing others to engage critically with what you’re discussing rather than turning the conversation into a tirade or a lecture can plant a seed. Instead of responding, particularly in anger, delegating the response back to the person you’re speaking with can allow them to articulate their positions – maybe for the first time – and reflect. Challenge them to see how their story connects on a broader scale with stories from communities of color and other marginalized communities.

A key point of differentiation to focus on then is, how do you benefit? For instance, white neighborhoods get better public services, more affordable housing and less segregation could threaten that. Are you willing to give that up for your vision – of more affordable housing, quality education, healthcare, or whatever the issue may be? We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know that our communities need to be radically different than they are at present and that much work needs doing. In the era of the endless election cycle, it can be hard to break free of the idea that a candidate for elected office will be able to deliver sustained and meaningful change for a community. More than ever, we need to be affirming that movements for justice and dignity are not leaderless, but as Barbara Ransby says, leader-full and that we are the vanguard of change we seek for our futures.

Mariame Kaba, an organizer, educator, and writer whose work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development writes, “I really am 100% in favor of white people stretching their hands out in love & solidarity with their white cousins. Please go to it. What you should not expect is for me to do this? It makes no sense. A Black Muslim woman traipsing to West Virginia to organize white folks there is bonkers. It doesn’t make sense at all. White folks, yes.”

Building these relationships is most effective when done on a local level, addressing something issue-specific, and where a relationship is preexisting. While the work of engaging white people on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, and so much more can be mentally exhausting, emotionally damaging, and physically perilous, white folks are in a unique position to leverage the privileges and powers that we have been the beneficiaries of under white supremacy to engage with the difficult work of organizing our own communities. If it’s a starting point you need, look to your own community, be it municipal, familial, faith communities, student organizations, coworkers, or other forms of association.

This is a call to engagement, not disengagement; to strategic action; and most importantly, to organizing. Begin educating yourself and those in your community on the building blocks of organizing. Attend trainings – and if there aren’t trainings available where you live, collaborate to bring them there. White folks, we need to be doing the hard work of organizing our families, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers – regardless of who won in November – the work has always been there, and continues to call us to do it.

 

(Photo Credit: Kairos Center)

#SistersUncut: In England women reject austerity’s gendered death sentence

On Sunday, November 20, women shut down major bridges in London, Bristol, Newcastle and Glasgow, to protest recent drastic cuts in domestic violence services, a decade of cuts in domestic violence services, and, more generally the State’s pogrom against Black and Minority Ethnic, or BME, women, lesbians, immigrant and migrant women, poor and working women. Sisters Uncut organized the action to put the State on notice: “Theresa May claims she wants to end violence against women and girls. To do that we need an awful lot more than refuges. We need a long term, sustainable funding plan for all domestic violence services. We need universal access to benefits so survivors have the resources to escape, rather than policies like the benefit cap which are making it even harder when already 52% of survivors report that they can’t afford to leave. We need domestic violence support services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors – a `one size fits all’ generic approach might save money but it doesn’t meet needs. We need funding for outreach workers who are able to slowly build up survivors’ confidence over time and support survivors before the danger escalates, rather than a focus solely on crisis response. We need an end to gentrification and the devastating effects it has on communities; not all survivors want or are able to access support services, and it is their neighbours that provide their lifeline. And we must see the links between violent, racist government policies and the increased risk for black, brown, Muslim and migrant women experiencing domestic violence. We demand a secure, long term plan to support ALL domestic violence survivors, regardless of immigration status, with specialist services for black and brown, disabled and LGBT+ survivors.

When it comes to services for domestic violence services, the grimness of the numbers is only exceeded by the viciousness of the program that has established them. In September, Women’s Aid reported the Government’s plan would force 67% of specialist domestic abuse refuges in England to close, and that 87% of refuges in England would be forced to reduce their current level of provision. In Wales, 69% of refuges would be forced to close, and 100% would have to seriously reduce their current level of provision. Because migrants are restricted from using public funds, migrant non-binary people women are turned away from refuges, social housing, benefits or healthcare. How do you want your pain and suffering, slow and torturous or fast and torturous? Welcome to the economies of torture.

Marcia Smith, a domestic violence survivor, remembered: “When I went to the police with bruises, they said they couldn’t see my bruises because I was black. People don’t see black women as victims, and we get racism instead of help. With black services, you don’t have racism, you have the trust and support you need.” Is it any wonder that 90% of BME survivors prefer to receive support from a specialist BME organization?

Sisters Uncut declared an end to the destruction of women’s lives: “We will not stand by as black and brown survivors are left stranded in abusive homes without the bridges to safety provided by specialist domestic violence services, whilst migrant survivors with ‘no recourse to public funds’ find all of their bridges blocked by the government’s immigration policies.”

You block our bridges, so we block yours. Just prior to Theresa May’s Autumn Statement, where she will reveal the new budget, Sisters Uncut declared it time for Women’s Spring, and in doing so, joined women in the past few months in France, Argentina, Poland, South Africa who themselves joined the women water protectors at Standing Rock in the United States and Grassy Narrows in Canada, and beyond. It’s time, it’s way past time: “To those in power, our message is this: your cuts are sexist, your cuts are dangerous, and you think that you can get away with them because you have targeted the people who you perceive as powerless. We are those people, we are women, we will not be silenced. We stand united and fight together, and together we will win.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Broadly / Alice Zoo) (Photo Credit 2: The Fader / Holly Falconer)

 

 

 

 

Demand freedom for Dianne Ngoza! #SetHerFree

Dianne Ngoza

Dianne Ngoza

Why does the English government hate Dianne Ngoza? What horrible crime has she committed that the State has chosen to persecute, seize and cage her inside Yarl’s Wood? Is it the crime of seeking asylum, or the crime of being a Black woman, or the crime of being an African woman? Yes. Dianne Ngoza has been a campaigner for the human rights and dignity of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in the so-called United Kingdom. Based in Manchester, she is a member of management volunteers for Women Asylum Seekers Together, WAST; a lead member of United for Change; a trustee for City of Sanctuary; and has been a board member of Manchester Migrant Solidarity, MiSol. Dianne Ngoza is an assistant for Revive UK, which works with refugees and asylum seekers. At Revive, Dianne Ngoza is in charge of arranging drama and acts as a public speaker and representative. Recently Dianne Ngoza joined the leadership team of RAPAR, Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research. Dianne Ngoza was one of four nominees for the 2016 Spirit of Manchester Volunteer of the Year Award. Additionally, Dianne Ngoza has been nominated for a 2016 National Diversity Award, in the Positive Role Model Award – Race/Faith/Religion category. Dianne Ngoza is clearly a dangerous woman.

Dianne Ngoza was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the age of six, part of her family fled the political violence and ended up in Zambia. Dianne Ngoza was raised in Zambia. In 1994, she moved to South Africa, where she was granted permanent residence. In 2002, Dianne Ngoza was offered a two-year work permit to work as a nurse in the United Kingdom. Six months later, she brought her then 11-year-old daughter to live with her. They have both lived in England since 2002. Dianne Ngoza has not been to Zambia since 1994, and has no one there, and yet the United Kingdom wants to ship her “back” to Zambia.

The story only worsens: “In 2004, before my visa expired, I went to Liverpool to renew it. The immigration officer there told me to send my daughter, who was then 13, back to South Africa, and sort out her visa first. We couldn’t afford to do this. When I sought legal help, my lawyer said that he was going to apply for both us to gain leave to remain under section 8 of the human rights act: right to family life. However he incorrectly applied for asylum instead – and this was unsurprisingly rejected. This whole process took four years, during which time I was forbidden from working. I became increasingly dependent on help from the community. My daughter remained with me all this time. In 2008 new lawyers took over my case. Although they told me that they had made the application for my leave to remain, I never received a letter from the Home Office confirming this. Only in 2010 did the Home Office confirm that no application had been made on my behalf. That same year, my child and I were evicted and became homeless. I have been destitute and homeless for the past six years.”

Through legislation and public policy, the State created the State of Destitution – a zone of economic, political, social and human abandonment – and declared African women as its citizens. For six years, Dianne Ngoza has rejected that citizenship, and has turned destitution into the richness of advocacy for human, civil and women’s rights and dignity.

This week, Dianne Ngoza went to the Dallas Court Reporting Centre in Salford. Before entering, she told a crowd of supporters, “The immigration problem has risen to its highest level than it has before, it’s not surprising that most people have become insensitive to deaths, of human lives. We live in a world where evil has taken the upper hand … Let us think of those who are drowning each day while trying to flee wars in their countries; the poor parents who have lost their children, the children who didn’t have the opportunity to contribute to society by fulfilling their dreams. I can never imagine the pain they go through each passing day. Although I’m one of those who has lost some of my loved ones through reckless wars, I find it hard to comprehend. We can all do something to change the system which is comprised of a handful of rich people in high positions that are controlling the whole world. It’s up to each one of us … as long as we are consistent and never lose hope we can make a difference. Let us fight for all the generations around the world that are suffering in silence. Let us be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

Dianne Ngoza never emerged from the Dallas Court Reporting Centre. Instead, she was smuggled to Yarl’s Wood where she awaits deportation to Zambia. The Salford Star reached Home Affairs and asked: “Why was Dianne detained at Dallas Court when her lawyers were filing new evidence and `proofs’ at the time? Why were supporters and family, and Dianne herself, informed that she was being taken to Pennine House in Manchester, when she was actually being taken to Yarl’s Wood? Is there any avenues left for Dianne to remain in the country while her case is heard?”

Home Affairs responded, “We expect people with no legal basis to remain in the UK to leave the country voluntarily, and we provide support to help people return to their home country. Where they refuse to do so we will seek to enforce their removal.”

Let us fight for all the generations around the world that are suffering in silence. Let us be the mouthpiece for those who cannot speak for themselves. Let us reject the torture that passes for support. Let us abolish the State of Destitution, the zone of abandonment. Let us join with the WAST choir, the Nightingales, who sing of women’s rights, women’s power, women’s dreams, and who begin their songs with this: “We want Yarl’s Wood to close, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever”. Sing it loud, sing it proud, shut it down, set her free, not just today, or tomorrow, but forever. Amen.

 

(Photo Credit 1: RAPAR) (Photo Credit 2: Salford Star)

Resistance in the age of registries and internment

The headline reads, “Japanese American internment is ‘precedent’ for national Muslim registry, prominent Trump backer says”.

Prisons do not and will never make us safer. Everything along the spectrum that includes racist “internment camps”, which are prisons by another name, and a “national registry” of people who are Muslim is a hastening and intensifying of carcerality in our society. To be clear, the United States already has racist prisons. They’re called jails and prisons. And we already have prisons for immigrants in our country. They’re called detention centers, and the people imprisoned in them are often not counted in published numbers about this country’s gargantuan prison population.

In a fascist moment, the mode of resistance is clear: to imbue your every action with anti-fascism. This means that if there is a national registry of people who are Muslim or who are perceived to be Muslim, all people of all faiths and backgrounds need to go register for it. This means opening your home to your neighbors or to anyone who needs to hide. Solidarity is not even an option, it’s the choice of survival over necropolitics. Are you still in denial, do you still think this is far-fetched?

As everyone tries to process current events, I see people drawing a lot of comparisons between this moment and Nazi Germany. Those comparisons are important and not melodramatic, but there are some issues with them.

First, the comparison implies that previously this country wasn’t already a white-supremacist nation, wasn’t founded on racism, genocide, and slavery; hasn’t been a bloody colonizer, hasn’t destabilized/invaded other countries, hasn’t created classes of citizens that put some closer to survival and some to death. Of course, it has. And it has already been rounding up people based on ethnicity/nationality and sending them out of the country, in the millions, already. Most of all under Obama, sorry-not-sorry. The only answer to this systemic violence is to demand an abolition of borders themselves.

Second, the comparison brings us to a question of citizenship and legality, and again I see people missing some aspects of that. For example, the idea that the difference (between now and Nazi Germany) is that Jewish people WERE citizens, while undocumented people here are not. Let’s unpack that. Citizenship — and laws themselves — is not a divine mandate, nor an intrinsic natural feature. Actually, the idea that citizenship/lawfulness IS a natural feature is a tenet of Nazism, of eugenics, of racism. (I’d say “antisemitism” but the category “Semite” itself is a racist and meaningless invention, and doesn’t actually specifically refer to Jews.) Citizenship is, the law is, arbitrary and ever changing. It operates on the whim of the state, and it is a weapon that can be deployed against anyone. Citizenship is NOT a stable category. YOUR citizenship, if you have it, will NOT protect you. Your whiteness, if you have it, will not protect you. If you stand idly by while people are deported/rounded up/added to a registry, you’re not only complicit, you’re ignorant. If it can happen to anyone, it could happen to everyone. This is why our demand must be an abolition of borders and other forms of violent containment, including prisons, poverty — capitalism.

“If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.”
 Angela Davis

“If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” James Baldwin

 

(Photo Credit 1: Intro to Women’s Studies S12) (Photo Credit 2: Fortune / Michael B. Thomas / AFP)

The Man Without a Plan: Trump’s “Softening” Rhetoric

On Sunday, November 15, 2016, six days after winning the presidential election, Donald Trump appeared on 60 Minutes. The entire hour was devoted to interviewing Trump and his family. During the course of the interview, President-elect Trump seemed to soften the incendiary rhetoric that had helped spur him to victory over Secretary Clinton. During the interview, Leslie Stahl asked the President-elect to speak to several of his more strident claims on the campaign trail. Many of those claims he still endorsed – he still plans to build a wall, or maybe more like a fence, on our southern border. Some he seemed to take a step back from – he made no comment on naming a special prosecutor to bring a case against Clinton once he’s in office.  

Many who watched the interview hoped that this marked a “new” phase in Trump’s rhetoric – an era in which he’s more measured and not so unguardedly hateful in his assertions. With regard to post-election hate crimes, Trump even told his violent supporters to “stop it.” Meanwhile, reports began circulating about his appointment of Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist in his cabinet. An anti-Semite with ties to the so-called alt-right, Bannon’s appointment seemed to undercut any balance Trump may have been trying to achieve through his rhetoric. We can see a fairly clear disconnection between Trump’s appointment of Bannon (which has already been lauded by the KKK) and his attempt to appear broadly presidential on 60 Minutes. In light of this, why should the injunction to “stop it” be taken any more seriously than the broad pivot?

Rather than “softening” or moving toward conciliatory rhetoric, Trump’s rhetoric is a way of “selling” himself to particular audiences. During the campaign it was a means to sell a vision of “Making America Great Again.” That vision places minorities in the crosshairs in the name of salvaging the American Dream. During the 60 Minutes interview, Trump’s rhetoric was a means of selling himself to America as presidential, which involved fewer ad hominems and more conciliatory language. In both of these instances, Trump’s rhetoric is not supported by his ideology or policy plans. Instead, like any good salesman, Trump sells a vision of America or a President-elect that will connect to the particular audiences to whom he is speaking at any given moment.

Trump’s rhetoric is not without precedent. The branding of particular minority groups as threats to the nation has been a rhetorical mainstay of the Republican Party for the last several decades. The GOP has typically mobilized these arguments around policy at the state level. For example, in 1994 in California, a group of citizens led by then-State Rep. Darrel Issa (now a U.S. Congressman, R-CA), put forward an initiative to criminalize immigrants and ban them from receiving any kind of state services, including medical treatment. Although the California Supreme Court ultimately deemed this law unconstitutional, it did pass and spawned media coverage that branded immigrants as thieves stealing jobs and encroaching on Californians’ way of life.

Similar claims about immigrants as thieves began the conversations around Arizona SB 1070 in 2010. This time, immigrants were not merely characterized as thieves, but criminals who disrupt the nation with their criminal acts. SB 1070 passed, and later that year Alabama passed a similar bill. Under the terms of these laws, not only was undocumented status a felony, but the police could stop individuals if they simply “looked like immigrants.” The U.S. Supreme Court threw out some stipulations in both the Arizona and Alabama laws, primarily the parts that seemed to coincide with racial profiling, but most of the restrictions of both bills still stand.

In all three instances, the GOP’s rhetoric worked to sell immigrant communities as a direct threat. By naming immigrants as the ones who are responsible for taking our jobs and creating danger in our communities, the GOP stimulated the electorate to vote for these stringent laws. In the 2016 election, Trump used much of the same rhetoric in connection to immigrants, during his rallies and in Cleveland. He named Muslims as terrorists and Latino immigrants as criminals and responsible for job loss across the U.S. What is unique about Trump’s rhetoric is that he has moved the process of branding immigrants as threats to the national stage and used this narrative as a means to stimulate his base, not to forward policy.

Without a clear legislative agenda, Trump’s rhetoric sells the threat of minorities without any concrete plan in response. His rhetoric works to sell his vision of America on the backs of our nation’s most vulnerable groups. Although not all Trump supporters have acted violently against minority groups, we have seen at least 315 reported and confirmed incidents of violence against immigrants, women, people of Jewish faith, and the LGBT community since the election. These minority groups are left vulnerable because Trump has sold them as “road blocks” to the “great America” and some of his supporters feel that they must be dealt with, one way or another.

What is happening to Trump’s rhetoric now that he is facing questions of policy and the realities of governance? As he leaves the rally and enters the Beltway, his ad hominem attacks on minorities are changing, and his rhetoric seems to be softening. Again, this isn’t because his ideological commitments are changing, but because the audiences to which he must speak are. For example, Trump campaigned that he would “overturn gay marriage.” When asked about that on 60 Minutes, he was clear: “That law is settled. It is done.”

Many media outlets report this as Trump’s attempt to unify the country. The appointment of Bannon shows that that is not Trump’s priority. Instead, his change in rhetoric reveals what happens when Trump learns about the processes of governing and Jenn takes on the role of President-elect. His vitriolic claims against marginalized people will seem to evolve. Will these shifts translate into policy? At this point, it is not looking good. With President-elect Trump, you cannot predict his policy from what he says, no matter how often he tells you he’s a straight shooter.

 

(Image Credit: Detroit Free Press / Mike Thompson)

Is the disappearance of solidarity our most imminent threat?

Notre-Dame Basilica

Notre-Dame Basilica

On the morning of November 9, 2016, many NWSA members packed their bags and went to Montreal to attend the National Women Studies Association conference. I was one of them. Our families and friends joked, “Please come back,” because for several weeks, Americans who feared a Trump presidency swore they would leave the country if the unthinkable happened. The unthinkable did happen. And I, along with my fellow members, had to somehow get our dispirited selves together and make the trip.

Arriving in Montreal felt like a breath of fresh air: we were greeted by narrow streets, ivy covered brick walls, flowers on the balconies, the sound of French, French cuisine, Chinatown, Notre Dame. The conference focused on the theme of decolonizing, the tensions facing indigenous communities, transnational views of political issues, and so on.

On Saturday, my friends from the South Asian caucus and an African-American professor went for lunch in the old town and walked up to Notre Dame. A woman who was at the entrance said the church was closed; it had closed just 5 minutes back. We asked if we could just step in for a few minutes since we were leaving back to the U.S. the next day. She said in a hostile tone that the church was closed and would open for Mass at 5 pm. So we spent some time taking pictures and went to the gift shop adjoining the church. The woman there said she would be closing in 10 minutes. She repeated this a few times. I said, “We heard,” and she said, “in case you are caught off guard.” I was surprised at her choice of words. One of my friends bought a tiny statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and we left feeling we were not welcome.

My friend Fawzia, a fan of Leonard Cohen, wanted to stay for Mass where a tribute was being paid to him. The rest of us left back to the hotel. Later that evening, a traumatized Fawzia called us and we ran to meet her in the conference center. She was visibly shaken. She said that after we had left, she had hung around the steps of the cathedral for a while and went up to the guard who asked her to come back in 15 minutes, and that the Mass will be in French. So Fawzia stopped at a store across the church and bought something and went back after a few minutes. The guard again intoned that the Mass will be in French. At this point, a stream of people were entering the church. When Fawzia joined the line, the guard stopped her and said “Not you. The Mass is in French.” At this point Fawzia spoke to her in French that she was planning to stay for the Mass and why was she letting the white people enter but not her. Another guard then joined her and came close to her with his hand up and told her to go away. Fawzia immediately said she would not and why were they being racist. A third woman joined the guards and blocked Fawzia’s way. The first guard said she found her aggressive and the second guard threatened to call the police. At this point Fawzia said they could call the police if they wanted. She took out her camera and began taking their pictures. The first guard quickly shielded her face. The other two continued to block the entrance. People who witnessed the scene passed by even though Fawzia said loudly to them that she was not being allowed into the church and only white people were being let in.

She took a cab and burst into tears and told the cab driver what happened and wondered if this was what Montreal was like. The cab driver said he was sorry she had this experience.

Our collective illusion that Canada was somehow going to be a reprieve from our fear of the beginning of the nightmare that had unfolded in the U.S. was just that—an illusion. The reality, as our Canadian feminist friends reminded us, was the history of white supremacy in Canada and the U.S. alike. Canada was also fighting the fracking war; immigrants who were people of color have had a rough history there; indigenous populations continue to face a wall that Fawzia and her friends were up against. The wall is that of white hegemony; the Anglo-French war of old resurfaces from time to time in Montreal and immigrants get caught in its midst.

The hands that pushed her away are the hands that push away migrants heading into European countries, the hands that push away the disenfranchised, the impoverished, the asylum seekers, the refugees. It is important to recognize the wave of fascism that we are currently seeing in the U.S. –with the Trump Presidency being heavily endorsed by the KKK and neo Nazi and white supremacist groups—is now giving the nod to right wing forces in France, Belgium, Germany, and Hungary. Turkey has already noted the progress of demagoguery in the U.S. and is engaged in a wave of arrests of journalists and intellectuals. Putin is happy that he has an ally. The makers of Brexit also have in Trump an ally so the unwanted minorities can be deported or eliminated. Transnationally, racism and xenophobia are ruling out inclusion and democratic processes.

The following morning, at 7:30, a few members of NWSA and the local South Asian women’s group held a protest outside Notre Dame. The held a pink sari as a banner on which they had pinned the sign of the South Asian Women’s Community Center and signs that read “Love Not Hate,” while one of the members took pictures and a video to be sent to media outlets. Fortunately, the protest ended peacefully. There was no police presence or arrests.

Those of us from abroad may want to ponder what it means to protest in a foreign country; what it means for a conference whose headquarters is in a foreign country to show its support to its members who have encountered racism at the hands of locals; what would be the result if police did indeed arrest protesters on the basis that they are foreign and are disturbing the peace, just as it is currently happening in Turkey and is now looming as a threat in Arizona toward undocumented immigrants who are protesting; why none of the bystanders and the people entering the church intervened, and if the disappearance of solidarity is our most imminent threat; the hegemony of the U.S. over Canada that distorts the picture of racism against a U.S. citizen of color, which has played out all over the world against men and women of color in contested sites in the Middle East.

 

(Photo Credit: Montreal Gazette / Marie France Coallier)