Haunts: We want our revolution NOW

In many parts of the world, prisons have become the principal sites for people living with mental illnesses. In the United States, jails and prisons increasingly house the mentally ill. It is estimated that, in the United States, for every person living with severe mental illness in hospital, there are three currently in prison or jail. In Arizona and Nevada, the number is ten mentally ill people in prison and jail for every one in hospital. For women, the numbers are worse yet. For women living with mental illness in the United States, prison is the new pink. The final coup de grace is when the inmates living with mental illness are described as putting a strain on the prison system. It’s their fault … of course. The same story occurs elsewhere. In Canada, for example, mentally ill prisoners are said to flood the system. Apparently, this is what democracy looks like.

But what happens when people living with mental illness end up in prison? What exactly is their treatment `protocol’? Too often, it’s long term solitary confinement. Colorado may be the solitary confinement capital of the world. In Colorado, it’s customary to lock up mentally ill patients … for their own good. Of those in solitary confinement, it’s estimated that four out of every ten is living with developmental disability or with mental illness. Despite that arithmetic, reformers have yet again failed to persuade the Colorado legislature that perhaps, just maybe, another prison is possible. The madness continues.

Mary Braswell knows something about this form of State, and corporate, madness. Braswell is grandmother to Frank D. Horton. She is also his `conservator’, or legal guardian. Frank Horton is an African American adult living with mental illness, who has had a number of run-ins with the law. At one point, he missed his parole appointment, and so was taken to prison, specifically to the Metro Nashville Detention Facility, run by Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA. That’s when things went from bad to worse to near fatal.

According to Horton’s attorneys, his intake papers suggested a history of psychological and mental illness, with a likelihood of schizophrenia. The system `recognized’ the symptoms. And so what happened? Horton was put in general population, where, within a month, he started fighting, or attacked, his cell mate, and was placed in solitary. His cell mate said Horton was hearing voices.

Once in solitary, not surprisingly, Horton’s condition deteriorated … rapidly. He began refusing to leave solitary. Soon, he was allowed to stay in solitary, permanently. This meant nine months without a bath or shower, nine months with no one cleaning his cell. Nine months.

Nine months of guards walking past, knocking the door, asking if he was still alive, and then moving on. Nine months.

Finally, in January 2008, a guard, Patrick Perry, realized what was happening, stepped in and informed the Metro Public Health Department: “Patrick Perry, an officer at the detention facility from August 2006 to January 2008, began to notice that something was wrong late in 2007. In January 2008, Perry attempted to communicate with Horton, but Horton was speaking “gibberish.” Perry testified that Horton’s cell was filthy, that there were several food trays on the floor and bacteria growing in the toilet, that Horton’s beard and hair were “matted” and “out of control,” and that it appeared Horton had not washed himself or had his cell cleaned for months.”

For nine months, Frank Horton was left to live, or die, in filth that grew worse and worse, until, for some, he became indistinguishable from his surroundings.

Frank Horton was removed to a special facility in April 2008. Patrick Perry was fired immediately, on that day in January. Horton’s grandmother, Mary Braswell, has struggled for three years to get some kind of accountability, some element of responsibility, for the abuse into which her grandson was dumped. Two weeks ago, at last, she was given permission to proceed. CCA, no doubt, will appeal that decision.

On one hand, Frank Horton’s story is a common one, and sadly so is that of Mary Braswell, the story of prisoners living with mental illnesses and of the women, grandmothers, mothers, who try to care for them. At the same time, the story of prison driving people into deeper mental illness is also all too common. Young women and men, largely of color and largely low- to no-income, enter into prison, and when they come out, their minds are never the same.

And they call it democracy, this universe of systematic deprivation and devastation of minds and bodies. Rather call it Charenton, the Bedlam where the patients sing: “We’ve got Human Rights, we’ve got the right to starve; we’ve got jobs waiting for work; we’ve got Brotherhood, we’re all covered with lice; we’ve got Equality, we’re equal to die like dogs ….

“Marat, we’re poor, and the poor stay poor.
We want our rights and we don’t care how.
We want our revolution NOW”.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Labor Fierce: War on Workers? “Ladies First!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ladies first!”

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

Paul Seltzer, pseltzer@gwmail.gwu.edu

Haunts: The Gulf of Mourning and Memory

April 20, 2011. It is a year to the day since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, sending fire into the sky, oil into the seas, and death and destruction across space and time. It is a year since eleven workers were killed, some say murdered, by the `inevitable’ conditions of work on that rig.

Eleven workers died that day: Jason Anderson, Aaron Dale Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Karl Dale Kleppinger, Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto, Adam Wiese.

Nine women became widows that day: Shelly Anderson, Rhonda Burkeen, Sheila Clark,  Nancy Curtis, Michelle Jones, Courtney Kemp, Tracy Kleppinger, Sherri Revette, Natalie Roshto. For a year, these women have mourned and grieved and organized. The continue to mourn, grieve, organize. They continue to take care of their daughters and sons and lives. The work of mourning and the work of survival are one. But for these women, and their children, and their loved ones and neighbors and communities, the work of memory has become critical.

And the work of memory is difficult, arduous even. Theresa Carpenter, Courtney Kemp’s mother, knows the men’s names are vanishing from the public conscience: “These men are all but forgotten except by their families.” Billy Anderson, Jason Anderson’s father, knows as well: “”Within seven or 10 days as far as the media’s concerned, those guys didn’t count for anything. They cared more about some oil-covered pelican or little bird, or something. It was like those 11 men’s lives didn’t mean anything.”

What is the meaning of these workers’ lives? What is the meaning of mourning? What is the meaning of grief? What is the meaning of memory? A year ago the sky blew up and the waters seized. Today, according to many, the situation is the same.  Ask the fisher folk, like Diane Wilson or Darla Rooks or Kim Chauvin or Rosina Philippe and her aunt Geraldine Philippe.

What is the meaning of memory if we continue to insist on forgetting? Twenty years ago, in 1991, Adrienne Rich’s collection, An Atlas of the Difficult World was published. The title poem, “An Atlas of the Difficult World”, has thirteen sections. The second section is entitled, “Here is a map of our country.”

“Here is a map of our country:
here is the Sea of Indifference, glazed with salt
This is the haunted river flowing from brow to groin
we dare not taste its water . . . .
This is the sea-town of myth and story             when the fishing fleets
went bankrupt    here is where the jobs were            on the pier
processing frozen fishsticks    hourly wages and no shares ….”

Here is a map of our country, twenty years ago, one year ago, today … and tomorrow? The Gulf of Mexico is a natural body of water. We, however, are the builders of the Gulf of Mourning and Memory. A year later the situation is still the same.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: The dead shall not walk through those open doors

Who is the stranger in our midst? Ask the police.

There was a protest, a service delivery protest, on Wednesday in Setseto, outside of  Ficksburg, in the eastern part of the Free State, in South Africa. During the protest, Andries Tatane, a 33 year old activist, approached the police. Either he approached the police to plead for some consideration for an elderly man who was not part of the protest or he approached the police to ask them to stop using water cannons because there were elderly people in the protest. Tatane was shirtless, unarmed, unthreatening. About six or seven riot police attacked him, beat and kicked him. Then Andries Tatane was shot. Finally he collapsed, and died, 20 minutes later. By the time the ambulance arrived, Andries Tatane was dead, and the mourning, and outrage, had begun.

There was a protest, a student protest, on Monday in Kabale district, in southwestern Uganda. Students at Bubaare Secondary School went on strike, protesting a policy shift affecting the disposition of male and female students. During the protest, Judith Ntegyerize, a senior, walked by, on her way to classes. The riot police showed up just then, allegedly shot their rifles in the air, and a `stray’ bullet hit Ntegyerize in the head and killed her, instantly.

These are only two stories, only two stories from the past week. In the past year, there have been similar stories of unarmed innocents killed by police fire everywhere. Around the world there are murals to the martyrs, more often than not young women and men, such as Oscar Grant, in the United States, or Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran, or the young women and men killed by live fire in protests in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt. Sometimes, their names become known, more often they remain anonymous. Sometimes, the State apologizes, but usually it just spins.

Whenever police are armed with live bullets and sent to a protest, the State has decreed that deadly force is an acceptable means to an end. But what is the end? It is the identification of the strangers, the strangers in our midst. Only the strangers can be so blithely beaten, kicked, shot, disposed of, dumped like so much garbage, killed. That is the nation-State’s rule of law, the law that protects `citizens’ against the threat, the pathogen, of strangers.

In a poem entitled “Passover”, Primo Levi enjoined us, all of us, to “light the lamp, open the door wide so the pilgrim can come in”. That poem ends with these words: “This year in fear and shame, next year in virtue and in justice.” Open the door, open it wide, and when you do, remember Andries Tatane and Judith Ntegyerize. Remember. The dead shall not walk through those open doors.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Domestics: I am myself and my circumstances

I am a member of a women’s group called Woman, Action and Change. We are part of Tenants and Workers United of Northern Virginia. We are predominantly Latina immigrant and migrant women from all parts of Latin America. Our members include Mexicans, Dominicanas, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Chileans, Argentines, many women from many countries. I am from Nicaragua. I have been living continuously in the United States for only 16 months.

When the group selected me to talk about domestic work, I was worried about how to approach a subject of which I am not an expert and then I remembered an expression of José Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, who said: “I am myself and my circumstances” so I decided to approach it from my own experience.

I’m from Nicaragua. My mother came from a poor farming family. As a single mother she raised 5 children alone. My mother was an entrepreneur. She had a store and all of us had to work ever since we could remember. I grew up with the image of a strong, working woman, and in an environment where domestic work was part of an effort to sustain the family. I grew up working and studying, got married and, as my mother did, I took care of my home and my children as part of my duties to support and protect my family.

Antecedents

As we all know, in developing countries, domestic work has been used as a mechanism to preserve machismo. In most of these countries, girls are educated to manage the home and boys are educated to have jobs and participate in the greater world.

Under these conditions, domestic work is a form of subjugation of women because their principle duty is to look after the home. Often, women are exploited and in the case of working women, they work the equivalent of triple shifts in order to manage a career and take care of the home. This represents an obstacle to professional development because many women drop out of school to find jobs to solve the needs of their family. For Latin American women like me, completing household chores in addition to our career responsibilities is a source of identity and pride.

There are countries that have incorporated legislation for domestic workers and social security. In some cases this is an appeal by the ruling parties to provide a progressive image and appear concerned about this part of the electorate marginalized by all public health policies.

This is a way to hide the inability to create better jobs. However, the inclusion of the domestic worker in the social security system provides them with medical care benefits and pension rights.

Domestic work in the USA

In this country domestic work has become a job for immigrant women to allow them to survive and meet the needs of their family. Except for in the movies, where we see an elegant butler, well trained and educated for these tasks, this “profession” seems to be exclusively for poor immigrant women.

A little while ago, the National Domestic Workers Alliance convened in Washington, D.C. This organization deals with the work of humanizing domestic work. It has brought to the table an interesting proposal to give more substance to this career.

Estimates are that the Baby Boomer generation reached 13 million in 2000 and in 2050 will be 27 million. This will require over 3 million healthcare workers to take care of them as they gradually age, making geriatric care a moral imperative for this country. Thousands of people, who have built the economic success of this country, will enter old age alone and without help as a result of globalization and the global economic crisis.

We have heard a lot about the budget cuts to social services in the media and the only proposals for jobs seem to focus on technology. In my opinion, there is no effort being made to support real people living in this country today. This is very irresponsible. Domestic workers can help resolve major societal issues through the care of the elderly, disabled and young members of our community. In the long run, this is much more important for building our quality of life because each of us will eventually be old and need help, too.

Today anti-immigrants accuse immigrants of taking jobs from Americans. I don’t think anyone is taking anything from anybody. The jobs filled by immigrant women, in particular, are low-wage domestic workers. These women work in horrid conditions for the chance to feed their families.

It is important that we discuss the legislative opportunities available to improve working conditions and educational opportunities for domestic workers. Improvements in those areas are connected to the outcomes and improvements in the care and wellbeing of our health, for the elderly, disabled and children. By supporting the development of women we will make our society stronger.

Alba Cáceres, caceresc.alba@gmail.com

Haunts: Protection stalks transnational women workers

For many transnational women workers, life in the global economy is hard. They often deal with separation and alienation, abuse, isolation, and more, and worse. For some, the monetary rewards make it worthwhile. For others, the periods of autonomy, however partial, and the developing mastery of strange and foreign cultures is a kind of reward. For others still, over the years, they develop bonds, ties, community, intimacy. And for many, after all is said and done, they did what they felt they had to do, and really there’s nothing to be said, as far as they’re concerned.

That the contemporary world is a hard place for transnational women workers may be worth repeating, but it’s not news, and it’s not new. The `birth’ of the global economy, of world-systems of development and trade, with its reliance on women’s cheap and available labor, produced new species of vulnerability, precariousness, exploitation, hardship; and women workers have developed new strategies of survival with dignity and of struggle. We know this already.

The contemporary world is not only a hard place for transnational women workers. It’s an unforgiving place. Ask those whose names must be withheld. Ask them about `protection.’

There’s a woman from Moldova whose name must be withheld. At 14 she was abducted, forced into prostitution, and shipped from Moldova to Italy, Turkey, Hungary, Romania, Israel and the United Kingdom. For seven years, she was regularly beaten, raped, threatened with death. According to various reports, she was treated as a slave.

In 2003, she was arrested in a brothel in England. No one bothered to listen to, or to ask for, her story. No one asked if she needed, wanted or could use `protection’, and none was offered. Instead, she served three months in Holloway prison, and then was summarily turned over to the UK Border Agency. At Oakington detention centre, she was shot through the Detained Fast-Track system, and then ejected. It was all very efficient. Seek protection in this world, and ye shall find deportation.

The woman was shipped back to Moldova. The men who had kidnapped her in the first place knew she was coming, found her, savagely beat her, and forced her back into prostitution. Four years later, in 2007, she was again arrested in England and sent to Yarl’s Wood. There, someone from the Eaves Housing Poppy Project identified her as a refugee, and helped her to make a successful asylum claim. At last, someone saw her, identified her, as a woman, as a human being.

This week, four years later, the United Kingdom Home Office finally agreed to a `groundbreaking’ settlement with the woman, paying her a `substantial’ amount for having so efficiently sent her back into a place where she was destined to encounter extraordinary violence against her person.

Today, the woman remains anonymous, her name is withheld, because the men who kidnapped, tortured, and exploited her are still out there, and her life and the lives of her family members are in danger.

There is a woman from the Philippines whose name likewise must be withheld. She is a domestic worker in Dubai. She is 42 years old, the mother of one. She has worked as a maid for three years. She has worked in one household, where the conditions have been intolerable. And yet, for three years, she tolerated the intolerable. Finally, in January, she gave her boss a one-month notice, after three years of mental abuse, 16-hour work days, 7 days a week. Her boss refused to accept her resignation. He told her she must stay.

He said he controlled her. Her visa depended on her employer. He placed a visa ban on her, and informed the Dubai Naturalisation and Residency Department. The Department concurred. In Dubai, as in all the United Arab Emirates, a visa ban means one must leave and one can never return.

The employment agency that had placed her offered to replace her with a new maid. The employer refused.

Having exhausted every possible legal means, the woman fled. She sought refuge at the Philippines Overseas Labour Office. They offered to help her fight, to help her stay and find another job, to help her get the visa ban lifted.

But they could not offer the woman protection. In Dubai, every month, over fifty domestic workers appeal to their various embassies for help, for protection. This was just one more case.

The woman was arrested and taken to Al Wasl immigration holding prison, where she now awaits imminent deportation. “All I want to do is work hard for a good family. Now I have to go back with nothing. I can’t stand to tell my family in the Philippines, they rely on me for financial support.”

These stories of abuse are altogether unexceptional. They are absolutely ordinary stories of ordinary violence committed by ordinary employers, States, everyone against ordinary transnational women workers, women whose names must be withheld. They are part of the everyday, of the parable of protection that is global, intimate, and everywhere. In the global economy, protection stalks transnational women workers.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Zimbabwe, Haiti, just go …

What are these lies?
They mean that the country wants to die.”

Haitians, Zimbabweans, everything at home is just fine. So say the United States and the United Kingdom. Everything is just fine and you must just go.

Except that everything is not just fine.

In Harare yesterday, Saturday, April 9, 2011, thousands met at a church service at St Peters Kubatana in Highfield. They engaged in a peaceful demonstration to pray for peace. They came together to pray to end the escalating violence in Zimbabwe. Police threw tear-gas canisters into the church, and when the parishioners and congregants ran out or leapt through the windows, the police attacked them, beating them with batons.

This is peace and unity in Zimbabwe today.

But, according to the UK, Zimbabwe is a-ok, so much so that it’s time to start deporting all those pesky `failed’ and `undocumented’ asylum seekers, people like Nyasha Musvingo. Musvingo fled Zimbabwe after her husband was beaten, tortured, and then died as a result. She knows she can’t return, because of `the situation’.

The UK would disagree. Last month, on March 14, the most senior immigration judge in the country, Mr. Justice Blake of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), ruled that Zimbabwe is fine. The violence is over. People need not live in fear in Zimbabwe nor need they fear returning. So what if disappearances, indefinite detention, torture and violence have returned and are on the rise? Zimbabwe is `safe’ enough.

Likewise, in Haiti, everything is not just fine.

In Haiti, high levels of violence continue. Rape is epidemic. Over a million people remain homeless. Everyday, the so-called temporary camps seem to become more and more permanent. Cholera is on the rise. A recent study suggests that by November the number of cholera cases in Haiti will be close to 800,000, and the number of deaths will reach a little over 11,000. The crisis is worsening in Haiti.

The United States would disagree. This week, the United States government announced it has formally resumed deportations to Haiti. Haiti is `safe’ enough.

Cholera is on the rise in Zimbabwe as well.

In 2008 – 2009, in large part due to the intensification of political violence, Zimbabwe suffered a cholera epidemic that killed over 4000 people. Close to 100,000 cases were reported, and, according to a recent report, a rapid response, once the 400 cases were reported, would have reduced the number of cases by 34,900, or 40%, and the number of deaths by 1,695 deaths, also 40%. Why was nothing done, why were so many allowed to die? `The political situation.’

But that was then. This past Friday it was reported that over the last month, 36 people died of cholera in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces, in Zimbabwe. In the past week alone, 13 died, and the Ministry of Health notes that the death toll could be higher, as records are not up to date.

Sending people back to Zimbabwe is a death sentence. The United Kingdom would disagree … or would it? The Foreign and Commonwealth Office describes Zimbabwe:  violence on the farms, in the streets, random and targeted; abominable prison conditions; torture; and a culture of impunity. The most recent Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights report, from 2009, paints an equally grim picture.

The Department for International Development describes the state as `unstable’. 25% of Zimbabwean children are described as `vulnerable’. Most live in households, and neighborhoods, built of poverty, HIV/AIDS and State violence. Well over half live in households headed by single women or girls. Of special concern are children living alongside incarcerated mothers and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

All of these statements come from United Kingdom government websites. And yet, somehow, Zimbabwe is now `safe enough’ for asylum seekers to return to.

Sending people back to Haiti is a death sentence. The United States would disagree … or would it? This past week the US State Department released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Haiti? “Alarming increases of sexual violence” against women and girls. Alarming increases of domestic violence. No effective agency to deal with sexual or domestic violence, and not much of a plan to do so. “Corrupt judges often release suspects for domestic violence and rape.” Often. LGBT persons face constant violence. The prisons are a hotspot for violence, torture, cholera, and worse.

All of this comes from the US State Department.

If the government of the United Kingdom finds Zimbabwe perilous and the government of the United States finds Haiti perilous, how is it possible in the same breath to determine that Zimbabwe and Haiti are `safe’? In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, the prisons are a nightmare. Deportees to both countries typically `return’ through an extended stay in prison. In both Haiti and Zimbabwe, cholera is on the rise, violence is epidemic, violence against women and girls is more than epidemic, and not only sexual violence.

Sending asylum seekers and prisoners to Zimbabwe and to Haiti is a death sentence. Whether the individual persons live or die matters … terribly. At the same time, the political economy of this moment is that the lives of Zimbabweans and of Haitians to the so-called democracies of the world are of no value. If you are Haitian, if you are Zimbabwean, you must just go. If you die, you die. If you live, perhaps you were fortunate, perhaps not. Either way, you are no longer `our problem’. Your country is `safe enough’. Just go.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com