Haunts: Seven billion. Who cares?

According to the United Nations, the world population reached 7 billion today. Ok, maybe it’s really tomorrow or the next day, maybe it was yesterday. The exact date is somewhat beside the point. The point is 7 billion. Maybe the child is a girl-child named Danica May Camacho, born today in the Philippines. Maybe the child is a girl-child named Nargis Kumar, born in India. The exact child is also somewhat beside the point, although the choice of gender for symbols is telling.

Seven billion is a big number, difficult to visualize. Of course, two centuries ago, when the population was a `mere’ 1 billion, that also was a big number, difficult to visualize. In 1930, when the population reached 2 billion, in 1960 when it reached 3 billion, in 1975 when it reached 4 billion, in 1987 when it reached 5 billion, in 1999 when it reached 6 billion, each time the number was a big number, difficult to visualize. That means in less than 40 years, the world population had doubled. Clearly, `we’ are not very good at numbers.

Some will tell you this is largely a story of India and China. Others will note that, of the continents, Africa has the fastest population growth. Of course, the whole of Africa has fewer people than either China or India, but it’s growing. Others will talk about inequality and resources. Geographic inequalities between people born, raised, living in different parts of the world. Inequalities between and among generations, between and among genders as well.

These are important issues to discuss. So is this. Who cares and who will care for the billions? Already, we know that the world population is growing older … quickly. Every state in the United States, has prepared a program to “Ride the Age Wave,” mostly by coining groaningly clever phrases and quandaries, such as “The Age Wave:  Silver Tsunami or Golden Wave of Opportunity?

Who will care for the growing global population of elders, the growing scattered populations of children, the growing population? Care workers. Child care providers. Elder care providers. Nannies. Maids. Housekeepers. Family members, more often than not unpaid. Women. Women of color. Women from “somewhere else.” And girls. Women and girls. Women and girls who are too often described as silent. Women and girls who are too often described as invisible. They aren’t silent, and they aren’t invisible. We’re simply not listening or seeing.

Care work is systematically dropped out of development programs and public policy debates. Care workers are systematically excluded from any consideration or consultation concerning … care. The ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers is a step towards correcting that situation. So are campaigns like the Caring Across Generations Campaign, launched by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and their allies, in the United States.

Another step would be global conversation. Try it. The next time someone says or writes, “The world population is …”, answer with a question. “Who cares?” And then, together, answer the question.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Indigenous women liberate the Americas

Indigenous people are trying to liberate the Americas, and they are led by women. In Brazil yesterday, hundreds of indigenous leaders, fisherfolk and others from the Xingu River basin gathered to occupy the Belo Monte Dam construction site in a peaceful protest to stop its construction in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Belo Monte is one of those mega-dams that cost billions of dollars, displace whole communities, wipe out acres and acres of forest, all in the name of “necessary energy production.”

Ealier this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tried to create a space for the indigenous communities, and their supporters, and the Brazilian government to enter into dialogue. The Juruna people sent their leader, Sheyla Juruna, who travelled days to get to Washington. The much wealthier, much more popular, and much better resourced Brazilian government sent … no one.

And so indigenous communities of the Xingu, and their supporters, took to the dam site, and they were, and are, led by women. Sheyla Juruna. Juma Xipaia. Roberta Amanajás. Antonia Melo. Some, like Juruna and Xiapaia, are indigenous leaders. Some, like Amanajás, are human rights advocates and activists. Some, like Melo, are leaders of movements, in this instance the Xingu Forever Alive Movement.

Cherokee feminist activist and author Andrea Smith once wrote, “The primary reason for the continuing genocide of Native peoples has less to do with ignorance and more to do with material conditions. Non-Indians continue to oppress Indians because Indians occupy land resources that the dominant society wants.”

The indigenous women leaders and communities of the Xingu River basin know, and live, this history today. They know the genocide takes many forms. Sometimes it’s flat out extermination campaigns. At other times, it’s removal, person by person, nation by nation, child by child.

In the United States, for example, a Federal law states that if Native American children are taken from their homes, they must be placed with their family members, relatives, their tribes or other Native Americans. And native children are taken from their homes, at a much higher rate than children of other races and communities. Some studies suggest the rate is twice as high. Furthermore, of the native children taken from their homes, a remarkably low percentage have experienced sexual or physical abuse. So, why are they taken? “For their own good” … of course.

A report this week highlighted the situation of these stolen children in South Dakota. Nearly 90 percent are placed in non-Native households or group settings. Those non-native group settings are private, and making good profit off of the “poor” native children.

Who cares? Well, the children care. Their families care. Their communities care. And while the caring of the children isn’t particularly gendered, the caring by the adults is. Women. Women like Janice Howe, a grandmother who refused to let the State get away with kidnapping, who fought for over a year and a half to get her grandkids back. Four children, including Antoinette, 6 years old, and Raushana, 5 years old. When they returned, 18 months later, they were each a full dress size smaller. Only now are the stories of their sojourn beginning to emerge.

There are native Grandmothers’ Groups, native foster home providers, native foster parents, tribal social workers, and they are everywhere on the reservation. There are also mothers who mourn and wait and, if they’re very “lucky”, may, just may some day meet their children. In the case of Dwayne Stenstrom, kidnapped by the State at the age of 8 years old, this reunion occurred decades later … six months before his mother died of cancer.

And no one ever receives an apology, ever receives an acknowledgment. This is what military occupation looks like.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread, or effloresced, across the United States and Canada, indigenous people across both countries have criticized the term “occupation”. Some have suggested replacing it with “decolonize” or “(un)occupy”, others have noted the painful nationalism and racism of their supposed, or potential, allies in the current movement.

And others have said, instead, “Defend Mother Earth.” At the Belo Monte Dam site yesterday, Juma Xipaia explained, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” The Mothers, Grandmothers, Daughters, Sisters, Aunts, Women are gathering, out loud, now, to Defend Mother Earth. Another occupation is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: The Hardest Hit, can they suffer?

Over the weekend, thousands across the United Kingdom joined, under the banner of the Hardest Hit Campaign, to protest cuts that target people living with disabilities. These include changes in the disability living allowance system, cuts in local services, time limits for out-of-work support, and reductions in the support for parents with a disabled children.

The changes in disability living allowance involve a shift from the Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment program. Under the new assessment regime, almost everyone on Disability Living Allowance loses something, and often they lose everything. How? They submit to a “fit-to-work test”, a test that has proven horribly flawed in its elements and outcomes, but no matter. People living with disabilities must learn, or be taught, to pay for themselves. They must learn, or be taught, the lesson, “something for something.” They must learn, or be taught, “independence”. Personal independence.

And who will teach them? The testers. And who exactly are the examiners? The United Kingdom contracted that job out to Atos Healthcare: “Atos Healthcare provides independent medical advice to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We conduct disability assessments for people claiming a range of disability … Each year Atos Healthcare process over 1.2 million referrals for medical advice completing over 800,000 face-to-face medical assessments within our nationwide network of over 140 medical examination centres.”

That’s an annual contract of around £100million-a-year. According to many, the assessments are, first, often way off. The stories are legion of people living with severe and immobilizing disabilities being deemed perfectly fit for “independence”, meaning denial of services and funding. Second, the face-to-face meetings are intimately degrading. The tone of the entire process is felt to be prosecutorial. “Clients” are made to feel they must prove themselves both “deserving” and “beyond reproach.” Who among us could pass the “beyond reproach” test?

The meetings themselves are also often demeaning. Women living with terminal illnesses, women who had worked all their lives are told they must come in and justify the end-of-life assistance they’re receiving. They must learn the lesson of independence. Some Atos Assessment Centres, such as the one in Croydon, are inaccessible, and so those in wheelchairs must either scale 46 steps or take a 14-mile round trip to the next Atos center. If it weren’t so bad, it would be laughable.

Women are particularly targeted. “Cuts for the disabled” targets women, “cuts for care providers for the disabled” attacks women even more specifically and more ferociously. And for the women living with disabilities who are themselves care providers … it’s a nightmare.

For some, like Jennyfer Spencer, the nightmare is quite simply a death sentence. Spencer was wheelchair bound and placed in a fifth-floor apartment. For years, she protested and tried to get moved to a ground floor apartment. Finally, she died and was “discovered”, later. Also discovered was a letter she had left for a local newspaper: “No human or animal should ever go through life as I did.”

Of animals, Jeremy Bentham noted, “The question is not, `Can they reason?’ nor, `Can they talk?’ but, `Can they suffer?’” Can they suffer? For Jacques Derrida, Bentham’s question of suffering is actually a question of inability: “”Can they suffer?” amounts to asking “can they not be able?”” If suffering, anguish, vulnerability are all part of a political economy of not-being-able, what is the State policy of rendering suffering, anguish, and vulnerability? When the State actually gets into the business of producing suffering, when the State actually gets into the business of outsourcing the production of suffering to a major corporation, one that, by the way, has already failed the competency test but “promises to do better in the future”, what is that? What is it called when the State chooses to turn disability into inability, all in the name of independence?

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Does David Cameron support slavery? Ask the domestic workers.

Last year, England declared October 18th as Anti-Slavery Day. Today is the second Anti-Slavery Day. How will Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron celebrate this day? Let’s ask their nanny, Gita Lima.

Gita Lima is originally from Nepal. She worked, in England, for a family that proved to be abusive. She received assistance from Kalayaan, an advice and advocacy center for migrant domestic workers. Lima’s situation was all too familiar to Kalayaan. According to Kalayaan, nearly 70% of migrant domestic workers work seven days a week, almost half work 16 hours a day, and nearly 20% have been physically abused. More than half of the transnational domestic workers report that their bosses seize their passports and do not let them leave the house unaccompanied. Many report being denied food, many report sexual abuse.

Among its services, Kalayaan runs an ethical employment agency. David and Samantha Cameron came to that agency and hired Gita Lima, a number of years ago. Lima cared for their four children. In particular, she took care of the eldest child, Ivan, who had been born with a combination of cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, and required round the clock care. Ivan died in 2009, at the age of six. Gita Lima continued to work for the Camerons, moving with them to 10 Downing Street.

The government, David Cameron’s government, recently proposed a change in visa regulations. This change would require migrant domestic workers to stay with the employers who sponsored them. Like the song says, “You’d better dance with the one that brung ya.” Or else.

Many domestic workers, and their allies like Kalayaan and the trade union Unite, understand the removal of the limited protections provided by the current system, the elimination of the right to change employers, as slavery.

They’re right, it is slavery, and it’s the Parliament of the United Kingdom that says so, in its Anti-Slavery Day Act: “In this Act “slavery” includes—
(a) trafficking for sexual exploitation,
(b) child trafficking,
(c) trafficking for forced labour, and
(d) domestic servitude.”

Domestic servitude. Gita Lima, Marissa Begonia, Noor, Mira, and all the transnational domestic workers did absolutely nothing wrong, did everything right, in fact. They have worked hard, they have taken care of children and households, and in the case of some, like Gita Lima, they have wept at and mourned the loss of a loved one. Who is the criminal here, the one placed in slavery, in “domestic servitude”, or the one who holds the woman worker in bondage?

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Rural Women. Period.

October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women. This year marks the fourth celebration. According to the United Nations, the day “recognizes `the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’”

Rural women do a bit more than ”enhance” and “improve”, and the do so in more areas than “the rural”.

Who, and where, exactly, are “rural women”?

On one hand, they are women in rural zones. As such, they are the heart of the current food crisis. They are the women working the sugar farms, or sweatshops, in KwaZulu-Natal and the citrus farms of the Western Cape, both in South Africa, too often overlooked or forgotten by the trade unions, the State, and, to a certain extent, large swathes of the women’s movement. They are also the South African women who comprise Sikhula Sonke and the Surplus Peoples Project, women who struggle, organize, keep on keeping on.

They are the rural and indigenous women in Argentina who speak out about and who organize to stop the environmental and economic devastation of climate change, a process they see and live with every day.

They are the rural and indigenous women across Asia who struggle with the intensification of patriarchal exclusion the emerges from the embrace of local power brokers, national governments and multinational corporations, especially but not exclusively those engaged in agriculture. They are women, like Rajkala Devi, who have broken glass, linen, silk, and concrete ceilings to attain public office in villages, as in hers in Rajasthan, India, and to move more than the village into more than recognition of women’s rights.

They are the fisherwomen like Rehema Bavuma, from Uganda, who struggle, along with their Asian and Latin American sisters, to do more and better than merely stop land grabs, to change the entire system. These women know, without the `benefit’ of longitudinal studies, that girls and women are the key to food security, to well being. They also know that girls and women are the key to food sovereignty, to something more and better than an end to hunger and an end to threat of starvation.

They are women who struggle with patriarchal governments, like Lind Bara-Weaver, a stone’s throw from Washington. Bara-Weaver struggles with the economy, as do all farmers. But she also struggles with the US federal government’s policies concerning loans to women farmers.

They are Dina Apomayta, in the highlands of Peru, the seed keepers, the guardians of diversity, the last station against what some call “Holocene extinction”, the end of diversity. And they are everywhere.

Rural women are not just in rural areas. They are in cities, too. They are women like Somali farmer Khadija Musame and Liberian farmer Sarah Salie, both now living and providing food for residents of San Diego … in the United States. They are women like Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network in New Orleans, and women like Regina Fhiceka, a garden and community organizer in Philippi, just outside of Cape Town.

Rural women are everywhere. They are in rural areas and they are in cities. They are the world. That’s the message we should carry on the International Day of Rural Women, today, and into tomorrow, World Food Day … and beyond. Rural women. Period.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Alabama’s shame is the United States’ shame

Last week, five women from Bessemer and Birmingham met outside the Hugo L. Black U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. They look like a pretty diverse handful of women. They stood there, alone, with their children and their placards, and explained that they are all U.S. citizens, that their children are U.S. citizens, and that their partners are undocumented residents. They appealed to the better conscience and the better consciousness, not to mention the common sense, of the State and of the Court to overturn HB56. They explained that without their partners’ income, they would face desperate times: “If you don’t want to pay for our kids, repeal HB56.”

Quite a few women in Alabama are expressing similar concerns. Lana and Jamie Boatwright run a tomato farm on Chandler Mountain, in Alabama. The tomatoes are ready for picking, but the workers have fled, mostly to Florida where the fieldwork is better and, thus far, the laws are less hostile.

And it’s not just farmers who are suffering, already, from the culture of the law. Contractors, already squeezed by a deep and long recession, now can’t find workers. Teachers, school nurses and school systems report that the children are beginning to disappear. Foley Elementary School, with a 20% Latina/o population, already reports absences, withdrawals, and, even more, a climate of fear, sorrow, pain and suffering, trauma. Those are children. Not that it should matter but it needs to be said, those are children who are mostly U.S. citizens. What is the name for that curriculum, the one these children experience and study?

And the mothers are gathering and organizing, as they do. Mothers who are undocumented residents, like Trini, Erica Suarez, and so many others, are organizing power of attorney for their kids, should “the worst” occur. Mothers with proper papers or with citizenship, women like Rosa Toussaint Ortiz, are agreeing to take care of the children, should “the worst” occur. And activists, women like Monica Hernandez and Helen Rivas, promise to continue to take care of the women, men, children, not to forget, to continue the struggle.

The situation is shameful.

Alabama’s shame is the United States’ shame, and it has a familiar ring to it. What is the name of the shameful system that is emerging in Alabama? First, terrorize a racially or ethnically identified minority population. The terror did not begin with the passage of the law. The terror began with the first mention of its possibility. Then criminalize that population. Then put the “newly minted” criminals in prisons, and if those prisons could be private, as they will be in Alabama, all the better. Then, and here’s the kicker, when businesses, and in particular when farmers and contractors “discover” that the labor well has gone dry, provide them with prisoners, at rock bottom prices, of course. That’s what John McMillan, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, suggested. The State is looking into short- and long-term solutions to the labor problem and is feeling “optimistic.”

Optimistic?

What is the name of that system of shame that Alabama is dutifully re-enacting? Some call it slavery, and perhaps they’re right. What would you call that shame, that shameful system, which haunts the United States?

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Soni Sori haunts more than India

Sometimes the colonizer becomes the colonist. For some, this is what has happened to India, specifically as regards land grabs in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

But the transformation doesn’t stop at “colonialism”. Colonialism is more than settlers and mass and brutal extraction of other peoples’ natural resources. Colonialism involves imperialism, empire building, and not only abroad. Welcome to Chhattisgarh … again.

Chattisgarh has been in the news the last few years for a series of “curious adventures” on the part of police, security, and military forces, responding to a purported Maoist “crisis”. Binayak Sen spent three years and some in prison, for no real reason. Earlier this year, Ilina Sen, a prominent feminist scholar and activist, was charged with organizing an international Women’s Studies conference without proper registration of “foreign nationals.” Kopa Kunjam, a Ghandian human rights and development worker, has also been in prison for years for similarly spurious reasons. Himanshu Kumar worked for almost two decades in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, teaching the poorest of the poor how to vote, how to access better food and any health care. His reward? His ashram was burned to the ground, two years ago. As is so often the case, when security forces occupy a zone, they bring sexual violence as part of the package. For women, the price of national security is high.

And so is the price of national “wealth”. Ask Soni Sori, recently arrested last week in Delhi, shipped back to Chhattisgarh, interrogated there, and sent to hospital yesterday, unconscious and with back and head injuries. Police claim she slipped in the bathroom There’s no real evidence against Soni Sori, nothing that actually links her with any Maoist group or identifies her as a Maoist. Instead, there are “suspicions.”

What is going on in Chhattisgarh? The State would tell us that these stories are part of the larger “security” narrative, that there is a Naxalite, or Maoist, emergency in Chhattisgarh that necessitates the infamous state of exception. Dangerous times require dangerous men … with even more dangerous guns and techniques, including torture.

This is not a story of “poverty”. Rather it is a story of wealth. Chhattisgarh is rich in resources, has an extensive forest, and a large tribal population. The women of Chhattisgarh historically have enjoyed a unique position in India … and beyond. The population is more or less equally divided between women and men. Women have participated in every aspect of agricultural production, of labor, and of public life. Chhattisgarh is a place in which gender equity and female subservience have always been in tension.

With the arrival of the global market, that tension has increased. The areas women dominated, in particular that of food security and food sovereignty, don’t carry the same value in a global economy. Both multinationals and the national government have given men positions of authority in the new economies.

Soni Sori is a primary school teacher. Thanks to “security” campaigns, Chhattisgarh has one of the lowest literacy levels in India. State security forces and their paramilitary brethren occupied schools. Then they were attacked by Maoists. The State then closed the schools and moved them to State-controlled areas. For village children, those are impossibly distant areas, both in miles and in culture. And so, literacy levels, never high, plummeted. And what is the shining solution? Build a residential complex, even further away, for the few high school students who are preparing for engineering and medicine.

The rest, and especially the girls, can simply work the fields, build the roads and bridges and malls, watch the distance between rich and poor grow greater and greater, and more and more violent. This is the crisis in Chhattisgarh. Chhattisgarh doesn’t need more troops. It needs more teachers, more schools, more women like Soni Sori. Soni Sori haunts more than India. Soni Sori haunts the world economy.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: Leymah Gbowee identifies humanity as the subject of peace

I once heard the photographer Harry Mattison discuss the difficulty, the near impossibility, of photographing peace. For Mattison, an award winning photographer of conflict, this was an epiphany. Peace is difficult, representing peace is near impossible.

The Nobel Prize Committee today awarded the Peace Prize to three women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia and currently based in Ghana; and Tawakul Karman, of Yemen. First, congratulations to all, and thanks to the Nobel Committee for not repeating the mistakes of recent Peace Prize recipients (Barack Obama, the proponent of “just war”, for example). Thanks to the Nobel Committee for increasing the pool of living women Nobel Peace Prize winners by a whopping 50%. Where there were six, now there are nine. Good news, hopefully, for the Nobel Women’s Initiative … and the world. (Since its inception, in 1901, 15 women have won the Peace Prize.)

The New York Times coverage of the announcement, and its implications, suggests the truth of Mattison’s epiphany. The Times devotes 33 paragraphs to the news, a substantial article. Johnson Sirleaf gets eleven paragraphs, large chunks early on and then again at the end. Karman receives five paragraphs, which begin about a third of the way into the piece. Gbowee receives a scant three paragraphs, and they don’t show up until the 24th paragraph. You have to want to read the whole article to find out who Leymah Gbowee is.

Leymah Gbowee is a “militant pacifist”, a “peace activist”, and a real mover and shaker. She is a woman who recognized that women had to organize, across all barriers and across all divisions, that women had to transform themselves and one another if they wanted to change the world. They had to learn to participate in peace negotiations, for example, by refusing the symbolic chairs and other morsels offered them, by confronting the materiel of war and violence with the human force of peace, compassion, and love. When the Big Men of Liberia met in Accra to negotiate “peace”, Gbowee and her sisters in white t-shirts raised a ruckus outside, and just about held the delegates hostage.

From the outset, Leymah Gbowee identified humanity as the site of her struggles and organizing. That means organizing structures, such as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, followed by the Women In Peacebuilding Network, or WIPNET. From there, she has gone on to organize the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Ghana. Gbowee’s vision of women is African, from Cape to Cairo, and from coast to coast.

Peace and justice, child by child, person by person, space by space, and beyond. That’s what Leymah Gbowee has been organizing. That’s what is so difficult, if not impossible, to represent. That’s what The New York Times missed. But you don’t have to. On Tuesday, October 18, in the United States, PBS will broadcast the documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the work of Leymah Gbowee. Don’t miss it. It’s inspiring, as is its subject.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

(This starts a new collaboration, this one with Africa Is a Country. This post originally appeared, under different title, here: http://africasacountry.com/2011/10/07/who-is-leymah-gbowee/)

Haunts: Kavita Srivatasa is not a saint, she’s a feminist

Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara was a Brazilian Archbishop, a liberation theologian, who famously said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.” Kavita Srivatasa could take that a step further. She might say, “If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are the poor hungry, they call me a Maoist … and send the riot squads to my house.”

Today, October 3, 2011, the Indian government sent a truckload of Special Task Force police to the home of Kavita Srivatasa, allegedly to find a woman who had aided the Naxalite movement. The implications, for Srivatasa and for many others, were clear. This was meant as a threat, as intimidation, for her leading role in the Right to Food Campaign; for her leading role in questioning the draconian, and worse, conditions in Chhattisgarh, all in the name of rooting out the Maoists, the Naxalites, the `dangerous ones’; for her leading role in the pursuits of women’s rights, civil right, human rights, democracy. In fact, right now, Kavita Srivatasa is locked in battle with the State around the very issue of how poverty itself is to be determined. Who’s poor? Ask that, and truckload of heavily armed men may visit your house early some morning.

Kavita Srivatasa is the General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a 35-year-old Ghandian-socialist (of sorts) organization. In that capacity, she witnessed, and documented, the trial of Binayak Sen, also charged with complicity with Maoists, in a highly publicized trial. Srivatasa wrote of the “sinister ways of the Chhattisgarh Police”. She described the climate of threat, violence, and vindictiveness the local police create. Even in a very public trial, the police assumed they could tamper with evidence and never be found out, or if found out, never be punished. Never is a long time, but it seems that in the long arc of the short term, the police may have been right.

Kavita Srivatasa is a feminist researcher and activist who has researched the intricacies of so-called women-centered development program in Rajasthan; who has researched, and challenged, the impact of irrigation mega-projects, again in Rajasthan, on rural women and men, focused a laser beam on the ways in which such so-called development projects further marginalized women in particular; has researched gender politics, development, and women’s agency. Kavita Srivatasa has advised and counseled on ways to take the Right to Food to court … and beyond.

And that is why Kavita Srivatasa is a dangerous woman, because of her simple and radical refusal. She refuses to accept hunger. She refuses to accept starvation. She refuses to accept anything less than justice, for women, for men, for all beings. No Naxalite was found in Kavita Srivatasa’s home. No one, including the police, ever thought one would be found. But there was, and is, something there, something dangerous, more dangerous than the State can imagine or control. The question and practice of justice. Kavita Srivatasa is not a saint, she’s a feminist.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Haunts: It wasn’t Uncle Sam, it was Aunt Sammie (and all her women friends and kin)

The National Archives, in Washington, DC, has an exhibit called “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.” It’s a terrific exhibition, open through January 3. If you care about food, the State, agriculture, the table, and what’s in your body and what’s in our bodies and body politic, it’s well worth the visit.

At the same time walking through this bit of history is, at best, a bittersweet experience, given where the United States is today. Lettuce recalled due to listeria contamination. A peanut company that sickened hundreds is fighting tooth and nail to keep its records closed. With thirteen deaths, and rising, the cantaloupe listeria contamination is now the deadliest food poisoning “event” the country has suffered in twelve years, since 1998, when listeria killed 21 people.

Not surprisingly, recent polls show that “Americans” don’t trust their food “system”, and I would say they don’t trust their government either.

That’s why the exhibition is bittersweet. It documents a period in which people hoped, and with reason, that the United States federal government would address food production and distribution, would address hunger, would address everything having to do with “the American Diet.” In 1974, the US government actually paid Dick Van Dyke to explain, in clear and direct language, the meaning of food labels: “Read the label, set a better table.”

But that was 1974. Today? The United States has a First Lady, Michelle Obama, who cares, genuinely, about food, health, the obesity crisis, diet, and well being, and who has absolutely no power whatsoever. Otherwise, the battle continues.

It is the battle, in fact, as shown in the exhibit that may be of most interest. Although the exhibit seems to focus on “Uncle Sam”, it’s actually all the aunts, sisters, mothers, daughters, female partners who forced the State to pay attention to the food system, from field to fork, and to do something, rather than just blather on.

The exhibit shows that the food industry was never too concerned about consumers’ health or well being, and the food industry, from early in the country’s history to present, has never been short of cash or of “friends in high places.” So what’s a woman to do? Organize. Demonstrate. Protest. Turn aprons into lab coats, turn lab coats and aprons into placards, turn lab coats and aprons and placards into movements, legislation, and sustained structures.

And that’s what women did. Women who self identified as farm women, as mothers, as housewives, as home economists, as nutritionists, as teachers, as provisioners. In the twentieth century, women forced the State to engage in school lunch programs. In the nineteenth century, women, like “Mrs. Duragnac”, forced the State to address the contamination of food products, such as exploding ketchup containers and lethal candies, to mention just two items. From the beginning of the United States to today, women have been engaged in one long, continuous food uprising. It’s all in the Archives.

So, Uncle Sam, thanks for your interest. You would never have done a thing, however, if it weren’t for the army of Sammie’s and Sammy’s – aunts and all their friends and kin – pushing, pulling, prodding, and lighting the fire. Aunt Sammie haunts the history of the American diet.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com