#NotMyPresident: We need both a HateWatch and a PeaceLoveandUnderstandingWatch

Since the November elections, across the United States, from middle schools and high schools to colleges and universities, people of color, women, LGBTIQ persons, Muslims, Jews and others report outbursts of intimidation, threat, and abuse. To no one’s surprise, a campaign based on white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sutured by lies, hatred and violence, has engendered intensified and expanded violence, but violence against people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTIQ persons, Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, workers, others, is not the whole story. Individuals, organizations and communities across the country are engaging in acts of kindness and campaigns for inclusive justice. Here’s the story of what happened over the weekend in the leafy Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia. Call it a verse of the Parable of Memorial Day 2017.

On Saturday, May 27, self-described white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-fascist posters appeared on trees and utility poles in the Del Ray neighborhood. Some of them targeted C. Christine Fair, who had taken on a white supremacist at a local gym. The posters were taken down immediately. That’s the hate crime part. But there’s more; there’s the peace, love and understanding part. Residents pulled out crayons, markers and paper and produced posters of welcome, calling for mutual respect and dignity.

These homegrown posters sit now sit next to the more formal posters gleaming from shops in Del Ray and the adjoining predominantly Latinx Arlandria neighborhood. Those posters read, EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE TODOS SON BIENVENIDOS AQUI. They’re part of the Hate Free Virginia Campaign, and in Del Ray that campaign was organized by the Tenants and Workers United, a chapter of New Virginia Majority; Grassroots Alexandria; and Indivisible Del Ray. Individuals, communities and organizations are on the move.

 

White supremacy and racism are baked into our history, as is violence. Peace, love and understanding may be more aspirational, and may take more work and labor, and may demand more light, but the work of welcome is happening, across the country, in this climate of terror and fear mongering. We need a HateWatch; we need groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center. But we also need a PeaceLoveandUnderstandingWatch, and we need it now. Remember, there is nothing funny about peace, love and understanding.

 

(Photo Credits 1,2: Buzzfeed / Eric Wagner) (Image Credit 3: Facebook / Tenants and Workers United)

The women of Arlandria are organizing … and they vote

On December 17, 2011, the Alexandria City Council overwhelmingly voted to ignore low- to moderate-income residents of the Arlandria neighborhood who came to City Council to oppose a so-called redevelopment plan. Most of the residents who came and spoke were Latinas. Some were high school or college students. Some were young women workers. Some were women elders, who have lived in the neighborhood for decades. Many were members of the Tenants and Workers United, others small business owners, and some simply neighbors and friends.

Women who had grown up in the neighborhood, joined youth groups and women’s leadership groups and now attend college. Women from outside women’s leadership groups who had moved to the neighborhood because of its diversity and promise. To a person, they described their fears and aspirations, and a planning process that actively excluded them. To a person, they were ignored.

Each woman looked the Council members in the eyes and asked, or pleaded, or demanded that they slow down the process, that they listen, really listen, to what was being said. Each woman explained that she has had a critical role in building and sustaining the vibrant community of Arlandria. Each woman was ignored.

The women argued that the plans for upscale development [a] are a lousy deal, [b] threaten the fabric of the community, and [c] were devised without any real consultation.

Here’s the plan: turn a low-lying strip mall into two massive six-story buildings that will include 478 residential units. If the buildings are too high, as they are by city standards, throw in 28 `affordable’ housing units … out of 478, and get a waiver. This `affordable’ is designed for those earning around $50,000 a year. Basically, no one currently living in Arlandria earns that. So, no one currently living in Arlandria will qualify.

Then, claim that 450 upscale units in a tight neighborhood will have no impact on the rest of the housing market in the neighborhood. Nearby landlords will not raise their rents. No one will be dislocated. There is no need to worry about gentrification.

When the actual neighbors look at you in disbelief, tell them that they’re getting 28 new units that weren’t there before. Those units will go to someone else, but that’s not `our’ problem.

If anything else comes up, such as questions of traffic and parking, questions of public lands and recreational centers, respond with assurances and vague promises that everything will turn out fine when the time comes.

That was the plan and that was the argument presented to the residents of Arlandria by the Alexandria City Council and its staff.

The Council altogether ignored the fabric of the community. For almost thirty years, the Arlandria community has struggled to create a decent place for working people across generations; for Central and South American, African and Asian immigrants and their children, many of them US citizens; a decent place for all low income people; a decent place for all people. The Council refused to recognize that labor of dignity. Sometimes, decades of creating a community fabric must be tossed onto the trash heap of history… in exchange for 28 `affordable’ units.

The City Council did respond, at length, to the claims of lack of inclusion. They insisted that they had tried to `include’ the residents, but the residents had proven themselves to be difficult. The City Council, with one exception, Alicia Hughes, then began to express resentment at the exclusion claims and its claimants.

What’s going on here? The City Council outsourced inclusion, and democracy, to its staff. The staff reported that they were doing the very best job possible. Who monitors the staff? The staff monitors itself. When over forty people came to the City Council to say that the staff had not included them and never had a real consultative process, and that the so-called advisory groups were mostly developers and landlords, what did the City Council do? It turned to the staff, and the staff said, “We tried.”

And nobody on the City Council asked, “Why then do all these people say you have created a culture of exclusion?”

What happened in Alexandria happens everywhere. The State outsources inclusion, under the mask of liberal democracy, and then, when those who have been excluded protest, the State resents their presence, their voices, and their claims.

Meanwhile, in Arlandria, as everywhere, the women are organizing. And, as one Latina college student said, they vote.

 

(Photo Credit: WAMU.org/Emily Friedman)

Tahrir Means Liberation

Today, Saturday, February 5, 2011, the eyes of the world are on Egypt. According to Al Jazeera’s most recent report, the protesters in Tahrir Square are standing their ground, consolidating their gains, and organizing further. Ten thousand pro-democracy protesters showed up outside the main train station in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, as well.

Tahrir means liberation. The people in Tahrir Square have said they will stay until liberation. The people in Tahrir Square are teaching the world a new lesson, the lesson of liberation now and liberation to come. Ask the women of Tahrir Square, ask the youth, ask the workers, ask … everyone.

Another word emerged this week with stunning ease and fluidity: thugs. And a phrase: Mubarak’s thugs.

Yesterday, for example, in a one-hour international news of the week roundup, the National Journal’s Defense Correspondent Yochi Dreazen referred to “pro-Mubarak thugs”, and no one batted an eye, not the NPR host nor the reporters from MBC, the Middle East Broadcasting Center, and from the Washington Post, respectively.

Al Jazeera today reports: “On Friday, Al Jazeera’s offices in Cairo were attacked by “gangs of thugs”, according to a statement from the network. The office was burned, along with the equipment inside it.”

From Tahrir Square itself, Egyptian activists Mona El Seif and Selma Al-Tarzi offer a more detailed picture of thugs. According to El Seif, “We have caught a lot of the thugs….We have searched them. Most of them were one of two things. Either they had police IDs on them …or they were unemployed people that were promised either jobs or money….We know this. We know this since every demo we went to. They always plant thugs and pretend—let them pretend to be civilians, so they can start the violence. I just never saw this amount of violence, this publicly displayed, and nobody stopping it.”

Al-Tarzi added, “The Mubarak thugs were shooting at us with the machine guns. The army shot back at them. Two of them were killed. One of us was killed….More are coming. And we are so tired. People are so tired. We’ve been fighting for the past 12 hours. And we’re just protesters; we’re civilians. We’re protesters.…All we have is stones and sticks. And we’re tired. This is not what we’re here to do. This is not—this is not how—this is a crime of war. They’re killing us.”

Mozn Hassan, Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, tells a similar story: “If the military is ever to be a legitimate national force, it must side with the protesters against Mubarak’s thugs and the police.… It is crucial at this moment in the Egyptian Uprising to understand that this is the Egyptian Army’s moment of truth. As the thousands of unarmed demonstrators are tortured, trampled, firebombed and molested by Mubarak’s thugs, will the military move to protect, or to crush the non-violent democratic movements that have occupied Tahrir Square in Cairo for the last ten days.”

Who are the thugs? They are the police, the are the security forces, they are the baltaguia, “plainclothes thugs from the state security services and gang members on their payroll.” And they are everywhere: Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor. And they are everywhere all the time: protests, labor strikes, elections. They are the body politic of `security’. When it is reported, or rumored, that 90 percent of the `thugs’ caught in Tahrir Square had identity cards linking them to the police, state and Central Security forces, the only surprise was that they were actually carrying the cards. They are the State.

A State that relies on thugs for security, for stability, for well being, for its identity as a nation-State is a thug state. It is a rogue, whose gender “remains generally, as it was originally, masculine”, who knows only the reason of the strongest and the practice of fear: “those who inspire fear frighten themselves, they conjure the very specter they represent. The conjuration is in mourning for itself and turns its own force against itself.”

Tahrir means liberation. The protesters in Tahrir Square, such as Mona El Seif and Selma Al-Tarzi, they are living a form of liberation now, today. Liberation haunts the thugs and the thug states.

 

(Photo Credit: https://revolutionaryfrontlines.wordpress.com)