Domestic workers organized, and the Philadelphia City Council passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights!

On Wednesday, October 31, 2019, the Philadelphia City Council unanimously passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Officially, the City Council amended a chapter in its “Fair Practices Ordinance: Protections Against Unlawful Discrimination.” The Council amended the chapter entitled “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces,” by adding a new chapter, “Protections for Domestic Workers,” “all to provide protections for domestic workers and to establish remedial and enforcement provisions, all under certain terms and conditions.” 

As the City Council put it, this “landmark” legislation “provides protections and rights for domestic workers that will give the city one of the strongest laws in the country.” The bill’s principal sponsor, City Councilwoman Maria Quinoñes-Sánchezexplained, “The women have bravely told their stories about non-payment and sexual harassment, and despite their challenges whether they are undocumented or not, they have helped us put together not only the best piece of legislation, but a task force that is going to ensure the implementation with a comprehensive education campaign.” Director of the Pennsylvania Domestic Workers Alliance, Nicole Kligerman, added, “Domestic workers have been excluded from all labor protections in the history of the U.S. Today, for the first time, Philadelphia domestic workers have won the same rights and protections that all other workers have in Philadelphia. We’re the largest city to do so and it’s the best law in the country.”

Nine states have passed versions of Domestic Workers’ Bills of Rights: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Nevada. This year, Seattle also passed a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Each version is more expansive, more specific. In July, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced the federal Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. From coast to coast, state by state, city by city, the racially based exclusion of domestic workers from the dignity of labor protections is being challenged and overturned. 

At each turn, domestic workers have exhibited organizational prowess and extraordinary courage and bravery, as Councilwoman Quinoñes-Sánchez noted. While domestic workers’ courage and bravery is admirable, why must they be heroic in order to attain the basic rights workers are meant to have? What is the regime of intimidation and, at times, terror that blankets the work and labor of care givers, nannies, and housekeepers? How will we pay for the decades of pain and suffering inflicted on mostly women of color, all in the name of “economic growth”, all the while chanting the “our” domestic workers are treated “like one of the family”?

These are questions for down the road. But for now, it’s time for celebration. In October 2019, South African domestic workers won a major victory in the courthouse, and Philadelphia domestic workers won a major victory in the City Hall. Both of these victories are landmark events that expand and deepen domestic workers’ rights, dignity and power everywhere. The struggle continues.

(Photo Credit: (Tim Tai / Philadelphia Inquirer)

Apartheid gentrification haunts Cape Town and the world

Last Monday, Reclaim the City reported, “Reclaim the City has been approached by a woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose rent has been increased by the City of Cape Town (‘the City’) by more than 2000%. She has rented a City council home in Salt River from the City of Cape Town since 1995. When her and husband moved in, they signed a lease agreement with a rental of R220 per month. The house was an uninhabitable mess. Over the years, they improved, fixed and maintained the property at their own expense. Due to minor rental increases, her rent is now R243.81. She has never defaulted on her monthly payments and has lived happily in her home for the last 24 years. In August 2019, the City of Cape Town sent her a letter saying they are increasing her rent to R5 500 per month. This is an astronomical increase from the R243 she is currently paying.” For millions across the globe, this is an all too familiar story, but what exactly is the story? In what world is it acceptable that anyone receive a rental increase notice of more than 2000%?

1995, Cape Town. Apartheid is officially ended, and, across the country, the new South Africa is on everyone’s lips, minds, and hearts. Reconstruction and Development Programme community flora are meeting everywhere … or almost everywhere. There’s a new President, a new Parliament, and a new dispensation.  A rainbow hovers over the nation and over the Mother City, as Cape Town is called.

While some of this picture is accurate, missing are the plans to “re-develop” Cape Town, to turn Cape Town into a thriving “global city”, replete with a metropolitan economy largely driven by real estate development. In the midst of all this, a couple move into public housing, twenty-four years ago, in the working class neighborhood of Salt River, a neighborhood known largely for second-hand shops, a diverse array of working class communities, and Community House, a center for community and labor organizing. It’s also known for the empty textile and garment factories that closed during the 1980s, when the apartheid regime invested heavily in Export Processing Zones that gutted the vibrant garment and textile economies of the Western Cape.

So, this couple moves in, signs the lease, fixes the place up (at considerable expense to themselves), never misses a payment, makes a home for themselves and for their neighbors. This couple survives and makes a life of dignity and self-respect. For their great labors and contributions to the municipality’s well-being, they are rewarded with amounts to an eviction notice. 

The couple have appealed, Reclaim the City and their supporters are organizing to help them remain in their home, the City continues to threaten eviction. Given the recent pattern of “spiraling” evictions in the Cape Town region, this comes as no surprise. As Reclaim the City notes, “If anyone needs more proof that the City is anti-poor and anti-black, this woman’s exorbitant rent hike is case and point.”

Anti-poor, anti-Black and committed to growing inequality as the key to urban development. For millions across the globe, and especially those living in so-called urban cities driven by service sector economies and predatory real estate development, this is an all too familiar story. But what exactly is the story? Remember, this working-class couple in Cape Town live in public housing. Their landlord is the City. The City raised their rent by over 2000 percent. When they responded and asked for help, the City threatened them with eviction. In this instance, eviction is exile, because a couple seeking to pay less than 300 rand a month won’t find anything anywhere near livable in Cape Town. 

What is public housing, if this is how the State acts? What is the public, if the State has committed to exploiting, oppressing and, if all else fails, assaulting the working populations who make it possible for the Public to function? What exactly is the story? That question has been answered recently in the streets of Ecuador, Sudan, Chile, Lebanon, Hong Kong and beyond. This story is not yet over, neither the local one in Cape Town nor its global counterpart; the struggle continues. Apartheid gentrification, gentrification that condemns working people to forced removals to distant regions, haunts the world. In what world is it acceptable receive a rental increase notice of more than 2000%? Our world. Another world must be possible.

(Photo Credit: Twitter)

South African domestic workers win in court, expanding domestic workers’ rights everywhere!

Sylvia Mahlangu, Maria Mahlangu’s daughter, in court

Great news from South Africa! Yesterday, October 17, 2019, the Gauteng High Court ruled that domestic workers injured on the job in the past can claim damages, under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, COIDAThis ruling includes the family of Maria Mahlangu, a domestic worker who had worked for the same family for twenty years. While washing windows, Maria Mahlangu slipped, fell into the pool, and drowned. Her family received no compensation. More the point, the family offered no compensation and the State, at that point, excluded domestic workers from COIDA. On May 23 of this year, the North Gauteng High Court ruled that that exclusion was unconstitutional, but they did not rule on those who had been injured prior to the ruling or in past jobs. Yesterday’s ruling clears all that up. The Court ruled that the Constitutional invalidity of the exclusion of domestic workers means that all domestic workers are due unlimited retrospective COIDA compensation. The case now goes to the Constitutional Court. Today, we must celebrate, support and give thanks to all those domestic workers and domestic worker organizers, past and present, who brought the Court to make a decision. They refused to bargain with the State, and said, simply and directly, “Our rights are non-negotiable.”

Founding member of the United Domestic Workers of South Africa (Udwosa), Pinky Mashiane, said, “This is a victory for us and we will now approach the Constitutional Court with confidence that it will also rule in our favour. Government had denied domestic workers their right for a long time as it discriminated against us. We will move forward with the confidence that those injured on duty and the families of those who had died, will at long last receive compensation.”

In July, Myrtle Witbooi, the President of the International Domestic Workers Federation and General Secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers’ Union, explained, “The government ratified International Labour Organisation Convention 189 (dealing with the rights of domestic workers worldwide) in June 2013, which meant that they had a year to include domestic workers in COIDA. We had several campaigns, but all we got were promises. In 2016, the government told the ILO that COIDA would be extended to domestic workers, and it was gazetted in 2018. It is now 2019, and we are still waiting … While we have been fighting for domestics to be included in COIDA, many women have lost their lives or have been injured while on duty and have received no compensation at all.”

Pinky Mashiane and Myrtle Witbooi have called for expanded and deepened support for their campaign from all social justice sectors in South Africa. Hopefully, many will heed and respond to the call. At the same time, this is a case that crosses beyond the borders of South Africa and beyond the African continent. Many countries across the globe, including the United States, continue to exclude domestic workers from labor laws and from labor law protections and rights. That time is coming to an end. Domestic work is decent work, and domestic workers demand recognition, formal recognition, of the dignity of their labor. Tell your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors about Maria Mahlangu and about this week’s decision. Remind them that the struggle continues, and as it does, it expands the horizons. Amandla!

(Photo Credit: Zelda Venter / IOL)

In Ecuador, Indigenous people shut down the austerity program. Women were key

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day! In the future, this day should be remembered as the day in which Indigenous peoples of Ecuador stopped cold an IMF-sponsored austerity program. Today, October 14, 2019, Lenín Moreno, Ecuador’s President, and leaders of the Indigenous Peoples’ movements announced that they had reached a deal to cancel the austerity package. It took almost two weeks of protest and seven deaths, but in the end Indigenous peoples and their allies succeeded. As Rosa Matango responded to the news, “I am happy as a mother, happy for our future. We indigenous people fought and lost so many brothers, but we’ll keep going forward.” Jaime Vargas, President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations, added, “From our heart, we declare that we, the peoples and nations, have risen up in search of liberty. We recognise the bravery of the men and women who rose up.” Indigenous women have been key to the success of this mass mobilization against austerity and for dignity and decency.

What happened? On October 1, Moreno cut a deal, known familiarly as “el paquetazo”, with the IMF. The IMF insisted on austerity if Ecuador wanted loans and `assistance’. This package included a frontal assault on public sector workers: 20% wage cuts; decrease in vacation pay; and the `donation’ by public sector works of one day a month to the government. What the IMF calls donation, the rest of the world calls wage theft. Additionally, the package included an end to fuel subsidies, that had been in place for 40 years. Within hours, diesel fuel prices doubled, and regular fuel prices shot up 30 percent.

On October 2, labor unions, women’s groups, student unions, and Indigenous peoples’ groups announced their intent to protest. On October 3, the protests began, with transportation unions striking. Ecuador was shut down for two days, October 3 and 4. After talks between the government and transportation unions, the strike was called off. On October 4, Moreno declared a state of emergency. Mass protests continued and intensified. From October 3 to Saturday, October 12, protests grew and intensified. The country was at a standstill. Moreno moved his government from the capital city, Quito, to Guayaquil, on the coast.

Where are the women in all this? Everywhere and at the forefront.

From the moment the Indigenous masses began pouring into Quito, people started noticing the large presence of women and children in the protests. Indigenous women from all parts of the country made it clear that they were in for the long haul. They made this clear in words and actions. Many brought food and cooking utensils and set up kitchens to feed the ever growing populations. As Marta Chango, provincial coordinator for the political movement Pachakutic in the Tungurahua province, explained, “We are here to resist to the last moment, we are mothers, women and daughters who have come from provinces from across the country to proclaim that the State, in its abuse of power, will not succeed in murdering our people. We will not let that happen.”

They came by the tens of thousands and continued to shut down the country. When the State attempted to respond with severe repression, with bullets and tear gas, the women organized, and on Saturday, they organized a women’s march which linked State violence and repression with State austerity. Indigenous intersectionality was everywhere, as women explained their choices in clothing to why they brought children. Repeatedly the answer was the same: this is women’s resistance, this is the community’s resistance. We will not be massacred, exterminated, or erased. When Indigenous women marched, they were joined and supported by a variety of non-Indigenous women’s movements. Together, women, led and organized by Indigenous women, filled the streets of Quito, filled the sky with their chants, “No more deaths!” “Not one more bomb! Not one more rock!” On Saturday, as State and Indigenous leaders began to meet, Indigenous women turned Quito into an Indigenous women’s temporary autonomous zone, and they threatened to make it last for as long as necessary. On Sunday, the talks continued. Today, a pact was announced. 

As has happened frequently in Ecuador, the Indigenous women are united. When they say, “No!”, they mean, “NO!” The people united and demanded attention, dignity and justice. They demanded that the State belongs to the country’s residents, and not to the IMF. They demanded peace. And they won. Women were key to this victory. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2019!

(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera / Fernando Vergara / AP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / Matías Zibell)

Will Ohio stop shackling pregnant women prisoners?

Yesterday, October 9, 2019, Ohio’s Statehouse News Bureau reported, “The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved changes to a bill, SB18, that would ban prison guards from shackling pregnant inmates. The amended legislation would eliminate the practice for an entire pregnancy instead of just the third trimester, which was the original proposal.” The primary sponsors of this bill are Nickie Antonio, Democrat; and Peggy Lehner, Republican. Speaking of shackling pregnant women prisoners, Nickie Antonio noted, “I think it’s harsh. It really comes up against ‘cruel and unusual’ punishment when a woman’s pregnant to do that. To move her from place to place … All of the practice and policies in the department of corrections, originated for male prisoners. There was not consideration of women in jail, in prison.” 

Last year, when she was still a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Nickie Antonio sponsored a similar bill. That bill was co-sponsored by eight Democrats. No Republicans supported the bill, and, after one hearing, it died … or, better, was killed. Elections matter. Thus far, in the Ohio Senate, no one has testified against the proposal. When Nickie Antonio sponsored the new bill in the Senate, she explained that when she first heard of the practice from Maureen Sweeney, a nurse in Ohio, she thought, “It’s barbaric, it’s humiliating for the woman.”

How usual is this cruel and humiliating practice in Ohio? “No one tracks how many pregnant inmates are shackled in Ohio so it’s impossible to know how common the practice is. Women who were restrained often don’t want to talk about the experience. But more and more women are entering Ohio’s jails and prisons – an increase driven by drug-related offenses.” No one knows because those in charge don’t care.

How usual is this cruel and humiliating practice across the United States? Although the United States is home to 4% of the world’s female population, it houses over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women (this does not include women in immigrant detention centers). Women’s incarceration in the United States is at an all-time high. Incarcerated women are disproportionately located in local jails, and a large proportion are awaiting trial. For pregnant women, this means those who have not been convicted of anything are thrown into facilities where the staffs are untrained and unprepared to make any kind of informed decisions concerning pregnancy or childbirth. The women may be formally innocent until proven guilty, but as pregnant women they have been condemned.

For pregnant women behind bars, the State of Condemnation is a State of Abandonment. As noted by Carolyn Sufrin, the lead author of Pregnancy Outcomes in US Prisons, 2016–2017a groundbreaking study published earlier this year, “There are barely any data, aside from a 2004 survey, on prison pregnancy rates. The only publicly available statistics about prison births are from a 1999 report. And there is no systematic information, not even outdated data, about miscarriages, stillbirths, abortions, maternal deaths or other pregnancy outcomes in prison. This is a profound omission. Women who don’t count don’t get counted. And women who don’t get counted don’t count. This lack of statistics shows just how little we care for incarcerated pregnant people.”

How usual is the cruel and humiliating practice of shackling pregnant women across the United States? On one hand, who cares? No one in charge. On the other hand, little by little, more and more states, like Ohio, are moving forward. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG, “32 states currently restrict the use of restraints for limited duration, but few states broadly restrict the practice throughout pregnancy and postpartum.” Thirteen states “broadly restrict restraints throughout pregnancy, labor, delivery, postpartum, including transport to a medical facility”: California, Connecticut, Nebraska, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. That list was published in June 2019. Since then, Georgia passed the Georgia Dignity Act, which bans the shackling of pregnant and postpartum women. Formerly incarcerated women, led by Pamela Winn, a formerly incarcerated woman who had experienced the horror of being shackled in childbirth, pushed and testified, until the legislature’s walls came tumbling down.

Across the United States, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their supporters reject the logic of “women are America’s fast-growing segment of prisoners”, a logic that says that the cruelty and horror visited upon their bodies and selves is merely a consequence of the gendered mathematics of the American decades long experiment in mass incarceration. They say that dignity for women is justice for women; it is time to let dignity and justice roll down like waters, across the land. Prison is bad for pregnant women. Shackling pregnant women, sending pregnant women and post-partum women into solitary are atrocities. Meanwhile, in Ohio, “the bill could get a vote on the Senate floor as early as this month.”

(Image Credit 1: Radical Doula) (Image Credit 2: Colorlines / Stokely Baksh)

Another atrocity in the hellhole that is HMP Bronzefield: Shut it down!

HMP Bronzefield, in Surrey, England, is England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison. It is run by Sodexo “Justice Services” (because irony is really truly dead). On September 27, a woman, alone in her cell, gave birth to a child. The child died. The Director says, “We are supporting the mother through this distressing time and our thoughts are with her, her family and our staff involved.” Sodexo is “undertaking a review”. The Prisons & Probation Ombudsman, which is supposed to be the agency that investigates deaths in prisons and detention centers, is not conducting an investigation. Surrey Police are investigating the death, because it is as yet “unexplained.” End of story. HMP Bronzefield, In Surrey, England, is England’s and Europe’s largest women’s prison.

Less than a year ago, the Chief Inspector of Prison conducted an unannounced inspection of HMP Bronzefield. He found the prison “to be an excellent institution … an overwhelmingly safe prison”. The Inspector went on the explain this overwhelming safety: “Recorded violence had increased markedly since our last inspection, but most incidents were not serious … Self-harm among prisoners remained high, but overall the care for those in crisis was good.” The prison is overwhelmingly safe except “that the population of prisoners held had become more challenging in recent years”. Where is the safety in increased recorded violence and high rates of self-harm?

According to the Inspector’s report, “Pregnant prisoners were identified and immediately referred to midwifery support. Links with midwife and specialist perinatal services were good. Antenatal services were of the same standard as those in the community.” Where was the midwifery support last week? Nowhere to be seen.

In 2017, Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca was pregnant and a prisoner in HMP Bronzefield. Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca also gave birth alone, unattended, in her cell. Her child survived. What happened to Petruta-Cristina Bosoanca? Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary.

In 2018, Laura Jane Abbott submitted her Ph.D. dissertation, The Incarcerated Pregnancy: An Ethnographic Study of Perinatal Women in English Prisons. Abbott relates the experiences of Layla, who gave “birth in her cell without midwifery care.” Abbott notes, “Layla’s testimony highlights the ‘institutional ignominy’ and ‘institutional thoughtlessness’ of a woman going into labour and birthing her baby inside her prison cell. Staff portray their experiences of childbirth inside prison and my field notes support other conversations with informants. Layla’s distress as her labour progresses to the birth of her child in a prison cell at night reveals alarming and inappropriate behaviour on the part of the staff.”

What happened a week ago in a cell in HMP Bronzefield? Woman gave birth, alone, unattended. Baby died. Nothing new. The overwhelming majority of women in HMP Bronzefield are living with mental illnesses and economic challenges to their wellbeing. They don’t belong in prison. As long as HMP Bronzefield stands, whether it’s public or private, the State will pretend to try to “fix” it, while using it as dumping ground for women it deems disposable. When HMP Holloway was closed, because of its insufferable conditions, where were many women sent? Bronzefield. As long as “justice services” means “criminal justice”, so long shall women in the care of the State give birth alone, unattended, in prison cells. Begin the process of restorative justice by shutting down HMP Bronzefield and opening the gates. Remember this, no prison ever was, ever is, or ever can be “overwhelmingly safe”. 

(Photo Credit: SurreyLive)

What happened to Joyce Clarke? Nothing. An Aboriginal woman died in “police presence”

What is the value of a human life? It that human is an Aboriginal woman living in Australia, and especially in Western Australia, very little … and decreasing by the day. Consider the life story of Joyce Clarke, a 29-year-old Yamatji mother of a seven-year-old child. In Geraldton, Western Australia, on Tuesday, September 17, a few days out of prison and before that mental institution, Joyce Clarke started acting strangely. Not knowing what to do and fearing that Joyce Clarke might harm herself, the family called the police and asked them for assistance, asked the police to help them transport to Joyce Clarke to hospital so that someone could take care of her. They called the police. The police came. The police saw Joyce Clarke outside the house, ostensibly holding a knife. The police told Joyce Clarke to drop the knife, she did not, the police fired and killed Joyce Clarke. That’s it. That’s the story, and that’s the value of a human life if that human is an Aboriginal woman living, and dying, in Australia, and especially Western Australia. Yet again.

People want to know why the police immediately used lethal force. Now the police express “sympathy and condolences” as they urge calm, ban takeaway alcohol sales, and made clear that Joyce Clarke’s death would be “classed as a death in police presence, not in police custody”. Meanwhile a family friend, Marianne Mallard, create a GoFundMe page to help the family pay for Joyce Clarke’s funeral.  If interested, you can donate here. Now the various stories about Joyce Clarke’s difficult and her loving life emerge. Likewise, now we hear, yet again, about how the police officer who shot and killed Joyce Clarke is devastated, on leave and receiving support and counseling from the police department. Yet again, we hear of the abysmal lack of any mental health support for Aboriginal and Indigenous people.

In November 2012, Maureen Mandijarra, a 44-year-old Aboriginal woman, died in police custody in Western Australia. In August 2014, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman, called Ms. Dhu, died in custody in Western Australia. Ms. Dhu was Yamatji. Ms. Dhu’s family are from and continue to live in Geraldton. They live under the menacing sky of Yet Again. To this day, they await something like justice. In April 2019, Cherdeena Wynne died in police custody in Western Australia. Cherdeena Wynne was Noongar and Yamatji. Yet Again.

In Western Australia, Debbie Kilroy co-founded Sisters Inside to stop the abuse and incarceration of Aboriginal women, specifically, and Aboriginal people and communities, generally. Sisters Inside works to turn Yet Again into Never Again, but that requires a transformation of state. Meanwhile, this past weekend, Noongar woman Keennan Dickie was attacked, robbed, beaten, injured. She called the police for help. The police came, noted her injuries, and told her that, because she had outstanding fines, she’d have to go to the police station, once she healed, to report the assault and robbery. Keennan Dickie spent Saturday night in hospital. Still in pain, Keennan Dickie went to the police station the next day. They arrested her for unpaid fines and shipped her to Melaleuca Women’s Prison. As Debbie Kilroy noted, “We are seeing over and over again the arrest of women living in poverty who cannot pay their fines. It is not that they don’t want to pay their fines. We are seeing the criminalisation of poverty and the default response to that is prison.” Yet Again 

What is the value of an Aboriginal woman’s life, in Australia, in Western Australia, anywhere? Yet Again. Never Again. Yet Again. Never Again? Never Again.

(Photo Credit 1: Green Left Weekly / Deborah Green) (Photo Credit 2: West Australian / Geraldton Guardian / Francesca Mann)

Climate Strike: Women cannot bear the brunt … still … again … still!

September 20, 2019: Global Climate Strike! GLOBAL CLIMATE STRIKE! #ClimateStrike! Thanks to the great work and leadership of Greta Thunberg and her young and youthful sistren and brethren across the globe, business as usual stopped, or at least slowed down, for a bit today to take account of the climate crisis surrounding and inhabiting all of us. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people, led, again, by young people took to the streets to demand action on the part, first, of national governments, as well as corporations, and people more generally. The crisis is here. The time is now. While young people flipped the script in so many ways, the news media and academy relied on the same, frankly tired rhetoric of `discovery’, specifically of discovering that women and children bear the brunt of climate devastation. And so, once again and still, we must slow down and unpack this business of bearing the brunt. 

But first, what did reporters, advocates, academics discover? Here’s a brief overview from the last few weeks. “Bangladesh’s rural families bear the brunt of climate change … Households headed by women are under even greater pressure.” “Women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power.” “Women and children often bear the brunt of water shortages.” “The female population is more likely to bear the brunt of natural disasters.” “In less-developed regions, it falls to women to gather food and water for their families. If crops can’t grow, those women will lose both their livelihoods and their food source. At the same time, as extreme weather events become more frequent, huge populations of women and families are forced to leave their homes. Women will bear the brunt of the crisis.” “It is the world’s most vulnerable people who are made to bear the brunt of climate change, though they are the least responsible for causing it, and are ill-equipped to deal with the consequences.” The list goes on forever, but you get the picture.

Occasionally, the brunt is evoked in a more intersectional and even ideological sense. “Feminism helps me understand what underpins our climate crisis — systems like extractivism, patriarchy, and capitalism. Feminism helps us see the genderdifferentiated impacts of climate breakdown and how women disproportionately bear the brunt of the harm.” “Women farmers bear the brunt of the crisis—and may be the key to limiting its impact. But that’s only possible if there is gender equality in the agriculture sector.” “Those with fewer resources are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and many of the world’s poorest are women. In times of scarcity it’s often mothers who go without to make sure their families can eat. When extreme weather hits, because women still primarily look after children and the elderly, they are the last to evacuate; leading to higher female death tolls. Around 90% of the 150,000 people killed in the 1991 Bangladesh cyclone were women.”

What is this brunt, and what is bearing? A brunt is “An attack or onslaught … a military assault … the shock, violence, or impact of an attack or onslaught … The chief shock or force of a military attack; the chief impact of an abstract agency; the chief stress or burden.” While bearing has multiple meanings, in bearing the brunt, it means “to sustain (anything painful or trying); to suffer, endure, pass through.” Women are described, and discovered, as `bearing the brunt’, and are thereby placed in an inevitable logic and political economy of sharp blow, assault, violence, shock, and military force as the norm.

Thankfully, Greta Thunberg and her rightly impatient sistren and brethren are flipping that script. They demand climate justice now. No more discoveries of the already known, no more sympathetic invocations of the unfortunate inevitable brunt that women are universally slotted to bear. No more evasions, no more explanations. The State must take action now: listen to the scientists and act; listen to the women farmers and act. Listen to women, who reject and refuse the brunt, as they always have, and act. The time is now! September 20, 2019: Global Climate Strike! Climate Justice! #ClimateStrike!

(Photo Credit: BBC)

What happened to Cheryl Weimar? The routine torture of women in Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution. Shut it down!

Cheryl Weimar is 51 years old. She lives with mental illness as well as a physical disability, a hip condition that limits her mobility. Cheryl Weimar is also a `guest’ of Florida’s largest women’s prison, Lowell Correctional Institution. On August 21, a prison staff member directed Cheryl Weimar to clean the toilets. She explained that she could not, due to her hip condition, and asked for another assignment. Four `officers’ then threw Cheryl Weimar to the concrete floor and proceeded to beat her. Realizing they were in sight of a video camera, the four dragged Cheryl Weimar out of camera sight, and beat her to `within an inch of her life’. She is now in hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. Her neck is broken. She breathes through a tracheotomy and takes food in through a tube. This is Cheryl Weimar’s condition until the day she dies. While in hospital, Cheryl Weimar is `guarded’ by precisely the staff that put her in this condition. Cheryl Weimar is the embodiment of the phrase, “paying the price for one’s misdeeds”. Cheryl Weimar is the what justice looks like in Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution. Cheryl Weimar was set to leave Lowell Correctional, February 2021. Now, she’ll never leave. Justice is served.

Cheryl Weimar is suing Florida. Former residents of Lowell Correctional have rallied in her name and called on Florida to fix this hellhole. Jordyn Gilley-Nixon, also living with disabilities and a former Lowell Correctional inmate, released a video describing in detail the sexual violence she suffered at the hands of Lowell Correctional staff. Former Lowell Correctional prisoners and supporters demonstrated last week. They showed up with their mouths taped. Latangela McCall showed up with her six-year old daughter and a sign that read, “Change is now, tired of talking, no one listens”. Other signs showed photographs of hundreds of former prisoners with their mouths taped. Debra Bennett, former prisoner and organizer of the protest, explained, “Weimar’s beating is alarming but not surprising …  Silence got everybody’s attention – nobody ever listens to us convicts. We’re here to prove a point … We’ve been talking long enough. I’m tired of talking. We want action … It keeps getting worse. There’s going to be somebody else beaten.”

Cheryl Weimar’s story, Jordyn Gilley-Nixon’s story, and all the currently circulating stories were preceded by those of Michelle Tierney, 48; Latandra Ellington, 48; Regina A. Cooper, 50; Affricka G. Jean, 30, all four of whom `died’ under `mysterious circumstances’ in 2014. As we noted at the time, “they did not `die. They were killed.” Now, five years later, the world again `discovers’ the hellhole that is Lowell Correctional Institution. Yet again, the State, both Florida and federal, will `investigate’, and yet again worse than absolutely nothing will happen. This is our gulag, writ both large and small; our internal necro-colony, where not being able to clean a toilet is a death sentence. It’s too late to `fix’ Lowell Correctional Institution. Shut it down. Shut it down today. Shut it down now. There’s going to be somebody else beaten. It keeps getting worse.

(Photo Credit: Dana Cassidy / WUFT)

In Brazil’s burning rainforest, Indigenous women lead the battle against ecocide, genocide

The Indigenous Women’s March

It only took three weeks or so for the world to take note that Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest is on fire, a fire whose smoke turned Sao Paola’s midday to midnight, a fire that from deep space portends an immediate threat to all living beings on the planet Earth. According to those watching the Amazon, the rainforest has suffered close to 73,000 fires this year alone. In the past week, around 10,000 fires have erupted. This represents a 70% increase in fires since January 2018. This sudden peak in rainforest fires is directly attributable to the policies of the Bolsonaro government. The Amazon is on fire, the Earth is on fire. Amazonian Indigenous peoples warned us that Bolsonaro, and the system of which he is a part, would do this to the forests and to the Earth. Few listened. In this struggle, Indigenous women lead the effort to liberate the Americas and the world. From the outset, they argued the struggle for Indigenous and environmental autonomy was and is a liberation struggle. Maybe now, maybe, more of us will listen. 

On August 13, 2019, Indigenous women converged on Brasilia for the first Indigenous Women’s March. Under the banner “Territory: our body, our spirits”, thousands of Indigenous women from hundreds of different Indigenous populations gathered and filled the streets for days. Sônia Guajajara, leader of the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation), APIB, explained, “We came to denounce the president’s hateful discourse, which has increased violence and destruction in our territories, which directly impacts us, women. We are counting on international solidarity to advance this movement for our future.” Her colleague, Célia Xacriabá added, ““For the first time in history, the indigenous women’s march convenes more than 100 different peoples in Brasilia with more than 2,000 women present. This is a movement that is not only symbolically important but also historically and politically significant. When they try to take away our rights, it’s not enough to only defend our territories. We also need to occupy spaces beyond our villages, such as institutional spaces and political representativity. We call on the international community to support us, to amplify our voices and our struggle against today’s legislative genocide, where our own government is authorizing the slaughter and ethnocide of indigenous peoples. This is also an opportunity to join our voices to denounce this government’s ecocide, where the killing of mother nature is our collective concern.”

At one level, as in the past, the real tragedy in Brazil is that there is no tragedy. There is only redundancy, murmurs of complicity, and, then, as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the inconceivable: “It was inconceivable that they would suddenly abandon their pastoral spirit to avenge a death for which we all could have been to blame.” However, today, as in the past, Indigenous women are organizing, refusing to accept that script that renders them abject and renders the world as empty and farcical. They are demanding that we, all of us, recognize we have the possibility of liberation. As Tamikua Faustino explained, “Deforestation is a killer. If we don’t stick together, in the near future we’ll be eliminated.” It’s time to reject those who would impose a death sentence on all living beings, to refuse the vampire thirst for the blood of all living creatures. It’s time to see the sun at midday, the moon at midnight. Eight years ago, in a different environment crisis in Brazil, Indigenous woman organizer Juma Xipaia declared, “We will not be silent. We will shout out loud and we will do it now.” Another world is possible. Shout out loud, do it now.

(Photo Credit: CIMI / Tiago Miotto)