If men get to run without a shirt on, women should be able to too

In warm weather, running can be hard with extra layers on. As a runner, I know. From May to September, when the weather hits 60-90 degrees every day, I’m not running with a sports bra, shirts and shorts on; I’m removing as many layers as I can so I don’t overheat and harm myself. That means I’m running with just a sports bra and shorts on. My comfort and my health override any preconceived ideas of what women should be wearing while they workout. The same can be said of all women when they’re exercising.

For this reason, Rowan University is wrong to police women track athletes who were exercising while the football team was in practice, and were called out for removing their shirts after a particularly difficult practice. After an afternoon workout of mile repeats in 60-degree weather, the athletes finished their workout in their sports bras, while some male runners ran without shirts on. Can you guess who was told they were distracting the football players? The women.

“I was holding a 5:45 or 5:50 during mile repeats. We were dead and sweaty,” teammate and senior Hannah Vendetta says. Team members recalled that one of the football coaches approached the women’s cross-country coach and told them that the runners were distracting the football players. A few days later, the team learned during an athletics department meeting that “they all had to wear shirts during practice. Also, the cross-country teams were no longer allowed to use the track while the football team practiced. Instead, if they wanted to run in the afternoon, they would need to make do with the Glassboro High School track across the street. Or they could change their practice time.”

The University administration has claimed that there has always been a policy wherein only one sports team at a time has use of the facilities, but students and alumni have disputed the claim that the policy has ever been enforced. In a response to the administration’s explanations, alumna Grace Kaler tweeted, “From the Year 2010-2014, this policy was never enforced. We had always shared the facility. As a former captain, and student-athlete, I am so disappointed to see the sports bra rule still in play, but now to cover it up with this, is extremely disheartening.”

Rowan student Gina Capone heard of the incident from her former teammates and, enraged, posted an article on Odyssey. Her piece took the Athletics Department to task, citing unfair treatment of the cross-country team, policing women’s bodies, and perpetuating a “boys will be boys” culture on campus. The next morning, the post had gone viral, throwing Rowan into the spotlight on the eve of hosting the NCAA Division III regional cross-country championships. The university can profit off of women athletes, while also policing their bodies and what they get to wear when it gets too hot to train?

There is a verbal policy in place – the “shirts required rule” – that supposedly applies to male and female across all sports. According to VP of University Relations Joe Cardona, “The verbal policy was adopted to create standards for all student athletes. We want to keep standards above a normal rec or intramural team. You’re playing a NCAA sport.” But only the women were policed by the “verbal policy”; the men without their shirts on were completely disregarded in the call out.

Thanks to the outrage from Capone’s article, the university has created a new written policy, reversing its stance. “There will be no restriction of sports bras without shirts as practice apparel. By clarifying our support for women’s athletics and its student-athletes, Rowan strongly affirms its commitment to ensuring that women are able to train and perform at the highest levels,” says University President Ali A. Houshmand.

But the underlying issue of policing of women’s bodies remains. A runner is not running without a shirt to attract men nor to distract football players. They are running because it is hot outside, and unnecessary clothing is going to be discarded to maintain an athlete’s comfort level. If you’re so worried about the football players or men getting distracted, set punitive measures for those players. I’m willing to bet grueling wind sprints or any other exercise will teach a player not to ogle another athlete.

Stop policing women’s bodies. They aren’t there for your entertainment. Learn to do better.

 

(Photo Credit: Outside)

In New Jersey, the Monroe School District is Putting Children in Solitary Confinement

Whitehall Elemenary School seclusion room

In New Jersey, Monroe Townships School Districts are using solitary confinement, hidden as “timeout rooms” or “calm-down spaces” to punish children in their school districts. A child who has ADHD and is on the autism spectrum came home from Whitehall Elementary School, recounted to his mother and father that he had, “been put in a room for time out.” When asked to describe the room, he called it a little room, almost like a jail. The truth of it was even worse. When parents visited the school, they were given firsthand views of the time out room, and the description of a jail was generous. “This is solitary confinement,” the father, Scott Reiss said of the padded room. “This is unacceptable.”

The seclusion room is a space sectioned off in a corner of a special needs classroom, with padded walls and floors that are usually found in a gym. The room, as explained by Superintendent Richard Perry, “is utilized in conjunction with special education related services and interventions, involving behavioral disabilities in which students may become violent toward other students and staff and/or causing harm to themselves. Also, other students, who are classified, utilize this space as a means of safety when they feel emotionally overwhelmed.”

But the seclusion room looks more like solitary confinement than a room where disabled students can “calm down.” It doesn’t seem like any student can potentially calm themselves after outbursts in such a small, confined space. Instead, it pushes disabled children in a space where they can neither be seen nor heard. While the superintendent claimed that every parent is informed of the room and a report is filed when a child is put in the room, after Reiss went public with the photos, other parents voiced their concerns because they also didn’t know the room existed.

Instead of padded walls, an inviting space could be infinitely more successful in calming a student. Stephanie Reiss, the child’s mother suggested an area with partial walls, beanbag chairs and child-friendly accommodations: “All I want is a better, acceptable space for the kids to calm down. That’s all I want.”

The use of physical restraint and seclusion techniques on students with disabilities is permitted by a state law enacted by Christie in January before he left office. The measure does not specify what a seclusion space should look like. However, it does require prior written consent of the student’s primary care physician, unless the space is needed in an emergency to keep the student or others physically safe. The state law does not apply to the use of “timeout” which it describes as “the monitored separation of a student in a non-locked setting and is implemented for the purpose of calming.”

Though the bill had wide bipartisan support, it raises questions. Lacking specific guidelines on seclusion or time-out rooms, instances like the padded solitary room in Whitehall can be considered an acceptable form of removing an unruly student.

Even though Superintendent Perry has stated that the room is not used as a punishment, the padded walls and mats look far more punitive than relocating a student to have them calm down. If grown adults are affected negatively from such solitary confinement, why do we subject young children to the same? “This is unacceptable.”

Inside the seclusion room

New Jersey: End your contracts with ICE now!

New Jersey’s counties are making money with their contracts with ICE. That needs to end. Immigration detainees are held at county jails in Essex, Bergen and Hudson Counties. A private detention facility in Elizabeth also holds immigration detainees. In Hudson County, the two decades old contract for housing immigration detainees at the Hudson County jail in Kearny has a potential 2020 end date.

More than 90 percent of the Hudson detainees used to live in New York, and are being housed in the Kearney while their cases are being argued. Hudson County freeholders (a board of elected representatives for the counties in the state of New Jersey, which is unique to the state) voted 6-3 to put a 2020 end date on the contract, requiring freeholder approval if the county wants to extend it further.

Some have argued that the end of the contract would force the relocation of the undocumented to other facilities, at ICE’s discretion. For the 650 immigrant detainees at the jail, that would mean losing access to immigration advocates. According to Jersey City’s immigrant attorney Eugene Squeo, “If I had no contact with any of the detainees, my position would be clear: Close the facility down. The problem is I’ve come to realize these immigrants have legal services provided by New York, and those attorneys have a success ratio of about 50 percent. For detainees who do not have representation, that drops to about 5 percent.”

Other advocacy groups, including the American Friends Service Committee and the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, have long favored ending the contract to house detainees in Hudson County. The criticism that has been heaped upon those who are hesitant to end such contracts has been – surpise — money.

Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who voted against the resolution because he wanted more changes than the potential end date, noted, “Whatever anyone says about not closing the facility, their first motivation is the money. I’m not opposed to keeping this facility open until 2020, but you have to take the profit out. You’ve got to reprogram those dollars to pay for better benefits for the detainees.”

Exactly how much money do these counties make by housing detainees? On July 11th, Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholder voted 5 to 2 to approve a new 10-year contract giving ICE the authority to continue detaining 800 immigrants in Kearny, New Jersey. The new contract would raise the rate that ICE pays the county from $77 inmate per day to $120 per day. If all 800 beds are kept full, the county stands to make $35 million per year.

The County Freeholders are well aware of the abysmal conditions inside Hudson County Correctional Facility where ICE pays for the space. In the past year alone, four people detained their committed suicide. Numerous reports document the inhumane conditions, including food with maggots, dirty drinking water and insufficient medical care.

Neighboring Bergen and Essex Counties also take in millions of dollars each year from housing immigrant detainees. Between 2015 and 2018, the three counties raked in over $150 million. Since Trump took office, the annual take has increased by 46%. New Jersey, end your contracts with ICE NOW!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Socialist Worker) (Photo Credit 2: Monsy Alvarado / NorthJersey.com)

Southern New Jersey races: Don’t co-opt white supremacist and sexist slogans for your campaign this election cycle

Andy Kim, one of us

New Jersey was one of several key races in the election this year. As a South Jersey native who lives in districts that tout all spectrums of Republicans – from Trumpsters who worship the ground he walks to moderates who don’t “always” agree with his positions, I had some advice:  Stop co-opting his white supremacist slogans and jargon.

In the 4thDistrict, Representative Tom MacArthur was in a hotly contested election battle with Democratic candidate Andy Kim; Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants and a former national security aide to President Barack Obama, had to actively prove he is part of the South Jersey club, in the face of not so covert racism that hint that he isn’t “part of the club” from the New Jersey Republican Party who described him as “Real Fishy’ – the text printed in a typeface called Chop Suey-next to a photo of dead fish on ice.” While MacArthur dismissed the ads as race-baiting, Republican super pac ads warned voters that Kim is “not one of us.”

From a state that boasts immigrant cultures, promotes Liberty State Park and Ellis Island as proudly located in New Jersey (yes, it is), Kim is as much “us” as Hoboken native, Frank Sinatra.

In NJ’s 11thdistrict, Republican Candidate Jay Webber fell behind his opponent, Navy Veteran and Federal prosecutor Mikie Sherrill who hoped to win Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat after his retirement this year. In desperate form, Webber attacked Sherrill as “the dark, fire-breathing radical in this race.” Webber conveniently neglected his own open support for Trump and his legislation, even as the president’s tax bill is set to actively harm New Jersey residents because it curtailed their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Meanwhile, Rep. Leonard Lance fiercely defended his seat in the 11thdistrict, against Democratic candidateTom Malinowski, who raised Lance’s—and really, most NJ Republicans can be applied to this—relationship with the Very Unpopular President.

A commonality to the Southern New Jersey races that many Republican candidates need to be wary of is the massive unpopularity of the president to New Jersey voters. Co-opting Trump’s sexist, homophobic, and overtly racist dogma isn’t going to be your ticket to winning this year.

Here’s an example. As I was determined to vote early in my district — New Jersey’s 4thDistrict, where Republican incumbent Chris Smith defended his seat against Democratic Candidate Josh Welles — I had the misfortune of reading my unopposed Mayoral candidate Kenneth Palmer, and two city councilman’s, campaign slogan: Manchester First.

The campaign slogan harkens back to the “America First” political slogan, used by isolationists in pushing anti-Semitic programs in the 20thcentury, with Trump himself adopting the phrase. Aviator Charles Lindbergh most famously promoted “America First” policy, and David Duke, former Klan Leader, happily endorsed Trump’s use of the phrase.

I hope that the mayoral candidate did not take the meaning of his campaign slogan from the Trump administration; given the politics of the small township I wouldn’t be surprised. I have had to cross many a stop sign with Info Wars and Hillary for Prison 2016 bumper stickers forManchester First to be a coincidence. Given that New Jersey ranks third for most anti-Semitic incidents, a slogan promoting just the kind of anti-Semitism that has taken hold of the state would be exactly what a largely Trumptown mayor meant to convey.

Mr. Mayor, being unopposed does not give you the right to pander to the hate growing in the South Jersey region, even if it was not what you meant to convey. You may have won now, but the anti-Trump sentiment is growing, even in comfortably red districts of the Garden State, and you shouldn’t stay comfortable when in four years that campaign tag comes back to haunt you.

Meanwhile, as of Sunday, November 11, 2018, New Jerseyans elected Democratic candidates Andy Kim; Mikie Sherrill; and Tom Malinowski to the United States House of Representatives. Feeling blue? Oh yeah.

Manchester, New Jersey, sample ballot

 

(Photo Credit 1: Huffington Post / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Author’s photo)

 

 

Newark, New Jersey, is the next Flint!

While Flint, Michigan, is still waiting for clean water, another water crisis is brewing, this time in a predominantly Black community in the largest city in New Jersey, Newark. It has been an ongoing fight between residents in the state and the city itself.

Newark school teachers and an environmental organization are preparing to file a lawsuit against both Newark and New Jersey, claiming that a lead tainted water problem has not been resolved. While the city denies the assertion (calling it “absolutely and outrageously false” and a politically motivated call to action in the heat of a mayoral campaign), state and district officials shut off water fountains in 30 schools in the city, in response to the testing that showed elevated levels of lead contaminating the water in the schools.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a federal report has noted that Newark’s lead levels are among the highest in the country over the last three years for water systems serving over 50,000 people. The NRDC also alleges that Newark unlawfully denied its public record requests that sought information about the water testing.

In a 2017 study on the drinking water, about 20 percent of samples came in above the Safe Drinking Water Act standards for lead concentrations. The highest ten percent of those samples averaged 26 parts per billion (ppb); the federal limit is 15 ppb and one address tested more than 9 times the standard.

Not only Newark is suffering from dangerous amounts of lead in their water, the whole state is affected. At least one sample from four out of five public water systems in New Jersey contained lead between 2013 and 2015.

It is not just lead threatening the state’s water supply. A cancer-causing chemical, PFAS (fluorinated compounds, including perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, found in food packaging and nonstick products), is more pervasive in New Jersey than any other state in the country. From 2013-2016, testing required by the EPA showed that 16 million Americans were being served water containing PFOA. 1.6 million New Jerseyans are drinking PFOA infected water, the most in any single state. PFOA is a manmade chemical and doesn’t breakdown naturally in the environment, leading scientists to believe that every American has some amount of the chemical in their bloodstream.

Sources for the fluorinated compounds in New Jersey include:
Naval Weapons Station Earle, (Monmouth County);
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, (Ocean County);
Solvay Specialty Polymer and Arkema, West Deptford (Gloucester County);
Dupont’s Chambers Works facility, Pennsville (Salem County).

Firefighting foam is blamed for the contamination in military sites. Even though the foam is no longer used in training, it is very likely that the chemicals have remained in the environment, and more importantly, in the water. In November, the New Jersey Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would institute enforceable standards for PFOA in drinking water at 14 parts per trillion, which is a stricter threshold than the federal government (at 70 parts per trillion enacted in 2016).

The moral of the story is: One does not need to look at red states for crisis in water contamination; these problems extend beyond red and blue states. New Jersey failed its citizens in providing clean and safe drinking water, and it will continue to fail until politicians are held accountable for the abysmal response to our poisoned drinking water.

This is a bottle of water from the tap.

 

(Photo Credit: WDEL)

 

New Jersey Must End the Slaughter of Black Mothers

While touting a more progressive and feminist agenda than his predecessor, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, which will expand the protections of the state’s existing wage and hour law and amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to make discrimination in wages on the basis of any protected class an unlawful employment practice. The law should be applauded as a step in the right direction to fix the state’s pay gap disparity. However, New Jersey falls horrifically short when it comes to another women’s issue: maternal health. The maternal health of New Jersey’s women is one of the worst in the country; pregnancy-related deaths, while they are progressively climbing in the United States, is double the national average in the Garden State. Ranking 47thout of 50 in maternal deaths, according to America’s Health Rankings, a report by the United Health Foundations, in New Jersey 37 women die, on average, for every 100,000 live births. The national average is 20.

The disparities for black women in the state are even more grotesque, with African-Americans in New Jersey five times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy related complications. New Jersey’s maternal mortality remains worsethan that of Mississippi(26.5 deaths per 100,000 live births). While New Jersey has one of the lowest infant mortality, the racial gap between Black and White infants is one of the largest in the country. Black babies in New Jersey are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies.

According to a proclamation celebrating the state’s first ever Maternal Health Awareness Day, the leading causes of pregnancy-related death include cardiovascular disease, pregnancy-related heart failure, embolism, septic shock and cerebral hemorrhage. Other factors include obesity, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, lack of prenatal care, and drug use.

Members of Murphy’s cabinet have highlighted their concerns about the disparity and have proposed ways to help reduce it. Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the Department of Health Commissioner, and Carole Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Humans Services, have pledged to improve data collection and modernize government systems to provide more efficient, better quality of care that results in fewer racial disparities in general. They also promised to better coordinate government services to help address housing, transportation, nutrition, and other social factors that have a tremendous impact on the health of vulnerable residents.

Toxic racism, especially in northern New Jersey, plays a significant factor in the inequalities between Black and White women, one that transcends economic or healthcare access. New Jersey only has 15% percent Black population, yet they are the worse off for many of the state’s current health, economic, and criminalization issues. Wealthy, well-educated Black women with quality healthcare experience poorer outcomes than White women, regardless of their economic or social status. Improving the current trends of lack of care for Black women requires greater awareness, but changes in healthcare policy also need to be addressed.

Finally, New Jersey’s Black population is overwhelmingly in poverty, far beyond their White counterparts. The state average rate of poverty is 10.9%. For Whites, it’s 8.3%; for African-Americans the rate is 19.7%. For Black women in New Jersey, poverty is a reproductive rights crisis. Poverty leads to lack of pre-natal care, which contributes directly to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States. New Jersey must address universal access to real healthcare for all. Otherwise, the issue of maternal mortality will continue to besmirch the reputation of the Garden State.

 

(Infographic Credit: New Jersey State Health Assessment Data)

No tax breaks for Amazon while warehouse employees are worked to death!


Amazon is searching for a city to house its second headquarters, and cities and states have laid incentive after incentive in a bid to court Amazon. Only Boston has publicly released its bid, but others states have begun to gift Amazon with tax breaks and tax credits, that range from a whopping $7 billion in tax subsidies for New Jersey if Newark is chosen, a reimbursement of nearly $7,500 per new Amazon worker if the company moves into the DC area, with a max of $30,000 per new job that is filled with military veterans. Illinois has all but gifted Amazon with a tax credit called EDGE, that, “allows qualified companies to keep 100 percent of the state income tax generated by their employees for up to 10 years.”

While states fall over themselves to give as many tax breaks to Amazon, the hope that the company would make good on its promise to provide $5 billion in construction and up to 50,000 permanent jobs seems a bit less meaty than what Amazon would get in return, as both liberal and conservative policy groups criticize the states’ bids. “The liberal New Jersey Policy Perspective and conservative Americans for Prosperity-New Jersey both opposed the incentives as a giveaway to a well-heeled company. ‘By putting at least $5 billion, and potentially several billion dollars more, in taxpayer dollars on the table so early in the game, New Jersey has ensured that its returns will be minimized if Amazon were to ultimately choose the state.’ Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said in a statement.”

With a company whose CEO is now the richest man in the world, Amazon does not need more tax breaks and credits so that their shareholders can get wealthier, while warehouse workers are treated abysmally and dangerously. Amazon is facing fines from the death of two warehouse workers, and the state of Indiana has found four potential violations that could cost the company only $28,000, something that sadly seems like the cost of doing business. Around the country, Amazon warehouse workers have described the dangers of their working conditions as well as the near invisibility of those working in e-commerce businesses, where their problems and safety concerns are slipped under the rug by both consumer and company.

New Jersey has one of the largest population of warehouse workers, with Amazon having warehouse locations in Robbinsville, Edison, Logan and Cranbury, and is scheduled to open yet another warehouse in Teterboro in 2018. Employees work at the state’s minimum wage, with no benefits or health insurance, and with mandatory overtime. Employees must stand and work 10 to 12 hour shifts, and receive two unpaid 15 minute breaks and a 30-minute unpaid lunch break. Any slacking can result in immediate termination from the company. Thus far, efforts to unionize workers have been so far unsuccessful, but union workers hope to bring to consumers the people who work hard to bring them their packages in a timely fashion.

While Amazon continues to enjoy the promise of tax breaks and credits to bring their second headquarters to the states’ bids, we need to think about where those tax breaks are going, because it certainly isn’t going into the safety and wages of their employees. The promise of 50,000 jobs is not worth a growing income and wealth inequality between corporations as employees are worked to death!

 

(Infographic: The Street) (Photo Credit: North Jersey / Mitsu Yasukawa)

New Jerseyans Boot Trumpism out of the Garden State

Sheila Oliver and Phil Murphy

On November 7th, while watching the results of the Virginia election, long considered a litmus test for the midterm elections in 2018, another wave of elections returned complete control of New Jersey to the Democrats. It was a historic night for minorities and immigrants in the state, and a cautious tale for all Republicans to heed: if you think you can win elections on Trump rhetoric, fear mongering anti-immigrant racist and sexist policy, try again. Especially in a state that prides itself as being an immigrant state.

Fifteen minutes after the polls closed, New Jersey elected Democrat Phil Murphy as Governor, on the promise of passing a $15 an hour minimum wage hike, funding pensions for all state employees-which had stalled during the Christie administration along with a pay freeze on the state-creating a state bank, which would keep money in the community, and decriminalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use. Murphy also promised to back a Millionaire’s Tax for the states’ wealthy individuals. Murphy’s running mate, Sheila Oliver, became New Jersey’s first Black woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor. While only time will tell if Murphy can make due on his promises, his embrace of a progressive agenda helped to bring him to victory.

Murphy’s opponent, Chris Christie’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, floundered to distance herself from the infamous Governor’s toxicity. Christie will leave office with a dismal approval rating in the teens, one of the least popular governors ever anywhere. On the last leg of her campaign, Guadagno took a page from Trump, targeting whatever anti-immigrant sentiment persists in the state. Pandering to what little base she could drum up, Guadagno ran ads blasting Murphy’s promise to make New Jersey a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants (as if it was never the hub of immigration along with New York), with the threat that it would make New Jersey less safe.

It wasn’t the first attempt by New Jersey candidates to attempt to appeal to racist sentiment. Hoboken elected its very first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla, despite flyers being plastered around the city demanding that citizens don’t vote to let “A TERRORIST overtake the town.”

Elsewhere, minorities made big gains in smaller elections, despite major pushback from Republicans. Edison’s schoolboard re-elected incumbents Jingwei “Jerry” Shi and Falguni Patel. They were also the victims of mailers decrying the diversifying schoolboard, asking voters to “Make Edison Great Again.” The outcry and pushback secured their election win.

Ashley Bennett, first-time candidate and Egg Harbor Township resident, defeated notorious Republican John Carman as Atlantic County Freeholder. Bennett was angered by Carman’s response to the Women’s March, when he asked whether the “protests would be ‘over in time for dinner.’” Carman later drew more criticism for wearing a patch with the state of New Jersey partially covered with the Confederate flag.

New Jersey is a prime example of the reason Republicans should be nervous about the upcoming midterm elections. Our disdain for Trumpism and our embrace of progressive policies serve warning to those NJ Republicans in the House. Most NJ Republicans have been embroiled in a tug of war; on one side, maintaining support for the Republican, and by extensionTrump’s, base, and on the other, a growing anti-Trump sentiment in comfortably Republican districts in the state. Frank LoBiondo, Representative of NJ’s 2nd Congressional District, has announced his retirement, putting the swing district in play. There is only a one-point advantage in the district, which Trump barely won in the first place.

Tom McArthur, House Representative for NJ’s 3rd Congressional District, has been lambasted in recent months for his support of the ACA repeal; the McArthur Amendment was one of the leading reasons that Trumpcare passed the House in the spring of 2017. Many have watched the impassioned town halls with him, having put families in danger from allowing states to opt out of covering people with pre-existing conditions.

Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ 11th) became notorious for subtly attacking a woman activist by penning a letter to her employer and forcing her resignation. Though there has been no formal reprimand, he was criticized for using his position to punish women who speak out against his policies and ideologies.

Finally, Representative Chris Smith (NJ 4th) has coasted on the obscurity of his ideology. Anti-choice, anti-LGBT, and completely distant from his constituents, Smith hasn’t hosted a town hall in twenty-five years (though demands to hold a town hall have been shared to his staff) and lives primarily in Virginia, so much so that his daughter was able to attend college paying in-state tuition in Virginia. He maintained a comfortable lead over many Democrats who opposed him throughout the years, mainly because of the obscurity of his policy agendas and labor support. Given the trends from the election results, he, and all politicians who thought they could ride on Trump’s coattails, should be very worried indeed.

Ashley Bennett

 

(Photo Credit 1: CNBC / Lucas Jackson / Reuters) (Photo Credit 2: Washington Post / Wayne Perry / AP)

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.

 

(Photo Credit: Workers World)

State sexual violence haunts the world

Eman Al Obeidy burst into a hotel dining room in Tripoli, Libya, on Saturday, and struggled to tell the story of how she’d been raped and beaten, for two days, by Qaddafi’s forces. She was then attacked, in the hotel dining room, and carried out. Journalists present were disturbed, as much by the treatment they witnessed as by Al Obeidy’s account. The latest report suggests that she is being held hostage at Qaddafi’s compound in Tripoli.

Salwa al-Housiny Gouda was one of the proud citizens of Tahrir Square, in Cairo. She was also one of seventeen women, arrested by the Egyptian army, imprisoned, tortured, stripped and subjected to a `virginity test.’

These women’s stories are critical to any understanding of the ongoing struggles in particular places, such as Libya, such as Egypt. They are also part of the treatment of women in prisons around the globe. There are more prisons and jails now then ever before, and women are the fastest growing prison population, globally and in many regions of the world. Across the world, nation states rigorously refuse to address sexual violence. At the same time, across the world, nation states build more prisons in which sexual violence against women intensifies and spreads.

From the United States to Jamaica to South Africa and beyond, rape kits sit unprocessed for months, some times years. In the United States, many cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, have failed to process rape kits in a timely manner … if at all. When called to task for the failure, the administrations stonewall or, if forced to reform, drag their feet. Illinois just this past week passed a law “that will force law agencies to submit DNA evidence for testing.” They had to pass a law to make agencies process DNA. In New Jersey, also last week, the State legislature passed a law banning the practice of charging rape victims for the cost of processing the rape kits.

In Jamaica, rape survivors wait an average of two years for their attackers’ cases to be heard. In South Africa, the State has failed to adequately educate police about the appropriate procedures to follow in cases of sexual violence. Sometimes the training is a pro forma run through, with little follow up or evaluation. More often, there’s no training at all.

This is the state of the world. This state is made most manifest in the asylum and immigrant detentions centers. When the United Kingdom set up its fast track asylum processes, it did so with complete disregard for the women asylum seekers who are fleeing sexual violence. For example, one woman applied for asylum. She was part of a dissident movement in Angola, had been tortured, raped, and suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, among other mental issues.  The first official to hear her case, in 2008, decided she was `lying’. She was detained at Yarl’s Wood, despite compelling evidence of both torture and mental illness. All part of the system.

This is just one of many such tales. The asylum system has been described as “simply not equipped to handle rape, slavery, the threat of ‘honor killings,’ or other complex claims”. The simplicity of being unequipped is this: the state chooses not to equip, because women, and especially women of color, don’t matter.

At the same time, women prisoners suffer sexual violence at the hands of prison staff. Jan Lastocy is a woman prisoner in the United States, and hers is a typical story. She was raped, repeatedly, by a corrections officer. The warden made it clear that any reports of problems tagged the prisoner as a troublemaker. Lastocy was a few months from release. For seven months, three or four times a week, the prison guard raped Jan Lastocy. Terrified and desperate, she kept her silence. Upon release, she reported the assaults, and now suffers a sense of great and intense guilt for her silence. According to recent US government studies, the vast majority of sexual violence committed in prisons is committed by the staff.

Prison rape is a human rights crisis in the United States today. It is a crisis in juvenile prisons. It is a crisis in women’s prisons across the globe. This crisis is not accidental nor is it exceptional. It is the crisis of predictable consequence. Rape today is being used in Libya as a weapon. That is terrible. Rape has been used, across the globe, as a tool in the construction of so-called criminal justice systems, in the construction of more prisons with more women prisoners. That too is terrible, and to continue to claim shock and surprise at the use of rape is unacceptable. State sexual violence haunts the world.

 

(Photo Credit: suzeeinthecity/ Mira Shihadeh and El Zeft)