No, the Response to Police Violence is not “Hire More Women”

Source: CNN

Listen. Please, CNN. 

The concept that to reform an institution that has a history of systemic racism, sexism, and classism is to add in more “diversity hires” is not the answer. 

The answer is to dismantle the institution. Not reform, not more trainings, not more money—and no, not hire more women. 

I have one name that can counter your argument that women de-escalate: Botham Jean. Well I have one name and an explosion in cases of police brutality where women have entered the police force to counter arguments that an increase to women’s participation would decrease police violence. 

Botham Jean was murdered by off-duty police officer Amber Guyger, after Guyger entered the wrong apartment and shot Jean in his own home. Where was the de-escalation? Where was the communication? There was none. 

To argue that the gender disparity within the police force contributes to the rise in police brutality (or, maybe a gender equal police force would lower instances of police violence), is not valid given the current climate on the excess in militarization of the police. Let’s also look into the essentialist notion that women are more socialized towards gentleness, compassion, and de-escalation with more gendered understandings of why women are not counted in police killings, reported in police violence statistics, or even reprimanded by the police force when excessive use of force is being reported. 

For every police force that has worked to close the gender gap for police officers, there are stories circulating around the country of excessive use of force, violence, and pepper spraying of protestors who are fighting to end the killings of Black people. 

In New York, videos have surfaced of police cars driving into protestors, pepper spraying people and arresting people who are working during curfew without a second thought after protests erupting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. 

In Chicago, hailed for the second largest inclusion rate of women in the force, police were photographed spraying pepper spray on protestors on State Street, were accused of beating and slamming protestors to the ground after police began use of excessive force on peaceful protestors. Accusations also arose of them targeting darker skinned protestor, Malcolm London, chasing him and beating him with batons before charging him with aggravated battery. 

Detroit police officers are among the deadliest in the United States, leading the nation in the rate of fatal shootings by police. That rate Is 2 ½ times higher than New York’s rate and 1 ½ times Los Angeles’. An officer in Detroit was suspended for brutalizing a journalist during a Black Lives Matter protest. 

These are only a few instances where correlation does not imply causation. Just because women are being hired into police forces, it does not mean that instances of force will decrease. Los Angeles has been notorious for instigating violence against anyone on the street during protests, most notably by hitting an unhoused man in the eye with a rubber bullet as a protest passed him. 

Source: 7 News

How could women be represented in such low statistics of police violence? Maybe it has to do with a combination of factors, including the gendered aspect of policing as well as survivors and victims being unwilling to come forward regarding their brutalization. Maybe it’s from the unwillingness of the department to investigate women police officers, because as the article ascertained, “Women generally tend to be socialized to talk rather than shout, negotiate rather than bully and empathize rather than order”. When we think that women are still gentle and all around harmless, the idea that they have hurt someone might not even warrant an investigation. 

And let us not forget, that “every person is different”. Women are not a monolith that are socialized to behave kindly and only with love; that is a form of liberal feminist jargon that argues the world can change if every part of public institutions is 50% women. White women all over this country have taken it upon themselves to police the very behavior of Black people and limit their access to the public safely. In that instance, they are not the empathetic, gentle ear that can de-escalate a situation (especially one that they started).

No, women did not invent de-escalation. 

Nor should the police, in all their forms and all their genders, be an operation for community care and healing. The everyday policing should not be, “About social services: domestic violence cases, dealing with people’s mental health problems, getting victims to open up, negotiating”. That is because police were never meant to be these things. They were never meant to help people with mental illness, they were never trained for social services, if they were even trained properly at all. The history of the police force, again, is a history of violent repression of Black people and laborers attempting to fight for better working conditions. They are the arms of the state to control the masses, to suppress any insurrection against the brutality of society. We have continued to fund and militarize police and then act surprised when they commit the acts that they have been sanctioned to use.

As liberals continue their call for reform, the liberal feminist mindset will be “We’ll be safe with women police.” The ultimate co-option will be reform that puts women in the police force at 50% and then call it a success even as police continue brutalizing protestors. 

Defunding the police is the aim; abolition is the goal. There should not be the closing of the gender gap of police because there should not be police to begin with. They are vestiges of an old world that just will not die. 

We need to reimagine who will be taking over social services because it should not be police; should not be policemen, should not be policewomen, should not be gay police, should not be straight police, should not be trans police, should not be police. Abolitionists have already imagined this world for us, and it is about time we listened

We do not need to reform the police: we need to abolish them. 

So, You Want to Defund the Police? Start by Busting the Police Union

All around the world, people are waking up to the idea that the criminal justice system has been designed to brutalize and punish black and brown individuals—from videos of black men and women dying at the hands of police officers, to tear gas and other human right abuses being levied at protestors demanding solutions to police brutality—the system of police is not meant for the oppressed class. Defunding and demilitarizing them is only the first step for the realization of abolition; but how do we begin to understand the power behind the police? 

Short answer, it’s their union.

Long answer, it’s the power that the police unions over the years have been able to amass, even at the backing of major labor organizations (most disappointingly, being on part of the labor council by the AFL-CIO). The influence that they wield when making policy recommendations and funding politicians really should not be ignored. If we are looking toward defunding as the first steps in the goal of abolition, then the potential backlash from cop unions and their supporters should be researched, analyzed and dismantled before they can halt the movement towards defunding.

Already, we are seeing leaders of cop unions attempting to tamper down criticism by creating even more scandal for themselves and revealing the racism that is so deeply ingrained in the system of policing and the criminal justice system. The head of a Baltimore police union called Black Lives Matter protesters a “lynch mob”. In Philadelphia, another referred to demonstrators as “a pack of rabid animals”. A democratically elected black prosecutor in St. Louis is a “menace to society” who must be removed- “by force” if necessary, because she was in favor of police reform. And yet another union president, in NYC (where police have been absolute murderous with protesters), begged to not be treated, “like animals”. They’re attempting to put a stop to any reforms—no matter how small and miniscule—and they’re powerful enough to stop them. One single police union has spent more than $1 million on state and local races in 2014.

Police unions are the strongest and most powerful unions in the country. Their ability to negotiate contracts that give them almost full immunity when their members harm and kill someone is abhorrent, “Typically, such contracts are chock full of special protections that are negotiated behind closed doors. Employment contract provisions also insulate police from any meaningful accountability for their actions and rig any processes hearings in their favor; fired cops are able to appeal and win their jobs back, even after the most egregious offenses. When Daniel Pantaleo, an NYPD officer who was involved in the 2014 murder of Eric Garner, was finally fired, the police union immediately appealed for his reinstatement and threatened a work slowdown.” 

It is time for all labor organizations, no matter how small, to not only condemn the violence of the police force but actively work to dismantle an institution that’s history is stained with the blood of the working class and immigrants. As noted in Kim Kelly’s impassioned article, “No More Cop Unions”, the history of police violence has been against workers during strikes or at protests, “Despite their union membership, police have also been no friend to workers, especially during strikes or protests. Their purpose is to protect property, not people, and labor history is littered with accounts of police moonlighting as strikebreakers or charging in to harass or injure striking workers. The first recorded strike fatalities in U.S. history came at the hands of police, who shot two New York tailors dead as they tried to disperse. During the Battle of Blair Mountain, the police fought striking coal miners on the bosses’ behalf. In 1937, during the Little Steel Strike, Chicago police gunned down 10 striking steelworkers in what became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. In 1968, days after Dr. Martin Luther King addressed a group of sanitation workers, Memphis cops maced and assaulted the striking workers and their supporters, killing a 16-year-old boy.” The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumpka, a former president of United Mineworkers of America harshly criticized the police for engaging in violence against striking minors. 

The AFL-CIO is now facing calls to disaffiliate from its association with the International Union of Police Associates (representing over 100,000 law enforcement employees as well as emergency personnel) from 21 council members from the Writers Guild of America East, citing the policies and the actions of the police union as being consistent with, “authoritarianism, totalitarianism, terrorism and other forces that suppress individual liberties and freedoms.” The AFL-CIO has already disaffiliated from other unions in the past, including the Teamsters, SEIU, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The federation has already disaffiliated some powerful unions, so it has the potential to kick out an organization that has no business calling itself a union. 

This is but one step in demanding the end of police violence and terror; this is but one piece of an interlocking system that needs to be collapsed, but it will be a preemptive strike in the already powerful attempt to squash legitimate demands to doing away with police.

If you are a union member, or someone interested in demanding the end of AFL-CIO’s association with the International Union of Police Associations, please sign this petition from No Cop Unions. Please also encourage your union local to condemn the violence against protesters or issue a statement in support of Blacks Lives. Solidarity means solidarity with the workers and all oppressed members of society, not solidarity with the muscle of the state and the capitalists. 

Workers of the World Unite! We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains!

(Photo 1 Credit: ABC News) (Photo 2 Credit: The Guardian / Star Tribune)

The privilege of whiteness is the ability to take up as much space as we want, without recourse

The privilege of whiteness is the ability to take up as much space as we want, without recourse, to do whatever we want. We are seeing the stark differences between white protestors angry over the loss of luxury and Black protestors angry over the continued murder of Black men and women, and how those white people are able to act in a space they think is ONLY for them.

While white people still are trying to defend a police officer that has had a history of brutality against Black and Brown bodies and criticize justifiable rage over it, other white people are carrying AR-15s and machine guns into state Capitol buildings and able to take up as much public space as they want with no teargas; no pepper spray or rubber bullets; no death.

White women are able to threaten to call the police on an “African American man” because they know the police will protect their ability to take up space, and that that Black man will potentially be harmed and killed because she did.

White people in New York City will congregate en masse in parks. They will congregate without masks, and they will receive masks from the police while Black people are ticketed and tased for not having one. Even the process of wearing a mask can be deadly for Black men and women.

A Black man was jogging and three white vigilantes, without provocation, murdered him in broad daylight. The police did nothing. White people jog with little fear, save for the dangers of reckless motorists.

A Black woman couldn’t sleep in her own bed without being murdered by police and her partner arrested for defending himself.

White people, start learning our privilege. Stop protecting institutions that literally were created to maintain a white racial hierarchy. Start understanding how much space we take up and stop defending those that try to keep it that way.

(Photo Credits: Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune)

Who are essential workers in the pandemic? Grocery store clerks, teachers, nurses, women.

While the President lies, downplays, and now considers easing up on the social distancing rule despite public health officials’ warnings, we are in the midst of a pandemic. 

People who are non-essential workers are being told to stay home, to telecommute and teleconference. To work from their personal laptops and flatten the curve.  

We’re hearing this everywhere. Non-essential, non-essential. But who are the essential? Who are the critical workers that are leaving their homes and risking infection, whether they want to or not, because they provide a public good? 

They’re teachers, nurses, EMTs, grocery store clerks. In short, they’re women.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve learned several valuable lessons (well, not really. I knew them already, but I really hope this experience radicalizes those who did not). And that is who should be considered valuable and essential workers in times of crisis. What I mean is this:

Grocery store workers/truck drivers/warehouse workers deserve a Congressperson’s salary, with health insurance and benefits and a pension plan that rivals how much Paul Ryan makes after he retired from the House. Those workers have spent two to three weeks stocking shelves, taking care of people despite the risk of infection, and have been donating to food banks so that local people can have food. We’ve been doing more than any person in Congress is doing right now.

Teachers need a Presidential Salary. I don’t know, is it $275,000? or over $400,000? Either way, teachers and schools provide more services than the government does for the impoverished in their area! Children are fed, given emotional care, taught and, in the case of NYC, provide literally a place for homeless children to stay!

And hospital workers? Nurses? EMTs? Forget about it. CEO salary. And I’m not talking small to mid-size business here. I’m talking about Bob Iger’s compensation before he ducked out of the Walt Disney Company. You are keeping people alive, despite the fact there might not be enough beds, or ventilators, or even face masks! While other jobs are able to work from home, to stop the spread of the disease, you are working under extreme conditions to make sure people get to go home, alive and healthy, to their families.

Those are the people who are essential. When this is over, when this crisis is averted (and even now), maybe it’s time to start demanding we be treated as essential workers.

(Photo Credit: John Autey / Pioneer Press) (Image Credit: Bored Teachers)

To disconnect ourselves from our bodies is death

Misinformation runs rampant in anti-abortion legislation, from the belief that fetal heartbeat is indicative of the personhood of a fetus; to the belief that a “legitimate rape” can effectively shut down a pregnancy; to the newest dishonest argument that ectopic pregnancies – pregnancies where the embryo implants onto the fallopian tube or another place besides the uterus – can be re-implanted to save the fetus. I have watched in disbelief as antiabortion politicians sound off on these ridiculous claims in order to further push anti-choice agendas, and have seen even the most sound minded make a comment that is beyond the realm of reason when it comes to sex, fertilization and termination of a pregnancy, but how did we get here?

How did it come to pass that we are so ill informed about the basic functions of our body? 

Capitalism feeds off this disconnect. We don’t understand the cycle of our reproduction any more than we understand thermodynamics. Women and non-binary people fear the aspects of our own functions becoming something that is undesirable, shameful even. We know that a good portion of the population bleeds, sheds the lining of our uterus, yet in most circles we don’t discuss it. We know that people are regularly engaging in sex, but when the most neutral and curious questions are asked, we turn away in proper disgust. Meanwhile, people will continue to consume vast amounts of PornHub, of goods that are marketed in an overtly sexualized way. We pay to get parts of our body fatter, skinnier, shinier, darker, lighter, the list goes on and on. 

To disconnect us from our bodies (ourselves, because there is no difference between my conscious self and the vessel that it resides in), capitalism works to extract the most value from us. We don’t know how long it takes to care for a child after labor. Some countries give us six months, others give us a year, some give us two weeks, and so we follow what capitalists say. We don’t know how to breastfeed or are shamed when we do it in public, so the capitalists sell us formula. We are too skinny or too fat according to the capitalists, who then sell us diet pills or protein shakes to find that right balance. We don’t know what normal even is, just the normal that the capitalists sells to us, that we are forced to consume, under the guise of choice and freedom. Did I know that it was normal to have extra fat and skin around my lower abdomens? NO! Why? Because to many, it is only disgusting fat that needs to be removed through constant diet and exercise, restriction and sweat. 

The alienation of our knowledge of ourselves works to extract our value and to kill us when we are no longer useful. To be pregnant means to enrich a capitalist society, to lose a pregnancy, prevent a pregnancy, or terminate a pregnancy takes away our profitability (when we are poor and pregnant, we are worked to the bone, when we are middle class and pregnant, we can be one step closer to being poor, when we are rich and pregnant we add another little capitalist ready for the spoils) and we must be punished. 30 years to make up for our mistakes, the death penalty because we are no longer valuable. How would we know that miscarriages happen in nearly 1 in 20 pregnancies? No one has taught us to destigmatize spontaneous abortions. No one knows how we function to take care of ourselves when a pregnancy could be nonviable or dangerous. 

Then, imagine the rate of maternal deaths in the United States: highest in the developed world, lower for white women, astronomical for black women. Black women who don’t know that their pain is cause for concern, because their concepts of pregnancy and pain is limited, and society has dictated that they can withstand more than white women. Even the men and women in charge of their care believe that to be so; their pains and abnormalities are ignored or explicitly denied to their face, theirs is a dangerous peril when they enter the delivery room. 

With the onslaught of dangerous anti-choice legislation, the very latest is the demand to re-implant an ectopic pregnancy into a person’s womb (and many will firmly believe this can be done, despite specialists’ warnings). We must begin the reclamation of ourselves, of the dynamic vessels of our conscious selves. I am not separate from my body, it is not separate from me. Our rolls and lines, muscles and fat all work in tandem to make us who we are. Our sexual desires are not a separate, shameful part; the work of our systems are normal and natural, and need to be reclaimed, otherwise we face a most certain death. 

(Image Credit: Just Seeds)

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women are a continued genocide

The response to the continued genocide of indigenous people – more specifically, of indigenous women – has finally come to the forefront. Last week, Donald J Trump signed an executive order creating a task force that would focus on missing and murdered indigenous women, which will develop protocols for cases and create a team to review cold cases. The task force will be overseen by Attorney General Barr and Secretary Bernhardt. It is a great start but fails to address the failures of the current and previous administrations to address murdered and missing women, a continued and ongoing genocide and a perpetuation of the violence against indigenous people by colonizers, under the protections of the United States Government. Justice will not be served if we do not emphasize Native sovereignty.

Over 1.5 million Native women have experienced violence, including sexual violence. They experience violence at twice the rate for women as a general category in the US; on some reservations, the murder rate of Native women is 10 times the national average. Of the 5,712 cases of missing Native women nationwide reported, only 116 of them were logged into the US Department of Justice’s missing persons database. 

For indigenous women experiencing sexual violence, the trend is unprecedented and does not reflect national data. 97 percent of intimate partner violence and sexual assaults were estimated to be carried out by non-Native men. For the vast majority of sexual assaults carried out in the US, the survivors are of the same race as the perpetrators. The staggering percentage highlights the limits on the jurisdiction of tribal courts, which had made some headway but not enough before the current administration opposed the measures.

Under the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the inclusion of an amendment gave, for the first time, recognition that tribal courts have jurisdiction over criminal cases brought against nonmembers. This shift was still severely limited, however, because it would only apply to cases of intimate partner violence and only to non-Native people who met one of three criteria: resident of Native country, employed in Native country, or current of former intimate partner of a Native person living in Native country or a tribal member. Additionally, the tribe was required to fund the indigent defense. The obscene regulations consequently resulted in only 18 of the 562 Native Tribes meeting the requirement. Although federal jurisdiction remains the default, it is overwhelmingly characterized by unresponsiveness US prosecutors declined to prosecute 46 percent of reservation cases, with assault and sexual assault cases declined more than any other category. Authorities were unwilling to help search for missing persons or even file a report.  

Even while tribal jurisdiction was so limited that it barely made a dent in the violence that indigenous women face, opposition is constantly ramping up against it. The act, which lapsed last year, was originally opposed by then Senator Jeff Sessions who objected to expanding tribal jurisdiction to non-Native people. Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa reintroduced the reauthorization measure to make it easier to challenge tribal jurisdiction, a significant rollback of the tenuous headway that tribes had been making. 

While there is headway—in tandem with Trump’s executive order, the Senate passed a funding bill with $6.5 million to tackle the epidemic (the total spending package was $332 billion)—the consequences remain. If indigenous peoples cannot seek justice in their own courts, with their own laws, against non-Natives, how can we end the continued genocide, the continued colonization of those women? Of those mothers, sisters, aunts, people? Why do we demand they follow federal law when that law has only been there to continue to decimate their land and kill their people? Why are we not acknowledging their sovereignty, if not simply because their sovereignty was there much longer than ours? How much longer can we give paltry solutions when indigenous women are tortured and killed? 

(Infogram credit: NICOA) (Photo Credit: Lorie Shaull / NPQ)

New Jersey Demanded Its Counties End Their 287(g) Agreements. Three of Them Are Suing the State Instead

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal

Monmouth, Ocean, and Cape May Counties are suing the state of New Jersey over the Attorney General’s Directive, which placed limits on the amount of aid local law enforcements could use when cooperating with immigration authorities.

Titled the “Immigrant Trust Directive,” the policy put into place by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal most recently blocked Monmouth County from participating in a federal program that trains corrections officers to determine the immigration status of jail inmates and then flags them for federal action. An earlier state directive, handed down in September, seeks to prohibit the sheriff’s departments in Monmouth and Cape May Counties from continuing the 287g agreement that has allowed some of their officers to act as immigration agents in county jails. Monmouth and Cape May Counties both renewed for a decade despite Grewal’s directive. 

Angered over the fact that they can’t jail and hold people for ICE to deport them, the counties are moving towards suing the state to continue. It begs the question how much money does ICE give to allow constitutional rights to be revoked for undocumented individuals living in New Jersey? 

The Directive’s goal, according to Grewal, “is clear—to make it easier for New Jersey’s law enforcement officers to solve crimes and ensure the safety of all 9 million people in our state by building trust with our large and diverse immigrant communities. Because of the bright line between New Jersey law enforcement officers and federal civil immigration agents, immigrants can come forward as victims and witnesses of crimes without fear of reprisal.”

Monmouth County is arguing that it is unprecedented that state officials supersede federal law, as the AG’s directive runs counter to federal Department of Justice guidance. “We wanted someone in here to make sure Monmouth County is protected and do the right thing,” Freeholder Director Tom Arnone argued, “We have never had a period of time when the (New Jersey) attorney general has made a ruling over the DOJ. Right or wrong, we are obligated to do our due diligence.”

Not surprisingly, the arguments fall back onto a rhetoric of keep citizens safer, blaming the recent bail reform in place for possibly pushing out violent offenders that could otherwise be picked up by ICE. 

While state politicians and some residents claim that the agreements keep the Monmouth County residents safe, others are against continued cooperation. The idea that immigrants commit more violent crimes has proven time and again to be false, dredged up for the purpose of justifying ICE’s cruelty and encroachment of civil liberties. Increasingly, minor misdemeanors that would land a citizen with a ticket and an uncomfortable day at court are being used as justification to deport large populations in immigrant communities, both in the state and beyond. 

It is hypocritical that those counties, who proudly harken to their Italian, Irish and immigrant roots at the drop of a hat, would whoop and holler for the ability to throw those whose histories aligned with our own in prison indefinitely. Fleeing violence, economic hardship, and increasing poverty, they’ve come into this country – and this state – to make a better life for themselves.

Our families fled from the same. Fleeing economic hardships, famine, rising fascist governments and violence, they came to this country to make a better life. Now, in the face of Libertas, we’ve spit on them as violent offenders and gleefully watch them being separated from their families and loved ones. 

Have we no shame?

Never Again Action, Elizabeth, New Jersey, June 2019

(Photo Credit 1: Tariq Zehawi / Asbury Park Press) (Photo Credit 2: Facebook / Never Again Action)

When teachers win, students win; when the powerful win, we all lose!

Chicago teachers are among the latest teachers who have been on strike: for better wages, for better working conditions, and for better resources with which to teach and care for their students properly. As of Friday, November 1st, the teachers have returned to the classroom after nearly two weeks of battling with the newly elected mayor, Lori Lightfoot, mostly for funding that she promised the city during her campaign. 

The teachers were asking for the same that is provided to public school students in more affluent suburbs, a promise Lightfoot made when sworn in as mayor. But when the time came, Lightfoot walked back on her promises, refusing to agree to put resolutions to systemic issues in the contracts, such as staffing increases or adding class size caps. Following the budget, she went so far as to vow that there was, “no more money left for a bailout of the school district.” 

Were it not for the teachers and unions striking to address these issues, it would have been the students who would suffer. Larger class sizes mean students are not receiving the attention they deserve; staffing outside of teachers means that students would not be able to access any services that they would need to succeed. In short, Lightfoot vowed to stifle the students in the poorer neighborhoods. Teachers declared this unacceptable!

The unions repeatedly argued, rightly so for the gentrified city, that there was plenty of wealth in the city to invest in schools and public services. The problem was the wealth had concentrated in the wrong hands, through excessive funding of the Chicago Police and tax cuts for corporations and luxury real estate, all at the expense of children, health clinics, affordable housing, public mental health clinics, and other services. Lightfoot promised $95 million for a police academy, training police instead of investing in the most marginalized community. The city already spends $1.5 billion a year on police presence, almost $4 million every single day, all to police Black and Brown bodies in the gentrifying city.

The money needed to reduce overcrowded classrooms and require the city to hire social workers and nurses in every school within five years is a mere $35 million, not much given Chicago’s readily available funds. The union won pay bumps for support staff who were making poverty wages. The teachers were on strike for ten days before the mayor conceded to demands. They still fell short, but the victory is not just for them but for the students in the classroom. 

CTU and SEIU 73 also used the demonstrations to touch upon the massive inequality in the city, brought on by a neoliberal agenda that was private enterprise friendly but public services lacking. They highlighted an opaque financing tool known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) that is intended to funnel additional property tax dollars to blighted areas but is actually a “corporate slash fund.” On Tuesday,  October 29, nine CTU members were arrested at the headquarters of Sterling Bay to protest the city’s decision to award a Wall-Street backed developer with more than $1 billion of TIF subsidies earlier in the year.

While Lightfoot ran on progressive policies and to battle the entrenchment of Chicago politics, her attitudes toward the police and the school district are reminiscent of someone who haunts Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. When teachers strike, when teachers fight, that is the real battle against Chicago politics. And when they win, they win for themselves and their students and colleagues.

(Photo Credit: Teen Vogue)

In the Streets of Chile, the People are Singing: El Derecho de Vivir en Paz

Under the military dictatorship of Pinochet in the 1970s, economic austerity was placed on the people of Chile. Under the guise of reform, neoliberalist measures on the people of Chile were implemented, resulting in widespread economic hardship and massive wealth inequality. For thirty years, the working class and indigenous populations in Chile suffered under Pinochet’s market-driven economic model, which privatized pensions, health and education. Unions were decimated as was the public education system, and public services were shifted to private enterprises. Chile remains a country with the highest cost of living in South America and is considered one of the most unequal in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group of nations. 

The recent uprising occurring in the country began as a protest against a hike in metro ticket prices and quickly escalated into a massive revolt against the significant income inequality in the country. The proposed transit fare rate would have risen to nearly 1.20 a ride, a 4% increase; a significant burden placed on low-income families who spend 13% of their budgets on transportation, and retirees who are forced to survive on a pension that is below the minimum wage. 

The response to the simmering anger over the rising cost for the poor and old? That they just get up earlier and leave for work before seven in the morning to avoid paying the rush hour rate. Now after a million people took part in a demonstration on October 25th, thousands of other protests from poor, young, students, indigenous populations, and union workers, the government has finally realized that squeezing more money and work and time out of the poor may not be the most competent economic model. 

Piñera has walked back on the neoliberal policies that have entrenched inequality in Chile, but they are not enough. As the last nail in the coffin of Pinochet’s cruelty, his constitution is echoes the continuing destruction of working people and the elderly in the country. While Piñera has moved to raise the minimum wage and pensions, demand pay cuts from government officials, and fired his entire cabinet, many see these gestures as token and symbolic at best – Pinochet’s constitution is still in play – and have demanded a truly democratic society, where the power is not vested only in the hands of the wealthiest and the out of touch. And the people are not backing down, even after the president’s paltry promises.

Meanwhile, how are American citizens reacting to our overwhelming inequality; where are the uprisings that should have been in place after the NYC’s fare enforcement? Where is the anger when poor men and women are tackled and tased for not paying $2.00 while the city employees four cops at almost $80,000 a year to brutalize them? Will we ever be as revolutionary, or will it happen too late?

(Photo Credit: CanalC)

Remember the women in labor, because no one else will

In August, I lost my great-aunt.

She was 95 years old and was in relatively good health at the time. She worked from the moment she turned 13, and then, after she retired, went on to perform unpaid reproductive labor, taking care of her nieces and nephews, their children, and their children’s children. She was also an avid smoker, and we had assumed (at least partially correctly) that the new diagnosis of lung cancer was because of that. However, as we spoke more clearly with the hospice nurse, we realized that it was not only the two packs of Pall Mall golds she inhaled into her lungs a day that did her in, but her nearly 40 year career as a seamstress in a sweatshop, with the small particles of fabric every single day on her industrial grade sewing machine. 

How many people have received such dramatic diagnoses, and had it blamed on preconceived personal failings? How many people have injuries that are from years of the same, monotonous work without the employer taking the blame? And what about the women who face being labeled as invisible in the labor movements to address these issues? Because women need to remain a rather loud voice in the labor movement. We have always been the face of precarious labor.

I worked in a supermarket. Our union consisted largely of women, since it represented the bakery department. Highly gendered, as the creation of delicate pastries and pies is quintessentially a woman’s job, if they aren’t baking it home. Seriously, look at your local grocery store and you’ll see how gendered something as simple as picking up loaves of bread can really be. But…I digress.

The union rep was a man. The union president is a man. The union leaders remain men. Men who most likely have been out of the industry for a good twenty to thirty years. The secretaries are the women. And the people they represent are women. 

Do they understand the injuries we face daily? Do they understand that, after constant years of heavy lifting and labor, we face burns that never quite heal, carpal tunnel from squeezing pastry bags that require surgery down the line? Are they fighting for the long term physical issues we will have?

I have severe carpal tunnel in my left hands. I have muscles that hurt like a sixty year old woman. At 27, it is probably caused by my standing every day in the same place, or lifting heavy boxes. 

Those pains and injuries are not thought of, especially after we’re gone. They are labeled as inconsequential. Well, would you look at that! You have bad arthritis. Must’ve been your job, eh? Our injuries persist because of our labor and, as women, we bear that brunt because we are moved into the precarious workforce, where injuries exist, but are rarely seen until it’s too late. 

I am constantly thinking of my Tanty, of her aches and pains. The arthritis that caused her to walk with a limp and be unable to lift her arm above her head. The chronic bronchitis and heart failures, and trips to the emergency room for more of a tune-up than anything. Because she couldn’t get better. Her labor and work in the sweatshop is what killed her. Imagine where that labor has been shipped off to if it’s no longer in the United States. And the women who are laboring under worse conditions for those pieces of commodities. The women who most definitely will not make it to 95.

We need to defend our insurance, we need to continue to organize for women’s right and organize for women workers. Because at this point, who else will?