Resistance in the age of registries and internment

The headline reads, “Japanese American internment is ‘precedent’ for national Muslim registry, prominent Trump backer says”.

Prisons do not and will never make us safer. Everything along the spectrum that includes racist “internment camps”, which are prisons by another name, and a “national registry” of people who are Muslim is a hastening and intensifying of carcerality in our society. To be clear, the United States already has racist prisons. They’re called jails and prisons. And we already have prisons for immigrants in our country. They’re called detention centers, and the people imprisoned in them are often not counted in published numbers about this country’s gargantuan prison population.

In a fascist moment, the mode of resistance is clear: to imbue your every action with anti-fascism. This means that if there is a national registry of people who are Muslim or who are perceived to be Muslim, all people of all faiths and backgrounds need to go register for it. This means opening your home to your neighbors or to anyone who needs to hide. Solidarity is not even an option, it’s the choice of survival over necropolitics. Are you still in denial, do you still think this is far-fetched?

As everyone tries to process current events, I see people drawing a lot of comparisons between this moment and Nazi Germany. Those comparisons are important and not melodramatic, but there are some issues with them.

First, the comparison implies that previously this country wasn’t already a white-supremacist nation, wasn’t founded on racism, genocide, and slavery; hasn’t been a bloody colonizer, hasn’t destabilized/invaded other countries, hasn’t created classes of citizens that put some closer to survival and some to death. Of course, it has. And it has already been rounding up people based on ethnicity/nationality and sending them out of the country, in the millions, already. Most of all under Obama, sorry-not-sorry. The only answer to this systemic violence is to demand an abolition of borders themselves.

Second, the comparison brings us to a question of citizenship and legality, and again I see people missing some aspects of that. For example, the idea that the difference (between now and Nazi Germany) is that Jewish people WERE citizens, while undocumented people here are not. Let’s unpack that. Citizenship — and laws themselves — is not a divine mandate, nor an intrinsic natural feature. Actually, the idea that citizenship/lawfulness IS a natural feature is a tenet of Nazism, of eugenics, of racism. (I’d say “antisemitism” but the category “Semite” itself is a racist and meaningless invention, and doesn’t actually specifically refer to Jews.) Citizenship is, the law is, arbitrary and ever changing. It operates on the whim of the state, and it is a weapon that can be deployed against anyone. Citizenship is NOT a stable category. YOUR citizenship, if you have it, will NOT protect you. Your whiteness, if you have it, will not protect you. If you stand idly by while people are deported/rounded up/added to a registry, you’re not only complicit, you’re ignorant. If it can happen to anyone, it could happen to everyone. This is why our demand must be an abolition of borders and other forms of violent containment, including prisons, poverty — capitalism.

“If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you in the night.”
 Angela Davis

“If they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” James Baldwin

 

(Photo Credit 1: Intro to Women’s Studies S12) (Photo Credit 2: Fortune / Michael B. Thomas / AFP)

In Greece, the women cleaners show the way!

Ministry of Finance laid-off women cleaners react as they watch the new Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announcing that the government will re-hire them, in Athens, on January 28, 2015

In Athens, the women cleaners of the Ministry of Finance knew that what was thrown in the trash was to be disappeared. When the Troika ordered that women like them be replaced by contracted workers in order to save Greece, they knew that their lives were supposed to end up in the trash cans. The women cleaners knew that the structural adjustment programs imposed on Greece with ice cold effrontery were as those that had been imposed catastrophically on many other emergent countries. The Preliminary Report of the Truth Committee on Public Debt has established enough elements to assert the dual role of the Troika: bail out the foreign banks; continue the destruction of public services.

The Troika was formed to extend and legitimize the neoliberal project of transferring private debt onto the public sector.

The public sector means us, and, among us, women are the most affected. The women cleaners knew that the crisis of the public debt was a way to bring ordinary people to their knees. They knew that corruption and fraud were being rewarded and aggravated with the memoranda of the Troika. They knew about the corporate media campaign to “portray the population as deservers of their own wrongdoing.”

Their action in front of the minister lasted until the election of Syriza, and epitomizes the resistance to the looting of Greece by this political system of debt. They already discovered the fictitious contracts with Siemens, German French and US banks and speculators. Thanks to bribes from armaments corporations like Thales, Greece boasted the highest expenditure on armaments of the EU countries, proportionate to the size of its economy. The State bought Leopard tanks without contracts and even bought F16 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin … without the engines.

The Olympic games of 2004 were overbilled using outrageous interest rates. Siemens “loaned” its security system, which never worked, and the list of fraudulent and deceitful contracts is long.

The Preliminary Report also describes the falsification of public deficit and public debt using financial techniques to inflate public debt in 2009. The illegal private contracts disappeared from view, and what was left was that people of Greece had to be punished for this dubious public debt. Déjà vu!

The preliminary report defines four types of debt: illegitimate, illegal, odious, and unsustainable. It concluded that Greece’s public debt was an assembly of the four. It infringed on the fundamental human rights of the Greek population. The Preliminary Report clearly established the impact of the measures, especially for women and migrants: “The crisis hit disproportionately women and migrants increasing involuntary part time work and unfair dismissals due to pregnancy.” The Troika made the world believe that it was moral to cut hospital and health care spending to honor military contracts; that it was moral to send people to their death for an economic shell game. The list of negative impacts of the “bail out” program on human rights is equally long.

The women cleaners knew that all along! They fought with courage to re humanize their lives along with the lives of many, our lives!

Let’s remind the creditor-embezzlers represented by the Troika that we are not fooled and they cannot deceive the civil population anymore, although they are still trying. The Truth Committee on Public Debt is an important process, which can only succeed with popular mobilization. The women cleaners of the Ministry of Finance showed the way.

Solidarity with Greek women cleaners against austerity!

The women cleaners of the Ministry of finance in Athens have been demonstrating that the fight for life and dignity should know no rest. Since being laid off eleven months ago, thanks to austerity measures, they have been in front of the Ministry, standing there to show that life cannot be neither brushed aside nor contracted.

First, they turned to the court of justice, as labor rights must be defended by all means. The District court of Athens rule in their favor. The minister did not budge. A month ago, a court decision in Athens vindicated them and ordered their immediate reinstatement. The government responded with what the neoliberalist dogma orders: demanding submission and dependency and going after the women cleaners. The government dismissed the judgment and bypassed the court of appeal, going straight to the higher court Areios Pagos.

At the same time, the conservative press, media, politicians have broadcast negative images of the cleaners, calling them shirkers, accusing them of receiving undue privileges.

Meanwhile, the women cleaners who lost their meager salary (around $1000/month) are regularly physically assaulted by riot police, and suffer injuries requiring hospitalization.

Why is the government in Greece going after the women cleaners with such rage? Why do the State despise their lives and livelihood so much? Isn’t the state responsible for the well being of all its members including low wage women?

Who is the government serving?

In the late 70s, when the dollar was `floated’, the market system encompassed the idea of floating currency in relation to the idea of floating work value. As a result, the value of work as well as the value of life became increasingly indeterminate. The goal became the promotion of indeterminacy as a way of life, going against all efforts to create a socially responsible state. Austerity measures, and structural adjustment programs implemented in the South, opened the way to establishing a contracted work force by erasing the notion of public services and public responsibility. Austerity and structural adjustment `liberated’ public funds to the indeterminate market system.

Women are more dependent on public services and related jobs and comprise the vast majority of the growing underpaid and unemployed population in Greece. The government has argued that the termination of their work was for the public interest, intentionally confusing reduction of public sector with public interest. The State claims that the decision should be made in an administrative court, which would to make it a permanent labor rule.

The fact that the women cleaners were no fiscal burden, and their replacement by contracting businesses is more costly and less effective does not matter. The issue is not the way work is done but rather the profit making market system that thrives on the floating value of work. This is a legal issue and justice should protect life and way of life.

The fight of the women cleaners and their determination, despite their increasingly precarious situation as the result of no pay, is an example for all of us who understand that the threat is global and broad.

In building solidarity with the women cleaners there is a chance to direct the focus to respect for life that can override the ruthless neoliberal attack on human dignity.

Solidarity is the people’s weapon!

 

(Photo Credit: Greecesolidarity.org)

The false case against Christiane Taubira

Next weekend, Europe goes to the polls. Betting on the destabilization and nationalist sentiment fostered through neoliberal economies of fear and debt, the right and extreme right parties hope to win more seats in the European parliament. Their strategy is simple: announce a time of turmoil and crisis and then reduce political discourse to the mythology of the white male moralistic views as the only source of security. In fairness, the leftist parties have not done much to propose real alternative discourses and policies.

Last week, the right used this strategy in France against Christiane Taubira, the French Minister of Justice.

At the beginning of her appointment, Taubira brilliantly passed a same-sex marriage bill. When the most conservative constituents launched sordid assaults, Taubira responded with literary quotations that won the day. It was a virtuoso performance.

No virtuoso performance and no victory in the name of justice and equality can go unpunished.

And so the French right wing has launched an all-out campaign against Christiane Taubira.

They Americanized their techniques, using the power of repetition of simple and nationalistic slogans against her. Their goal was to blur her message and vitiate her work on undoing the politics of security that criminalized the vulnerable, at-risk populations attacked by anti-migrants sentiment or austerity measures.

After innumerable racist attacks, the neoliberal conservative coalition finally created a buzz around a song. The song was the National Anthem, La Marseillaise, sung by a chorus and soloists. Along with other members of Government and the President of France, Taubira attended a ceremony to commemorate the abolition of slavery. It was a solemn occasion, althought not for the Front National (FN), the nationalist party, that marked its denial of the offense of slavery by refusing to participate. They also refused to celebrate General Dumas, the first French General born in slavery and father of Alexander Dumas.

What happened was this. Taubira didn’t sing. This was presented as refusing to sing, which triggered a methodic orchestration in the media of repetitive messaging. The only problem is that singing the national anthem has never been popular in France. None of Taubira’s colleagues sang the anthem that day, but it was Taubira who was viciously attacked. Some questioned her “Frenchness” and demanded her resignation. The message was already prepared. A series of attacks and accusations overloaded the media. What is remarkable it the technique; the terms used repetitively by the members of this political “SWAT team” went from accusing her of sectarianism and of being unworthy of her position to being lax and having a contemptuous tone.

Thanks to her strong background in racial and social justice and activism in Guiana where she was born and grew up, Taubira was undaunted. Guiana is a French overseas department located in the Caribbean side of South America. Her political engagement is linked to this land, and she embodies a liberating ideal that has made her the bane of the elite of the right and extreme right in France. Before she became Minister of Justice, Taubira had been a French parliamentary deputy for Guiana between 1992 and 2002. In 2001, she put her name on a bill that recognized the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as a crime against humanity. At that time, she published a book, L’esclavage raconté à ma fille (Slavery explained to my daughter).

At the beginning of her career, Taubira denounced the crude mistreatment by the post-colonial French state of the overseas population. As Minister of Justice, she has denounced the politics of mass incarceration. She has also asserted the responsibility of civil society to respect human dignity as France’s overcrowded prisons have resulted in France being reprimanded by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2012.

Taubira’s problem is not singing the national anthem. Her problem is keep open the possibility of a fair debate on her penal bill in a National Assembly in which some members have gendered and racist slurs prepared for her. The manipulation of public opinion is not new, but these violent and ongoing attacks on Christiane Taubira signal that the project of hyper incarceration knows no limits.

This instrumentalization of language and communication is there to obscure the real responsibility of conservatives in the advancement and normalization of fascist and extreme right parties in Europe, not to forget the Tea Party and the dramatic turn to the right in the United States. The songs we should pay attention to are those of social destruction as multiple trade agreements are secretly negotiated, in particular TAFTA that threatens women and social cohesion in Europe, in France and elsewhere. The global prison is inscribed all over this agreement.

Christiane Taubira did not make any faux pas. If you must attack someone, attack her neoliberal detractors, who are not worthy of public position and who know neither the lyrics nor the melodies to the songs of justice and humanity.

 

(Photo Credit: Libération / Kenzo Tribouillard / AFP)

In Athens, women cleaners reject austerity’s mess

595 cleaning women of the Greek Ministry of Finance have organized against austerity measures. They were there when Goldman Sachs coached the Greek authorities to hide the deficit with neoliberal “financial innovations” and then bet on it to make outrageous profits. They were there when the Greek authorities admitted that these “financial innovations” did not work and had to be paid for by the Greek population. They were also there when the Troika came to give the prescription of austerity measures. They cleaned the mess and emptied the trashcans.

One day they learned that their already meager salary was going to be amputated of 75% of its value. Without warning one morning they learned that they would have only 325.88 Euros to take care of their families, as many of them are single mothers and over 50 years old. Then they learned that they were to be replaced by contracted workers. For women, losing a job under these conditions means losing access to pension, health care, social protection. It means becoming part of the 62.8% unemployed women in Greece.

The women refused. They organized and showed the power of solidarity. Every day, they stand in front of the ministry and shout at the Troika personnel, at the government and all the financial puppets that come and go. They protest that they cannot be dismissed. They shout that they have rights that shouldn’t be wiped out just to serve their markets and their private interests. The Troika, the State and the stooges know that the cleaners’ meager salaries are not going to solve the Greek deficit. They remind everyone that the ministries and other public spaces are not in danger of not being cleaned anymore. Once again in the neoliberal order of things, public money will be transferred to private hands through contracted work. Ordinarily contracted cleaning work costs more, but women workers’ wages are lower since they either have no contracts or have to sign blank `contracts’ that make them vulnerable to total exploitation.

In 2009, Kostantina Kouvena, an immigrant cleaning woman who was a trade unionist for cleaning women union, was attacked with vitriolic acid because she was exposing these abuses. Her employer was a politician from the Social Democrat party, Pasok, who had created a service company. Making contracted work the norm is central to neoliberal labor policies, to the point that killing the resistance to this move is accepted.

The cleaning women haven’t stop fighting, and their tenacity has become an example for many in Greece, especially women who are more likely to be employed in the public sector.

Last March, the repression was even more violent as they were still demonstrating in front of the Ministry. Their solidarity has been an example that has inspired a larger European and international movement.

Over fifty thousand people from twenty-one countries went to Brussels this past Friday to demonstrate against austerity.  The message from the European Trade Union Confederation was clear: these policies are wrong and do more harm than good. Austerity measures don’t serve the people, they serve the financial markets that thrive on volatility and make victims, like the Greek population, pay the price of their gameThe cleaning women of Athens keep watch for us on the comings and goings of the virtuosi of austerity rhetoric. They tell them that they know who they are. They know that underpaid contracted cleaning/janitor works are the signs of the marginalization of women in a low wage debt economy and a sign of the rise of submissive policies that annihilate the public voice. And to that, the cleaning women of Athens say, “No!”

 

(Photo Credit: Autostraddle.com)

The Iron Women who resist eviction

At the beginning of the 20th century, the slum dwellers of Glasgow, Scotland, were faced with predatory landlords, rising rents and a government that was hand-in-glove with the slum owners, the `urban developers’ of the day. Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the working poor of Alexandria, Virginia, face predatory landlords and, again, a local government that is hand-in-glove with the latter-day developers. In both instances, the weapon du jour is mass eviction. From Glasgow to Alexandria, from then to now, women have organized to stop the evictions and to secure justice.

On Saturday, April 13, 2013, the Alexandria City Council voted, 6 – 1, in favor of redevelopment with a vengeance, in this instance of the Beauregard neighborhood, the last redoubt of affordable housing in the city. After 30 years of actively and energetically reducing the number of available affordable housing units, and after 30 years of engaging in mass displacement of working communities and families, primarily people of color, the City Council decided to continue on the same path.

But there was opposition, in the streets and on the Council, and, while the immediate results are discouraging and the tone and content of discussion at the Council level was depressing, there is reason for hope.

The City Council heard technical, passionate, eloquent testimony after testimony from residents and from their supporters. Beauregard tenant organizer and leader Veronica Calzada spoke through tears of the stress of three years of facing evictions, and a future that promised only bleaker and grimmer vistas. Longtime Beauregard resident Neota Hall described the fear her neighbors lived with, the palpable sense of persecution and harassment, and of her own difficulties, at 70 years of age, of planning for the future. Longtime activists, such as Sammie Moshenberg, described the meaning of demolition, and the alternatives that still remain. Victoria Menjivar, President of the Tenants and Workers United, described in detail the dire mathematics of mass displacement and, again, the alternatives still available. Woman after woman described the conditions, protested the injustices and lack of vision, offered alternatives, and told the human story of possible, attainable justice.

Seven people sit on the Alexandria City Council. Only one, Allison Silberberg, Vice-Mayor of Alexandria, listened. She insisted on the centrality and value of people’s lives. She insisted on listening, critically and compassionately, to what the actual residents of the actual units were saying. Silberberg insisted on placing these people at the center of the discussion and, more importantly, at the center of public policy, municipal and regional development, and justice.

Silberberg withstood the visible and verbal scorn and derision of some of her `fellow’ Council members for her refusal to accept a plan that included mass eviction. Hers was the single and singular opposing vote.

Later that night, when the residents of Beauregard gathered to eat and share their sense of the day’s events, they talked of Silberberg’s courage and vision, and they talked, with dismay and pain, at the inhumanity of the rest of the Council. They said this a government that does not want us. This is a government whose vision is measured in the dollars and wealth of some at the expense, and exclusion, of the labor and worth of others.

So, the vote went down, 6 – 1. The Council and the developers worked hard to make it unanimous, and in this they failed. Silberberg stood with the Iron Women of Alexandria, not alone.

This is an old, even redundant story, one of `municipal development’, mass removals, and resistant women.

For example, in 1914, in Glasgow, Scotland, slum owners saw that many men were off to the wars and many others were coming in, suddenly, to work in the munitions industry. In other words, they saw women heads of households, on one hand, and new migrants, on the other. They saw both as vulnerable, and so raised the rents astronomically.

Mary Barbour, housewife and mother, began organizing to stop the rent increases and to repel the sheriff’s officers who came to evict tenants. She helped organize the South Govan Women’s Housing Association, which grew into the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association. She organized and led “Mrs. Barbour’s Army”, which physically stopped the sheriffs. Barbour’s organizing led to the passage of the Rent Restriction Act. It was an army of women who changed the laws, who secured housing, who insisted on the dignity of all people, equally.

From Glasgow then to Alexandria now, women have insisted that the working poor are people. The working poor have a right to their homes, to their neighborhoods, to their communities. That’s the history of Mary Barbour, the Iron Lady of Glasgow, and it could be the future in Alexandria. In Alexandria, women are organizing in households and on the streets, as well as in the City Hall.  When it comes to housing and the concrete, lived right to the city, women are leading the struggle for human decency and for justice. From Glasgow then to Alexandria today … and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: alextimes.com)