The struggle for queer liberation is bound up in the struggle for decolonization

The struggle for queer liberation is bound up in the struggle for decolonization.

The notion, as tweeted by Trump, that queer and trans folx living in the United States should be grateful that they “don’t live in a country that punishes, imprisons, or even executes” them is not only false, it perpetuates a colonial narrative that positions the US and other nations governed by white, western power structures as the civilized and all others as requiring civilizing.

For centuries colonial powers actively exported and imposed queer and transphobic statutes around the globe, and today continue to export missionaries, diplomats, corporations, and more that espouse these same views and maintain a colonial relationship.

Pinkwashing, using LGBTQ ‘window dressing’ to distract from oppressive policies or actions (to LGBTQ folx or otherwise), becomes a useful tool in promoting settler colonialism in Palestine and elsewhere; bolstering racist and Islamophobic narratives and actions; justifying military intervention in countries deemed by the US to be “backwards,” and more. Where queer and trans identities become a tool to maintain power and control over others, there can be no liberation.

(Image Credit: Active History / Kara Sievewright / Gary Kinsman)

Educate, Agitate, Organize!

Dining hall workers have never had it easy at the George Washington University, but in September 2015, the University announced things were going to get worse for those workers. In response, George Washington University’s Progressive Student Union organized a Fair Jobs GW campaign, using the Jobs with Justice values triangle as an organizing tool.

First, we were clear on our values: we were an organization that worked to build student and worker power on campus, and valued dignity and respect for those who were working and learning at the university.

Second, we were building relationships with other people and organizations that shared our values: other students and student organizations, staff members, faculty members, university-employed workers, and workers in outsourced positions, faculty and staff associations and unions.

We were clear that it was in all of our collective self interests, the tangible manifestation of our values, to make demands that administrators commit to retention of workers, cease outsourcing, and stop the increasing precarity in staff and adjunct faculty employment.

Bringing together different groups — students, faculty, staff — built the power that we needed to make those demands of administration. If power is organized people and organized money, we didn’t have organized money, but we could organize people. Even so, we had nowhere near enough power to fight GW’s plan to lay off cafeteria workers.

So we went back to the values triangle. To build the necessary power, we had to use agitation to find others with shared values, and through accountable, reciprocal, and transparent relationships work to connect values to our broader self-interest, around specific events and issues. Effective one-on-one agitation meets people where they’re at.

We started agitating harder than we had before – reaching out to other students, understanding their values, and challenging them to take action in alignment with their self-interest. We tripled the size of our coordinating committee, going from seven or eight members to over 25 in order to effectively run a campus-wide campaign. We built relationships and connected those values of dignity and respect to others’ self interest. In addition to fighting for basic dignity and respect that was not being afforded to workers who had spent anywhere from ten to 50+ years as employees of the university dining program, this was a fight against the corporatization of higher education. As students, it was in our self-interest to ensure the jobs at the university – be they dining, facilities, staff, adjuncts, already outsourced or not – be high quality jobs that allow anyone in those positions to live fulfilled lives. This in turn impacts the quality of higher education as a whole, and the quality of jobs many students work as employees of the university as well. Allowing any position to be outsourced or restructured with little to no input from students sets a dangerous precedent, one that has emboldened administrators at GWU and elsewhere to make damaging cuts to programs like the Music Program or staff in the University Library with relatively little fear of pushback.

With an expanded coordinating committee to run the campaign, we were able to rally the support of over 2,000 students, staff, faculty, and workers at the university to demand full retention of all workers employed in the university dining program with the Fair Jobs GW campaign. Over 80 people marched on the administration building to deliver these demands along with the 2,000 signed pledges, including newly elected members of the Student Association. Ultimately, administrators at GW ran out the clock on students, holding their final closed-door meetings in late July to avoid mass protest. The company that was awarded the new dining contract – Restaurant Associates – made concessions to have GW dining workers placed in other locations of theirs around the city. Of the workers that weren’t placed at other positions within the university dining program, many were relocated to other positions throughout D.C. The campaign wasn’t a clear cut victory, but it did provide an indication to the university that the community would not idly watch as administrators pulled the carpet out from underneath those who work and learn there. It created lasting relationships between students, workers, staff, and faculty that endure and will be ready for the next fight. And it agitated people, allowing others to stop believing the myth of their own powerlessness, which served as a mask for our unwillingness to sit with thoughts and feelings that challenge us.

Agitation, ultimately, is about encouraging others to find the alignment of their values and their self interest – about being clear on their values to then inform where their self interests lie – thinking, how can we motivate ourselves and others in our community to take action to achieve a shared vision for a more just and inclusive future? Start with the values triangle and get organizing.

(Photo Credit: Fair Jobs GW / Facebook) (Image Credit: Jobs with Justice)

The Empire strikes back

The U.S. government in collusion with the Honduran government killed Berta Cáceres on March 3, 2016. Cáceres, Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations, was awarded the 2015 Goldman Prize for her efforts in organizing indigenous resistance in Lenca, Honduras, against the Agua Zarca Dam. In 2009, a U.S. backed military coup in Honduras paved the way for massive deregulation, furthering opening the country’s resources to exploitation from multinational corporations. The flow of capital out of the country coincided with a massive expansion in environmentally destructive megaprojects, including the Agua Zarca Dam, that were forced through with assistance from militarized private security firms and the Honduran military. According to SOA Watch, “The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.” In a 2015 interview, ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zalaya remarked, “Recall the human trafficking, trafficking of children, trafficking of women who go to the United States and pressure the U.S. borders, indeed bringing pressure to bear on the stability of the United States, precisely because of the failure of the policies here in Honduras. I could say the same of the new initiative of President Obama, who is talking about $1 billion in financing for the northern triangle, for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. In this regard, measures of repression have been adopted—that is, closing the borders, militarizing the borders, preventing persons from exercising their right to migrate. Because migrating is a right. It is a human right. All of our countries emerged from migration, the United States itself from European migration.” Millions are fleeing the violence stoked by the United States acting on behalf of the interests of capital. To understand the rise of the far right reaction in the era of neoliberal globalization, we must understand the violence abroad and at home within our own borders.

In North Dakota, as the U.S. lays the infrastructure for its role in consuming and shipping evermore toxic fossil fuels, a war between indigenous peoples and the state, in cahoots with capital, is being waged. Thousands of indigenous Water Protectors have congregated at the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to demand the immediate end of all construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry hydrofracked crude oil over 1,100 miles, endangering the environment and access to clean drinking water every step of the way. Since April of 2016, with the establishment of the Sacred Stone Camp, indigenous peoples have been engaged in peaceful protection of their lands and their water, protection for the generations with us now and those yet to come. While the people of Flint, Michigan are dying from the toxic water they drink, Water Protectors are being shot with rubber bullets, blasted with water cannons, attacked by tanks and grenades. Waves of resistance emanating out from the Sacred Stone Camp have followed – protestors shutting down local and national branches of many of the banks funding the $3.7 billion project, marching in the streets – which in addition to the numerous other mass movements for dignity and respect in the United States confronting injustices with direct action have led to the created perception of lawlessness and disorder. The same “law and order rhetoric” spanning generations has been deployed in the U.S. and abroad to legitimize the right’s rise by pointing to symptoms, while diverting attention from the structural diseases. As Howard Zinn wrote, “There is some truth, however, to the notion that acts of civil disobedience have a proliferating effect. Such acts, aimed at certain laws or conditions, may encourage others to similar acts, aimed at other evils. For instance, the sit-ins of 1960 probably helped lead to the Freedom Rides of the spring of 1961, and these in turn may have helped stimulate the civil rights demonstrations of late 1961, 1962, and 1963. And all the civil disobedience in the civil rights campaigns may well have had a stimulating effect on the tactics of the movement against the war in Vietnam. But that is not a general breakdown of law and order; that is a spread of organized protest against wrong. And such an effect is to be welcomed by a country seeking improvement.”

In Syria and beyond, the millions of nameless faces that would sooner drown in the Mediterranean than continue living in a state of perpetual trauma and violence pour into the heartlands of the great European democracies, built on the resources and wealth stolen from centuries of empire. In Poland, a far right government has risen to power riding a wave of xenophobia. In Britain, lawmakers make plans for Brexit as the European Union crumbles at the edges. In France, the leader of the French National Front party Marine Le Pen surges to the top of the polls running on a platform of law and order, opposition to immigration, and white nationalism. These phenomena are as global as the world financial order, and to understand them our analyses must re-center the global. In order to understand the success of Brexit and the recent election of Donald Trump, we must return our attention to the global to understand the role of empire, exploitation, and capitalism in leading us to where we find ourselves today.

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian /Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty) (Photo Credit 2: Bill Moyers /Robyn Beck/ AFP/Getty)

Calling On White People to Organize Other White People

For many white folks the news that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States elicited shock, disbelief, confusion, and outrage. Conspicuously missing was the realization that the impossible had long been possible and that many of us either weren’t aware of or didn’t want to acknowledge that. For many waking up in a Trump America, it was never in doubt as to whether or not the seemingly impossible was possible. The country was founded on stolen land and genocide, whose system was designed from the start to protect the interests of the wealthy, landed, slave-owning white males who created it; centuries later that system continues working as planned. Deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States are biases, prejudices, rationalities and tools of white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, and more. They were here long before the 2016 election, and won’t be addressed by voting in a new administration. So, where do we go from here?

With the holidays upon us, many articles are suggesting how to avoid the ‘difficult’ conversations with family members at the dinner table, how to sidestep `those’ issues. What we need now is not a guide on how to sidestep conversations, but rather a path for engagement. The answer lies in organizing.

Bob Zellner, son and grandson of members of the Ku Klux Klan, recently shared his experience organizing for civil rights deep in Mississippi in the 1960s. When he and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were told, “You can’t organize in Mississippi,” they replied, “Okay, that’s where we’re going, we’re going to Mississippi, because yes we can organize there and we’ve got to take this terror of lynching away from the enemy. We’re not afraid, we know that we may die, but we’re going to go ahead and do it anyway.” Using a model of organizing he was taught by Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer, Zellner recounts, “So we were working with [Ms. Hamer], and she says to us, ‘Well a lot of these people you have to work with them on a material basis: They need a job, and they need their kids to be taken care of. And so whatever they feel about race, that’s secondary to whatever they need.’ We extrapolated that to, if people need a good union, a good strong union, they’re going to have to work Black and white together to get that.”

This isn’t new, and doesn’t require reinventing the wheel. Organizers have long been implementing strategies to organize in spaces that are often written off as impossible to reach or too entrenched in their ways. Having a strategy, being able to actively listen, drawing connections between shared experiences, speaking to matters of material needs, and allowing others to engage critically with what you’re discussing rather than turning the conversation into a tirade or a lecture can plant a seed. Instead of responding, particularly in anger, delegating the response back to the person you’re speaking with can allow them to articulate their positions – maybe for the first time – and reflect. Challenge them to see how their story connects on a broader scale with stories from communities of color and other marginalized communities.

A key point of differentiation to focus on then is, how do you benefit? For instance, white neighborhoods get better public services, more affordable housing and less segregation could threaten that. Are you willing to give that up for your vision – of more affordable housing, quality education, healthcare, or whatever the issue may be? We don’t have all the answers yet, but we know that our communities need to be radically different than they are at present and that much work needs doing. In the era of the endless election cycle, it can be hard to break free of the idea that a candidate for elected office will be able to deliver sustained and meaningful change for a community. More than ever, we need to be affirming that movements for justice and dignity are not leaderless, but as Barbara Ransby says, leader-full and that we are the vanguard of change we seek for our futures.

Mariame Kaba, an organizer, educator, and writer whose work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development writes, “I really am 100% in favor of white people stretching their hands out in love & solidarity with their white cousins. Please go to it. What you should not expect is for me to do this? It makes no sense. A Black Muslim woman traipsing to West Virginia to organize white folks there is bonkers. It doesn’t make sense at all. White folks, yes.”

Building these relationships is most effective when done on a local level, addressing something issue-specific, and where a relationship is preexisting. While the work of engaging white people on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, and so much more can be mentally exhausting, emotionally damaging, and physically perilous, white folks are in a unique position to leverage the privileges and powers that we have been the beneficiaries of under white supremacy to engage with the difficult work of organizing our own communities. If it’s a starting point you need, look to your own community, be it municipal, familial, faith communities, student organizations, coworkers, or other forms of association.

This is a call to engagement, not disengagement; to strategic action; and most importantly, to organizing. Begin educating yourself and those in your community on the building blocks of organizing. Attend trainings – and if there aren’t trainings available where you live, collaborate to bring them there. White folks, we need to be doing the hard work of organizing our families, our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers – regardless of who won in November – the work has always been there, and continues to call us to do it.

 

(Photo Credit: Kairos Center)

A specter haunts the university: the permanence of workers’ space and time

In Washington, DC, the George Washington University (GWU) fired more than half of the faculty at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. The decision came roughly one year after the acquisition of the Corcoran School by GWU. One professor, Antje Kharachi, whose contract was terminated, said, “The past few years have been absolutely exhausting. As much as I loved the Corcoran, I feel relief that the seemingly endless wait is finally over. We’ve been lied to, undermined, disrespected, while trying to hold the [Corcoran School] together for our students.” Kharachi was just informed her contract would be terminated, and she felt relief. This comes on the heels of the firings of two of the University’s Women’s Studies Program’s most widely known adjunct faculty in an effort to “restructure” the program at GWU. Two months prior to the Corcoran layoffs, GWU announced they would also be restructuring their dining program. The over forty workers, many of whom have spent anywhere from one to five decades working in some capacity with the dining program, have recently lost the permanence of the space they have made their livelihoods for decades. Both faculty and dining workers had heard only vague reports of their future employment at the University, and spent years reporting to work under the presumption that any day could be the day their jobs were lost.

“All right, Chesimard, pack your things. You’re being moved.”
“Moved? Where?”
“You’ll find out when you get there.”
“Then i’d like to call my lawyer.”
“You can call your lawyer when you get where you’re going.”

In Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur describes the physical space of her incarceration in and around the Middlesex County Jail: “My abrupt transfer form one jail to another, without either notice to my lawyers or explanation to me, was a scenario that would be repeated over and over again during the next few years.” We often envision and discuss the space of incarceration as one of stagnant permanence. For Assata Shakur, and many others, along with solid cell walls and the indefinite permanence of solitary confinement, space also involved abrupt relocations without warning. It dictated and severely limited her relationships with her lawyers, friends and family. According to a Department of Justice report, nearly every state’s Department of Corrections “does or can transfer inmates to destinations in other states.” In Washington D.C. alone, one in five people incarcerated on felony charges is imprisoned more than 500 miles from the District of Columbia.

In relation to global militarization and securitization, violence and displacement, or “expulsion”, the impermanence of space operates as psychological warfare from individuals, such as Assata Shakur, to entire local communities to millions of people. These displacements benefit the systems of expulsion by expelling people from both land and sense of self. People are forced out of their sense of permanence and community. Landless, homeless, and without anchor, people experience loss of community as a kind of radical individuality that is not conducive to pushing back against the forces that lead to Assata’s incarceration, the ambiguity of future employment in campus dining, or displacements on a massive scale.

At GWU, the fear and unknowing about whether or not one’s job would continue to exist instilled in many a sense of despair. Lack of communication and vague non-promises about what comes next produces a demoralization that keeps workers in a state of anxiety, a state of heightened individuality that creates an even more challenging environment for collective organizing. These decisions are not specific to the George Washington University alone, but rather emblematic of a broader trend in higher education, and in the global economy as a whole. The precariousness of work has come to play a central role in efforts to financially, psychologically, and emotionally control huge swaths of people. To understand both the permanence and impermanance of space is to better understand the precariousness of work. The structuring of this new impermanent work environment leaves many with hyper-individualistic sense of despair – kept in the dark about their own time and futures, and left feeling powerless.

Workers in the struggle to put an end to on-call scheduling and reclaim some permanence in their work lives; students, workers, staff, and faculty at universities demanding accountability and transparency for administrator’s decisions to cut budgets and restructure programs; communities organizing to be informed about rights and resistance in the face of raids that fill the beds of immigrant detention centers globally are already challenging the impermanence of space. It’s time to demand full transparency and accountability from administrators as they dangle workers’ futures over a ledge, it’s time to end the practice of prisoner relocations beyond the reach of their families and loved ones. When we challenge the logics and practices that leave us feeling powerless and alone, we win. These systems are allowed to thrive when the individual is adrift amongst a sea of individuals, and to assert that a radical collectivity is not only ideal, but also necessary.

(Photo Credit: Guido van Nispen / Truthout)