“We have voted but our governments have not delivered”: sex workers speak out and organize

On Wednesday, 22 April 2009, South Africans will head for the polls to cast their democratic vote for the fourth time. With a flurry of pre-election activities: from increased campaigning and media coverage to some comic relief from the likes of Evita Bezuidenhout’s Elections and Erections. Of course when raising the issue of elections and sex work one can expect sexual innuendos like this to flourish. However sex workers across the world have engaged with election processes.

In the run up to elections in the USA last year, sex workers started an election awareness campaign called: “Grind the vote”. This campaign was spearheaded by SPREAD, a magazine by sex workers for sex workers. It raised a list of issues, concerns and demands by sex workers, analysed various political parties’ manifestoes and embarked on extensive voter education with sex workers across the country.

Similarly Indonesia held their elections on 9 April.  According to an AFP article, Indonesia has about 170 million voters eligible and over 38 parties to choose from. What has all of this got to do with sex work? Approximately 50 sex workers were trained by election officials to do voter education with other sex workers and clients. This was in an attempt to engage hard to reach groups in the election process. Interestingly no mention was made of sex workers’ rights or the various political parties’ position on sex work.

In Kolkata, India sex workers attempted to respond to the elections holistically. They lobbied for sex workers to be involved in the election process and they used the opportunity to highlight sex worker demands to political parties and society at large. Durbar Mahila Samanya Committee (DMSC), boasting a membership of 65000 sex workers, approached the chief electoral officer to create the space for sex worker involvement.  Six sex workers in this region will be working at polling booths during the elections. The DMSC heralds this as a step in the right direction in recognising sex workers as equal citizens. In addition the DSMC have been demanding, from political parties, that sex work be seen as work. Sex workers have placed a charter of demands before each political party in the region.

Meanwhile in South Africa earlier this year 153 sex workers from 10 African countries converged at a sex worker conference held in Johannesburg. They released a statement demanding their governments honour the rights of sex workers.

When our governments are campaigning for our votes they say “vote for us and we will deliver “. We have voted but our governments have not delivered. We try to raise our voices about human rights violations that we face on a daily basis, no one listens.  Once we have voted they forget us. From our government we need law reform and the decriminalisation of sex work so that we have the spaces to access our rights. We demand rights and not rescue. 

In Cape Town, sex workers interrogated three of the main political parties on their position on decriminalising sex work. This took place at an event organised by the African Gender Institute of the University of Cape Town, The International Labour Research and Information Group (ILRIG) and the Gender Equity Unit of the University of the Western Cape. The focus of this event was to have an interactive discussion with different political parties on women’s rights, gender justice and their political manifestos. In preparing for this event sex workers met and agreed that they really would like political parties to be clear on their position on decriminalising sex work. Sex workers asked SWEAT to table their question at the event. The ANC representative stated that the ANC does not support sex work and seemed surprised by the audience’s negative response to her comments. The DA implied that they would support the criminalisation of the client. It was not clear if they would support the decriminalisation of the sex worker. The ID clearly stated that they support the decriminalisation of sex work.


(Photo Credit: EWN / Nardus Engelbrecht / SAPA)

Bordering on: citizens, prisoners, exceptions, women

I used to think that all prisoners are political prisoners because they’re `guests of the State’, housed and held in total institutions in which the very least the State was obliged to do was acknowledge the prisoners’ existence and maybe keep them alive. Given the convergent news of this past week, I have had to rethink that a bit.

Four names: Edwina Nowlin, Alberto Fujimori, Jacob Zuma, Gladys Monterroso. Four countries: the United States, Peru, South Africa, Guatemala. If your country isn’t on this list, that’s accidental good fortune. Trust me, it should be. In fact, it is.

A girl is flogged in Pakistan, a video captures the moment and circulates and suddenly everyone is concerned about gender and punishment in Pakistan. Even the Pakistani courts perform concern: “Pakistan’s newly reinstated chief justice has ordered a police committee to investigate the controversial flogging of a teenage girl. Ayesha Siddiqa wonders about the innocence of the sudden gaze, “As the entire Pakistani nation watches video footage of a 17-years-old girl screaming on their television screens during the process of her torture at the hands of the brutal Taliban in Swat, one wonders if the mothers, sisters, daughters and the male members of this nation will ever take time out to think about this system of justice advocated by these men who are not even qualified to interpret the Quran and Sunnah.” She lays the system of Hudood laws squarely on the shoulders of the Zia regime: “In Pakistan in particular where the Hudood laws were formulated under the Zia regime, the objective was not to bring justice in the society but to throttle all forms of justice. In this respect, the Taliban in Swat and those who ruled Afghanistan for some time are Zia’children. They use force arbitrarily and apply laws without the real context to enhance their own power.” Flogging is never `spontaneous’ , never `organic’, and never `gender neutral.’

In the United States, there’s the tale of Edwina Nowlin: “Edwina Nowlin, a poor Michigan resident, was ordered to reimburse a juvenile detention center $104 a month for holding her 16-year-old son. When she explained to the court that she could not afford to pay, Ms. Nowlin was sent to prison. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which helped get her out last week after she spent 28 days behind bars, says it is seeing more people being sent to jail because they cannot make various court-ordered payments. That is both barbaric and unconstitutional.”

This practice is going on all over the country: poor women, and men, who cannot pay the fines, and cannot be the additional fees to the companies that collect the fines, are thrown into jail: mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, strangers. Debt, the not so secret origin of primitive accumulation, built on the backs of the poors, largely people of color, largely women, haunts our world, from Pakistan to the United States and beyond.

Meanwhile, death stalks and storms the corridors and cells of Zimbabwe’s prisons, as demonstrated in a documentary shown this past week. Emaciated prisoners can’t bring the morsel of food to their lips, can’t stand and can’t fall. Hell hole. Death camp. These phrases are too elegant by far for what’s going on. George Nyathi, recently released from the torture of Hami maximum security prison outside of Bulawayo, looks into the mirror now, now that he is `free’, and sees Edwina Nowlin. The young woman in Pakistan looks into the mirror and sees …

I’ll tell you what they don’t see. They don’t see Jacob Zuma, who was exonerated of all corruption charges on Tuesday. They might see Alberto Fujimori, already in jail and sentenced, at almost the same instant that Zuma was released, to twenty-five years for having ordered kidnappings and killings when he was president. Fujimori may be in prison, but he’s powerful. His daughter says she may run for president of Peru, and would pardon her father. There’s no such daughter for that girl in Pakistan, for the prisoners in Zimbabwe, for Edwina Nowlin. There’s no powerful daughter coming to rescue those `suspected of terrorist activities’ being tortured in the prisons of Uganda, of the United States, of everywhere. No powerful kin or kith comes to the rescue of those mysteriously jumping from police vans or prison windows, such as Sidwel Mkwambi, beaten to death by police.

And when Gladys Monterroso, a prominent Guatemalan attorney and activist, was abducted last month, held for thirteen hours, burned, beaten, sexually and psychologically abused, there was no Great Man nor any of his family or cronies, to swoop down and save her. When Fujimori and Zuma and their gang look in the mirror, they see the State, they see State Power. When the rest look in, we see ourselves and those like us, call us citizens, of a nation, of the world, of whatever.

I used to think that prisons demonstrated the limit case of citizenship, that we had to ask why some people were in prison and why others were not. This week has me wondering. Perhaps it’s the other way around. Perhaps we have to wonder how it is that any of us, that anyone you or I meet on the street, is not in prison. Perhaps prison is the crucible of normative citizenship in the world we inhabit, and being-outside, what’s that called again, oh yeah, freedom, that’s the exceptional state. And that would go some distance in explaining why women are the fastest growing prison population and still don’t get counted, still are not recognized. Citizenship. Gladys Monteroso, Edwina Nowlin. Citizens, not exceptions.

Who pays for the rule of law? Who will pay?

Birtukan Mideksa is currently being held in Kaliti Prison, in Ethiopia. Remember her name, Birtukan Midekas, and remember Kaliti Prison. There will be a test on prison geography and another on prisoners, with special attention to women prisoners. Women prisoners aren’t only in prison, however. Consider Mitmita. She’s an Ethiopian human rights activist. Mitmita is not her name. She can’t write in her own name. Reading Prespone Matawira’s series on Zimbabwe, I’ve been thinking of the anonymous and pseudonymous women, those one knows about, those completely obscured, in the shadows, disappeared. How many named and unnamed are there, officially or existentially political, imprisoned and confined women, in Ethiopia, on the continent, globally? Why do we know some names and not others? How many are hidden under or within, how many are blurred and waiting a proper reading, a proper enunciation? For every Prespone, for every Mitmita, for every Birtukan Mideksa, for every Jestina Mukoko, how many go unheeded, unrecognized? What becomes of their lives and stories? How much of silence, shadows, blurs is gendered? How do these women, and these women’s issues, mark a border between human rights and women’s rights? How is that border different from the militarized U.S. – Mexico borderlands, that actually extend across Central America, that home sweet home in which women are trapped in the transnational household, and how are they identical?

Recently, in Tanzania, the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs suggested a review of the Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act, SOSPA, because the sentences were too severe. Women’s and feminist activists protested the statement and decried the incompetence underlying its reasoning. Between 2006 and 2007, Salma Maoulidi conducted a study of Zanzibari attitudes towards sexual violence: “sexual violence continues to be viewed more as a moral crime rather than as a legal crime. It is thus not surprising that about 34 per cent of respondents consider sexual crimes as private issues. Only 16 per cent think that it is a criminal offence…. only 50 per cent of functionaries interviewed indicated using the Penal Decree in matters concerning GBV, the remaining 31 per cent used religious laws, and 18 per cent used medical guidelines when dealing with GBV cases. The study found knowledge of laws related to GBV to be very low in communities. Over 65 per cent of individuals interviewed were not aware of any law related to GBV. Largely, local customs and religious law are used to solve GBV matters.”

Moral crime, Legal crime. Human rights. Women’s Rights. What does it mean to categorize, to differentiate and perhaps by so doing to make some offenses more equal than others?

In Norway, a Muslim woman police officer requests permission to wear her hijab as part of her uniform, and all hell breaks loose. Is this the hell of human rights or of women’s rights? In Nigeria, a bill is passing through parliament that would further criminalize same sex  relationships and associations. Is this moral criminalization or legal criminalization?In Dar es Salaam, a culture of silence prevails for lesbian women. Is this the silence of morality or of legality?

Women are imprisoned, jailed, confined. In the U.S. almost 3 million children have their parents in jail. This occurs at a period of escalating incarceration of women, most of whom are Black or Latina, two thirds of whom are mothers of young children. What happens to those children? Who cares? Not the State. The State cares about war, war on poverty, war on drugs, war on terror. They’re all wars on women. Women with names, women with pseudonyms. In Quito, Ecuador, as all over the world, women know that the war on drugs is a war on women.

In Tanzania, distinguishing between the moral and the legal is killing women. In the United States as well, where women immigrants in detention are dying for health care. Women are flat out denied or have to wait ridiculously long times for any sort of gynecological care, mammography and breast health care, any sort of prenatal or postnatal care. It’s a gruesome list, indeed, and women are targeted as women. And services for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence? “ICE policy fails to comprehensively address the needs of survivors of violence.” Au contraire. Inaction is a policy, non-policy is a policy. If rape during border crossing is `routine’ and routinely unreported, and if those, mostly women, who have suffered sexual violence during their journeys across borders and across streets, at work and at home, if there is no address, is that moral criminalization or legal criminalization?  Human rights or women’s rights? Which state actually cares? Not the United States, not if you’re an `immigrant woman’, certainly not if one recalls that “immigration detention is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States.”

The U.S. immigration detention complex is a black hole. “Victoria Arellano, a 23-year-old transgender woman from Mexico, was detained at ICE’s San Pedro Facility in May 2007. Arellano was suffering from AIDS though not exhibiting symptoms. In detention, her condition deteriorated because she was not given access to the antibiotics she needed.  According to The Los Angeles Times, her requests to see a doctor were ignored by facility staff. Other detainees dampened towels to reduce her fever and created makeshift trash cans from cardboard boxes to collect her vomit. Only after a strike and civil disobedience by detainees in the facility did staff take her to the infirmary. Arellano died two days later, after two months in detention, due to an AIDS-related infection.” Women, and children, in shackles. Transgender women violated every which way.

Nomboniso Gasa says all political prisoners in Zimbabwe must be freed now. Furthermore, the situations and conditions, and dreams and dignity, of women must be addressed: “All of the crises affect women more severely. One important issue is the widespread use of rape as a political weapon. And there has recently been a noticeable change in the way security forces relate to women. When Jestina Mokoko was arrested she was in only a nightdress. She asked if she could get dressed before she was taken but security denied her the right to her dignity by not allowing her to change clothing or take her female medication with her. And of course widespread shortage of food affects women more because they are always the last to eat. Even though they forage more food, after the men and the children eat it is the women’s turn, but by then there is nothing left.” The conditions in Zimabwe’s prisons are dire.

Across the United States, states are relaxing sentencing guidelines and softening drug laws. When Tony Papa, a victim of the Rockefeller drug laws, was finally released, he co-founded Mothers of the NY Disappeared. Now he feels truly released, and can exhale freely, if with a lingering sense of disbelief. So, the 70s at last may be laid to rest: “Nearly 40 years after the Rockefeller laws launched America down the disastrous road to wholesale incarceration, a more sensible and nuanced approach to drug sentencing is starting to take centre stage.” Where are the women in this account, in this relief program?

The rule of law targets many: drug users, sex workers, lesbians, immigrants, Muslims, activists, women. Everywhere. These laws have driven the hyperincarceration rates of women, in the U.S. and everywhere. The rule of law is a war zone. The laws change, they may be gone, but nothing changes until women’s names, bodies, lives are brought into the light of day. How many more stories, how many more articles, are required before that action is taken, before the war on women is acknowledged and addressed? Who pays for the rule of law? Women. Who will pay? There’s the question.

(Photo Credit: Ethiopia Forums)

Here’s what isn’t in dispute: Dymond and Clara

Dymond Milburn

Dymond Milburn is in dispute with more than the police force of Galveston, Texas. On Wednesday, The Houston Press reported an incident, two years earlier, involving Dymond, African American, 12 at the time, in front of her family home: “a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, `You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with me.’ Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, `Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat. As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.” Three weeks later, the police came to Dymond’s school, where Dymond is an honors student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant.

On Thursday, Radley Balko picked up on the story, and then it took off into the blogosphere. Later, Balko updated his account: “Here’s what isn’t in dispute:  Milburn was wrongly targeted during a prostitution raid.  The police were looking for white prostitutes.  Milburn is black.  She was apprehended by plain-clothes narcotics officers who emerged from a van as she stood outside her home.  She resisted.  The police have acknowledged they targeted the wrong house.  Three weeks later, Milburn was arrested at  her school, in front of her classmates, for `assaulting a public official.’  At some point, her father was arrested on a similar charge.  The judge declared a mistrial on the first day of Milburn’s trial.  According to Vogel [the Houston Press reporter], she’s scheduled to be tried again in February.”

J.D. Tucille, writing in response, concluded: “So the Galveston Police Department’s position is that it’s a criminal act for a little girl to resist being dragged into a van by strange men? If that’s the lesson the police want to send to the community, then it’s nothing more than an association of thugs intolerant of the slightest challenge to its authority. It’s certainly not an agency for preserving the peace and defending the rights of local residents. A police department like that shouldn’t just be sued; it should be disbanded.”

We already heard, the week that Dymond Milburn `became news’, that sex workers in the United States face police violence, and if you didn’t already know that African American women and girls face police violence and, even more, police sanctioned violence, A.C. Thompson’s “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” and Rebecca Solnit’s “The Grinning Skull: The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina” would remind you. Brent Staples has seen “Without Sanctuary”, an exhibition that exposes U.S. lynching cultural histories, and knows that “lynching … was a method of social control”. A Black girl in Texas, a state notorious for the quantity and quality of lynchings, hung to a tree for safety and freedom. Welcome to the 21st century.

White supremacist violence against Black people, Black communities, Black knowledge and culture, is not new. State violence against Black girls is not new. State use of sex and sexuality – what were you doing on that street or what were you doing out at that late hour – to justify violence against women, and in particular against Black women, is not new and is not news.

The occlusion of sexual violence that lies at the heart of all power relationships and hierarchies is also not new and never makes the news. Writing about the case of Brian Gene Nichols, accused and convicted to many life sentences without parole, for having beaten a courthouse sheriff’s deputy, and having killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff’s deputy, and an off-duty federal officer,  Marie Tesler finds that what is continually scanted, or not reported at all, is that Nichol’s initial charge was one of sexual assault, and it’s one that proved exceedingly difficult for a jury to take seriously. When it comes to sexual violence, the jury is always out. For Tesler, “Domestic violence and sexual violence are the DNA of violence throughout society. It’s where violence begins.”

What if the story involved the DRC, rather than Texas, and the Black girl was Clara, instead of Dymond: “That night I was coming back from my sister’s home when I was accosted by men in civilian clothes in a jeep with blacked-out windows at about 8pm. They showed me police badges,” she said. The men told Clara she was not allowed to be outside in the night and she climbed into their car expecting to be driven home to her parents. But the men drove her to the Ngaba district of Kinshasa where they ordered her to pay a 70 000 CDF ($120) fine. “I told them: ‘I am young. I do not have that kind of money.’ But they took the 1 500 CDF (about $3) that I had on me and my gold chain as money for transport,” she said. “Then they took me to a dark place. As two men raped me, the driver watched,” she said, adding that the men “gave me a lot of pain. I still have pain”.” What’s the distance between men who are police and men who claim to be police, between men who rape and men who `merely’ beat and injure, between fines and arrests, between Kinshasa and Galveston or Atlanta or New Orleans or wherever you are at this moment? The distance is important, and so is the shared space.

As more men commit more rape and sexual violence more intensely and furiously in one part of a country, others begin to do so in another. Call it liquidity. The cleansing niceties of geopolitical distance, rural – metropolitan or periphery – capital or dangerous – safe or bare life – my life, are worse than alibis. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the democratic United States of America, sexual violence, and even more the refusal by State and civil society to acknowledge and address sexual violence, `inspires’ rampage, and then the world expresses shock and horror, again, at the brutes and savages, once more. Pain is the currency, it is a quantity: “they gave me a lot of pain.” Pain is the trace, it is a quality: “I still have pain.” In patriarchy, pain has ever been the gift women are meant to receive. In global capital, women’s pain, in particular the pain of Black women, in particular the police sanctioned pain of Black women, is identity. Because the pain is identical and cannot be in dispute, no distance divides Dymond from Clara. Where is the State that acknowledges their pain and does more than acknowledge? Where are the reparations? Where is the place where justice, rather than violence, begins?


(Photo Credit: Breaking Brown)

Responsibility, in three acts: dead and dying, disappearing, diminishing

Zimbabwe. One looks anywhere for hope, for a change, for something new. FePEP, the Feminist Political Education Project, has been meeting in Pretoria. Here’s part of their press release prior to the meeting: “Today, Zimbabwean feminists caucus with women activists from the SADC region to break through the Zimbabwean political impasse and begin the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA). In their meeting with SADC facilitator Thabo Mbeki, at 4pm, they will hand over their resolutions, with actions to move the current Zimbabwean question forward. During the day long meeting, prominent activists from across Africa including Liberia, Kenya, Swaziland and South Africa will give input on strategies of negotiated settlement and transitional arrangement.” Is there hope in a meeting with Thabo Mbeki?

Is there hope for real and positive change when so much stays the same, or gets worse. IRIN reports that a sense of dread pervades the country; the BBC reports that cholera is so intense that Zimbabweans will not shake hands any more; Open Democracy reports on a new theater of war in Zimbabwe, one consisting of `enforced disappearances’, which seems a curiously genteel phrase:; and the Mail & Guardian reports first that Tsvangirai has yet again said he will leave the talks on forming a government of national unity, and then that Mugabe says that he will “never, never, never surrender”, that Zimbabwe is his. In other words, absolutely nothing new. But wait, it gets better, which is to say, worse. The Mail & Guardian also reports that the bullets and guns that allow the regime to chant, never surrender never never surrender, those come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They do not come through the DRC, they come from the DRC. And so we have moved from blood diamonds to blood guns.

Could things get worse? They could. In Indonesia, according to today’s New York Times, part of the country is vanishing in a mud bath, a spewing seeping horror movie montage of a mud volcano, that was created by Lapindo Brantas drilling for natural gas and piercing a pressurized aquifer. Oops! And now ordinary people are left destitute, and without much aid from government or from international agencies, and here’s the best part, because it’s a man-made disaster. They say the mud could seep and bubble, boil and trouble, for decades.

In China recycling is an art form. Chinese elders in particular bring this great resource, this art, with them to the United States. New America Media reports that, when they arrive with this art form, they are ridiculed, in good times, and attacked and robbed, in not so good times … like now. This practice of collecting cans strikes me as connected to domestic labor. These elders clean the earth of the detritus of others, and how are they repaid? They are described as being caught between a rock and a hard place. It would be better to see them as seized and placed beneath a heavy rock and a heavier boulder.

Reporting on the Indonesian `disappearances,’ the Times notes that “the debate over responsibility has severely limited the payments.” Who takes responsibility for the dead and dying in Zimbabwe, for the disappeared in Indonesia, for the diminished in the United States? Who takes responsibility for ending debates over responsibility and instead living responsibility? FePEP provides one answer: women talk with and take care of each other. The State built by men must just follow.

(Photo Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS)

Democracy? We think it would be a good idea

Today’s Guardian reports on headscarf politics, American style: “Georgia judge jails Muslim woman for wearing headscarf to court”. Here’s the nub: “Judge Keith Rollins of Douglasville, Georgia, yesterday ordered Lisa Valentine, 41, to jail after she refused to remove her scarf before entering the courtroom, citing rules governing appropriate dress. Last week, Sabreen Abdulrahmaan was forced to leave Rollins’s court before her son’s probation hearing because she would not remove her scarf.” Time to reread Joan Wallach Scott’s Politics of the Veil, in which is dissected the French laws concerning Muslim women’s coverings. Same questions as in Georgia. Why headscarves and not beards, for example. But more to the point, why jail? Why women? Why Black women? Why now?

Meanwhile, according to “Afghan women fear a retreat to dark days” in today’s Christian Science Monitor, Afghan women are dealing with dealing with the Taliban, dealing with dealing with the government dealing with the Taliban, dealing with dealing with international ngo’s who simply can’t get the concept of sustainable work for women,  and these women ask the world not to forget them. Too late. The point is not that Georgia is Afghanistan. The point is that from Georgia to Afghanistan women fear a retreat to dark days because they experience the darkness, through violence, through persecution, through imprisonment, through threats of all of the above and more.

Across the United States, sex workers find a similar state of dark threat, often at the hands of clients, as often at the hands of the police and the courts. Sometimes the police harass and beat, other times they look the other way. In either case, sex workers find themselves fearing the darkness … at noon and otherwise. So, yesterday, dozens of sex workers marched through the streets of downtown Washington, demanding respect from police, demanding acknowledgement. “Sex Workers Criticize Law Enforcement” concluded with a reflection by Leila, a 24 year old women from San Francisco: “Alone, we’re just prostitutes on the corner and no one respects us,” she said. “Together we are a political movement, and we can change things.” Amen.

In “What is postcolonial thinking?”, a long and interesting interview in Esprit,  translated and reproduced in Eurozine, Achille Mbembe locates postcolonial thinking as opposing a post-ethical securitized world. Although he mentions women, as part of a list of disenfranchised and oppressed sectors, women don’t play a large role in his analytics. What if securitization of the world were to be understood as precisely about gender construction and constitution? What if, when discussing the U.S. attempt to act without morality or excuse, one were to see this move as a traditional tool in the rhetorics of patriarchy? Mbembe argues that “postcolonial thought is…a dream: the dream of a new form of humanism, a critical humanism founded above all on the divisions that, this side of the absolutes, differentiate us. . . . The thinking of the postcolony…is a thought of responsibility and life, seen through the prism of what belies both. It is in the direct lineage of certain facets of black thought (Fanon, Senghor, Césaire and others). It is a thought of responsibility, responsibility in terms of the obligation to answer for oneself, to be the guarantor of one’s actions. The ethics underlying this thought of responsibility is the future of the self in the memory of what one has been in another’s hands, the sufferings one has endured in captivity, when the law and the subject were divided.” Where are law and subject divided, almost universally? At the threshold to the so-called familial household as constructed by patriarchal rule of law, that states that the household is a kingdom unto itself. Fanon, Senghor, Césaire, yes, but also Ba, Head, Saadawi, Vera, and others, women who have written about the enduring captivity.

Mbembe concludes with a meditation on U.S. hyper-hegemony, what E.P. Thompson used to call exterminism: “Historically, successive US governments have claimed to build universalism and promote democracy on the basis of crimes that are presented as so many earthly fulfilments of God’s law and divine providence….Mercy has no part in his laws and precepts. He is a jealous and unforgiving god, swift to destroy and forever requiring human sacrifice.”

Democracy American style has no room for mercy, no room for forgiveness, no room for patience, no room for Muslim women, no room for Black women, no room for sex workers, no room for postcolonial thinking, no room for humans, no room for the human.

The dangerous politics of market radicalism“, in Open Democracy, reminds us that the market eschews politics, and ethics, for profit, and reminds us that the market as protector of democracy “was accompanied in much of the Anglosphere by a mounting reliance on coercive social-control mechanisms, one illustration of which is the existence of the highest levels of prison populations in the democratic world.” The highest levels of prison populations in the democratic world. Democracy. I’m told it’s a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t know, but I think it would be a good idea.

(Photo Credit: Global Fund for Women)