Saturday, December 30, 2006

I'm gonna be lazy and not do all the proper coding, mostly because I just need to get this down. First, I cannot express how much I am going to miss reading both Brownfemipower and Black Amazon (Having Read the Fine Print). See my blog roll for links. Both have chosen to take a break from blogging, I'm not trying to suggest they don't deserve a rest and some major pampering. They have been expressing themselves eloquently on issues that tend to make a lot of people uncomfortable. I'd come to rely on their common sense and straight talk. They have renewed my faith that there are intelligent, militant and awesome women in the world willing to take on major challenges. I'm sure they are still kicking ass. I'm just going to miss the privilege of having a window into their worlds.

I comment a lot on other people's blogs, but this blog I use mostly to help keep track of the activist work I do. In the past, I always felt too busy to keep track of all the work that gets done locally. At the end of the year I would be exhausted, but never remember all we had done. The internet and blogging is making it possible for me to look back over time and see that, yes, Virginia, there really is an activist movement and I really am a part of it.

You only have to look back at activist movements of the past to see how much progress has been made. In the anti-Vietnam War movement, there would be major conferences bringing together activists in Cleveland and San Francisco and New York. Then snail mail would go out and local activists would post notices about upcoming activities in local bars, bookstores and on college campuses. But unless you already knew about those spaces, the odds an individual person who opposed the war would actually hear about an event were very small. Today, you can Google "anti-war" and find a gazillion people doing activist work of all kinds. Today, a decision made by national organizations for specific actions around the world can be communicated within moments. And being able to track that movement has been a valuable tool for me.

However, I don't have a practice of posting my political opinions and concerns in the way that most of the people on my blog roll manage to do. Lately, that has seemed like a cop out. I comment on other blogs, but I don't place long opinion pieces here so that people made curious by my comments can learn more about where I stand.

It seems especially weird now, since the discussions at Twisty's and at Brownfemipower, have made clear some major divisions within the feminist blogosphere. I consider these latest conflicts different than Burqagate and the Fire Dog Lake blow ups because in those cases, the posters were liberals and Democrats, not leftists. I didn't believe we were involved in the same struggle.

The conflicts lately are between groups of people who want a total break from the status quo. And so the pain is a bit deeper, the bitterness a bit more intense.

In Minneapolis, divisions between revolutionaries of all persuasions have been confronted and ways of working together have been developed over the years.

For instance, the local anti-war coalition, the Iraq Peace Action Coalition, made several decisions from the beginning in 2001. First, they would not take a stand on Saddam Hussein. This isn't because some of us thought he was a great guy. Instead, it was because most of us thought that it wasn't up to U.S. citizens to decide who should lead Iraq.

Second, we agreed to not take a stand on which political party to support. For some of us, there was no difference between the two capitalist parties. More importantly, some member groups were 501c3 organizations that are legally barred from taking a stance on political parties.

Third, we agreed to make connections between the war abroad and the war at home. Issues of welfare reform, affordable housing, money for education, racism and sexism were included in our events. Some activists see this as a way of diluting the antiwar message. But our experience has been that people who begin to become politically active because of their opposition to the war are in a space that allows them to start questioning the system as a whole.

Fourth, we agreed that individual groups should be supported in the various ways in which they choose to oppose the war. Visiting anti-war speakers would be shared among different groups: religious, academic, spiritual, student. Our skills would be shared and our various groups supported in their efforts. Some groups do rallies. Some groups do educational events. Some groups do civil disobedience. Some groups do regular vigils. Some groups do agitprop. Some groups do cultural events. Some groups do work in the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) party.

Some actions became widespread. Anti-war lawn signs were a new and important part of the movement this time around. Thousands of signs were produced and displayed by individual home owners throughout the area.

A weekly anti-war vigil that occurs on a bridge across the Mississippi River between the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul became a safe space in which newbies to the anti-war movement were able to feel safe and comfortable in expressing opposition to the war. They could learn about other antiwar activities, and they could realize they were not alone by meeting antiwar activists of all persuasions. They could hear the supportive honks and see the thumbs up signals from people driving across the bridge.

Local e-mail lists collated activist activities into calendars that gave each of us numerous opportunities to become educated, activated and rejuvenated.

So I have to say that I believe we are making progress. Things still suck. Soldiers continue to die. Iraqis are suffering tremendously. And yet progress is being made. Or as Willy Loman's wife said, "Attention must be paid."

All of us need to give ourselves props for doing good work and making a difference in the world. Sure we have problems, disagreements and irritations every single day. But we are also blessed with amazing tools to bring us together, to educate ourselves and to help one another in our work to make this world a better place.

I'm gonna stop here for now. Happy New Year to one and all. May you and your loved ones be happy and healthy and may the new year bring all of us a better world.

What I am saying in my very long-winded way is that we can have different goals, different definitions of what is wrong in the world and even different views of who is the main enemy and we can still work together. I've experienced it. I treasure it. I believe it can happen even on the internets.

All we need do is make the effort. My experience is that it is definitely worth it. Won't you join me?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

300 Minnesotans protest the war

Our story and Bert Kayakbiker's images can be found here. It's been a holiday tradition for many years to protest on one of the pre-Xmas shopping days. It's a great time and rejuvenating for the movement. These days, the support from people walking and driving by is almost unanimous. Santa came to visit, the Counter-Propaganda Singers sang anti-war carols and toy soldiers with the message "bring me home" were hung on a pine tree in the park.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Intimate Politics: How I Grew Up Red, Fought for Free Speech, And Became a Feminist Rebel, by Bettina F. Aptheker, Seal Press, October 2006, 549 pp, Paperback.

I read this book over the last few days and it's been weighing heavily on my mind for a number of reasons. First, a summary from Publisher's Weekly:

"Now professor of feminist studies at UC-Santa Cruz, Aptheker was an activist participant in some of the major events of the '60s and '70s the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, the antiwar movement and the Angela Davis trial. As the daughter of U.S. Communist Party leader Herbert Aptheker, she was virtually a red-diaper princess, only to 'fall from grace' with the party in her late 20s. Her highly politicized New York City upbringing was one of middle class comfort, although sorely affected by McCarthyist persecution as well as sexual abuse by her father, deeply repressed memories of which she uncovered in adulthood. The author, who taught her first women's studies course in 1977, describes herself as a latecomer to the women's movement (the Communist Party considered it 'petit bourgeois'). A personal transformation paralleled the political, as her repressed lesbianism also surfaced and gradually culminated in a fulfilling long-term relationship. Though pedestrian prose and prolix detail obscure what ought to be a compelling account of events with powerful social as well as personal meaning, Aptheker's memoir (after Tapestries of Life) is a significant document for students and historians of feminism, communism and the '60s." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

A digression:

The Seal Press was one of the first truly successful feminist presses, supporting independent booksellers throughout the country. It was sold to Avalon Publishing in 2002 and it is greatly disappointing to see that their website connects directly to amazon(cough!) for details on any book they publish. That sucks! Wilson donated the records of Seal Press to Oberlin College and you can read more about it here.

Aptheker's memoir has sparked a couple of controversies. Fellow red-diaper baby now right-wing attack dog David Horowitz has a long attack that serves to further his own agenda rather than provide an accurate portrayal of the book.

The defense of the memory of Herbert Aptheker, Bettina's father, is very interesting. Herbert Aptheker is a noted historian who dispelled the myth of the compliant slave by collecting the stories of heroic revolts by black slaves in the south. For some, the thought that this admirable historian could have been flawed in some way is anathema. And this disbelief gets expressed in some of the most condescending and sexist blather as excellently shown by this post by DeAndra found via Feral Scholar's thread about the memoir.

That's the background. Now for my own responses.

Aptheker's tales of being an activist in the Free Speech Movement (FSM) at Berkeley resonated deeply with me. Activist politics can be an amazing, invigorating experience, with moments of incredible highs and lows with bizarre twists that challenge our expectations. For instance, Aptheker was worried about coming out as a member of the Communist party during the FSM struggle so soon after the era of witch hunts which destroyed her own father's career:

"Everyone knew that I was a member of the party. I thought that perhaps it would be best if I took a less conspicuous position in the movement. These thoughts were interrupted by Mario [Savio]. Slapping his knee with glee, he said, "I've got it! Bettina should speak at the noon rally on Monday!" It was typical of Mario's tactical humor to fling the one real Communist defiantly into the administration's lap."

Aptheker was extremely active, and yet she maintained her class schedule and plowed through battles of deep depression. I also dealt with depression throughout my most activist years. I recognize that need for constant activity in order to avoid dealing with psychologically destructive thoughts and moods. It is an effective technique for postponing a confrontation with a profound medical crisis.

The memoir describes Aptheker's marriage, the birth of her two children and her participation in the upper echelons of the Communist Party, as she avoided major contradictions in her life. She found herself falling in love and having affairs with women. She found herself chafing at the Communist Party's critique of the feminist movement as "petit-bourgeois". Over time, she found the courage to come out as a lesbian and to leave the Communist Party. She met and fell in love with a woman who continues to share her life. She discovered a spiritual practice, Buddhism, that helped her live a more centered and productive life.

After many years, she recalled memories of incest that she had repressed. Some of her critics pretend that she is describing the de-bunked "recovered memory" field of psychology. What has been debunked has been the malpractice of some shitball therapists who convince people that they had been molested when they have not. This is completely different from the reality that we human beings repress memories if they are too violent or emotionally damaging.

This is another way in which I identify with Aptheker. My father was nowhere near as successful as Aptheker's. Nevertheless, dear old Dad was a college professor and administrator with power and privilege. But to those of us who had to live with him, he was a psychotic and viciously self-centered person who used whatever means necessary to achieve his goals. My mind has done me the favor of hiding some of the most unbearable aspects of dealing with his psychosis.

In particular, there is one night from when I was 13 years old that leaves a gap in memory. I was visiting my father and his third wife in upstate New York over the Xmas holidays. The three of us had gone out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. My father made a huge scene out of the fact that I had eaten my (inexpensive) vegetables while not finishing my (expensive, and therefore better) steak. I wasn't the real target of his anger. Rather, I was an excuse for him to make an obnoxious scene in public and to shame the two females accompanying him into embarrassed silence.

We left the restaurant and started the drive home when he decided he needed to stop off at the house of a "colleague." In fact, the "colleague" was a graduate student that Dad was coercing into giving him sexual favors in return for good grades. Or they were just having an affair. I don't know which is true. What I do know is that Dad decided to punish his wife by having us wait in the car while he indulged in a quickie with his latest conquest.

After a half hour or so, my stepmother told me to get out of the car and to demand that my father come out and return with us to their home. This is where my memory goes blank. Next thing I know, the three of us are driving home, my stepmother at the wheel driving excessively fast on icy roads. My father repeatedly reaches over and turns off the key to slow the car down as the two of them scream at each other.

Once we arrive home, Dad goes upstairs and gets his gun, then proceeds to tell us how we must behave in his presence. When his wife doesn't immediately approve, he beats the shit out of her. I stand in the kitchen doorway watching him crouching over her body and swinging his fists into her face. Right. Left. Right. Left.

The night seemed to last forever. To cope, I swallowed dozens of pills I found in the bathroom but managed only to make myself vomit repeatedly. The next morning, my stepmother took me aside, her face swollen beyond recognition, and apologized for her behavior and explained it was because she was having her period.

The only real clue I have to what happened during that memory lapse is my over-the-top reaction to a movie-of-the-week I watched a couple of decades later. In the movie, two children kill their father after he viciously attacked their mother. My response: guilt and nonstop tears. I suspect I somehow convinced myself that it was my responsibility, as a 13-year-old child, to incapacitate my father in some way so that the rest of that horrifying evening would never have happened.

To this day, though, my memory is blank. And I have always considered that a blessing. There are some things we just don't need to know and I give thanks to biology for allowing amnesia to protect me from whatever the hell happened that night. What I do remember is bad enough.

In this way and in others, I can identify with Aptheker and her experiences. Yes, it's true that successful men can be deeply flawed. Yes, it's true that these memories can be repressed only to be revealed later in life.

But, but…..

As Aptheker talks about her healing process, she discusses Buddhism and her process of adopting its practices. She talks about attending events in which the Dalai Lama appears. She learns from the process and admires the person, while acknowledging the sexism in Buddhist practices that consider women as second-class citizens.

What amazes me is that she never mentions that fact that the Dalai Lama was a slaveholder in Tibet before the Maoist revolution in 1949. The omission of this fact seems especially obscene given that Aptheker's father specialized in the study of slave revolts. It is inexplicable to me that Bettina acknowledges the sexism of the religious practice of the Dalai Lama but ignores the slavery that existed in Tibet right up until the middle of the 20th century.

As far as I can tell, this aspect has not been addressed in the various reviews and criticism of this memoir. I suppose I will have to get my act together and send a letter to Professor Aptheker about this subject.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Twin Citians denounce ICE raids

I missed it. Worked 12 hours yesterday to finish up enough to be able to take the rest of the week off. Which is ludicrous, I know.

Meanwhile, local labor activists (including Ravenhub) rallied at Sen. Coleman's office to denounce the recent raids on illegal immigrants working at the Swift meat packing plant in Worthington, as part of raids all over the country. Here's the article from today's St. Paul Pioneer Press:


Immigration arrests denounced at rally

20 from Minnesota indicted; charges include identity theft


Pioneer Press

They came to tell the stories they say aren't being told.

In the wake of last Tuesday's raids at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in Worthington, Minn., and five other states, a group of about 200 people gathered Monday afternoon outside the St. Paul offices of U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman to condemn the federal action and demand immigration reform.

After a 40-minute rally, a smaller group walked into the Republican senator's office and read stories about families affected by the Minnesota roundup of more than 200 workers on alleged immigration violations.

"One woman is pregnant and is terrified to leave her home. She'll only communicate by telephone," said Patrick Leet, an activist who collected stories last weekend in Worthington. "She's psychologically devastated."

The stories were told to Coleman's staff members; rally organizers were informed that the senator is out of the country. A few of the people visiting the office said the storytelling was necessary because the government is using accusations of identity theft as an excuse to round up undocumented workers.

"The only identity fraud that's going on here is people having to leave their countries" and their families to find work in the United States, said Eduardo Cardenas of the Center for Labor Rights.

The assembly came the same afternoon the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis announced the indictment of 20 of the 230 people detained in the Worthington raid.

According to prosecutors, a federal grand jury indicted 19 of the detainees on charges of use of an unlawfully obtained document for employment and use of a false document for employment eligibility verification.

Fifteen of those people also face an additional charge of aggravated identity theft.

Authorities said the 19 defendants used the Social Security cards and numbers of other persons to gain employment at Swift. They also used Minnesota ID cards, driver's licenses and other forms of identification to satisfy employment requirements.

A 20th person was charged with re-entering the United States after being previously deported.

Bruce Nestor, a Minneapolis-based immigration attorney, said 21 detainees are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis at 8:30 a.m. today. He reported that 15 other detainees had bond hearings Monday in immigration court. The timing wasn't coincidental, he said.

"The government is feeling pressure to file criminal charges because of the condemnation, the bad publicity that they've gotten because of this," he said. "They want to try to portray this as an identity theft crackdown. It's an attempt by the government to shift focus back to what they want the focus to be on."

A call to the U.S. attorney's office for comment was not immediately returned.

Despite the criminal charges, activists at the rally called the raids unwarranted and demoralizing. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement action netted 1,282 arrests at six Swift meatpacking plants across the country.

Mike Potter, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1161 at the Swift pork-processing plant in Worthington, said he had no words to describe how the ICE sweep damaged his southwestern Minnesota community of 11,000.

"This can never happen again," he said through a bullhorn. "Never."

The crowd held candles against the cold wind on University Avenue as cars passed; some honked in support. A few people held banners. The largest read, "Reunify Families; No More Raids."

The Rev. Grant Stevensen, with St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in St. Paul, called on politicians to take a moral stand on the immigration issue.

"We need our elected officials to step forward with a sense of decency," he said.

As the light faded, the crowd chanted.

"¡Sí, se puede!" they said, repeating a slogan made famous by the late labor organizer Cesar Chavez: "Yes, it can be done!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Notice how the forces of power have bought a PR clue and called this "identity theft" rather than drastic economic need. As if these people are common criminals trying to steal directly from the earnings of hard-working white people. Bullshit.

Unfortunately, some folks will be fooled by it. Which means we have some more educating to do.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Lebanon is suffering under ... rebuilding?!?

Today's USA today article on Lebanon is a lovely example of the sort of thing that makes sense only to journalists and cynics.

The poor Lebanese people are having to suffer from groups of volunteers cleaning up and rebuilding after a major disaster. Gee, that really sucks, eh? Wouldn't want to be doing that sort of thing in our country, now would we? Or in Iraq, for that matter.

Here are some of the horrible things Hezbollah has done to Lebanese, snipped from the article:

"...plans to complete repairs on damaged homes in three months and replace homes that were destroyed within a year. "

"...deployed a force of about 1,000 volunteer engineers, architects and contractors. ... to survey and catalogue damage to homes and businesses in Shiite areas that Israel bombed."

"...distributed $12,000 — almost double Lebanon's $6,200 per-capita income — to each family that had lost a home so they could rent elsewhere for a year. "

"...has hired local contractors to redo bathrooms, fix elevators and replace kitchen appliances."

Of course, I've edited all those comments out of an article whose entire tone is that Hezbollah's only reason for action is to make the Lebanese government look bad.

It reminds me of an article I read back in the 80s when Reagan was bombing Libya. A reporter asked a member of a London group that was hoping to overthrow Qadaffi and take power, why they hated his regime so much. The man said Qadaffi was evil because he had eliminated land speculation and given equal rights to women.

That bastard! Heh.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Fun videos

I've received these two videos in the last few days. Silly and fun.

Bunny letter opener

Panda Sneeze

Blogroll Update

I finally got around to updating my blogroll to include folks I'm actually reading these days. Check them out!

How Hard Is That?

Little known fact: I was a professional sports writer for several years in the 1970s. I covered high school sports, which was like covering religion in rural Minnesota. But I burned out on sports several years ago and I barely pay attention now. I usually pass over the sports on TV. However, while flipping through channels I stumbled on this quote:

"I really screwed up," Mora said at a news conference from Blank's office. "Any criticism I get, I deserve. I couldn't feel worse about letting people down with my poor judgment and that's what it was."

Source: Mora regrets comments/Coach says he was joking about leaving Falcons for college job

In light of several racial dust-ups in the blogosphere, plus Michael Richards and Rosie O'Donnell fucking up royally, I wonder why it is that a football coach is the only person able to get it right. There's more:

Talking about his boss, Mora said: "He's disappointed in me and he should be," Mora said. "I'm more disappointed in myself than he could ever be in me. I assured him my intent was not to say I don't want to be here. This is the job I want. I'm lucky to have it and as disappointed as he is — and he should be, and I deserve it — I'm more disappointed. I opened my mouth and let people down."

Friday, December 01, 2006

It's back!

"I remember back in the 1970s we literally took weeks pirating unwanted strokes."

"Everybody knows the Chinese first started commissioning Inscriptional beziers."

"Last year's Typophile Film Festival had a remarkable short film about typesetting bitmap matrices."

Check out the updated Typophile Smalltalk Editor. A very limited audience.