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A Conversation with Movement Generation
The transformation of the Occupy moment into power for movements that can actually challenge entrenched economic interests will be a complex process. Movement Generation activists recently gathered to reflect on what it will take to make this happen. For the full interview visit: urbanhabitat.org/rpe/radio
Ellen Choy: Why are you committed to the Occupy movement?
Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan: We think Occupy’s critical because we believe that mass movements are a vital ingredient to shifting the public debate and moving us closer to transforming the economy and the political system. This is not just about making demands on the state, but also about reclaiming our right to meet our own needs directly, in community—to restore our resilience, our ability to support one another, to look after each other, to have the means to do that collectively. I think Occupy is presenting a really important model for how people can work together to set priorities and make decisions about how to best meet each others’ needs in a way that’s responsive and responsible to the place where they live.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed with bipartisan support during the Bush presidency and despite many attempts to repeal it, it’s still the law of the land. Its rhetorical promise, like the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program, is that the federal government will hold public schools accountable for their failure to educate poor and working class Hispanic and African American students. But the purported aim of increasing educational opportunity masks the real intent of these so-called education reformers to create a privatized system of public education that has a narrow, vocational curriculum enforced through standardized tests.
The “reform” rhetoric is enormously seductive to parents and low-income
communities whose children attend poorly funded, poorly functioning
schools. In predominantly Hispanic and African American neighborhoods,
schools are often incapable of providing children with more than the
rudiments of literacy because they cannot afford to recruit and retain
sufficient numbers of teachers. Schools that serve large concentrations
of recent immigrants are usually so underfunded and overwhelmed by the
number of students that they are compelled to use bathrooms and closets
Education “reforms” like NCLB and Race to the Top, however, presume that if children do not succeed at school, the responsibility rests solely with the school. Such an approach destroys the structure and organization of a publicly-funded and presumably publicly-controlled system of education begun more than a century ago. In fact, NCLB closely resembles the blueprint developed in ultra right-wing think tanks for replacing locally controlled, state-funded school systems with a collection of privatized services governed by the market. What NCLB chiefly adds to the original “free market” framework is standardized curricula and testing and the Christian Right’s “faith-based” interventions.
The Wages for Housework Campaign has always spelled out the connection between the unwaged and invisible work of women, and the work, waged and unwaged, of immigrants, women and men. We also insisted that those of us who are immigrants, wherever we come from and wherever we go, are attacking the racism and provincialism carefully nurtured among every working class, by bringing another world—usually the Third World—with us into metropolitan centers.
One side of immigration, we said, is that it is an element of State planning—using immigrants to undercut wages, working conditions, and living standards won by the native working class and to disorganize resistance. The other side is how immigrants—as much those from Malaga in southern Spain as those from Port of Spain in Trinidad—use immigration as a method of re-appropriating their own wealth, stolen from them at home and accumulated in the industrial metropolis. Immigrants are in Britain not for the weather but for the wealth, much of which has been produced by their own and their ancestors’ labor. That wealth is as much theirs by right as it is of those whose history of exploitation has never left Britain.
Dorothy Kidd's work appears regularly in the academic, popular left, and social movement press. A professor at the department of Media Studies at the University of San Francisco, she has been organizing at the interface of the community and university for 13 years. A media and feminist activist since the early 1970s, she has been producing media, studying the role of the dominant corporate media, and circulating accounts about radical alternative media since that time. She was interviewed in the studios of Radio RP&E.
B. Jesse Clarke: Women’s rights to equal pay, health care, and even contraception were under attack in the 2012 election campaigns. What isn’t much discussed is where and when these rights were won. What were feminist activists struggling for in the ‘60s and ‘70s? What were the issues, and how were they pushing to bring equal rights to women?
Dorothy Kidd: The first thing to say is that there wasn’t a uniform feminist movement. The feminist movement that my students read about is the movement of professional and business women to get seats at the table with the ruling class and large corporations. To some degree they’ve succeeded, so we see more women in boardrooms, more women in politics. (Not as much here as in Europe, Canada, or Australia, but progress has been made.) That was not the aim of the women’s groups I was involved in in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
As a feminist activist, writer, and teacher, Silvia Federici engages and inspires students of all ages to fight for the liberation of women and all beings. In 1972, Federici cofounded the International Feminist Collective, which launched the “Wages For Housework” campaign. While teaching and researching in Nigeria in the 1980s, she observed the specific impacts of globalization on women—and their similarities to the social disruption caused by the enclosure of the commons in the earliest days of capitalism. She became active in the anti-globalization movement and the U.S. anti-death-penalty movement, and cofounded the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women’s studies, and political philosophy at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. Her books and essays span philosophy, feminist theory, women’s history, education, and culture, and more recently, the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons. Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation, perhaps her best-known work, argues that capitalism depends on a constant supply of women’s unwaged labor. Federici sat down for this interview while she was on a tour to promote her new book, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Common Notions), a collection of essays written over the last forty years. In conversation, Federici moves smoothly between history, theory, and present struggles, hardly stopping for breath, almost vibrating with concern and indignation.
Smita Nadia Hussain (chaaweb.org)
is a poet, blogger and photographer who serves in leadership capacities
for local young Democrat and API organizations, including Community
Health for Asian Americans (CHAA), the English Center and the National
Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF). She recently traveled
with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in Vietnam.
My parents are from Bangladesh, a country birthed from genocide. People were victimized; tongues were cut off. They wanted independence and were literally fighting for their voice. They demanded the right to speak their language and fought for democracy. When the civil war happened in 1971, a lot of the guerilla fighters were women. Many were executed. Half a million women were raped in nine months. Yet, they still stood up.
We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
Activistas from the New Majority
At the Empowering Women of Color conference in March this year, I was moved to hear Grace Lee Boggs, in an open dialogue with Angela Davis, say that we must re-imagine everything; change how we think, what we do, to re-invent our society and institutions in order for revolution to happen. And as I listened to female MC and rapper Rocky Rivera give short glimpses into the revolutionary lives of three iconic women activists—Gabriela Silang, Dolores Huerta, and Angela Davis—in the 16 bars of “Heart,” I wondered who would be our next movement builders.
Disrupting Business As Usual For ‘Hells Fargo’
In the midst of a national recession indelibly identified with the foreclosure crisis, Wells Fargo’s 2011 profits rose 28 percent, to $15.9 billion. As a result, CEO John Stumpf’s 2012 compensation package totaled nearly $20 million. In years past, the bank’s annual shareholder’s meeting came and went without a second thought. Not so in 2012. This year, Occupy protestors—aka the “99%”—planned an action to disrupt business as usual.
The action took place April 24, at the Merchant Exchange building on California and Montgomery Sts. —smack dab in the middle of a “1%” stronghold, San Francisco’s financial district.
Before the meeting started, a colorfully-dressed man, who identified himself as Franzo King, Archbishop of the Church of John Coltrane, explained why he had come. Among the many injustices he was concerned about were “illegal evictions and foreclosures behind predatory loans, and the way that is affecting our communities. The African communities and the brown communities are really being destroyed.”
The numbers are alarming. In recent years, the federal government has cut 400,000 vouchers from Section 8—the program that provides housing subsidies for low income people—even as 300,000 units of public housing have been turned into for-profit developments, rendering them unavailable to low-income people. Meanwhile, 2.5 million foreclosures have worsened the housing crisis for the poor.
These big numbers are more than real estate figures; they are real people—families with children, people in ill health, the elderly. But rather than trying to help them, cities are issuing “sit/lie bans” and “public commons for everyone” laws, which make it illegal to “loiter” in a public space. Criminalizing these simple acts and making them subject to police harassment and arrest is an egregious violation of the civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by our democracy. Yet it happens to homeless people all the time.
In a survey of 716 homeless people in 13 different communities, the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) found that 78 percent reported being harassed, cited or arrested for sleeping; 75 percent for sitting or lying on the sidewalk; and 76 percent for loitering or hanging out. Only 25 percent said they knew of a safe place to sleep at night.
The confluence of the Occupy movement and demographic change is shifting the public discourse about class and race and breaking ground for new political spaces. In the tumultuous months since the February 2011 takeover of Wisconsin’s Capitol, Occupy Wall Street as well as actions at stockholder meetings of banks and protests by university students and faculty have shed light on who owns our wealth and how they use it. (Baham)* The failure of the recall effort in Wisconsin emphasizes the urgency of constructing new spaces in which our majority coalitions can come together outside the constraints of corporate-dominated political parties to develop creative and effective strategies.
Faced with the dual threat of a rising majority of voters of color in many key states and mass public demonstrations against economic inequality, the system is pushing back. Supreme Court decisions ceding increased power to corporations as “persons” have in effect privatized the election process. Right-wing strategists are backing voter suppression and anti-immigrant legislation in states across the nation, seeking to fan racial animosity and redirect popular anger toward scapegoats (Keyes et al., Lewis, Kromm, Bacon).
As Governor Scott Walker explained to one of his billionaire backers, the public workers in Wisconsin got the brunt of a classic “divide and conquer” strategy—but instead of going after immigrants, gays, or women, this attack targeted workers who are one step up on the economic ladder: public sector employees.