Thursday, September 25, 2008

Finally, we're talking about inappropriate police force in St. Paul.

...aaand, I thought you all might like to hear some choice quotes (note that whatever appears in quotations marks below is a direct quote, not a scare quote):

Elliot Hughes, who claims that he was "tortured" by police using "pressure point tactics" on him in the Ramsey County jail: "I was screaming, crying, begging God for mercy."

Leah Lane, who was maced at close range by several officers because she would not move (she is, I believe, the one you've probably seen on YouTube who was offering the police a flower):
"I heard them yell, 'Mace her.' I was a little bit scared, but you can't let fear control you. There's more important things at hand than me."

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, on why he didn't attend the "community conversation" about the convention:
"We're not going to be part of any gathering that implies that we should be sympathetic to the anarchists that were bent on destroying St. Paul." Elsewhere, he is quoted as saying that if the "500 anarchists" had not been stopped on day 1 of the convention, "this town would have been destroyed."

St. Paul Police Federation president, Dave Titus, on public reaction to evidence of police force:
"As the public starts seeing a few frames of video or hearing a few seconds of audio or are looking at still photographs, they have to realize there is a lot more leading up to and surrounding all of these situations. Let's face it: No amount of force, no matter how justified, ever looks pretty."

St. Paul Police Federation president, Dave Titus, on why he didn't attend the "community conversation" about the convention:
"I knew there was going to be a large contingency of people who could care less about the truth and that only wanted to bash the cops."

St. Paul Police Federation president, Dave Titus, on use of force by police:
"I'm going to guess that not everything was done just perfectly, but it was done in good faith, I will guarantee you that. Let's look at the overall picture. A minimal amount of force...was used."

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman:
"St. Paul's police department and its officers are deeply respected by the residents of this city and they deserve to be. Nothing about what happened two weeks ago should change that."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Steinem and Katie battle it out.

Bean had his very first ever sleepover last night, which means that I am exhausted this morning, and in my exhaustion, poking around various blogs I haven't had time to read lately. I checked out BlackAmazon and read her strong response to Steinem's new essay on Sarah Palin. She links to a piece at Katie's place (notice her blog, Historic (p)Reservation, is now on the blogroll) that is really an excellent response to the last nine months or so of feminist primary politics.

Here's a link to the Steinem piece that BA and Katie are responding to. As I post this, I haven't yet read this latest Steinem essay, so picture me with my steaming mug of something on this chilly, damp day, as we read together.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thoughts on feminist processing.

When I was in graduate school, some of my peers were involved in something called "Collective." This group was, yes, a collective, and it was made up of students who were teaching together - teaching colleagues, one might say. The aim of the group was to use collective process to help grad students, working in teams, to teach sections of the same intro Women's Studies course. The collective would meet each week to go over the readings for the upcoming class sessions and to process issues that were coming up in the group, either within the teaching dyads, within the various class sessions, or within the collective group itself.

The meetings, scheduled for about two hours, frequently ran long. My friends would emerge from Collective looking dazed. I would often hear stories about who had cried in Collective, who had made someone else cry, who had made a patently racist/classist/heterosexist comment, who was oppressing someone else with her privilege.

These exchanges were made possible by the use of Criticism/Self-Criticism, or Crit/Self-Crit, for short. This was, in effect, an open opportunity for anyone to publicly level charges against anyone else in the group, as well as to also note what one has realized about one's own abuse of privilege. The purpose was to allow for people to help each other to recognize their own places of privilege, and to challenge each other when it seemed they were stuck in an "ism."

But this practice quickly meant that a competition for most oppressed/least privileged, as well as least oppressive/best ally, was under way.

The typical pattern was this. Someone would do something to upset another member of the Collective; this very often happened within teaching dyads. The person who was upset would then go to others in (and also those outside of) the Collective and complain. By the time the week's meeting had rolled around, everyone in the Collective was already angry with each other, having taken sides in whatever fight was brewing. Instead of a private discussion, the teaching dyad would now have involved everyone in the Collective, as well as many friends on the outside, in the debate. Stories were spread widely of L.'s classism, of S.'s homophobia. You might think that this was an opportunity for women of color and lesbians and working class women to finally have a voice - and at first, it seemed like it might be. But what happened very quickly was that everyone became subject to a vicious process. Almost no one was protected (I will say more about this in a minute). M. denouncing L.'s classism one week felt like righteous justice, and therefore, was done harshly. But two weeks later, L. was the one harshly denouncing M.'s homophobia. Always, ALWAYS, someone was near tears, someone was enraged, and everyone was exhausted. And all of this was shared in the public forum of the Collective, and often leaked out into the even more public forum of the school at large.

Let's not forget one important reason that people didn't immediately reject such a difficult and painful system: it was likely that, no matter how humiliated or hurt they were one week, they would get to chastise someone the following week. They would be the one who would get to school someone else on appropriate language, behavior, or dress. That opportunity is very tantalizing, folks.

Was there learning? Probably. I do think that everyone learned something about their own privilege and prejudice. But at what cost? Several people lost friends. And no one, it seemed, learned anything about confrontation. No one learned how to say to a working partner, romantic partner, or friend, "hey, I'm really upset about this. Can we discuss it?" The process was tilted toward venting, not toward using "I" language.

There was one instance I recall in which one person seemed, for a time, to remain exempt from criticism. She managed to constantly cast herself as most oppressed in the group, and this was ingenious, because it meant that she had all the power in the group. It meant that she could - and did - make anti-Semitic comments, for example, and that no one would call her on them. It meant that she could - and did - bully other people in the group because everyone was so cowed by her that they were sure that she must be right - until she turned her fury on them. Because what she was after was not justice, but power. (I googled her: she's a grassroots activist, and I'm sure she's very successful at what she does. But I would never want to work with her.)

It reminds me of an earlier post about what happens when you try to dismantle privilege through a concerted effort to oppress someone (i.e., forceably remove what you perceive as their privilege). It doesn't work. It makes a lot of people miserable, and at the end of the day, all that you've proven is that you are a bully.

If we want to see real change, if we want to challenge each other to eradicate the isms that we have hidden inside us, then the route to that is never public shaming. The only route to that is direct dialogue. How many times lately have we seen positive outcomes - for anyone - from public shaming? Seriously?

Sometimes, let's be honest, the goal is not change. Sometimes, when someone is standing on your neck, you don't have the luxury of saying, "hey, you probably didn't mean to, and you maybe don't even notice, but you are standing on my neck right now. Could you step back?" In that case, the proper response is, "get the hell OFF!" But in this case, it really doesn't matter what reaction this receives, as long as the person gets off your neck, right? And the problem with feminist processing is that we confuse our goals. We think that we want to have productive dialogue, when we really want to yell, "get the hell OFF!" And there's certainly a place for that.

Am I saying that people with their feet on other people's necks get a pass? Of course not! If someone tells you to get the hell off, you should immediately jump back. This is not the time to stand there talking about how you didn't mean to put your foot there, and are they sure you're really actually stepping on them because you're pretty sure you're not, and so on. But the reality is that most people are incapable of doing this, or at least are unlikely to do this. And so that means that it's time to strategize. What do you want to happen? What's the most likely way to make that happen?

At the end of the day, "process" has become, at least in some circles, a sort of safe way to gossip: "I need to process what happened" means "I really need to vent about that assholish thing P. did." And if I vent to you about this, then I certainly don't need to talk to P. about it and tell her that she really upset/hurt me. But that's not processing, that's gossiping and venting, and it doesn't move anyone forward, ever.

I don't think many people look back on Collective as a shining example of how to treat each other well as feminists, nor as an example of a useful feminist process. And as for me, when I start to hear Collective-like approaches for dealing with conflict, I run as fast as I can in the other direction. I'll take my conflict direct, please - not behind my back, not in passive-aggressive emails - just honestly, like maybe you respect me a little. Because I respect you. I might not always be able to hear you right away, but I almost always get there. And I am willing to bet that you do, too.

Update on the Lesbian 7.

From Natasha (thank you!!):

"here's an update and info on a benefit taking place next week:

Renata's mother died from an ulcer (and stress, no doubt) and the judge would not let her attend her mothers funeral! The following is from the website: Renata Hill, sentenced to 11 years with the NJ 4, won her appeal this summer and has been given a new trial on September 3, 2008. Her bail was set at $75,000 and has spent her time until now at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility in New York. Last week, her bail was lowered to $5,000. Friends, family, and supporters from all over the country sent donations for Renata’s release.

On August 29, 2008, Renata left Riker’s Island to join her family and friends, including Terrain Daindrige from the NJ 4 released after her successful appeal this summer, in Newark until her court date [in early September].

She and Terrain will be guest speakers, among others, at the Brecht Forum on September 16, 2008 at 7:00 pm to help further fundraising for the New Jersey 7. The benefit will raise support for all of the women who were originally involved in the incident over 2 years ago. The three women that were not incarcerated still face probation and other hardships due to their criminal records. Venice Brown also has a reachable $5,000 bail and Patreese Brown is anticipating her appellate trial sometime in November.
next Tuesday 9.16.08 at 7pm in NYC, there will be a benefit to raise bail money for the girls. I can email a flyer. If you can please forward and put the word out, that would be such a Blessing!"

Monday, September 08, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Thoughts from St. Paul.

Following another day of arrests, and after reflecting on the last week, I have some thoughts:

1) In many ways, the anarchists won. Their goal was apparently to create chaos and anarchy, and this they did. If their plan was to cause chaos for the RNC delegates, however, they missed their mark: what they did was to severely disrupt the civil liberties of the citizens of the Twin Cities and their visitors.

I have not had a whole lot of contact with police at demonstrations. I have marched on Washington a couple of times for queer rights and reproductive rights, and I held a line against "Operation Save America" when they invaded Buffalo a while back. The advantage we had then was that we were not throwing things at the police, nor were we being wantonly destructive. I am pretty sure that those who did these things in St. Paul expected the brutal response they received, and if not, then they should have. I'm quite sure the organizers did, and they are to blame for putting in harm's way any youth who didn't have a good sense of what they were up against.

Yes, I'm playing the middle-aged card. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: neither is ignorance of history. If you are planning to confront police in riot gear, you should at least have learned from the innumberable lessons of the past what will happen next. It's great to be dewy-eyed and committed, but you also need to be shrewd and to educate yourself.

2) I am angry at the anarchist groups that ruined what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration of people who have, many of them, committed their lives to peace. It's easy to disrupt someone else's event, and it probably makes you feel powerful. That doesn't mean that your movement has any substance to it. Know that what you did was to overshadow what would have been a significant showing of peaceful protest, something that would have had an impact on the rest of the nation. Already, because of you, the RNC, most if not all of the Republican Party, and many Democrats have dismissed the entire protest as simply a bunch of hoodlums who wanted to create havoc. You didn't care about stopping the war or the Republican machine. You just wanted to get out there and break things, and this was a great excuse for you to do it. Thanks for nothing.

3) I am angry at the St. Paul police, along with the Minneapolis police, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Secret Service. In the process of responding to real threats from the anarchist groups, these groups used excessive force, which is a euphemism that means they beat people badly, they used rubber bullets, tasers, tear gas, and pepper spray - and they used this excessive force not only against folks who had weapons, but against folks who were just standing there, who were not part of the anarchist groups, and who were not even in the vicinity of the riots. They also arrested people without cause. They arrested members of the press who had identified themselves and showed the police their id - and some of these were charged with rioting. They shot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors practicing civil disobedience because the group would not disperse. Their violence was not limited to those few people who were setting fires and attacking delegates (and you can see Bfp for a discussion of whether, in such cases, excessive force is really ok (for some reason, I can't get her page to load, so I can only link you to the blog home and not to the specific piece that I am thinking of)).

How is it that we accept that police may round up peaceful citizens and press - and then shoot rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd? On MPR this morning, Mayor Coleman stated in defense of these brutal acts that took place yesterday that the police had warned the crowd numerous times to disperse. Do we as a society think these tactics are appropriate for dispersing a peaceful crowd? In some cases, police confronted with this scenario have chosen to stand down and allow the crowd to have its sit-in. The only crime here was that the marchers stayed beyond their permit time. Is this a tear gas worthy crime?

4) I am angry at St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for not standing up for the citizens of his city and for taking sides with the police against them. He seems to see nothing wrong with the police catching up innocent bystanders and peaceful protestors in a sweep, yet stories have been surfacing all week of people asking police for help or being told by the police to head in a certain direction to get away from the protests and leave, but finding that when they got where the police had directed them to go, they were surrounded and arrested.

5) I am angry at the journalists in St. Paul and nationwide who have not covered the stories of the arrests of journalists. That these arrests have gone largely unnoticed is particularly striking, as it suggests a sense that we as a society believe that the police and other law-enforecement officials have absolute power to use as they see fit. In fact, they do not. They are subject to the law, and when they arrest someone without cause, when they arrest members of the press, when they use excessive forece, when they do this on a routine basis, as they appear to have done over the last week, it suggests that they are 1) incompetent; 2) drunk with power; or 3) attempting to suppress free speech. I sincerely hope that what we have seen here is incompetence and that it will be rectified.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

First grade, so far...

...involves daily recitation of the Pledge and the singing of patriotic songs.

...means not being allowed to use the playground equipment, and instead having to play variations of tag (helicopter tag, freeze tag, other forms of tag that I don't know about) with the entire class. Every day. (I suppose I should be grateful that it isn't dodgeball.)

...apparently means doing the same homework every day, and boring homework, at that. (I am not kidding.) therefore so frighteningly close to my own experiences in elementary school OVER THIRTY YEARS AGO that I am a bit put off.

I will keep you posted.

Creepy-crawlies are better than Republicans.

I'm depressed. Between Sarah Palin, "overzealous" Twin Cities cops, the sudden cold snap, and the likelihood that I'm about to get my period, all I want to do is crawl under the covers with hot chocolate and a good book.

Of course, when there's a sudden cold snap like this one, other things want to crawl in and find warmer places to be, as well. Last night, just after midnight, just as I was falling asleep, I saw something in the corner of the room in the light of the t.v. It looked too small to be another centipede, and when I flipped on the light, it was revealed to be a large black spider, the kind that is equally body and legs and so looks strapping and formidable.

I wished Mr. P was here.

The cats were very excited, and stretched themselves out, standing on top of the television, in an unsuccessful attempt to reach it. I shooed them away, worried that their long claws might reach into the vents on the top of the set and get them shocked.

I sat on the edge of the bed, watching Sons of Anarchy with one eye and the spider with the other eye. Eventually, I figured, it would come a little further down the wall where I would be able to reach it with my bug zapper. I've never used the zapper, and while I have seen it used, I was still certain that, when I went to zap it, the spider would come flying out at me like something out of Arachnophobia. But after about a half hour, I realized that I was going to have to get over my fear and deal with it. The thing hadn't moved in all that time, and besides, if it crawled up to the ceiling where I couldn't reach it, I'd be up all night for fear it would fall on me. I dragged in a dining room chair, climbed up on it, pressed the buttons, and zapped it. I was so certain that it was going to suddenly attack me, even though it was pretty clearly dead, that I held the buttons down, watching the corpse spark, until I was worried I might mar the wall. I had so much adrenaline flowing through me that I was shaking, and it took me a while to calm down enough to get back into bed and go to sleep.

Even so, it feels better to write about the spider than to write about Sarah Palin and the RNC.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Please help: urge CNN and NBC to cover the journalists' arrests.

Go to the link below and send your own message. You can also cut and paste this message to anyone you like.

Dear Friend,

Jailing journalists is unacceptable in a democracy. But that's exactly what is happening at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Award winning journalist and host of "Democracy Now" Amy Goodman was arrested by St. Paul police while covering a protest outside the Republican National Convention. Though clearly identified as press, Goodman was charged with "obstruction of a legal process and interference with a 'peace officer.'" Two of her producers were arrested for "suspicion of felony riot."

To tell you that this arrest was brutal and upsetting simply doesn't do it justice. Watch this video to see for yourself. Then take action.

I just e-mailed the presidents of CNN and NBC News (which oversees MSNBC) to demand that their networks cover this important story. I hope you will too.

Please have a look and take action.


Nicole Salazar released - details her arrest

Check this out on YouTube.

Also, listen to this interview with Amy Goodman, which details the arrests, as well, and which reveals that police have been arresting citizens without cause. Goodman also details the raids that took place before the Convention began.

During this show, Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous tells host Thom Hartmann that he witnessed a New York Post photographer who had been arrested and was cuffed screaming at the police, "for Christ's sakes, I work for a Republican newspaper!"

Welcome to the military state.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

St. Paul cops leave boot prints on your back.

Even if you're only 17.

Police tear gas peaceful demonstrators

See this piece on MPR, which has actually done some good reporting, though they have been nearly ignoring the story of the arrests of the journalists.

Video of unlawful - and violent - arrest of journalist in St. Paul.

Deomcracy Now producer Nicole Salazar's arrest.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Is St. Paul making the news where you are? I'm not talking about the RNC.

I mean, specifically, that the cops have gone apeshit and unlawfully arrested three Democracy Now! journalists. That they pepper-sprayed a woman who was standing in front of them holding a flower.

And this, after two days of raiding homes and several days of detaining and harassing photojournalists.

No, I do not condone the behavior of those who purportedly attacked delegates, slashed tires, set a fire, and basically did teenage bullshit acts of defiance rather than civil disobedience. But the police behavior still is not ok.

America, I hope you're hearing about this.