Tag Archives: women

100 women are marching 100 miles for migrant dignity

100 women in matching t-shirts walk along the side of the road, holding signs that say "We Belong Together."

100 women continue their march for migrant dignity. (via We Belong Together Facebook page)

Starting yesterday, 100 women began a 100-mile pilgrimage from York County Detention Center to Washington D.C., just in time for the Pope’s arrival. Each woman carries her own story of dealing with our country’s inhumane immigration system: facing deportation herself, living with family members in detention, or being continually excluded from the Obama administration’s deportation relief efforts

Take Rosi Carrasco, a leader in the movement for migrant rights, who has lived in the country for 20 years yet is still not eligible for deferred action. She has risked deportation multiple times participating in civil disobedience actions to fight for humane immigration policy, and this week, she’ll be doing it again.

Or Ana Cañenguez, who is wearing the same shoes that she wore while walking five days through the desert with her children to cross into the country. She is currently in deportation proceedings, but she is marching. Monique Nguyen’s family, refugees from Vietnam, have all left the US because of rising anti-immigrant sentiment, but she is marching today. Rosario Reyes is marching in the hopes that she will one day be reunited with her son, who she left in El Salvador 12 years ago.

One of the marchers, Juana Flores, remembers the last time the Pope visited her home. She was a nun at the time, living in Oaxaca, Mexico, and she helped to prepare his meals. Now she is co-director of the San Francisco organization Mujeres Unidas y Activas, which provides services to women dealing with intimate partner violence and workplace mistreatment. Juana wrote about her experience as an immigrant in California, and why she is marching today with 99 other women.

“When I came to the United States, I was one of the people [the Pope] describes as “leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions.” I had left the religious life, and brought my two young children with me. Upon arrival, I did not receive the welcome Pope Francis describes as the duty of each country.

With raids happening regularly in my neighborhood in San Francisco, I was scared to leave the house. Street names and new customs were unfamiliar. I saw neighbors taken away and families who had come to escape violence sent back into those precarious situations.

Facing that adversity in Mexico had affirmed my decision to transition to lay life and come to the United States. During the decade I spent in the convent, I was taught dedication, discipline and integrity. But I realized that I had a different calling, to live out God’s mission alongside people and immersed in the daily workings of the world, not removed from it.”

These aren’t just any women who are marching this week. No, the Pope has an army coming at him: 100 courageous and fierce advocates shaking the earth with their march as they call for dignity and justice for migrants everywhere.

Read more about the march and see where participants are stopping along the way.

Header image credit: We Belong Together Facebook page

In this together: Pay attention to Europe’s refugee crisis

For weeks now the so-called “Migrants Crisis” has dominated headlines in Europe. While I traveled across the continent a few weeks ago it was a top story again and again in the UK, Sweden, and Denmark, with headlines blaring out from airport and railway newsagents’ in a dozen languages. But it has garnered considerably less attention in the United States until very recently. As I write this, a stunningly tragic picture, one of those pieces of photojournalism that defines an era, is now blasted across the top of the Huffington Post website: a Turkish police officer carrying the limp body of a drowned boy from a resort beach Wednesday morning.

Death stretches across the Mediterranean and into Europe’s mountainous interior. Refugees, many fleeing from Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s ISIS-fuelled violence, were found dead by the dozens in the back of a truck in Austria. More had to be taken to a local hospital after another overcrowded vehicle was found by Austrian police. Hundreds die annually trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea, thousands more are now caught in the vertiginous limbo of refugee life in impromptu camps in Calais, France, near the mouth of the Eurotunnel, and throughout the Balkans.

As I write, hundreds of refugees are camped inside a Budapest train station, many of them are ticket-holders but are being blocked by police from boarding any westward bound trains. Desperate refugees have clashed with often abusive riot police firing tear gas into crowds of people that include children and the ill throughout the southeastern EU, from Greece through Macedonia to Hungary. Many of the refugees wish to push on to Northern European countries.

But the reaction has, obviously, been an embittered one, and the image of non-white refugees as a crowd seeking access to European states has created no small measure of panic on the far right. We are now seeing an apotheosis of cruelty in Europe, including repeated firebombing of asylum-seeker hostels in Germany, and mass slander perpetrated on the refugees and migrants at Calais by the British media — aggression which is only now beginning to be met with organized displays of humanity and kindness, such as a crowd of well-wishers greeting a train full of refugees in Vienna.

This deserves the full attention of American feminists.

Much of the racist rhetoric directed at this new stream of migrants and refugees is entirely of a piece with the surge in anti-immigrant sentiment that has accompanied the improbable rise of Donald Trump as a Republican presidential candidate. Indeed, his resonance with a violently angry core of American Nativism is, I would argue, part of the same phenomenon as the success of the UK Independence Party in Britain, Jobbik in Hungary, the Sweden Democrats in Sweden, and the Danish People’s Party in Denmark.

Liberal democracy is being profoundly tested at this moment in our history; we’ve become so inured to the spectacle of hysterical bigotry on rolling news that we may be taking a gradual coarsening for granted. Much of the fire behind Britain’s renewed push to break away from the European Union has to do with the (false) idea that EU-wide human rights infrastructure is preventing Britain from “securing its borders.” Meanwhile the far right is on the march in countries like France and Sweden. Closing borders and hardening hearts seems to be what one grim chorus in Europe is calling for.

At the same time, back across the Atlantic, Canada, which has been lumbered with a conservative government for years, has been turning the screws on its immigrants and making it ever more difficult to obtain Canadian citizenship. In addition, the nation has opened a terrifying legal Pandora’s Box by passing C-24 which, among other things, creates a two-tiered citizenship system whereby Canadian citizens who are dual-citizens or had immigrated to Canada can have their citizenship revoked at any time by the government.

The fight against immigrants and the fear of a world with looser or (heaven forfend) open borders is increasingly a global phenomenon (I haven’t even mentioned the slow-motion tragedy of Australia’s militaristic approach to asylum seekers).

But there is an example that I conclude this SOS with.

***

The Öresundståg is a remarkable train that speeds across the five mile long span of the Oresund bridge between Denmark and Sweden. It is as much an inspiring civic ideal as it is a feat of engineering. After a conference in Malmö, Sweden, I hopped on the train to Copenhagen to spend a long weekend before flying home, riding between two separate countries with different languages and cultures, as easily as if I were taking the subway from the Bronx to Manhattan, and in the same amount of time (approximately 35 minutes).

No immigration control or passports checked, no humiliating security theater, just a free flow of people and ideas between nations. On the train I saw families speaking a variety of languages — Spanish, Danish, Portuguese, Arabic, Swedish — and people speaking Nordic languages who were non-white. Backpackers, professionals, families young and old. Muslims, Christians, atheists, and at least one witch.

It puts the march of the far right in Europe into perspective, and the recent success of racist parties in both Denmark and Sweden into stark relief. Targets were painted on the backs of so many people I saw on that train, on the idea that the train represented, even.

This is by no means to gloss over the real challenges that these many people may face; New York City’s diversity does not, after all, absolve this city or its leaders of ongoing struggles with racism and police brutality, for instance. But there is something beautiful in the idea that so many diverse people were able to move from one country to the next without so much as a glance at documentation. Somewhere over the Oresund lay the spirit of free movement; there were no hordes, no lawlessness, no crime or vulgarity, just people in motion riding towards the sunset in another land, denuded of mystery and magic, woven into the fabric of their everyday lives.

That is as it should be, and it is an ideal we should recognize as being threatened worldwide. The days for liberals to look to Europe and Canada as secure harbingers of a progressive future are well and truly over, and we must raise our voices in defense of the ideals we claim to hold dear, athwart parochialism and chauvinism.

Header image credit: Wikipedia

Pope Francis says Catholics can be forgiven for having abortions if they’re contrite

In a new order, Pope Francis says that during the Vatican’s upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, priests are allowed to absolve Catholics who have had an abortion of their “grave sin” as long as they really, really regret it.

The extraordinary order by Francis, which temporarily allows all priests to grant forgiveness to women who have elected to have an abortion and regret the procedure, is part of the church’s jubilee year of mercy, which begins on 8 December and runs until 20 November 2016.

Within an hour of releasing the letter, the Vatican released another statement in response to a flood of queries, emphasising that the church did not “condone abortion nor minimise its grave effects”.

The letter will be seen as further evidence that Francis, the first Latin American pope, is approaching his papacy as a liberal-minded reformer and is seeking to reach out to Catholics who believe the church – and its usually uncompromising attitudes towards abortion, homosexuality and divorce – is out of touch with modern social views.

The Pope may well see himself as a reformer, but he’s still pretty out of touch. According to statistics compiled by Catholics for Choice, in the United States, 99 percent of sexually active Catholics have used a Vatican-banned form of contraception. Only 14 percent agree with the Church’s position that abortion should be illegal. Catholic women have abortions at the exact same rate as other women. Perhaps because their own values on matters of sex, contraception, and abortion are so radically different from official Catholic teachings, four out of five Catholic voters feel no obligation to vote the way bishops recommend.

If this order gives a sense of relief to some of the millions of Catholic believers who’ve had an abortion, that’s great and I’m glad for it. But as Reina showed in her recent piece on religious advocates for reproductive rights, there are plenty of true reformers within the Catholic Church who see abortion not as shameful sin one should regret but as a matter of personal conscious and social justice — and believe faith shouldn’t be dictated by the male-dominated Church hierarchy.

Header image credit: Fabrizio Belluschi/Demotix/Corbis

Arizona school district adds abstinence-only, anti-choice sticker to science textbook

In Arizona, public schools do not have to teach sex education but if they do, they are required by law to stress abstinence. Another state law passed a few years ago requires that public school programs “present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.” 

Last year, the conservative Gilbert School District decided that to fully compile with the law they should probably censor the parts of the high school honors biology textbook that mention contraception and abortion. Because we all know that mentioning the fact of the existence of something amounts to promoting it. They seem to have dropped their original plan to literally just rip out those pages, and instead are handing out these stickers and requiring students to put them on the inside cover of their book as a little reminder of the state’s values.

This. THIS is a sticker my son’s public high school just forced all students to put in their science books: http://pic.twitter.com/MmVM1xu0Xf

— Suzanne Young (@suzanne_young) August 19, 2015

Translation: “We believe in withholding information on how to prevent unintended pregnancies from you. We believe in withholding information on how to end any unintended pregnancy you may have thanks to the fact that we have purposefully withheld information on how to prevent one. Though we are educators charged with giving you the information you need to succeed in life, we wash our hands of this matter.”

Straight Outta Compton: Another step in the legacy of erasing Black women

This post contains spoilers for the film Straight Outta Compton.

Straight Outta Compton crushed the box office this weekend, providing commentary on street life and shining a bright light on police brutality in the 80s and 90s. The film is groundbreaking in terms of subject – a biopic of Black men whose names are not Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Much like the lyrics of NWA’s anthem “Fuck Tha Police,” Straight Outta Compton gives the police industrial complex the middle finger with many scenes involving police confrontation and shakedowns that extend beyond “driving while Black,” and explore “living while Black.” Those scenes are especially poignant in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement and the renewed focus on police brutality and violence towards Black people.

This exploration happens alongside the disbelief of the primary white character, Jerry Heller, of what he witnesses as the everyday experiences of these men. No scene makes this more clear than when the members of NWA step outside of the recording studio only to be confronted by multiple police officers who happen to be in the area. The officers rough them up, demand that they lie face down on the ground, and refuse to believe that they have a purpose for being near the studio other than to cause trouble and “look like gangsters.” The first officer to arrive, and the most active in the shakedown, is Black. Jerry Heller takes in the scene and vocalizes his incredulous bewilderment at what he perceives to be the violation of constitutional rights. It’s a complicated and nuanced scene that exposes the many layers of lived experiences throughout different segments of society. We see Heller confronted with his own privilege and disbelief at actions by the police, and we also see the complex nature of living in a racist society that bathes everyone in White Supremacy, including Black police officers.

Straight Outta Compton is bold, invigorating, and reminded me of all the things I do love about rap music. It also reinforces, affirms, and glorifies the systems in place that dehumanize, commodify, and erase Black women.

The portrayal and treatment of women in the film is despicable, completely glorifying the misogyny laced in some of NWAs lyrics without restraint or critique. Alongside the brutal critique of policing in the United States exists a dangerous ambivalence and disregard for Black women. The male characters in the film paraded around throngs of topless women like trophies and reflections of their status of achievement. At points, these women were literally cast aside, and at one point Ice Cube pushed a topless woman – named Felicia – out of the hotel room in retaliation for her boyfriend searching for her and interrupting the party. With a simple “Bye, Felicia”, the audience was instructed to make light of her rejection and subsequently her status as replaceable and easily discarded. To compound the visual treatment of women, only four women had reoccurring speaking roles in the film: Dr. Dre’s mother, and three women who played girlfriends of Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Dr. Dre. Other than Dre’s mother, they were all light skinned. The only Black woman of a darker complexion who spoke regularly in the film was the stereotype of a tough loving matriarch trying to keep her kids alive. She lacked depth as portrayed in the film.

Straight Outta Compton may focus on the lives of five men, but that does not give the film a pass to literally cast women aside and continuously objectify them, or completely leave out Dr. Dre’s own history of violence, in favor of stories that “better serve the narrative.” Nor is this the first time when a strong social critique of society’s treatment of Black men that completely tosses aside Black women. There is an uncomfortable thread through social movements and media portrayal that has constructed Blackness as male, consistently placing women on the margins. This is not just a Straight Outta Compton problem. It is a social, political, and pop culture problem.

The fight to see the names of Black women incorporated into the litany of chants and tweets in the #BlackLivesMatter conversations exist in the shadow of the Civil Rights Movement and Black women fighting to be seen alongside the men recognized as leading the movement. Until Sandra Bland, there had not been a comparable national outcry about the death of a Black woman to that of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, despite the fact that many Black women have lost their lives.

The political sphere does not exist in a vacuum, instead functioning in tandem with popular culture to influence society. Whether it is movies, music, or comedy, elements of culture heralded as strong representations of Blackness consistently mistreat Black women.

Straight Outta Compton is the kind of movie people will talk about for years, but it is important that we don’t just discuss police brutality and social commentary. Just underneath the surface lurks the legacy of neglect and violence inflicted upon Black women that demands to be seen. Black women deserve the justice of recognition and acknowledgement. Straight Outta Compton should have done better, as should we all.

Header Image Credit: Genius

Happy 80th Birthday, Social Security

20150814_social_security_american_classiIt was eighty years ago today that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. But it’s more than its age that makes Social Security an American classic.

  • We built it—and it represents our shared values. Generation after generation, working Americans have contributed to create our Social Security system—to provide income and security for themselves, their families, and their neighbors when they need it.
  • We built it to last. Through wars, recessions, and natural disasters, Social Security has delivered the benefits workers have earned for themselves and their families—on time and in full.
  • We made Social Security better. President Roosevelt himself said that the law he signed “represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but which is by no means complete.” We’ve added protections for spouses, surviving spouses, divorced spouses, and children; for workers with disabilities and their families; extended coverage to more workers; provided automatic cost-of-living adjustments; and eliminated sex discrimination in the award of benefits.

Working together to improve Social Security made it an American classic. What’s next?

  • Insist that Congress prevents deep cuts to Social Security Disability Insurance next year. There are simple solutions to this phony crisis. Congress could rebalance Social Security’s finances between its two Trust Funds, as it has 11 times before. Or, it could unify the Trust Funds—recognizing that there is One Social Security system and it is still going strong. Under either approach, Social Security could pay 100 percent of all promised benefits until 2034. And after that, even with no changes, Social Security can pay 79 percent of promised benefits from the payroll taxes workers and employers will continue to pay into Social Security.
  • Strengthen Social Security’s finances by increasing revenue, not cutting benefits; for example, by requiring high earners to pay Social Security payroll taxes on all their earnings, the way the vast majority of Americans do.
  • Increase vital but modest Social Security benefits. Several bills to enhance benefits and improve solvency have been introduced in this Congress.

So Happy Birthday Social Security—and many, many more.

Where is Bernie Sanders on Gender Justice?

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

I want to support Bernie. I really do. He’s right on the money to call for expanding Social Security, the most effective anti-poverty program in the United States. And I am more than down to fight alongside him against rampant inequality and for better wages and working conditions.

But I have to ask. Why does Bernie struggle so much to talk about gender? Why is it like pulling teeth for him to talk about my identity as a woman in addition to my identity as a worker?

I took a look through his platform recently, and I didn’t exactly see women represented there. For one, most of the policies that would disproportionately benefit women (equal pay, paid family leave, paid vacation, and paid sick days) are housed within the “Real Family Values” section, a classification that implicitly characterizes women’s rights as valuable only insofar as they benefit a larger family unit.

And while the platform mentions abortion briefly, it fails to offer any recommendations about how to preserve and expand access. Due to the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used for abortion except in limited circumstances. This restriction means that, as a result of economic deprivation, poor women, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, can be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. To reduce these barriers to women accessing basic health care services, Bernie should throw his support behind the EACH Woman Act, a recently introduced piece of legislation that, according to RH Reality Check, “would ensure that anyone who has health care or health insurance through the federal government also has coverage of abortion care.”

I also couldn’t help but notice the largest proposed expenditure in Bernie’s platform, which would allocate $1 trillion over five years to modernize our infrastructure. Bernie claims it would create 13 million jobs. From an economics standpoint, this makes perfect sense, as government spending on infrastructure has a strongly positive effect on economic output.

But I have to ask again, jobs for whom? While infrastructure spending creates a lot of employment opportunities, these openings are disproportionately filled by men. In fact, due to harassment and discrimination, women make up only 26% of all construction workers. In order for the gains of Bernie’s proposal to be more equitably shared, he must also explicitly embrace the National Women’s Law Center recommendations of ensuring stronger enforcement of workplace protections and an expansion of training opportunities. While this is just one example, it demonstrates why strong economic investments that fail to take identity-based barriers into account are incomplete.

However, in the past few weeks, Bernie has started to recognize that not all inequality boils down to class inequality, particularly around the issue of race. In response to powerful #BlackLivesMatter activism, he released his racial justice platform before an enormous crowd of 28,000 people in Portland on Monday night. This document is intended to address physical, political, legal, and economic violence perpetuated against Black and Brown people in this country and opens with the names of Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, and others who have died at the hands of law enforcement or in police custody. Thus far, it has received seemingly positive initial reviews:

#BernieSanders on Racism and Racial Justice – I haven’t seen a statement this strong from 1600’s current inhabitant. http://bitly.com/1MqWUO0

— Kirsten West Savali (@KWestSavali) August 9, 2015

The “violence” framing in the initial draft of the Sanders Racial Justice platform is powerful. & I look forward to seeing him expand this.

— deray mckesson (@deray) August 10, 2015

As Deray McKesson noted, the anti-violence framing of the platform would benefit from further elaboration. Right now, it’s disappointing that there’s no mention of law enforcement’s usage of sexual assault as a weapon of control and terror, a tactic that is disproportionately wielded against the bodies of Black women. Or the complicity of the state in the rapes of trans and queer women of color in immigration detention centers. Bernie should build upon this promising anti-violence framework by expanding it to also include gender-based violence.

Among the viable presidential candidates, Berne’s commitment to progressive economic policies could place him closest to what achieving gender justice demands. But, he cannot rest on his laurels – he must do more to include women, especially marginalized women, in his calls for a more equal nation.

 

Millennial women: Anna Quindlen says: You go!

Amplify’d from feministing.com

Anna Quindlen on young women and feminism

Woodruff asked Quindlen if she was concerned that young women today didn’t acknowledge the progress that had been made before them
“I don’t want to hear anyone talk about how young women today aren’t this or that. Millennial women are the coolest, most capable, most together women ever.”

So there you have it, young feminists and young, supposedly complacent women: Anna Quindlen’s got your back.

Read more at feministing.com