- Table of Contents: Issue #116
- The Public Square
- Money Sucks, Poverty’s Worse: Join the fight for a $15 an hour Minimum Wage
- About Slingshot
- Summer Tour: Let’s Visit Some Radical Spaces
- From Earth Day to May Day: Towards an Ecological General Strike
- Hungry for Justice: Prisoner Hunger Strike at the Tacoma Immigrant Detention Center
- Pipeline Hemorrhage: resisting the Keystone XL
- The ‘Can Do’ Sex Worker’s Collective
- Alphabet Soup: Some Thoughts on the Acronym and Identity Politics
While traveling in Latin America I discovered an incredible tool for community building. A place where people of all ages come to hang out, share ideas, play chess and soccer, drink beer, boom music, tell jokes, run and flirt and dance and sing and sit quietly and let time pass. Where no one has to buy anything, there’s no bouncer, no opening time or closing time, and no dress code. Where nothing is provided for other than space. And in this space, life happens.
To me, this was a phenomenon. Growing up in a country where loitering, in many places, is illegal, I struggled as a teenager to find places where I was allowed to hang out with friends and not spend money that I didn’t have. There was the beach, but even this brought its own sense of bikini-clad body attention and physical prowess competitions of volleyball and body surfing. The park closed at dark and, at some point, started charging a fee to enter. Because of this, I spent the majority of my time in private spaces, with people who were like me; people of a similar class, race, and age. As such, rather than my views of the world expanding, the company that I kept continued to reinforce my viewpoints. It is easy to be dismissive and say “well, that’s just how things are.” A truly liberation education, however, seeks to be inclusive. Rather than narrowing lenses through which to see the world, and narrowing experiences through which to understand it, a liberating education (and by education I am referring to the education we all receive daily through our millions of interactions with the world
around us) is one which expands our experiences and offers new possibilities with which to understand the world. It’s not something that comes easy, but one which must be sought after, created, and actualized. One in which we seek people that are different from us, where we step out of our habits and patterns, consider other ways of being and doing, and expand our definition of “we.”
To be effective in this world, to be vibrant and alive, is to allow the world in and to interact with it. This, however, requires interactions that challenge us, that offer new ideas, that help us to see our common humanity, that offer different views of our own convictions and interpretations. If we look throughout history, we will see that every innovation, every movement or action that is oriented towards justice and towards true community, involved bringing people together, across lines of disconnect and difference. I do not mean to imply that we should never take individual stands, but rather that in the positions to which we hold true, we must consistently be willing to adjust and revise our ideas and ideals based on a constant stream of incoming information. Otherwise we become fossils, relics of previous thoughts, prepared to be memorialized in museums of history.
The realm of public space in this country is diminishing rapidly and with it is a potential collaboration hub for brewing ideas on how to be Subjects upon the world, rather than Objects that the world works upon. This slow encroachment of control over public spaces seems almost inconsequential; we all have places to be, whether it is in playgrounds or theaters, grocery stores or our own backyards. But where are the places where we can just be, without paying a fee, engaging in a preplanned activity, or getting kicked out at closing time? I was exhilarated when I first discovered the allure of the public square but it wasn’t until the Occupy movement began that I discovered its power.
“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed” –Paulo Freire
Whatever you’ve heard in the news or media about Occupy Wall Street might be true. It attracted the fringes of society. There was violence and apathy. There was disorganization. People were dirty and unkempt. There were drugs and disagreements, infighting and a lack of clear direction.
There was also, however, mainstream moms, teachers, lawyers, theater directors, students, tourists, shopkeepers, tech geeks, artists, and custodians. They were interacting, having conversations, learning about one another, and breaking bread. There was healing and medicine, therapeutics circles, meditation sits, yoga classes, chess games, lively debates, theater games, art stations, and public radio broadcasts. There were people trying out new (and old) systems of organizations, and as the crowds grew, those systems were fine-tuned until, I witnessed, crowds of over a thousand were making unanimous decisions with talking space available for everyone. Unanimous decisions. With space for everyone, if they chose to speak, to be heard. And for those that preferred not to speak in front of a crowd, there were small committee meetings and spokes-councils where spokespersons were chosen to represent those present at the small group meetings to the larger group. Networks were organized and maps were written, where people could find indoor places to sleep and bathe. And as much as there were drugs and disagreements, infighting and a lack of clear direction, there was an overwhelming majority of sober, lively and inspired interactions, people who might never have met coming to find common ground on their disparate interests and endeavors. Most strikingly, the more people talked and interacted, ate together and prayed together, argued and listened to each other, made music and art, sang songs, and just spent time together, they closer they came to developing common understandings, clear goals, and effective action strategies.
In this day and age where we are all looking for the next quick fix, when we want our desires satiated and our national issues simplified into quick and witty internet memes, it’s no wonder that the act of being, without intentionally doing, might seem wasteful and useless. But it is precisely this act that is truly revolutionary.
The strategy of divide and conquer is an age-old effective tool that continues to work upon us today across every sector of our lives. From the separation of ages in public schools to the history of racialized housing in this country, from demonizing people based on their religious or political affiliations to gender discrimination and objectification, the media attempts to bombards us with divide and conquer rhetoric until we are either left defending oppressive actions, or feeling too disconnected from our fellow human beings to act. It is in this vein that rape victims are questioned about their instigation of the crimes rendered against them and black youths are suspects because of the clothes that they wear. It is this tool that was used to attempt to disassemble and destroy the workers rights movement, the civil rights movement, and every social movement in modern history.
“Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is a commitment to others.” –Paolo Freire
The Public Square is a weapon and a tool to fight the divide-and-conquer strategy and create sustainable, equitable community. It’s simple. The more we know each other, the less we fear each other. The less we fear each other, the more we interact with each other. The more we interact, the more we understand each other. The more we understand each other, listen to each other, make music together, and watch our children play together, the more we begin to care for each other. And in caring for each other, we see that each of our struggles and triumphs are connected. So that when the kid down the street gets harassed, that’s our kid, and when an elderly couple loses their electricity, we see them as our parents, our grandparents. Truly revolutionary action must be built on this foundation, a foundation where we see that we are all in this together. Because we are all in this together.
This, my dear fellow loving, striving, struggling, understanding friends is the key. In order to care for each other we must get to know each other. There must be a space for this. Where all people are welcome, regardless of their income or social status. Where all people feel welcome, regardless of their age, race, ability, or gender. A truly public square.
“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” -Paolo Freire
This is my question and my inspiration. How do we create these spaces, in our day-to-day lives as well as on a larger scale? How can we reach beyond our habits and routines to include more of the world into our lives, our minds, and our hearts?
By Helena Bla-Latchkey
Minimum wage struggle is something that most people can agree on. It is a populist class struggle. Not only do many workers have minimum wage jobs — most of us know somebody who does. We know that they don’t get paid less because they are somehow lesser. The inequity and tragedy of poverty is structural. Raising the minimum wage is something straightforward to ask for, and feasible to accomplish.
Many organizations and unions throughout the US are working with minimum wage workers to make a $15 an hour minimum wage a reality. Fast Food Forward has organized strikes throughout the country, demanding $15 per hour for fast food workers. Fight For 15 has helped organize throughout Chicago. Protest groups across the country gathered at Wal-Marts with the same straightforward slogan. 15 Now has been highly active in Seattle. All of these organizations are backed by unions, and focus on the unionization of workers, as well as the minimum wage struggle.
Predictably, fast food giants have responded to strikes by saying these are impossible demands that would only result in mass layoffs, despite the fact that these companies are highly profitable. The Employment Policies Institute, a restaurant industry lobbying front, stated that if minimum wages were to increase so much, they would simply recommend employees be replaced with Apple technology. McD’s has already installed thousands of iServers in Europe. If this system were implemented in the US, it’s estimated that McD’s could layoff at least 14,000 people immediately. Although this is a small fraction of McD’s workers, it is a disturbing direction to take and I shudder to imagine how it might progress. McD’s has often been the trend-setter of its industry, and it seems likely that if iServers are shown to be a viable alternative to hiring employees then Wendy’s, Jack in the Box and the rest may also jump on the iWagon.
The city of Seatac, a small suburb south of Seattle centered around the SeaTac International Airport with 27,000 residents, recently won a union-backed campaign known as Proposition 1, for a $15 an hour minimum wage. In November 2013, it passed by a margin of just 77 votes, directly benefiting about 1,600 workers. The measure also forces companies to give workers paid sick days, retain workers for at least 90 days after any change in ownership and promote part-time workers to full-time before hiring new workers. Washington already had the highest state minimum wage in the country, at $9.32 per hour; however, until this measure passed, one in six Seatac residents lived below the poverty line.
Local unions were integral in organizing Proposition 1, which only affects businesses which employ 30 or more non-managerial employees. An interesting exemption is that companies which hire union workers can continue to pay the previous minimum of $9.32. This gives big business a tough choice — hire union or give everybody a raise. SeaTac International found its own exemption which was settled in court. The airport is technically a division of the Port of Seattle. Judge Andrea Darvas ruled that its employees are therefore not considered Seatac workers, despite working in Seatac.
Hopefully, this may not be the case for long. Seattle has a strong campaign of its own to increase minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is not only backed by city council person Kshama Sawant, the first Socialist elected in Seattle for nearly 100 years — but also the mayor, Ed Murray. The excitement surrounding these campaigns however surely has little to do with the elected officials that endorse them. It is my impression that the momentum has largely been driven by profound need that is obvious and important to many. I talked to organizer Jess Spear who explained that 15 Now was formed initially by facilitating neighborhood groups. This allowed diverse people from unions, community groups and leftist organizations, as well as individuals, to come together and campaign. Jess pointed out that such a victory in a major metropolitan center would inspire demoralized working class people everywhere and that this could be the beginning of something much larger. She urged anybody able to come to Seattle on April 26th to attend the conference they are holding.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. For salaried workers, the minimum salary is $455 per week. Five southern states have no minimum wage laws and thus pay the federal amount. Several states including Arkansas, Minnesota and Wyoming have subminimum wage laws— stipulations allowing for exemptions to the federal minimum. Persons with disabilities, young people or employees of small local businesses may be paid as low as $4.25 an hour. Tipped employees can make as little as $2.13 an hour. Prisoner-workers are not eligible for minimum wage, and make as little as $0.23 an hour.
66% of minimum wage workers in the US are employed by large corporations. In a sample of some of the largest employers in the country (including Wal-Mart, Target, IBM, HP and General Electric), 92% were profitable this year and considered recovered from economic recession. Most minimum wage jobs are in service, food, leisure and hospitality — some of the fastest growing industries in our increasingly urban culture. In growing and profitable industries, the workers are seeing little of the fruits of their labor.
Historically, the federal government has generally stayed away from minimum wage. The US has had a minimum wage since 1938; however, it has only increased 22 times since then. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, the minimum wage held the most purchasing power in 1968, equivalent to approximately $10.55 currently. After that, it slowly declined during the 70s, then sharply during the 80s, before more or less plateauing to its present buying power.
Living wage is a difficult thing to calculate, since it relies on making assumptions based on needs and lifestyle, as well as highly variable factors such as location. That said, if we take into account not only inflation, but also increases in work output and average consumption, a wage equivalent to 1968 today would be in the range of $22 – $25 per hour. This does not take into increases in rent, no doubt the largest expense for most working class people.
States and cities are largely responsible for determining wages, and they vary wildly throughout the country. In California, minimum wage is currently $8.00 — set to increase to $9.00 on July 1 and $10.00 in 2016. This pittance is one of the higher state minimum wages in the US. If a person making the California minimum was paying 30% of the their income towards rent for a two bedroom apartment at fair market rate, they would have to work 130 hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week. Even if this labor were split between two people, this would necessitate both working eleven hour days, six days a week.
In 2012, minimum wage workers comprised 59% of our labor force. Most recipients of minimum wage are women. Over 66% of people receiving the sub-minimum wage of $2.13 per hour are women. However, two-thirds of mothers work to support their families, and about a third of mothers are sole breadwinners. The majority of these women are over the age of 20, and 40% are over 30, contrary to the common argument that minimum wage workers are all kids fresh out of high school. Proportional to women working, far more black and hispanic women receive minimum wage than other women. Poverty in general effects black and hispanic people dramatically more than other people.
Determining social class in the US is a controversial endeavor amongst sociologists. Statistics vary greatly between models, but the poor comprise around 12 – 40% of the US population, and the working class comprises 30-45%. All models seem to agree that the majority of people are below the middle class line. 22% of children live below the poverty line — $23,550 for a family of four. 45% of children live in low-income families. How many of these children will turn to military enlistment as their ticket out of poverty? How many will become slaves within the prison-industrial complex?
Certainly, fighting for an increase in minimum wages is important, but will never be enough to insure human dignity and end poverty. However, it is a step towards a dramatically better life for many people who, as it is, are understandably weary and in dire need of change. We need to help empower one another to take human rights into our own hands, by sharing information and aiding one another’s struggles, whether or not we are perfectly aligned on every ideological point. We need to take the shame and alienation out of poverty, viewing ourselves and one another not as victims in isolation — but participants in a struggle for a life we share together.
Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published in Berkeley since 1988.
The first meeting for this issue a lot of new people showed up to check us out. It was an impressive turnout – in fact it was the first time in about 20 years where there were more new people than experienced Slingshot people. A two to one ration. There was some old fashioned outreach before the meeting using fliers and social media informing people that this project is a “Do-ocracy”. This idea (borrowed from our neighbors at the Sudo Room) seeks to inspire participation in a community resource by encouraging people to show up when decisions are made. Unfortunately the numbers did not persist and a bare bones work crew continued to carry the project to completion. On one hand this is a bummer for we simply need more people to engage with the work load. On the other hand any effort that people contributes greatly help s to create this reality. All projects thrive by the people putting life into.
Most of our paper publishes struggles that isn’t actually primary to the survival of one newspaper. Which is why we often utilize the space on this page to catalog the heartache and growing pains experienced to get us here. This issue we returned to doing the “All Nite Meeting” the same weekend as layout. A few blurry eyed collective members were left after picking articles for 6 hours. Then before going away from work for a few hours we had to look at the question of what font to present this issue in. Ya see last issue we made a move and bought a new computer thinking that by upgrading technology it would alleviate unnecessary anguish. Turns out this new computer didn’t have our standard Ariel Narrow font. We were pretty split on this minor issue with newer collective members really wanting to change to Garamond. It was conceded to them. It is such a small fringe who obsesses about how a letter strikes the eye – about the same kind of lunatic fringe that cares about politics….. well that is until disaster befalls the normies…
We would love for you to get back to us — send an email telling which way to present our words…oh wait come Saturday morning and we attempt to work on articles our new computer can’t access the internet. We spend money on a new computer or router to make the work load less daunting and it turns out we have to stare failure and confusion in the face – um I mean a glowing screen. Slingshot is pigeon holed as being anti technology its more subtle than that. Most new technologies are best as supplements to time tested ways of getting the word out and creating change. And time is the real element. The time invested to crate change is slow and often without rewards. In this case take your time reading these issues.
Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editing.
Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot Collective but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all collectives members. We welcome debate and constructive criticism.
Thanks to the people who made this: Aaron, Andrew, Darin, Eggplant, Finn, Glenn, Hayley, Heather, Kelly, Lydia, Jesse, Josh, Joey, J-tron, Soren, Stephski, Xander, Zoe and all the authors and artists.
Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting
Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on August 17, 2014 at 4 pm at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)
Article Deadline & Next Issue Date
Submit your articles for issue 117 on September 13 2014 at 3 p.m.
Volume 1, Number 116, Circulation 20,000
Printed April 11, 2014
A publication of Long Haul
Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue
Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703
Phone (510) 540-0751 • email@example.com slingshot.tao.ca • fucking twitter @slingshotnews
Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue or back issue. International $3 per issue. Outside the Bay Area we’ll mail you a free stack of copies if you give them out for free. Each envelope is one lb. (8 copies) — let us know how many envelopes you want. In the Bay Area, pick up copies at Long Haul or Bound Together Books in SF.
Slingshot Free stuff
We’ll send you a random assortment of back issues of Slingshot for the cost of postage: Send $3 for 2 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. Also, our full-color coffee table book about People’s Park is free or by sliding scale donation: send $1 – $25 for a copy. We also have surplus copies of the 2014 Organizer available free in bulk for distro to people who wouldn’t otherwise purchase one such as prisoners, youth and the oppressed. Email or call us: firstname.lastname@example.org / Box 3051 Berkeley, 94703.
the 2015 Organizer wants YOU
Slingshot collective will make the 2015 organizer this summer. Drop by or contact us to help. We are a tiny collective so we’re relying on the Slingshot miracle to make the organizer. That’s when a variety of folks we’ve never met before show up during the two weekends we make the organizer to sit in the Slingshot loft making art, listening to music, eating food and making decisions at meetings. The Organizer layout party creates a temporary community sort of like an occupation except with pens and glue rather than tents and bongo drums. Sound like fun? Join us.
In May and June, we’ll edit, correct and improve the list of historical dates. Send us ideas for stuff to add that happened since last year. The deadline for finishing is June 27. If you want to design a section of the calendar, let us know or send us random art by June 28. The deadline to finish calendar pages or give us suggestions for 2015 is July 25. We need all new radical contact listings and cover art submissions by July 25. If you have ideas for the short features we publish in the back, let us know by July 25. We try to print different features every year. If you’re in the Bay Area July 26/27 or August 2/3, we’ll put it all together by hand those weekends so plan your visit. . .
Compiled by Jesse D. Palmer
Here are some new radical spaces you can visit that are not listed in the 2014 Organizer, plus some updates. These spaces are opened and kept going by folks everywhere to provide physical expressions of the world we seek — organized around cooperation, pleasure and freedom rather than greed, standardization and control. We’re going to update the entire radical contact list this summer when we publish the 2015 Organizer, so let us know if there is a space near you that isn’t on our radar. By the way, the on-line version of the radical contact list has been broken due to a computer problem and therefore has not been updated since last summer but we are hoping to fix it: slingshot.tao.ca. Happy travels this summer!
The Grease Diner – Oakland, CA
An art gallery and zine shop that has an open DIY silk screening studio. 6604 San Pablo Ave. Oakland, CA 94608. 510 379-0190 thegreasediner.com
Guide to Kulchur – Cleveland, OH
A book and zine shop that hosts events, meetings and Cleveland Books to Prisoners. 1386 W. 65th St, Cleveland, OH 44102 guidetokulchurcleveland.com
Sovversiva Open Space – Montpelier, VT
A community space with a zine library, books, free coffee/tea, a computer, and art supplies that hosts events. They share space with a collective bike shop called Freeride. Open Mondays and other times. 89 Barre St. Montpelier, VT 05602 www.radspacemontpelier.wordpress.com
Shameless Grounds – St. Louis, MO
A sex positive coffee shop with a sex-oriented library shop that hosts radical sex-oriented events. 1901 Withnell Ave Saint Louis, MO 63118 314-449-1240. shamelessgrounds.com
EarthDance farms – Ferguson, MO
An organic farm/school that encourages art, music, resource sharing, and community building around food production and sustainability. They have an artist in residence program, library, classes and volunteer opportunities. 233 S. Dade Ave. Ferguson, MO 63135 314-521-1006 earthdancefarms.org
IntegreTea – Vallejo, CA
A tea shop that hosts a zine library and art space. 717 Marin Street, Vallejo, CA 94590
Time’s Up! – New York, NY
A bicycle direct action/advocacy non-profit that has a space where you can fix your own bike. 99 South 6th Street Brooklyn, NY 11211 212-802-8222. times-up.org
A Place for Sustainable Living – Oakland, CA
A green center that promotes sustainable living, social justice and art with a garden, bike shop, art barn and exhibits about graywater, compost and renewable energy. They host workshops and peformances. 1121 64th Street Oakland, CA 94608 aplaceforsustainableliving.org
Peace Resource Center – Seaside, CA They have a lending library, computers and host movies and events. 1364 Fremont, Seaside, CA 93955 831-899-7322 peacecentral.wordpress.com
Ollin Calli– Tijuana, Mexico
A worker-advocacy group that leads tours of maquiladoras and has workshops. Pasaje Gómez Local 2025 Tijuana B.C. 22000 664-1902586
Horn of Plenty Community Centre – Reservoir, Australia
They have a library, bike workshop, community garden and host events, music and art. Open Friday & Saturday. 659 Plenty Road Reservoir, VIC 3073 Australia
Bombs and Candies Infolibrary – Philippines
An infoshop with a library. Blk 24 Lot 51 Phase 1 Ciudad Adelina Brgy. Conchu, Trece Martirez City Cavite, Philippines 4109, phone: +639 096028849 email@example.com
Changes to the 2014 Slingshot Organizer
• The Clear Creek Coop has moved to 3722 Pinehurst Dr. Richmond IN 47374.
• The physical address for the Earth First! Journal (1307 Central Terrace) is no longer valid. Their mailing address (PO Box 964 Lake Worth, FL 33460) is still valid. The phone is now 561-320-3840, not the one published in the organizer.
• The Roosevelt 2.0 in Tampa, FL is no longer at that address. They are trying to open a new location in Myakka City, FL.
• Iron Rail in New Orleans has closed.
• Centro Social CCC in San Juan Puerto Rico has closed
• Mondragon books in Winnipeg, Manitoba has closed.
• The Bloom Collective in Grand Rapids, MI is no longer around.
• The Holdout in Oakland is now called Qilombo and the website is now qilombo.org.
• The Bike City Recylcery in Fayetteville, AR may no longer be there. We got mail returned from them and other contact info doesn’t work.
Direct actions are planned in the Bay Area between Earth Day on April 22 and May 1st to raise awareness about the intersections of labor, immigration, and environmental issues. Actions may include sit-ins, tree sits, guerrilla gardening, pickets, marches, blockades and strikes. The goal is to challenge the jobs vs. environment myth, to unite workers and environmentalists against the bosses, and rapidly transition unsustainable industries through direct action. The actions will build foundations for directly democratic workers assemblies and environmental unionist caucuses within existing unions that can organize actions to halt the destruction of the planet.
Workers, the community, and the planet are exploited by the state and capitalist forces that rule over our lives. With capitalism escalating its "extreme energy" rampage of offshore oil drilling, tar sands mining, mountaintop removal, and fracking, a mass movement to oppose these forms of energy is growing and radicalizing. Recently, there has been an increased number of oil spills, pipeline ruptures, oil train derailments, refinery fires, and chemical spills. These disasters have not only harmed the environment but they have also injured and/or killed the very workers whom the capitalists depend on to extract these resources.
The same capitalist economic system destroying the Earth is destroying the lives of the workers with eroding health and safety standards, downsizing and outsourcing the workforce, establishing a “blame the worker” safety culture, and creating dangerous labor conditions all around. These conditions that endanger the workers are also directly harming the communities around them with cancers and asthma from air pollution. Yet boss propaganda seeks to convince us that environmentalists are a threats to jobs. It’s time for workers and environmentalists to take direct action for health and safety and a halt to the destruction of our world.
A globalized ecological insurrection is inevitable and in fact has already begun — from First Nations people leading a militant opposition to new oil pipelines to workers and environmentalists in Japan standing up against nuclear power and pollution. It’s time for an ecological general strike where workers and environmentalists take over and blockade unsustainable industries and dismantle what can’t be rapidly transitioned. Join the action April 22 – May 1: firstname.lastname@example.org
1,200 inmates at the Northwest Detention Center outside of Tacoma, WA went on hunger strike March 7, 2014. The Northwest Detention Center is a corporate-owned prison for people facing deportation. The strikers demanded better food, wages higher than one dollar a day, better treatment and medical care, an end to exorbitant prices in the commissary and fundamental fairness and justice. The strikers are also protesting the 2 million people deported so far under the Obama administration with 1300 people being deported every day. Despite his outreach to the Latino community and promises to the contrary, Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in US history.
The inmates at the Northwest Detention center are fed boiled potatoes and beans for every meal, every day. The prison staff treat them as less than human with constant harassment, and intimidation. Detainees are referred to by numbers, not their names. Prisoners have limited or no access to medical care. One incarcerated man who suffered from a severe nosebleed was made to wait twenty-four hours to see a doctor and almost died choking on his own blood.
Rather than respond to the strikers’ demands, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the GEO group have retaliated against the hunger strike. The day after the strike began, the guards’ uniforms changed to riot gear and they began recording the names and numbers of prisoners who were striking. The guards told the strikers that nobody outside cared that they were striking and that they would be denied asylum and deported because of their actions. The guards have also been arbitrarily transferring prisoners to other sections of the prison. The confusion that results from this displacement is a form of psychological torture. Strikers are being isolated from their families and comrades and threatened with force-feeding.
The hunger strike is believed to have been inspired by a February 24 demonstration outside the prison in which protesters blocked vans from leaving the facility. The prisoners inside the vans told other prisoners that people on the outside were putting their bodies on the line to help them. The prisoners wanted to respond to this solidarity action with their own act of resistance. There have been hunger strikes before at this facility that failed because of lack of support from the outside. This time, activists inside and outside the prison have coordinated their efforts, brewing a perfect storm for the GEO group and ICE. The Northwest Detention Center hunger strike is only the latest protest action against deportation in a string of actions that have been taking place for years, growing in number and volume as well as boldness. People are paying attention.
The United States is in the midst of the largest prison build-up in history. There are more black and Latino people in prison now than there were slaves in the South before the Civil War. America has the most prisons of any nation in the world. Many of these prisons are for-profit, meaning they are run by corporations that receive taxpayer money for every person that they lock up. Around 1.6 million people are in state and federal prisons (as of the U.S. census in 2010), and every able-bodied one of them is required to work. Prison laborers are paid between 23 cents and $1.15 an hour for manufacturing clothing, solar panels, weapons, etc. Although it is illegal for Federal Prison Industries (also called “Unicor”) to sell prisoner-made goods to consumers, the government purchases these goods, replacing private sector companies. The result is the elimination of manufacturing jobs, decreased wages, and subsequent damage to the economy. NASA has contracted prisoners at San Quentin to make satellite parts for pennies an hour – a job once reserved for unionized engineers. Soon, the products of prison labor will be floating between us and the stars.
In 2007, a piece of legislation called the “bed mandate” was put into place, requiring ICE to fill 34,000 detention center beds in the US with immigrant prisoners at all times in order to receive federal funds. There is no way to negotiate around this number — 34,000 prison beds are filled by immigrants and the DHS and ICE and get paid.
ICE is focused on locking up undocumented immigrants and they do not care which ones as long as they meet their quota. While some undocumented immigrants are arrested and forced into deportation for breaking the law, many of those detained at the Northwest Detention Center are babysitters, farmers, landscapers, foragers of mushrooms, and shellfish harvesters at Washington’s oyster and clam farms. ICE patrols neighborhoods, forests where immigrants forage, and Department of Fish and Wildlife offices where permits for fishing and foraging are obtained. They work in conjunction with the police, setting up roadblocks that appear to be DUI checkpoints, but are used by ICE to check immigration documentation.
The Secure Communities Act, a piece of legislation encouraging ICE cooperation with local law enforcement, is a factor supporting the astronomical trend of deportation. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) surveyed the Latino communities in five counties in different states across the US with large Latino populations. Their research showed that since the passage of the Secure Communities Act, 62% of Latinos report that officers stop them without good reason or cause. There is also an increased feeling of isolation and a decreased feeling of safety in the Latino community. The study found that 38% of Latinos are afraid to leave their homes.
Corporations such as the GEO group, which runs the Northwest Detention Center, and the Corrections Corporation of America, receive $165 per night per immigrant that is detained. ICE in cooperation with local law enforcement detains 1,300 immigrants per day. The money that is going into the pockets of these prison corporations is coming out of the taxpayers’ wallets. The Latino community is being targeted more than any other community in this regard, but as ICE becomes more desperate for deportations we may see European, Asian, African and Caribbean immigrants being detained and deported in large numbers.
Over 200 demonstrators rallied outside of the Northwest Detention Center on March 11, 2014. They yelled, sang and banged pots and pans to express their solidarity with the strikers inside, who were denying themselves food to bring immigrant detainees more attention and better treatment. A national day of action took place April 5.
The historic act of resistance at NWDC and other hunger strikes by prisoners against their captors at Guantanamo Bay, Pelican Bay in California, and in Palestine, demonstrates that people will not give up their dignity even in the darkest corners of the world. Prisoners have the strength to use non-violence to highlight the brutality of the system. Rebellions like these are becoming more common as are actions expressed in solidarity with them outside the walls. As the prison build-up continues, we see greater resistance to the conditions of incarceration.
The strikers in the Northwest Detention Center have expressed that they are not striking as individuals but as one group together. They understand that their actions may not save them from deportation or their inhumane treatment. They are refusing to eat because they do not want anyone else to have to go through what they are going through.
You can donate for prisoners’ telephone and commissary accounts, transportation funds for prisoners’ families, litigation fees and organizing expenses at gofundme.com/7orehg.
by Lesley DangerHaddock
All over the world people have been demonstrating against the Keystone XL pipeline, the massive oil pipeline that would send 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Texas. The pipeline would likely spur further development of the Alberta Tar Sands, the largest fossil fuel project in the world that has led to extensive deforestation, water pollution, and violations of indigenous sovereignty, as well as massive contributions to climate change. Keystone XL has been the Keystone issue for many environmental activists.
Matthew and I left on a hitchhiking adventure intending to cover the resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline by following the pipeline the full 1,700 miles. But, as we have talked to activists along the way, we have found that while resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline has brought a lot of needed attention to the detrimental tar sands project, it can also overshadow the equally crucial efforts being made to stop fossil fuel shipment and extraction by local communities.
Before we left we talked to activists in Pittsburg, CA who have been fighting hard against the construction of oil terminals that would receive tar sands shipments by truck and rail, as well as organizers in Richmond, CA who for decades have opposed the Chevron refinery that has been detrimental to the city’s health. As activists in San Francisco locked down the federal building in protest of KXL, the fight against extraction is immediate and personal for local organizers just across the bay.
Our travels thus far have taken us up to Oregon, Washington, and over to Idaho, and organizers there have had similar experiences. In Vancouver, WA we talked to Cager Carbaugh, the president of the ILWU local 4, who has been working with Portland Rising Tide to oppose oil terminals being built in their port. For Cager and the longshoremen, working with volatile oil shipments from the tar sands is a threat to worker safety, and the risk of an oil spill would put their ability to work on the Columbia river at stake.
In Moscow, Idaho, we’ve talked with organizers who have been working upstream of the tar sands fighting shipments of megaloads, massive machinery used for tar sands exploitation, through Idaho. For many local activists, the idea of turning their wild state into an permanent industrial corridor is an outrage. Helen Yost, organizer with Wild Idaho Rising Tide, explicitly told us that the focus on Keystone XL has been a huge barrier, saying that people have been climbing over each other to get arrested protesting the pipeline while ignoring the megaload shipments rolling straight through their towns.
Further, while Keystone XL is absolutely gigantic, there are actually two other pipelines of similar size in the works that, if built, could double tar sands exploitation. The first of these is the $7 billion Line 3 Replacement pipeline project brought to us by Enbridge. Set to open in 2017, this pipeline would ship 740,000 barrels of tar sands per day. The other is the $12 billion Energy East pipeline being constructed by TransCanada. This pipeline is set to open in 2018 and would ship a record-breaking 1.1 billion barrels of tar sands per day.
Keystone XL is tremendously important, but so are the other fossil fuel projects popping up all over North America. With fracking going on in more and more states, the Bakken Shale exploitation in North Dakota, Mountain Top Removal in West Virginia, oil spills happening nearly every week, tar sands exploitation starting in Utah, we can’t afford to focus only on KXL. We have to fight extraction at every level, and look at the work being done in our own communities first.
You can follow our work online at fuelingdissent.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/fuelingdissent. If you have any way to contribute, we need money for food and equipment and you can donate to us through our website.
by Kyle Merrit Ludowitz
In Chiang Mai, the northernmost city of Thailand, many restaurants, venues, and bars cater to the carnal pleasures of tourists and locals alike. One bar however, stands out among the others: the Can Do Bar is proudly owned and operated by a female collective of empowered sex workers.
Currently employing 20 workers, the Can Do Bar provides opportunities for female sex workers rarely ever offered in Thailand’s sex industry, such as: payment at (or above) minimum wage, 10 paid holidays, observance of 13 public holidays throughout the year, voluntary overtime at full pay, and paid sick leave. The workers are encouraged to join a union or association, and are given full rights to settle disputes in a labor court, and instant access to contraceptives and other safer sex methods, as well as an educational center on the second floor above the bar.
Can Do Bar was formed by a group of sex workers frustrated with being controlled for profit, who quit or fled their former houses, banded together, and pooled the initial Baht needed to start their independent collective. While working along the Myanmar border in northern Thailand, I decided to seek out this collective to experience, and understand this new approach to sex work.
Entering the Can Do Bar on a warm fall evening, I get the impression of an intimately friendly den, instead of a booming nightclub; stings of thin, red lights outline the room’s frame, casting a soft, warm glow across the bar’s dark colored wood, and over the floor to the tables in the far corners. A staircase, with a large centerpiece photograph of a client in the midst of a sponge-bath, wraps around to the second and third floors with bedrooms, and the education center.
Visiting the night before the bar’s large Climate Change Cocktail Party, I interviewed the three women working that evening: Mai, Pae, and Oa. When asked over drinks of Whiskey what message they wanted to convey to other sex workers, their replies were confident.
“The Can Do Bar is fair bar” Mai told me simply. “It’s fun, and it’s enjoyable to be here. It’s not always work either. Sometimes we come here when we’re not working to dance, and sing with our friends. We also host social events, and fund- raisers for our programs, as well as other organizations we agree with, and want to help support.”
Pae explained that the bar is not merely a place for people to find sex, but that it is a space for organizers, and friends of the movement to spread awareness about sex worker cooperatives. “Sex workers can open their own business, be their own boss, and take care of themselves,” Pae said.
Oa expressed, “We can work, be artists (sex work as an act of art), and be safe all at the same time. We live here, and work in good conditions. Every bar can be like us with enough time, and effort.”
There are no exact figures as to the total number of sex workers in Thailand, but a conservative estimate puts the number around 20,000-40,000 women, with a large portion being minors. At this time, sex trafficking places many Thai sex workers in the dangerous positions of forced servitude.
The Empower Foundation is the focal advocate, and co-collaborator of the Can Do Bar’s undertaking, since its foundation in 2006. An organization of predominately third-wave feminists from Western countries, Empower Foundation strives to build women’s confidence so they have a stronger foundation to express their preferences and assert their rights. The Empower Foundation views education and literacy as a fundamental part of building confidence, and it provides educational programs to over 30,000 sex workers throughout Thailand, many of whom are receiving education for the first time in their lives. They host classroom style education sessions in Phatpong Alley (a center of prostitution in Bangkok), as well as the southern island of Phuket, the town of Mae Sai, and the city of Chiang Mai.
Before leaving the bar, I met with Liz Hilton, a representative for the Empower Foundation, to discuss the Can Do Bar’s achievements.
“The Empower Foundation and the Can Do Bar were born out of sex worker frustration” Liz explained. “Workers voiced concerns to their government, but with no active response, they decided to pool together in a collective effort to show that their jobs can be done safely and responsibly.”
“We recently exceeded a global population of 7 billion people,” Liz continued. “That means there have been at least 7 billion sexual acts. The global community does not seem to have a problem with this fact, and regards sex as a natural, private, and personal act. That is, until money comes into the equation.”
Liz Continues“Women have a right to do whatever they choose with their lives, and should be given autonomy to proceed in a positive way. That is what we are doing here. That is what the women of the Can Do Bar are doing.”
With thousands of women involved in Thailand’s sex industry, the struggle to secure fair wages, the necessities of education, medical care,andaccess to contraceptives is an immense task. The thousands of workers denied these essentials each day urgently need change to this system.
Leaving the bar, and looking back at the lights illuminating the painted Can Do sign, I am inspired by these women’s stories, and by seeing what can be accomplished when determined individuals organize. By working together as a collective to empower sex workers, the Can Do Bar shows us the true strength of women when they claim their workplace and sexual rights, and define their own future.
Folks who have been in or around gender and sexuality-based movement for the past decade or so have probably noticed an explosion of identities. These new words, new names, new ways of describing oneself and one’s relation to the world — and I’m not sure whether they’re really new, or just more visible than ever before — are maybe most apparent in the lengthening of what gets called “the acronym”: LGBT*QQIAP+, as it’s often written in the queer spaces I inhabit. (The T* is for trans* [gender, sexual, etc.] the first Q is for queer, the second for questioning, the I for intersex, the A for asexual, the P for pansexual, and the + for other identities that haven’t made the leap to acronym status yet.) These complex identities and their infinite, unique combinations show a world that is rich in its forms of gender, desire, play, presentation, and power — as some of the subjects in Sarah Deragon’s recent photo show The Identity Project, like Queer Butch Trans Top, Homo Queer Fag Boy Daddy, Daddy Fem Dyke Dom Queen, and Gender Blind Femme Bottom, among others, show. This growing alphabet soup seems to follow a sort of liberal, multicultural logic: the more people’s identities we acknowledge and make visible around the big gender-desire table, the better.
And yet there’s definitely a more complicated internal politics at play: how did we get from LGBT (still the most common form currently, as far as I can tell) to LGBT*QQIAP+? How many people had to identify as pansexual before educators, activists, writers, and others would remember to write a P? Which identities are struggling to be acronymized? More importantly, what is gained and what is lost in the struggle for acronym status, and in the focus on identity that it requires?
I come to the acronym from a position of privilege, not just as a white, able-bodied, college-educated cisguy, but as someone who arrived on the scene late enough to find that when I thought of myself as bi, there was already a B waiting for me; and when I thought of myself as gay there was a G, too; and when I started thinking of myself more as queer, well, there was usually a well-entrenched Q. I also came out early enough that my identity never got viewed as opportunistic or new-fangled, the way some people roll their eyes when they hear newer terms like trans-spirit, demisexual, biromantic, etc. While I’ve had to explain what I mean by Queer to more than one relative and doctor, I can generally assume (at least in the Bay Area) that most folks will understand what that means.Since I can sometimes pass as straight — especially when I need to, in this heterosexist world — focusing on identityforegrounds an aspect of myself that, unlike whiteness, male-legibility, and able-bodiedness, might remain invisible. It also probably increases the likelihood of striking up a conversation, making out with somebody, etc., when around others whose queerness is similarly visible. At the same time, as Julia Serano argues in her recent book Excluded (reviewed in this issue), foregrounding queerness as an identity can also be insular and clique-ish, in ways that I’m just starting to think about.
All this business about identity makes a lot of sense to me. When you’re told — by doctors, by family, by psychiatrists, by teachers, by politicians — that you’re one thing and you feel like you’re another thing, it’s powerful to say, “You say I am this thing, but I identify as this other thing. (PS: fuck you).” It sets up an opposition between the world of descriptions by those in power, often with authoritative qualifiers like “biologically,” “legally,” “really” — and on the other hand, a world of self-descriptions, focused on a different kind of authority: individual experience. Breaking down essentialist barriers into who could call herself a woman was one of the major triumphs of feminism in the late 20th century. In this sense, identity is political, proposing a different way of grounding claims about what people are. It’s also immensely helpful, literally saving the lives of folks (especially youth) who are going through the process of finding something affirming and communal to latch onto in a hostile, straight society. And yet, the emphasis on identity seems to have already conceded part of the battle. If those with the prescription pads and guns get to use the verb “to be” — to say what stuff in the world is — why do we hedge our bets with “identify as”? (Here’s a hunch: I think folks are worried that describing themselves as e.g., “being trans” commits oneself to too much permanence, denying the fluidity and change that identity is supposed to allow. If this is true, it’s unnecessary; “I’m lesbian” doesn’t need to mean anything more fixed than the fact that I’m hungry right now. Though a little awkward, Judith Butler’s statement, “a lesbian is what I’ve been being” makes the point well [Imitation and Gender Insubordination; emphasis mine].)
On the other hand, there seems to be some push-back among folks who’d just as soon give up the identity game in favor of a short and manageable description like, “the queer and trans community.” This approach has an obvious problem: it sacrifices some identities while privileging others, contributing to the invisibility of those who don’t feel any resonance with these terms. But maybe that’s the point: by self-consciously substituting an approximation of a lot of people’s identities, it shifts the focus from the person to the political. Here, “queer” and “trans” (but we could probably insert other words) are proxies for folks whose genders, desires, practices, etc. expose them to oppression. The people who feel represented by it, like myself, might see in it less a mirror than a shared politics. What it loses in apparent inclusion it gains in accessibility and recognition. It pushes us outward, proposing other axis for connection and intimacy. It suggests, critically, that our shared identity may not be as fertile a ground for collaboration as we thought, that identity might turn out to be a poor predictor of politics. (I often find more common ground with straight radicals than with queer liberals.)
I think this is what Eve Sedgwick was getting at when she argued in The Epistemology of the Closet that our way of talking about sexuality is limited, our terms tending to focus on the gender of the person using the term and the gender of their sexual partners (e.g., so the story goes, a lesbian is a woman who desires and/or has sex with women). This way of thinking about sexuality leaves out a lot of the sexual picture: What kinds of sex do people have? Do they practice good consent? Do they have sex in exchange for money or other goods? Do they talk with their partners about STIs? Do they film themselves fucking? What sexual politics do they have? How do they view the world? On this score, the proliferation of identities may be helpful: a self-description like “cisgendered feminist butch queen” tells me about this person’s exposure to gender discourse (“cisgendered”) and a little about their politics (“feminist”). But these terms are also flexible and vague — “butch” looks very different for different folks — and for a good reason: it doesn’t help anyone to police a right or wrong way of being butch, queer, etc.
In pointing this out, I’m not suggesting that the solution is to further expand the taxonomy, adding more identities in a never-ending search for total descriptive perfection, which might only lead to a more atomized culture. (Though I think there’s a pretty radical argument to be made for proliferating identities so infinitely that the concept stops meaning anything altogether — a critique that might end up tracing the limits of language itself, the impossibility of reducing desire or gender to words.) Instead, I wonder about the implications of a suggestion bell hooks offered in 1984: “Often emphasis on identity and lifestyle is appealing because it creates a false sense that one is engaged in praxis… To emphasize the engagement with feminist struggle as political commitment, we could avoid using the phrase ‘I am a feminist’ (a linguistic structure designed to refer to some personal aspect of identity and self-definition) and could state, ‘I advocate feminism.’” (Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, 30-1). This proposal fits gender and sexuality awkwardly at best: one isn’t necessarily advocating anything when one comes out as this or that. But I think that’s exactly the point! Maybe identity is ill-suited to politics to begin with.
That’s not say to that we should discard identity-talk altogether: I don’t think we could if we wanted to, and, again, identity has proven itself to be a helpful tool for figuring ourselves out, socializing, countering oppressive externally-imposed descriptions, and more. These are all definitely important functions, but maybe they’re more helpful for forming a personal bedrock for politics than for praxis itself. hooks’ suggestion makes me wonder: What if we focused less on who’s under the acronym-umbrella (acrobrella?), and more on fighting sexuality- and gender-based oppression? Less on who people are, and more on what they advocate, what they’ll fight for? Doing so might allow us to focus on issues that have been overlooked as “not queer/trans enough.” It might also help us to see how heterosexism and transphobia actually hurt straight and/or cis people, too; after all, these too can be fragile, contingent identities. (To give just one example, “straightness” often comes at the cost of having to constantly shore up one’s identity through self-policing and public disavowals like “no homo.”) Most important, we might see how those not under — or excluded from — the acronym have a stake in the movement, too.
Butler, Judith. Imitation and Gender Subordination. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 1993. 307-20.
hooks, bell. Feminist Theory from Marin to Center. London: Pluto Press, 2000. 1st ed 1984.
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley, CA: UCP, 1990.
Serano, Julia. Excluded. New York, NY: Seal Press, 2013.