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Archive for May, 2009

Over My Shoulder #45: How Empire comes home in sado-statism and police brutality. From Fred Woodworth, “Evil Empire Notes,” in The Match! # 107 (Summer, 2009)

Here’s the new rules:

  1. At the top of the post, make a list of the books you’ve read all or part of, in print, over the course of the past week, at least as far as you can remember them. (These should be books that you’ve actually read as a part of your normal life, and not just something that you picked up to read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Pick one of those books from the list, and pick out a quote of one or more paragraphs, to post underneath the list.

  3. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, which should be more a matter of context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than they are a matter of discussing the material.

  4. Quoting a passage absolutely does not entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the books:

  • Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. (Albuquerque: Wildfire Books. I picked it up some time ago through BookMooch.)
  • Richard Gombin (1975), The Origins of Modern Leftism. Translated from the French by Michael K. Perl. (Baltimore: Penguin. Picked up this very week for 49¢ from the Shaman Drum used books sale rack!)
  • Fred Woodworth, The Match! Issue No. 107 (Summer, 2009). (Tucson: Fred Woodworth. PO Box 3012, Tucson, Arizona 85702. I picked my copy up last week from May Day Books in Minneapolis.)

And here’s the quote. This is taken from Fred Woodworth’s Evil Empire Notes, Issue No. 107 of The Match! (Summer 2009; also, incidentally, the 40th anniversary issue of The Match!). This was airplane reading, taken in somewhere in the sky between Minneapolis and Las Vegas.

GIVEN all the millions of horrifying stories in the naked country, now and then it’s good to pluck out one to hear an authentic voice rather than a statistic. Amnesty International printed up this one, by Donald Boyd of Chicago:

I have been a victim of racial profiling since I was 17 years old. Once when I was walking to the cleaners, I stopped to talk with some young men…. When I walked away, the police just automatically accused me of purchasing drugs. Two officers jumped out of a car and kept asking What did they sell you? I repeatedly replied no one sold me anything. … They cuffed me and drove me to a police substation.

… The next morning they loaded 45 people into a van made for 32. The men were almost all black and Latino. When we arrived at the jail, sheriff’s deputies, dressed in riot gear, met us. They shouted obscenities and threats. The deputies assaulted several people, including me, for supposedly not complying with their every word.

At each step in the process—arrest, detention and bond hearing—we were lined up, and numbers were scribbled on our arms with black marking pens…. In court, you appear before a judge, but via a television screen. You don’t get to speak, and the judge never even looks you in the face…. They treat our communities with disdain and contempt. I had to hire a lawyer and spend thousands of dollars to get the charges dismissed….

AS Law becomes increasingly complex, with hundreds of thousands and even millions of laws stacked on top of each other, almost no one can confront officialdom in any way without a lawyer. But what happens when your lawyer takes your money and does no work, don’t file basic motions or writs, and essentially shafts you? Not much. Bar associations have a cap of compensatory payments they sometimes make to incompetent or dishonest lawyers’ clients, but the amouts are often based on century-old, or even older, stated maximums. And it’s next to impossible to go after such a lawyer legally, because to do so you need… another lawyer.

. . .

EIGHT COPS raided a home in Minneapolis in ‘08. They shot up the place, accidentally not killing anyone. Well, it was the wrong house (there is no right house for something like this). This is completely comparable to a surgeon amputating the wrong leg, but if the doctor who did this to you then got a commendation from the medical association, wouldn’t you feel absolutely floored? So did the family whose home was raided and shot up. All eight cops received medals.

Undoubtedly this sounds like hyperbole or mere rhetoric, but the simple fact is that there is no conceivable way anyone can interpret this but as an official statement of Good Work, Men to stupid, negligent, incompetent thugs for terrorizing and injuring innocent people.

NOT SURPRISINGLY, when humanitarian spirit is dead in officialdom it’s not partly alive; it really is extinct and defunct. Also in Minnesota, a poor wild bear somehow got a plstic jar or bucket stuck on its head. Official solution: shoot the bear. No sympathy for an unfortunate creature; no imaginative or bold remedy. Just kill.

AS REPORTED by the Washington Post, prison guards at Prince George’s County Jail in Maryland are apt to be the kind of guys the average person expects to hear of as BEHIND bars. An investigation by the paper found guards who’ve been charged with assault, theft, beating and threatening their wives with death, having sex with prisoners, robbery at gunpoint, and other crimes.

Among the nine officers was Mark R. Bradley, whose then-wife asked for a protective order in 1998, claiming he had threatened, taunted, punched and slapped her… When she reached for the phone, Bradley who had been on the force for almost four years, yanked it away… His wife recalled him saying: Call the police… Make me lose my job. I’ll kill you. Almost a decade later, he was still on the payroll at the jail, despite three protective orders issued against him in the late 1990s. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to assaulting another woman, whose rib was broken. The woman, who had been pregnant with his child, told police that after a beating days earlier, she had a miscarriage. A judge put Bradley on probation and ordered him to take an anger management class.

AIRPORT FASCISM is being extended to railroads. Amtrak, the railroad passenger company, has brought in a SWAT-style phalanx of agents in full combat gear to sweep through train stations, randomly screening and searching passengers. The randomly chosen passengers will have to place their bags on a platform and be swabbed with chemicals that are claimed to react to traces of explosives. You can also be ratted out by dogs.

ONE OF THE factors that propelled the United States as far along into the police state that it now is, was the Vietnam War. There’s plenty of evidence that soldiers in ALL wars become brutalized, but something extraordinary seems to have taken place in Vietnam. Whatever it was, American men who went there (and survived) tended to come back in a vicious state of mind. Ordinary people were their enemy. They made up stories (essentially none has ever been verified) of people spitting on them when they arrived at stateside airports; and they formed cliques of us-versus-them. Looking for work, a high proportion of them went into law enforcement, and there they reinforced and amplified the already-existing us versus them mentality, ratcheting the propensity toward police brutality to amazing heights.

Now the same thing is happening with Iraq. Our guess is that the psychological corruption happens when soldiers fight amid a culture and a language that has few points of contact with the west and with Indo-European languages. It is one thing to fight, say, Germans or Italians, whose general culture is largely familiar (same religions, for instance) and whose languages have a large percentage of words that are the same or nearly enough so to be comprehensible even to the monolingual standard American youth. But in Vietnam—and now in Iraq—these military people are surrounded by words and behaviors utterly alien to them. Our own idle theory, therefore, is that this operate on their minds in such a way that the enemy becomes completely dehumanized. This creates the us-versus-them, and when they return to the USA, they still have it.

Then they go into law enforcement.

Already we are beginning to read about cases in which police—now Iraq war veterans—are opening fire on people merely running away from them. And already, too, the convoluted excuses are starting to evolve: Re-experiencing a war zone is one of several classic signs of combat stress reaction, says the Department of Veterans Affairs. If persistent and untreated, the Department goes on, this can result in post traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever verbal gimmickery you haul out to gloss over the facts, the truth is that these men (generally they are men) have been ruined, corrupted fatally and irretrievably, by being sent out to murder masses of people for no good reason in a country where they ought never to have gone. Mostly it’s their own fault, too, since ultimately it was their own volition that was compliant in their going there.

The bottom line is that Bush’s freudian effort to surpass his father’s Panama coup by similarly taking Saddam Hussein, unresisted by the press and the American people at the outset, is now going to result in thirty or forty more years of ever-worsening police violence against the public here. With this on top of everything else—the overpopulation, insanely burgeoning law-pollution, disastrous shift to digital culture, etc.—America is rapidly turning into an unliveable hell. Then add global warming.

IMMIGRATION PRISONS, where you’re sent for not having adequate proof of being a so-called citizen, are the new concentration camps of the Evil Empire. There are now a whole class of persons of various ethnicities who are afraid to travel outside of the towns or cities where they live, because of the possibility of being stopped by some profiling trick excused as a broken taillight, and then being sent sprawling into a cell at an immigration prison.

A recent well-publicized case in some of the larger newspapers (and excluded from the local dailies) concerned one Hiu Lui Ng, who’d come to the US from Hong Kong. Making the mistake of going to immigraiton headquarters in New York City to get a green card (legal authorization to live and work in this country), he was grabbed and put behind bars. There he developed cancer, was in severe pain, laughed at by the medical matrons, and eventually died from the rampaging and untreated disease.

. . . They denied him a wheelchair and refused pleas for an independent medical evaluation. Instead, … guards at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, dragged him from his bed on July 30, craried him in shackles to a car, bruising his arms and legs, and drove him two hours to a federal lock-up in Hartford, where an immigration officer pressured him to withdraw all pending appeals of his case. (New York Times.)

One out of hundreds of thousands.

— Fred Woodworth, Evil Empire Notes, in The Match! Issue No. 107 (Summer, 2009). 19–21.

See also:

Over My Shoulder #44: on Roe v. Wade, governmental “victories,” and the ennervation of the Women’s Liberation Movement. From Sonia Johnson, Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution

Here’s the rules. Except, note that I have changed them significantly, and plan to keep this new version from here on out. Check it:

  1. At the top of the post, make a list of the books you’ve read all or part of, in print, over the course of the past week, at least as far as you can remember them. (These should be books that you’ve actually read as a part of your normal life, and not just something that you picked up to read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Pick one of those books from the list, and pick out a quote of one or more paragraphs, to post underneath the list.

  3. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, which should be more a matter of context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than they are a matter of discussing the material.

  4. Quoting a passage absolutely does not entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the books:

Here’s the quote. This is taken from Chapter 1, Who’s Afraid of the Supreme Court? from Sonia Johnson’s Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution.

Often when I say that laws are not worth warm spit in patriarchy, those women who are frightened by the revolutionary implications of that statement often counter with the argument that Roe v. Wade is incontrovertible evidence that women can go through men and their system to win freedom. I reply that, unfortunately, Roe v. Wade is incontrovertible evidence not of freedom but instead of one of the most blatant co-optations, or re-enslavements, of women by patriarchy in history. I go on to tell them how I think Roe v. Wade saved and continues to serve patriarchy.

I wasn’t a feminist at the beginning of the second wave of feminism in this country in the late 60s and early 70s, but I have talked with hundreds of women who were. From them and from the literature written then, I can almost feel the incredible excitement of the Movement in those days. Despite, or perhaps partly because of, very legitimate and healthful anger, women were fairly bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Euphoria and elation might best describe the general atmosphere. It was a very heady time. Every woman I have spoken to who was an active feminist then looks back at that time with nostalgia: Those were the halcyon days, the Golden Age.

There were many reasons for that feeling, but chief among them, it seems to me, was that liberation seemed not only possible, but imminent. In addition, many feminists had a basic understanding of women’s enslavement that has since been lost in a general way: that women are men’s colonized lands; that just as the English colonized — a racist euphemism for conquered — Nigeria and India, for instance, men have colonized women. The English declared themselves owners of these countries, and their people, made all the laws that governed them, and pocketed the profits themselves. Britannia ruled by plundering and raping the colonials and their lands.

The Indians, the Nigerians, the other colonized peoples of the world (and colonization takes firmest hold in the feelings and perceptions of a people) tried to make the usurpers’ system work for them. They struggled to get laws passed that would give them more leeway, and they managed in some instances to infiltrate low- and even middle-level government echelons and to attain a few managerial and supervisory jobs in the industrial/corporate world. A token handful got into the educational institutions reserved for the masters. Some of them regarded these inroads as progress.

But enough of them eventually realized that it did not matter what else they seemed to achieve, if they did not have home rule, they could never be free. They came to the understanding that freedom was simply not possible for them—ever—in the colonial system. Freedom means owning themselves, owning their own lands, using their resources for their own enrichment, making their own laws. The revolution began with their feelings and perceptions of themselves as people who not only should but could govern themselves.

Women were the first owned, the first ruled people in every race and class and nation, the first slaves, the first colonized people, the first occupied countries. Many thousands of years ago men took our bodies as their lands as they felt befitted their naturally superior, god-like selves and our lowly, animalistic natures. Since this takeover, they have made all the laws that governed our lands, and have harvested us—our labor, our children, our sexuality, our emotional, spiritual, and cultural richness, our resources of intelligence, passion, devotion—for their own purposes and aggrandizement. These have been men’s most profitable cash crops.

. . . The burgeoning women’s health movement of the early 70s was evidence of women’s awareness of our physical colonization and of our realization that no matter what else we did, no matter how many laws we got men to pass, no matter how many low-echelon government and corporate positions we won, like the Nigerians and the Indians and all other colonized peoples, unless we had home rule, everything else we did to try to free ourselves was meaningless.

So we were saying howdy to our cervixes for the first time in our lives, our own and our friends’. We may have been the 17th person to see them and the first 16 may have been men, but finally we were meeting them face to face. In doing so, we realized that it didn’t take a man’s eye to see a woman’s cervix, it didn’t take an American-Medical-Association, male-trained mind to diagnose the health of our reproductive organs or to treat them. We were shocked to remember how natural it had seemed to go to male gynecologists, and realized that, in fact, men’s being gynecologists was perverted, gross, and sick and that our accepting them as experts on our bodies—when they had never had so much as one period in their lives, never experienced one moment of pre-menstrual psychic clarity, never had one birth pain, never suckled one child — was evidence of our ferocious internalized colonization. It began to appear as obscene to us as it truly is.

As obvious as this may seem now, it hadn’t been obvious for a very long time.

So in learning to examine our own sexual organs, to diagnose and treat our own cervical and vaginal ailments, to do simple abortions, to deliver babies, and in beginning to think seriously about developing our own safe, effective, natural contraceptives and getting the word out, women were moving out of colonization, out of slavery. We were taking back and learning to govern our own countries.

In those days, the movement was called The Women’s Liberation Movement, and that, in fact, was what it was. Women were breaking the contract that exists between all oppressed people and their oppressors, in our case our agreement to allow men to own us and to exploit us as their resources. Though we agreed to it under the severest duress imaginable, in order, we thought, to survive, we nevertheless agreed.

Those who do not understand how the thirst for home rule among women at the beginning of the second wave of our Movement in this century rocked the foundations of patriarchy worldwide simply do not understand the necessity of women’s slavery to every level of men’s global system. Perhaps even many of the women at that time did not fully understand the revolutionary nature of what they were about. But in establishing a new order in which women owned our own bodies and were not men’s property, they were destroying the very foundation of patriarchy. Since any power-over paradigm is totally dependent upon those on the bottom agreeing to stay there, men’s world organization was in grave peril. If women would not be slaves, men could not be masters.

The men who control the world are not intelligent, as is evident to even the most casual observer, but they are crafty, particularly about maintaining privilege through control. Over their thousands of years of tyranny, they have acquired a near-perfect understanding of the psychology of the oppressed—if not consciously, then viscerally. They knew precisely what to do when women began refusing to honor the old contract, and I am absolutely convinced that their move was conscious, plotted, and deliberate.

They sent an emissary after the women as they were moving out of the old mind into a free world. Hurrying after us, he shouted, Hey, girls! Wait up a minute! Listen! You don’t need to go to all this trouble. We already know how to do all the things you’re having to learn. We know your bodies and what is good for you better than you do. Trying to learn what we already know will take too much of your time and energy away from all your other important issues.

Then he used men’s most successful lie, the hook we had always taken in the past because men are our children, and we need to believe they value us, that we can trust them. You know we love you and want your movement to succeed, he crooned. So do you know what we’re prepared to do for you? If you’ll come back, we’ll let you have legalized abortion!

How could we refuse such a generous, loving offer? We had listened to men’s voices and trusted them for so long—in the face of massive evidence that they had never been trustworthy, had had so little practice in hearing and trusting our own, that we lost our tenuous bearings in the new world and turned around and walked right back into our jail cell. We allowed them to reduce liberation to an issue. We forgot that anybody that can let you, owns you.

So the men let us have legalized abortion. Some women protest that women won the right to it, forgetting that the legal system is set up to keep patriarchy intact, which means to keep women enslaved, and that men own the law. They will never use it to free us. As Audre Lorde states clearly, The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. [Audre Lorde, essay by that name in Sister Outsider. The Crossing Press: Freedom, CA 1984, p. 110.]

You know how pityingly we have looked at the benighted woman who says, I don’t need the Women’s Movement. My husband lets me do anything I want. But our pity has been hypocritical: Roe v. Wade, the glory of the movement, is exactly the same sad phenomenon — our husband the state letting us, and our feeling grateful for it. But, of course, like a husband the men let us not because it is good for us but because it is necessary for them. It keeps us colonized, our bodies state property and our destinies in their hands, and it rivets our attention on them.

So the men let us have legalized abortion, and almost instantly the energy drained from the movement, like air from a punctured balloon. Instead of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we became simply the Women’s Movement, because liberation is antithetical to letting men, depending upon men to, make the laws that govern our lands. For the last 15 years we have been nailed to the system by Roe v. Wade, our mighty energy and hope and love channeled into begging men in dozens of state and national bodies not to pare away cent by cent the truly miserable allowance they promised us for abortions for poor women.

If we hadn’t trusted them again, if we had kept on going in the direction we were headed, with the same time and money and energy we have since expended on groveling, we could by this time have had a woman on every block in every city and town who is an expert on contraceptives, women’s health, birthing, and abortion. We could have educated the women of this country in countless creative ways about their bodies and their right to rule them. We would have learned how to govern ourselves, discovering a whole new way for women—and therefore everyone—to be human.

And, significantly, a Bork could have been appointed to every seat of the Supreme Court, men could have been spewing laws aimed at controlling our bodies out of every legal orifice, and all their flailing and sputtering would simply be irrelevant. Having removed ourselves from their jurisdiction, we would have settled the question of abortion and birth control, of women’s individual freedom, blessedly and for ages to come. When the Nigerians and Indians got ready to rule themselves, the English had no choice but to go home. Tyranny is a contract. Both parties have to stick to it.

But in the early 70s women hadn’t had time to complete the necessary internal revolution in how we thought and felt about ourselves that was necessary for us to be free. Evidence of this is that we took as models for our movement the movements that had preceded ours, all of which were reformist because they involved men. Since our own internal, authentic women’s voices were still very weak and difficult to hear and when heard still without sufficient authority, we didn’t take seriously enough the fact that women and men are in wildly different relationships to the system. We didn’t realize that since the entire global system of laws and governments is set up with the primary purpose of keeping women of every color and class enslaved by men of their own color and class, and often by other men as well, talking about civil rights for women was oxymoronic. We had still to learn how colossally brainwashed we are by patriarchy to do in the name of freedom precisely those things that will further enslave us.

Roe v. Wade was very smart politics for the men; now, regardless of what party is in power or who is on the Supreme Court, the groundwork has been laid. The hopes of thousands of dedicated feminists are bound firmly once more to the husband-state. And we are all a dozen years further away from trusting women and finding a lasting non-male-approval-based solution to the problem of our physical and emotional colonization.

It is time for us to remember that no one can free us but ourselves. Time not to try to get the men to do it for us — which reinforces their illusion of godhood and ours of wormhood and perpetuates the deadly power-over model of reality—but to do it ourselves. Time for thousands of us to learn to perform abortions and to do all that needs to be done for one another in so many neighborhoods throughout the country that our liberation cannot be stopped. Time to manage our own bodies, heal our own bodies, own our own bodies. It is time for home rule.

This is how I want women to spend our prodigious intelligence and energy.

Obviously, Roe v. Wade doesn’t stand alone; it simply models patriarchy’s subversive tactics most clearly. Almost all segments of our Movement have suffered such co-optation. Many women who have been active in the shelter movement for years, for instance, have pointed out to me the similarities in strategy and effect between Roe v. Wade and government funding for shelters.

To obtain funding for shelters in the first place, women must tone down their feminism and conform to male officials’ standards and expectations. To keep the money, the women who work in the shelters as well as those who come there for help are required to do masses of paper work, the purpose of which seems to be to keep women from helping and receiving help. In some areas, when women are in crisis and call a shelter, before their feelings and needs can even be addressed they must be asked a dozen questions and informed at length about the conditions under which the shelter will accept them (they can have no weapons, for instance). Many women simply hang up in total frustration and anger. In other instances, funders won’t allow discussions of racism or homophobia or of battering among Lesbians. They also often control who is hired. Funders regularly split women’s organizations apart by clouding the issues of who is going to define the group, what their work is, what their analysis is, and even what the issue is.

In addition, nearly every funder’s prerequisites are designed to keep women powerless, thinking and behaving as victims. One state, for example, requires shelters to use only professional counselors, specifically prohibiting peer counseling. Peer counseling, I am told by women with much experience, is the only counseling that has yet been seen to have any significant effect upon battered women.

Because of the scope and depth of the subversion of our purposes by funders, local and national, many shelter workers agree with Suzanne Pharr who concluded her brave speech at the 1987 National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference in Los Angeles with these words: From my experience, my strongest urge is to say, DO ANYTHING—BEG, BORROW, STEAL—BUT DON’T TAKE GOVERNMENT FUNDING!

— Sonia Johnson (1989). Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. Albuquerque: Wildfire Books. 19–31.

See also: