Monday, April 14, 2014

The Revolutionary Potential of Social Media

Image Courtesy of StantonStreet.com



Social media is used 24/7, 365. From desktop computers and laptops to apps for Iphones, we are constantly inundated with information about the lives of our friends and associates and the lives of celebrities. Generally speaking, it seems that social media is mainly used to engage in and promote self-aggrandizing activity. Unfortunately, due to this saturation of navel gazing, it ignores how social media can and is being used in a revolutionary fashion.

Due to the lack of minorities and women in the mainstream media, in terms of both ownership[1] and representation[2], marginalized groups have often had to use the internet as a way to get out their message, to get out their version of events.  Social media is often been the place to do this. The use of social media to create safe spaces and create a dialogue among marginalized people can be seen in such pages as Black Girl Dangerous (BGD). BGD, according to their website, “seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.”[3] They have featured numerous articles from LGBT+ people of color, a group that is consistently ignored by the mainstream media. Simply by having BGD exist, it allows for a marginalized groups voice to be greatly amplified and bring the spotlight on the unique issues that they face.

Social media has also allowed people to organize and become aware of actions, demonstrations, and protests that they would otherwise not know about. For example, I recently went to a Newark public school walk out demonstration to stand in solidarity with the students who were protesting budgets and the implementation of charter schools. The only reason that I knew of this was due to the fact that the Anarchist Memes page on Facebook had created a post about it, linking to relevant information.

The promotion of radical politics is another use of social media, such as with the Facebook page Black Autonomy Federation. The organization wants to “[promote] class based grassroots anti-authoritarian struggle, Self Determination for The Black Community & Autonomy and Liberation for the oppressed worldwide.”[4] This promotion of radical politics allows people to learn about alternatives to the conservative-liberal political dichotomy and lets them see that there are other ways of organizing society, that there are political views and ideas that are much more compatible with their current situation.

The use of social media has also allowed for people to create a dialogue with formerly untouchable individuals. A most recent example of this is when Colbert Report Twitter sent out the joke: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever."[5] While the joke was sent out of its specific context, it still greatly angered a number of Asian-Americans. Suey Park, a writer, started up the hashtag #CancelColbert in response to the offensive joke. This hashtag gained massive coverage and a number of articles were written about it, even resulting in Park co-writing an opinion piece for Time.[6] No matter what one thinks of the situation, they cannot deny that social media had a major impact in allowing people such as Suey Park to talk back.

Yet, among all of this usage of social media to organize, talk back, and create safe spaces, there have been troubles. Earlier this year Facebook shut down the Anarchist Memes page on the grounds that it had been flagged too many times for violating the company’s Community Standards and its Statements of Rights and Responsibilities. A number of incidents had occurred, from posting “a picture of a Klansman who had accidentally set himself, instead of a large wooden cross, on fire, accompanied by the words ‘IRONY, it strikes at the best of times’” to posting a pro-transgender graphic, with the picture simply reading ‘Some Women Have Penises. Get Over it.”[7] These and other incidents led to the page being banned, however Facebook pages encouraging rape and racism, are consistently reported, but rarely is action taken against them.

Now, while this is quite important for the aforementioned reasons, we also have to realize that even though social media activism has its uses, it is not enough. Social media activism “doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.”[8] At the end of the day, while social media is great for getting information and having discussions, it still does not require one to put anything on the line, it does not require someone to get out in the streets and march or organize.

However, there are ways to change this and to get people out in the streets. What needs to occur is a combination of online and traditional activism. Black Girl Dangerous is doing this to great effect. BGD is organizing a summer program for queer and trans people of color in which the goal is to, through “writing, dreaming, screaming, owning up, and facing who we are, who we have been, and who we might become,” create “an emotional revolution that will reverberate throughout our lives and our communities.”[9] By giving queer and trans people of color a physical space to connect and learn to about themselves, it is empowering people.

If we want a social and political revolution to occur, we need to utilize all of the tools at our disposal, but we must know how to use those tools in the most effective manner with the end goal of organizing people to get out into the streets and protest and to create alternatives to the current system.






Endnotes

1: Free Press, Diversity in Media Ownership, http://www.freepress.net/diversity-media-ownership

2: Riva Gold, “Newsroom Diversity: A Casualty of Journalism's Financial Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 9, 2013 (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/newsroom-diversity-a-casualty-of-journalisms-financial-crisis/277622/)

3: Black Girl Dangerous, About BGD, http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/about-bgd/

4: Black Autonomy Federation, About, http://www.facebook.com/BlackAutonomyFederation/info

5: Meredith Blake, “#CancelColbert: Stephen Colbert accused of racism over Asian tweet,” LA Times, March 28, 2014 (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-stephen-colbert-accused-of-racism-over-asian-tweet-20140328,0,3484421.story#axzz2ytCNiUTG)

6: Eunsong Kim, Suey Park, “Anti-Racism Activists on Colbert: We Will Protest This Until It Ends,” Time, April 10, 2014 (http://time.com/58743/cancelcolbert-activists-we-will-protest-this-until-it-ends/)

7: Ben Norton, “Fascist Facebook?” Counterpunch, January 10, 2014 (http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/10/fascist-facebook/)

8: Jared Keller, “This Hashtag Kills Fascists: Does Social Media Activism Actually Work?” Al Jazeera America, April 2, 2014 (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/2/hashtag-activismcancelcolbert.html)

9: Black Girl Dangerous, Get Free: A Summer Program For Queer and Trans Youth of Color, http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/get-free-summer-program-queer-trans-youth-color/

Monday, April 7, 2014

‘Shield’ing the People from Independent Journalism

Image Courtesy of FreePress.net


Currently being debated by the Senate, but rarely discussed on mainstream television, is the Shield Law. While on the surface it may seem to be rather innocuous, some of the language in it and its implications are quite problematic for journalists.

A Shield Law is a law which “provides statutory protection for the ‘reporters’ privilege’— legal rules which protect journalists against the government requiring them to reveal confidential sources or other information.”[1] Generally, this is a positive occurrence as journalists are much more able to conduct their work and bring information to public light if they do not need to worry about having to reveal their sources. While Shield Laws have occurred in the past, they have only been on the state level. This currently proposed Shield Law is the first one to reach the federal level and the main goal is to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources in federal cases.[2]

However, there are certain instances in which journalists will have to reveal sources, such as “(1) The party seeking disclosure has exhausted all reasonable alternative sources of the information; (2) The requested information is essential to resolving the matter; (3) Disclosure of the requested information would not be contrary to the public interest; and (4) In criminal cases, if the requesting party is the federal government, the government must show that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has occurred.”[3]

While overall it may seem like a good bill, there are a number of problems with this Shield Law, officially known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2013. For starters, this law would “allow the government to seize reporters’ records without notifying them for 45 days – a period of time that could be renewed by a judge 45 additional days – if investigators convince a judge pre-notification ‘would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of a criminal investigation.’”[4] This power of seizing records without notifying reporters was used most recently in regards to the Associated Press, when the federal government seized their phone records in May of last year, with the government only saying that “they were needed for investigation of an unspecified criminal matter.”[5] Oh yes! What transparency and accountability! Infringing upon the First Amendment rights of reporters and then only giving what is essentially a BS, purposefully vague explanation.

In addition to this, the government can force journalists to give up information in the name of national security.[6] This is quite worrying as the US government has time and time again been involved in operations of entrapment.[7,8] Due to this, they could potentially have a scenario where they create a case of entrapment, label it terrorism, and then force all journalists to give up information on any and all sources as well as seize their records under the guise of national security.

Yet in this current bill, not only can the government continue to engage in the above behavior, but they are also defining who is and who is not a journalist. Initially, the bill defined a journalist as “a person who has a ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material’ in order to inform the public by regularly gathering information through interviews and observations” and added the stipulation that “The person also must intend to report on the news at the start of obtaining any protected information and must plan to publish that news.”[9] This seems to be rather fine as it would include mainstream and independent journalists. However, the situation became problematic when in September 2013, an amendment to the bill was proposed that- let’s just say- ‘more clearly’ defined who and who was not a journalist.

Kevin Gostolza of Firedoglake discussed this amendment last year and it would be appropriate to quote him now at some length:

A “covered journalist,” under the amendment, would be the following: an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information by means of newspaper; nonfiction book; wire service; news agency; news website, mobile application or other news or information service (whether distributed digitally or other wise); news program; magazine or other periodical, whether in print, electronic, or other format; or through television or radio broadcast, multichannel video programming distributor (as such term is defined in section 602(13) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 522(13)), or motion picture for public showing…
 
That person must also have the “primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest.” Or, that person should be engaged in the “regular gathering, preparation, collection, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting or publishing on such matters.”

A person would also qualify as a “covered journalist” if they had experience in journalism and had “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications” in the past twenty years. As Feinstein said, it would “cover a legitimate journalist such as a Dan Rather who leaves his media entity and takes to publishing freelance stories on the web.”[10] (emphasis added)

Now, let’s begin to take those paragraphs apart and analyze them, bit by bit.

In the first paragraph, the law defines a journalist as “an employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity or service that disseminates news or information” and then goes on to define the many mediums by which the news can be disseminated. Some of this language seems to be problematic. What exactly do they mean by “independent contractor?” Do they mean a freelancer? Do they mean someone like myself who researches and writes independently?

In the next paragraph, it adds a caveat to the definition of journalist, stating that the individual in question must also “have the ‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest.’” Well, how do you prove that this is one’s primary intent? Do you just have to state as such? And what do they even mean by the term “primary intent?” Isn’t the main goal of most if not all journalists to disseminate news to the public?

The final paragraph offers an alternative if one is not with a mainstream source by stating that they are covered if “they had experience in journalism and had ‘substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications’ in the past twenty years.” Does this mean that contributing to sites such as Truthout and Alternet could qualify one as a journalist under this law?

Apparently, in an earlier version of the bill, the law defined “journalists so narrowly that it excludes bloggers, citizen reporters and even some freelancers,”[11] and thus the amendment was added. However, this amendment seems to leave more questions than answers.

In addition to this, many supporters of this bill have been using some rather bellicose language. For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein has been quoted as saying that “real journalists draw salaries”[12] and stating that the First Amendment is “a privilege,”[13] which is rather worrying.

On top of all these other problems, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, has written that this bill would “give judges too much power to decide on their own whether the disclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest and thus not protected.”[14] This means the issue of deciding whether or not information that is being withheld by journalists, say, sources for example, violates the public interest in the form of national security would be decided by judges. If the judges do decide that the information being withheld does violate the public interest, then the journalist would be forced to hand over that information.

While judges do from time to time uphold the rights of the people, they seem to have often sided with the national security state as of recent. For example in 2010, a federal appeals court “ruled that former prisoners of the C.I.A. could not sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret government information,”[15] last year, the US Supreme Court decided to “allow the National Security Agency's surveillance of domestic telephone communication records to continue.”[16]

This year it was reported that the US Supreme Court “rejected [the Center for Constitutional Rights] lawsuit against Bush-era warrantless surveillance, which “guarantees that the federal courts will never address a fundamental question: Was the warrantless surveillance program the NSA carried out on President Bush’s orders legal?”[17] Thus, it seems that the situation of on whose side the courts would rule in a case regarding national security is rather iffy. This is made all the more strenuous by the fact that if a case were to make it up all the way to the Supreme Court and they ruled in favor of the US government, it has the potential to set a precedent which could only be overturned by an entirely new Supreme Court case.

As of now, there are conflicting reports about whether or not Chuck Shumer (D.-N.Y.) has the votes to pass the bill in the Senate, with Schumer saying he does and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) saying he doesn’t.[19] However, if it does pass, there is no doubt about it going into law as Obama has already voiced his support for it.[20]

By essentially giving the government the power to define what a journalist is, it has the potential to hurt independent media when it is needed now more than ever. The mainstream media consistently sits on stories to please the US government. It was reported in 2006 that the New York Times made a decision to “[withhold] a story about the Bush administration’s program of illegal domestic spying until after the 2004 election.”[21] More recently, the US media reported again and again that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in Ghouta and that the UN report confirmed it[22], when in reality, the question is still up in the air as new information has come to light that puts the official narrative in doubt.[23]

We need independent alternatives to the mainstream media like Corbett Report, Citizen Radio, and Black Agenda Report to allow people to get a glimpse behind the wall of misinformation that permeates much of the mainstream and get an idea of what is truly going on in the world. If this law gives the government the power to define who a journalist is, we may just lose that.







Endnotes

 1: Society of Professional Journalists, Shield Law 101: Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.spj.org/shieldlaw-faq.asp

2: Rem Reider, “Media Shield Law Moves Forward,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/09/12/senate-judiciary-committee-approves-media-shield-bill/2807045/ (September 12, 2013)

3: Chris Palmer, Josh Stearns, “The Journalism Shield Law: How We Got Here,” Free Press, http://www.freepress.net/blog/2013/08/06/journalism-shield-law-how-we-got-here (August 6, 2013

4: Steven Nelson, “Holes in Media Shield Law Worry Opponents, and Even Some Supporters,” US News, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/09/18/holes-in-media-shield-law-worry-opponents-and-even-some-supporters (September 18, 2013)

5: Roger Yu, “Feds Seize AP Phone Records For Criminal Probe,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/05/13/justice-department-associated-press-telephone-records/2156521/ (May 13, 2013)

6: ZoĆ« Carpenter, “Flawed Media Shield Law Goes to the Senate Floor,” The Nation, http://www.thenation.com/blog/176166/flawed-media-shield-law-goes-senate-floor (September 13, 2013)

7: Alex Newman, “FBI Celebrates Foiling Its Own Terrorist Plot, Again,” The New American, http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/crime/item/13263-fbi-celebrates-foiling-its-own-terror-plot-again (October 18, 2012)

8: Glenn Greenwald, ”The FBI Again Thwarts Its Own Terror Plot,” Salon, http://www.salon.com/2011/09/29/fbi_terror/ (September 29, 2011)

9: Tim Cushing, “Sen. Feinstein During 'Shield' Law Debate: 'Real' Journalists Draw Salaries,” Techdirt, https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130807/13153224102/sen-feinstein-during-shield-law-debate-real-journalists-draw-salaries.shtml (August 8, 2013)

10: Kevin Gosztola, “Media Shield Law, Which Aims to Protect Only ‘Real Reporters,’ Moves Onward to the Senate,” Firedoglake, http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/09/12/media-shield-law-which-defines-covered-journalists-moves-onward-to-the-senate/ (September 12, 2013)

11: Free Press, (August 6, 2013)

12: Morgan Weiland, “Why Sen. Feinstein Is Wrong About Who’s a ‘Real Reporter,’” Electronic Frontier Foundation, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/08/why-sen-feinstein-wrong-about-whos-real-reporter (August 9, 2013)

13: Mark Whitney, “Dianne Feinstein First Amendment Is A Special Privilege,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bywtn9RIDRw

14: Jacob Gershman, “Mukasey: Beware the Proposed Media-Shield Law,” Wall Street Journal, http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2013/12/02/mukasey-beware-of-the-proposed-media-shield-law/ (December 2, 2013)

15: Charlie Savage, “Court Dismisses a Case Asserting Torture by C.I.A.,” New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/us/09secrets.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (September 8, 2010)

16: Bill Mears, “Supreme Court allows NSA to continue looking at telephone records for now,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/18/politics/supreme-court-nsa-phone-records/ (November 8, 2013)

17: Kevin Gosztola, “Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case That Would Have Challenged NSA Warrantless Surveillance of Lawyers,” Firedoglake, http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2014/03/04/supreme-court-declines-to-hear-case-that-would-have-challenged-nsa-surveillance-of-lawyers/ (March 4, 2014)

18: Fox News, Schumer: Senate Has Votes for Media Shield Law, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/21/schumer-senate-has-votes-for-media-shield-law/ (March 21, 2014)

19: Hadas Gold, “Cornyn: Schumer Doesn't Have Votes for Shield Law,” Politico, http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/03/cornyn-schumer-doesnt-have-votes-for-shield-law-185862.html (March 27, 2014)

20: David Jackson, “Obama backs 'Shield Law' for Reporters,” USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/05/15/obama-schumer-associated-press-shield-law/2161913/ (May 15, 2013)

21: Barry Grey, David Walsh, “A Damning Admission: New York Times Concealed NSA Spying Until After 2004 Election,” World Socialist Web Site, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2006/08/nyti-a22.html (August 22, 2006)

22: Bill Chapel, “U.N. Report Confirms Chemical Weapons Were Used In Syria,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/12/12/250572623/u-n-report-confirms-chemical-weapons-were-used-in-syria (December 12, 2013)

23: Matthew Schofield, “New Analysis of Rocket Used In Syria Chemical Attack Undercuts U.S. Claims,” McClatchy, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html (January 15, 2014)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Exploring The Graveyard (Part 1)





Exploring the Graveyard
Part 1: Monarchs

Thirteen years. It’s been thirteen long, dangerous, painful years that we’ve been there. We have suffered over 2,000 dead soldiers and spent virtually $700 billion on the war in Afghanistan. The polls have shown a decrease in the number of people who support the war and yet we are still there.

Due to the incompetence and complicity of the mainstream media, there is little to no serious historical or geopolitical analysis of Afghanistan and how US interests in have helped to create today’s situation.

The Monarchy

Unlike the ethnic and religious tensions that plague Afghanistan today, in the past the country was not in constant strife or under religious rule, but rather it was ruled by a monarchy. The first monarch was Amir 'Abd al-Rahman who founded his rule on divine right and laid “a theoretical foundation for the monarchy at the same time that he spread the power of the central government over the country through a centrally controlled bureaucracy, backed by a strong standing army.”[1] Over time the nature of the regime changed, but an important change occurred in the 1950s, as Afghanistan changed its regional politics and rather than turn west to the US and its allies, they turned to the Soviet Union.

Mohammed Daoud Khan became the Afghan Prime Minister in 1953. He was an admirer of the former Afghan king Aman Allah, who ruled in 1923 and whom under Afghanistan gained independence, “acquired a written constitution and various other new laws,” “entered into diplomatic, commercial, educational, and developmental agreements with foreign countries,” and “embarked on a comprehensive scheme of modernization to transform almost overnight the basically conservative society into a modern one.”[2] In the same vain as Aman Allah, Khan sought to modernize Afghanistan and with Soviet aid he grew the country’s army and infrastructure.

These changes, along with increased education and socioeconomic reforms, led to the creation of a middle class which was not content with elements of the monarchy. Sensing these sentiments, in 1962, Khan moved to propose reforms to the monarchy as to allow the people more say. Specifically he stated that “the intelligentsia desired change and various kinds of ideologies were secretly active, the present system of government was no longer viable” and that a way to change the government, but still allow for the existence of the monarchy was to transition to a “new constitution based on a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy, and the legalization of either one or two political parties,”[3] with the king being the head of state, the executive branch being responsible for carrying out domestic affairs, and having an independent judiciary. 

These reforms were proposed at a time when the nation was virtually bankrupt, dependent on the Soviet Union, and a number of coups were taking place in the Greater Middle East region. The political and economic climate pushed the king to embrace the proposed reforms, however, the king was suspicious of Khan, viewing him as autocratic and thinking that the reforms would allow Khan to continue ruling the country by de facto. Only when Khan submitted his resignation did the monarch begin to implement the reforms, but they were done in such a manner that constitutionally strengthened his own position.  This self-serving change in the constitution, the king hoped, would allow him to better connect with the middle class and rural areas, but it would ultimately lead to his downfall.

Afghanistan, while having a large amount of influence from the Soviet Union, was a country of interest not just to them, but also to the United States and its neighbor, Pakistan.

Soviet Union

The Soviets first became interested in Afghanistan in the in 1950s. With the death of Stalin and Mohammed Daoud Khan becoming the Afghan Prime Minister in 1953, the regional calculus greatly changed. Khan looked toward the Soviets for “rapid economic development and a quick solution to the Pashtunistan issue.” In time, Afghanistan would become more dependent on the Soviets, especially in 1955, when the US refused to give Afghanistan military aid, the Soviet Union moved in quickly and not only pledged $100 million long-term loan but also agreed to provide military assistance.”[4] Between 1953 and 1963, the two countries became extremely friendly, with the Soviets giving developmental assistance in building infrastructure, such as roads and airfields, as well as gas pipelines that could transport natural gas from the Soviet Union to Afghanistan.

In the 1970s, the Soviets significantly ramped up aid to Afghanistan. The amount contributed to economic increased and military aid doubled, with $150 million in economic aid in 1974 and military aid going from $66 million in 1971-72 to $137 million in 1973-74. The Afghan military was now modernized and essentially a creation of the Soviet Union.

Overall, the main goals for the Soviets in Afghanistan up to 1978 were “conducting mutually beneficial trade relations,” “using Afghanistan to support the programs of Soviet foreign policy,” “using Afghanistan as a model of relations between states with different social systems,” and using Soviet aid to develop dependency and turn Afghanistan into a client state.[5]

The United States

In the 1950s and 60s, the United States strangely enough had little interest in Afghanistan, even though the Soviet Union was increasing its influence there. The US didn’t have many ties to the country as they could get no use out of an alliance or cooperation with Afghanistan. Afghanistan wasn’t an important trading partner, had no strategic resources, and didn’t provide the US with any kind of military or intelligence facilities.

While the Daoud government stated that the US refuse to give Afghanistan aid due to the Afghan government’s refusal to sign any mutual security agreements or join the Baghdad Pact, Washington argued that “some of the Afghan military wanted to join the pact but demanded assurances that they would be defended by the United States if their acceptance of arms aid precipitated a Russian invasion or major subversive efforts inside Afghanistan,”[6] this would have been problematic as the US hadn’t the regional presence or capability to aid in the defense of Afghanistan.

Pakistan

The problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan go back to 1947, regards demands from the Afghan government for the creation of Pashtunistan, a region incorporating parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where, historically, the Pashtun people have lived. Pashtunistan dates back to “the Durand Line in 1893 dividing Pashtun and Baluch tribes living in Afghanistan from those living in what later became Pakistan.”[7] Over the 1950s and 60s, series of small clashes took place between Afghanistan and Pakistan, with both countries (mainly Pakistan) responding with diplomatic removals and in one case, from September 1961 to June 1963, “diplomatic, trade, transit, and consular relations between the countries were suspended.”[8]  Eventually, due to Afghanistan’s deteriorating economy, the Afghan monarch, King Zahir Shah, sought the aforementioned Daoud Khan's resignation “on the basis that the country's economy was deteriorating as a result of his position regarding the Pashtun tribes in Pakistan.”[9] Daoud Khan resigned in March 1963 and was followed by Dr. Mohammed Yousuf as Prime Minister of Afghanistan, this change improved the atmosphere between the two nations and relations were restored in May 1963.

Fall of the Monarchy

On July 17, 1973, Lieutenant General (Prince) Mohammad Daoud Khan, cousin and brother-in-law of the King, along with a small number of young army officers, led a coup against Afghan king Zahir Shah.

The military went along with the coup as during the 1960s, the Soviet Union was giving military aid to the Afghans and thus Afghan officers were opened to radical ideas as they were required to “take courses in dialectical and historical material and in the history of the international communist movement. Whether these officers were really communists is highly debatable, but there is no doubt that they were against the establishment and in favor of social justice.” This, combined with the fact that junior offices were paid low wages, harshly disciplined, and in some cases given to senior officers as domestic servants, as well as that their “democratic outlook - shaped by the conditions of an egalitarian society and the Islamic concept of social justice - was reinforced by the Marxian view of social justice and morality as practiced in Russia,”[10] resulted in the junior officers viewing the monarchy as the highest form of social injustice.

On a larger societal level, many were fed up with the king as the economic situation was becoming more and more precarious due to the country becoming dependent largely on foreign aid for its revenue and from 1969-1972, a massive drought occurred and not only did it further damage the majority agrarian economy, but due to corruption, much of the relief aid that was given was siphoned off by officials who then sold the aid on the black market.

In regards to foreign policy, the Afghan public was not too pleased with the king’s decision in Afghan-Iranian relations. The government had agreed to give Iran some of the Helmand River water in exchange for oil, however, due to the drought and an increased suspicion of Iran’s regional aims, the Afghan people “a strong feeling that the government had betrayed national interests in return for financial inducements.” In relation to Pakistan, the Pashtunistan issue came to the fore once again, with “the defeat of the Pakistani army in Bangladesh in December 1971, and the dismissal of the National Awami Party government in Baluchistan in February 1973, after Iranian pressure on Bhutto.”[11] Many who were keen on the Pashtunistan issue, Daoud Khan among them, felt that this was the time for Afghan interests to be reasserted.

The monarchy was overthrown due to the fact that it was only as powerful as long as it had a loyal military backing it, as soon as those circumstances changed the power of the monarchy effectively ceased to exist.

Upon receiving news of the coup, the US became worried that it “might well change the ultimate power balance in South and South-west Asia” and openly wondered if the coup had been engineered by the Soviets, whereas the Soviet Union had a rather calm demeanor, noting in the news that Afghanistan had been proclaimed a republic and that things were generally under control.[12]

Yet, just like hate begets hate and evil begets evil, Daoud Khan becoming the President of Afghanistan via a coup would ultimately come back to haunt him less than a decade later.

Endnotes

[1] Hasan Kakar, “The Fall of the Afghan Monarchy in 1973,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 9:2 (1978) pg 195

[2] Kakar, pgs 197-198

[3] Kakar, pgs 198-199

[4] Khalid Nawaz Kahn, Soviet Interests in Afghanistan and Implications upon Withdrawal, Defense Technical Information Center, http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA229568, June 1, 1990

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Global Security, Pashtunistan, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/pashtunistan.htm

[8] Global Security, Pashtunistan 1961-1963, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/pashtunistan-1961.htm

[9] Ibid

[10] Kakar, pg 212

[11] Fred Halliday, “Revolution in Afghanistan,” New Left Review 1:112 (1978), pg 20

[12] Shaheen F. Dil, “The Cabal in Kabul: Great-Power Interaction in Afghanistan,” The American Political Science Review 71:2 (1977), pgs 474-475

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Politics of Abandonment

Image Courtesy of Yahoo!



The Politics of Abandonment: Abandoning Chelsea Manning and Siding with the State and Heteronormativity

This article was published in a special edition of the LGBT academic journal QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking


Chelsea Manning is a hero. She stood up for American values and for the American people when she leaked classified documents to Wikileaks. Due to her courageous actions, we became aware of a number of issues, from unsavory diplomatic backdoor dealings to war crimes committed by the US military. Yet, when the time came to defend her, the American people failed. They were told by a media that has sided time and time again with the government that Manning was a traitor and that she had endangered the security of the nation and other soldiers (something that was proven false by the Pentagon no less), the American people turned their back on her. Yet, the worst betrayal came from the LGBT community. We betrayed Manning, we allowed her to be fed to the wolves. It even went so far that other trans* people such as Christine Howey referred to Manning as a “trans traitor” and stated that it was “disheartening to see the transgender community saddled with another negative image”[1] in the form of Chelsea Manning.

Manning was stigmatized by the LGBT community early last year. In May at the San Francisco Pride Parade, plans were made to have Manning nominated as the grand marshall of the parade, however, after “LGBT military groups from outside of San Francisco began to bombard San Francisco Pride’s office with phone calls and emails,”[2] the Pride Board removed her from the list and a press release was published in which it was stated that Manning’s nomination was a “mistake” and “should never have been allowed to happen.”[3]

There is also something deeper at work here, specifically an attitude that seeks to conform. It is a mindset which plays out in one’s actions in their daily life. It is an attempt to be blend in with and assimilate to the larger culture. To this end, one may even betray members of their own community and side with the group(s) of the larger culture. In certain communities, it is called respectability politics, in the LGBT community, it is called heteronormativity. It is this heteronormativity that has become a part of the LGBT community and has resulted in the betrayal of Chelsea Manning. It is in this context that Chelsea was betrayed, that the LGBT community sided with the US government, a government that has historically oppressed them into modern times, not just in civilian life, but also in the military.

The US Government

While many were infuriated at Manning for leaking classified information and sided with the government in condemning Manning as a traitor, they failed to realize or acknowledge the fact that the US government has a history of oppressing the LGBT community.

LGBT persecution first came about most prominently after World War 2, in the late 1940s. In 1947, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee sent with a list of "admitted homosexuals and suspected perverts” to the State Department and in 1950, “a State Department official testified before that subcommittee that 91 ‘sex perverts’ had been allowed to resign in the previous three years, and that some had subsequently been reemployed by other federal agencies.”[4] This resulted in Republicans launching attacks against President Truman for not only employing gay people, but also a full scale inquiry led by Clyde Roark Hory (D-NC) to discover why federal employment of gays was unwanted. The committee found that

The behavior of homosexuals was criminal and immoral; they lacked emotional stability because "indulgence in acts of sex perversion weakens the moral fiber"; they frequently attempted to seduce normal people, especially the young and impressionable; and they had a "tendency to gather other perverts" around them. Probably most importantly, homosexuals were seen as security risks. On the one hand, their emotional instability and moral weakness made them "vulnerable to interrogation by a skilled questioner and they seldom refuse to talk about themselves.” On the other hand, "the pervert is easy prey to the blackmailer.” (emphasis added) [5]

Thus, from the very start, gays were seen as a threat to the United States and very likely to be traitors to their country due solely to their sexuality. This fear of gays came from the fear that they could “[hide] their true natures, allowing them to ‘infiltrate’ government in a way other out-groups could not,” yet some took this fear to the extreme with one right-wing columnist “[charging] that ‘an all-powerful, super-secret inner circle of highly educated, socially highly placed sexual misfits in the State Department" controlled foreign policy.”[6]

The effects of this manner of thinking were quite detrimental to the country as the government began to go on a massive witch hunt for gays, even going so far as to use entrapment in the case of William Dale Jennings.[7] The FBI even went to so far as to create a Sexual Deviates Program. The program was created by J. Edgar Hoover to “purge any suspected homosexual from the federal payroll” as well as “sex deviates employed either by institutions of higher learning or law-enforcement agencies."[8] It was amid this persecution and increased hostility that gays began to organize and fight back against a government that demonized them.

The Mattachine Society

During this turbulent and worrisome time for the gay community, some believed that it was time to organize and promote gay rights. This was during the time of the Lavender Scare, which “saw increased gay bar raids, homosexuals ferreted out of the military, gays being purged from government jobs, and the enactment of state and municipal sexual psychopath laws, all of which made living an openly gay life seemingly impossible.”[9] In Los Angeles in 1950, former Communist Party members Harry Hay, Chuck Rowland, and Bob Hull created the Mattachine Society. The Society was “named for an obscure medieval French group that satirized the French aristocracy from behind the safety of face masks,”[10] the trio believed that the name fit quite well, given the situation of the gay community which had to remain in the shadows of American society.

The FBI quickly learned of the Society and began to investigate it to discern whether or not it was Communist-led or had been infiltrated by Communists, yet they were unable to find anything despite the fact that the Society had been founded by three former Communists. The Society’s first victory came in the case of the aforementioned William Dale Jennings who had been caught in a case of homosexual entrapment, but the charges were dismissed in court when the jury deadlocked over the issue of acquittal. The court case resulted in an increase in membership, but also the group became the subject of an intense FBI investigation.

Los Angeles Mirror reporter Paul Coates, “obtained copies of Mattachine's lobbying questionnaires [and] published an article questioning the legitimacy of the group.”[11] He even raised the specter that Mattachine was a possibly dangerous group and speculated that a "well-trained subversive could move in and forge that power into a dangerous political weapon."[12] Coates fed on the popular narrative that gays were susceptible to blackmail. This actually played into the FBI investigation of the Society as the FBI interviewed an informant from the group who gave them additional information to Coates’ article.

While all of this was going on in Los Angeles, the fight to protect gay federal employees was occurring in Washington D.C. Frank Kamney, an astronomer with a doctorate from Harvard, lost a three-year legal battle to keep his job with the US Army Mapping Service. He and Bruce Scott, a former federal employee who has been forced to resign in 1956 due to his homosexuality, founded the Mattachine Society of Washington D.C. and launched efforts to discuss with government officials the employment ban on gays.

The Society of DC argued that “homosexuals were a minority group and that federal employment policies toward gays were equivalent to racial discrimination,”[13] with Kameny testifying before a congressional committee in August 1963 and the group protesting the White House on numerous occasions in the summer of 1965. The Society finally got a meeting with a Civil Service Commission committee in the fall of 1965 in which “Commission Chairman John W Macy, Jr., wrote to the Mattachine Society completely [rejected] their contention that the exclusion of homosexuals constituted discrimination against an oppressed minority and [claimed] that there was no such thing as a homosexual” and that “the attempt to define people with homosexual inclinations as a minority group was an attempt to excuse them from taking responsibility for their immoral actions.”[14]

Thus, we see a history of where the US government has, in civilian life, oppressed, ridiculed, demonized and overall shown a complete and utter disdain for gays. From cases of entrapment and spying, to outright being labeled as traitors to their country, the anti-gay tendencies of the US government were quite strong. However, the problems didn’t stop there. They went into the realm of the military and culminated in the well-known Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. While the policy is infamous, the effects on LGBT servicemembers are not well known.

The US Military

The DADT policy had a horrendous effect on LGB servicemembers. “For instance, over 19,000 servicemembers (active-duty enlisted or officer members of the military service, including the National Guard and Reserve) experienced sexual-orientation- based discharges from 1980 to 1993 and 13,000 more were discharged from 1993 to 2009 following initiation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”[15] The military is a space in which heterosexuality and masculinity are the norm and are strictly enforced. If one does not adhere to those standards, then one is victimized and intimidated.  Assaults of all types were used as enforcement mechanisms in the military. In a 2004 survey of anonymous LGB servicemembers revealed that “Experiences of discrimination and victimization in the military as related to sexual orientation were reported by almost half of respondents, with 47.2% indicating at least one experience of verbal, physical, or sexual assault.”[16] More recently, in 2010, the Department of Defense did a study on sexual orientation and US military personnel policy and found that

The majority of LGB respondents (91%) indicated that DADT puts gay servicemembers at risk for blackmail or manipulation, as well as negatively affects their personal (86%) and unit (76%) relationships. Seventy-two percent indicated experiencing stress and anxiety in their daily lives because of DADT. Twenty-nine percent indicated having been teased or mocked and 7% indicated previous threats or injuries by other individuals in the military because of their own LGB sexual orientation. (emphasis added) [17]

While some may argue that DADT is over, it actually isn’t as the policy does not include transgendered individuals such as Chelsea Manning. In fact, “the U.S. military disqualifies transgender troops for health reasons” and “for now, the Pentagon has no plans to cross that line.”[18]  The military’s policy in regards to trans* people are quite wretched. According to Outserve-SLDN, an organization for LGBT military members, trans* people are rejected not just if they have had any type of genital surgery, but even if they only identify as transgender as “the military considers this to be a mental health condition.” In regards to active duty military members, the military “is unlikely to provide the medical support necessary for transitioning service members” and if one seeks outside help, “they are at risk because they have a duty to report such treatment to the military. Failure to abide by these regulations could result in criminal prosecution by the military.”[19] Many Americans viewed the fall of DADT as a victory and rightfully so, however, there is a serious problem for trans* people that is largely being ignored by mainstream LGBT groups.

Heteronormativity

When Manning’s case gained mainstream attention, many groups that should have went to bat for her and supported her, instead remained mute and allowed the vilification of Manning to continue unabated and some, such as the aforementioned San Francisco Pride Parade Board, even went so far as to participate in it themselves. Such activity on the part of the LGBT community constitutes not just a betrayal of Manning, but of ourselves as well.

Two major LGBT rights groups, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, stayed silent about Manning for the entire fiasco of her trial and never once came out in support of her. On the day of her sentencing, HRC released a statement in which they stated that Manning’s transition deserved to be respected and that she deserved to be protected from violence, yet it slighted her when the message read

What should not be lost is that there are transgender servicemembers and veterans who serve and have served this nation with honor, distinction and great sacrifice. We must not forget or dishonor those individuals. Pvt. Manning’s experience is not a proxy for any other transgender man or woman who wears the uniform of the United States. [20]

This is essentially a message which seeks to separate Manning from the rest of the military community. It turns Manning into a black sheep of the trans* military community, implies that she did not serve her country honorably and only continues the campaign to isolate and ostracize her.

However, her abandonment should not come as a surprise to anyone, especially when one factors in who groups such as HRC and GLAAD are connected to. It was reported in July of this year that HRC had “the financial backing of major military industrial corporations, including Lockheed Martin, which is sponsoring the HRC's upcoming national gala in Washington DC and Booz Allen Hamilton, a corporate partner for the national event, as well as Northrop Grumman a sponsor of their Los Angeles gala.”[21] On GLAAD’s website, they list the AT&T Foundation as one of their sponsors.[22] AT&T is paid by the NSA to provide the government agency with the communications of their customers.[23] We see that the one of the main reasons that neither of these major groups made even the slightest defense of Manning was due to the fact that they were directly connected to the military complex and if a defense of Manning had been mounted; their funding may very well have dried up rather quickly.

There is also another reason as to why a defense of Manning did not occur and that is because of her background. Manning didn’t “conform to these upwardly mobile, white, polished, virile male stereotypes” of LGBT people that both of these groups attempted to portray. Rather, her “slight frame, lower-class background, questioning of [her] gender identity, inability to hold down a typical job, general dorkiness and dysfunctional family life”[24] created a situation in which she did not fit the image that either GLAAD or HRC wanted to promote.

At its heart, what this speaks to is two problems within the LGBT community: 1) that there is a split between the lesbian and gay branches of the community and everyone else and that 2) there is only one type of person that mainstream LGBT groups want to promote.

The split between the lesbian and gay branches with everyone else in the LGBT community is quite problematic as the political effects for members of the LGBT community are quite real, specifically with the separation of the GL portion, which came with ignoring other members of the community. Essentially, gays and lesbians succeeded by distancing themselves from other LGBT people.

Over time, the “GL” portion of the platform became increasingly acceptable to the population at large, both through increased education and desensitization of the public and by disavowing the more unacceptable elements of the movement. At the same time, this political success fueled a separatist culture, which bisexuals and transgenders threatened to dilute and homogenize.[25]

By fighting solely for their own rights, lesbians and gays were able to attain mainstream acceptance by the larger American culture, but at the expense of other members of the community, which includes bisexuals and trans* and queer people.

Yet, what must also be examined is that lesbians and gays were able to go gain acceptance due to aligning their interests with the view of the overall American culture. Pushing for marriage equality doesn’t upset the apple cart for most people. Many LGBT rights groups want to promote a certain image of the community as was described above. This selective portrayal can be seen on a regular basis with people being interviewed about LGBT issues largely being white, middle and upper class, cisgendered men.

Yet, this all comes at a cost. The cost of focusing on only one type of person means that the experiences of people are lost and ignored. The experience of the black gay man, the poor white bisexual, the transgendered high school student, and countless other stories are forgotten and laid to the wayside.

At the end of the day, by betraying Manning, the LGBT community has betrayed itself as Manning is “actually what many, if not most, LGBT people have been at one point or another – an outsider, a loner, a person who does not fit in or conform.”[26] All LGBT people were like that at some point in their lives or are currently in that situation. The betrayal must end and Chelsea Manning’s story must be heard.


Endnotes


1: Christine Howey, “First Person: ‘Trans Traitor’ Manning Adds to Transgender Perception Problem,” NBC News, August 23, 2013 (http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/23/20153443-first-person-trans-traitor-manning-adds-to-transgender-perception-problem?lite)

2: Kevin Gosztola, Former San Francisco Pride Grand Marshal Who Nominated Bradley Manning Details Board’s Capitulation, Firedoglake (April 29, 2013) (http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2013/04/29/former-san-francisco-pride-grand-marshal-who-nominated-bradley-manning-discusses-boards-capitulation/)

3: Victoria A. Brownworth, “Bradley Manning and Queer Collaboration,” Advocate, May 1, 2013 (http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2013/05/01/op-ed-bradley-manning-and-queer-collaboration)

4: Gregory B. Lewis, “Lifting the Ban on Gays in the Civil Service: Federal Policy toward Gay and Lesbian Employees since the Cold War,” Public Administration Review 57:5 (1997), pg 388

5: Ibid

6: Ibid, pg 389

7: Dudely Clendinen, “William Dale Jennings, 82, Writer and Gay Rights Pioneer,” New York Times, May 22, 2000 (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/05/22/us/william-dale-jennings-82-writer-and-gay-rights-pioneer.html)

8: Athan Theoharis, “Civil Liberties: The Cost of Fighting Terrorism,” Los Angeles Times, April 30, 1995 (http://articles.latimes.com/1995-04-30/opinion/op-60524_1_fbi-officials)

9: Douglas M. Charles, “From Subversion to Obscenity: The FBI's Investigations of the Early Homophile Movement in the United States, 1953-1958,” Journal of Sexuality 19:2 (2010), pg 263

10: Charles, pg 264

11: Charles, pg 267

12: Charles, pg 268

13: Lewis, pg 390

14: Ibid

15: Derek J. Burks, “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Victimization in the Military: An Unintended Consequence of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” American Psychological Association 66:7 (2011), pg 604

16: Burks, pg 607

17: Ibid

18: Tom Vanden Brook, “Transgender Troops Serve In Silence,” USA Today, July 23, 2013 (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/07/23/transsexuals-military-struggle-acceptance/2513153/)

19: Outserve-SLDN, Transgender People In The Military Service, http://www.sldn.org/pages/transgender-people-and-military-service

20: Jeff Krehely, “Pvt. Chelsea E. Manning Comes Out, Deserves Respectful Treatment by Media and Officials,” Human Rights Campaign, August 22, 2013 (http://www.hrc.org/blog/entry/pvt.-chelsea-e.-manning-comes-out-deserves-respectful-treatment-by-media-an)

21: Christopher Carbone, “Have Gay Rights Groups Abandoned Bradley Manning?,” The Guardian, July 30, 2013 (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/30/bradley-manning-gay-rights-groups-support)

22: GLAAD, Support GLAAD: Foundations and Corporate Grants, http://www.glaad.org/support/grants

23: Robert Lenzer, “AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Are Paid Cash By NSA For Your Private Communications,” Forbes, September 23, 2013 (http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/09/23/attverizonsprint-are-paid-cash-by-nsa-for-your-private-communications/)

24: The Guardian, July 30, 2013

25: Jillian T. Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” Journal of Bisexuality 3:3 (2004), pg 40

26: The Guardian, July 30, 2013



Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Citizen's Dilemma

Image Courtesy of Caffienatedthoughts.com



While the 2014 Senate elections are several months away and the 2016 Presidential elections are even farther off into the future, the media is still hyping these up as if they are going to happen any day, most recently with the Chris Christie bridge scandal. However, the time has come for us to question as to why we vote, why we engage in this current system that oppresses us. We must realize the citizen’s dilemma.

Again and again, every election cycle people are encouraged to vote and millions turn out with the hopes that voting in a new politician will change the current system. Unfortunately that is currently not true and has not been true for decades. It would be false to say that there has not been major reform in the past, such as with the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, but overall we have seen that the government has become more and more oppressive over time while becoming less and less responsive to the people. We only need to look at what is currently going on with the NSA spying on Americans to Obama having signed the NDAA in 2012 which allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens. Yet, we need to look at the roots of this problem.

In the US education system we are embedded with a number of ideas from a young age but two stand out the most: 1) The US is a democracy and 2) Voting is extremely important. Many continue to believe in this for the rest of their lives and eventually align with either the Democratic or Republican parties and continue to support one of the two parties throughout the rest of their lives. We are caught in this idea that voting is important and voting will effect real change, all the while ignoring that time after time, voting doesn’t actually do much at all.

While most Americans identify as independent they still go and support either one of two parties, election after election. This is an extremely strange phenomenon when Congress currently has historically low ratings, even going so far as to be less popular than cockroaches and traffic jams. Both political parties are criticized on a regular basis for looking out more for their own political interests rather than the interests of the nation as a whole.

The US government has continued a number of policies that are constant, no matter what party is at the presidential helm, namely war, ‘free’ trade, and the surveillance of Americans. While there are differences between Democrats and Republicans, on a majority of major issues they are the same. The government does not truly care about its citizenry, rather it cares much more about corporations and themselves, as can be seen by the fact that they have taken time to line their own pockets by repealing most of the STOCK Act and that they are bought and paid for by corporations. There is a further disconnect between the people and Congress as many in Congress are millionaires and thus their personal interests align with those of the upper class and corporate elites rather than their constituents.

While may argue that the way to fix the system is through reform, namely campaign finance reform such as repealing the Citizens United case and by enacting term limits on both chambers of Congress, however even that will not work as it has to be enacted by the very people who are benefitting from the status quo.

The situation doesn’t get any better when one factors in that the two political parties actually go against their espoused values on a regular basis, rather they actually agree on many things that go against their values. The NDAA 2012 which allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens and the Trans Pacific Partnership are two recent occurrences that go against the Democrats stance of wanting to do away with the security state that former President Bush created. The Republicans, too, support the surveillance state as they recently praised him on his defense of NSA spying, something that goes completely against their ‘small government’ agenda. No matter if the administration be Republican or Democrat, we have consistently seen a number of policies remain the same, namely war, supporting corporations under the guise of ‘free trade,’ and the increased monitoring of the populace.

Thus, the American people find themselves in a dilemma in which there are a myriad of problems facing them, but the current political structures refuse to address the problems, rather they only serve as a valve in which to unleash steam. Voting does not help. Reform will not be enacted. It is time for Americans to begin to create new structures that work for the public rather than to continue engaging in a revolving door.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On Bearing Witness

Image Courtesy of Hurt 2 Healing Magazine




Seeing the bombings, killings, and general injustices committed in the US and around the world are extremely disheartening and discouraging. Hopelessness and a general feeling that nothing can be done can easily overwash a person. It is even more so if you are in a situation where you are unable to attend protests, rallies, or marches. However, there is something that we can all do: bear witness. By that I mean that we keep abreast of what is going on in the world and make a point to discuss important issues and topics with people in our everyday lives, especially those who may not be too interested in politics. To discuss this in more detail, I recently had an email interview with Melissa R and Geoff W about bearing witness.



1. How do you define this idea of 'bearing witness?

Melissa: I think of this in a broader sense so that it includes practices of mine as well as what I imagine would be a more common interpretation. By a more common interpretation I mean those interactions with other people that involve sharing experiences, knowledge, and ideas without the religious missionary aspect. In my broader explanation it's really about developing a wide ranging base of knowledge and ideas without being locked into any so that others are off limits. There is self study and education at the core. I suppose that bearing witness would come in again to personal practices of mine would in conversation, observation, conflict resolution, and then again sharing information and ideas. For me it isn't about changing someone's core ideas or bringing them over to a team but more about giving them an impetus to consideration on their own.

I also take bearing witness to mean putting thoughtful attention to what is going on around me or in the world. One could on a level know that there is a drone program and maybe even know details of it to the extent they are available. Many people do and yet choose to turn off at the junction of seeing the testimony of the families who were fortunate enough to have survived, such as Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children. They came to D.C. to testify about the drone attack on Waziristan in which Rafiq's mother was killed and children injured. Only five “lawmakers” and very few journalists showed. Hearing and spreading these truths be it pretty or harsh is a form of bearing witness that is essential, in my opinion.

Geoff: Christians have the best definition, "to share the good news." Unfortunately, not everything lefties bear witness to can be considered remotely close to "good," so we must adopt our own definition.  Let the truth be said, then. At the least, let your truth be said.

2. Why do you think that bearing witness is important?

Melissa: So many are in debt to extend their education, didn't complete their high school education, or are engaging in self education because they don't want to add to debt in order to go to college. In addition to these means of education bearing witness can be educational moments as well. Even if this is watching documentaries, listening to programs, talking to people of varying opinions, a new takeaway can be gained. I think there is also something gained for both parties when a compassionate or attentive audience is present for particularly important moments. It doesn't have to lead to a change of mind or an urge to move. It could just give someone perspective or give one person a sense of dignity for being recognized.

Geoff: Bearing witness startles people. I can't speak for humans globally, but in America we tend to segregate ourselves based on personal beliefs.  When an individual has the opportunity to say something contrary to their peers' opinions, there is a small moment where people have to decide either to dismiss the new opinion out of hand, or think critically about both options presented.  It's that latter action we as activists should hope to prompt.

3. How do you go about doing this in your own lives?

Melissa: I feel in addition to having a wide base of knowledge we also need to take in a wide variety of experiences and kinds of life, not necessarily through having them ourselves. We can do this by earnestly communicating them with other people. It's never been easier for this to take place than in this time of instant mass information. One problem that I see is what I call “teaming” which is really just tribalism. The corporate media is only distributing limited information and even within those there are sides to be chosen. Even with so much information available many people still choose to wall themselves off in these reinforcement chambers.

What I think we can do in our own lives is just engage with people, read a wider variety of information with a critical eye, but not with the intent of moving from one side to another. This whole notion of “sides” is problematic and exactly what enhances power structures. Be with people and give them compassion. Smile at people who flick you off in traffic.

Geoff: I'm a student and an activist, so an overwhelming number of opportunities to discuss controversial issues are made available to me.  They run the gamut, from voicing an opinion in a classroom to directing weekly workshops.  My university is in a fairly conservative region, so many people are unfamiliar with concepts of neocolonialism, of queer theory, feminist thought, racism, and most all of the anti-prejudice work radicals in left-leaning areas take for granted.  As a queer transgender individual, I find myself most often bearing witness to my own experience, through questions asked by professors and students alike.  It's not something I can keep on all the time, eventually any person becomes weary of defending their own existence.

4. Would you consider bearing witness a form of activism?

Melissa: The label of activism has been contested over the past few years in such a manner that it is constantly changing but that happens with language so I do and I don't. In certain situations, I can see where it could be applicable but I don't seek that label out. There is a real problem with language policing even among more conscientious people so I don't really think too much about if I am being an activist today or not. I do think that the spreading of knowledge and information is an act that is so important that it is activism even if you aren't outside with a microphone, especially when you don't have the means or opportunity to do other things. Arthur Ashe said “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” It's simple but it says it all.

Geoff: Is bearing witness a form of activism?  Yes.  Unabashedly, whole-heartedly yes.  The first time I realized how important bearing witness is as a form of activism, I was fresh into college.  A professor had decided we'd spend the quarter having a variety of conversations around controversial issues, and would let the students work things out between ourselves.  For one day of class, affirmative action was the topic at hand.  Unsurprisingly, no one in the class supported (or had bother reading up about) affirmative action, except for myself and one woman.  The conversation quickly devolved from any constructive discussion of the policy, or even of systemic prejudices, into one peppered with seriously racist commentary.

As a white person, this would have been an opportunity to cash in my privilege card and step back.  Instead, I decided it'd be better to "bear witness." The woman and I spent the entire 50 minute class period arguing against 33 other students.  It wasn't fun, nor did it feel terribly productive.  It was after the class, however, that the significance of what seems to be a small action was explained to me.  The woman, whose name I have since forgotten, pulled me aside and thanked me.  It turns out, this wasn't the first time she'd had to discuss racism in class, but as a woman of color in a predominantly white campus, she was always forced to be the sole defender of anti-racist, anti-discriminatory policy.  She'd gone into the discussion expecting to play the role again, but having a second person there to back her up, and to call out bullshit as I saw fit, meant that the burden of proof was shared.

In a similar vein, every time an issue in classes or conversation comes up that relates to me specifically, I wish desperately that I'll not be the only person defending the politics I align with.  Because it's isolating, exhausting, and downright demoralizing to be the only person in a class of 60 who speaks up in defense of transgender people.  It puts minority groups on the defense, and perpetuates a campus environment that effectively excludes us.  This can be applied to the workplace, social spaces, activist groups, and more.

5. How would you contrast it with more traditional ideas of protesting such as marches and rallies?

Melissa: Marches and rallies seek to bring masses together. What I'm talking about is examining everything and not taking a single issue focus, which is one of the things that has bothered me. It should be noted that I do not live in a large city that is noted for even good turnout at protests. The few that I have been to were very disheartening. I do see that among protests taking place when they do happen they are single issue focuses and it appears that nationwide there is a problem with this. Another thing that keeps me from participating with causes I would mostly agree with is their tactics. I'm not going to go and join a PETA protest outside of Barnum and Bailey's Circus even though it is a tortuous affair because I don't see how dousing a naked person in fake blood on a busy street for children to walk by conveys that message. That is just the tip of the disaster that is PETA.

I'm not trying to downplay the work of activists; I am speaking from my perspective as someone who thinks that there should be a broader focus. The handful of Gay Groups receiving millions in funding pushing marriage initiatives are a prime example of single issue focus. They completely leave out the trans community, issues of elder rights, job protections, and have written off Chelsea Manning as if she isn't still serving a prison sentence for telling the truth. This is just my perspective as one queer person.

Geoff: Rallies and marches are effective tools for changing top down policies.  Campus administration, corporations, and especially governments are more responsive to a rally and other forms of direct action.  I don't know how effective they are at changing the hearts and minds of people.  In many instances, just making your opinion known is a radical action.  Ideally, traditional forms of activism and bearing witness should go hand in hand.

6. Some would criticize this as doing nothing and not having any major impact. What would be your response to such an argument?

Melissa: Doing nothing will have no impact. Like I mentioned before, use what you have and do what you can. I didn't know about Leonard Peltier until a teacher of mine in high school told me his story. I learned about Leonard Peltier, AIM, John Trudell, read Malcolm X's autobiography, and began relearning history. You never know the thing that will be a catalyst for change whether for yourself or someone else. It could be a book, a documentary, being with a person through an experience, living through intense trauma or bullying just to name a few.

Geoff: I would say the people arguing against it need to step back and think critically about their position. There are many people who cannot safely do more than voice their opinions.  There are even more people whose opinions are unsafe to voice.  In some areas of the country, probably more areas than people in urban areas might believe, bearing witness can and does result in a job loss, isolation, and violence.

Melissa R is a queer woman living in the southern United States. She works full time in healthcare and encourages self education.

Geoffrey W is an activist and economics student in Washington State. He is the president of his campus Queer-Straight Alliance, and enjoys spending his time attempting to overthrow the the colonialist, patriarchal, discriminatory powers that be. When asked for comments, one person said Geoff was, "...born in the cesspool of multiculturalist liberal propaganda."

Monday, December 30, 2013

Seeing Racism in a Colorblind Society

Image Courtesy of Psychology Today



All over the place people have been saying time and again that they want a ‘color-blind’ society, to not have to deal with racism or race anymore. They consistently quote Dr. King, saying that they want to be able to judge someone by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Many argue that the way to do this is to develop a color-blind society that ignores color. While some may hail this as a noble effort, they fail to see the downsides and how arguing for a color-blind society actually supports white supremacy.

One of the potential downsides to a color-blind society is that, ironically, it could actually foster an atmosphere that allows racism to continue. In a society that no longer sees color, what is the use for anti-discriminatory policies much less hate crimes legislation? Theoretically, there would be no need for such policies as people would not be judged on their race/ethnicity, at least, not on a blatantly discriminatory level. No hate crimes legislation would allow for racist attacks to be perpetrated against individuals without acknowledging that the act was especially heinous. The absence of anti-discrimination laws would allow for businesses to discriminate against minority groups without punishment.

Another potential downside would be the absence of affirmative action/equal opportunity policies, which have been a major benefit to minority communities (even if white women are the main beneficiaries[1]). The purpose of affirmative action is to “ensure that qualified individuals have equal access to opportunity and are given a fair chance to contribute their talents and abilities”[2] yet with AA/EO gone, it could take away even the chance of minorities and women getting a shot at going to certain colleges or attaining certain jobs. This would only increase the racial/gender disparities in regards to visibility in a field and wage disparities.

The argument of a ‘color-blind’ society would actually harm the classroom as well. Most of our history focuses on white people, specifically white men, with token acknowledgements being given to people of color and women. In a color-blind society, we would still be focusing on those same white men, but the situation would be different in that already marginalized groups could be completely ignored or changes made to the language used which results in hiding the true horrors of what occurred, as we have seen happening in the past years.[3] The same would be true for culture, as the cultural heritage of minorities could be ignored in favor of pushing a ‘color-blind’ culture which in reality is the white-dominated culture we currently have today in America.

Overall, the idea of color-blindness is deeply problematic as rather than attacking the roots of racism in our society and the negative impact racism has, color-blindness chooses to ignore it and continue the oppression and marginalization of entire peoples. Only by challenging racism on all levels, from institutionalized racism to micro-aggressions can we actually dismantle racism as an institution and truly liberate ourselves.

Endnotes

1: North Caroline State University Affirmative Action in Employment Training, Who Are The Intended Beneficiaries of Affirmative Action?, http://www.ncsu.edu/project/oeo-training/aa/beneficiaries.htm

2: Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Affirmative Action, http://homepages.se.edu/affirmative-action/4/

3: Amanda Paulson, “Texas textbook war: 'Slavery' or 'Atlantic triangular trade'?,” Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 2010 (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0519/Texas-textbook-war-Slavery-or-Atlantic-triangular-trade)