Morning edition reports on changes in USAID food aid plans, forgets to talk to aid recipients

Well this is interesting.  NPR is reporting today that the US may be planning to cut food aid programs that involve sending millions of pounds of US grown and processed grain overseas to alleviate hunger, and instead food aid will focus on programs that facilitate distribution of food from farmers closer to the areas in need.

Importing US-subsidized grain to alleviate hunger has a long history of driving prices down in the destination countries, and leaving local farmers stuck in a market where they cannot compete.  A new program where food aid came from the same country or region as the place in need seems like a positive step towards a food system where food sovereignty – populations’ autonomy and control over their food production and supply – is possible.

This NPR piece highlights a debate between a US-based humanitarian/global development organization, International Development and Relief, and Oxfam America.  IDR argues that the current system of food aid is saving lives, while Oxfam points out that it is a terribly inefficient system that robs local farmers of competitive markets to sell their crops.  The voices which are blatantly lacking from this piece are the voices of farmers and people who live in Pakistan and Ethiopia and wherever else US AID has “missions” (US AID projects are actually called missions, uncomfortably, but dare I say accurately, replicating the language of colonization).  Perhaps this is unsurprising, because the voices of those most directly affected and living in the places being talked about are so often omitted from the narrative, but it is none the less disappointing.

A Political War Brews Over ‘Food For Peace’ Aid Program

Listen! ¡Escucha!

Today, undocumented queer organizers continue to organize based on our experiences and the stories of people in our communities. It is by listening to these stories that many of us have come to the conclusion that we need to continue to use creative and unapologetic tactics to stop deportations and to address the abuses and injustices taking place every day in immigration detention centers. Meanwhile, national mainstream organizations continue to push for a path to citizenship that ignores the immediate needs of undocumented immigrants and the record-breaking deportations under the Obama Administration. Perhaps Frank Sharry and DC-based immigration reform groups should stop rewriting history and listen to those directly affected by immigration laws, including undocumented queer immigrants who continue to be at the forefront of the movement.

-Prerna Lal, How Queer Undocumented Youth Built the Immigrant Rights Movement

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/prerna-lal/how-queer-undocumented_b_2973670.html

An Overview of Rape Culture in Three Articles

Articles dominating my corner of the internet today:

CNN Reports On The ‘Promising Future’ of the Steubenville Rapists, Who Are ‘Very Good Students’

and

NYPD Will Now Run Criminal Checks on Domestic Abuse Victims

and

Telling a Woman to Get A Gun Is Not Rape Prevention (which is a post linked to a segment in which Sean Hannity* can’t process the idea that we should be teaching people not to rape rather than teaching women to arm themselves to deter their rapists)

The conclusion I reach from the fact that all three of these are converging upon me today is: We have got it ALL WRONG when it comes to ending rape and rape culture.

Today, the media is telling people that the perpetrators of rape are the true victims. It’s telling victims of domestic abuse that they can be even more doubted and victimized if they report their abusers. It’s telling women that if they aren’t armed, their rape is their fault because they should’ve been ready to defend themselves.

If we want to dismantle rape culture and end sexual violence, we need all of these things to happen:

We need a common understanding that victims of rape, sexual assault, and abuse are NEVER at fault for the crimes perpetrated against them.

We must have access to resources for victims of abuse that victim/survivors feel comfortable and safe using.

We have to teach people not to rape rather than trying to create strategies for people to keep from being raped – they don’t work.  The only people who can stop rape are the people who decide not to rape.

We have to get away from the idea that people who perpetrate crimes of sexual violence are anonymous, bad enigmas, who crawl around in underground tunnels until they jump from behind the bushes.  The majority of sexual violence happens between people who already know each other. 

We need to address the parts of our culture that teaches young people, particularly young men, that they are entitled to women’s bodies, and that they don’t have to respect when someone says no, or when someone is too sick or intoxicated to consent.

We need mechanisms to address sexual violence and domestic abuse that both trust and validate victims, and hold perpetrators accountable.

We have a lot of work to do.

Here’s a fourth article that just popped up, which is a really important part of this whole puzzle: if we really want to end a culture of violence and oppression, we have to dismantle the prison industrial complex and stop putting people in cages.

Rape, Cages, and the Steubenville Verdict by Mia McKenzie

It’s not as simple as just throwing people in jail for committing rape.

*whoops – meant Sean Hannity, not Bill O’Reilly

Bechdel Test: College Edition

I want to create a Bechdel Test for my classes.

What the fuck is the Bechdel Test?

The Bechdel Test was created by Alison Bechdel, author of the comic Dykes to Watch Out For. Here’s how it works:

You take a movie – ANY MOVIE – and you ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does the movie have two named, women characters?
  2. Do they have a conversation with each other?
  3. Is the conversation about something other than men?

If you’ve answered yes to all three – congratulations! It passes the Bechdel Test.

Most movies don’t pass the Bechdel Test. This is why I haven’t seen most movies.  I’ve done this with other media, too – I got really fed up with most books when I was in high school because they all only had straight people, and my young lesbian soul was bored with it… but then I found lesbian fiction, and books that weren’t just about high school romance.

Most movies, most books, most everything are about men.

Many of my classes are about men/straight people.  I’m a Women’s Studies major, now, so they’re better than they could be.

But not all of my classes are WMST classes, and some are particularly frustrating.

I call one of my professors – to not-his-face (though he might eventually see this) – “Bro”fessor.  He calls male students “bro” and female students “girl.” He’s trying to be friendly. Instead I want to vomit.  He’s teaching “new new journalism,” and still, on a 13-week syllabus, we’re reading 3 women – and one of those women is interviewing a man.  If you ask me, a HUGE part of the new new journalism (and when we talk about NNJ, we mean journalism in the age of the internet, more or less), is the diversity of voices that can be heard if you’re looking for them.

Here’s my Bechdel Test for a syllabus and classroom:

  1. Are AT LEAST 40% of the readings by women or queer people? Are at least some of those readings from non-male-dominated sources?  (I say 40% here because we have to be honest with ourselves about the fact that women haven’t been prominent in academia for nearly as long as men, and there is just less out there by women at this point. This can change, though, and this 40% would ideally be with the vision for larger numbers in the future.)
  2. Are those women/queer writers, and the subjects they discuss, included as valid voices and topics, not just as asides saying, “This is what the women are talking about” ?
  3. Does the professor treat the women and gender-non-conforming students in the class with the same respect and attention as s/he does the men?

Oppression by omission is common throughout curricula.  Inclusion of female voices, queer voices, voices of color, disabled people’s voices, and the voices of other historically marginalized and disenfranchised groups is too often about tokenizing and including “diverse perspectives” to complement white male voices.

What do you think of my Bechdel Test for Syllabus and Classroom? Brofessor, do you want to talk?

Autostraddle — Questioning “Queer” Across Generations

Autostraddle — Questioning “Queer” Across Generations

“…queerness, the way I experience it, has to do with so much more than the gender of the person you love; it’s about having a deep love for people and trying to resist the systems that try and stomp that deep love down. Two women in love being able to be together without fearing hate is as important to me as a mother being able to raise her children without fearing deportation.”

This is my first piece published on a website besides my own!

Thanks for visiting my site and for reading, Autostraddlers!

From Derechos Humanos: A Time to Push for a Human Rights Framework in Immigration Reform

Continuing with the theme from this morning…….

“Immigration is an issue that has served as a lightning rod to divide communities.  It is not a “problem,” as it is commonly portrayed, but rather an issue across the world-the inflow and outflow of workers, tourists, capital, etc., especially with the global economic restructuring.  Since 9/11, the successful marriage of the concepts of “immigration” and “national security” has created a disconnect for the majority of the U.S. public, failing to acknowledge the complexities of immigration issues, while providing a permanent scapegoat for all societal ills.  When public opinion became increasingly negative toward immigration as a result, this was then used as a justification for “enforcement-only” policies, leading to the bloated budget and alarming size of the Department of Homeland Security…

“The militarization of the U.S.-México border has resulted in the documented deaths of at least 2,400 migrant men, women and children on the Arizona border alone.  Across the border, more than 6,000 remains have been recovered. These policies of funneling migration into the deadliest and most desolate areas have created a human rights crisis, and should be denounced by the international community.  They are a disgrace to the spirit with which border communities live and work together.  We demand the dismantling of the wall and the “virtual” wall along the border.  National Guard troops must be removed from the border, and the utilization of the military to enforce immigration and border policies prohibited.  We must end the privatization of border control and security operations on the border, putting the real security of our communities before the profits of corporations.” – For Immediate Release: Dec. 18th: A Time to Push for a Human Rights Framework in Immigration Reform.

from La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, in Tucson, AZ, where I worked during my semester in the Borderlands. Derechos knows what’s happening in Tucson, and the communities immigration reform will affect most directly need to be heard.

Senators Agree on Blueprint for Immigration – NYTimes.com

“Under the senators’ proposal, border security would be immediately strengthened with new technology, including aerial drones, for border patrol agents, while the Department of Homeland Security would work to expand the exit control system. The United States currently has some exit controls to track departures of foreigners at most airports and seaports, but it does not track exits by land.”

via Senators Agree on Blueprint for Immigration – NYTimes.com.

When increased border security goes hand-in-hand with immigration reform, it results in more policing, more profiling of latin@s, more invasions of privacy, more fear in border and immigrant communities, more deaths of people crossing in the desert.  This story is being lost in the dialogue about immigration reform.  I don’t want drones patrolling our borders (or anywhere, for that matter), I don’t want people to walk for days through the desert, I don’t want a bigger border patrol, I don’t want exit controls (really? exit controls?).  I want people to have the right to migrate AND the right not to migrate, and for people to be able to be able to live free from fear, wherever they choose to live.

Migration is Beautiful


Check out this incredible new documentary series featuring artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez.  Migration is Beautiful shows the multi-layered roots of immigration, and highlights the art and activism happening in Tucson and around the country for migrant justice.  On one of the first days of my internship with Derechos Humanos, I entered the office, not expecting to find Isabel Garcia giving the artists featured in this film a presentation on Operation Streamline. I am so fortunate to have been able to spend time in this incredible community of activists, to have gotten to know and learn from Isabel and her colleagues at Derechos.  There are a lot of familiar faces and places here, especially in part 2.

Many of you have asked me, “So what do we need to do about immigration?”  And my answer has been probably a lot more complicated than we all would like it to be, as I’ve tried to explain the problems with NAFTA and Border Patrol and prisons and the culture of fear created in this country.  This film offers a solid and multi-dimensional analysis, often from the mouths of the people from whom I heard it first.  I hope you enjoy it!

“People want to move so they can better themselves, and no matter the reason we need to allow people the safe right and the ability to move freely so that they can fulfill their best self.” –Favianna Rodriguez

In three parts:


80 Hours on Amtrak

Arrival

I was definitely the only person on New Jersey Transit who had just spent four days on Amtrak, coming from Arizona, traveling by rail from southern border to northern border, almost from coast to coast.

The train from New York to Chicago got into NYC about ten minutes early, and so I was able to catch the 6:52 commuter train back to Madison, NJ, but with only minutes to spare.  It was one of those split-level trains, where you enter on the same level as the platform, and then you have to either go up or down half a flight of stairs to get to the seats. The train was full.  Rather than try to navigate the narrow aisle, I stayed in the alcove designated for people with bikes or who otherwise cannot use the stairs.  Men in suit pants and pressed shirts watched me from the corners of their eyes, trying to maintain their dignified stares at their iPhones without letting on how hard they were judging the flustered 21-year-old woman, shining from sweat, with two giant backpacks, a guitar, and an empty sport bag.  I hoisted the guitar, sport bag, and smaller backpack onto the rack, and sat, holding my big backpack steady with my knees, between two men who didn’t look up from their iPhone games for the duration of the trip.

I made small talk with the one man in business casual attire across the aisle, who asked if I had been hiking the Appalachian Trail.  No, I told him, I just took Amtrak from Tucson – 4 days, via Chicago.  Must have been quite the trip, he said.

Departure

I set out from Tucson on Saturday, December 1st, on the Texas Eagle, the train from LA to Chicago, which passes through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and St. Louis.  It’s a long ride.  So long, in fact, that it has its own song, which you can find on the route’s website.  It’s a long song, and a tedious song, which is appropriate for the long, tedious route.

Movement

The Texas Eagle passes near Big Bend National Park, and through the Ozark Mountains, and St. Louis.  Sounds beautiful, right?  It goes through all of these places at night.  The first day, passing through desert and scattered mountain ranges in Arizona and New Mexico, is quite beautiful – an echo of places I’d visited during the Border Studies Program. The second day – and the third day – were flat plains.  I was interested to travel through a part of the country I’d never seen at eye level before, but the initial excitement wore off by hour 5.  The next 40 hours were less novel, but provided me with ample time to ponder what it means that I can travel across the country on train tracks, literally watching the seasons change as I move north.

Staring out the window of the train, I have a tour of what I’ve heard described as “Post-America America.”  Almost every city stop used to be an industrial area, and now it’s not, or if it is, it’s a fraction of the size it used to be.  In Erie and Rochester, and through Illinois, giant buildings sit, abandoned.  Most of the big buildings that look like they’re still occupied are prisons – it’s a profound statement on how and why our prison system has grown while our manufacturing industry has shrunk.

Most people I talk to about my train trip have asked if I have a bed while I’m on the train. I don’t.  Had I been able to split the cost of a sleeper, I would, but it costs two or three times the price, and I actually have no trouble sleeping in the coach seats, fully reclined and inside my sleeping bag.  The trickiest part about sleeping is the fact that the seat, for someone as small as I, wearing mostly synthetic material, acts as a slide, and I have to kind of wedge myself in between my seat and the seat ahead of me, so that I won’t slip off while sleeping.

You can’t smoke on an Amtrak car.  It must be a new federal law or something, because everyone seems outraged about it, from passengers to the train crew.  Almost every announcement is a reminder that, “Smoking Is PROHIBITED in all cars of the train. The next smoke stop is not until THREE AM in Little Rock, folks, so set your alarms if you need a smoke, because the next four stops WILL NOT be smoke stops.”  You can’t smoke on Amtrak, no, but you can carry a gun.

I meet some good people on the train. A woman, sitting across from me outlines her entire model for being an advocate for people experiencing domestic violence. A mom and her two kids, heading home to Missouri, get off at every smoke stop.  The mom blows the smoke away from the kids while they run around.  She says she isn’t scared about them falling off the platform; she trusts them.  A great-grandmother on her way to visit family sits next to me in the observation car and tells me about the five living generations of her family.  An environmental chemist, on her way to graduate from her masters program, sits beside me from Chicago to Syracuse and shares my dental floss. Life on Amtrak has a much slower pace than the whirl of traveling cross-country on planes.  No one is in much of a rush.

Home

I’m visiting Vassar, and walking across campus, and I hear the train whistle. The eerie note echoing across the city reminds me of being in Tucson, and it also reminds me that I could get on the train tonight and be in Tucson by Monday.  It’s an important reminder, because here, in the cold, drippy familiarity of campus, Tucson seems very far away.  The past two days have been a whirl of visiting old friends, hugging, catching up on campus happenings.  There has not been much room for deep conversations about the semester; only enough time to say, It was a really powerful experience.  Super intense.  The Border is really fucked up, maybe accompanied by a short anecdote about the Border Patrol, with a moment for us to shake our heads, fuckin’ unbelievable, before changing the subject to something easier to take on in the next fifteen minutes.  Pushing the reality of Tucson plus the reality of Vassar out of my head is a fairly straightforward process – far less complicated than trying to synthesize the two right now, while this familiar face comes in for a big hug after six months apart.  It is hard to even comprehend the fact that this damp, dreary city, with leafy trees and rolling hills, operates in the same time and space as warm, dry, Tucson.  In Tucson, the rough edges of cacti and the Catalinas rule the landscape, and the sky is so much larger. The flat expansiveness makes it much more difficult to hide the realities and injustices of our world.

But that train whistle blows, and I know it’s the same world, same continent, same country.  The two are connected, to each other and everywhere else.  I won’t forget.

Articles of the Week

“By not confronting the racial aspects of economic inequality, we’ve actually hardened our former racial caste system, which had economic implications, into an economic caste system that has racial implications. From the perspective of economic rights and wrongs, both approaches appear eerily similar.”

“We Can’t Fix Our Economy Without Confronting White Supremacy” by Imara Jones

“In four years, the Obama administration has deported three-quarters of the number of people that President George W. Bush’s administration did in eight.”

“Deportations of undocumented immigrants reach new U.S. record in 2012” by The Christian Science Monitor

“We teach men to be aggressive. We teach them that is the very essence of “being a man.” We say that women are supposed to be caring and compassionate and we tell men not to be like women–to beanything but a “girl.” We teach men that anger is the only acceptable emotion for them to express–and violence is an appropriate way of expressing it. We police their masculinity in a million small ways every day from the time they are even younger than the children who died in Sandy Hook. In Katz’s words“We socialize empathy out of boys all the time.”

“We should be talking about masculinity and violence after the Sandy Hook shooting and every day” by Maya Dusenbery