Monday, February 18, 2013

Chief Jacqueline Thomas of Saik'uz First Nation Speaks at the Forward on Climate Rally

This occurred on 17 February 2013. I do not know who held the camera but am grateful they recorded Chief Jacqueline Thomas's address.

One of my most significant learnings as someone white, and also as someone male, has been to place the joys, the concerns, the dangerous and deadly conditions, the horrific gynocidal and genocidal realities, the survival strategies, the stories, the perspectives, the philosophies, the analyses, and the ethics of women of color at the center of my heart and mind. And, for whatever it can do, at the center of my blog.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Happy 80th Birthday, Yoko Ono!

photograph of Yoko Ono is from here
Below is a collection of three recent news articles about the one and only Yoko Ono. Monday, February 18th is her 80th birthday. Happy Birthday, Great Woman/Artist/Activist!! Thank you for decades of your creativity, sensitivity, and strength.  Love, Julian

Before we get to the articles, immediately below are sister and brother, Martha and Rufus Wainwright, singing "Happy Birthday" to Yoko Ono in English and German--and she's there, in Berlin!!! Her son Sean Ono Lennon is MC'ing the event. You get to hear him briefly at the end.

See *here* for more on that special concert for her.

(Please click on the article titles to link back to their source website.)

Yoko Ono turns 80 with no thought to slowing down

February 16, 2013|By John Timpane

On Monday, Yoko Ono, a collaborator with everyone from John Cage to John Lennon to Dirty Loud, will turn 80. She'll be a rocktogenarian. They say it's her birthday. Happy birthday to her.

Artist, poet, musician, philanthropist, activist, performance/conceptual art pioneer, Ono is now a world-beating disco diva, having enjoyed nine consecutive No. 1 hits on the Billboard Dance charts. She's become a favorite artist for the mashup/remix DJs of the moment.

"I say I'm a lucky girl," Ono says by e-mail.

An explosion of Ono-related activity greets her 80th. There's a bunch of books. Of her own work, there's the lovely Yoko Ono: An Invisible Flower, of drawings and one-line poems, and The Infinite Universe at Dawn. And Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies, by Nell Beram and Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky.

There are art retrospectives around the world, including Half-A-Wind Show, which opened Friday at the Schirn Kuntshalle in Frankfurt, Germany, from which it will tour the world.

All of her albums will be reissued this year. A new one's in the works with her floating orchestra, the Plastic Ono Band.

The indie band tUnE-yArDs has released a 10-inch single with a new version of her 1972 rocker "We're All Water" and a remix of her 1973 tune "Warrior Woman." It's to benefit the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, which funnels aid to the region hit by Hurricane Sandy.

Many musicians of the last 40 years look to Yoko Ono as a pioneer and idol. She is widely revered by punk rockers as one of the first to do real punk. New Wavers see her as a mom to the movement.

She has cowritten and released a new dance tune, "Hold Me," with DJ Dave Aude, with remixes by Dirty Loud, Emjae, Tommie Sunshine, and R3hab. Lady Gaga's a Yoko Ono scholar, as are RZA and Polyphonic Spree.

Sandy. Fracking. Peace. The Beatles. Punk. Disco. Even to her, it must seem surreal sometimes.
"I wandered into doing music with the most prominent musicians in avant-garde, jazz, rock in history, and now this," she writes.

Her first husband, Toshi Ichiyanagi, was an avant-garde composer. Together, they performed with John Cage. Her friend Ornette Coleman helped invent free jazz. She brought to John Lennon's music things she'd been up to for decades already.

As for the music of 2013, she likes the creativity and sonic iconoclasm of the mash-up generation.
"I think the producers in the dance world are the stars now. They bring over 10 thousand music lovers to the festivals, whenever they decide to do one. That's because their field of music is creating a revolution in music. I respect them and love the field."

She and the planet have seen many revolutions since her birth in 1933 in Tokyo. Her father was an international banker, and the family moved frequently, to San Francisco in 1935, back to Japan in 1937, to New York in 1940, back to Japan in 1941.

Twelve-year-old Ono huddled in a shelter during the March 9, 1945, firebombing of Tokyo (though in a distant neighborhood). Her family saw hard times for a few years, but by the early 1950s, they had moved to New York, and Ono was at Sarah Lawrence College, where she excelled at music theory and sight-singing.
Ono was a regular at the bohemian/Beat gatherings and loft concerts of the 1950s, forerunners of the "happenings" of the 1960s. Her 1969 Bed-Ins with Lennon, protesting the Vietnam War, were but one stop in a lifelong activism for peace. Her Imagine Peace Tower, a column of skyward searchlights on Viey Island near Reykjavik, Iceland, will light up Monday for her birthday. On her Twitter account, Ono encourages people to tweet the Tower (@IPTower) with good thoughts.

She and son Sean Lennon launched Artists Against Fracking in July. They and actress Susan Sarandon did a protest tour last month of Pennsylvania fracking sites such as Franklin Forks.

You have to ask: Where does she get the energy?

"When you are in love," Ono says, "when you are crazy about something and doing it because of that, there is no scheduling challenge, and it is never a burden. . . . I get the energy from loving what I do."
Could anybody really write her biography? "I don't think it is that necessary to have a biography of me," she says. "One will never be able to check the whole of me. Even I couldn't."
Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406
or, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane.
___ (c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at Distributed by MCT Information Services

Oh Yoko! Ms. Ono at 80

February 18 is Yoko Ono’s 80th birthday—it’s a day to celebrate her art, music and activism. She’s done more in the last year than most of us do in a decade: campaigned against fracking and honored Julian Assange; mounted a major retrospective of her art in London last summer at the prestigious Serpentine Gallery, and another, bigger one in Frankfurt last week at the celebrated Kunsthalle Schirn; and made music with the Plastic Ono Band.

The anti-fracking campaign has been her biggest political undertaking in several years. First there were the billboards and full-page ads in The New York Times (and also The Nation): “Imagine There’s No Fracking”—addressed to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, signed “Yoko and Sean” (her son, Sean Ono Lennon).

But the anti-fracking campaign involves a lot more than billboards. She organized Artists Against Fracking, and signed up more than 200 people, including Salman Rushdie, Jeff Koons, Alec Baldwin, Martha Stewart, David Geffen, Anne Hathaway, Jimmy Fallon—and Lady Gaga, with her 34 million Twitter followers. In Albany in January she delivered an anti-fracking petition to Governor Cuomo with more than 50,000 signatures. Also in January she and Sean and Susan Sarandon led a bus tour of Dimock, Pennsylvania, where the local water supply has been contaminated by fracking. And now she is running a new TV ad.
She explained the problem with fracking concisely in The New York Times letters column in December: “Evidence shows that there is no amount of regulation that can make fracking safe.… 6 percent of the wells leak immediately and 60 percent leak over time, poisoning drinking water and putting the powerful greenhouse gas methane into our atmosphere… We need to develop truly clean energy, not dirty water created by fracking.”

And the campaign had a victory last week, when Governor Cuomo announced a delay in the decision on fracking for more study of health effects. The New York Times story quoted Donald Trump as spokesman for the pro-fracking forces, and Yoko as the voice of the opposition.

“Imagine There’s No Fracking” of course recalls a certain song that begins “Imagine there’s no heaven,” which in turn was based on Yoko’s 1964 book Grapefruit, with its conceptual art “instructions”: “imagine one thousand suns in the sky…” The anti-fracking billboards also recall her antiwar activism in the 1960s, when she and Lennon put up billboards in Times Square in 1969, and then in cities all over the world: “War is Over: If You Want It.”

On another front, she honored Julian Assange at a public event in Manhattan on February 3.  At her annual Courage Award ceremony, she told an audience of activists, artists and some diplomats that “Julian Assange took a courageous step by rightfully returning what belongs to the public domain. For that reason, I believe we need to stand behind him.” Assange, who has taken refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, accepted the award via two of his legal counselors: Baltasar Garzón Real of Spain—he’s the prosecutor who pursued Pinochet for crimes against humanity—and Michael Ratner, the legendary President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who delivered Assange’s acceptance speech to the audience that included Laurie Anderson, John Waters, Lou Reed and Daniel Ellsberg.

Earlier in 2012 Yoko honored Russia’s feminist punk band Pussy Riot, whose members are currently in jail after criticizing Vladimir Putin. She also paid tribute to Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while she was protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes.

Then there are the retrospectives of her career as an artist, a career which began before the Beatles and continues today, fifty years later.  From the beginning she has mixed conceptual art and performance art. Her work has been playful and sometimes painful, and includes films as well as those “instructions” that require the viewer’s participation.

One of my favorite recent discoveries was a piece in the highly-regarded land art group show, “Ends of the Earth,” last year in LA at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I had never thought of Yoko doing work related to people like Robert Smithson of Spiral Jetty. But the land art show opened with Yoko’s Sky TV from 1966: an old TV set broadcasts a live feed, from a video camera on the roof, of the sky above the museum. It’s surprising and delightful, and “real” in way that’s different from everything else in the museum. It’s also a pioneering work of video art. (Sky TV is a permanent installation in New York City at the Asia Society.)

And we have her music—especially the unforgettable “Walking on Thin Ice” from December, 1980. The “Thin Ice” video is part of the Frankfurt retrospective, along with Sky TV.

One more thing that made this past year a good one: for those who were still wondering whether Yoko broke up the Beatles, Paul McCartney declared officially that she did not. When John met Yoko in 1968, he explained, “part of her attraction was her avant garde side.… She showed him another way to be, which was very attractive to him. So it was time for John to leave”—but “he was definitely going to leave, one way or another." The story was headline news.

And of course we have Lennon’s wonderful songs about her: from the 1969 song about their wedding, that begins “Standing on the dock in Southhampton” (the Beatles’ last number-one hit), to Lennon on the 1971 Imagine album, singing “In the middle of the night I call your name…” to 1980’s Double Fantasy, and “Even after all these years/I miss you when you’re not here…”

To celebrate her 80th birthday she’s playing a live concert in Berlin at the legendary Volksbuhne, the “People’s Theater,” with the current Plastic Ono Band, headed by Sean.

Happy Birthday, Yoko!

Yoko Ono retrospective opens in Frankfurt

The largest-ever retrospective of works of Yoko Ono, once described by her late husband John Lennon as "the most famous unknown artist in the world", opened Friday in Frankfurt's Schirn Kunsthalle.

Ono, who turns 80 next week, "is a unique, indeed perhaps even a mythical figure, not only in the art world, but in the field of music and the peace and feminist movements as well," said the museum's director Max Hollein.

Most people probably know Ono as the wife and widow of the Beatle, John Lennon who was shot dead outside his New York apartment in 1980.

And the two famously staged "Bed-Ins" in 1969 as a non-violent protest against war.

But Ono, born on February 18, 1933, was an avant-garde conceptual artist in her own right long before she met Lennon and was associated with the likes of composer John Cage and the founder of the Fluxus contemporary art movement, George Maciunas.

"She is familiar to practically everyone, yet only very few people are fully aware of the outstanding artistic oeuvre she has created. Yoko Ono's 80th birthday offers us an ideal opportunity to change that," Hollein said.

The exhibition, entitled "Half-a-wind show. A retrospective", surveys around 200 objects, films, spatial installations, photographs, drawings and textual pieces from the past 60 years of Ono's career.

It pays particular attention to works from the 1960s and 1970s, featuring groundbreaking works such as the "Instructions for Paintings" first shown in 1961 and 1962 and the performance "Cut Piece" from 1964, in which the audience was invited to cut the clothes from the artist's body with sharp scissors while she sat on the stage.

A number of large-scale installations and recent works are also on display and Ono has also developed a new work -- the installation and performance "Moving Mountains" -- specifically for the Frankfurt exhibition.

Curator Ingrid Pfeiffer said Ono's work "often tends toward the immaterial, the substance of which consists to a lesser extent of objects and installations but to a significant degree of ideas and texts. It is not easily presented."

Ono, wearing her trademark sunglasses, told a news conference that Lennon "used to say to me: 'bring me some truth'."

"We artists have the dignity to tell the truth to the people, unlike politicians," she said.

"But we only know half the truth. The other half is invisible. You have to imagine it, you are the creator, you have to participate. You change the world by being yourself."

The exhibition runs in Frankfurt until May 12 after which it will tour to Denmark and Austria and then move to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao in Spain. 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Race, Racism, and Online Dating, and The Erotic Life of Racism, by Sharon P. Holland

These two excellent pieces of writing: the article from Racism Review, and the book by Sharon Patricia Holland, speak to the issues raised in a recent post on attraction.

I'll write more soon but wanted to get this up now:

It speaks so much to me about why white folks encouraging other whites to practice being less racist with people of color in dating situations would be a detrimental, dangerous, and disastrous thing to recommend.

Here are the links:

For Valentine's Day: Race, Racism and Online Dating

Sharon P. Holland's book, The Erotic Life of Racism

With warm thanks and appreciation to La Reyna. ((hug))

Statement by Anoushka Shankar, with link to One Billion Rising against men's violence against women

Main website:

The Guardian, linking to live actions for and by women against men's violence:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All You Need Is Love? Maybe.

image is from here
I haven't written about it lately, but I do love the Beatles. All four. I miss John and George. No, I don't wish Pete Best had remained the drummer because Ringo's love of his three bandmates was some of the glue that held them together as long as they were. I do wish Stu Sutcliffe had lived. To those who know who Pete and Stu are, who also love the Beatles, drop me a note and say hi.

I've heard that half of all Beatles songs were about love. While the Rolling Stones were singing about women as things to be used or put down, John, Paul, and George were writing sensitive songs about women they loved very much, including their mothers who died when they were teenagers, in the case of John and Paul.

I probably believed at one point in time, "All You Need Is Love". And depending on how you understand what love is and what constitutes loving action, I might still agree. As long as it is considered loving to work at radically transforming oppressive systems into humane ones. As long as it is loving to be pro-revolution with the result of change being more love and less hate, more peace and less war, more health and less suffering, more sustainable living and less destructive consumption.

It has been curious to me for some time, as a Jew, that Christians look to a Jew named Jesus for inspiration, support, and healing, but usually forget that his loving actions included challenging a corrupt State, standing with oppressed and denigrated people, including women in prostitution, and rejected any kind of human King or Ruler, instead calling on people to follow something found deep in their hearts. One colleague of mine, who is Christian, Black, and feminist, finds what's radical about his teachings, while most men and whites apparently cannot. Maybe they don't want to do what he's asking them to do because for men and whites, there's a very material and social advantage to maintaining, or at least not interrupting, male and white supremacy.

Jesus sounds like a bit of an anarchist to me.

The Buddha was a rich young man who had to break out of his confined, very privileged life to see how people suffered in ways that never occurred to him. His heart was broken open by what he found out and he spent a great deal of time contemplating what it all meant that some suffer as they do. This led to insights about who we are and can be when we see Samsara for what it is: a realm of human suffering that is not the only realm of Being.

I once heard from a Rabbi that the mystical version of a Jewish G-d isn't one gender, calls on us to bring together the broken pieces of our collective soul, and, with love, heal ourselves and each other.

I don't practice a religion. I'm not atheistic but I'm not exactly a theist either. What I understand to be G-d isn't quite as personified as the Western gods I grew up learning about. Rather than G-d as a being, I think more about G-d as Being and Becoming, showing up in existence and action, and in everything else too.

If love is an action as well as a feeling and experience, then love calls on me to speak out against injustice and systematic harm. Love calls on me to be self-critical, self-compassionate, and critical and compassionate with others also.

I've made mistakes demonstrating a willingness to be critical without showing the compassion. To myself and to others. Mostly to myself.

I am working on bringing more love to the work I do. If I slip up, I hope you'll let me know what I did that wasn't loving so I have a chance to learn from increased awareness of the effects of my actions, to apologise, and to do better in the future.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Attraction, Sexual Interest, and White Het Male Supremacy

the image above is from here
I chose the chart above to open this post not because it is one that reflects my beliefs, but because I think it does represent some dominant views about how relationships form and progress.

As I noted at the beginning of my last post, I recently submitted two comments to a white transgender feminist's blog. She didn't publish them but did explain that she wouldn't be posting them.

I'd like for the topics to be addressed to allow any of my readers to comment here on these issues. I think each issue is relevant to building respectful, radical, revolutionary community. So I've posted links to her blog's two posts (with my revised comments) here and in my last post, also published today at A.R.P. I've revised my comment quite a bit below to elaborate on and clarify points I'm trying to make.

Thank you to A Radical TransFeminist for promoting and supporting these discussions.

The discussion there, as I understand it, was about challenging our internalised and externalised supremacist attitudes and practices, including the practice of focusing our attention on those atop various hierarchies and leaving out of our vision of attractiveness those lower on various political-social hierarchies.

Related discussions and struggles elsewhere have focused on getting masculinist, pornographic, and predatory values, aesthetics, and practices out of our sexual, romantic, social, and economic lives. This one divided up the white queer community I was part of decades ago. (Masculinism and pornography won out, unfortunately. But with the awareness of the disproportionate number of queer people who are survivors of sexual abuse, particularly in childhood, at least predatory practice has been consistently challenged.) Yet another set of concerns and challenges relates to how lightness of skin, straightness and lightness of hair, and eye shape and color become a measure of attractiveness and value within and without communities of color, including Jewish communities.

Another dimension of this struggle is the one towards decolonial love, something I've heard only a very few white people talk about as an ethical value and political-personal necessity. Novelist Junot Diaz addresses this and intersectionally related matters *here* in a video of a speech he gave last year. This speech generated a very good and deep discussion among many activists and artists I know, which is taking place in email. And, I'll include a link to a critique of his work *here* at the blog QueerBlackFeminist.

On Attraction

Here is a very revised version of my comment.

I’d written something a while back that I’d like to post a link to here as response-piece to what you’ve written above and in your second post on the subject.

Compulsory Sexuality and Asexual Existence

To summarise my reason for linking to it, I experience the perspective above as pro-compulsory sexuality and as pro-sexual, in the liberal sense. I question whether the challenge before many of us, rather than expanding who we find attractive sexually or romantically, is challenging why we find anyone “attractive” in the dominant sense. An argument I read somewhere stated that we ought to see the beauty in everyone. But that sentiment, while admirable on some level, unfortunately puts aside the issue of what ‘beauty’ is in imperialist, racist, colonialist, capitalist, patriarchal societies. I hear a clear demand that we challenge the ways we internalise oppression, writing off classes of people as unattractive.

That makes me uncomfortable. But why?

I get how white singer John Mayer stating that his genital is white supremacist is racist and misogynistic in all kinds of ways. I’m arguing that it wouldn’t be my counsel or charge to him, or wish for him, to find Black or Brown people attractive and to act on that; he’s clearly so bigoted that such interaction flowing from his white and male entitlements to get what he wants would quite likely trigger and oppress anyone of color; it would be my counsel that he interrogate what an attraction to whiteness means and is and see where that leads him.

I live in a dominant culture that requires us to manifest (well, sell and purchase) ‘beauty’ in some form. That requirement comes with the belief and attitude that being not-beautiful is to also be worthless, except perhaps as labor. Implicit in a charge for us to expand the populations of classes of people we find attractive, I see a somewhat anti-asexual charge to be attracted to people in the first place.

I want to support the effort to encourage meaningful, caring, honest, intimate, counter-hegemonic, decolonial mutual relationships among people as a way to build sustainable, healthy, revolutionary community; I just take issue with that being identified as primarily a matter of attraction and sexual interest. I see our struggle as this: to form friendships first–whatever else follows. Friendship, as many feminists and womanists have written over the decades, normally requires and presupposes a kind of equality of interest and needs. Romantic and sexual relating, historically and traditionally, requires and presupposes inequality. This is why sexual relationships are compulsory and institutionalised and friendships, however ubiquitous, are not.

There’s an appeal here in my remarks for people who occupy oppressive positions structurally to stop engaging in the practices that traditionally oppress, and nurture those that traditionally do not, in part because doing something with history and tradition behind it is, I’d say, going to be less exhausting than doing otherwise. Not that ease is a primary value. There's little about challenging and transforming the status quo that is easy. But an argument I hear a lot is how self-condemning it can be for lesbian, gay, het, and queer people to continually interrogate their/our lack of attraction to women or men or transgender people. The process of coming out as lesbian or gay, as I understand it personally and from personal friendships with lesbian women, involves unlearning heteronormative and patriarhcal ways of being, ways of feeling, and ways of acting. It may also lead to challenging ageist, racist, and classist assumptions, among others.

Speaking as a profeminist gay male, radically rejecting heterosexuality and heterosexism means rejecting the ways het men have arranged for people to meet and get to know each other. What het male culture appears to prize is a kind of attractiveness that is directly related to appearance, not substance. Looks are what matter first and often enough, most. Sexual desirability, determined and defined by het men, is what the human objects of het men's attention are supposed to achieve. To reject het men's standards for being "sexy" and "attractive" is to be deemed ugly and worthless--except as labor--by them.

I see the bar and club scenes as doomed to replicate heterosexist and heteronormative standards of appealing to one another as sexy things, as sex objects, as people who must do a whole lot to ourselves before we leave home to go to the bar or club.

So one question is this: in what social spaces are we supposed to challenge ourselves to be attracted to people lower on various social-political hierarchies? In the workplace? In the home? On the street? All of those places are sites of misogynist and racist oppression, and of ageism, of ableism, of classism.

It has been mentioned that if one’s social circle is white, that’s what needs to be challenged. A proposed antidote to someone's all-white circle of potential dates or mates is to bring white folks into potentially romantic or sexual contact with people of color. This, to me, privileges a value of white people expanding our dating pool, but in no way identifies what the benefit would be to people of color, should that pool-expansion occur. So I begin with friendship as a foundation for revolutionary community and affection, not with attraction and sexual behavior as that base. In the realm of friendship, physical and sexual attractiveness isn't a primary value; shared intellectual pursuits, common interests, similar senses of humor, and how people might be helpful to one another are at least as important.

White people, or men, learning to do 'attraction behavior' less oppressively isn't something I hear oppressed people wanting tried out on them. As a survivor of sexual abuse, as an asexual person, as a gay person, and as a Jew in a Christian-dominated country, I certainly don’t want more people smiling at me or approaching me because of ‘attraction’. I’d welcome someone getting to know me in contexts where it is appropriate for us to know each other, due to progressive economic, social, or political work, not in contexts where ‘getting to know someone’ is the sole or primary objective. Not where the reason for people wanting to seek out each other's company is to raise the possibility of obtaining sexual contact or fostering romantic feelings.

I don't want to negotiate social spaces where I'm increasingly put in the position to say no or yes to the advances of het-identified men who are challenging themselves to be open to dating or bedding gay men. Not discussed thus far is the issue of who along the hierarchies ought to be entitled to approach whom? I'd see it as radical if the challenge wasn't for oppressors to find those we oppress more suitable for dating and mating, but rather for us to altogether stop approaching (for the purposes of getting a date or "a fuck") those we oppress.

As I think Catharine A. MacKinnon states in one of her books of essays, consent isn’t all that meaningful a lived concept for women if one only ever is in the position of saying no or yes to the advances of men. One would have to live in a world where such advances are neither compulsory nor anticipated to know what one wants from and with men. I can extrapolate from that to other hierarchies.

I feel that very personally and very strongly, as someone who is gay and a survivor of child sexual abuse and adult sexual exploitation, who unhealthily while normally feels compelled to meet the sexual, emotional, and affectional needs of someone who shows interest in me, especially when they are men. As I contemplate finding someone attractive, and contemplating being found attractive, such imaginings are problematically bound up with racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, misogynist, ableist, ageist, heterosexist, transphobic 'beauty' standards and oppressive interpersonal habits and social customs. Challenging the standards without also challenging and interrupting the oppressive dynamics and habits surrounding them is, for me, a set-up for more oppressive behavior to occur, not less.

To even imagine someone being ‘interested’ in me–when they don’t know me–means that I am led to try and change myself in self-oppressive, self-objectifying, and dehumanising ways. Opting out of the social attraction circuit, like opting out of the social sexual-behavior circuit, can be personally and interpersonally liberatory. I don’t see that course of action identified as valuable and viable in the discussion thus far.

I'm not comfortable with anyone white addressing an audience that isn't only white with a set of demands for what we should do that is deliberately designed to inflict on people of color our own social learning curve. I’ll add that I experience the term “demand” here, in this context, as white or race-superior. Why? Because making demands on readers is something I only experience whites and men feeling entitled to do--and doing regularly. In other words, it demonstrates having enough racial (or, in my own case, also sexual) social power to even proceed in doing it. I believe those of us in dominant structural positions, by race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and so forth, ought not demand something from our political peers that will likely violate and trigger those we oppress.

Also on the matter of race, was the race awareness training session for bi community activists in the UK either white-led, white-organised, or majority-white in attendance? If any of those, I’d then proceed to articulate a critique of such a process for arriving at what terms are most racially respectful and appropriate. Recognising that there are some significant differences between U.S. and UK dominant society that I might not be sensitive-enough to, I’ll add that I prefer the term 'racially oppressed', to 'minority-ethnic' when discussing who is subordinated, marginalised, and imperiled by race. For me, the latter term problematically reinforces whiteness as normal-majority and race-neutral. It also pretends that whites aren’t a global minority. It also conflates race with ethnicity.

While this comment contains challenges, I want that to be held in the context of me strongly encouraging you to keep up the great work. I’m thoroughly enjoying reading your deeply thoughtful pro-radical posts. I find you, a white blogger, to be deeply and sincerely committed to complex, intersectional, counter-hegemonic practice and that’s as rare in my experience as finding a man who does the same.

On Trashing, Calling Out, and Accountability, with thanks to A Radical TransFeminist

portrait of Alice Walker is from here

I recently submitted two comments to a white transgender feminist's blog. She didn't publish them but did explain to me that she wouldn't be posting them, which I appreciate her doing. I welcome finding out what it is about the comments that led her to not post them, at a later date when she feels like communicating more with me.

I'd like for the topics to be addressed here to allow any of my readers to comment here on these issues. So I'll post links to her blog's two posts, with my comments in this and the next post to this blog. I'll revise my comments for clarity and to correct some typos.

I'm putting the initials of people's names in the comments below, as I don't have their permission to use their names here. One exception is the name Joreen, which was a chosen name used in movement work by Jo Freeman, a long-time white feminist writer and attorney. Her work is referenced; she isn't a participant in this discussion. See *this* for more, and see *this* for Jo/Joreen's piece on Trashing which is the foundation for the discussion at the other blog.

On Trashing

Here is a revised version of the comment I submitted:

I’ve witnessed and experienced a lot of destructive dynamics, also some amazingly life-affirming and spiritually supportive dynamics, in feminist and profeminist spaces. I’ve seen far more positive than negative things happen. And I appreciate you creating this space to talk about this issue. While I’d like to be part of this discussion, I’m not sure I should be a contributor. If the issue is how people treat one another harmfully and abusively in the name of feminism and profeminism, I’d like to comment. If, on the other hand, that is the issue (with a focus on trashing), but only within women-only spaces, then that’s not something I’d feel would be appropriate for me, an intergender male, to be part of.

I nodded all the way through your remarks about Joreen’s piece. As a sexual assault survivor, I felt uneasy about the use of the term “psychological rape”. So thank you, L, and H, for sharing your response to that. I was deeply conflicted about whether to even mention it here, because, as H also stated, I don’t know her own story of physical abuse, and because, well, I’m male. The phrase that also felt deeply problematic to me was this one: “like a thousand cuts with a whip”. For me that phrase references an experience of physical-spiritual-political assault at the hands of white supremacists during U.S. slavery, Jim Crow, and since. I don’t think it is appropriate or respectful to survivors of slavery and those racially targeted for such abuse to appropriate the term even as simile.

That said, I respect Joreen’s bravery in tackling this issue and can hear how painful her experiences were. And I’ve seen how people in radical spaces sometimes want to demonstrate their/our/my sensitivity to issues by immediately and primarily pointing out what feels “off” about someone’s remarks, rather than by first highlighting what feels right on.* I feel for the ways she’s been hurt and rejected in spaces and by people she looked to for solidarity and community. I’ve known women hurt in so many ways, most callously, brutally, and lethally by men, but also hurt emotionally and psychologically by other women. And I’ve experienced, just within my own family of origin and friendship circles, how people closest to me in various ways, are capable, due to conditions of trust, shared history, and vulnerability, of hurting me deeply in ways some of my oppressors, now that I’m an adult, are not.

*I have been thinking about  this. I am aware that in online discourse far more than my offline discourse, criticism is, often, "what people do" without necessarily knowing the people we're criticising. This is dramatically different in my offline life. I'll far more typically withhold criticism if I think it might harm a relationship with someone I care about. The relationship's well-being is preferenced over my critical voice; it's not that I work to silence myself exactly; it's that I don't let criticism become the primary value. I suspect that because online forums make space for critique of writings and disagreement over discourse, that gets valued over the relationships that might otherwise form and flourish among the contributors. I've not found online sites to be a place of forming friendship. I've met people online that I've become friends with offline, or in email. But the nature of the online forums don't, for many reasons, create safe-enough space for friendship to bloom, in my experience.

As part of my own effort to disengage from behavior that I now see as non-constructive and anti-revolutionary, I’ve decided not to engage in “snark”, let alone trashing, because I see it as part of the same cluster of cynical, self-protecting while hostile, anti-revolutionary practices that apparently passes for radical and profeminist behavior in lots of places (feminist and non-feminist). I used to direct snarky comments to white men on and off my blog, and I don’t any longer: a white man just submitted a comment to me, on an old post, about his view that misandry is a serious social problem, not as harmful as misogyny, but not non-existent either. I've heard similar things from so many white men that I've grown weary of responding. Often, in my weariness or my laziness, I might resort to snarky response. Because I'd be tempted to do so with this newest comment-submitter, I won't publish his comment and won't respond at all. His comment also violates some of my comment policy. (I don't publish pro-MRA positions here.)

I value direct, emotionally honest communication. And I also have complex PTSD which means that my feelings and reactions sometimes exceed what’s happening in the present. I can suddenly feel tremendously vulnerable or in danger. How I respond in those instances is sometimes out of proportion to what is happening before me because my history is dredged up and projected into the moment. I've often described this as "my past bleeding into my present". Due primarily to privilege, including access to mental health care workers who regard me as fully human because I’m male, white, and not poor, I have learned to identify when I’m triggered and have learned some methods for re-grounding myself in the present. But that’s not always easy or even possible to do. And I also see how, with my many privileges, I can too often get away with not taking full responsibility for my actions and pretend that other conditions are responsible for how I behave.

I have seen how white supremacy and male supremacy generate and exacerbate complex PTSD for white women, for women of color, and for men of color. I’ve seen how whites and men deny that our actions trigger distress and many other feelings and experiences in people we structurally, systemically, institutionally, and interpersonally oppress. And I’ve seen how, when whites and men are called out by women of color especially–almost always in ways that strike me as profoundly measured and respectful, that Calling Out is named many negative things by whites and men. Most of the things it is called effectively (and often enough willfully) work to further hurt, subordinate, and silence women of color. One of the things such Calling Out is called is “Trashing”.

For example, I’ve known whites who consider being named “racist” by a person of color to be a violent and inexcusable form of trashing. And the politics of what is considered violent is noted quite succinctly by the white male radical Derrick Jensen in his Premises of Endgame: “Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed [by oppressors]. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.” I thought about that as I was appreciating J.M.’s comment.

One of the requests I hear Joreen making is to not talk about someone’s ‘being’ and instead to critique the behavior or what someone is ‘doing’. This is consistent with my own values: challenge the behavior; don’t go after someone personally. And, when possible, try and hold the whole of someone’s humanity in mind and heart when offering critique. My values were learned mostly by studying and being around modes of critical engagement practiced by womanists and feminists. Alice Walker has been a significant role model in this regard. Her open letter to Tiger Woods is an excellent example. Also Flo Kennedy on horizontal hostility ["Women Against Women: Horizontal Hostility," domestic violence; "Sexuality '85" conference; Alabama NOW; Massachusetts; Ohio; Ontario; Wisconsin; Wyoming], Pearl Cleage on the necessity of oppressors listening to the oppressed-as-experts [see pages 32-33 in Deals With the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot], and Andrea Dworkin as evidenced in her address to allegedly anti-sexist men at a men’s conference.

With that in mind, I’ve also heard many times from women of color how whites and men try and control how women of color behave. They/we try and control how women of color speak, how they express their emotions, and, especially, how and to what degree they critique whites and men. Whites and men (and especially white men) also hold the unearned power to allegedly ‘accurately’ name what occurs, to construct and determine which stories comprise truthful history, and be the final arbiters of (white- and male-centric) justice on matters of social and interpersonal wrongs. As I see it, oppressive sexual and racial politics are at work when people with various forms of privilege agree to critique ‘trashing’ without also explicitly putting on the table the issue of how people with structural advantage and power get to name the behavior of those who are oppressed. In that context, Joreen's or my own priority to be critiqued on our behavior not on our personhood, when the person calling us out is structurally oppressed by us, becomes a secondary matter to oppressed people naming what is harming them in ways meaningful and helpful to them. Simply put, Alice Walker's level of grace and compassion in confronting Tiger Woods is hers to determine; it is not for him to require.

I just want to place that perspective front and center, with the intention of fully supporting your own concerns along those lines, L.

Finally, I'm wishing a belated Happy Birthday to Alice Walker! (Her birthday was February 9th.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dr. Vandana Shiva interviewed by Robin Morgan, on rape and globalization

As a kind of personal-political preface to the interview that follows, I'd like to explain why it is I find the exchange so significant.

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my blog that I strongly believe women of color are the global leaders in feminism, as well as regional and national leaders in many places, and ought to be regarded as such by whites and men. Typically, men and whites ignore, silence, marginalise, appropriate, and take credit for the activist work women of color do.

If you take the spotlight off the courageous leadership work of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., you see a lot of Black women in leadership throughout the 20th century in the U.S., working very hard, at great cost, to free African Americans from the blight of white supremacy while also addressing sexual politics and male supremacy. Black men's work against racism has been substantial and has also tended to de-center or invisibilise Black women's insights, analysis, and activism. White women's feminist work against sexism and male supremacy has been substantial and ground-breaking in countries where white women live. And it has been a challenge to get the whiteness of the work de-centered or even consistently identified as race-privileged.

My own family background led me to be particularly concerned about sexual violence. For several years, I was drawn to a few white feminist writers who focused on that issue intensely but usually non-intersectionally, and without radically and thoroughly identifying the whiteness in their work. At the same time, thanks to a white lesbian feminist mentor, I was introduced to the work of many womanist and feminist writers of color, mostly from North America and the Caribbean. My own awareness of the work done by women of color outside of white-ruled or white-colonised nations was minimal. Over the last few years I have tried to make this blog a space where voices, perspectives, and commitments to radical social change by women of color are highlighted not footnoted; where women of color are centralised not marginalised.

I do this in part because of once mistakenly determining white work to be the most radical; this was done in part because whites who use the term 'radical' don't identify lack of awareness of their whiteness as anti-radical. This was consistently challenged by radical women of color writer-activists as anti-revolutionary, racist practice. I also noticed far too many white-edited, white-dominated anthologies of activists where women of color got a special chapter on women effected by racial hierarchies (as if white people aren't fundamentally effected by white supremacy and racism), but were rarely invited or expected to speak on behalf of all women. I've seen white pro-radical and feminist websites where the work of women of color is barely mentioned and where white women routinely speak for all women. I've seen gatherings led by whites who pretend they are inclusive and safe for women of color.

Writings and activism which centers the humanity of women is generally and typically regarded by men as being too narrowly about women. Men's writings about only-men or mostly men has been historically regarded by men as about all of humanity, or the segment of humanity worth doing justice work for, or about all people of a particular race; it is rarely-to-never seen as "too narrow in scope", too much about men, too ignorant about women, when reviewed by other men. When men recount the contributions by women to the men's human struggles for justice, women have too often been ignored or footnoted. And when men focus on women, the gaze is often objectifying and the attitude patronising.

It appears that whites and men will not easily regard women of color as fully human with perspectives that whites and men ought to pay attention to, prioritise, privilege, promote, and regard as foundational and central to understanding humanity on the whole.

I have come to the conclusion that women of color, as a global and regional majority by gender and the most diversely raced women on Earth, hold the most complex, radical, sophisticated, and revolutionary views on race, gender, and everything else. This doesn't mean I don't still look to white women and men of color for useful analysis and insight. It means I no longer center and privilege their voices and perspectives.

Vandana Shiva is, for me, a profoundly important world leader on matters of feminism, environmental/Earth justice, global economics, and holistic and humane sustainability. Robin Morgan is a U.S.-based white feminist who has dedicated many decades to the struggle by and for women against men's global woman-hating and woman-subjugating violence. I hold both women in very high regard and was delighted to find this exchange between them recently online.

You may go here, to The Women's Media Center online, to return to the source website. You may stay connected with their efforts here:

Economist and ecofeminist Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses the root causes of violence against women. 

Dr. Vandana Shiva—The New Delhi Rape and Globalization

| February 11, 2013
Dr. Vandana Shiva, economist, environmentalist, and feminist, spoke of the public outcry in India and how the devaluing of women in a global economy set the stage for the New Delhi rape. Adapted from a conversation broadcast last month on Women's Media Center Live with Robin Morgan.
Robin Morgan: In a feminist analysis certainly, everything is connected to everything else.  You recently wrote a stunning piece about the ghastly gang rape in New Delhi and the subsequent demonstrations and how violence against women and the economy were all connected.  I’d love you, please, to talk about the points that you raised.
Vandana Shiva: I’ve been working on how the economy’s changing—globalization, free trade, WTO, the structural adjustment. I’ve made the connections between those purposes and what happens to women in what is called the New Economy. They even call it the Emerging Economy, as if a 10,000-year-old civilization emerges only when it is locked into corporate globalization.
The first level at where violence against women begins is in the very defining of the economy.  Economy means household.  It is what women define both inside the physical households, but also the world, inside the planet as the household.  As long as the principles of management came out of that, they focused on sustenance, livelihoods, mutual giving—of course, within the typical patriarchies all our societies have had.
[With] free trade globalization, the first thing they do is knock out that major sector of women’s economy and, as Marilyn Waring has written in If Women Counted, install a production boundary to calculate growth.
The Gross Domestic Product grows every time you can pull something out of nature and something out of women customers’ economy, which means every time you destroy nature and women’s livelihoods, and production, and creativity, you can call it growth.  It’s created to mobilize finances for the war, and it becomes the dominant number imposed on our world.
I’ve been appointed by the King of Bhutan to an expert group we’ve created because Gross Domestic Product is the wrong measure.  The King of Bhutan said we should be looking at the well-being of our people to measure Gross National Happiness.
At this time, growth measured as Gross Domestic Product is already collapsing world-wide. It collapsed with Wall Street.  It’s collapsing in Europe right now in front of our eyes. and it will collapse in India after a few years.  How long can you sustain an eight or nine percent growth that excludes women as the primary backbone of the economy? That is the first violence.
The second violence is in terms of decision-making and politics.  In so many debates in India we hear, “Oh, we can’t have politics in economics.” But every time they make a decision within a patriarchal model of the economy, it is politics.  It’s politics that basically says, “Only corporations count, only the powerful count, and we’re going to mutate democracy from being, “By the people, of the people, for the people,” into being “By the corporations, of the corporations, for the corporations—and the powerful.”
The convergence of economic and political power further excludes women, but it also creates a class with immunity and impunity, which can do all levels of violence, change laws, and remove protections. There’s rape at every level—rape of the earth, rape of our resources, rape of the economy, and rape of women, which is what this drastic, dramatic tragedy has woken up India to.
Then there are other levels of violence because displaced people are more vulnerable.  I was asked by the National Commission of Women to grapple with what globalization was doing to women in India, in terms of two key factors: water, and food and agriculture. At public hearings around the country, whether in Calcutta or down south, women would speak out boldly about how sexual violence has increased and made them more vulnerable as they were being made economic and ecological refugees.
That is at the very foundation of this new liberal model: everything is a commodity.  Everything is property.  Everything has a price and nothing has value. Added to the traditional patriarchies of societies, that's created what I call a super-virus of patriarchy. When two viruses hybridize, they start to kill.
Basically it’s a bit like climate change.  We’ve had cyclones, but Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy present a different level of violence.  Of course, we know that this is contributed by climate change. We need to start looking at how an economy based on patriarchal fictions—and the corporation is the biggest patriarch in our lives to come—how this patriarchy is combining with traditional patriarchies to unleash even larger violence, both the kind we see on the streets of Delhi and the economic kind, the violence of robbing you of your home, of your foundation.
Our prime minister said recently, it’s these loose-footed migrants that are part of the problem. Because the Delhi rape involved migrants at both ends. The rapists were all living in slums in hugely brutalized conditions, thinking that brutalization is the norm.  The poor girl's father had sold his land because farmers aren’t being allowed to make a living.  Two hundred and seventy thousand Indian farmers have committed suicide.  The rest are hanging on the margins of existence.  He moved to Delhi to load luggage at the airport to be able to survive and send his children to school.
The prime minister just called them loose-footed migrants creating problems. I said, “Mr. Prime Minister, they are a product of your policies.  They are refugees of your economic policies.”  None of these—economics and culture and society—are insulated silos. The patriarchal economic model is becoming the dominant force in our society.  Societies have been reduced to the economy.  Economy has been reduced to the market.  The market has been reduced to what is controlled by finance, capital corporations.  And if all you show is women as commodities, selling other commodities, those images start to further distort already damaged brains.
RM: Isn’t it amazing, Vandana, how when you put something in context—the background of the victim and for that matter of the perpetrators—it changes? Also, I'm reminded of your colleague Ruchira Gupta who wrote a piece in which she pointed out that the commodification of women by the rampant growth of pornography and prostitution sends the message that, in fact, this is what women are for. She connects that to the apparently quite dramatic rise in rape in India.
VS: Hugely dramatic.  Eight hundred percent since the ‘70s and more than 250 percent since India’s economy, was as they say, made "more open" [with globalization]—more open to more violence against women.
RM: From where I sit here in New York, it seems heartening that women in numbers never seen before and accompanied by men as well have been on the streets in not only Delhi but across India.  They haven’t quite made the connections you’re making, but they are on the move protesting violence against women.
What can we do to turn the enormity of this around?  It’s always for example, blown me away, that a woman who is, say, in her fifteenth hour of labor, straining away—the doctor and the nurses and the anesthesiologists are all productive because they are wage labor, but the woman who is actually giving birth is not considered in a productive act.
VS: I think that is the foundational error. Everything that replenishes is treated as not producing at all and everything that’s degrades, everything that depletes, is treated as production.  I call it the creation boundary, which has given us the fiction of growth and the Gross Domestic Product—that destructive acts are creative acts of produce. The really creative acts of nature—of women in their tremendous diversity and amazing ability to juggle 50 jobs, 50 responsibilities—their whole society and economy are treated as unproductive. That, I think, is the most important shift we need to make.
As you know Robin, I come from the part of the Himalayas where it's recognized that women are the main productive force. They go out in the forests [to work] and there's nothing like the rape [that occurs] when you come into the plains where women are no longer considered productive. When I, with my sister, Dr. Meta Shiva, was studying female feticide, we realized that the map of high growth in the patriarchal measure are the same zones with the high levels of extermination of girls—fifty million girls haven't been allowed to be born in the last few decades.
The response in Delhi is beautiful for a number of reasons.
The first, that the younger generation has come. The younger generation was absent from social movements, especially the middle class because they were getting it so good with globalization—the IT jobs that moved to India. They were all seeing themselves as individual consumers, so society did not matter to them. But this rape reminded them that it could have been them coming back from their IT farms, from their phone call service centers.
The second difference is, while we have had a feminist movement in India for a long time, it was only the women. The beauty now is, young men joined. It was a young man who was defending this girl in that bus.  I think for the first time, there’s this new generational solidarity that’s emerging. Those very gutsy young people who are being beaten up and sprayed with tear gas and water canons realized that the state has become militarized. The state itself is a patriarchal institution. It will take time. There will be the hysterical voices saying death sentence, death sentence! But new connections have started to germinate that are really going to make a serious change.
RM: That’s very encouraging.  When you look at the global scale of things, I confess that I look to women not only because we are the majority and that permits more peaceable and more, how shall I say, witty and ingenious new strategies, but also because there’s no area that isn’t a women’s issue.  We spill over into everything if the connections are made.  I definitely see the global women’s movement as the politics of the 21st Century.
VS: We are really living through a period of collapse of all kinds in the patriarchic system.  The collapse of the financial economy they’ve built, a collapse of the eco-systems they have raped.  The UN has recognized that 90 percent of eco-systems are on the verge of collapse, if not already collapsed.  In this period, it’s the creative principle which women bring to bear for the simple reason that they were left to look after the real stuff of life, the goals that really mattered.  So they bring both another world view, another mindset, and other capacities, other skills—which is why I run a grandmother’s university at the new school I created in Dehradun called the Earth University.
RM: I love it.
VS: Ghandi always said a prayer, “Make me more womanly.”  If there is going to be a future for humanity, it will have to be a womanly future. I go to Europe and young men will bring me my books [to sign] and say, "I'm an ecofeminist, Dr. Shiva." That to me is a major, major shift. A shift to a creative economy where women start defining and playing the leadership role but others recognize that there has to be a mind shift.
RM: Whenever I talk to you, I feel both incredibly depressed because one is made yet again to realize the severity of the situation and at the same time, incredibly optimistic because I get from you a validation of everything that we’ve been trying to do and will do more and even better and with more people involved in the future. 
I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your wisdom and your perceptions and for everything that you do.
VS: And Robin, I want to thank you for your vision and leadership and your love.

Once again, to link back to the source website, please click *here*.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Remembering the Rich and Radical Political Life of Rosa Parks. Featuring audio of her, on what would have been her 100th birthday!

All that follows is from Democracy Now! (I only added links to the title of Jeanne Theoharis's political biography of Ms. Parks.) You may link back to Democracy Now! by clicking *here*. 

Happy 100th Birthday, Rosa Parks!

Born on Feb. 4, 1913, today would have been Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday. On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the civil rights movement. Today we spend the hour looking at Rosa Parks’ life with historian Jeanne Theoharis, author of the new book, "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks." Often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker, Parks was in fact a dedicated civil rights activist involved with the movement long before and after her historic action on the Montgomery bus. "Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated just like a sort of children’s book hero," Theoharis says. "We diminish her legacy by making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was." We also air audio of Rosa Parks in her own words. In the midst of the boycott in April of 1956, she spoke to Pacifica Radio about the action she took. [includes rush transcript–partial. More to come. Check back soon.]
Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. She is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and has written extensively about the civil rights and Black Power movements.


AMY GOODMAN: A hundred years ago today, civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was born. It was February 4th, 1913. On December 1st, 1955, when she was 42 years old, she refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She was arrested, convicted of violating the state’s segregation laws. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the modern-day civil rights movement and launch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We want to go to a clip of Rosa Parks, in her own words. In the midst of the boycott, April 1956, she spoke to Pacifica Radio about the action she took.
ROSA PARKS: I left work on my way home, December 1st, 1955, about 6:00 in the afternoon. I boarded the bus downtown Montgomery on Court Square. As the bus proceeded out of town on the third stop, the white passengers had filled the front of the bus. When I got on the bus, the rear was filled with colored passengers, and they were beginning to stand. The seat I occupied was the first of the seats where the Negro passengers take as they—on this route. The driver noted that the front of the bus was filled with white passengers, and there would be two or three men standing. He looked back and asked that the seat where I had taken, along with three other persons: one in a seat with me and two across the aisle were seated. He demanded the seats that we were occupying. The other passengers there reluctantly gave up their seats. But I refused to do so.
I want to make very certain that it is understood that I had not taken a seat in the white section, as has been reported in many cases. An article came out in the newspaper on Friday morning about the Negro woman overlooked segregation. She was seated in the front seat, the white section of the bus and refused to take a seat in the rear of the bus. That was the first newspaper account. The seat where I occupied, we were in the custom of taking this seat on the way home, even though at times on this same bus route, we occupied the same seat with whites standing, if their space had been taken up, the seats had been taken up. I was very much surprised that the driver at this point demanded that I remove myself from the seat.
The driver said that if I refused to leave the seat, he would have to call the police. And I told him, "Just call the police." He then called the officers of the law. They came and placed me under arrest, violation of the segregation law of the city and state of Alabama in transportation. I didn’t think I was violating any. I felt that I was not being treated right, and that I had a right to retain the seat that I had taken as a passenger on the bus. The time had just come when I had been pushed as far as I could stand to be pushed, I suppose. They placed me under arrest.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Rosa Parks speaking in April 1956 in the midst of the Montgomery bus boycott. She had refused to stand up for a white passenger just a few months before, December 1st, 1955.

Rosa Parks is often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker. The fact was, she was a troublemaker, a first-class one. At the time of her arrest, she was secretary of the local NAACP. She raised money to defend the Scottsboro Boys in a rape case that was trumped up, attended trainings at the Highlander Folk School of Tennessee. In fact, she had sat down on the bus before and refused to get up for white passengers. When she died in October 2005, she became the first African-American woman to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

Well, I just recently sat down with Jeanne Theoharis, historian, author of the new book, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. She is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College who’s written extensively about the civil rights and Black Power movements. I began by asking her to tell us the story of Rosa Parks.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: This is a story of a life history of activism, of a life history, as she would put it, of being rebellious, right, that starts decades before her historic bus stand and continues decades after. And so, very much what the story I’m trying to tell in this book is the story of that scope. It begins: Her grandfather was a supporter of Marcus Garvey, and so that is really where she gets her start, is with her family, her mother and grandparents. And they sort of inculcate her in a sense of pride and a sense that you demand and expect respect from people around you. And so, it is that spirit that she then brings into the world. She marries Raymond Parks, the first real activist she ever met.
AMY GOODMAN: Marcus Garvey was?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Marcus Garvey headed the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He was a Pan-Africanist and also a proponent of sort of black nationalism and black pride. And her grandfather was a supporter.
So, she meets her husband, Raymond Parks, and he is working on the Scottsboro case. This is 1931. And the Scottsboro case, these are nine young men, ages 12 to 19, who get arrested riding the rails. Right? This is the Great Depression. And very quickly, the charge turns to rape, and very quickly, they are all sentenced to death, except the youngest one. And so, a support movement grows up—
AMY GOODMAN: These are black boys—
AMY GOODMAN: —teenagers, and white young women.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Basically, these young boys are riding the train, like many people did. When they get arrested, it is discovered there are two young white women riding the train. And it is that moment where these nine young men—again, ages 12 to 19—where the charge then turns to rape. They were not originally arrested for rape. And so this support defense committee, this grassroots defense committee, grows to defend these nine young men. And Raymond Parks is part of that movement, and that’s what he’s doing when she meets him. And so, he’s sort of the first activist she met, and in many ways, that—her political development as an adult starts with sort of being a newlywed with Raymond and working on the Scottsboro case.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to the Scottsboro Boys?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Ultimately, they are not—they are not executed, and that movement really prevents that travesty of justice from happening.
So then, in 1943, she sees a picture of a classmate attending a local NAACP meeting, and she realizes that women can be part of the NAACP, and so she decides to go and attend a Montgomery NAACP meeting. And she’s the only woman there. And they’re having branch elections, and so she is elected branch secretary at her very first meeting in 1943. And that begins a decade of activism, right, before her bus arrest, where she is working with the NAACP.
And she’s working with a man by the name of E.D. Nixon. And E.D. Nixon is a sleeping car porter, and he’s active in the union of sleeping car porters. And he and Rosa Parks want to transform the branch into a more activist branch, and so he actually runs for president and wins in 1945. And he and Parks set about to investigate cases of white brutality, work on black voter registration. And this is very controversial. And in fact there is controversy in the branch. There are many middle-class members who oppose this. They try to unseat Nixon and, to a certain extent, Parks. But that does not work.
And so, for this decade before her stand, she is doing this very dangerous work. You know, I think we say NAACP today, and it sounds not so dangerous. But to be a NAACP activist in the '40s, doing what she's doing—she’s traveling the state, she’s taking testimony of people, she’s trying to get them to sign affidavits—that is extremely courageous work. And there’s sort of only a small handful of people in Montgomery, you know, sort of committed to doing that work.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does this moment happen? Actually, as you point out in the book, it wasn’t the first time Rosa Parks sat down on the bus and refused to get up. But explain what was different, when she tried it the first time and when she tried it in 1955.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: So there’s a—right, as you mention, there is a longer history of bus resistance in Montgomery. There had been numerous cases sort of in the decade after World War II, before her arrest in '55, of people getting arrested on the bus. And she's very familiar with many of these cases, so she knows what can happen. A neighbor of hers in 1950 is arrested, thrown off the bus and killed by police. The young Claudette Colvin, in March of 1955, is manhandled by police when she is arrested for her refusal to move. Parks herself had made various stands on the bus. She abhorred the practice that many bus drivers insisted on, where black people would have to pay in the front, get off the bus, and reboard in the back of the bus. And she refused to do that. She had been kicked off the bus by this very same bus driver a decade earlier for refusing to do that. She had had trouble with other bus drivers. She describes some bus driver passing her by because he didn’t—you know, he felt like she was a trouble—you know, she raised trouble. So she had this sort of history of bus resistance. There is this larger history of bus resistance in Montgomery. And then we get to December 1st, 1955.
One other thing is, that summer in August, she had gone for a two-week workshop to Highlander Folk School. They were having a workshop on school desegregation. This is 1955. So, we have the historic decision in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, but then the Supreme Court comes back in '55, right, and refuses to put a timetable on it, right? It's the historic words: "with all deliberate speed." And so, activists, like Parks, like Myles Horton and Septima Clark, who were running the Highlander workshops at the time—
AMY GOODMAN: In Tennessee.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: In Tennessee. This is a—this is a workshop to bring together people who want to push for and make a plan to implement school desegregation, because the court is clearly not going to press it forward. So she attends this workshop in August, and it is a very important and transformative time for her. She describes it as the first time she felt like she could discuss things with white people and not feel hostility. She’s obviously—there are 48 people attending this workshop. These are all people committed to this work of school desegregation. So, both—her own spirit really lifts. She talks about loving Myles Horton’s sense of humor, getting to just eat and be in a interracial space, that was a matter-of-fact interracial space, that just—that people just ate together, they shared rooms together, they sat outside together, that that freedom was also transformative, personally.
So she comes back, and then, in some ways, the atmosphere of the segregation in Montgomery, the conditions become harder to bear, I think. So, the evening of December 1st, 1955, she’s gotten off work. She actually decides to wait for a less crowded bus, so she goes to a drugstore, buys a few things and boards the bus around 5:30 at night. She sits in the middle section, right? One of the myths is that she was sitting in the white section; she was not. She was sitting in the middle section. The middle section was sort of a no-man’s land, in that the bus driver could ask you to move from that section even though Montgomery city code at the time said black people were not—did not have to get up out of their seats if there was no seats available. But bus drivers routinely violated that city code. So, that night, she’s sitting in the middle section. There are four black people sitting in this row. And at the third stop, the bus fills up, and there is one white man standing. And by the terms of Montgomery segregation, all four people will have to get up so that one white man can sit down. And the bus driver, James Blake, who, like all bus drivers in Montgomery, is carrying a gun, orders them to move. And she refuses.
He says, "I’m going to have you arrested." She says, "You may do that." He gets off the bus, and he first calls the supervisor, his supervisor. And the supervisor says, "Well, get her off the bus." The supervisor—I want to repeat that—just says, "Get her off." He does not say, "Have her arrested." Blake calls the police. The police come and evict her from the bus. And she believes the police don’t want to arrest her. It is Blake who sort of takes that sort of final historical step and says—
AMY GOODMAN: And he’s a white driver.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: He’s a white driver. All the drivers in Montgomery are white. I think one of the less-known facets of the Montgomery bus boycott is that it’s also pressing for black bus drivers. So, yes, he is a white driver. The police—she describes also, in those moments, while Blake is off the bus calling, people grumbling—right, people are clearly nervous. What’s going to happen? The police, you know, take her off the bus. Blake says he wants to sign a warrant. He’s going to come after his run to sign the warrant. And they take her to jail.
And she describes the moment in various ways. She describes it as she had been pushed as far as she could be pushed and that to get up meant that she consented to this, and she did not consent. But one of my favorite passages is also that she talks about finding her arrest annoying. And I think this speaks to how she does not necessarily believe that some movement is going to happen, right? She’s taking this stand because she thinks it’s important. But she finds it annoying because she’s actually working on this youth workshop for the weekend, and she sees this sort of as a distraction, and now she’s gotten herself arrested, right? And who knows how long this is going to take? And who knows what’s going to happen? And who knows if some sort of violent thing is going to happen to her? And so, in that moment, it’s a very hard moment, and then it’s also a moment where she in no way can see what’s about to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeanne Theoharis is the author of the new book, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. On this hundredth anniversary of the birth of Rosa Parks, we’ll continue our conversation in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: Pete Seeger singing "We Shall Overcome." He wrote it with others, the enduring anthem of the civil rights movement, at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, where Rosa Parks trained. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we return to our conversation with historian Jeanne Theoharis, author of the book The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. I asked her about the fateful day, December 1st, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to obey a white bus driver, James Blake, who ordered her to give up her seat to a white passenger. I asked how long Rosa Parks was detained and what she did next.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: She’s held there about three or four hours. She calls home, and her mother is terrified. "Have you been beaten?" She says, "No." And so, her husband starts to get money together to come get her. Meanwhile, someone on the bus goes to tell E.D. Nixon. And E.D. Nixon calls, can’t find out any information, and then calls a white civil rights kind of couple in town by the name of Virginia and Clifford Durr and gets Clifford Durr, who is also a lawyer, to call and find out what’s happened to her. So, both Raymond Parks and Nixon and the Durrs all come to—down and bail her out. And they all go back to the Parkses’ apartment.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Durrs are white, famous civil rights activists.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: The Durrs, famous, whites, activists, leftists. So they all go back to the Parkses’ apartment that night to talk about what happens next, because Nixon, once he knows that she’s OK, is, in a measure, delighted, because she’s exactly the kind of person that is both respected in the community, she’s middle-aged, she’s 42, she’s super tough, right? so he knows—he trusts that she’s not going to flinch under the kind of pressure that’s going to be brought to bear. And so he really wants her to be a test case. And at first, her husband is very nervous both for her safety and their safety, but also because people hadn’t necessarily stayed together around other cases. So he’s worried. But they decide that she is going to go forward with this case.
So she calls a young lawyer and friend of hers, a black lawyer by the name of Fred Gray, to ask him to represent her. And Fred Gray calls Jo Ann Robinson, who’s the head of the Women’s Political Council, a professor at Alabama State. And the Women’s Political Council had been very active around these issues. And Jo Ann Robinson mobilizes that night, and they decide to call for a one-day boycott on the Monday when Parks is going to be arraigned in court. And so Robinson actually sneaks into Alabama State College in the middle of the night with two students and runs off 35,000 leaflets in the middle of the night. At about 3 a.m., she calls E.D.—this is Robinson—and says, "This is what we’re planning." And so, at 5:00 in the morning, Nixon starts to call some of the ministers in town to get them on board for this one-day plan. And it is not 'til midday, when Rosa Parks, as she often does, takes her lunch to Fred Gray's law office, that she finds out sort of what’s happening.
And so, they are planning, again, for just a one-day boycott, at this point, on the Monday. And people are very worried. Will people do it? Will people stick together? And then Monday comes, and it is this amazing—people stay off the bus. She describes it as sort of the best moment of the whole thing. And that night, at a mass meeting at Holt Street Baptist Church, people decide to carry on the boycott sort of—and make it, you know, a longer boycott.
AMY GOODMAN: And they choose a young minister who’s just come into town to be their leader.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Martin Luther King.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: They choose him for a number of reasons. In part, he’s young. He’s new. He’s not—he doesn’t have any—he’s not firmly aligned with one side or the other. His church is actually located right across—it’s downtown; it’s right across from the Capitol. So they have the first meeting—the ministers have the first meeting at his church on E.D. Nixon’s sort of idea, in part because it’s so centrally located, and again, because Nixon sees that King doesn’t have enemies in town. And then, it is at Holt Street where we get the first taste of sort of Martin Luther King’s sort of, you know, kind of political and oratorical brilliance, right? because the speech he gives that night is an incredible speech.
AMY GOODMAN: December 5th, 1955.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Rosa Parks helped to—helps to launch Dr. Martin Luther King.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Yes, she does. Yes, she does. And in many ways, she—there’s this interesting moment. So, on Monday, right, she goes to court. She’s very quickly convicted. And then she goes back with Fred Gray to his law office. She doesn’t go back to work. She doesn’t go home. She goes to his office, and she answers—
AMY GOODMAN: She worked at Woolworth’s?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Ah, sorry, she worked at Montgomery Fair. She’s an assistant tailor. Montgomery Fair is the biggest department store in Montgomery at that point. So she’s—she’s working in the men’s shop. But she doesn’t go back to work. And she answers phones in Fred Gray’s office that Monday, and she doesn’t tell people it’s her, right? So this is sort of the paradox of how she negotiates this role. So she’s—she wants to be useful, so she’s answering all these calls. People are wanting to know what’s happening, what they should do. She’s not saying it’s her. And then, meanwhile, she stays and answers phones, while Fred Gray and Nixon and King have a meeting where the Montgomery Improvement Association will be born, right? So, in some sense, she—she’s sort of doing this kind of behind-the-scenes work while the kind of leadership is being formed on that Monday afternoon.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about December ’55 coming just a few months after the murder of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi—
AMY GOODMAN: —fourteen-year-old African-American boy, seared into the history and consciousness of this country, what happened to him. Describe what happened and how Rosa Parks was affected by it.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: The lynching of Emmett Till happens in August of 1955. But just days before she makes her stand, they’ve had this mass meeting. So, part of what happens is, the two men—because of the attention to the lynching, the two men are actually put on trial, which is sort of a rarity, but they are acquitted. This is Bryant and Milam. And so, a campaign comes up to kind of raise awareness around this, sort of organized in part by Mamie Till, his mother, and T.M. Howard. And so they’ve had—T.M. Howard comes to Montgomery just days before, and they’ve had this big mass meeting. And so, it’s very much on her mind. When she talks about sitting there in those moments, she talks about thinking about her grandfather, she talks about thinking about Emmett Till. And she’s—
AMY GOODMAN: When had he come into town, in Montgomery?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Howard comes in—I think it’s just literally four or five days. They’ve had this big mass meeting.
AMY GOODMAN: Four or five days...?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Before her arrest, so—
AMY GOODMAN: So at the end of November, right after Thanksgiving.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Exactly, exactly. And so it’s really fresh, right? And the organizing is really fresh, right? So, the lynching itself happened in August, but the kind of movement to sort of raise awareness is happening and has come to Montgomery just days before her bus stand. And so she’s very much thinking about that. And the bus driver says, you know, "You all should make it light on yourself and get up." And she thinks to herself, "This is not making it light on us as a people." And she’s thinking about Till, and she’s thinking about this kind of longer history, you know, and the Klan coming to her grandparents’ house, you know, and sort of coming by. And so, it’s very much kind of how she’s—you know, it’s with her that day.
AMY GOODMAN: The Klan came to her grandparents’ house?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: And her grandfather would sit out at night, often with a gun, to protect the house. And she would sometimes sit with him. After World War I, there’s this sort of backlash partly against black service during World War I, and there’s all of this kind of this uptake in violence in 1919, and so that also comes to Pine Level, to Alabama, where she grows up. And so she very much talks about remembering her grandfather sitting out on the porch with a gun, again, ready for sort of the Klan, if they come.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. When Rosa Parks died in 2005, there was a huge memorial service for her in Washington, D.C. She was the first African-American woman to lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda, then her body brought to a church before the big funeral in Detroit. And I remember the networks talking about Rosa Parks. I mean, there’s no question it was a big moment, and the media took notice. I remember CNN saying Rosa Parks was a tired seamstress—
AMY GOODMAN: —she was no troublemaker. But Rosa Parks, as you point out, was a first-class troublemaker.
AMY GOODMAN: So how did the image of her change? What did people understand at the time in 1955?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: I mean, I think there’s sort of two different things at work. Certainly during the boycott itself, they background Rosa Parks’s political history for the safety of the movement, right? Immediately, I mean—
AMY GOODMAN: You mean they put it on the back burner.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: And they play it down, right? They tend to talk about her as a good Christian woman. They tend to talk about her—and this is King, this is the black press, this is even Parks herself, right? They don’t tend to foreground her political history, in part because civil rights protests—this is 1955—are getting—you know, this is the Cold War. They’re immediately redbaited. All sorts of crazy rumors come up about her: She’s a communist plant, she’s an NAACP plant, she’s Mexican, she has a car, she’s not even black—I mean, just all manner of rumors in Montgomery spring up. And so, in part to counter the idea that these are outside agitators, outside forces, coming to—you know, coming to Montgomery, there is a tendency to talk about her, right, just as a kind of local woman, seamstress, Christian, right? So, that obviously then, in the decades afterwards, takes on a life of its own, in terms of her political history.
The other thing, I think, that contributes to this is Rosa Parks leaves Montgomery in '57 and spends the second half of her political life in Detroit, sort of fighting the racism of the Jim Crow North. And so, in many ways, she leaves the South as this movement that she's helped to galvanize sort of takes on, and she has this new place in which she’s sort of struggling in and part of a movement and that is not getting the same kind of attention.
But fast-forward—I think, by the '90s, right, and 2000s, right? In many ways, in the wake of the establishment of the King holiday, we see the civil rights—the history of the civil rights movement begin to get kind of reshaped and twisted into this very happy, limited story of a—this American movement that rises up and changes America, and then we vanquished racism, and there's this dreamy Martin Luther King and this quiet Rosa Parks. They’re sort of the two people we get in that narrative. And that’s a very happy story, and it makes us feel good about ourselves as a nation. And that story, I think, is part of what is at the center of the kind of national spectacle made of her passing.
AMY GOODMAN: Who was Rosa Parks’ hero?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Rosa Parks’ hero, she describes as Malcolm X. She very much—she loved, she admired, she had—I mean, she had tremendous admiration for King, but she describes Malcolm X as her personal hero. Rosa Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Obviously she gets that from her grandfather. In many ways, Malcolm X reminds her of her grandfather. Malcolm X’s willingness to sort of talk about sort of Northern liberalism and Northern hypocrisy, Malcolm X’s very early opposition to the war in Vietnam—all of these things are very similar to her sort of political outlook, and therefore, I think, she very much looks to him.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s interesting, talking about Vietnam. You write about Rosa Parks as an internationalist.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Right, right. I mean, she is a very early opponent of the war in Vietnam, as is John Conyers. And she—in many ways, she—she comes to volunteer on John Conyers’ very first campaign, right, for this new—
AMY GOODMAN: Longtime congressmember, dean of the Congressional Black Caucus.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Right. And he runs for the very first time. Michigan gets a new congressional seat in 1964 that looks like it’s going to, like, perhaps elect a second African American to Congress from Michigan. And this young civil rights lawyer, right, is running on this platform of jobs, peace and justice, right? So he’s running on a kind of anti-Vietnam platform in '64. Rosa Parks, very attracted to this, volunteers on his campaign in 1964 and gets Martin Luther King to come to Detroit on behalf of Conyers, right, basically prevails on King. King is staying out of doing this kind of political stuff; he doesn't. But he can’t say no to her. And this is a very crowded primary; eight people are running. Conyers wins by less than a hundred votes. And so, one of the things that he thinks really contributes is King coming, and part of what gets King to come to Mont—to Detroit, excuse me, is Rosa Parks asking him. And so, one of the first thing Conyers does is he hires Rosa Parks to work in his Detroit office. And he is very much in the forefront of kind of the opposition to Vietnam. And so—and she—and that’s—both of them are sort of working on that, and so she takes—she is part of that sort of—like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She’s supportive of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade, of the Winter Soldier hearings that are held in Detroit.
AMY GOODMAN: The American soldiers who came back from Vietnam and talked about the atrocities they committed there.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Right. And those hearings are held in Detroit, and then John Conyers actually goes—you know, is sort of one of the voices to kind of make—to bring those—bring the Winter Soldier hearings to sort of Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s when John Kerry became famous, as this soldier who’s returned and goes to Congress and testifies against the Vietnam War.
JEANNE THEOHARIS: Absolutely, absolutely. And so, that happens in Detroit, and it happens, in part, through kind of Conyers’, you know, kind of work on it.
AMY GOODMAN: Why didn’t Rosa Parks run for Congress in 1964 when the second seat opened up in Detroit?
JEANNE THEOHARIS: She is not someone who seeks or wants that kind of public limelight. She finds her fame sort of hard to bear. She is a sort of stalwart activist. She is a steadfast activist. But Conyers talks about her speaking with her presence, that she went to tons of things, she did what she could do to support, you know, prisoner defense committees, to support the anti-Vietnam—all sorts of movements, but she is not someone who likes to be in—in the front, in the limelight, in the way that running for Congress would have been.
AMY GOODMAN: Historian Jeanne Theoharis, author of the new book, The Rebellious Life of Rosa Parks, professor of political science at Brooklyn College, has written extensively about the civil rights and Black Power movements. When we come back, we speak with Theoharis about what happened after Rosa Parks was arrested and convicted in 1956, how she dealt with losing her job. This is Democracy Now!