Politics


The third edition of the Radical Women of Color Carnival is now up, hosted at Blac(k)ademic.
This month’s theme is women of color and sexuality. Check it out!

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I was recently asked for my model of an economy that would be “fair.” This doesn’t really address that question, but now that I’ve worked my way around this far I see I’m reinventing a number of wheels:

A very tiny minority of wealthy, mostly white people, through their multinational corporations, exploit the rest of the world’s population for their own benefit. Even in the United States the exploitation is ruthless and getting worse; outside the US and Europe it is far worse. Huge portions of the world’s population cannot afford a decent life, many more are barely getting by, and even the comfortable are always in danger of falling into bankruptcy. Factories close, jobs are lost or shipped to other countries, there is “no money” for public education or health care. Everyone can see that the ruling class has gathered to itself all the material wealth of the world and has more than it could ever use–certainly more than it deserves under any possible meritocratic standard–enough to feed, clothe and shelter the world. Why do we tolerate this vicious exploitation? Why aren’t the street filled with police keeping the poor from rising up against the rich?

One reason for the ease with which the goods of the world are kept from the people who produce them is the systematic exploitation of seemingly natural divisions–between races, between men and women, between us and them. The one division that white men have trouble seeing is the only one that really matters–the one between them and the wealthy elite with whom they identify. No apparent barrier exists between the white male worker and white male elite; anyone can be rich, anyone can be President. Meanwhile, the ruling class steals from the majority white male workforce but the usual suspects are blamed. Jobs aren’t lost to corporate greed, they are lost to affirmative action, or illegal immigrants. Public universities shrink as the population needing them grows, but my kid can’t get in to UCLA because of affirmative action. White male workers whose parents could support families on their hard-won union salaries wonder where the money has gone, but instead of seeing the vast wealth that has been sucked up into the upper 1% of the population they see the insignificant, token benefits flowing to the less fortunate. And why are they less fortunate anyway? Because they are different, less qualified, lazy, have too many kids, aren’t as smart, won’t learn English, aren’t Christian. Deprived of the support of the white masses, the revolution can’t (yet) get off the ground.

All it would take for a better, more just, more moral economy would be for the exploited 99% to unite against the thieving 1%. But that requires that ordinary white men recognize that they have more in common with Tibetan peasants and black single mothers than they have with George W and his handlers. In the conversation that prompted this post, someone compared feminism to unions as an idea that might have outlived its usefulness. Unions have declined because coordinated action by the workforce is so powerful that tremendous resources were directed at undermining it. Organized violence, legal restrictions, corruption, bad press, and most of all, manipulation of internal divisions along racial, gender and ethnic lines crippled unions. Unions or a 21st century equivalent may be our only hope of a world in which resources and opportunities flow to those who actually work for them. But to be effective, unions must actually unite all the groups now divided from each other. Feminism’s role in this is to study, publicize, explain and eliminate the oppression of women that also oppresses men. Denial of opportunity on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. must all be addressed at the same time, and worldwide. Otherwise illusory gains will be made at the expense of other oppressed groups while the wealth continues to flow into the hands of those who have not earned it and do not need it.

Feminism has enabled people like me to be lawyers. In the big picture, these are not real gains. We are being bought off by the system because we have demonstrated enough ability to make trouble. Our existence and success (such as it is–we are carfully trained to conceal any problems we might be having in having it all) serves the exploitative economy by supporting the illusion of equal opportunity for all. Apart from that role, how people like me fare in the economy is pretty much irrelevant to the real structural change that is needed.

I went to do my National Lawyer’s Guild legal observer thing at the anti-Sensenbrenner/King pro-immigration demonstration Saturday here in Los Angeles. It was just wonderful! Amazing! I have never ever seen so many people in one place–the march had to start early because the gathering location couldn’t hold any more people. The whole length of the march from Olympic and Broadway to City Hall couldn’t hold all the people who turned up, so folks marched down parallel streets.

The whole thing was peaceful, although “peaceful” doesn’t begin to describe the mood. I don’t know who arranged for the police to be elsewhere, but they were. A typical day of legal observing involves locating a clutch of cops and watching them, because they either go where the trouble is or cause it. But cops were nowhere in sight where I was, and we got no reports via cel phone of other trouble spots. If you read the LATimes report it doesn’t even bother to say there were no arrests–there was just no trouble. Not even any fights or yelling when the crowds got too thick. Even without police trouble was possible because many marchers were high school-aged immigrants and 1st-generation USAmericans of various ethnicities, and they tend to sort into hostile ethnic gangs.

Not only was there no trouble, there were hardly any negative messages–banners all said things like “We Love America Too!” and “Immigrants Built This Country”. (I did see a half-dozen self-styled anarchists but no one paid any attention to them and they looked kind of grumpy.) Most of the professional protesters were probably at the anti-war rally last week. I got the impression that every immigrant in Southern California–but nobody else–knew about this event.

In fact we could have used more cops because the crowds overflowed the closed streets and a lot of traffic got caught downtown. But the marchers did a pretty good job of managing the intersections and letting the traffic out. The marchers also picked up litter as they went along!

A very funny thing was that realtors had arranged a joint open house for all the lofts downtown, apparently unaware that the march was planned. Occasionally I would run into baffled folks with glossy maps working their way from one balloon-bedecked old building to another, but I’m sure most of the attendees never got within a half-mile. This is probably a good time to get a great price on a downtown LA loft!

There may be–just may be–hope for the US after all.

I object to the treatment of “abortion” as if it could be discussed and evaluated in the abstract, apart from the circumstances of any particular pregnancy. I therefore object to any law setting the conditions under which an abortion can or can’t take place (apart from medical regulation equally applicable to tonsillectomy and abortion) because such legislation can’t possibly take account of singular circumstances. I also object to laws restricting abortion (or requiring it) because such laws assume that the individuals involved (particularly but not exclusively women) are so lacking in moral judgment that a legislature wholly uninformed of their circumstances is better equipped to guide their conduct.

Focusing on “abortion” as a topic of debate also obscures what the discussion is–or should be–about. It’s a little like calling all discussions of cigarette smoking the pneumonectomy debate. Abortion is a procedure that terminates a pregnancy, but the alternative to weigh against abortion is not childbirth but motherhood. Denying a woman an abortion forces her to become a mother. The discussion should be about coerced motherhood. There are many, many aspects of our culture, our economy and our physiology operating to make motherhood inevitable while representing it as the result of choice. Abortion rescues from motherhood unwilling women who have been swept into it by these inexorable pressures. Denial of abortion is the iron fist of coercion inside the velvet glove of choice.

Motherhood is a life-shaping joy and a wonder, but the magnitude of the blessing is also the measure of the burden imposed on the woman who is not willing to bear it. Under no other circumstances do we impose a comparable burden on unwilling men or women (at least, not without a trial by jury and proof beyond a reasonable doubt). We do not require any man admitted to medical school to spend his life as a doctor, no matter how rewarding a medical career may be or how desperately we need doctors.

As to when “life” begins, approached as a scientific question the determination is irrelevant to the question of when, if ever, motherhood should be required, or to any other moral question. (And “viability,” the legal dividing line between impermissible and permissible coercion, is a moral abomination.) Human life begins when a being becomes a member of human society. That may happen before conception or fail to happen even after birth. It happens when a child is recognized and welcomed into society (however grudgingly).

A word about terrorism and war. They are not the same thing. Bush and his ilk and the deluded US American public responded to the WTC terrorist attack (immediately misnamed the “Attack on America” when it was, in fact, an attack on “World Trade”) with organized war on two sovereign nations. Neither war had the least effect in reducing terrorism anywhere, because terrorists do not field a finite army or defend a particular territory. Instead, wars and aggressively patriotic responses further inflame the fevered ideologies (rational at their roots but lunatic at the fringe) leading to more terrorism. But “War works” in other ways: in solidifying support for an otherwise questionable regime at home, in justifying reductions in civil liberties at home and increases in imperialistic behavior abroad, in further destabilizing oil-rich areas of the world to create opportunities for US American multi-national corporations, etc. For these purposes, it does not matter who wins.