The “Unruly Mob” vs. “Democracy”

As anyone on social media knows by now, the draconian anti-abortion bill in Texas, SB5, was defeated last night.  It is truly a great thing for all of those who fight for women’s bodily autonomy.  The law would have closed down all but five clinics in the state of Texas, which is one of the largest states (in both population and area) in the U.S.  The most affected would have been poor and working women, who could not afford the travel or time needed to travel to find services if they did not live in one of the areas where those five clinics were located.  This would include a significant number of women of color, as well.  Some say it would have virtually ended access to abortion in the state.

The proposed legislation, SB 5, would have criminalized abortion after 20 weeks and forced all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close their doors. Because of Texas’ size and population, Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards warned that SB 5 would amount to a “virtual ban” on abortion services in the state.

I watched the live stream online and followed the proceedings on Twitter last night, hoping against hope that it would turn out the right way.  I was so relieved that it did. Despite my unmitigated joy today, I am having a major problem with the narrative around the struggle.  Those who advance this narrative engage in both the celebration of bourgeois party politics and the cult of personality.  This narrative holds that one woman, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, beat back this bill.  It ignores the throngs of people who flooded the Texas capitol in Austin, shouted down the Texas senators, and demanded to be let into what should be their house of law when the doors were locked against them.  It ignores the countless women who sent in personal stories of abortion for use in the filibuster.  It ignores those arrested and those who protested those arrests, at one time screaming at the cops to “let her go” as they arrested an older woman who would not (or could not?) rise from her seated position.  I prefer the “people’s filibuster” narrative, because it recognizes these facts.  It shows us the power of direct action.  Sadly, even that term is being misapplied to include only Wendy Davis.

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), much of the coverage of and outrage over the events in Texas have been focused on the Democrats vs. Republicans “get out the vote” pseudo-movements.  When it was thought that the Republicans were going to ignore the time deadline and claim to have passed the bill, many liberal groups immediately began to declare that they would not forget, that people needed to get out and vote Democrat.  Even after the caucus declared the bill dead, this has been a major liberal rallying cry.  In fact, it’s the supporters of the bill who have recognized the power the people wielded in their legislative halls, blaming “unruly mobs” for the defeat.  While liberals “stand with Wendy”, conservatives recognize that they could have used parliamentary rules of “germaneness” to kill the filibuster and push the bill through, were it not for the crowds of people who shouted them down to run out the last 15 minutes of the clock.

What do we take from Texas?  We certainly should not believe the fight is over.  In fact, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is hinting that another special session might be called to bring the bill to the floor again, saying, “It’s over. It’s been fun. But see you soon.”  To put our trust in elected Democrats to protect us is misguided.  After all, when convenient, they have sold women out before.  Even more than that, simply supporting Democrats doesn’t change the underlying problems:  patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism and the corrupt structures of U.S. pseudo-democracy.  Controlling women’s reproduction, to push out more workers and soldiers, is a necessary function of patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism.  The corrupt structures of U.S. pseudo-democracy mean that our elections are bought and sold, and exercising control via elected representatives of either bourgeois party is bound to fail as often as it gives us minor successes.  I say the only true democracy in action in Texas yesterday was represented by the “unruly mob”–the people directly taking control.

UPDATE (6/26/2013, 3:49 PM MST):  Texas Governor Rick Perry has called another special session to reintroduce this bill.  The session will convene on the 1st of July, 2013.  This is why it’s so important that we have a movement, not just rely on a politician here or there.

UPDATE (6/27/2013, 6:31 PM MST):  I added a link to an article and video of the 72-year-old woman who was forcibly removed from the capitol.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  I need to thank Navdeep, a poster on  TLSOF’s Facebook page.  He made a statement regarding putting trust in politicians that I originally misunderstood.  After thinking about his comments for a while, I realized what he was saying and how right he was.  His comments, along with many other things that unfolded during and after the filibuster, led me to write this piece.

Picking Your Battles: Feminism and Militarism

This piece was originally posted on Righteous Anger.

I’ve discussed the doctrine of “choice” that runs through liberal feminism and libertarian feminism in previous posts.  It’s the pervading philosophy that the goal of feminism is to give women choices.  That’s a philosophy with which I agree wholeheartedly.  However, it comes as part-and-parcel of the philosophy of ethical relativism, which says that those choices cannot be judged or condemned.  That is definitely not a philosophy with which I agree.  While my past discussions of the choice issue has revolved around sex work, the issue is also crucial to the discussion of militarism and its relationship to liberal feminism.

Traditional Leftist movements have had at their heart an aversion to militarism.  After all, wars are seen as the tools of the oppressors; they are little more than the capitalists of one nation-state fighting the capitalists of an opposing nation-state over resources.  It is the poor and the oppressed who end up fighting and dying for the gains of the capitalist.  For all the claims of women’s more peaceful nature, feminists have tended to avoid involvement in peace movements.  In fact, they have often fought not against the glorification of war, but in favor of women’s greater involvement in war.  This exposes the greatest failing of liberal feminism:  its belief that the traditional ways of men are the better ways, and women should strive to equality in those ways.  I would argue that, in many cases, we need to fight to abolish the traditional ways of men, not join with them on equal footing.

It has become the habit of the liberal feminist to exalt the female soldier and to worry herself with the rights of women in the military.  She will concern herself with whether women are allowed to go to combat.  She will worry over whether women face sexual discrimination and harassment within the ranks.  She will praise the woman who shows valor at war.  She will exalt the women who justify American military and interventionist tendencies.  Women like Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Madeline Albright will be held up as models of feminist achievement.  Ignored will be Clinton’s support of the invasion of Iraq, which has led to the deaths of over 114,000 Iraqi civilians.  Ignored will be Albright’s justification of the sanction-caused deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children as “worth it”.  How on earth could a feminist, a person who believes in the equality of human beings, care more about one’s career advancement than about the lives of living, breathing human beings?

Women and their children suffer inordinate amounts of abuse from war.  While men are always at risk of death, women are far more likely to suffer the additional assaults of rape during war time.  It has been used as a weapon of war probably for as long as war has existed.  In some cases, it has been the explicit policy of the war-makers.

The sexual abuse of women in war is nothing new. Rape has long been tolerated as one of the spoils of war, an inevitable feature of military conflict like pillage and looting. What is new about the situation in Bosnia is the attention it is receiving – and the recognition that it is being used as a deliberate military tactic to speed up the process of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

And, of course, the women suffer long after the rape and the war are over.  The Asian (mostly Korean) women forced or tricked into sexual slavery to service the Japanese military during the second world war still fight for justice.  Muslim women in the former Yugoslavia were forcibly impregnated by their rapists, and often cast out by their religious families. These horrors of war are as old as war itself, and ought to be enough to turn all feminists against war.

The involvement of women in war-making has done nothing to eliminate this.  In fact, it has made new victims.  The women soldiers become victims of their supposed comrades, as rape is rampant in the U.S. military.  Instead of protecting these female soldiers, officials label them “crazy” or even bring them up on charges of adultery, if the victims or their attackers happen to be married.  Other women engage in the sexual humiliation of male prisoners of war, as the horrific pictures of Abu Ghraib proved. The horrors of sexual abuse in war has not been abated, despite record numbers of women serving in the armed forces.

Women in the military have also done nothing to eliminate the other horrors of war.  There are still children killed.  There are still lives destroyed.  There are still enduring repercussions that come from the destruction done by war.  It’s not just the immediate effects of the bombing and the shooting.  The destruction of water and waste facilities can lead to untold deaths for years after the last shot is fired.  The effects of nuclear and biological weapons poison the environment for decades after their deployment.  Men, women, and children of all ages stay trapped in those poisonous environments.

Wars and military interventions can lead to unforeseen consequences that have even worse effects for women.  The women of Iran after the Islamic Revolution and the women of Afghanistan after the rise of the Taliban are testaments to that.  U.S. and British meddling in the affairs of other countries led directly to both situations.  And women paid the price.

Wars are not fought to protect our “freedom”.  None of the targets of U.S. invasions or proxy wars over the past 70 years have posed a threat to American freedom.  Korea?  Vietnam? Nicaragua? Grenada?  Panama?  Iraq?  Afghanistan?  Not one damned one of them.  What threats the U.S. has faced can inevitably be traced back to previous invasions and periods of meddling in the business of other countries.  This constant use of the military to enforce the interests of capitalists is what truly threatens the safety and freedom of Americans.  Feminists need to recognize that supporting war does not help women.  It does not help women in the military, it does not protect female civilians at home in the U.S., and it certainly does not help women in the countries that are invaded and bombed.  It’s time for feminists to take a stand against militarism and for peace.

Ethical Relativism Revisited: Choice and Feminism

Ethical relativism is one of my favorite topics in relation to feminism, for the simple reason that one cannot be an ethical relativist and believe in worldwide human or women’s rights.  The idea that human beings–all human beings–have certain inalienable rights means that these rights stretch across the globe, across cultures, across religions.  However, within feminism, there is another debate that falls into the trap of ethical relativism.  As mentioned in my last post, this is the idea that feminism requires that we support the “choices” of other women, whatever those choices may be.  Flat out nonsense, I say.

Feminism has fought for the rights of women to make their own choices.  This is an important part of feminism, and one that I support wholeheartedly.  This means that a woman should have the right to choose not to be married.  She should have the right to choose if or when she becomes a mother.  That she should have the right to choose what kind of career she wants.   The problem occurs when people jump from “the right to make a choice” directly to “the right to be free of any judgement for said choice”.  That’s where ethical relativism and the doctrine of feminist choice jump the tracks for me.

Not all choices made in this world are good choices.  Not all choices in this world are valid choices.  And it sure as hell isn’t true that all choices in this world free the chooser from being judged for the choices she makes.  When feminists–especially those who call themselves “sex positive”–begin speaking about “it’s a choice” and “you can’t judge”, it usually relates to sex work or  BDSM.  That was covered in my last post, so I won’t go into it in detail again now.  The problem here is that these same liberal feminists are more than willing to judge the choices made by others, if said others don’t fall in line with their own political beliefs.

Let’s consider other choices made by women.  The choice of political belief and involvement.  The choice to voice political opinions in the public arena.  The choice to fight for political convictions.  This means that feminists fought for the right of women to be on the political front lines.  Unfortunately, too many women use this right to choose to join anti-women political parties or espouse right-wing values as political pundits.  Ann Coulter is making her choices.  Sarah Palin is making her choices.  Michele Bachmann is making her choices.  Feminism fought for and won the right for these women to make their choices, even though those choices are hurting other women.  Does that mean we can’t judge them?  Hell, no! That applies to other choices made by women, too.

If they hurt women, women and their choices are open to judgment and condemnation.  Liberal feminists who claim that “choice” means “no judgment” are wallowing in hypocrisy the moment they criticize women like Coulter, Palin, or Bachmann. Feminists fought for lots of things.  We have fought for the right of women to make their own choices.  We did not fight for the right of women to make choices that hurt other women without repercussion.  At least, I didn’t.

Welfare Reform, Or How I Came to Hate the Democrats

This piece originally ran on Righteous Anger.

I walked by my bookcase today and picked up Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. It was written in the days of Bush the Father and Reagan. It was a big influence on me at the time. I remember how Bill Clinton was elected after that, and we were told it would be all better. You remember, “Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow…”

Then, we had Clinton signing into law “welfare reform” and making his wife look like a fool on the grand public stage. Go, Democrats, y’all.

I think I finally came to the realization that the Democrats would never be an answer to the problems faced by the poor, minorities or women when Clinton was in office. Before that, I had focused my hatred on the Republicans and Bush’s wars. But how was Clinton better? In fact, he had a more negative impact on my life than Bush ever did.

At the time Clinton climbed into bed with the right-wing to paint the poor as unworthy, I was enrolled fulltime at University of Arizona and my husband was working the same fulltime job he’s held since he was 15. Our daughter was about five, so childcare was very important. My education would be our way out of poverty, but Clinton and both political parties wouldn’t have it. As soon as Arizona had the excuse of “welfare reform”, they ended childcare subsidies for poor students. Apparently, the so-called Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 had this effect on many Americans, because it had never been allowed before.  We were living on less than $12,000 a year. There was no way in hell we could afford childcare for me to go to school. So, I had to quit. It would be another ten years before I finally got my degree, and it came at great expense. U of A had penalized me for quitting in the middle of a semester, so I had to go to an over-priced technical school. That left huge, huge student loan debt that we’re still drowning under today.  Thanks, Bill.

The Tepid Left and Righteous Anger

I originally posted this piece on Righteous Anger.

The concepts of “bipartisanship” and “reaching across the aisle” are exercises in failure. I remember reading an article in Counterpunch or ZNet several years back, around the time when the Tea Party first started taking hold. It talked about how the Left in the U.S. is tepid, while the Right is rabid. It discussed how you win hearts and minds through righteous anger, not a “let’s be friends with the other side” approach. (And you don’t often find the Right wanting to “reach across the aisle”, anyway. They use their own “righteous” anger and moral outrage to gain support on a large scale.) I firmly believe that is true. You need to have the logical parts of your argument shored up. The facts need to be in a row. However, facts alone don’t get things done, because people are usually moved to act when they see something they believe is beyond the pale. Spectacle. Anger. Visibility. Those things get things done.

The reason the Left is viewed as “tepid” in the U.S. is that most of the Left is invisible. Those of us who use moral outrage as a central tenant of our beliefs are invisible. What is left behind is the bow-and-scrape Liberal, the one who uses the word “progressive” to hide the fact that there really isn’t much progress happening. The one who only cares that there’s a Democrat in the White House, not that this Democrat is doing deeds every bit as evil as any Republican.  It’s time for those of us on the Left to stand up, to get angry, and to be every bit as rabid as the right.