Archive for the ‘Activism’ category

Malcolm X’s birthday

May 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Malcolm X. I’ve always felt he got the shaft in history class. Not that MLK Jr. wasn’t an incredible human being; I only wish Malcolm X got the same respect in American society. 

I leave you with one of my favorite columns on Malcolm, by Melissa Harris-Lacewell.

Early in his public career, a young white woman approached Malcolm and asked him what role sincere white allies could have in the struggle for racial equality. He rebuffed her and told her that there was no role for whites at all. Years later, he said he regretted his response and spoke of the difficulty in building workable interracial coalitions. He remained committed to black empowerment and self-governance within African-American organizations, but toward the end of his life he also came to understand the critical importance of anti-racist efforts among white Americans. He taught us that we must acknowledge human interdependence if we hope to build enduring movements out of the fragile and complicated interests that we share. -MHL

“I believe that it would be impossible to find anywhere in America a black man who has lived further down in the mud of human society than I have; or a black man who has been any more ignorant that I have been; or a black man who has suffered more anguish during his life than I have. But it is only after this deepest darkness that the greatest joy can come; it is only after slavery and prison that the sweetest appreciation of freedom can come. I do believe that I have fought the best that I could, with the shortcomings that I have had. I know that my shortcomings are many.”

-Malcolm X

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Activism v. Professionalism: Floral Arrangements Edition

February 13, 2009

Last night was the night of a big event/reception/awards ceremony I’d been working on for the past 5 months. It was a recognition of young women who have made great strides in their sectors, and who have made a difference to the community. About 400 people were there, including Congresswomen and Obama Campaign people.

It was something my team and I had worked very hard on, and I was proud of it. I had never really done event planning before, and had little experience on it, and the past 5 months were a great learning experience for me. And it made me think about my future more and more.

I wanted to be a part of this event because it was a subset of a large Women’s organization that is pretty well-known in the area. I’ve been aching to get more involved in feminist/women’s issues in my spare time, especially since my full-time job isn’t really in that arena. Its what I want to do for my life’s work, so I wanted to start somewhere.

The experience taught me a lot about myself and brought up some questions– where is the line between Activism, and Professionalism? Are both equally important?

Barbara Smith writes, in But Some Of Us Are Brave (people, get this book if you do not have it):

That word ‘professionalism’ covers a multitude of sins. I always cringe when I hear anyone describe herself as ‘professional,’  because what usually follows is an excuse for inaction, an excuse for ethical irresponsibility. It’s a word and a concept we don’t need, because it is ultimately a way of dividing ourselves from others and escaping from reality.

This quote sounds harsh, and I don’t mean to relate my experiences to it, but I mean for it to provide a background. The entire time spent on this event planning was time not spent on anything nitty or gritty. It required no analysis, nothing grassroots, no activism, no real challenge to any system. The time was spent on picking a venue for a gala, picking caterers, finding a speaker, marketing, and–last but not least– flower arrangements.

I mention the flowers, because to me, it represented the biggest disconnect I had with the entire situation. Here we were, we were all ‘professionals’, adding this to our resumes– organizing something that would honor other professionals. This is not unimportant. Women’s work is underacknoweleged, and underpaid, and a ceremony honoring women who have done great things is a wonderful idea. It’s just…I believe there are better ways to tackle this, there are more people to help, more important things to be done, or things I’d rather be involved with.

It was 2 hours till show time. I took off work early to arrive at the venue and set up for the evening.  I asked what needed the most help, and everyone immediately said “the flower arrangements.” My understanding was that we just wanted to put some flowers on the tables with the food, to make them look nice. That this understanding was an oversimplification, is an understatement. There were different sorts of flower-holding vessels. There were different types of flowers. There were diagrams. There were water dynamic-based tactical strategies to get these flowers to float in a specific way.

I tried my hand at putting the arrangement together, but felt more and more awkward. I don’t know a damn thing about flower arranging. Or what people like to see at food tables at galas. Everyone else was critiquing the way the petals fell, the buoyancy of the bouquets, and I finally just said “…does it really matter?”

I felt like they thought I was from Pluto. How could the placement of the petals not matter? And I couldn’t help but feel like the whole argument was frivolous and privileged and out of place. And I was feeling like an alien. So I told them I really would be much more helpful elsewhere and got the hell out of the flower area. I hung up signs, took donations, helped people find their way to coat check, and the whole evening progressed very nicely.

I by no means mean to degrade what we did for 5 months, or that night. I met an amazing group of women who are bright, thoughtful, feminist, and creative. We celebrated women’s efforts in the work place, and the great advancements we’ve made. For this, I smile. But when it comes down to it, we really didn’t challenge anything, or make anything better for the average woman, or anyone really. The activism part of the equation was completely missing.

I hope very much that women who love flower arranging and gala planning, and honoring already prominent, successful ladies will spring forward and continue where we left off, to make hundreds of other ceremonies of this nature. They should do this work, because its nice and inspiring, if that’s where their hearts are. My own heart is a different story. I need to challenge conventional standards, I want to get my hands dirty helping improve average women’s lives, I want to address structural inequalities due to race/class/gender, I want to come at everything from an anti-racist, feminist perspective, I want to write, I want to listen, I want to act. If I’m not a professional, so be it, I choose grassroots anyway. And if nothing else, the experience taught me this for sure.

Black History Month

February 10, 2009

I saw this article on The Root this morning.

Apparently there are a good number of people who believe that, since America put an African-American in the White House, we can stop pretending to care about Black History Month.

Now, to be fair, I don’t think our country’s use of Black History Month is enough at all. I don’t think many people remember that it is Black History month, and if they do, don’t particularly care or know anything about Black History. And the idea of separating one group out, and only for a month, seems pretty lacking. And it seems that the only thing that its really used for is HBO specials or teaching an extra unit in elementary school. Not that those things aren’t important.

Yes, Black History is American History too. But people in America don’t have the same experiences, and people living in privilege have a pretty good history of silencing and ignoring those who don’t. Yes, we elected Barack Obama. But NO, we are NOT living in a post-racial society. Racism is still alive and well, even when its subtleties are harder to detect. Obama’s presidency doesn’t diminish the importance of Rosa Parks or Malcolm X or Sojourner Truth or Frederick Douglas. I believe that we must know our past in all its complications. We cannot forget their struggles or the ongoing struggles today.

If anything, maybe Black History Month should be reconsidered and more out in the open, more in focus, more in the dialogue. It should be connected with what’s going on today. What has changed? What hasn’t? How can our understanding of Black History help us answer these questions?

As Afi-Odelia Scruggs writes, ”

[T]he importance of Black History Month transcends its emphasis on race. It’s one of the few times in the year when the nation—the nation—is encouraged to plumb its past. Americans are an ahistorical society. We’re always searching for the new thing. Thus the observance benefits us all by sharing the stories of folks who overcame the odds against them.

Having a month designed “Black History Month” isnt going to magically solve any problems. But the fact of the matter is, a lot of Americans don’t think of race on a daily basis, and certainly not of history. POC are routinely silenced and made to feel like their stories and struggles and contributions aren’t important. And even more, for WOC. Even WITHIN progressive or feminist communities. And if Black History Month sheds a little more light on them, or gives white people a little pause, its more than worth keeping around. If it helps in not allowing white people to selectively forget racist or privileged aspects of their own lives, it is a success.

Take the time to read up on, or write about, or reflect on important events in our history and in black history. Maybe take a look at it from a legal context. A social or political one. A feminist angle. Maybe read some bell hooks. Or musical! Listen to some Mingus or Armstrong, Hendrix or Pac. Any angle that interests you! Just Listen. And Share.

A random assortment of links:

U of Washington African-American History Library

Black Facts

Angry Black Bitch (blog)

Afronerd (blog)

The Root

The Black Snob (blog)

Video Quickie- Gay Marriage

February 6, 2009

“Fidelity”: Don’t Divorce… from Courage Campaign. (i seem to be having trouble embedding).

I blatantly took this from Feministing but this video contains Regina Spektor and images of happily married gay couples and is pretty tear-inducing. You should watch.

“It is not women’s liberation, it is women’s and men’s liberation”

February 5, 2009

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Treated For Cancer: My thoughts are with Justice Ginsburg, who has been a strong female voice and ally for 15+ years. Ginsburg founded the first women’s rights law journal in her early career and co-authored the first book on sex discrimination. Throughout her time on the Supreme Court she has continued to be an advocate for abortion rights and justice.

And on a personal connection note, my law firm brought an incredibly important environmental suit (Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.) to the Supreme Court that Ginsburg voted with us on, and authored the Supreme Court’s Opinion on. She is a true ally.

Here’s to her successful recovery.

FEM 2.0- society’s issues and women’s voices

February 3, 2009

Well, I just got home from the Fem 2.0 Conference at The George Washington University (a special shout-out to my alma mater for hosting!)

What a great experience! I was only able to attend the afternoon session, but I got to go to the Media and Culture: Interjecting Feminism Into Popular Culture session, as well as the Plenary session. It was great, because I got to briefly connect with Latoya Peterson— one of the main reasons I attended. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see Viva La Feminista since I couldn’t get off work till the afternoon, but I hear her panels were great.

Fem2.0

Fem2.0

There were an estimated 250 feminists of all ages, races, sexual orientations, etc, making incredibly interesting and inspiring comments on a range of topics. Some ideas that came out of what I experienced:

-There needs to be a much more unified message & collaboration between pro-feminist, progressive organizations. Sometimes it feels like these groups don’t speak to each other, and remain focused in their important yet narrowed trajectories.  Gay rights groups, feminist groups, civil rights anti-racism groups– they need to be greater allies because power comes in numbers and diversity. All of these issues intersect (again, ‘feminism’ doesnt mean white heterosexuals, gay people aren’t all male, and POC are also queer and feminist!) , and combined I believe they would have their greatest effectiveness.

Feminism is “a human operating system.” I think this really nailed the term for me. I’ve heard people describe it as a ‘philosophy’ or ‘religion’ but those aren’t necessarily accurate.  Philosophy doesn’t go far enough, and religion isn’t entirely accurate. Human operating system successfully demonstrates the fact that feminism affects every aspect of our lives, the way we think, interact, decide, love, study, learn, write, teach.

-There IS a mobilized group of people, even just in the amount of people who were able to attend. THIS IS A HUGE RESOURCE. We must use it.

-Diversity of ideas is essential. Diversity of experience is essential.

-Analyzing and second guessing popular culture is important. These things shape our lives, and are a reflection of what societies thinks is important. We have to encourage each other’s creativity and let it flourish, because no matter how progressive the men are, we cannot rely on them to change the system for us.

Anyway, its been quite a good day, and I definitely have more topics/ideas that I want to blog about soon…