Fast Food Workers Rising!

by Alex


Stand Up, Fight Back!

On September 4th, 2014, fast food workers in Rochester, NY joined thousands of workers in hundreds of cities worldwide in going on strike. Their demands: $15 an hour and the right to form a union. Workers, alongside Metro Justice members and other community allies, after months of grassroots organizing, were able to shut down the Wendy’s on East Ridge Road for several hours. Wendy’s of Rochester lost significant profits, and workers were able to claim their first of many victories against poverty in this city.

 

Fast Food Strikes are Class War

The Fast Food Industry rakes in massive profits from a business model that depends on the exploitation of their workforce. We’ve all heard the oft repeated lie that those at the top have worked hard for their wealth, while those sweating and starving in fast food restaurants need to work harder if they want more money. The truth is that the fast food CEO’s make more than 1,000 times more money than the average fast food worker – fast food CEO’s are among the most well paid executives in the country, while their workers are among the lowest paid.


But we don’t have to look that high up on the chain to see that wealth doesn’t come from hard work under capitalism. In Rochester, NY every Wendy’s restaurant in the area is owned by the same man: Robert Fox. Bob did not have humble beginnings. He inherited the local Wendy’s empire from his father Richard Fox – a man who once said, “If you overpay, it’s hard to get a good return on anything.”

If wages had risen along with worker productivity generally since 1968, workers would be making $21.71/hr minimum. Instead, median hourly pay for a fast food worker is $8.69. Due to these low wages 52% of fast food workers and their families are enrolled in one or more public assistance programs such as SNAP (food stamps) Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The state subsidizes this business model built on a foundation of grinding down its workers for higher profits – to the tune of nearly $7 billion per year. Given all of this, the meritocracy argument against workers organizing and taking action for higher pay and benefits falls apart pretty easily.

Every time a worker takes a stand by going on strike, engaging in a work slowdown, making a public statement, or talks to other fast food workers about the movement, they are fighting back against the owning class that profits from all of our misery. Fast Food Workers are standing on the front lines of a new labor movement – one that will be militant, effective, and that will bring about real improvements in the lives of all working people. Militant labor activities of the past brought the 8 hour work day, minimum wage laws, and the 40 hour work week. Low wage worker struggles today will win a living wage for all and build real worker power through direct action against the bosses.

 

Worker Power over Legislative Reform

Fast Food and other low wage workers have the opportunity to fundamentally change social relationships in the workplace. By organizing and withholding their work they go straight to the root – attacking the bosses’ profits and forming relationships with their fellow workers forged in the struggle for a better life. Fast Food workers need higher pay in order to raise their families, get an education, and even to pay for basic necessities.

A change in minimum wage laws – whether in one city or nation wide – is one way for workers to get the $15 they are fighting so hard for. Seattle’s city council recently passed a $15/hr minimum wage law. This change in the minimum wage was directly connected to Fast Food organizing there. These laws are alright as far as they go – but Seattle’s new $15 hourly wage law is full of legal loopholes designed to keep many workers well under that wage for a number of years. Business groups are already mounting a legal challenge to this law.

Direct organizing among workers can suffer when efforts are funneled into campaigns to elect candidates that are making promises of a higher minimum wage. Instead, low wage workers and community allies can invest the same time, money, and effort into building a movement that is capable not only of forcing the fast food industry into a $15 standard hourly wage, but also of creating lasting worker organizations. These organizations can continue to fight for other improvements in the industry – more benefits, regular schedules, and a generally more democratic workplace. Laws and politicians can’t give workers dignity at work. Only the workers can win that for themselves.

 

Another World is Possible

If fast food and other low wage workers continue to organize and, with the help of community allies, build a mass movement that grows in militancy and effectiveness, we can’t know the implications of how society could change. If a living wage is the baseline for all workers, and if even fast food and retail workers are organized and connected world wide, working people could begin to have a greater sense of their agency, dignity, and their class. Through struggle, with victories and defeats, workers will increasingly understand that their interests are in conflict with the interests of the bosses.

I imagine a time when a worker is fired at Wendy’s for union activity, and every fast food worker in every restaurant in the city folds their arms and refuses to work. I imagine fast food workers taking these experiences of struggle into their communities, linking up with homeowners fighting unjust foreclosure, or helping tenants fight back against their landlords. Fast food and retail workers linking up with other militant workers in other industries, sharing experience and engaging in collective action to build power – and ultimately take back the world that rightly belongs to all working people.

 

Feminism Means Choice!

Statement on “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices” in Rochester
Rochester Red & Black stands in opposition to the anti-feminist agenda of the “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices.” Formerly known as “Feminists Choosing Life” and “Feminists for Life,” this organization seeks to present itself to the public as a friendly part of the local progressive community while in actuality working toward a single goal: revoking a woman’s right to choose!
The “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices” are neither feminist, nor are they truly in favor of non-violence. It should be obvious that one cannot oppose women’s basic right to control their own bodies and still claim the title Feminist. Ultimately, an anti-choice agenda is itself a violent agenda that, when successful, leads to pain, assault, victimization, and often death of both women and children.
In places in the world where reproductive choice is outlawed, botched illegal abortions are consistently among the leading causes of death for women. It was the same in the United States until women’s right to an abortion was legalized in 1973. Since the dawn of time, women have terminated pregnancies. No law can alter that. Criminalizing reproductive choice can only result in unsafe abortions, incarceration of women, and the increases in poverty and domestic violence that accompany involuntary parenthood. It’s worth remembering that when abortion was illegal in this country, it was not uncommon for back-alley abortionists to rape or assault women without consequence. The anti-choice agenda is an inherently violent one. Therefore, this organization’s claim to favor “Non-Violent Choices” is as false as its claim to Feminism.
The strategy of “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices” is and has been to present a friendly face for their medieval agenda and to insinuate themselves into progressive organizations and coalitions by pretending to care about other issues on which we agree. To see victories in social justice, we sometimes have to work with those with whom we disagree to accomplish goals on which we agree. The problem is that “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices” have a proven track record of paying lip service to progressive issues in order to get their foot in the door, and then focusing 100% of their effort on pushing their only true agenda: restricting women’s freedom.
Rochester Red & Black wishes to express our further disappointment in the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence for associating with an organization solely devoted to revoking the reproductive freedom of women.
We do not believe that this signifies an anti-choice position on the part of the Gandhi Institute. We respect much of the work of the Gandhi Institute in the Rochester community, and hope that they will publicly share their perspective on the perceived relationship with “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices.”
Ultimately, the anti-choice agenda is one that calls for state violence against women and uses scare tactics and intimidation in the meantime. We must demand that the Gandhi Institute rectify their error by publicly dissociating themselves from the so-called “Feminists for Non-Violent Choices.” If the Gandhi Institute truly stands for principled non-violence, it has to act like it.
Signed,
Women.Trans.Femme Caucus
Rochester Red & Black

 

Songs of Freedom: The Music of James Connolly

WHEN: Tuesday, Feb. 4th, 7pm
WHERE: Rochester Regional Joint Board Union Hall, 750 East Ave, Rochester, NY

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Songs of Freedom is a celebration of the life and work of James Connolly, the Irish labor organizer and revolutionary martyred by the British government for his role in one of the most dramatic events in Ireland’s anticolonial history – the Easter Rising of 1916. Join us to hear Mat Callahan, the editor of Songs of Freedom, and Yvonne Moore perform pieces from James Connolly’s original songbook and discuss the life and work of one of Ireland’s greatest revolutionary heroes.

Songs of Freedom is the name of the songbook edited by James Connolly and published in 1907. This book is at once a collection of stirring revolutionary songs and a vital historical document.

“Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement, it is the dogma of a few and not the faith of the multitude.”
- James Connolly

Struggling to Win: Anarchists Building Popular Power in Chile Speaking Tour

Tour Poster

WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 1st, 7pm
WHERE: Flying Squirrel Community Center, 285 Clarissa St. Rochester, NY
COST: $5-10 donation
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Chile has a long history of working class struggle in shanty towns, factories, mines, community organizations, and schools. In the 20 years after the US supported coup which overthrew Salvador Allende’s government, much of the organizing was done underground. However after the fall of the dictatorship in 1990, there was a new rise of mass popular organization in the country. Anarchists have been a major force in the social movements, strategically organizing to build power. This has manifested in solidarity for the Mapuches, anarchists winning the student union elections at the University of Chile, militant pro-abortion actions, and libertarian labor organizations.

This national tour brings three individuals involved in these struggles to talk about the lessons learned and to create solidarity across hemispheres. From January to the end of February, the speakers will be traveling throughout the country and we hope that you can spread the word and hear about the important work that is happening in Chile.

More information on the speakers here!

Elections and Movements for Change

our dreams ballot box

One of the critical debates in the left for generations has been the role of electoral politics. This has been a major dividing line in the activity of many different groups, and continues to this day.

This panel discussion and dialogue will address the questions: Do elections help us build power in creating transformational change? Can we participate in the major political parties without losing the values at the heart of our work? Are there viable routes to change that ignore electoral politics? Can we build movement through elections? Do we change politics or do they change us?

Participants in the panel include:

Jake Allen, Rochester Red & Black
Denise Young, Rochester Central Labor Council
Jesse Lenney, Working Families Party
Alex White, Green Party of Monroe County

WHEN: Sunday, November 10th 4pm
WHERE: Flying Squirrel Community Space, 285 Clarissa Street

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Amended Resistance: Rejecting the Politics of Constitutional Defense

0930_WVteaparty

As we remain reeling from tragedy after tragedy it has sent most blogs and social networking sites exploding with reactionary fervor as pundits and people make claims about the obvious need for gun control. This usually recalls several reactions from the right, and libertarian left for that matter, usually ranging from “don’t politicized this”(which is an inherently political response) to “if more law abiding citizens owned guns then this would eliminate the issue.” No matter what the content of these argument, they usually revert to embarrassing claims about the 2nd amendment. Since our constitution protects the right to “bear arms,” this should trump all other attempts at restriction. If the State were to restrict gun rights, even because of some type of populism, this is an act at disarming the populous and will usher in some type of various authoritarianism(the exact type of authoritarianism is usually determined by exactly which delusion and conspiracy theory they prefer). The debate over gun control is not one I intend on getting into as both sides should be labeled culpable for the social inequality from which crime persists, but it does seem to reflect a new kind of “bottom line” argument that is forming.

The reliance on the 2nd Amendment argument is not relegated only to this debate, but this reduction to the Constitution seems to be a common choice when confronting common social issues and red herrings. Recently Occupy often rested many of their arguments against expulsion on the fact that the 1st Amendment defended their right for Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly, and this should trump city ordinances like park hours and regulation. This has similarly been used by the Tea Party, mainly to incorrectly cite the 1st Amendment to as a defense neo-Fascist reactionary racism, homophobia, and anti-women misogyny in their dialogue..

The question here is not whether or not the Amendments can be declared to defend these situations, but why. The obvious is usually that these are easy, commonly understood legal provisions that do not require you to pass the bar to cite clearly. But this does not mean that they are the most apt to declare for any of these topical issues, at least in the judicial sense. There are thousands of laws and cases to cite that are more appropriate and specific than the Amendments, yet they are still on call as legal arguments to defend large scale movements and social controversies.

It is in this context that I was brought to the attention of a common legal argument around homeless commitments that follows in the same suit. As part of his support for the Occupy Oakland movement towards occupying empty homes, squatting activist posted a blog discussing the basic legal issues that people may encounter when defending their taken residence.(Note: This blog was also placed in its entirety in Hannah Dobb book Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance in the United State).

“Another legal principle that is emerging is that removing people from encampments and throwing them in the streets is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The rationale is that the punishment of depriving someone of shelter is cruel when a harmless misdemeanors trespass is the only offense being charged.”(1)

He goes on to cite Pottering v. City of Miami, 40 F. Ad 1155, which was a class action lawsuit that a group of homeless Miami residents filed against the City of Miami for harassment. The court’s decision also mentioned that the deprivation of rights, mainly the right to be in a sheltered location, was deprived without Due Process (violation of the 14 Amendment), and also violated the Equal Protection Clause.(2)

This decision seems completely logical to most people when read in this context, but difficult when placed in a legal context. First, deprivation of shelter and food would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Yet, if this was taken at face value, all under income and homeless people would then have the right to file a class action lawsuit against a State and system of order that deprives them of these conditions. Second, these legal decisions are determined by the judge ruling on the case, and it is often outside of their legal framework to make a determination like this.

The question we have to return to is why a declaration of the Constitution makes sense in these arguments? At its fundamental core it is a hopeful decree, looking at the romanticizes birth of the nation to signal some type of protection from injustice. The idea still permeates, even amongst radicals, that there is some type of purist American past that, if we could just restore it, we would be to oust this corruption of inequality and oppression. By citing the Amendments we call on the highest legal framework in the country, and since it is a “pure” document it just must save us from what is happening. Beyond this, if we cite such a sweeping law as this then it serves to reason that all similar cases will be determined by the precedent. By adequately uniting a Constitutional Amendment with this specific case, you tie into something larger and join a tradition that could only be right and good. In a grander sense it is like the vocal prayer, and the designation that there is a spiritual force behind your sense of “right.”

So what was the determined decision in Miami? They stated that first there must be at least two locations where homeless people could operate for their basic needs without interference, and police are prevented from destroying the property of homeless people. Beyond these there are minor provisions about the period of time people must be notified before a park is cleared out. While there is no reason to downplay the significance of this decision for the homeless people it affects, we should not put it to a level of importance that it doesn’t deserve This decision does not radically change the way that homeless people are treated in that, or any other, city. There are still strong limits on where they can be, what they can do, and it provides no new resources. More than that, they still lack any autonomy in this decision since they have to appeal to the tight restrictions set by the State so that they can meet their most basic needs. There is still and adversarial relationship between the homeless population and the police based on property laws. Citing the 8th Amendment and “winning” did not radically transform anything, and the Constitution did not finally eradicate the inequality and injustice that had been fermenting in Florida.

More than this, citing Constitutional Law is a good way of appearing amateurish and irrelevant to most Judges. As DeCaprio points out, there was not even a wide spread decimation of the legal opinion in respected journals or sources.

“Of course, if you find yourself in a jail cell I would’t put too much faith in the Constitution in today’s political climate. Accepting the risk and owing as much as possible to avoid arrest is something I recommend during the planning stages.”(1)

The reality is that Amendments are vague laws that are up to rampant interpretation, and if you think that a radical reading of those Amendments are going to defend you in court you better have a plan B. While it may be good rhetoric, it is not going to be the type of thing that most judges will hear, let alone agree with.

This, however, does not mean that a person should entirely abandon this look towards Constitutional Law. Generally, any reading that will benefit a person defending freedom of speech and the protection of people challenging illegitimate property law is useful, even if it often a little less likely. And it still does remain true that winning a case on Constitutional grounds can really benefit people in similar situations, but it is not going to have the kind of systemic effect that people often assume when mentioning the founding documents.

The real issue here is not whether or not we can or should cite the Constitution during arguments like these, but why it matters in the first place. The Constitution was written by and for the rich of a new nation, one that was being founded on slavery and indigenous genocide. If the indigenous American peoples had made a claim against displacement based on the 8th Amendment they would have seen the same forces to remove them. At the same time, these Amendments have been “self evident” for quite a long time, and yet have protected very little in the specific issues being argued. The same issues continue to be put into a Constitutional context, and yet they remain just as legally confusing. By citing these we continue a mythology of a pure democracy and equality under this conspiracy of rich people. This, on some level, believes that if we could just remove this secret cabal of bankers from twisting their mustaches then we could get back to the great place America always truly was. By allowing this logic to come through it denies a systemic analysis and approach to the situation, which would say that there are fundamental assumptions about both the State and capitalism that would have to be challenged if we are to actually end homelessness and to ensure that all people have adequate living quarters. The Constitution is not built to challenge these institution because, in many ways, it is the foundation of them. It is designed to exist as a way to prove our nation’s commitment to equality and participation, yet it remains evident how true both of those elements are. If a systemic inequality is to be challenged in the course of direct action, or even activism more generally, you cannot expect to cite the foundation of that inequality as the agent of its destruction.

Yes, there is a financial elite that benefits from these laws and the oppression of regular people, yet those are the inheritors of the protections the Constitution promises. Instead of expecting these protections to be “self-evident” the only thing you can expect is for change to come from the collective force of organized people demanding it. This is not something simply written in the constitution, but the logical result when people come together and overturn such a system.

It really is fine to continue citing the Constitution as arguments persist if it seems as though it is going to have some benefit, but put it in context. If mentioning the 8th Amendment will guarantee an encampment to maintain itself, then that is a victory worth fighting for. Yet lets continue to actually envision a new world that is not even bound to these documents of the past, which surpasses what is written and exhibits the values that we actually hold. We don’t just want a better protection of our “rights,” which are always up to interpretation by bourgeois courts, but a completely new society and the end to evictions of all sort. The goals of the movement should remain the focus, not the ambiguous idea of protecting the supposed rights bestowed on us by the Constitution. Human rights are inalienable, but they are not guaranteed by the State since that will always be an institution that enforces class inequality as well as the division of the people based on things like race and gender. Rights are guaranteed by a population who believes that they must remain and then fights for them.

Next time you hear the Constitution being cited when defending a position you can choose whether or not you want to join in with it or not, but keep in mind that the goal should be movement building rather than believing that you can uncover some type of protection that is not explicitly written. The Constitution does show an attempt at progress from the empires of the past, but it is not the “protecting document” of the masses in the U.S. It is not the final statement in a debate, nor the final answer in a courtroom.

That being said, I think I’m going to be the first to talk about how we need to protect the 8th Amendment next time I lock down in front of a tent city…

Endnotes

1. DeCaprio, Steve, “Property Laws for Defending Occupation,” BlogSquats, December 28, 2011, blogsquats.blogspot.com.

2. Michael POTTINGER, Peter Carter, Berry Young, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. CITY OF MIAMI, Defendant-Appellant. Nos. 91-5316, 92-5145. United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Updates from the Building a Revolutionary Anarchism Speaking Tour!

I will be posting updates from each of the stops along the Building a Revolutionary Anarchism Speaking Tour on my personal blog. While the presentation is similar throughout most cities, the history, current context, and interactions with the anarchists and non-anarchists of each city often end up very differently. Each conversation has already led to some great challenges and important conversations in their own right. For those interested in keeping up with each of the stops, you can click here to find those posts.

Building a Revolutionary Anarchism Speaking Tour

anarchism-womanHow can we build the popularity and influence of anarchist ideas in movements for social and economic justice in the United States? What’s the point in a specifically anarchist organization? What lessons can we draw from the anarchists of South America? What benefits would be gained by the development of a nationwide anarchist organization? What would that organization do and how can we get involved?

Building a Revolutionary Anarchism will share lessons and perspectives from activity in anarchist organization in the US and Argentina. Informed largely by the project and organizing model of especifismo coming out of South America, the presentation focuses on the necessity and current on-going efforts to build nationwide anarchist organization in the United States.

In 2007, Colin O’Malley traveled from Buffalo, New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina to learn from workers that were taking over their closing-down workplaces to run worker owned and operated cooperatives. Coming from a city devastated by the loss of industry and the decades long rustbelt economic crisis that followed, Colin wanted to know what was so different about workers and their organizations in Argentina that there could be a such a drastically different reaction to workplace closures. There he spent time with some of the members of Red Libertaria, an Argentine anarchist organization.

On his return to Buffalo, he helped to found Buffalo Class Action, and with them built the presence of organized anarchism in Buffalo while advocating the creation of a citywide tenants union. Through BCA, he joined Common Struggle/Lucha Comun regional anarchist organization. In 2011, he moved to Rochester, New York and helped to found Rochester Red & Black, another local anarchist organization. As part of these organizations, he has been involved in the Class Struggle Anarchist Conferences, the In Our Hearts Network, and has recently been advocating and helping to build a nationwide class struggle anarchist organization.

Final Tour Itinerary:

Saturday, July 20th: Knoxville, TN 3pm at The Birdhouse (800 North 4th Ave)
Sunday, July 21st: Chattanooga, TN 7pm at a private house – comment with your email for details.
Saturday, July 27th: Austin, TX 7pm at Monkey Wrench Books (110 E. North Loop)
Monday, July 29th: El Paso, TX 7pm at Maternidad La Luz (1314 Magoffin Ave)
Wednesday, August 7th: Los Angeles, CA 6pm at Centro Cultural Papalut (3201 Maple Ave)
Saturday, August 10th: San Jose, CA 5pm at San Jose Peace and Justice Center (48 South 7th St.)
Sunday, August 11th: Eureka, CA 6pm at the Ink Annex (47 W 3rd and Commercial)
Tuesday, August 13th: Portland, OR 7pm at Red & Black Cafe (400 SE 12th Ave)
Wednesday, August 14th: Seattle, WA 7pm at Black Coffee Coop (510 E Pine St)
Saturday, August 17th: Salt Lake City, UT
Monday, August 19th: Denver, CO 7pm at 27 Social Centre (2727 W 27th Ave)
Wednesday, August 21st: St. Louis, MO 7pm at the World Community Center (438 N. Skinker Blvd.)
Thursday, August 22nd: Iowa City, IA 7pm at PSZ (120 N. Dubuque St.)
Friday, August 23rd: Milwaukee, WI 5:30pm at The Fort (703 E Center St.)
Sunday, August 25th: Chicago, IL 4pm at MAGI Cultural Art Center (2149 W. 21st St.)
Tuesday, August 27th: Buffalo, NY 7pm at Burning Books (420 Connecticut St.)

Rochester Anarchists and Supporting the Women’s Equality Agenda

It’s confused many non-anarchists in the Rochester-area, and it would likely confuse many anarchists not in Rochester Red & Black: A legislative proposal, largely being pushed by New York’s nearly autocratic Governor and likely being used a cynical ploy for higher political office has been endorsed by Rochester Red & Black, the local organization of Anarchist-Communists. I know, it seems almost absurd on its face. So, I’ll explain as one member of Red & Black, why I voted for this endorsement.

For those of you outside of New York State, the Women’s Equality Agenda is a ten-point program that Governor Andrew Cuomo put forward in his State of the State address in January. A number of major organizations in the State, primarily the New York Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, YWCA, and the National Organization of Women have been supporting and pushing the agenda to become a bill covering all ten points that becomes law in New York State.

For the past 6 months, regional steering committees have been established and hundreds of organizations asked to endorse the legislation. Since then the campaign has been pretty heavily steered by the Governor, and has had a legislative tactical plan (petitions, local lobby visits, statewide lobby visits in the capital, etc.). So why did an anarchist organization stand behind the effort? Well, in a lot of ways it’s a pretty fantastic proposal and one that has really ignited a strong statewide conversation about gender equality.

Beyond Single Issues and Inter-sectional

Just last year, New York State passed a provision allowing for gay marriage. This was a huge achievement. But, it has been argued by many that the LGBT movement has been overwhelmed by this one issue despite many other vitally important issues to the LGBT community – safety from abuse and assault, LGBT youth homelessness, access to health care that addresses their concerns, and recently the right to citizenship for LGBT immigrants. Of course, it’s not shocking that the issue most highlighted was one that was a higher priority for the more economically comfortable, white, LGBT community. And issues in working class and communities of color didn’t gain the same prioritization.

The Women’s Equality Agenda was a real step away from that movement challenge. There are ten points, and they strike on a number of really crucial areas including reproductive health, workplace harrassment, discrimination, and pay, access to quality affordable housing, and more. There is a powerful unity of inter-sectional issues here. Many of these issues largely faced only by working class women and some faced largely by women of color.

Anti-Discrimination in the Workplace

The Women’s Equality Agenda has a number of points that directly relate to the workplace, and has gained the support of local and statewide labor organizations. It ensures that workers can share what they make openly and other measures to achieve pay equity. It closes loopholes to ensure that all workplaces have to follow anti-sexual harassment laws. It requires workplaces to make accommodations for pregnant working women, rather than forcing them into unpaid leave. And, it allows women that sue over harassment or discrimination to include legal fees in their suit.

Some of these measures, like openly sharing your pay, actually have an impact beyond simply pushing against pay inequity and actually strengthen the ability of workers to organize a union in their workplace. In each of these cases, the legal tools being strengthened are on the worker side against management or owners. Now, certainly a more powerful way to really ensure that there is no pay inequity and even win paid maternity leave would be through mass union organization into militant unions. But the reality right now is that the vast majority of working women don’t have a realistic likelihood of being union members any time soon. Do we advocate abandoning them to the discriminatory workplace conditions that they are facing now because they aren’t using our perfect models to militant rank and file workplace activity? I would hope not. Is there ground to argue that putting these laws into effect won’t necessarily stop all of this discrimination and that serious changes in the balance of workplace and industrial power are necessary? Absolutely and as anarchists we need to be there to remind people of that basic truth all the time.

In the meantime, these are some powerful workplace reforms to win and I’d prefer to embed myself in the movement fighting for them so that I have any credibility when pointing out these realities.

Housing Justice

Rochester Red & Black has chosen to focus primarily on a movement for Housing as a Human Right. Anyone looking for an apartment to rent now can tell you how many times you see in a listing for housing “NO Section 8” “NO SSD” “NO Assistance”. To renters that survive partly on some form of housing subsidy, you’re very clearly told, this neighborhood (or this quality of housing) is not for you. Of course, 74% of people using those subsidies in New York State are women, largely women of color. The WEA would prohibit this form of discrimination. This not only benefits women, it benefits many working class men that rely on these subsidies. It helps communities of color to de-concentrate urban poverty. It helps the children and families of the men and women that are receiving these subsidies.

The WEA also prohibits discrimination of victims of domestic violence in housing and evictions. Right now, if there is domestic violence in a home and the police come to the house, the landlord can evict both the abuser AND the abused through zero tolerance provisions. And, that eviction can be found in background checks making it difficult for victims of domestic violence to find decent housing afterwords.

The fact that these provisions aren’t already law is absurd. Now, obviously the commodification of housing and the capitalist landlord-tenant relationship are the roots of this sort of discrimination. And, passage of these laws wouldn’t ensure that these things never happened again. And, a more effective tool for simultaneously fighting this discrimination and changing the underlying power imbalance would be the organization of tenant unions and community organizations capable of fighting back for the people are stuck facing these sort of horrible evictions of refusals to rent. But, if there is an opportunity to put in place a law that even stops half of these abuses, I want to be alongside the people fighting for that law. And of course, we should continue to advocate for militant tenant and neighborhood organization as a more sustainable and powerful solution.

The Bad.

Given that this bill is pushed by a Governor, particularly one planning to run for president, it should be obvious that the bill isn’t going to be perfect. In fact, one of the major problems with the bill is that Cuomo will try to use this as a notch in his belt for his presidential bid. And, myself and plenty of others in New York don’t look forward to a day where Cuomo could be president.

The bill is also purposefully trans-exclusive. When the 10 points were originally coming together there was a call to incorporate the Gender Expresssion Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) as a part of this bill. GENDA simply adds gender expression to the list of ways that workplaces, housing and other public institutions can’t explicitly discriminate. Cuomo made is pretty clear that GENDA would not be added to his proposal and the trans community was largely sold out in favor of a bill that was more likely to pass.

For fear of rousing the ire of the anti-choice movement, the WEA also does little to actually expand or encourage genuine reproductive justice. Although it does codify currently existing federal rules into state law. This was a silly misunderstanding of the anti-choice movement, who don’t really need a logical reason to support or oppose anything. So, the bill is still in the cross-hairs of the anti-choice movement who claim to support the other 9 points, but are willing to hold them all up to stop the piece on reproductive health.

Real Movements are Rarely Pure

I’m sure there are a number of other problems with the WEA that I didn’t list. Likely ones I haven’t ever heard of (and please do post them, finding strong anti-capitalist and feminist critiques of this has been really difficult!). But, at the end of the day, as anarchists we need to step aside from the notion that we need to be engaged in pure campaigns. We need to be able to engage in the broad movements around us, holding our analysis and critiques close to heart and telling them to our allies in these broader movements.

In my involvement in the movement for WEA, I’ve worked with new organizers and activists that I hadn’t really worked with before. I’ve had great conversations about some of our reservations with the bill. I’ve had great conversations about the important gaps of the bill and the need for future victories and movements. These conversations have happened with people that were certainly more centrist and liberal than me and I’ve seen them move further to the left. And, I’ve identified people that may not publicly seem like radicals who certainly are when you get to know them. There are a lot of these allies for a lot of reasons, and we need to be able to acknowledge their reality and work with them as allies that can’t always be as “out” as we are.

What does US Especifismo look like?

To the anarchist movement out there that will call us reformists and sellouts, all I can say is that we are engaged in the difficult process of discovering what an effective especifismo looks like in the United States. We don’t argue that all of our moves are perfect, but that we’re all experimenting with ways to grow the influence of anarchist thought in this incredibly right wing nation. I think we’ve had some success in Rochester, and much of it has come from a willingness to engage allies and movements that certainly aren’t perfect either. I look forward to hearing more on the organizing experiments of anarchists in other places and movements. And, until a better model appears, I’m excited to be a part of the movement in New York for a Women’s Equality Agenda!

Hateful Sophistry: The Misguided Transphobia of Deep Green Resistance

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This article is a critique of a presentation given by a member of Deep Green Resistance on their official gender politics. Deep Green Resistance (or DGR) is a US radical environmental organization founded by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Aric McBay (who is no longer associated with DGR) that advocates, among other things, the forcible dismantling of industrial civilization. Recently, a controversy at a conference in Portland involving several DGR members has brought increased focus on DGR’s trans-exclusive brand of gender politics, as exemplified by Lierre Keith.

First thing’s first: Trigger Warning. The contents of this article may be triggering or otherwise disturbing. I have attempted to minimize this as best I can. I only wish that discussing the content of DGR’s gender politics wasn’t so unavoidably taxing.

Transphobia (or cis-sexism) is the oppression and marginalization of transgender people, genderqueer people, and others who don’t conform to traditional gender norms. The harmful effects of transphobia can be seen in higher rates of homelessness, sexual assault, drug addiction, unemployment, murder, and incarceration of trans folks, to say nothing of being seen by many as “freaks.” It is a crucial part of building an inclusive revolutionary movement to take a firm principled stand against transphobic bigotry, never more so than within supposedly radical organizations and movements. DGR’s transphobic politics are a dangerous and harmful insertion of bigotry into a radical activist scene that claims to fight for equality and justice. It is important for revolutionaries to stand against all transphobia. And while DGR’s transphobic politics are both wrong and harmful, it is important to realize that many have joined the ranks of DGR for unrelated reasons such as caring deeply about radical ecological struggle. Therefore it is important not to just dismiss these wrongheaded ideas, but to confront them and disprove them for all to see. That is the task of this article.

Second, I’m a cis-gendered, straight, white, working-class male. The style of this debate is frank and direct, I am sure that as a result of these two things some will see this critique as belittling the views of the DGR Presenter (a woman) or of radical feminists in general. I would say, in answer to that, my candor trusts that anyone of any gender who claims to be a revolutionary should be able to handle frank rational critique. And if they can’t, they should get out of revolutionary politics.

Third, in this article I will not attempt to critique DGR’s primitivist or anti-civilization politics. To do this would simply take too long.

Liberalism as an Easy Target:

The entire presentation is basically a strawman argument. It presents only two possible kinds of feminism: their position vs. liberal/academic/postmodern feminism. This would seem like a simple oversight, except for the fact that the video is specifically introduced as being (at least in part) for the purpose of responding to the many criticisms made of DGR’s transphobia “by the wider activist community.” So far as I can tell, these critiques are being made largely by anarchists, socialist/communist revolutionaries, and other radical organizations like Earth First! Liberals, as far as i know, have been pretty silent on this. One can only conclude from this that the “DGR vs. Liberalism” setup is an attempt to paint revolutionary transfeminist arguments as liberal and to paint DGR as the only radical answer. This an historically common smear tactic of highly authoritarian organizations.

On that note, the presenter makes sure to state that before she begins that she’s “not presenting this topic for debate. Not in the slightest…. This represents DGR’s policy.” This is another tell-tale symptom of authoritarianism. If the membership is forbidden to debate (much less change) organizational policy, you’re in an authoritarian organization. Who sets policy? How can it be revised? As far as I can tell as an outsider, this policy has been decreed and maintained by Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen. The Presenter even says that there have been DGR members who’ve attempted to change their gender policy. The Presenter says they were unsuccessful and are no longer in DGR. Whether because of expulsion or social pressure to resign, the inability to tolerate internal dissent is yet another marker of authoritarianism. It also seems, from some recently leaked internal emails, that Jensen and Keith constitute a so-far permanent leadership body with the power to order members about (and berate their work) on a whim.

Definition 1: “Liberal” Feminism

It must be said that there is an abundance of things to criticize about liberal feminism as embodied by Women’s Studies academia and the corresponding publishing industry. Not the least of these are idealism, post-modernism, hyper-abstraction, impossible jargon, and a near-total inability to confront class politics. However the DGR Presenter, far from making such pertinent critiques, makes many of the same mistakes as the liberals do: failure to think about the material class reality of gender struggle, convenient confusion based on semantics, and over-reliance on abstract metaphor.

The Presenter confuses the concept of ‘gender identity’ with one’s position in relation to gender struggle. The phrase “innate gender identity” is a contradiction in terms. Identity, by definition, is as fluid and moveable (or as inflexible and rigid) as the person whose identity it is.

The Presenter says that the liberal definition treats both sex (biology) and gender (social behavior) as “apolitical.” This might be an accurate representation of some actual liberal feminists (I’m not a liberal feminist), but it certainly does not represent the position of revolutionary transfeminists (or, for that matter, the truth). Of course masculinity and femininity have differing political content; masculinity is constructed around dominance and violence, femininity is constructed around submission to masculinity. The arrangement of any person’s gender and sex has political implications, but acknowledging this doesn’t automatically prove any particular political conclusion – it’s just part of the complex reality of the fucked up world we all live in.

The Presenter says liberals believe that, “Sex and gender are not necessarily connected.” While not strictly incorrect, this is such a vast oversimplification that it leaves usefulness and common sense behind. It’s true that Sex alone does not determine Gender, but to imply that they have no connection at all is just stupid. Again, this is a misrepresentation intended to make transfeminist arguments sound stupid.

The characterization of trans and genderqueer identities as turning the binary into a spectrum is misleading. While sometimes the metaphor of a gender spectrum may be useful for explaining non-traditional gender, the ultimate aim of revolutionary transfeminism is not to turn the rigid binary into a gentler spectrum between the binary poles – it is to totally deconstruct and disassemble the very notion of gender until there is nothing left but an infinitely diverse array of human character.

Definition 2: “Radical” Feminism

It must be said, in fairness, that most of what is said in this section is more or less correct, so far as it goes, in pointing out the forced subordination and exploitation of women by men. What is objectionable here is that the presentation turns on sophistry and semantic misdirection.

The Presenter says that, unlike liberals (and anyone who disagrees with DGR), radicals reject that gender is either “natural” or “voluntary.” This is put forward as a major point of contention, when in fact it’s just verbal trickery. Setting up these ideas of “natural” or “voluntary” as points of debate is false. “Natural” is false because there can be no denying that what genitalia one is born with (plumbing, as my mother would say) is the result of one’s genes. Nothing beyond that can be said to be entirely “natural,” though one’s biology may well factor into various things. As for “voluntary,” we have to understand that in an unfree world, the world voluntary is always relative. Of course people’s choices and behavior (including gender performance) are influenced by the socially and psychologically coercive elements of society. So in an absolute sense, gender isn’t voluntary, but then neither is anything else (from one’s moral beliefs to one’s choice of breakfast cereal). The point is that Gender can be as voluntary as any other behavioral choice that people can make, under the present circumstances.

As an aside, many femmes would strongly object to the Presenter’s characterization of femininity as reducible to “ritualized displays of submission to males.”

It must also be said that this second perspective is itself highly reformist because it treats gender as a separate system of power from others. For instance, it is inaccurate to simply say that women are oppressed by men. It is certainly true that men are privileged above women and are all too often the casual enforcers of day-to-day patriarchy. But one cannot hope to solve that problem without first examining where the power behind this arrangement comes from and who the administrators of patriarchy are. Where it comes from is the same place that the power for all oppression comes from: the ruling class state and its institutions. The struggle of “women” against “men” without confronting the state that is run by particular rich white men can, at best, result in some nice reforms. The evil soul of patriarchy lives in the ruling state and must be destroyed there if it is to be destroyed anywhere.

Individualism:

The point made by the Presenter that lifestylism (including gender non-conformity) isn’t, in itself, a significant form of struggle is absolutely correct and any revolutionary would agree. Having said that, individuals may find it personally empowering, and that’s not nothing. And we shouldn’t scoff at that unless it’s meant to be a substitute for struggle.

The Presenter has a big applause line arguing that gender isn’t voluntary because no one would choose the brutal subordination that comes with being a woman. This is just dumb. Of course no one would choose that, but she confuses identity with socialization. No one chooses to be socialized as either male or female, and to equate that with identity is both wrong and insulting.

The idea that the existence of trans or genderqueer implies that cis-women are by contrast “capitulating” or “taking the easy way out” is again inaccurate and even more insulting. I have yet to meet a trans or genderqueer person who has seen cis-women this way. Their yardstick has always been (in every instance I’ve known of) whether or not those cis-women (and cis-men) are willing to stand as principled allies in the struggle against transphobia and capitalist patriarchy. This is the barometer for actual struggle, rather than simple denunciation-fodder.

The Presenter reads a Lierre Keith quote: “Gender is not a binary. It is a hierarchy.” It is both. And anyone who can’t fit that into their head should retire from revolutionary politics.

The Presenter’s comparison that we wouldn’t accept someone who claimed to be trans-black, trans-rich, or trans-indigenous illustrates how incredibly bankrupt the ideological development of DGR is. This comparison misses the most basic of distinctions. The Presenter says that if we accept gender as a “class condition” rather than an individual one, then the analogy holds. But the basis for calling anything a “class condition” is a materialist analysis of reality.

Even the most cursory glance at this analogy using a materialist analysis tells us that the analogy doesn’t hold at all; gender functions differently from race or class or colonization. White Supremacy is a hierarchical system based on skin color and other phenotypical markers. These things are innate. You can’t very well change your racial categorization at will. Gender isn’t like that; it’s a highly nuanced pattern of social behavior and presentation. It is thus a more malleable category. Economic class is primarily determined by one’s relationship to the means of production. This is alterable, but not very easily – and certainly not just by changing one’s outward behavior and presentation. Colonization is based on the forced dispossession of one’s people, land, and history by an invading settler state. The idea that this is comparable to gender is patently ridiculous.

Gender is not only based on social presentation: gender is social presentation. Ergo transgression against gender norms isn’t only subverting the basis for gender, it’s the subversion of gender itself.

Transgender People Aren’t Real:

The Presenter tells the story of a transwoman who once told her, “I don’t have the male privilege that I was raised with anymore.” Of course this is a problematic thing to say. The Presenter points to psychological gender conditioning of children as the basis for privilege/oppression, and that this cannot be transcended and thus gender cannot be transcended. But this argument is also problematic. Gendered upbringing is one of the bases for gender privilege/oppression, but there are others as well. For example, if you present as female you run a higher risk of harassment of all kinds regardless of your upbringing (because harassers don’t much care about your childhood). And should one present in a way that does not “pass,” marking you as gender non-conforming in some way, you run even higher risks of harassment. So it would’ve been more accurate of the person quoted to have said, “I don’t have all of the male privilege I was raised with anymore.”

DGR has also been known to make the inverse argument that transwomen are just men trying to somehow encroach on women’s spaces and struggles. This argument is baffling. First off, being a cis-dude comes with some pretty great perks that women don’t have (this part I do know first-hand). Why anyone would instead opt for not only all the bullshit that women have to put up with, but also with all the bullshit that trans folks have to put up with is frankly fucking beyond me. What would be the point? Getting to go to the women’s caucus at radical gatherings? Anybody who thinks that that would be worth frivolously subjecting oneself to all the oppression of being a transwoman has probably spent too much time at radical gatherings and should go outside and make some new friends.

The Presenter tells a moving story about a person who was born/assigned female and experienced a gluttony of patriarchal horrors (sex trafficking, etc) and who came out as transmale while in a care program. The Presenter tells how he drew images of female and male versions of himself with the female image associated with fear and pain and the male image associated with confidence and happiness. The Presenter tells us that this project contained the sentence “If I wasn’t a girl, I wouldn’t have been raped.” While this story is certainly a deeply stirring one, it presents a number of problems. First, the story is anecdotal. DGR and other “radical” feminists are fond of the argument that transmen are just women trying to escape their oppression or assimilate into the privileges of patriarchy. This may well be a factor for some trans folks, for many it may not be. The point is: it’s none of our fucking business!

There are likely as many reasons for being trans or genderqueer as there are trans and genderqueer people in the world, ranging from the biological to the abstract. Given that, there are two choices: either gender identity is determined for people by some outside authority (the state, parents, schools, the DGR cabal) or it is determined by people for themselves.  And it is not up to trans and genderqueer folks to justify themselves and who they are to the world. No one ever expects cis men and women to justify why we are our gender. What does it cost, really, to not be a disrespectful douchebag to folks who are already catching hell? It’s not at all difficult.

The Presenter’s use of this story also reveals the callousness of DGR’s policy. If this young person was able to find some solace from the horrible ravages of patriarchal trauma by identifying as male, then who the fuck is anybody to tell him he can’t? You’d think that so-called “radical” feminists would be the last to add gender policing on top of the trauma of a trafficking survivor trying to live their life. The hubris here is fucking staggering.

Conclusion:

At this point, a wide variety of radicals have weighed in on DGR’s transphobia. Whether it’s Earth First refusing to reprint their material, radical spaces refusing to host their events, DGR members defecting from the organization, or the vocal disavowal of DGR’s transphobia by Aric McBay, one of its 3 major founders; Deep Green Resistance has inadvertently called the question on trans-inclusion in the US radical activist scene. And for all the problems of the US radical activist scene, it is to our credit that DGR seems to stand alone in their transphobia. We still have a long way to go, but the recent controversy in Portland has (at least for the moment) united the US radical left in opposition to bigotry in our midst. And, oddly enough, maybe we should thank DGR for that.

Note: This article was originally posted using a banner image from the blog A Radical TransFeminist. The image was found on a google image search and used without the knowledge of the blogger. It has since been removed at her request. As an aside, I would encourage anyone interested to check out some of the blog’s truly insightful articles.