‘Blog’ Category

RIP Shaima: Beaten and Murdered for being Iraqi

Shaima Alawadi is a mother of five. Though she is originally from Iraq, she has lived in the United States for many years—first moving to the large Iraqi and generally Arab-American community in Detroit, Michigan and more recently to El Cajon, California—the second largest Iraqi-American community in the United States.

Last Wednesday, her daughter, Fatima, found her on the floor of the dining room of their home, unconscious. It was clear that she had been severely beaten. Close to her body, a note was found that said, “Go back to your country—you are a terrorist.”

On Saturday, Alawadi was taken off life support and passed away from the complications of her injuries.

A few weeks prior to her death, she had received another threatening note—she had dismissed it as “child’s play.”

Still, despite receiving two threatening notes rooted in unapologetic bigotry and then being beaten to death, the media is still wondering whether or not this is a hate crime.

Newsflash: Last time I checked, if you are murdered for the color of your skin or your religious beliefs, it is a hate crime. If you are brown or black and wearing a hoodie or a hijab, you are the target of a hate crime.

Birth Control is Not A “Women’s Issue”

Well, of course it is. But it is more than that.

Before I get explicit, crude, crass and entirely justified I would like to draw everyone’s attention to this piece by Joshua Holland at AlterNet.

I understand that many men feel a need to respect the fact that they will never completely understand what it is like to have their bodies under attack and their private lives completely invaded by political policies that are out of their control. However, this is not our fight to fight alone simply because birth control and reproductive rights are traditionally categorized as “women’s issues.”

They aren’t. They’re economic issues–and they affect everyone who is trying to make it in this godforesaken economy.

(They are also civil liberties and a matter of extremely personal and private intimacy.)

I got in an argument with someone at a party one time–he told me that while he is sympathetic to feminist “women’s” issues, as a man he has the privilege to ignore them–and thus does not feel that he has the right to claim them as his own.

Dear Men – Consider this your invitation from the most feminist of the feminist to join our cause (don’t hijack it), and replace sympathy with empathy in our crusade.

Have you ever gotten laid? Have you ever spontaneously gotten laid with someone you wouldn’t necessarily wanted to raise a family with? Has it ever been awesome? Have you ever not used a condom? Has it ever been awesome? Have you ever had a condom break and been really happy that you only had to pay $50 for the morning after pill instead of $500 for her abortion? Has that ever made you feel relieved?

Then birth control is your personal issue.

Have you ever been happy that you weren’t raising a child a few months after the time you lost your virginity? Have you ever been happy that in your early twenties you had time to be broke and figure out your life instead of having the immediate pressures of raising a family occupying your job prospects and economic mobility?

Then birth control is your personal economic issue.

So don’t allow women to be called sluts for controlling your economic mobility. Stand by our side as we fight to maintain access to all contraceptives–don’t merely shake your head at the latest from X conservative congress member. No matter how the GOP frames it or what the GOP may wish, this is not about women having sex and men exercising their god-given right to control their wombs. This is about our future, using the science that has been given to us to control our economic futures and ensure a future of prosperity for all.

 

 

 

 

Happy Anniversary, Baby

Six months ago. I don’t really remember what life was like before six months ago. It was probably very dark and bleak and characterized by rich white men controlling politics from behind closed doors.

It still is–but this time we know who they are, and aren’t going to shut up until they are held accountable for their actions. Their actions that have constricted our mobility, made us wonder whether or not we can afford to have families, and privatized basic human rights to a point that worth and value is placed only on those who can afford to pay for every basic commodity–for those of us who don’t have that kind of money, we’re a mass of regular people trying to figure out how to navigate a world rigged for the one percent.

Six months ago we realized that we have each other. We aren’t alone.

On September 17th, I didn’t believe anything was going to actually happen–but because I’m young, hopeful, idealistic and a bit of an idiot, I still packed my flip cam and my cell phone and went to Wall Street–just to see if something would happen.

I wasn’t sure–and then I saw the tweet:

Today I told a cab driver I was here to Occupy Wall Street–he said “This ride is on me”

The rest was–and is, still in the making–history.

Happy anniversary, baby.

 

Birth Control

I am so fucking fed up.

The latest is from Arizona–now, if an employee uses the company’s health insurance to purchase contraceptive pills, they must prove to their employer that they are using them for “non sex” purposes. If they don’t, they could be fired.

How is this supposed to go?

“Oh, yeah here is my ultrasound from my ovarian cyst. See it over there? Yeah its a big one.”

“Here is a testimony from my ex-boyfriend about just how terrible my PMS is that it lead to our eventual, inevitable catastrophic breakup. Then he became gay.”

How are you supposed to prove that you have ovarian cysts popping a mile a minute and a slough of gay ex’s to prove how terrible your PMS is while simultaneously proving that there is no way in hell you are using it for “sex purposes”? How are we supposed to prove that birth control–whose very name not so implicitly implies controlling a birth–is not our bang without a baby free card?

We can’t even refer to it by its official name, contraception–it is also an explicit word for just what the pill does–contra.conception. And calling it “the pill” just sounds ominous.

But none of this is even the point.

The point is, who the hell has the right to not only legislate my uterus and my private sexual practices, but make this a matter of national security.

I was on the pill long before I was an appropriate age to start having sex–I hate the cysts, the cramps, and the horrific PMS that turns straight men gay to boot. But I do not want to justify the fact that I take birth control with the idiosyncrasies of my ovaries.

I take birth control because it is my fucking right to take it.

It is my right to take it to take care of cysts, make me more comfortable, and keep my boyfriends around and heterosexual. It is my right to take it to have crazy, wild all day all night (did i mention wild enough to make Rush Limbaugh quiver?) pre-marital sex with said boyfriends (and non-boyfriends)–for as long as they stay heterosexual and it is still consensual. It is my right to keep all of this to myself, because what I do with my body is no one’s interest but my own–I would prefer it not to be a part of the national agenda.

But lets say, for a moment, that it is.

If I am having so-much-sex-that-i’m-going-broke-because-for-some-reason-i-use-the-pill-like-viagra-like-how-rush-limbaugh-taught-me (talk about hormonal), isn’t it in the country’s best interest that I protect myself? Isn’t it best for 21 year olds not to have children when they can barely financially support themselves? Isn’t it best that I wait until I no longer have to rely on the terrible, socialist state for welfare for me and my child and can fend for two in the brave new privatized world.

(I’m a journalist, so that will be never. I should probably take birth control like viagra, just to be safe)

**For anyone wondering, I have never (to my knowledge) turned any former boyfriend gay through my PMS. It was just a sarcastic theme that stuck throughout the post. However, I now feel it is necessary to check in to make sure.

Neoliberalism, DSK, and Rape

I’m reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine right now.

For those who don’t know, The Shock Doctrine follows the history of Milton Friedman and The Chicago Boys’ implementation of neoliberalism throughout the world. Milton Friedman—and all of the ensuing economists trained at the University of Chicago tasked with saving the third world from public goods and an organized workforce—waited (or in some cases, created) a “crisis moment” in many countries, ensuring that the populace would be too in shock to notice the sudden privatization of services, depletion of the social safety net, and implementation of economic reforms that ignored the needs of the people or perpetuating what had previously ensured prosperity in favor of economic competition and profits for the corporate, or political-corporate elite.

The people notice it later—they notice when years later they are still reeling, wondering what went wrong and why there is a massive income gap between the rich and the poor, and why “the rich and the poor” is better described as “the elite and everyone else.” In these cases, the elite isn’t living lavishly as everyone else lives modestly—the elite is living in palaces as “everyone else” lives in shanty towns.

Many know that they are angry, and many protest as soon as they find the language to articulate their feelings. For those who protest, the police crack down, saying that they deserve to be arrested, interrogated, tortured, disappeared, and killed for showing dissent.

The economic elites—the harbingers of privatization who play their big money game and argue that it is for the greater good—continue to the next country, with no remorse or accountability. If someone tries to hold them accountable, they lie and say that this phase is only temporary—when there is no proof of recovery whatsoever.

I can’t help but think about rape—particularly as told through the story of Dominique Strauss Kahn.

Dominique Strauss Kahn was the chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—last year, while in New York City, he raped a hotel maid. “The Maid” as she came to be known was Nafisatou Diallo, a black immigrant woman from Guinea. She had experienced sexual trauma in the past. The story was that he forced his penis into her mouth while she was cleaning his room, and—by a fluke—she reported the incident to one of her coworkers when he returned to the hotel to get his cell phone, which he had left.

The story erupted into an international scandal—indicative of each and every flaw that the French and American media and public commit when discussing a rape case. In France, the French media acted as though not just Dominique Strauss Kahn, but the entire country of France was a victim of this terrible crime—not blaming DSK, but blaming the American media for acting like it was a news story whatsoever. In the United States, after months of media and deliberation, the courts decided not to hear the case—because there was enough evidence that Nafisatou Diallo had lied.

This was just the official grievances—as we all know, it is the microaggressions that are truly indicative of cultural tendencies.

In the United States, an acquaintance of mine said, “Why would he rape a maid? He has the money for a high class hooker.”

While I see his logic, he failed to understand that this was not a crime about sex—this was a crime about violence, this was a sexual urge that was violently expressed and like many victims, Nafisatou Diallo was not chosen for any reason other than the fact that she was there in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There were thousands that responded to the media, eating up every story that the New York Post published about her alleged past as a prostitute, or any lie that she had ever told. As if prostitutes are immune from rape and anyone who has ever lied is assumed to be lying at all times.

It is a combination of the dynamic between a powerful white man (a financier, no less—and chief of the IMF) and a powerless black, immigrant woman, the response placing the onus and blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator, and the ultimate lack of justice or accountability whatsoever that brings me back to neoliberalism. Like Nafisatou Diallo—like every rape victim who’s resistance has been silenced or repressed with fear—many of these countries never gave their consent to be made over, to have privatization implemented, to have the IMF or the corporate elite take what they wanted in that moment because that country was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and leave the people reeling, wondering what happened and realizing that they could do nothing to nullify or fix the enormous violation that has just been permanently engraved in their collective history.

The vast majority of rapists are serial rapists—their victims are a string of individuals reeling from this psychologically traumatic experience of violation. Milton Friedman, the Chicago Boys, and the entire history of neoliberal implementation as implemented by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and George W. Bush are a series of economic rape cases—imposing themselves uninvited, institutionalizing fear and violence for their own gain in that moment, and having enough of a sick obsession and thrill from this process that it is repeated, time and time again, ignoring the screams of resistance to institutionalize corporate, disaster capitalistic neoliberal policies without the consent of the people.

Austerity in Greece

I was in Syntagma Square just a little over one year ago.

Like most tourists, I was stuck by the pure visual majesty of Greece. I started crying when the plane landed, the unapologetic blue of the Mediterranean Sea lapping against the most dramatic mountains and hills, as the sun set glistened over the tiny airport. Each subway station is a tiny museum–decorated with the pottery and ancient ruins that were unearthed as the subway was constructed.

Greece is romanticized. Greece is what is old, what is classic. Greece is mythology and the ruins that provided the background of those stories standing over the same deep, blue sea that has seen it all.

Greece is the small stands in Syntagma Square and Omonoia Square, desperately trying to sell worry beads and pottery pieces, selling the Greece of days gone by to the tourists who have come for the warm climate and photo opportunities next to ruins, and could care less about austerity measures.

It was rumbling underneath the ruins then–but there was a dramatic difference in the price of goods as compared to western Europe, depending on marketing an image of Greek key designs and worry beads to the tourists who keep the economy afloat.

On Sunday, the public squares that sell these images–images of a Greece far goneby–were filled with teargas, riot police, and 100 (officially reported) injured, and miraculously no one dead. The people were rioting against the latest set of austerity measures–budget cuts that would devastate an already devastated economy, fighting riot police and screaming because there was nothing else that they could do and they have nothing more to lose.

If you search “Greece Protests” or “Greece Austerity Measures” or “Greece Parliament,” the results will be news stories that describe what will happen to the euro, now that the austerity bill and the spending cuts have passed the Greek Parliament. You will find what will happen to economies in Asia. You will find what will happen to the Australian economy. You will find pictures of Athens on fire, burning without rhyme, reason or back story.

Athens is burning, because Greece is trying to avoid a default with a bailout that will qualify for loans and pay creditors off the backs of the people. Since this past summer, 60,000 businesses have closed. Unemployment in the country is over 20%–and is almost 50% for the youth. The minimum wage is going to be cut by 22% for most workers, and by 32% for young workers–did I mention that 50% of them are already unemployed? Monthly pensions will be cut by 20%. 30,000 public workers’ jobs will be suspended. Most of these workers already haven’t been paid in months.

The pictures of Athens burning feel closer now–I have pictures of riot cops wearing the same gear without the Greek letters right here in New York City. I have pictures of the rolling hills of Greece, the Mediterranean Sea, the ruins, the square, the streets. I have memories of the agony around the debt ceiling, here, in this country–balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable, refusing to cut money that funds the needs of the elites or tries to prove the worth of our asinine wars over seas.

In a city where democracy was executed as a process–counting every piece of pottery, making sure that every vote was included–so long ago, selling the images of this idealized time, crystallized in the past yet immortalized for the imagination of the present, the democratic process is being ignored–reserved for the hands of the elite, ignoring the lives of those who are not elite (and carefully making sure that the news wires do the same)–so Athens has become a war zone, looting the shops and filling the squares with tear gas and fire, closing all exits and arming themselves against the riot police, the armies of the state that ignores their needs.

Athens is burning. And it probably wont be the first.

OSGATA v. Monsanto

In March 2011, Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) launched a lawsuit against Monsanto–almost one year later, 82 plaintiffs have joined his case representing over 300,000 other farmers, seed growers, and seed associations.

Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farms and the OSGATA, David Murphy from Food Democracy Now, and Corbin Laedlien of OWS Food Justice. Read my full article on the case, complete with interviews here.

 

Personal: Love and Revolutionary Ramblings

I am about to write very personal things.

Things about love. Things about the movement. Things about how sometimes, I really do not know how to tell the two apart.

I was just on the phone with my mother—I was wondering if I was a horrible person for not going to an action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland.

I told her that I was annoyed that it felt the same as everything, except no longer radical. It was the same dialogue, the same arrests, the same march routes, the same chants. It no longer feels like the movement is testing the system, or experimenting with what it can or cannot do, but adhering to the same formula, and regurgitating the same results.

I got off the phone to research a piece I’m writing, and respond to some e-mails. I sat in the kitchen, making tea and procrastinating.

Then, I heard it.

 

We are the 99%! We are the 99% Another world is possible! Another world is now!

 

It was electric, shaking the floor of my fourth floor apartment (okay, I still have to make dinner, so maybe my blood sugar is just low), but I felt the sudden rush of the need to put on my coat and boots, grab my keys, and run out the door, chasing the pure sound of the march to have That Feeling again.

Then I realized it: I was having That Feeling right there, in my kitchen. I started crying. For the first time in a while, I felt hopeful and imaginative against, rather than cynical and critical, if not depressed.

To tell the complete truth, I recently got out of a relationship—yes, it was related to #occupy. I met this person the night that the police descended, and the people were not supposed to win, but they did—my feelings about the power of the people and the power of love (or perhaps, believing in a form of sudden emotional intimacy and understanding) proceeded to mount, (perhaps dangerously) intertwined.

Both felt incredible.

I was there the night that Liberty Plaza got evicted. I was pushed against a wall and verbally harassed by a police officer and coughing out tear gas. Still, I believed in my heart that Liberty Plaza would be fine—it wasn’t until I saw the pictures on Twitter that I realized what had happened. It wasn’t until I read what happened to the People’s Library that I let myself break down in Foley Square at 3 in the morning.

I was alone that night. Very, very alone.

When Liberty Plaza got evicted, I was one of many who tried to remain hopeful about the occupation, but missed The Way Things Were dearly. Going back to Real Life and Writing About Things That Aren’t Occupy Or At Least In Some Way Radical Resistance felt disorienting and unsatisfying, and trying to justify the movement and maintain the faith that it would persist to people who were asking my “informed” opinion was even worse.

So, this relationship—which is insignificant compared to the movement, but still very much related to my experience—ended in January. Like the police eviction, it felt upsetting, shocking, and like something that I had had faith would continue got pulled from underneath me. I confronted my memories, forced myself to go to the place in Liberty Plaza where we met by chance.

In that moment, I realized that Liberty Plaza was Zuccotti Park again. It wasn’t the cradle of the revolution—it was back to a place that Wall Street traders took cigarette breaks. This felt a lot harder to accept.

There were still actions—but without the community of Zuccotti Park, many meetings feel more governed by internal politics than the collective fight to divide and conquer the one percent and radically redistribute wealth and rebuild our new world on their toxic rubble. I felt disgruntled and cynical—again.

I lost some work I had been depending on. I wasn’t writing as much. I had the kind of month where you go through Things That Make You A Radical Feminist and Things That Strengthen Your Personal Vendetta Against the System. (Yes, we know I didn’t need either of these things—but it happens sometimes). These things happen.

So, we’re back in my kitchen and the floor is shaking because the movement is crescendoing or maybe my blood sugar is low. I’m making an English Muffin in the microwave. And the movement is happening outside, and I feel it in my veins and I realize the quasi-religious, definitely spiritual feeling I get from Occupy—or just a lot of other incredible people who fervently believe in something—is happening right there in my kitchen, and I’m not going to grab my coat and run out the door this time, but next time I’ll be there from the start. Because this movement is so loud that it shouts until the cynical and disillusioned get drunk off of tremors of hope, and leave their cynical and disillusioned kitchens and pour into the streets where The Movement is happening, and The Movement doesn’t have to do with one other person but A Lot of other people and We ALL deeply, deeply need each other and each other’s love and support because we aren’t going to take the bankers’, the corporations’, the governments’, the wars’ the CYNICS’, the patriarchs’ CRAP anymore.

And we need each other right now, and we need to be receptive and communicative and loving, no matter what life has given us—because this is how we will believe so fervently in hope that it occupies our reality.

Because this is fucking happening.

I apologize for the long sentences, the too much emotional information, and the use of the F word. But if you had problems with any of these, you wouldn’t have gotten to the end of the article.

Rape is Rape: Lebanon Edition

In Lebanon (or at least, in Beirut) the joke is that it is equally likely to see a woman in a mini skirt as it is to see a woman in a hijab.

In Lebanon (or at least, in Beirut), European tourists feel at ease that the Lebanese still speak a post-colonial French, and let Beirut be called the Paris of the Middle East.

In Lebanon (or at least, in Beirut), tourists and Lebanese alike flock to the beaches and the nightclubs, openly drinking alcohol, smoking hookahs, and belly dancing to both popular western and Arabic music, creating a strange moment that many see as cultural influence, and many others see as cultural infiltration.

Still—despite the post-colonial familiarity and acceptability of Lebanese culture—Lebanese women remain in many ways decorative objects, openly ignored, slighted or discriminated against in legislation. In Lebanon, a woman cannot pass on her Lebanese nationality to her children. In Lebanon, a woman is not protected from domestic abuse—because the law does not recognize domestic abuse as a crime. In Lebanon, a woman is not protected from martial rape, because the law explicitly states that a married man is entitled to have his wife sexually whenever he pleases.

In Lebanon, if a man rapes an unmarried woman his crime is absolved so long as he proposes marriage to the victim. If she rejects his proposal, his prison sentence is shortened to six months.

If she is not a virgin—or her hymen happened to be previously broken through a myriad of non-sexual means—this is not even an option, because it her rape cannot be proven and counted as rape.

If she is a perfect victim—which in Lebanon means virginal, religious, and focused on either being or becoming the perfect wife and mother—and if that rape case is even reported, the media obsesses over the ethnic and religious identity of the victim and perpetrator, detracting from the universal, horrific nature of the crime itself. In one instance at the end of last year, a young woman named Myriam Achkar was tragically sexually assaulted and then murdered in a Lebanese suburb of Beirut, and though this was the story—an innocent woman was the unfortunate, undeserving victim of a violent, horrible crime, the story that was conveyed through Lebanese media was different. As Lebanese journalist and feminist collective organizer Nadine Moawad wrote at the time,

 

“That’s what the story is: A young woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home in the suburbs and gets sexually attacked and murdered by a man. But that’s not the story we’re hearing everywhere. What we’re hearing is: A young, Christian, virgin woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home to a church to pray, and gets sexually attacked and murdered by a Syrian worker.”

 

As rape is conflated with ethnic and religious identities, a rape myth that only the lower class, non-Lebanese Syrian can rape a virginal, Christian Lebanese woman as she is coming home from praying at the church is perpetuated. If he were a wealthy Christian Lebanese man, and she was at a nightclub in Beirut—or worse, his wife–the crime would still be rape, but the story would not be told.

Lebanese women (and men) are beginning to stand up. Last week, the feminist anti-violence collective Nasawiya organized a march through the streets of Beirut, demanding that marital rape and domestic violence be addressed, and that women receive greater protection in the law.

I care about this deeply—because not only am I female and an anti-rape and sexual violence activist, but I am Lebanese-American. I have never been to Lebanon—but I know what it is like to stand up to Islamophobic and Arabophobic people in both France and the United States, and tell them that I am Lebanese. I know that after an awkward moment, they typically tell me that being Lebanese is “good Arab” and “not really the Arab world” and then there is an awkward sentence about how much they love hummus or how Lebanese women are notoriously beautiful.

I want to tell them that there is no such thing as “Good Arab” and “Bad Arab,” and just because Lebanon is characterized by colonial influence and has lower rates of visitor warnings, doesn’t mean that we/they do not have heinous political problems. I want to tell them that we/they can solve these problems with the just way, not the be all and end all, hideously flawed western way.

I know what it is like when a cab driver asks me where I am from, that he is curious because I am brown like him, and might share a common culture or common language. I know that no matter how much I would like to simply say, “San Francisco” and have my cultural loose ends tie themselves behind me, that with being questionably brown on American soil invites a series of questions on just how brown you happen to be.

I know that when I say, “Part of my mother’s family is Lebanese”—because that’s what seems to make the most sense—the next question is, “You’re mother’s family, are they Christian?”

I know what it is like almost three full generations later to wonder why the hell this even matters—but I know for many Lebanese women (and men) it can matter very much.  I know that three generations later, through the fault of my unquestionably ethnic spice rack, the family recipes that I grew up with as “normal” (but are far too characterized by generous helpings of lamb, bulghar wheat, parsley, and cinnamon to be considered “American”), big eyes, and skin just brown enough to beg the question, “what are you?” that I have a personal, selfish stake in these women’s lives, well-being and daily bull shit—because it is just an accident that I am not one of them.

As Lebanon moves forward, and Lebanese feminists like the members of Nasawiya begin to stand up, rejecting the decorative role that society has imposed upon them and demanding that anti-violence legislation is written and implemented into the legal and cultural code, I am following half a world away with baited breath and excitement, wishing that I could also close my computer and take to the streets of Beirut. I hope that I finally visit Lebanon soon—and that when I do, I don’t have to take to the streets because Lebanese women are protected by the law and treated as equals, not because of the colonial savior of western influence or infiltration, but because women everywhere, around the world—regardless of race, religious affiliation, or ethnicity—deserve their issues to be addressed and respected in the law.

In Lebanon, the women and men—regardless of ethnicity, class, and religious affiliation—are fighting for this right.

Street Art: Mohamed Bouazizi

 

Clarion Alley – Mission District, San Francisco.

I love this.

I love this for a lot of reasons–I love this because it is Mohamed Bouazizi, the too often forgotten martyr that put the Arab Spring in motion. I love this because the text tells a story that begins tragically yet ends hopefully. I love this because of the Arabic words that don’t come up in the photo. I love this because it was a history that we longed for in our own country, but didn’t realize we could have–until we did.

I love this because in a way, the Arab World is “colonizing” the western world as we study the tactics of resistance that cascades into revolution, imitating it to reclaim our collective right to sovereign justice, rather than imposing notions of democracy on one another. I hope that this is the future–testing and sharing tactics, showing solidarity and support, and reclaiming our countries and cultures as ours as exchange colonialism for a collective victory towards liberation and self-determination.

 

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