Come greet the dawn and stand beside us

28 07 2013

Putin’s Russia is not a great place for queer folk.

Of course, it’s also not a great place for dissident folk and Chechen folk and Jewish folk and African folk and any folk who can’t be fitted into a Putin-defined slot of “good Russian citizen”.

Still, it’s the anti-LGBT legislation and violence which has led to a call for the boycott of Russian vodka. Dan Savage, noting a) the uneven prospects for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics  and b) how much vodka is sold in gay bars, kicked off the vodka-boycott:

But [Olympics] boycott or no boycott there is something we can do right here, right now, in Seattle and other US cities to show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies and to help to draw international attention to the persecution of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, and straight allies in Putin’s increasingly fascistic Russia: DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.

I’ve participated in a few boycotts in my life, and am unopposed to them in principle, even if I question their effectiveness. Given how much Russian hooch is sold in North America, this attempt has a good chance materially to affect some Russian companies, which might maybe possibly could lead them to ask Putin to back off which almost certainly will not lead Putin to back off.

Still, a well-organized boycott can at least serve to heighten awareness of an issue and increase solidarity among the boycotters, which ain’t beanbag.

The question I have, however, is whether this really will, as Savage put it, “show our solidarity with Russian queers and their allies” in a way that will actually help them.

What if this doesn’t help them? What if this hurts them? What then?

In other words, should those Russian queers and their allies take the lead and tell us what they want and need, what they think will work, and what we can do to help them?

If they say RIGHT ON! to the boycott, then okay, RIGHT ON!

But I’d like to hear them say it, first.





Goodbye, blue sky

21 04 2013

A break from being a ghost; my head’s not in it.

~~~

I.

Early ’70s. I remember evacuating the  SmallTown elementary school at least once, possibly more than once.

Bomb scare.

It wasn’t scary. It seemed almost normal. But exciting, too.

II.

Mid-eighties.

On assignment for the Cardinal, to interview a physicist in Sterling Hall. My first experience in a building with radiation stickers on doors, emergency showerheads in the concrete-block halls.

Sterling Hall was bombed in 1970 by Karleton Armstrong, Dwight Armstrong, David Fine, and Leo Burt, in protest against the University’s involvement with the military during the Vietnam War. The Army Mathematics Research Center occupied 3 floors in one wing of the hall.

The bomb wrecked, but did not level, the building. The AMRC was barely damaged.

It did injure three people: Paul Quin, David Schuster, and Norbert Sutler.

It killed Robert Fassnacht, physics post-doc. He did not work for the AMRC.

The bombers fled. Karleton Armstrong was caught in 1972 and served 7 years in federal prison. He returned to Madison, where he had a food cart on the mall by Memorial Library. He thought for awhile the bombing was wrong, but then reconsidered again, stating that because the cause was just, so too was the bombing. “It just should have been done more responsibly.”

Fine was caught in 1976 and served 3 years in federal prison.

Dwight Armstrong was caught in 1977, and also served 3 years; he died in 2010.

Leo Burt was never caught.

III.

I had been fascinated by and drawn to the radical history of UW-Madison, and was, honestly, disappointed by the lack of political involvement by most students in the 1980s.

Yes, there were anti-nuke and US-out-of-Central-America and anti-apartheid protests—the anti-apartheid protests were the largest—but it was far more a party than political school.

I don’t know how I felt about the Sterling Hall bombing, then. I’m sure I felt that it was horrible that a man was killed, but it’s quite possible that I felt, as Karleton Armstrong later did, that “It just should have been done more responsibly.”

IV.

My second novel is set, for a time, in mid-/late-eighties Madison.

The events of the 70s do not go unmentioned.

V.

Part of my disappointment in Madison was surely political, but it was just as surely an adrenaline slump. I wanted to be where the action was, and there was, for all intents and purposes, no action.

Except, vicariously, in the Cardinal newsroom.

I remember seeing the tear-off from the AP machine that someone had waxed to the wall outside of the Cardinal office announcing the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Pre-internet, if you wanted the news as fast as it was made, you had to be in a newsroom.

More than once, I stood over the AP machine as line by line the rest of the world unspooled in a windowless office in the basement of Vilas Hall.

VI.

In September 2001, I was in Montreal. On the eleventh day of that month I had, as I often did, ridden my bike up and down Mont Royal for exercise, showered at a nearby building, then made my way to my office.

I listened to the CBC before I left that morning, but not until the phone call from my parents and a pop-in from a colleague, did I know what was going on.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I wanted to be there, only—goddess help me—not for solidarity.

I wanted to be where the action was.

VII.

At some point between my 18th and my 40th birthday I thought seriously about the Sterling Hall bombing.

I’d like to think it was earlier rather than later, but when I did, finally, think seriously about it, I concluded that if you don’t want to kill people, you don’t plant bombs where people are or might be.

I am not a pacifist—I lack the courage to be a pacifist—and thus recognize that there might be instances when it is justified to use a weapon, to build a bomb.

But not in protest. You cannot responsibly bomb in protest. Never in protest.

The ends never justify the means.

VIII.

I paid attention to the bombing in Oslo.

I note the bombings in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia. In Syria.

But not the same kind of attention. Do bombings matter less in war zones? Would there be war zones without bombings?

The people, they matter.

IX.

It caught the edges of my ears, last Monday.

What? What? Bombings in Boston? What?

Frantic for news. WNYC continuing with an interview about the Human Genome Project. There’s been a fucking bombing! Give me the fucking news!

Headlines on news sites, little more. Boston Globe site overwhelmed. NPR: headline, nothing more. NBC: headline, nothing more. CBS: headline, nothing more. CNN: headline, nothing more. Finally, a link to New England News Network, then WBUR.

Finally, NPR switches over. All three going at once, trying to pick out what happened.

Once again, less out of solidarity than wanting to know, just to know.

X.

I have become skeptical of solidarity in the aftermath of tragedy.

There might be some, good, reason for this: what does it mean? How will it matter? Isn’t this easier than anything else?

Sometimes coldness is in order. To see, clearly.

But I am skeptical of others because I am skeptical of myself. I want to be there, to be in the mix, to mix myself into the event and claim it for my own.

I want, goddess help me, the excitement. The vicarious thrill.

XI.

Sometimes distance is in order. To see, clearly.

What happened to Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Sean Collier, and the scores of other victims did not happen to me. I don’t know any of them; I have no connection to any of them.

This is not my tragedy.

It is only when I see that it is not mine that I can see what it means to those for whom it is. Empathy can mean looking for your own face amongst the affected, but sometimes sympathy—for the other—is the better option.

Sometimes you have to stand aside, to let the others pass.

Respect a discreet distance.

Let them be.





Shout, shout, let it all out

5 07 2011

So I erased a rant about the debt ceiling and Republicans and unreality and unicorns (don’t ask) and default, because, really, who needs another lecture in the obvious?

Then I was going to rant about the hatred evinced by our latter-day conservative public officials for the public, that their attacks on taxes, on public workers, public works, any notion that we are not merely a collection of taxpayers and consumers but compose a citizenry, is in fact an attack on the very notion of the public, and, by extension, politics itself.

Then then I thought, No, this deserves more than a rant. This hostility to even the possibility of solidarity is too goddamned serious to be spittled away in a curse-inflected screed.

So I’ll hold off, for now, and ruminate on how best to approach this.

And then I’ll bring the hammer down.

*Update* So I was looking through some old posts mining material for a job application when I realized that, duh, I’d already done this, in a variety of ways. So: nevermind.





Jane says

4 10 2009

Do you know Jane?

‘Jane’ was the name of the underground abortion service in Chicago in the late sixties and early seventies; it wound down after the Roe decision in 1973.

As told by Laura Kaplan (who was a part of Jane) in The Story of Jane, a number of women in the Chicago area put together a not-for-profit and completely illegal service, one which they eventually expanded to include pap smears and female health education. Although a few members were eventually busted (somewhat by mistake), they operated for years with the knowledge both of police and various ‘legit’ medical professionals.

That such an underground service existed is not a surprise. What is stunning, however, is how completely fucking radical these women were. They initially relied upon various sympathetic and/or mercenary doctors to perform the abortions, but eventually learned how to do them themselves.

You got that? These women received training from a guy who received training from a doctor—and went ahead and performed not only D&Cs, but also vacuum aspiration, and, eventually, second-trimester abortions.

I’m as pro-choice as they come, but even I blanched when I read that. Fucking hell, I thought, second-trimester abortions done in apartments and hotel rooms?!

But they were good. One woman did die—a death which led some members to drop out, and to a great deal of turmoil for those who remained—but her death was almost certainly the result of an infection caused by  abortion attempts performed elsewhere. Upon realizing the extent of her infection, Jane members told her to go immediately go to the hospital; she waited more than a day, then died at the hospital.

Kaplan describes the meeting following the woman’s death:

As details of the story were recounted, a numbness spread throughout the room. They had founded the service to save women from dying and now the very thing they were trying to prevent had happened.

That was the whole point of Jane, to save women; even more, to give them a way to save themselves.

It wasn’t simply about making safe, inexpensive abortions available to women, it was also about women—both Jane members and those who used their service—taking responsibility for their own lives. Jane set up training for their members, and provided counseling for the women who came to them. They didn’t have moral qualms about abortion itself, but they were careful to ask anyone who seemed uncertain if she really wanted to go through with it. The decision, and the responsibility, lay with the woman herself.

Kaplan is not a deft storyteller, but she is an honest one. She details the egos and tensions, the difficulties of involvement with an underground organization, the conflicts with other women’s liberation organizations, and all the varieties of risk taken by Jane and the women they helped. All of these women shared desperation: the women (‘participants’, not patients) who came to Jane for help, and the members of Jane themselves, to help all who asked for it.

It was, in fact, that desperation to save women from unsafe abortions that led Jane to take over the operation itself, and to end up inducing 2nd-trimester miscarriages. If we don’t do it, they worried, what will happen to all these women?

There’s so much more to The Story of Jane. I used it in my ‘Women and Politics’ course I taught this past summer as a way not only to foreground reproductive issues, but also the issue of underground, anarchist, or DIY politics. Does underground work affect politics above the ground, or does DIY simply let the above-grounders off the hook? Or is the effect on ‘normal’ politics less the issue than the creation of one’s own politics?

I’m still chewing over those larger political issues. But when it comes to abortion, I wonder if Jane didn’t have the right idea. I’m a big fan of Planned Parenthood (see my links list), but they are at the forefront of putting abortion and contraception firmly within the medical sphere, i.e., within the sphere of specialization and  licensure and, most importantly, women-as-patients.

Jane insisted that abortion was something that women participated in, not that it was something done on or to them. This is your body, they repeated over and over and over, this is your life. In this context, the notion that women should have some idea of their own genitalia—a kind of mirror-empowerment which, honestly, always kind of put me off—seems less woo than utterly practical. How can you take care of yourself if you don’t know what you look like?

I know, there are both hospital-based and free-standing women’s clinics, not a few of which are also interested in patient or client education. And, frankly, autoclaves and medical education seem to me very good things.

But what about responsibility and liberation and solidarity? What of a woman’s (or any) emancipatory movement premised upon the simple declaration that you can and must free yourself? Jane was not encouraging women to bust out into chaos, but to recognize themselves as full human beings, and to inculcate a sense of responsibility not only to themselves but to those around around them.

With liberty and justice for all. Pretty fucking radical, huh?