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Marron Comix in Transformative Justice Journal

By Mechthild Nagel
Transformative Justice Journal
June 2019

Author: Mechthild Nagel
E-mail: mecke.nagel@cortland.edu
Institute: Philosophy Department, SUNY Cortland
Address: POB 2000, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, New York, USA 13045


_________________________________________

Maroon Comix is a sensational work of art and prose, which honors the legacy of political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz.

A finely stenciled portrait of Shoatz by Todd Hyung-Rae Tarselli opens the book. Quincy Saul has co-edited the writings of Shoatz in an earlier book, Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (2013). In fact, this book is a homage to Shoatz, an imprisoned intellectual, because the illustrators and writers draw on his work. Saul closes the comic book with a fabulous “Maroon Library,” thematically organized into the following rich and diverse sections: Maroon History and the Revolt of the Enslaved; Maroon Philosophy; Whiteness and Maroons of European Descent; Marooning in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries; Maroons in the East; Maroon Literature; Maroon Articles; Maroon Music; Maroon Recipes. Moreover, the illustrations are a revolutionary aesthetic feat. With the evocative book cover illustration of Nanny Granny, a Jamaican maroon leader breaking free from her chain with a raised fist and raised sword, the curious reader is already drawn into the political message of liberation that permeates this outstanding maroon book and work of art.

The first chapter titled “Initiation” and illustrated by Songe Riddle opens us up to the illusions of maps and invites us to sojourn off the map. Citations from Gone to Croatan (1994) about the Great Dismal maroons’ legends provide a narrative insurgent history, told from the perspective of colonized Indian nations and enslaved African peoples. Right away, we learn about maroon agency, resistance and the urgency of altering and destroying the white supremacist, colonial script that is so prevalent in US school textbooks. In six chapters, this collective of writers and illustrators takes apart the following corrosive master narratives: enslaved peoples were content about their life-long subjugation; obedient to their masters; fearful of freedom; lazy and cunning. Maroonage, the practices of running away, liberating others, poisoning slavers, is never foregrounded in the “standard” history accounts “on” slavery. It is always a (white) victors’ perspective that twists the record to suggest that maroonage was a futile exercise because the slave catchers were omnipresent and omnipotent. In reality, as the chapter on “Slavery and Liberation,” illustrated by Songe Riddle, emphasizes white and Black indentured servants and enslaved people resisted successfully and ran to the swamps, mountains, forests and other inaccessible places, often joining sovereign Indigenous nations, famously, the Seminole Maroons (p. 12). When the refugees were eventually discovered, these maroon communities fought back, often keeping the colonizers’ armies at bay for years and even centuries from the center of maroon societies, the Palmares to the Carolinas. “The efforts of these men, women and children cannot be matched in world history” (p. 2, citing Shoatz, 2013, pp. 32-34). Because of the success of these guerrilla resistance armies, the colonial powers attempted strategies of appeasement. This worked, in part, with the “treaty maroons,” who remained sovereign under the condition that they returned run-away slaves to the plantations. By contrast, the “fighting maroons” never surrendered and fought to death (p. 13). Throughout the book, maroon societies get named (e.g., the Accompong of Jamaica, the Garifuna of Central America, the Palenqueros of Colombia) as well as famous leaders in the chapter “I am Maroon!,” illustrated by Mac McGill. Here we find Granny Nanny of Jamaica, whose biography is brief (pp. 16-17) but her formidable power is showcased in the last chapter (p. 29).

Furthermore, there are Harriet Tubman, Osceola and John Horse of the Seminole, and the Haitian revolutionaries. “In 1791, in Bois Caïman, Haiti, the warrior love goddess and ‘Mother of Haiti’ Ezili Dantor possessed the Haitian high priestess, mambo Cécile Fatiman. She then crowned the African revolutionary maroon and houngan Dutty Boukman with her scepter, invoking and convoking the Haitian revolution” (p. 23). Drawing on Shoatz’s analyis (2013), Saul makes clear that maroon societies drew on spiritual and religious leadership to sustain their diasporic communities against the constant onslaught of imperial armies that threatened their way of life. Haiti, of course, emerges as “the only country in world history established by formerly enslaved workers” (p. 23, citing Shoatz, 2013, p. 119). Thanks to the power of maroons’ resilience, Haiti is the only nation state emerging free from colonialism and enslavement, and it has had to pay a high prize for such audacity—and the hope it brought to millions of enslaved people in the Americas, as well as the shockwaves of terror, the republic sent to slavers. One maroon of Venezuela, José Leonardo Chirino, witnessed the Haitian Revolution and led an insurrection of Indigenous and African maroons, basing his demands on the Haitian and French Revolutions. Saul also pays tribute to Afro-Indigenous-Venezuelan spiritual leader María Lionza who became immortalized as goddess of nature, unifying the African, Indigenous, and European maroon cultures (p. 24). The split between treaty maroons and fighting maroons is exemplified in the conflict between Ganga Zumba and Zumbi. Ganga Zumba, king of Palmares, negotiated with the Portuguese, leading a community of tens of thousands of citizens. After the pact with the colonial power in 1678, Zumbi led a revolt against Ganga Zumba (p. 27). Again, it would have been helpful to add more detail to these very short biographies, especially for readers who know very little about the complexities of maroon philosophies. To the editor’s credit, he foregrounds women’s roles as spiritual leaders, community workers and resistance fighters. Queen Mother Moore is mentioned, born as free woman in 1898 in Louisiana, and early supporter of Marcus Garvey’s movement and received the honorific title Queen Mother by the Ashanti people of Ghana. Moore was an internationalist and called for reparations for descendants of U.S. slaves. The Black Liberation Army and its imprisoned fighters are mentioned, along with Russell Marron Shoatz, who earned his honorific title, “Maroon,” when he escaped from a state prison in Pennsylvania (pp. 31-33). The book shows that “the prison of slavery” morphs into “slavery of prisons,” in the famous words of maroon fighter Frederick Douglass and Angela Y. Davis.

The chapter “The Dragon or the Hydra?,” written and illustrated by Seth Tobocman, also brings an intersectional dimension to the conversation. Tobocman addresses contemporary tactics of struggle against oppression in all its forms, including the struggles of LGBTQ people globally.

Drawing on Shoatz’s tropes of dragon and hydra, Tobocman points to the age-old controversy of effective guerrilla warfare—is it diffuse leadership or hierarchical leadership that proves to be most successful? Using the example of Haitian history, we are lead to believe that thy hydra has the upper hand when fighting oppressive powers. When one charismatic leader is killed, others will rise. In addition, if some leaders get coopted such as treaty maroons, others will continue their work of resistance autonomously.

A future Comix books on maroon life and philosophies might want to focus on prominent contemporary maroon communities and how they differentiate themselves from utopian or religious communities or ecovillages, for that matter. This is briefly addressed in the last chapter “Modern Maroons,” illustrated by Hannah Allen, Emmy Kepler, and Songe Riddle. They give us examples of the Zapatistas in Mexico, Julius Nyere’s vision of Ujamaa in Tanzania, the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement of Sri Lanka, and the maroons of Rojava in the greater Kurdistan region. What is common of them are a basis democratic philosophy of reclaiming of the commons by oppressed peoples; promoting women’s leadership and educational opportunities for women; and advocating anticapitalist principles as espoused by the people of Cuba and Venezuela. The simple question of how does one commit oneself to maroonage receives a surprisingly simple answer: start community gardens (p. 56)!

In this book, political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Move 9 are mentioned, somewhat inaccurately under the heading of Black Liberation Army (p. 31). It would be good to write a separate Comix Book about their epic struggles with the City of Philadelphia, the Fraternal Order of Police and the FBI. So far, their insurgent perspectives have been told in a few zines and Mumia’s books.

References

Sakolsky, R. & J. Koehnline (1994). Gone to Croatan: Origins of North American dropout culture. New York: Autonomedia.
Shoatz, R. M. (2013). Maroon the implacable: The collected writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (F. Ho & Q. Saul, eds.). Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Quincy Saul's Author Page




Silvia Federici On Witch Hunts, Body Politics & Rituals of Resistance

By Sarah Lyons
Slutist
February 15th, 2019


Witchcraft has become a buzzword of late. In fashion, movies, TV, and on social media, women have begun to reexamine its meanings, and how it can be adopted as an archetype against patriarchy. But long before #witchesofinstagram was a hashtag, feminist and leftist writer Silvia Federici examined the hardly superficial ties between the witch trials, patriarchy, and the creation of capitalism.

Her landmark book on the subject, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, is twenty years old this year. The book is an investigation into the roots of capitalism, and its genesis through the great witch trials of Europe alongside European colonization of the New World. The work remains a scathing indictment of the patriarchal violence inherent to capitalism and places the figure of the witch at the center of the fight against capital.
 
Federici argues that the great witch trials of Europe were borne out of the process of accumulation by which capitalism came to be formed. While coming from the Marxist tradition, she breaks here with Marx, arguing that the violence of the witch trials is an integral part of capitalism, one that is inflicted upon Indigenous populations, the poor, women, and anyone outside centers of power within the capitalist system every time the economy expands. She argues—again, counter to Marx—that capitalism has never been a “progressive system” and definitely was not a necessary historical condition for the development of a non-exploitative society.

The witch trials were a time of massive change in Europe and the Americas, but Federici claims above all they helped usher in capitalism in three major ways: through the taming of the rebel body and Indigenous peoples (the “Caliban” of the book), the mechanization of the world, and the devaluing of female labor with the advent of waged work. Overarching to all of this is the struggle over the female body as the primary site of production of the workforce. Federici is unshaking in her claim that the struggle over the female body, and the struggle for bodily autonomy in general, must be an animating force of anti-capitalist work. As she told us when we met, “the struggle for the body of women [is] the last frontier of capitalism.”

I sat down with Silvia Federici in her Brooklyn apartment, on Earth Day, appropriately enough, to discuss Caliban twenty years later, Indigenous resistance, and the ongoing struggle against patriarchal capitalism.

It’s been twenty years since Caliban and the Witch came out. Obviously the political landscape has evolved quite a bit, but other things seem to have remained the same, like the question of women’s bodily autonomy. I want to ask you first, where do you think abortion stands in modern Left discourse, and do you think it’s being centered enough?

I hesitate to speak of ‘the Left’ as I am no longer sure of what is meant by this term. With respect to the 1970s, we have new social movements—the ecological movement, the feminist and queer movements e.g.—that are not reducible to what used to be the old, orthodox Left, and even the New Left. In today’s women’s movements, abortion is a central issue. What is still missing, however, at least in many white feminists groups, is the recognition that control over our bodies calls for a broader struggle, to determine the conditions under which we give birth, under which we raise children, to obtain the resources enabling us to become mothers without sacrificing our lives. This is why Black women, like Loretta Ross, have criticized the concept of ‘reproductive choice’ and called, instead, for a movement for ‘reproductive justice.’

As important as the struggle for abortion has been, we cannot forget that thousands of Black, Latina, proletarian women in the US have been sterilized and prevented from having the children they wanted. Today as well, when Black, immigrant, low-income women decide to have children, they are subjected to many abusive practices by the state, the police, the medical profession. In name of defending the rights of the fetus, women have been arrested when they were in car accidents, when they miscarried, when they were submitted to blood tests and the results were not clear and then they were accused of having used drugs to jeopardize the safety of the fetus.

The justification for these abuses is the defense of life, but they are forms of racism and classism. The trend is for fetuses to have more rights than women, unless they have the resources allowing them not to depend on public institutions. This means that we need to re-conceptualize the struggle for control over our bodies so that it has a much broader horizon.

You talk a lot about this in Caliban and The Witch, about how this all stems from the mechanization of the body with the advent of capitalism.

As I have written (not alone in this), capital and the state have turned women’s bodies into means for the production of laborers and soldiers. This is why they have been so insistent on regulating our sexuality and reproductive capacity, and so punitive of any transgression of the rules. We hear about “test tube babies,” but babies are not born in test tubes, they are born from the bodies of women, and this is a power the state is determined, today as well, to control in every possible way. They want to decide who has the right to reproduce and who does not.

Women’s bodies are the last frontier capitalism has to conquer, because capitalism sees human labor as the main instrument of wealth accumulation, and therefore must control its source. How many children we produce determines the size of the workforce. Also how we raise our children makes a difference in how they see the world, how they struggle, what they struggle for. This is why we have ‘population control’ policies, carried out through forced sterilizations. This is why the state wants to assert its right to decide who is going to be born and who is not.

I have a friend who went down to do relief work in the US Virgin Islands after they were hit by Hurricane Maria. One of the things she brought down was birth control, because that wasn’t being distributed. What do you think about how our political culture puts reproductive health, reproductive justice, into a category separate not just from healthcare, but from all other discussions of oppression?

When the state provides ‘birth control’ it is in ways that women generally cannot control. They provide injections of Depo Provera or IUDs and other forms of birth control that are planted into women’s bodies and women cannot take them out except by going to a doctor. There is, however, a split today in the ruling class with regard to birth control in the so-called “Third World,” which is the former colonial world, never truly decolonized. The liberal wing of the state promotes birth control because they want to exploit women’s work, for instance in maquilas, special economic zones, where they lay you off if you get pregnant. There is also a fear of the kind of explosion that took place with the anti-colonial struggle. By promoting contraception there is a hope of ‘sterilizing the struggle,’ but again the contraception generally promoted is one women cannot control. On the other hand, the Right wing is more confident that they can control any rebellion with the power of arms, and they also welcome the development of a global baby market, through adoption and surrogacy. So reproduction today, as in the past, continues to be a ground of oppression, of discrimination and violence – for instance, the violence of giving birth to children you will have to give away, as during slavery, and now through adoption because of economic necessity.

There’s that reactionary anxiety about how if marginalized people have kids they’re going to go on welfare, and “we are going to have to give them healthcare.”

Yes, that’s a misguided, unfounded, racist argument. It presumes that “these people” will have to be impoverished, that they will not have the means to support their children. But instead of struggling so that everybody has the resources necessary to have a family, they demand more repression. They forget that programs like Aid For Dependent Children, that have been practically dismantled, were originally introduced to give widows the possibility of raising their children without being forced to rush to take a job when the husband died, and that it has been working-class women, most white, who have benefitted from them.

It’s also the state enforcing a certain type of treatment of women—criminalizing reproductive autonomy—and then taking no responsibility for women or their children after childbirth.

That’s right. The state cares for the fetus, but the moment the fetus is born and becomes a child they don’t care for it any longer. They are not concerned with the well-being of the new generation, but with disciplining women. After they are born, as far as the state is concerned, children can die. Actually, in the case of Black children, little is done to ensure that they have a safe birth. We have now reports of Black women, of all classes, having a much higher rate of infant mortality than white women, because of the stress they suffer from living in a racist society, and because of the actual lack of care they receive when they go to a hospital. This shows the hypocrisy and double talk of the “life protectors” of the “Right to Life” movement.

Usually, when people criticize that movement, they criticize the religious fundamentalist aspects of it, but very few people criticize the state or capitalism, at least in the popular discourse about reproductive justice.

One problem we face is the widespread tendency to look at the immediate causes and not at the structural trends. The religious fundamentalists, and the right in general, represent the interests of the state and capital. As I mentioned earlier, today the ruling class is more divided than in the past on the question of birth control, and of course abortion. But let’s not forget the struggle that had to be made to obtain abortion in the US in the ’70s. Until recently, the capitalist class was unified in its determination to forbid women from deciding about their reproduction. Democrats or Republican, their position was not very different from that of the Pope and the Right to Lifers. Both parties agreed on permitting or promoting the sterilizations of Black women and, in some periods, for instance during the Depression, white, unemployed, proletarian women as well when they saw them as ‘promiscuous’.

You talk again in the book about how what we would call now superstition, popular folk magic, animism, was something that needed to be eradicated for the development of capitalism to happen. Right now we are living in the era of a new occult revival. Witchcraft is becoming much more popular—I practice witchcraft. It’s certainly on-trend now, but it seems like it’s at risk of being absorbed into capitalism.

What many call “witchcraft” today is not what the inquisitors and magistrates, who sent thousands of women to death, had in mind. To them witchcraft meant a diabolic pact between human beings and the devil to carry out evil deeds. In reality, what they persecuted under the name of ‘Witchcraft’, was a different relationship between human beings and between human beings and nature, including the animal world. Many women, for instance, were accused of being witches because they cured people and animal with herbs, as well as incantations, or kept certain animals, participated in events—dances, collective festivals—that were considered dangerous, promiscuous, diabolical. Through the witch-hunts capitalism promoted a different conception of nature, more mechanical, more ‘scientific’ – a conception in which ‘nature’, was also described as controllable. The revitalization of magical conceptions of nature today is important if it gives us a better understanding of the beauty, power, and creativity of the natural world. It is dangerous if it promotes the idea that magic is about finding ways to manipulate relations, as it risks reinforcing the traditional, murderous, constructed view of witchcraft and witches.

On the topic of establishing a more intimate relationship with nature in spite of capitalism’s omnipresence, what do you make of Indigenous struggles across the world, like Standing Rock, for example?

They are extremely important, some of the most important struggles today in the world. The existence of Indigenous communities and struggles is a power for all movements, beginning with the women’s movement. Indigenous communities show that there are other ways of organizing society. Their views of what the land represents, of how crucial the relation to the land is to one’s autonomy, one’s capacity for self-government, one’s culture and spirituality, is an inspiration to all. Now women are taking the lead in Indigenous communities as well, challenging many forms of patriarchalism that still persist within them. At Standing Rock, it was the women who organized the reproduction of the encampment. They also created the wording and imaging of the struggle, describing themselves as ‘water protectors.’

Sometimes I find when I talk to other leftists about Indigenous resistance, they don’t know how to wrap their heads around the spiritual dimension to Indigenous resistance, and especially Indigenous female resistance.

Unfortunately, in the Marxist tradition there has been the assumption that social transformation is only possible if a high level of industrialization has taken place, or is taking place. But Indigenous communities are saying ‘No.’ Many refuse this logic and see capitalist development as nothing but expropriation and violence. In the Marxist tradition, instead, there is a conviction that capitalist development is a prerequisite condition for the formation of a communist society. Presumably, by expanding the productivity of labor, capitalism creates the material foundations for communism. Indigenous people have a very different view of it, because for centuries they have paid the highest price for this development. True, some have been making deals with the companies, but most have an anti-capitalist stance. The women in particular stand at the forefront of the struggle; they know that when the water is poisoned by oil drilling or by a gold mine people have to leave. It’s the end of everything, the culture, the language, the life of the community. That’s a very different perspective from the traditional Marxist viewpoint. Today, as we observe the catastrophes created by climate change and the contamination of everything we eat and drink and breath, more and more people are looking at Indigenous people for inspiration. We can also see that the productive powers of labor have been expanded to a maximum and yet, we are not any closer to ‘revolution’ than we were in Marx’s time.
The new upsurge of violence against women is due to the fact that in so many places women are leading the struggles.

Would you agree with eco-feminists who argue that we treat the earth like a woman’s body? Or that we treat women’s bodies like the earth?

In Latin America, women say: “My body is my first territory; so we have to defend our bodies if we want to defend our lands, our territories.” Eco-feminists are not saying that women are nature, but that there is a relationship between the way capitalism has exploited the body of women, and the way it has exploited the natural world, the lands, the waters. Like the exploitation of the land, the exploitation of women is a classic example of how capitalism has built its power robbing human beings and the natural world without any reservation and without giving anything back.

An important contemporary witch, Peter Grey, says that historically it can be hard to define what witchcraft is, but he writes if you look back in history “you will find the witch at the end of a pointed finger.” There are obviously parallels between the way accusations of witchcraft are deployed and the ways in which labels like “criminal,” “illegal immigrant,” and “terrorist” are used today.

Yes, the charge of witchcraft has been used to criminalize many forms of behavior and entire populations which the system wanted to destroy. “Witchcraft” has been defined in such a way that all kinds of practices can fall under this label. Witchcraft trials have also introduced new judicial procedures that condemn the accused even before they are tried. In addition, during the witch-hunts, witchcraft was described as a uniquely perverse crime giving the magistrates the right to torture the accused, keep them in isolation. Anonymous accusations were allowed; those accused of being witches did not have the right to know who had denounced them, what charges were moved against them. Today’s ‘war on drugs’ and ‘war on terror’ has employed similar procedures.

You talk about this form of Primitive accumulation is something we keep doing over and over.

Yes. The corporate world accumulates massive profits by expropriating people from their means of reproduction and then by criminalizing those who migrate to exploit them as cheap labor. It is really a perverse system. First the US and Europe, with the help of financial organizations like the IMF and World Bank, pauperize millions of people, then they jail them when they try to migrate to the very places where what once were their resources are being accumulated.

I want to end this on a somewhat positive note. There’s so much going wrong in the world, what keeps you fighting?

My optimism comes from the fact that the surge of institutional violence today is a response to the worldwide growth of movements which know that capitalism is a cruel, destructive, unsustainable system. The new upsurge of violence against women (for instance) is due to the fact that in so many places women are leading the struggles. We have seen it not only in Latin America, but in the US as well, at Standing Rock. Women are the ones who are fighting against fracking, to obtain better services in their communities, to keep alive their cultures and their children. So, we must see the other side of the repression. The wars, the tortures, the jails, the many forms of impoverishment that we see today across the world are a response to the fact that millions of people demand another society. But their struggles will grow no matter how much violence is unleashed against them.

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Solidarity and Manufacturing

By Eve Ottenberg
Counterpunch
July 4th, 2019

If there’s one thing the hotel workers’ and teachers’ strikes last year have driven home, it’s that the future of American labor does not lie with manufacturing. Most of those jobs are gone. And according to David Ranney in his new book, “Living and Dying on the Factory Floor,” they’re not coming back. “The height of manufacturing employment in the U.S.,” Ranney writes, “was in 1979 when 19.5 million workers or 22 percent of the U.S. workforce were employed in manufacturing jobs.” The steel mills of Southeast Chicago and Northwest Indiana have shut down. So have the related factories where Ranney worked in the 1970s and ’80s and which he describes in his new book. “Today only 12.4 million workers,” he reports, “or 8 percent of the national workforce, are in manufacturing.”
This memoir describes “the exploitation of back breaking and dangerous labor and the often unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.” It is also about his South Chicago co-workers – white, black, Mexican – and how they divided along lines of race and nationality, until those rare moments when they defied management and their corrupt union and struck. As one worker, Lawrence, summed up this solidarity during a strike at Chicago Shortening: “There ain’t no justice…just us.” Or, as Ranney explains: “the strike exposed the fact that union, company and government institutions were united in opposition to a class-based ‘us.’ In the course of the strike…we overcame the divisive aspects of race, alcoholism and drug addiction in favor of solidarity.”

Though the small-scale job actions described in this book did not generally succeed, they were a main reason that Ranney, a leftist professor, gave up his academic job to work in factories. Not an agitator, he was more someone in supportive solidarity with other workers. Ranney recounts an intense instance of that solidarity: during one protest, when employees blocked a rail car from leaving the factory, a worker, Charles, said, “for us this is about how we are goin’ feed our babies, man. That’s something worth fighting for. Movin’ us out of here ain’t goin’ be easy.” This statement “galvanized” the workers, including the locomotive engineer, who decided not to cross their picket line and told their boss to “go fuck yourself.”

In the ’70s and ’80s, Ranney was affiliated with the Workers Rights Center, which he wanted to help connect more with its South Chicago neighborhood. Though steel was a big local employer – “at one point five steel mills in the area [South Chicago] employed over one hundred thousand workers” – Ranney worked first at a shop rebuilding centrifuge machines used in rendering at slaughterhouses. The centrifuges’ contents were grisly and the workplace dangerous. Next Ranney worked at a box factory, but his leftism got him fired. Then he was a maintenance man at Chicago Shortening, which made cooking oils, using “lard – the fat from pigs – and tallow – the fat from beef cattle.” The place emitted an overpoweringly nauseating stench. Workplace safety was spottily enforced. In one room with a sign “Danger! Flammable Gas!” people entered while smoking and later extinguished their cigarettes. Outside workers called pumpers climbed on top of rail cars, “dragging hoses and attaching them to fittings…They take lard or tallow out of some of these cars…The pumpers hook up steam lines to those cars…[to] keep the oil hot enough until they move out.”

Safety concerned these workers. There were “a lot of minor accidents from falls and burns. Also, clothes and boots don’t last long. Acid in the product and the chemicals used for cleaning or as additives eat boots away in no time. Work clothes soon become rags…Everyone complains about the low pay and shitty benefits. There is a general consensus that the union [Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Local 55] is corrupt and worthless.” The workers assumed company and union were mob-connected. Despite several serious on-the-job accidents – in one, a worker’s hand was crushed – inspectors did nothing. “The inspector pulls out a flash light and shines it in the general direction of the boiler…’Looks good boys,’ he calls over his shoulder.” Old equipment was not replaced. As for repairs: “We are always instructed to do the minimum.”

Union negotiations with Chicago Shortening were disorganized. Ranney posted a list of demands on the bulletin board, and later fought with the union rep, who tried to persuade workers to accept a lousy contract. The rep physically attacked Ranney. Other workers chased the rep out of the building. They walked out; later the police came. Ranney was arrested for trying to prevent a company truck from leaving with shortening. The next day, the strikers confronted a truck driver, who said: “Teamsters Local 179. They told us this ain’t a legal strike and we’re not to honor your picket line. Sorry, I gotta work too.” Strikers then pulled the pin connecting the cab to the rest of the truck, causing a delay of several hours. Ranney writes: “A little act of sabotage goes a long way.”

Chicago Shortening management finally realized it couldn’t run the plant without workers and so sent everyone home and temporarily shut down. Meanwhile left-wing groups arrived to support the strikers, including Iranian students who wanted to depose the shah. Later, a union vice president met with them, the company agreed to binding arbitration, and one worker, Charles, taken back on the job, was stabbed to death by scabs. It was a violent, dangerous, disorganized, exploitative environment.

Ranney also worked at a factory that made railroad freight cars. The supervisor told him, “three months ago, there were two workers killed in accidents.” The union, a Boiler Makers local, seemed decent. Ranney also worked at a structural steel fabrication shop – manufacturing work that, he reports, is not much done anymore in the U.S. On probation, one new worker, not properly dressed, got badly burned. The book also describes a paper cup plant, a non-union shop but “the best factory job I have had.” Still, after labor unrest, Ranney got fired, then worked for a company that made “boards and other products used in foundries at steel mills to insulate molten metals.” The plant began to automate, which caused lay-offs, then a speed up. Hating the night shift, Ranney quit. It was 1982, and factories were laying off workers.
Today all the factories where Ranney worked except one are gone. The surrounding neighborhoods have either sunk into deep decline or been gentrified. At his memoir’s end, Ranney wonders what happened to his co-workers. One thing is sure – a lot of them left manufacturing.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Carbon. She can be reached through her website.

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The Queerbook Commitee on Shado Magazine

The Queerbook Committee

in conversation with Jacinta Bunnell

shado sat down with Jacinta Bunnell, author of a series of colouring books that seek to dismantle and challenge traditional gender stereotypes, to find out more about her motivations and what more can be done to question the stereotypes around us. Jacinta speaks openly about her own background in gender studies and how this has informed her approach that seeks to provide an accessible and inclusive way to provide space for inclusivity and representation – as she says;

If you don’t see yourself in popular media, how will you know that the way that you think, feel, dress, build family, and love is normal?

Jacinta Bunnell – Photo credit: Cindy Hoose

You are the creator of intersectional, gender-inclusive colouring books which aim to ‘bring greater understandings of gender fluidity, gender diversity and sexual orientation.’ Can you tell us a bit more about the main impetus behind their creation, and why you chose colouring books as your medium?

When I was a childcare provider and health educator, so much of the children’s media I came across was heteronormative and sexist, so I came together with another creative friend, Irit Reinheimer (also a childcare provider at the time) to write the first book girls will be boys will be girls will be…. We initially made it for our friends and community, but found that it had a wider appeal than we had originally envisioned. I loved the process of creating the first book so much, that I went on to create three more. Currently I have two more books on the way.

My hope is for people to have fun while learning something. I hope that readers come away with a deeper critique of children’s media and the way it introduces us to specific ideas about gender and sexuality. Though my work directly draws from feminist and queer scholarship and activism, I love making it accessible to people of all ages through the humour and familiarity of a good, old-fashioned colouring book.

I want to provide media examples of real life: something other than the hyper-masculinity, hyper-femininity and compulsory heterosexuality that the mainstream media bombards us with. I want people to be proud of themselves.

What are some of the biggest influences/ experiences that have shaped your motivations for the colouring books?

I loved The Cunt Coloring Book by Tee Corinne from the moment it was gifted to me by my friend Amanda. That and Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook were the greatest influences for my colouring books. On the flip side, I was very motivated by Disney, Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and the whole wide swath of mainstream, go-to children’s media. The frequent presence of micro-aggressions toward queer people and women within them made me want to fight back with something more positive. I have been in a life-long argument with Walt Disney!

You have an academic background in gender studies – can you tell us a bit more about how this informs your process?

I grew up in a small town. I am proud of and adore my working class roots. But there are some things that troubled me and I didn’t know how to put voice to them. No one spoke of feminism, gender fluidity, gender-based violence, racism or sexual orientation in my town, unless it were in a crude, mean-spirited way. Boys who did not present themselves in typically male ways were tied to trees by football players. Awful stuff. I had to wait until I moved away from there to learn about so many things.

I woke up to issues of the environment, classism, racism, homophobia and sexism when I got to college at age 17. I was a philosophy major and religious studies minor who consistently sought out every bit of writing I could find that was by, for and about queer people and women. I got involved in campus activism where for the first time, I experienced sustained communal work toward change and saw how that work affected real transformation, not just in individuals, but in institutions, curriculum and support services for students and staff.

The language invented in the halls of academia helps us push conversations forward in a way I am grateful for, but it is so often inaccessible to other people and leaves them feeling pushed to the outskirts, angry, confused and deflated.

An important aspect of your work seems to be representation; that young children will finally be able to see themselves in books rather than only being exposed to a heteronormative Disney portrayal of what is ‘normal’. Would you say that this is a driving force in your work?

Absolutely! I heard an interview with a marine biologist recently that reminded me of how important representation is. She talked about going to a concert and seeing an image of a squid for the first time on a t-shirt being sold by a band she loved. In one instant, it sent her down a pathway to learning about sea creatures and the ocean. Now she is a scientist who is helping us understand climate change. You have to trust that by putting new media out there for people to engage with and fall in love with, you are influencing the future in some way.

There is a canon of children’s stories that many of us have come to rely on as “our” stories for children.

In Disney films, females are classically portrayed as hapless, helpless, sexualized, weak humans who have to be rescued by birds, mice, deer, fish, fairies, elves, etc.

In Dr. Seuss, females are nearly non-existent, or the ten percent that do exist are portrayed in a negative light. In fairy tales, women are often battered, killed, raped or tortured. Many of these stories portray females as untrustworthy, backstabbing, or nagging. And don’t get me started on Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater! Nursery rhymes are not much better: females are usually described as pretty and helpless. There is so much more to a human being than that. There is cleverness, courage, adventure, zest, intelligence, love, inspiration, boldness, and the ability to bring joy to the world. These are all inherently female, male and gender fluid characteristics.

Why do you think it is important to look at seemingly ‘complex’ topics of gender and identity through a child’s lens?

I think we haven’t given children enough credit when it comes to their understanding of what we perceive as exclusively the adult world. If you look back on your own childhood, you were taking it all in, calculating what it meant to be an adult and what gender meant. You listened intently to what adults were saying and put it in a sort of file cabinet of your brain that informed your decisions about who to be and how to act. Children are witnessing this complexity all day long. Why not give them something that is just for them, that spells out another beautiful way to be and gives them something that could lead to questions they could ask trusted caregivers and parents?

While these colouring books are for all ages, how do you hope they will empower young children specifically?

If you don’t see yourself in popular media, how will you know that the way that you think, feel, dress, build family, and love is normal?

At what age do you think these gender stereotypes first start to cement themselves and what are the biggest problems/ most worrying examples you’ve seen from young children with regards to this?

At what age? In utero! What is the first question people ask to a pregnant person? “Do you know what you’re having?” as if that is the most important thing in the world. Think of all the comments and questions posed to new parents. “It must be a boy, he is kicking so hard,” “Those eyelashes are wasted on a boy,” gender reveal cakes, blue is for boys, pink bows to let you know this is a baby girl, etc.

Do you have any influences or inspirations within the LGBTQI community who are working to dismantle these gender stereotypes through arts?

My friend Ahmad is always doing something unique musically.

I have the blessing of helping to raise my niece, who is an actor. Getting to experience new batches of their and their friend’s work on stage and in film has been inspiring. I am always learning something new.

I have loved the work of Maeve End since the moment I met her at a farm benefit in a barn. She was playing songs that seemingly jumped from the pages of my books.

With so many gender stereotypes entrenched in the institutions and brands around us, what more can be done on an individual level, from parents and carers, to break down these gender stereotypes and support their children to grow up in a more inclusive environment?

Question everything. Talk about everything you see on billboards and TV with the kids you know.

If you are a media maker, think about family structures. Not every animal in every children’s book should be a HE! Not every family should be based around a white heterosexual couple.

I try to infuse all of my books with humour. Humour is a useful tool in bringing people together, despite divergent world-views. We can help people absorb the vastness of a problem if they are not on the defence from an attack. Once you have opened someone’s heart with a joke, a shared smile or a good laugh, you are better able to do the hard work of liberation together. Playfulness can be a terrific way to remove the armour we all walk around with.

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A review of Heart X-Rays, a mdern epic poem

By James Bourey
Broadkill Review
July 1st, 2019

At my first reading of Heart X-rays, I was inclined to question its claim to “Epic” status and, in fact, to question if there is enough connection between its various passages to follow a story which is the usual mark of the ancient epics such as The Iliad or Beowulf. Even many of the more modern epics – Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur, or G. K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of White Horse – depended on a clear narrative line, a presentation of history or myth with heroic characters facing great challenges. But then I considered other less conventional modern epics – Hart Crane’s The Bridge, Pound’s Cantos, and William Carlos Williams Patterson – and decided to take a closer look at Heart X-rays. And if we think of the division of modern epics into separate poems, cantos or numbered sections then this small book edges closer to fulfilling its title.
 
Now I’m not going to claim that this poem is on the same level as the classics but it does have a lot to offer in terms of commentary on our modern, narcissistic, media-driven way of life, though this is not an obviously political treatise. It is also a story of one person’s attempt to make a positive change in the world through the creation of places for hungry people to find nourishment. And the collaborative aspects of the book are often visible in the similar but distinct voices making observations on urban life, homelessness, shocked communities reeling after the commission of blatant hate crimes, and hunger.
 
And there is some fine poetry in these pages.
 
Who wedged the universe into an alphabet
within a computer screen? Scroll through
all the way. My homeless heart cannot fit
into any safe deposit box. I just left town.
 
 
And
 
Behind your tears,
      The past, behind your
           Past, this dirty web,
                 Behind each thread, ants
                     And spaceships, dinosaurs and
                           Hurricanes, a baby’s smile.
 
The above two passages are from the same section (both on page four) which begins with the line on page two – "Dreams of underwear cannot hide my nakedness." Then the section moves into a short-lined, rhythmic and rhyming twenty-eight lines followed immediately by dense stanzas which would work well in a stream-of-consciousness spoken-word riff. And then, just a little further on, we come to an italicized one-and-a-half pages of what truly is a spoken-word piece which includes directions to the audience - "Put yr hands up & say HEYYY!" and Just "holla!".
 
The sheer number of changes in these pages presents a challenge. A section called “Street Scene” is lyrical with lines like "there is no way to/ warn you; while you/ are walking rectangled/ into hypnosis”. A page later we are faced with “Charleston - after the shooting June ” which sets a terrible event squarely into the history of the city."Can it be that the mouth of your port,/ Charleston, still tingles with the taste of/ flesh in chains? I hear the coded talk-/ talk…” a moving and pointedly direct line to the present and past.
 
We move on, being jarred and cajoled, glimpsing humanity in its everyday beauty and all too frequent despair, and finding inspiration as well. The “Soul Kitchen” section is a chronicle and celebration of the founding and success of two locations of free meal service to hungry folks in Baltimore, MD, and Hazelton, PA, sponsored largely by Mr. Colasurdo. It should be noted that both authors have a long record of service to progressive and charitable causes.
 
So, in a very real sense, this is a “modern epic poem”. It has a big story to tell. It is grounded in poetic tradition, yet it stretches the boundaries of that tradition. It is pleasing to the ear. It is strong in its moral message. It is also entertaining in its fresh approach to language and narrative flow. It is well worth reading and I recommend it.

Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His chapbook Silence, Interrupted was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press and won first place for poetry chapbook in the Delaware Press Association writing competition. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Broadkill Review and other journals and anthologies. He is also a regular contributor of book reviews for The Broadkill Review. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.


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Abundance: A Motif Review

By Michael Bilow
Motif

June 5th, 2019

 

Doctors among warriors occupy an unusual position in society, witness to much yet trusted and expected to respect confidences. The character Doc Daneeka in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, 1961, defines the title that has become a standard idiom of American English. MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, 1968 – the pseudonym of real-life military doctor H. Richard Hornberger – is a serious and dark comedy with forgotten religious symbolism that was mostly cut from the movie version, featuring incidents such as a mock crucifixion of the Protestant chaplain, a “Last Supper,” and a surgeon who conducts personal appearances and signs autographs as Jesus.

Michael Fine, a doctor whose 40-year career encompasses everything from serving as director of the RI Department of Health to practicing medicine in war zones in Africa, has written a gripping thriller informed by personal experience. “I’ve always thought of myself as a fiction writer. I’ve been writing fiction for a long time,” Fine explained why he published his first novel about a society in collapse. “The only way we’re going to fix this is with the imagination.”

Set amidst the wreckage of the Liberian civil war that ran in phases from 1989 to 2003, the novel centers on RI-based colleagues separated in the course of a “rescue” by US Marines, leading one of them, Carl Goldman, to head back to Liberia for an unauthorized rescue of another, Julia Richmond, enlisting the help of William Levin, an older doctor who is her mentor. Levin asks if Carl and Julia have a romantic connection: “‘Not exactly yes, not exactly no,’ Carl said. He paused. ‘More yes than no. Maybe more than that.’”

Fine is careful to supply cultural background. He includes a non-fiction preface explaining the founding of Liberia in 1820 by free blacks from the US, organizing the country along the model they know from home at the time, complete with these “Americo-Liberian” immigrants becoming de facto slave masters. Fine often employs dialect in “Liberian Kreyol, also called Liberian Pidgin, which is a trading language based on English and Portuguese that has been used for three hundred years,” and he includes a glossary. There’s even a non-fiction appendix that discusses, among other things, the rumors that brutal Liberian dictator (and subsequently convicted war criminal) Charles Taylor at one point lived in Pawtucket.

Fine told Motif the writers he most admires are “Tolstoy, probably more than anybody,” and I.L. Peretz, “who continues to live in my heart and soul” and “was a giant of his time” in Yiddish literature during its brief flowering in the late 1800s to the early 1900s who could, Fine said, “see through to the human values.” Fine’s English style has nothing of the supernatural succubi and holy fools of Peretz but, among that class of Yiddish writers, is more reminiscent of the worldly and modern I.B. Singer. “I once had the opportunity of hearing I.B. Singer speak when I was young and he was living on 86th Street in New York, although I actually heard him in Philadelphia,” Fine said.

Abundance is a realistic tour-de-force of survival in a failed state rife with warlords and child soldiers answerable to no one, where ordinary people struggle to get on with their lives in a society run by naked power exerted through machine guns. Fine’s skill as a raconteur makes the novel seem as if he is your personal tour guide through chaos and civil war, but with a very hopeful and optimistic outlook.

If you like this: Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It by James Ciment (336 pages, Hill and Wang, published August 12, 2014) and Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf by Helene Cooper (336 pages, Simon and Schuster, published March 7, 2017).


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Abundance in Thriller Roundup

By Jon Land
Booktrib
May 20th, 2019

 

Rhode Islander Michael Fine’s suavely and elegantly fashioned Abundance (PM Press) puts Liberia center stage instead of the Ocean State.

That’s where Dr. Julie Richmond has gone in search of meaning and fulfillment to make up for a life too easily and richly led, landing smack dab in the midst of a civil war. She’s barely got her feet on the ground when she’s kidnapped by a Lord of the Flies-like menagerie of miniature soldiers whose assault rifles pack no less of a punch. As the resulting diplomatic crisis escalates, both friend and foe alike swing into action, while Julie comes to shattering realizations about herself and the world around her.

The sparsely simple prose evokes a thriller-esque take on Ernest Hemingway, especially combined with the kind of setting Papa was known for taking on. A thinking man’s thriller that makes Fine the Ocean State’s own John Le Carré.


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Between Earth and Empire in Foreword Reviews

By Barry Silverstein
Foreword Reviews

July/August Issue

 

John P. Clark’s Between Earth and Empire is an expansive work that considers the broad and chilling consequences of ecological disaster.

The Earth is in such dire straits that Clark labels the present “the Necrocene,” or “the new era of death.” In his view, ecological damage was inflicted by the “Empire,” or human nations and societies. These dark concepts underpin his essays, which tackle topics including ecological crisis, the struggles of Indigenous peoples, the “commodity economy,” and societal ills.

One of the book’s more powerful examples is the lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans coupled with the city’s fragility. In one essay, instead of recounting the immediate effects of the storm, Clark dissects the post-Katrina environment. He notes that the “official story” of the city’s resilience, as told by politicians, masks realities around the difficulties of recovery. According to Clark, “Many have not come back to New Orleans because of lack of opportunities locally and because the dominant model of redevelopment has created obstacles to their return.” In a subsequent essay, Clark writes that New Orleans represents “an apocalyptic city” because of its very impermanence. In fact, he believes “it is inevitable...that New Orleans will meet its final apocalyptic fate before long.”

Clark’s other essays, whether they concentrate on the plight of New Guinea natives or the communal legacy of Oakland’s Black Panthers, are equally powerful, perceptive, and at times startling. The book is breathtaking in breadth, but there is a singular message: while humans brought the Earth to the brink, there remains hope that the planet and its creatures will be able to reassert themselves. May Clark’s sobering assessment of the current state of humanity’s relationship to the world be taken to heart.

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A City Made of Words in Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly
May 7th, 2019

Park pushes the boundaries of speculative fiction in this collection of eight fascinating short pieces that defy categorization. “Climate Change” details an intense erotic entanglement in the midst of global disaster. “A Short History of Science Fiction, or The Microscopic Eye” describes a fan’s encounter with John Palmer, the man who first viewed the ancient cities on Mars, and Palmer’s gradual mental deterioration. Both “Punctuality, Basic Hygiene, Gun Safety” and “A Conversation with the Author” eschew traditional narrative structure for tongue-in-cheek metafiction. “A Resistance to Theory,” in which postmodern literary students wage bloody wars against one another, is perhaps the most avant-garde work in the collection; Park’s inclusion of mundane details balances the over-the-top premise. A nonfiction piece, “A Homily for Good Friday,” takes an unsentimental look at the differences between belief and faith. Park’s writing is sharp, darkly comedic, and laced with pathos. He captures the fragility of the human condition (and the human ego) while offering a sympathetic rendering of human struggles to find answers in a complex world. Seasoned speculative fiction fans will enjoy Park’s innovative detour into the unknown and uncanny.

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America's Reproductive Slaves


Mr. Fish / Truthdig

by Chris Hedges
Truthdig
May 20th, 2019

On Wednesday, the day it was announced that the U.S. birthrate fell for the fourth straight year, signaling the lowest number of births in 32 years, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the most draconian anti-abortion law in the country. That the two developments came at the same time could not have been more revelatory.

The ruling elites are acutely aware that the steadily declining American birthrate is the result of a de facto “birth strike” by women who, unable to afford adequate health insurance and exorbitant medical bills and denied access to paid parental leave, child care and job protection, find it financially punitive to have children. Not since 1971 have births in the United States been at replacement levels, considered to be 2,100 births per 1,000 women over their lifetimes, a ratio needed for a generation to replace itself. Current births number 1,728 per 1,000 women, a decline of 2% from 2017. Without a steady infusion of immigrants, the U.S. population would be plummeting.

“The effort to block birth control and abortion is not about religion nor about politicians pandering to a right-wing base, nor is it a result of prudery, nor is it to punish women for having sex,” Jenny Brown writes in her book “Birth Strike: Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work.” “It is about the labor of bearing and rearing children: who will do it and who will pay for it.”

Raising children is not a lifestyle choice. It is labor-intensive work that demands of parents, and especially women, huge physical, emotional, financial and time commitments. The wider society reaps the benefits of this work. It has a social and moral responsibility to compensate and assist those who raise children.

The birthrate decline is an indicator of the despair and hopelessness that define the lives of tens of millions of young Americans who struggle financially and see little hope for the future. Only by addressing this financial insecurity and desperation, by integrating back into society those who have been pushed aside, can the nation’s death spiral be reversed.

In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child; the government-funded subsidy is 80 percent of the parent’s job pay for the first 390 days and a reduced amount for the remaining 90 days. Employers in Sweden pay a tax on salaries to fund parental leave. The unemployed are granted a parental stipend. Parents can split the leave between the two of them. Men take nearly a quarter of parental leave in Sweden, which has one of the highest birthrates in Europe.

America’s corporate state has no intention of funding programs and building institutions to ease the burden of rearing and nurturing children. Yes, the corporate state needs young bodies as fodder for the bloated military and endless foreign wars. Yes, it needs workers, especially a surplus of workers, to toil in menial, poorly compensated labor. Yes, it needs consumers to buy its products. But the corporate state, Brown argues, intends to achieve these goals “with a minimum of employer spending and a maximum of unpaid women’s work.” If women refuse to produce children at levels desired by economic planners, Brown says, then abortion and contraception will be banned or made difficult to obtain. Social Security and pensions will be abolished so the only financial protection from abject poverty for an elderly parent will be children willing to keep their mother or father fed and housed. Eight states dramatically restrict access to abortion, and legislatures in a number of other states are considering legislation to do so. Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia have only one abortion clinic.

The falling birthrate is the real reason women are being forced to become reproductive slaves. As long as wages are kept artificially low (nearly four in 10 middle-aged Americans have no emergency savings, and a third have less than $25,000 invested for retirement), as long as pensions are denied, children become, as in the developing world, the only form of retirement insurance. Policymakers assume that these assaults, coupled with the privatization and destruction of Social Security, will force women to up the birthrate. Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court makes likely the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Indeed, the Alabama law, which makes no exception for victims of rape or incest, is designed to be legally challenged and brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The outlawing of abortion will not affect the elites. I saw this in communist Romania, where abortion and contraception were generally illegal from 1966 to 1990 under an unsuccessful effort to boost the country’s population from 23 million to 30 million by 2000.

As was the case in Romania, wives, girlfriends, mistresses, sisters and daughters of the elites in the U.S. will have easy access to safe abortions while other women die from procedures done in squalid backrooms at the hands of quacks charging exorbitant fees. Worldwide, almost 23,000 women each year do not survive unsafe abortions, primarily in countries where abortion is illegal or inaccessible. The death toll among Romanian women from unsafe abortions during the 1965-1989 reign of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who took harsh steps to raise the country’s birthrate, was estimated at 10,000.

I spent two years with the Christian right in the U.S., often with members of the so-called “pro-life” movement, in doing research for my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” These Christian fascists, whose heretical version of Christianity is the primary ideology used to justify the outlawing of abortion, have little regard for the sanctity of life. They enthusiastically bless the military and the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs on Muslim families and villages in the Middle East, fervently support the death penalty and absolve militarized police who gun down unarmed people of color trapped in our urban internal colonies. Their bizarre apocalyptic fantasies revel in the mutilation and suffering of nonbelievers, including Jews who do not convert to Christianity and those they dismiss as “nominal Christians.” Once out of the womb, poor children are seen as not deserving of help, and 12 million of them go to bed hungry every night in this country.

The crusade for the unborn fires up Christian zealots and anti-abortion fanatics with righteous indignation that can lead to violence. It fosters a self-adulatory and repugnant moral absolutism. But its ultimate goal is to strip women of control of their bodies to reverse the decline in births, especially white births, as well as reinstate a tyrannical patriarchy.

The ruling elites use code words such as “dependency ratio” and “entitlement crisis” to express their fear about declining fertility rates. To indoctrinate the public, they employ mass culture to disseminate propaganda, including that which drives the “right to life” movement. These fake moral crusades, always a part of the mass propaganda used to justify war, are covers to perpetuate and consolidate the interests of the elites.

The architecture of the corporate state is designed to disempower women. Most wages are not sufficient for one worker to support a family. This means that both the father and the mother must have income-producing jobs. If a parent takes time off to raise a child, the family income declines, usually by half, and there often is also a loss of health benefits, leaving the parent raising the child dependent on the spouse. This economic dependency makes it harder for a woman to leave an abusive or failed relationship, perpetuating the powerlessness of women that is at the heart of the system. By forcing poor couples to stay together, it frees the state from providing even minimal benefits. If each parent, for example, earns $15,000 a year, a couple often is priced out of social programs such as welfare.

“There are several programs within the welfare system that pushes parents to get married,” Brown said when I interviewed her in April for my television show, “On Contact.”  “They have unimpeachable names like ‘Healthy Families.’ What they’re really trying to do is get people off of welfare by combining these incomes. But that doesn’t solve the problem for that couple, which still doesn’t have access to childcare. They still don’t have access to decent wages. They still aren’t going to be able to take any time off when they get sick. All of these things, [guaranteed] by law in most European countries, we don’t have here.”

Social Security is not a retirement savings account. It is a pay-as-you-go system to support retired workers. If wages remain low and the numbers of workers decline, payments into Social Security will go down and the program will go into crisis.

“My paycheck this week is paying my mom’s Social Security next week,” Brown said. “If the age structure of society changes, it changes how many people are going to be paying into the system. The problem is the wage structure. This is the issue for Social Security. The intense worrying about demographic shifts is about employers worrying about having to put in more for retirement if we continue with this system. They don’t want to do that.”

Families of color, meanwhile, are penalized for having children. African Americans have 2.5 times the infant mortality rate of non-Hispanic whites. African American infants have over twice the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites. Such children are twice as likely to have asthma, 56% more likely to be obese and 61% more likely to attempt suicide during their high school years. Children of color are often taken from their families and placed in foster care, a system that provides money to foster-care parents but not the biological parents, who are often living below the poverty line.

These poverty-stricken Americans are demonized in mass culture as bad parents who should not be having as many children. Seventy percent of money owed by “deadbeat dads” are owed by those who make less than $10,000 a year. These men are obliged to pay on average 83% of their income for child support. They lose their driver’s licenses or are jailed when they cannot make the payments. Walter Scott, an African American father, had been arrested and jailed, initially because of a clerical error, three times on charges of failure to pay child support. His jail sentences saw him lose his jobs. When stopped by a policeman for a faulty brake light in 2015 he ran from his car, fearing that another arrest for failure to pay child support would again leave him unemployed. He ended up being fatally shot in the back by the police officer.

Ignore the religious rhetoric and moral posturing about abortion. This debate is not about the sanctity of life. It is about corporate capitalists who desperately need more bodies and intend to coerce women to produce them.

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