Save Our Safety Net!

A large number of mobilizations, actions, and educational programs have been planned and organized recently in response to attacks on many of our cherished government programs. One such event, entitled “Saving the Social Safety Net,” took place at Channing-Murray Foundation in early March. As the description of the program stated, “A massive assault is underway on social safety net programs like the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.” The program’s focus was to inform the audience about these programs, the myths behind current attacks on them, and what can be done to save them, and featured Claudia Lennhoff, Executive Director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, speaking about the ACA; Patricia Simpson, Emerita Professor, Loyola University Chicago, speaking about Social Security; and Belden Fields, a member of Champaign County Care, who discussed the upcoming local referenda on the April 4th ballot concerning the future of the Champaign County Nursing Home.

The Affordable Care Act

Claudia Lennhoff explained what the ACA has done and what it was intended to do. Many insurance benefits and protections enacted by the ACA benefitted those who already had insurance, including those with employer-based health plans. Some of these important (and popular) benefits and protections include:

– Allowing adult children to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26

– No annual or lifetime caps or limits on coverage

– Insurance companies cannot drop coverage because of illness

– People with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied insurance or charged more

– Medical loss ratio (80% or more of your premium dollars must be used to pay for care you receive)

– Out-of-pocket maximum limits for consumers.

According to Lennhoff, the plan put forward by the House Republicans—the American Health Care Act (AHCA)—on March 5, 2017, would cut coverage for millions and make it more expensive for millions more. She explained that, in a nutshell, this plan would repeal vital parts of the ACA with no replacement, end Medicaid as we know it by radically altering the Medicaid funding structure, harm the Medicare program, defund Planned Parenthood, and give massive tax cuts to the very wealthy, including pharmaceutical and insurance companies. It would also end the ACA’s tax credits, which are progressive based on income, starting in 2020 and replace them with tax credits that only go up with age.

Lennhoff wants consumers to know, “The AHCA is not just a repeal of the ACA but a ‘bait and switch’ that would end Medicaid as we know it. The AHCA would radically restructure Medicaid funding to turn it into a per capita cap program, and this would result in billions of dollars lost. The Medicaid program pays for half to two-thirds of all long-term care (i.e., nursing home care), half of all births in our nation, and health care for low-income children, elderly folks, and people with disabilities.”

What can consumers do? According to Lennhoff, make phone calls to your Representatives and Senators, write letters, and make in-office visits. There is hope. Millions of Americans are getting involved in the efforts to #ProtectOurCare! Republicans have already changed their message from “repeal” to “repeal and replace,” and now to “repeal and repair”—they know that Americans don’t want to lose their coverage. In addition, people with Medicare and employer-based health insurance are beginning to understand that they, too, will be affected, and are joining these efforts.

The Champaign County Nursing Home

Belden Fields talked about the Champaign County Nursing Home, specifically the two questions that will be on the April 4 election ballot. Question 1 will ask voters whether or not to raise the property tax levy to support the nursing home, and question 2 asks whether the county board should sell or otherwise dispose of the nursing home.

Fields made the case for voting “Yes” on question 1 and “No” on question 2. He stated that one of the main reasons the nursing home is having financial difficulties is that the state of Illinois has been behind on Medicaid payments to the home, not because of any financial mismanagement by the home administration itself. In fact, he stated that the nursing home was breaking even until the state budget crisis resulted in delays in downstate Medicaid processing and payments by the state.

Another reason Fields stated for supporting the county home is the quality of care residents receive there compared with the local for-profit homes. Claudia Lennhoff mentioned that studies show care is generally better at public institutions than at private ones that have to focus on making a profit for their shareholders, potentially resulting in cuts to staffing and other needed services.

Other reasons: one-third of all people in nursing homes in Champaign County are in the Champaign County Nursing Home, and local private homes would not be able to absorb that number of people if the county home was closed; and the physical and psychological cost to residents of having to move from a home they are familiar with would be great. The financial cost of raising the property tax levy would be approximately $30 on a $150,000 house. More information about saving the county nursing home and how to get involved can be found at champaigncountycare.org or the Champaign County CARE Facebook page.

Social Security at Risk

Patricia Simpson started her presentation by showing a “Bernie Brief,” a video of Bernie Sanders making the case for not just strengthening, but expanding Social Security (https://berniesanders.com/issues/strengthen-and-expand-social-security/).

With half of workers aged 55-64 having no retirement savings at all, and one-third of senior citizens currently relying on Social Security for all of their income, he explains in the video that Social Security needs to be expanded, not cut. Sanders has introduced the Social Security Expansion Act, detailed below. After explaining the context of how the current climate, political and otherwise, is creating a situation ripe for concern about Social Security, Simpson explained some of the myths and realities surrounding Social Security.

Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.

Social Security has enough funds to fully cover benefits through the 2030s, and 75% of benefits over the short term thereafter. The Social Security trust fund currently has a $2.8 trillion surplus. So Social Security is not going broke; it simply needs to be shored up to continue providing full benefits after the 2030s.

Myth #2: Social Security contributes to the deficit.

Social Security doesn’t contribute one penny to the federal deficit, because it is taxed separately and held in a fund separate from the general operating funds of the government. Because it is not part of the general operating funds, cutting Social Security would do nothing to help the deficit.

Myth #3: Social Security is inefficient.

Social Security has the lowest administrative costs of any social program at 0.7%.

Simpson outlined the provisions of the Social Security Expansion Act, introduced by Bernie Sanders. The Act would increase cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients and provide a minimum Social Security benefit to significantly reduce the senior poverty rate. It would be paid for by lifting the payroll tax cap on income (currently, income above $127,000 is not taxed). She stated that the Chief Actuary of Social Security estimates that making the changes outlined in this Act would fully fund Social Security until 2077.

Simpson stated that one of the most important things you can do to support Social Security is to call your congressional representatives and tell them you do not support any cuts to Social Security, and, in fact, you support strengthening and expanding this important social program. Check out the Social Security Works website (socialsecurityworks.org) for more information. In addition, monitor AARP to make sure it continues to oppose any cuts, including for future Social Security recipients. And finally, work to protect all social safety programs. We’re all in this together.

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Daughters of the Dust and the Place of the Gullah/Geechee

I was first introduced to Julie Dash’s exquisite film in 2000, about nine years after its release. One of my dear friends at the time, underground hip hop legend Percee P, was an avid collector of black cinema and was providing me with a rich education in the genre. We started with Haile Gerima’s Sankofa, and after discussing my Gullah/Geechee background, immediately moved on to Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991). I was in my early twenties and had recently begun to examine my family’s culture through informal textual and ethnographic methods (reading books by mostly white scholars and probing my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles whenever I got the chance). To see a filmic depiction of my ancestors, and to see the region I’ve come to know as “home” so beautifully captured, was transformative to say the least. But, as I was reminded during The Art Theater’s recent screening of the re-mastered film, it’s the particular tale Dash told that always puts my heart in my throat.

The film centers around the Peazant family as they grapple with the threat and promise of change as some of the younger generation decide to leave their remote barrier island for the mainland (and northern industrial cities, specifically). The land, and the Peazants’ relationship with it, are primary characters in the film. The majestic live oaks draped in Spanish moss or decorated with multicolored bottles, the white sandy shores, and the brackish marshes are not a backdrop to the events of the film but are very much parts of the story. Across the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands and coast, communities struggle to hold onto family land bought and obtained immediately following emancipation, as real estate developers continue to seize land via unethical practices. Many islands have been completely annexed by middle-class and wealthy white Americans and turned into high-income residential areas and/or recreational areas. The vast majority of the golfer’s paradise called Hilton Head was once owned by slave-descendent Gullah/Geechee, for example, as was Fripp Island, a now-gated resort community on which virtually no Gullah/Geechee people live. Land loss also means less access to the waterfront and maritime practices that are crucial for many Gullah/Geechee people’s livelihoods (fishing, crabbing, oyster farming, and gathering wetland grasses and other fibers for making sweetgrass baskets for tourists). Meanwhile, in the lowcountry’s increasingly gentrifying cities like Savannah and Charleston, young Gullah/Geechee people are being barred from city resources and from a sense of safety and well-being as they are increasingly criminalized. When one is familiar with the economic impetuses (then, slavery and other global trades, and now late capitalism), along with the related migration patterns and modes of labor that have conditioned the lives of Gullah/Geechee families like the Peazants, then the significance of place in this story becomes painfully clear.

The Gullah/Geechee are a kind of subset of African American people from the coastal and insular southeastern United States (from southern North Carolina to northeastern Florida), a region referred to as “the lowcountry.” The community is heterogeneous and its practices are in constant flux, but can be identified by some unique phenomena—certain foodways, language practices, spiritual practices, and handicrafts, for example. One of the most significant foodways was/is the cultivation and consumption of rice. After the mid-18th century, when the rice trade became one of the more lucrative in the global market, coastal landowners began to specifically seek out Africans from the Windward Coast of western Africa (from Senegambia to Liberia, approximately), where rice cultivation had been in existence for centuries, as scholars like Judith Carney and Edda Fields-Black have documented. Some historians have also noted that many of these landowners and their enslaved laborers came by way of the Caribbean (Barbados, specifically) and were familiar with the tropical climate and its most suitable crops (sugar, rice, and indigo). It’s not surprising then, that, like for many Liberians, for more traditional Gullah/Geechee folk, an afternoon or evening meal isn’t really a meal without a heaping bowl of rice on the table.

Most Americans are familiar with our cultural offerings like shrimp n’grits or the song “Kumbaya,” but few know where they come from or much else about the community’s history or present. For example, we speak a language variety called Gullah (or Geechee), which was first documented by the African American linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner in the 1930s, and that exists on a continuum ranging from a distinct language (a “creole” according to most linguists), to dialect (a variety that has distinctive pronunciation and vocabulary but is mutually intelligible with the dominant or “standard” variety), to accent (distinct pronunciation).

Given my informal and formal study of Gullah/Geechee over the past few years, I expected to find a few inaccuracies in the film—namely, that most of the accents don’t resemble any of the varieties of the Gullah/Geechee continuum. But, many aspects of Dash’s film would and continue to resonate with my understandings of my community (especially the significance of women as stewards of family and culture). Enough of its historical content matches up with some of the many scholarly accounts in circulation, and the core sentiments it conveys about belonging, change, and loss reflect some of my own family’s experiences. Much like my appreciation for Sankofa, I’m grateful for Daughters as a project of spiritual restoration through art, rather than as an educational text. It manages to speak the unspeakable, primarily through image and sound, and by re-creating memory, helps bridge a gaping hole in the African American historical imagination and contemporary self-conceptualization. That is to say, it helps to suture some of the wounds of slavery by fashioning a history that perceptibly connects African Americans to the African continent, but that also attends to the very intense way we belong to this land—even though it has never belonged to us. With the love affair between young Iona and the Native American character St. Julien Lastchild, Dash also hints at the ways America’s origin story is very much about the simultaneous creation/annihilation of the indigenous and the creation/objectification of the “negro”: projects that often overlapped. In many ways, Daughters’ insurgent romanticism is a mode of survival that has animated Afrocentricity, and everyday blackness around the world, since the 1960s and continues to be a valuable tool for surviving an antiblack world.

Daughters also clearly depicts how and why it is that numerous African languages and other cultural practices are often conflated by some members of the African Diaspora (those in the Americas, in particular). These individuals are not confused or misinformed, nor are they appropriating a past and present that is not theirs. Instead, Daughters urges us to remember the disorder of slavery and the meaning that Africans in the Americas made of this, and the film compels us to (re)consider any and all self-making labor among the descendants of the enslaved as resistance to the forced erasure of our history carried out by Atlantic slavery. These are the ways that we compose black humanity—that is to say, this is how we attempt to create a way to be both black (as we were made through slavery) and human at the same time.

 

 

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The Politics of Looking at Women’s Rights in the Middle East

As someone who has lived in and studies the Middle East I am often asked my opinion on the situation of women in that region. Of course it’s impossible to comment on “women” anywhere, even in Champaign or Urbana, without simplistic overgeneralizations, but discussing the women of the Middle East, a region we appear to be both physically and culturally at war with, is akin to entering a hall of mirrors. We can see many things, but we can never be sure how many illusions contribute to our view.

There are many ways current global politics affect how we in the U.S. see the situation of women in the Middle East, and the most familiar pattern is the newly reborn Orientalist trope of victimized women in need of rescue. Fighting to liberate the women of Afghanistan from the oppressive reign of the Taliban was an easy sell after 9/11, and those who argued that the U.S. should have instead pursued an international criminal case against Bin Laden looked downright unchivalrous. The Taliban certainly deserved their sexist reputation, but as an international community we have hardly made defending human rights a consistent plank of foreign policy. In 2001, however, images of women under Taliban control appeared in abundance. They certainly fed the American need to see the invasion in the most positive light, but they also implicitly denigrated local males who had apparently been either complicit in the abuse or incapable of ridding their country of the Taliban scourge. Women under the Taliban did endure horrific restrictions, but looking at the larger context of these depictions of victimization, it’s clear that the women of Afghanistan were exploited not only by the Taliban, but by the conscious and unconscious needs of the U.S. after 9/11.

Morocco, a country touted for its “moderate and progressive Islam,” presents a different form of exploitation of women. In 2004 King Mohamad VI led the reform of the Mudawana, or family law code, an act that won him wild praise in the international press. The reforms left family law under the control of traditional Islamic courts, however they did improve women’s legal situation. Reforms included the new right to initiate divorce, to have a legal identity (as opposed to having to round up a male relative if you wanted to do business at the bank or sign marriage papers), and raising the minimum age for marriage to 18. While they weren’t perfectly conceived or applied, they have helped open up a space for debating the topic of women’s rights and marital happiness in the public sphere.

On another level, unfortunately, the reforms have helped gloss over inconvenient questions of privilege. Women with job opportunities, literacy, and access to legal advice will certainly benefit far more than rural women, who struggle with crushing poverty and inequitable access to school and the courts. Do these women really have more concerns in common with urban women than with their male neighbors? Or would they have been better served by a serious commitment to rural poverty alleviation? Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive, but every time Morocco’s income inequality attracts domestic or international attention, the monarch can respond by pointing to the 2004 Family Law reforms as evidence of his progressive reign. Addressing the issue of women’s rights was a convenient way for the king to win positive marks (and investment and aid) from the U.S. and Europe, and deflect attention from corruption and inequality.

Poor women are not completely neglected in the debates over women’s situation in the Middle East. In Morocco and other areas women’s artisan cooperatives have gained fame for helping many individuals support their families, but, again, the broader context both of the cooperatives and the topic of the cooperatives must be acknowledged.

Rug weaving, argan oil production, and lavender cultivation are just some of the industries that have latched on to the label of the co-op in Morocco. “Cooperative,” however, is an inexact term, and not all cooperatives are equal in allowing local participants control over their industry. In some cases, the new groups contribute to overuse of local resources, degradation of the environment, and the absence of girls from school, all without necessarily contributing to women’s independence. “Cooperative,” in short, has become a marketing term that appeals to many who wish to reframe their consumption of goods as a political, not a personal, act. It is an easy form of solidarity that elides the inequities of producer and consumer. It feels good. And if our enthusiasm is focused on the appeal of helping women achieve independence, from whom are we saving them? Are we unwittingly participating in part of a long tradition of denigrating the unnamed, but clearly deficient local male?

These women’s industries are often also marketed through claims of timeless, female-controlled knowledge of natural remedies. Beauty products, especially for the hair and skin, that promise to reverse the signs of aging are curiously associated with female empowerment. Besides the irony of using anti-aging products to achieve liberation, our idealization of a world far removed from our own ignores the brutal realities of high child mortality and the physical compromises of poor health that are often the lot of many rural communities in the world. It’s an easy escapism that we may occasionally desire from our lives, but it also contributes to a vision of the world that stresses female solidarity while discounting profoundly different circumstances. Consuming responsibly means looking past both the marketing and our own illusions.

While the pitfalls involved in looking at the situation of women in other contexts than our own are aptly illustrated in the examples above, this doesn’t mean that we should abandon the effort. It just means that, especially in the cross-cultural context of the Middle East and the West, there is a great need to be wary of the ways in which women are explicitly and unconsciously exploited for story lines and purposes that are not their own.

 

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Manifesto: In Review

By Rachel Lauren Storm

Nestled in the Armory Free Theater on campus, captive audiences witnessed a theatrical performance this March that urged an examination of feminist histories and futures.

“How do you talk about 300 years in four minutes? [sighs, laughter, applause] Was it ever so apparent we need this dialogue? [laughter, applause]”

Lorraine Hansberry, the first Black woman to have a show produced on Broadway, A Raisin in the Sun; introduction to her speech at “The Black Revolution and the White Backlash,” forum at Town Hall sponsored by The Association of Artists for Freedom,
New York City, June 15, 1964.

Manifesto is the latest production from INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre, an educational theater project that addresses contemporary social justice issues through performances followed by post-performance dialogues. A meditation on the necessity of intersectionality in feminism, Manifesto centers the perspectives of renowned women of color, trans women, women with disabilities, and those who have been marginalized by white, middle-class feminist discourse. By weaving a call to action from the wisdom of those at the margins of feminist discourse, Manifesto successfully invites the viewer to consider that a feminism that embraces intersectionality ought to emerge through our collective understanding of how our dynamic, overlapping identities (race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, culture, ability, immigration status, etc.) inform both our experiences of oppression and create a road map for feminist theory and activism.

Lisa Fay, INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre ensemble director and program coordinator for the INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre program, has been writing and performing social issues theater for years. Her work in devising and producing INNER VOICES performances varies, ranging from encouraging preproduction conversations that lead to the production of collective new work to writing scripts and directing projects such as Side-Eye that investigate racial micro (and macro) aggressions. “I invite and support the production of the work of other artists for INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre ensemble, for instance Tell It, the work of Dr. Durell Callier, last spring, and Endangered Black Girls by Dr. Ruth Nicole Brown some years ago,” said Fay.

Fay hopes Manifesto achieves its mission of educating the campus community about the framework of intersectionality. “The term ‘intersectionality’ was not coined as an academic term, rather it was a way of framing an issue in order to see the issue, as Kimberly Crenshaw states,” said Fay, who encourages students to explore the work of the prominent civil rights lawyer, as well as her subsequent activism with #sayhername.

Daisianee Minenger, who attended a performance of Manifesto at the Armory Free Theater, said the experience was affirming. “Manifesto taught me that my feelings are valid. I learned that even though we all experience similar struggles, we are not the same people. Race and background add their own dynamics.”

Tianshu Zhao, who serves as the Assistant Director of INNER VOICES, has found the experience of working with the ensemble to be both personally and politically fulfilling. “It’s a platform for me, in terms of theatre arts practice and social participation. And here I find people who are fighting for a better society.”

Due to the sensitive nature of many of the topics, INNER VOICES always includes a post-performance dialogue at each show. Tekita Bankhead, an instructor for the Leading Post-Performance Dialog course, is the Director of Animateurs, facilitators who lead the post-performance dialogues. “Because our shows typically tend to deal with sensitive and potentially triggering topics, I train the animateurs to provide context for the shows, provide counseling resources if needed, and to lead dialogue in a way that is thought-provoking and enlightening,” she said.

Tekita began teaching with the ensemble this semester and has found the experience rewarding. “It has been a labor of love for me. Manifesto truly showcases how beautiful and impactful feminism can be when all voices are included.

“Feminism that is not intersectional is simply not feminism,” said Bankhead. “To fully highlight the unique experiences of every type of woman, you must honor their truth in every way possible. No two women are alike, so it’s imperative that we examine our feminism to truly ensure that all women are invited to the table, have a seat, and have plenty to eat (and seconds, too). The fight to end patriarchy is different for all of us, but when shared equally, is much more likely to be dismantled.”

INNER VOICES Social Issues Theatre’s next performance is entitled “Break the Silence,” and will discuss sexual violence, premiering in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month this April.

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A Black Herstory Slam Redux

A Black Herstory Slam Redux

This past February, the Women’s Resources Center at the University of Illinois sponsored Black Herstory Slam, an open mic devoted to poetry, spoken word, and performance that highlights Black women’s history and black feminist thought. Held at the University of Illinois Women’s Resources Center, Writ n’ Rhymed is described as “a transformative poetic space created at the University of Illinois. It is a space for art, poetry, spoken word, music, movement, prose, rhyme, performance, and critical engagement.” The Black Herstory Slam brought together over 150 attendees, featured performances from twelve talented poets, and was co-hosted by Jameelah McCrigg and Dominique Coker.

The following represent selected works performed during this year’s Black Herstory Slam, published here with permission from the poets in honor of Women’s History Month:

 

BLACK GIRL BLUES

By Kerry Wilson

 

My hair is long but it’s nappy

I never match my socks

My hands stay out my pockets everywhere except the bookstore

So you can accuse me of stealing this knowledge

The figment of my imagination is a stigmatism that I use to justify those overpriced glasses I get from LensCrafters…

Or is grad school just effing with my vision?

I act like your BS is a non-factor

But it keeps me up at night

When my diction contradicts your fiction of my black girl truths

My tongue bleeds from holding back my black girl blues

 

I’ve cracked cell phone screens and shattered my momma’s champagne glasses

I’ve broken hearts by taking the wrong chances

My actions divide like fractions

Tell the story like close captions

“Eff what ya heard” is my usual reaction

I want to be free to do what I choose

Cause I get so tired of this black girl blues

 

If I’m being realistic, I look in the mirror and I still see a statistic

The stigma of teenage motherhood is so fatalistic that there isn’t a damn thing I can do to get away from it

I woke up like this

A dark-skinned, thick-chick who refuses to measure her worth in sex, drugs, and rock and roll

And on judgement day I’ll end up bargaining for my soul

This I know for true

I’ll live and I’ll die singing this black girl blues

 

 

CRESCENDO (CHOPPED & SCREWED)

by Kerry Wilson

My swagger cut you like daggers until it don’t

2pac foreshadowed his end but see I won’t

Instead I think I’ll heed the call

To quick fucking with those waterfalls

I’m looking for my crescendo

 

You know the “that’s my part” part of the song

When the notes get extra long

The oh God give me a reason,

Wanya throwing chairs and ish cuz we’ve come to End of the Road

My crescendo

The place of pure emotion, the place to let it go

 

Give me a crescendo

Like when he say “I effed up and I need you to stay with me”

Or when she say “yeah you effed up, I still love you but you gots to leave”

I need my break it down to the nitty, gritty

No Bad Boy Remix, and No P. Diddy

You think you know, but do you really

These pinned up emotions inside could actually kill me

But it’s time to let it go…

 

Like parachute pants and the humpty dance

It was fun while it lasted

I can’t live my live all chopped and screwed

Just cuz I like it when the beat gets spastic

These plastic emotions cause oceans of pain

There’s absolutely nothing to gain

From putting out the fire with acid rain

Instead give me a crescendo

 

And I need it…

I need it like I need

Hip-hop before the bling

Michael Jordan before the ring

Lauryn Hill before that thing

Chews me up and swallows me whole

Find my crescendo

Save another black woman’s soul

 

 

I REFUSE TO BE SILENCED

by Anne Namatsi Lutomia

I refuse to be silenced

I will speak so that I and others can be heard

You do not want me to speak

You say I am too noisy, uncontrollable and bad mannered

You call me a lesbian, a man hater, a witch, a mad woman

You call me a slut, uncircumcised, barren, childless, foolish, ugly, a prostitute

You slap me so as to discipline me

You tell me that I have a long mouth

You tell me to shut up

You not only want to silence me

You silence others like me

You instill fear in us

You want us to keep quiet

You say no one will believe me if I speak

You want me to say nothing

I who you have raped, molested, battered, butchered, undressed, beaten, slapped, abused and shamed

I who is gazed at, shunned, goaded, stared at, and whispered about

You coin stereotypes about me that silence me as you all laugh at me

Forcing me to laugh with you as I hurt

I am your sister, mother, friend, lover, niece, grandmother, daughter, and wife

You want me to be quiet because you are powerful, famous, privileged and respected

You want me to dust myself and move on

Today I choose to speak

I want the world to hear and listen to my pain

I speak because together we can stop this hurt

I refuse to be silenced

 

Kerry Wilson is a doctoral student in the Institute for Communications Research in the College of Media and Anne Namatsi Lutomia is a doctoral student in Human Resource Education in the College of Education. The Black Herstory Slam was co-sponsored by the Women’s Resources Center, the Bruce D. Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center, W.O.R.D. and Black Students for Revolution (BSFR) in honor of Black History Month.

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White Male Patriarchy + Misogyny – Feminism = Trump’s Election

Not many know that in 1982 Champaign-Urbana played a notable role in a “chain-in” protest against the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment at the State Legislature in Springfield, Illinois. This passionate feminist action gained widespread national media coverage, including a centerfold photo by renowned photographer Annie Leibowitz in Life Magazine. It was driven mostly by women from the Champaign-Urbana area: Mary Lee Sargent, former Women’s History professor at Parkland College; Berenice Carroll, former Director of Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois; Jane Mohraz, former editor at the University of Illinois Press; Kari Alice Lynn, cleaning business owner; and me, Pauline Kayes, former Women’s Studies professor at Parkland College. Along the way, a number of other local women, like Anne Casey, Loretta Manning, Joyce Meyer, Nila Blair, Sue Yarber, Pat Cramer, Nancy DeLew, and Marlena Williams, joined us for a milestone in women’s history that proved feminism can be the guiding light not only to resist white male patriarchy but also to advance women’s equality in every realm.

Thirty-five years later, we are living in a surreal epilogue to Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale (how appropriate that a Hulu television version will premiere this coming April). As one of my “sister chainers” recently remarked, “We are watching everything women worked for in the past 40 years unravel in just a few months.” How did we get here? My view is that we underestimated the devious tactics of a white male supremacist patriarchal culture and society to deprecate and repress women in order to hold on to power. My view is that we let the light of feminism dim so much that we did not realize how imperative it would be to counteract the insidious, deeply- rooted hatred of women that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy provoked in both men and women.

If misogyny is a key operating ideology of patriarchy, feminism would be the antidote. But during the campaign, feminism was mostly lost in a “bewilderness” of what we called in the eighties M (male) A (approval) D (desire): MAD women and men speaking in tongues to distract and bamboozle us. And so misogyny was left unencumbered, to become one of the main fuels (along with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and classism) to fire up the “election” of a white male patriarch-in-chief with a warped misogynist world view that “grabbing women’s pussies” is a way to “respect” women.

I won’t list here all the ways that Hillary Clinton was held to an impossible double standard, insulted and maligned, threatened and hated, vilified and misrepresented, lied about and stereotyped. What we need to realize is that the common malicious thread to all of this propaganda was the personification of Hillary as the frightening female stereotype that undermines many intelligent, ambitious women: cartoons of her being burned at the stake; chants of “lock her up”; doctored video loops portraying her as old and sick; constant name-calling as bitch, witch, cunt; nicknames of “Killary,” “Shrillary,” and “Crooked Hillary.” It was no surprise that those who are privileged by the white male patriarchy would resort to misogyny to prevent Hillary from being elected. But most disconcerting for me was the fact that this same misogynist propaganda originated by right-wing media was repeated by some progressives on the left, both men and women (think Susan Sarandon) to rationalize why they would vote for any other woman but Hillary (think Jill Stein).

And then we wonder how an ignorant, incompetent, crude, bigoted, and lying white man was “elected”? Obviously the rules of the patriarchy make any unqualified, inexperienced white man superior to any qualified, experienced woman. Obviously, Hillary Clinton was expected to be perfect with no flaws or mistakes whatsoever while the white man who landed in the White House could be “bad to the bone.” Sound familiar?

A favorite mantra of the feminist movement in the ’70s and ’80s was “the personal is the political”—meaning that every aspect of life could be analyzed through a feminist lens to reveal the subordination, inequity, and objectification of women in patriarchal culture: housework, sex, politics, education, law, advertising, film, music, family, child care, employment, art, marriage, rape, literature, communication, religion, etc. And from this lens came an incredible wealth of new women’s studies knowledge, courses, and organizations. In 1976, I wrote one of the first Women’s Studies theses in the country for my Master’s in English at Purdue University: “The Evolution of the Authentic Female Voice in Women Writers.” When I attended the founding convention of the National Women’s Studies Association in San Francisco in the late 1970s, I was just one of a small group of feminist academics and activists sharing this new knowledge in just a few disciplines. By 1986, when the University of Illinois hosted the National Women’s Studies Conference, women’s studies knowledge was burgeoning in hundreds of colleges and universities across the world in almost every discipline.

Three concepts were pivotal to women’s studies knowledge and feminist activism in the ’80s: patriarchy, misogyny, and feminism. To appreciate the radical nature of these concepts, I would recommend reading their definitions in A Feminist Dictionary (1985), compiled by Cheris Kramarae, Paula Treichler, and Ann Russo (also from the U of I). Patriarchy is described as systemic and institutionalized dominance of white males and subordination of females in every aspect of life. Misogyny is the hatred of and disgust for actual women, girls, and females as well as for any trait or abstraction associated with the female or the feminine—all used to justify the mistreatment and disempowerment of women. Although these concepts were the backbone of second-wave feminism, for the millennial generation they were no longer seen as essential to understanding and improving women’s lives. Big mistake, because these crucial constructs for analyzing what writer Adrienne Rich termed the “lies, secrets, and silence” of a dysfunctional, conspiratorial patriarchy went missing at one of the most pivotal moments in history.

Unfortunately, the kind of feminist activism and power we needed to counteract the treachery of the one-two punch of patriarchy and misogyny against Hillary Clinton before the election only came one day after the “inauguration” of Trump. Five million women and men protested in 946 towns and cities around the world because it became all too clear that now the “political was the personal,” with civil liberties, women’s rights, health care, environmental regulations, etc. about to erode daily by the swipe of his pen. In a telephone interview, Sargent reflected on the emergence of a new women’s movement: “It fills me with hope, especially since the movement arising from the January 21 women’s marches is led by women of color, who grasp in a way that the earlier white-led movement did not: womanists and feminists must confront all forms of subordination as they intersect with our oppression as women.”

(To learn more about the 1982 action, visit the website for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library to listen to my oral history interviews conducted in 2013 (ERA Fight in Illinois) with Mark DePue, Director of Oral History for the Lincoln Library, https://www.illinois.gov/alplm/library/collections/oralhistory/illinoisstatecraft/era/Pages/Kayes,Pauline.aspx)

Pauline E. Kayes was a professor of Women’s Studies at Parkland College for 35 years. Since 2002, she has been President of DiversityWorks Inc., a coalition of educational consultants providing comprehensive diversity education to colleges, universities, K-12 schools, communities, organizations, and businesses (www.diversityworksinc.net).

 

 

 

 

 

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Am I My Sister’s Keeper? Help Pass IL House Bill 40

Who would have thought Donald Trump would win the Presidency—or that abortion would become illegal again in the United States? These are the realities of our time.

If President Trump gets one more Supreme Court appointment after Gorsuch, the high court will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that struck down state laws criminalizing abortion. In Illinois, abortion will immediately become illegal unless we pass House Bill 40 now—to repeal a dangerous law that is already on the books. Passed in 1975, Illinois law (720 ILCS 510/1) states in part:

“. . . that the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person for the purposes of the unborn child’s right to life from conception . . . (and) The General Assembly finds and declares that longstanding policy of this State to protect the right to life of the unborn child from conception by prohibiting abortion unless necessary to preserve the life of the mother, is impermissible only because of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court and that, therefore, if those decisions of the United States Supreme Court are ever reversed or modified or the United States Constitution is amended to allow protection of the unborn then the former policy of this State to prohibit abortions unless necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life shall be reinstated.

This means no legal abortion choice for victims of sexual assault or for women whose health is threatened by carrying a pregnancy to term – or for any other reason except to prevent certain death of the woman. We can also expect anti-choice legislators to try to outlaw emergency contraception and the I.U.D. because they often work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall. Yes, law already on the books says a human zygote is a legal person. House Bill 40 would repeal this law.

House Bill 40 would also repeal discriminatory provisions of Illinois law that deny coverage for abortion under the state’s Medicaid program and state employees’ health insurance plans.

Why should any health plan single out abortion as the only medically necessary care not covered? Why should any prescription drug program that covers Viagra single out birth control pills as not covered? Some people say they oppose “public financing” of procedures or prescriptions that are prohibited by their religious beliefs. But what they want, and have accomplished, is to force their religion on people of other religions.

Women are half the population. A significant percentage of the other half benefit greatly from the risks women alone bear as a consequence of heterosexual relations. It’s time for everyone to step up and speak out in favor of abortion rights.

The majority of people in this country support legal abortion, but have been enormously complacent. They thought we could count on the courts to protect us. Clearly that is not true. If not now, when will we take seriously the threat posed to women and girls by the reality of our times?

Champaign-Urbana’s State Representative Carol Ammons is a co-sponsor of House Bill 40. Our other area legislators need to hear from lots of people asking them to vote for House Bill 40. They are: Bill Mitchell (R-101); Brad Halbrook (R-102); and Chad Hays (R-104). You can get any legislator’s contact information by going to ilga.gov. If the bill passes the Illinois House, State Senators need to hear from you.

It’s too late to stop Trump from being president. I fear it is too late to stop the Supreme Court from overturning Roe v. Wade. But we can do something here in Illinois. Please join the effort to keep abortion legal. Ask our area legislators to vote in favor of House Bill 40. Tell your friends. Sign up for legislative alerts from the American Civil Liberties Union at aclu-il.org. We still have the power to win in Illinois if we stand together for our sisters, our daughters, ourselves and all women and girls.

Esther Patt is a member of the Steering Committee and past president of the Champaign County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She has been involved in the pro-choice movement since 1977, when she co-founded a local group to fight the elimination of abortion coverage under the Illinois Medicaid program.

 

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IMC Announcements

Final Open Scene Workshop with Hill L. Waters

April 14 (6-8pm) and April 16 (2-4pm)

Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway

There is a last Open Scene workshop with Hill L. Waters (April 14-16), a Black feminist love praxis project that is a collaboration between Durell M. Callier, Lisa Fay, and Dominique C. Hill. They will lead a workshop for developing short theater pieces.

*****

IMC at Boneyard Arts Festival!

“Disrupt” by Gharbzadegi Art Collective

Friday, April 7, 6-11pm

We’re glad to announce our spring showcase in collaboration with April Urbana First Fridays Festival and the Boneyard Arts Festival! The theme: DISRUPT. Gharbzadegi Art Collective wishes to celebrate themes of identity, diaspora, activism, oppression, solidarity, anti-colonialism, anti-patriarchy and uplift the ways in which we disrupt those oppressive systems. Find out more about us at www.gharbzadegiart.com and our facebook group.

 

 

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Politically Correct

By Molly M. McLay

“He tells it like it is,” you say, singing his praises

“I don’t have to be politically correct anymore”–
these are words out of a politician’s mouth;

If you’re a politician
and you’re not correct on a political level,
what the hell are you?

But that’s beside my point,
because honestly I cannot stand the words
“politically correct”

To some it’s an annoyance, a buzzword, social etiquette,
an excuse for people to respond with “stop being so sensitive”

When what you really mean by “I tell it like it is”
would be “I get to stop being a decent human now”
and you don’t have to put yourself in anyone’s shoes but your own.

My student working in an elementary school taught me the acronym “THINK before you speak”

Is it true
Is it helpful
Is it inspiring
Is it necessary
Is it kind

And I am so very afraid
that we are going to stop thinking

That what is now called truthful — “telling it like it is” —
is perpetuating bullshit information about someone’s identities
instead of taking the time to learn and listen,
to know someone other than yourself

That helping each other does not seem to be a core value
when our public officials will leave millions of people without healthcare

That what is inspired is fear and bigotry and hate
instead of hope and empathy and love

That it is somehow necessary
for my students to read and hear as they walk to class
“build the wall”
“feminism rapes”
“maybe now they’ll get rid of all the fags”
only to also be told
that they don’t need safe spaces–
“toughen up, get ready for the real world,” you say

That we will never again be kind.

Why is it so unpopular to be kind?

When I hear that someone doesn’t want to be “politically correct”
I wonder if they’d think it’s just an inconvenience

when my students tell me things like
I’m afraid my family will get deported
I get misgendered multiple times a day
I can’t walk through a department store without being followed by security
I can’t walk down the street without fear of being catcalled
I can’t go to the bathroom without fear of being killed

as though one’s genitals are the end-all-be-all or anyone’s goddamn business
as though my body is public property to spit on
as though you actually believe a woman should be treasured
when you talk like she is meat for your consumption

when I am afraid that someday soon,
I will no longer be able to sit here and tell a student,
“what happened to you was sexual assault,”
because our highest public official called the same thing “locker room talk”

when I am a survivor
and everyday I fear walking
on the campus where I work
the downtown that I love
the place where I am the most myself

because I don’t want to be groped

because men in another college town, not so very far away,
are running around doing that
to women like me
and to women not like me
calling it “trumping”

And when all I want is to keep my students safe.

You want someone to tell it like it is?

I’ll tell it like it is.

Because even though I am a queer woman and scared as hell–
and being white and cisgender means I am less scared than many, and that is not okay
because feminism without intersectionality is bullshit–

I refuse to believe that our words are no longer
truthful helpful inspiring necessary kind

Because everyday I see evidence that they still are.

One of my students wrote sexual assault statistics
on her dorm room door whiteboard
the words “no means no”
“only yes means yes”
and “I believe you”

Another told her best friend from home that using “gay” as an insult is not okay
she was so afraid to say something
and so grateful she learned how

One of them radios the bouncer when he sees men being aggressive toward women
from the booth at the campus bar where he is a DJ

Another called the police on his peer who was hitting his girlfriend–
despite being much less powerful in size or social status,
he did not back down when he was told he’d better not call

And another left his fraternity when they would not stop
with the jokes about gender and race and rape,
despite his efforts to stop them–
“when I could not uphold the values of the organization while remaining in it,” he said

One is starting her internship at the National Network to End Domestic Violence in DC
even though as a woman existing at the margins of many identities
she fears everyday for her safety
she is there anyway

One takes his knowledge and his advocacy
into the middle and high school classrooms of this town
making sure each and every kid knows they are worthy
of love and respect

Dozens of my students answer calls for the rape crisis line
telling survivors in our community that it is not their fault

And one student fights back by existing
because she did not get to decide to share her body
when it was photographed without her consent
and now she gets to take that power back
by teaching others about consent
and posing nude on her own terms

This is just a smattering
of the nearly 400 stories
I carry on my heart daily
from the nearly 400 students
I have taught over the last four years

Students who teach workshops
Students who teach friends
Students who teach family
Students who teach me

Students who listen
Students who love

You want me to tell it like it is?

The “say whatever you want to say” does not stand with me
It does not stand with us
It will not stand at all

My students and I
We will stand up

We will intervene
We will advocate
We will support
We will believe
We will listen

We will be intersectional

We will take the perspective of another human being
and we will honor it

You heard the words I’ve used
and maybe you’ll be surprised to hear this
but they are
in fact
politically correct

They’re correct because they’re about doing what’s right

And you better believe they are political

This poem was first published in Smile Politely.

Molly McLay is an educator, advocate, licensed clinical social worker, and assistant director coordinating sexual assault prevention programming at the University of Illinois Women’s Resources Center. She is also the Leslie Knope of Illinois. She enjoys advocacy, feminism, giving impassioned speeches, organizing things, and Joe Biden. She is awkward and also loves poetry, karaoke, her dog, singing in her feminist cover band Love Handles, and preventing sexual assault through education. While she thinks national parks are just okay, she does love waffles.

Posted in Feminism, Uncategorized, Women | Comments Off on Politically Correct

Hidden African American Films

The popular film “Hidden Figures” tells a great story based on real figures, three important Black American women who work for NASA in key positions, as mathematicians and engineers, during the segregated 1960s. Contemporary audiences are celebrating this film that uproots stubborn stereotypes while reminding people that a severely divided America is nothing new, oppression and segregation have consequences, and with effort over time we may dismantle unjust barriers.

Black American culture has flourished sometimes far away from the limited view of the dominant culture, and this is certainly true of film. The purpose of this article is to highlight a small selection of excellent films by Black Americans that have remained hidden from many, but fortunately, not all.

Homage must be paid to the indomitable Oscar Micheaux, born in Metropolis, IL in 1884. After a stint as a Pullman porter in Chicago, he bought acreage in South Dakota and tried farming, and when drought led to crop failure, he wrote a novel about the experience and then in 1919 turned it into a movie, the first feature-length film by a Black American, The Homesteader. Micheaux was a pioneer in the production of films that were called “race movies.” Micheaux said, “Your self-image is so powerful it unwittingly becomes your destiny.” He understood well the influence of the movies.

Two eye-opening documentaries tell the story of race movies: “Midnight Ramble” (1994) and “In the Shadow of Hollywood: Race Movies and the Birth of Black Cinema” (2007). Get them on your radar. Required viewing is filmmaker Charles Burnett’s most notable film, Killer of Sheep. Burnett was born in Mississippi but moved to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and his film, set in Watts, shows us lives not often depicted on the big screen. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography of Killer of Sheep helps give it a neo-realist quality, meaning it feels authentic as it tells the story of a working-class family. The father works in a slaughterhouse, thus the title. It is not a horror film. Rather, through a series of vignettes, we experience the ordinary, yet deep, struggles faced by this family. Released in 1978, the film has recently been restored and its accolades accumulate. In 1981 the Berlin International Film Festival gave it its Critics Award; the Library of Congress declared it a national treasure in 1990, adding it to the National Film Registry; and The National Film Critics, in 2002, named Killer of Sheep one of The 100 Essential Films.

A second Charles Burnett film not to miss, also set in Los Angeles, To Sleep with Anger (1990), stars Danny Glover as an unexpected guest, an old friend from decades past and a world away who arrives from the Deep South to stay with a family and shows no signs of leaving. This trickster character brings superstitious discord with him and invades the comfort of modern ways emerging in the West. As one character tells him: “Harry, you know you remind me of everything that went wrong in my past.”

“Losing Ground,” the 1982 film by Kathleen Collins, described in 2015 by film critic Richard Brody as a “nearly lost masterwork,” is part of the Black independent film scene that included Charles Burnett. Unfortunately, the film did not receive theatrical release in 1982–showing once on PBS American Playhouse—but more recently has been made available on DVD thanks to Nina Collins, daughter of the filmmaker. (Sadly, Kathleen Collins died in 1988.) Ask your local library to add it to the collection as, masterwork though it may be, the film is hard to find, although it can be purchased. Described by critics as funny and brilliant, the story is about a marriage between Sara, a philosophy professor, and her husband Victor, an abstract painter. Collins, an author, filmmaker, film professor, and activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is getting renewed attention thanks to the efforts of her daughter and others. Her lost collection of short fiction, What Ever Happened to Interracial Love?, was published in 2016 to critical acclaim.

Below are three recommendations that feature coming-of-age stories well worth seeing.

The Learning Tree (1969), written and directed by Gordon Parks, is a semi-autobiographical story adapted from Parks’ novel of the same title, and recounts his experiences as a teenager growing up in Kansas in the 1920s and 1930s. Gordon Parks was a photographer for Life magazine and Vogue, and this beautifully shot first film of his—he went on to direct Shaft and others—makes clear we are in the hands of a master photographer. The film looks and feels nostalgic but the story is steeped in substance. Much to learn under this tree.

Crooklyn (1994), written by Spike Lee, his sister Joie Lee, and brother Cinque Lee, is a semi-autobiographical story about a family in Brooklyn with five children whose school-teacher mother (Alfre Woodard) grows ill and dies, leaving the jazz musician father (Delroy Lindo) as a single parent. Like all of Lee’s films, this one is vibrant with a great soundtrack and creative use of camera angles, and because of its closeness to Lee’s family history, this film has tremendous authenticity and warmth. Please note, in the section where the sister visits family in the South, her cultural and psychological displacement is highlighted by Lee with a distorted lens. No, there is nothing wrong with your screening device.

The Ink Well (1994), by Matty Rich, set in 1976 on Martha’s Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, highlights class and political conflicts between two sisters and their husbands. One husband works as a social worker and was a member of the Black Panther Party. The other is a Republican who owns a fancy beachfront home on Martha’s Vineyard. The family with the McGovern sticker on their old car comes to visit the family with the Nixon portrait on the wall. The central character is the clever, odd (has a doll he talks to) 16-year-old son of the social worker, who learns teenage ways over the two-week visit and even (spoiler alert) loses his virginity to an older woman, quelling implicit fears that he might be gay, a dated aspect of this otherwise entertaining comedy-drama. The costumes and soundtrack designed to elicit 1976 culture are funky and fun. The title, The Inkwell, refers to a stretch of beach that has been popular with African Americans since the late 19th Century. The long history of African Americans living on Martha’s Vineyard is well worth researching. August 2017 will be the 15th annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival. Who wants to go?

 

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