Archive for November, 2008

Who are the Young Lords?

Apparently we are supposed to believe that there are now two answers to that question. One of those answers is really pissing me off this morning. I’ll let you guess which one.

members of the Young Lords

Answer #1:
The Young Lords Party, also known as the Young Lords Organization, was a primarily stateside-based Puerto Rican organization dedicated to liberation, independence, and justice for Puerto Ricans both in the States and on the island and for all oppressed people. They were inspired by and worked parallel to organizations like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, and the American Indian Movement. Like those organizations, they were targeted by COINTELPRO and the other powers that be which, along with internal conflict and political shifts, lead to the organization’s disintegration in the mid-1970s. They continue to remain an important, revolutionary and inspirational movement for Puerto Ricans and other Latinos living in the United States. You can find out more about the Young Lords at Palante.org and YoungLords.info.

Members of the paler, apolitical Young Lords

Answer #2:
The Young Lords are some white guys who decided to form an indie rock band in NYC a few years ago and apparently couldn’t be bothered to find out whether they were ripping off the name of an entire political movement that most certainly does not belong to them. One might argue that words are words and no one can claim to own the name “Young Lords,” but how would it look if some white dudes decided to name their band the Black Panthers? That would probably be less likely to happen since more people know about the Black Panthers, but come on, people – we live in the age of Google (which, sadly, now has the MySpace page for this stupid band ranked above pages about the actual Young Lords in search results.) It is tremendously easy to look things up. I can’t help but think that they probably did look it up before they took up the name themselves and just didn’t give a fuck, but even if they could claim the innocence of ignorance then, I’m sure that one of them has Googled their band name since. For a band whose bio claims that their “sound pays homage to the past,” they’re displaying a remarkable amount of ahistoricity, ignorance and disrespect.

So fuck Answer #2 and their unremarkable music. In the end, they’ll likely just be another of a long string of interchangeable white bands, and Answer #1 will be the only one that actually still matters.

Puerto Rico en mi corazon

Remembrance and Action

I continue to be moved and thankful for the well-purposed outrage and generosity that so many people showed last week in donating to Duanna Johnson’s funeral fund. With the help of everyone who organized the fundraising efforts and spread the word, including Dan Savage on the well read SLOG blog, the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition was able to raise all that Duanna’s family needed and more. From the TTPC website:

In only four hours, nearly two hundred people responded by opening their hearts and their wallets. You donated over $5300 to the fund. We are still counting the final figures, but not only will this cover the costs of the funeral, but all of the remaining money is being given directly to the family to use as they see fit.

We realize your donations will not ease the pain of Duanna’s tragic loss to her family, but you have sent a message to the world that the lives of transgender people matter, and that we appreciate Duanna’s fight for respect.

Words cannot begin to express the heartfelt gratitude of all the members of TTPC who are touched by your incredble generosity.

I think that all of us who care about justice for trans people and for Duanna Johnson specifically owe a great deal of gratitude to TTPC. Thank you for your struggle and for supporting Duanna’s family.

*******

Since writing about Duanna on Friday, I’ve learned about the killings of two more trans women of color in recent months. Ebony Whitaker was murdered in July, also in Memphis. In August, Nakhia Williams was killed in Louisville, Kentucky. GLAAD and the Kentucky Fairness Alliance report that not only was there minimal news coverage of Williams’ murder, but the coverage that did happen was transphobic and disrespectful. And just this past Friday, Teish Cannon, a young Black trans woman living in Syracuse, NY, had her life cut short at the age of 22 because she was trans. Again, the media coverage has been both sparse and disrespectful, identifying Cannon as a man who was killed for being gay, not a woman who was killed for being trans.

(It took me maybe ten minutes to type that last paragraph. It made me feel nauseous. I’m not sure how I’m managing not to cry at this point.)

Teish Cannon, Nakhia Williams, Ebony Whitaker, Duanna Johnson, and too many other trans people who have been murdered because of their gender, will be remembered at ceremonies across the country this Thursday, November 20, the annual Trans Day of Remembrance. Gender Education and Advocacy describes the TDOR:

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgendered people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence.

There will be many vigils and other events across the country on Thursday; there is likely to be one near you if you live near a city or university. In NYC, some of these events include a vigil at Housing Works in East New York, Brooklyn and an event organized by the Gender Identity Project at the Center (thanks to the SRLP website for this info). There will also be a TDOR service this Wednesday at 12pm at the Union Theological Seminary, organized by their Queer Caucus (James Chapel, 121st and Broadway – thanks for the info, Lissa.)

Both the TDOR and the amazing fundraising effort for Duanna Johnson’s family are about remembering those trans people who have died because of hatred, prejudice, and institutionalized, systemic discrimination. Remembrance is important and necessary, but we cannot stop at remembrance. If we want this violence against trans people to stop, we must move beyond mourning our dead and take up the fight for the rights of our living.

Here are some ways to do that.

  • Read this post from the FTM Livejournal community for specific action points around Duanna Johnson’s murder.
  • Find out how to support the families and communities of Teish Cannon and Nakhia Williams, and spread the word. (If anyone has more information on this, please post in the comments here or send it my way so that I can repost it.)
  • Support organizations in your area that are fighting for the rights of trans and gender non-conforming people. Continue to support TTPC by donating to them directly. In NYC, as usual, I recommend SRLP, TransJustice at ALP, and FIERCE!, as well as the Ali Forney Center, which provides housing for homeless LGBT youth and is really struggling right now due to budget cuts. But there are many more in NYC and in cities and towns across the country. Find the ones near you and find out what kind of support they need. Donations are always good, but you can also volunteer, attend their events, spread the word about them, participate in protests and campaigns that they’re organizing – take your cues from them.
  • Take LGB(t) organizations and the mainstream LGB community to task around trans issues. Most of them can be doing so much more for trans people than they’re doing. Question the distribution of resources and attention so that these organizations and the larger community make the “T” in the LGBT more than just a meaningless display.
  • Hold the media accountable for their crappy and minimal coverage of trans issues. Write letters to the editor or even start letter-writing campaigns. If you work in the press, learn how to be respectful of trans people and encourage your colleagues to do the same. If you’re a blogger or involved in alternative media, work to fill the void left by the mainstream media with respectful, attentive coverage of trans issues. And don’t just wait until someone is murdered to cover trans issues – trans people are alive, they’re fighting, they’re having victories and successes and those need to be covered, too.
  • Come summer 2009, participate in the annual Trans Day of Action organized by TransJustice. I think it’s a good, action-focused complement to the Trans Day of Remembrance. Right now, most TDOA activities happen in NYC, but TransJustice encourages people across the country to “endorse this call to action and to build contingents to march in solidarity together.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list; these are just some ideas that I came up with. I invite people to add more ways to join the struggle and fight for the rights of trans folks in the comments. But please, do something.

Cross-posted at Feministe

Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has set up a fund for Duanna Johnson’s funeral expenses that you can donate to via PayPal. This seems to be the most legitimate and secure way of donating. Any funds collected above the cost of the funeral will go to Johnson’s family. Please donate if and what you can, and do it soon. A special request to everyone (like me) who donated to the No On Prop 8 campaign: try to match that donation, or even just half of it if you can’t manage the whole thing right now. We can get this raised fast if we all commit to that.

UPDATE 2 (11/14/08 7:46 EST): TTPC reports that they have received $4745 in donations for Duanna’s family. “The response has been tremendous. We have received around 165 donations from as far away as Japan. Duanna’s family will be thrilled. Thank you world!” I echo their thanks to everyone who donated and helped spread the word today. I wish we hadn’t had to raise this money in the first place, but I’m glad that we did. While no amount of money can undo the tragedy of their loss, at least we can help ease their financial burden and give them one less worry as they grieve. (end update)

Duanna Johnson On February 12, 2008, Duanna Johnson was brutally beaten by a Memphis police officer after she refused to respond when the officer called her “he-she” and “faggot.” That night, Johnson became yet another of the countless trans women of color to be targeted and brutalized by police in this country. Two officers were fired after the attack; neither was prosecuted.

Just to be trans, just to be a woman, just to be a person of color in this country is enough to drastically increase one’s exposure to hatred and violence; when oppressions overlap, violence tends to multiply.

This past Sunday, Duanna Johnson was found murdered on the streets of Memphis. I didn’t hear about this until today, when I read a post on my friend Dean’s blog. When I read the awful news, I felt heartsick in a way that has become all too familiar and all too frequent.

After reading Dean’s post today, I was surprised to find out that Johnson was murdered nearly three days ago already and that I hadn’t heard about this until today. I know that I haven’t been very good at keeping up with the news or the blogosphere these past few days. But I can’t help but notice that despite this relative disconnection, I’ve read and heard no shortage of commentary, protest, and outrage about Proposition 8.

A Google News search for “Duanna Johnson” yields 50 results, many syndicated and therefore redundant. Much of the coverage is tainted by the transphobia and victim-blaming that tends to inflect media coverage of violence against trans women of color (like this Associated Press article). A search for “Proposition 8″? 18,085 results – 354.6 times more than for Duanna Johnson.

The skew in the blogosphere is less severe but still pronounced. A Google BlogSearch for Duanna Johnson: 2,300 results. For Prop 8? 240,839, or 100 times more.

Don’t think I’m being deliberately unrealistic or dismissive here. I don’t deny that the passage of Proposition 8 is harmful to the LGBT community and bears much anger, attention, and agitation. I understand the difference in magnitude of the number lives directly affected by the passage of Proposition 8 versus the number of lives directly affected by Duanna Johnson’s murder. I get that.

Yet still, the disparity in attention is damn stark. And that skew isn’t limited to this particular incident; it is a skew that is present in the collective coverage of and attention paid to all violence against trans women of color. And it is a skew that reflects what the GLb(t) mainstream chosen to prioritize with time, energy, and resources, and what it has chosen to address primarily with lip service and leftovers. An apt example of this: the Prop 8 op-ed written by Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese communicates more anger, more commitment to an enduring fight for justice, more of a sense of giving a damn than his brief, comparatively tepid statement in HRC press release on Duanna Johnson’s death.

There is a call out for people to donate money to help Johnson’s mother pay her funeral expenses, which are right now expected to total $1195. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about how to make donations and concern about whether the funeral home is doing right by Mrs. Skinner. I advise folks who wish to donate to use caution; I hope that a clearer, more secure way of donating is established soon. UPDATE: It’s been established.

But when it is possible to make donations safely, I hope that many people donate whatever they can. $1195 is a relatively small amount to raise. Given that the No On Prop 8 campaign was able to raise $37.6 million – or 31,464 times the cost of Duanna Johnson’s funeral – raising this far smaller amount should be no problem for our community. Right?

Cross-posted at Feministe and Racialicious

Yes. We. Did.

Barack Obama

I Voted!

My partner and I woke up at 6am, when the polls open here in NYC. Brushed teeth, threw on clothes, fed the cat, then walked around the corner to the school where we vote – we can literally see our polling place from our window, which is pretty sweet. When we turned the corner, we were surprised to see a long line already wrapping around the opposite corner. We were excited at the turnout but a little worried about the wait. There was a bit of chaos inside; people were confused about whether or not folks who already knew their election district could bypass the longest lines (they could, at least early on), some folks started getting grumpy and impatient and frustrated by the confusion, and one of the voting machines broke down. But the line for our election district was rather short and things went pretty smoothly for us.

When I stepped into the booth after my partner, it was pretty damn exciting to see Obama/Biden right up in the top left corner. Finally, after this impossibly long presidential campaign and all of the ups and downs within it, the moment had arrived! I actually moved down the line to the right and found Obama/Biden on the Working Families Party ticket and voted for them there (New Yorkers, remember that you can do that – a vote for a candidate on the WP ticket counts just the same as a vote for the same candidate on the Democratic ticket and helps to support a third party.) Voted Working Families and Dems for everything else. The only Green Party candidates were McKinney and Clemente. I was tempted, really tempted to vote for them. Still feel a little conflicted about that. Sigh. (IRV, IRV, IRV!) I checked my entire ballot over about six times, then pulled that big red lever to the left and locked in the most exciting vote of my life thusfar.

The lines were still stretched out long when we left the polling place, beaming happily but unfortunately not wearing an “I VOTED” sticker – they didn’t have any! Anyhow, I hope people stick it out through the long waits. Since I live so close to the school I might try to check out the situation later and maybe figure out a way to help people endure the long wait.

So – how about you? Head over to my post on Feministe to share your voting stories. You can also share them here, but I’m guessing there will be more people posting comments over there.

And yes, even now, third party candidates matter.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been a bit swept up into the Obamania as of late. And you know what? Why the hell not? Conservatives like to mock and sneer at the enthusiasm that people have for Obama like a high school bully snickers and jeers at anything too earnest (and yet they cheerlead unabashedly for their #1 Crush, Sarah Palin). But liberals can fall into that cooler-than-thou bullshit, too: picture a self-conscious hipster who wrinkles their nose at gross displays of genuineness. I don’t claim to be immune; I’ve certainly been cynical and suspicious of the hype. But not right now. I think people in this country, especially people of color, really need this kind of hope, this kind of inspiration, this positive energy. I gotta say, it’s a great feeling to walk down the street in True Blue Brooklyn and look people in the eye and smile and feel that simple, basic sense of alliance with so many more people than usual, despite the differences, conflicts, and barriers that will still be there between us come November 5. Barack Obama may be solidly entrenched in the limited two-party system, but if he can do this for us, then hell, more power to him.

However: that doesn’t mean that now it’s all right to forget about third party candidates. Latoya Peterson gives us an excellent reminder of that over at Racialicious, asking “What’s the Deal with the Green Party?” and answering her own question with a thorough and much-needed look at the remarkable McKinney/Clemente ticket. Peterson ends with this message to voters and non-voters:

If you aren’t satisfied with your voting choices, then you need to advocate for more choices. You need to support candidates you believe in on a write in basis, or even consider running for political office yourself. But not voting should NEVER be an option. Even if you hate everyone on the board, you need to take yourself to the ballot box and vote. People died for your right to exercise this type of direct say in government. So have your say.

If you are voting for Obama, advocate your fucking hearts out today. I just told everyone on my Facebook page that if they didn’t vote, I was disowning them – and I mean that. I’m checking my friends for that “I Voted” sticker. It’s that serious to me.

If you’re voting for McCain, do your thing as well. Obviously, I don’t support your choice, but I respect that it’s your choice to make.

If you are voting for McKinney/Clemente, do not let anyone say that you are throwing your vote away. You are not. If Obama loses this election, it will not be because of who chose to vote for the Green Party – it will be because of those who voted for McCain – or worse, those who chose to stay home.

And if you are even considering staying home on election day, how about this – perform a random act of kindness and vote Green Party. Or Nader. Or other independents. If you hate the two-party system that much, help those who seek to dismantle it.

But apathy is not an option in this election.

On the one hand, I really appreciate what Peterson has to say here, especially about voting for McKinney and Clemente. Though I have chosen to vote for Obama despite living in an extremely safe space and will be proud to pull that lever, I can’t help from feeling a little pang of regret that I won’t be able to voice my support for McKinney, Clemente, and third-party candidates in general in the polling booth. (Oh, how I look forward to instant runoff voting!) I’ll be glad for everyone who will be casting their votes for the Green Party ticket and am really hoping that a decisive Obama victory will mean we won’t hear any of that “third parties = spoilers” bullshit this time around.

But Peterson’s assertion that “not voting should NEVER be an option” doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t think that non-voting always equates with apathy. Apathy means not giving a damn, but for many people, not voting is an intentional, thoughtful, deliberate act on the part of people who think that it is more harmful to validate an intrinsically corrupt system by voting than to possibly make a win easier for the greater of two evils by not voting. To me, acknowledging the validity that not voting for a good reason is a necessary corollary to acknowledging the validity of choosing a third party candidate despite a real need to vote an abusive, oppressive regime out of office.

kati brings this up in the comments of the Racialicious post:

What if you’re anti-statist and anti-hierarchy and do not see electoral politics as an avenue for real change? Anarchists are cowards now?

As someone with both familiarity and kinship with the Anarchist People of Color movement, I know that the answer is that anarchists are neither cowardly nor apathetic by virtue of their political beliefs; rather, they are often brave and passionate enough to challenge a system that they view as flawed at the base in ways that make most of us a little nervous. You catch a lot of flack when you go up against a status quo that has truly come to be accepted as permanent, relatively unchangeable and certainly unable of being dismantled entirely. And though there are enough points on which I differ with the anarchist movements that I’ve encountered to cause me to not use the label for myself, I’m also wary of eliminating active disengagement from the system as a politically valid option. The American political system in all of its glaring imperfection can certainly not be seen as the only way or the most important way to affect social change and justice in our society, and I don’t think it needs to be seen as an indispensable tool, either. Yeah, sometimes it’s the best tool we’ve got, but if we can figure out ways to avoid using a broken tool that hurts us when we use it more often than not, I’m all for that, too.

Cross-posted at Feministe

The Steelers and Obama FTW!!!

Mike Tomlin

So, last night at pub trivia at my favorite bar, Pacific Standard, I learned that the result of the Washington R******* [1] home game that immediately precedes Election Day has correctly predicted the winner of the every US presidential election since 1936 except for last year’s. Despite the recent break, Snopes points out that this still yields an impressive 94.4% accuracy rate.

The way it works is that if Washington wins the game, then the party that currently holds the White House will keep it. If the visiting team wins, then the challenging party wins.

Well, guess who won in an upset tonight?

Pittsburgh def. Washington, 23-6!

Byron Leftwich

This was cool not only because of the auspicious nature of the result, but also because I really like the Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. Now, I can’t resist noting that Mike Tomlin is one of only ten Black head coaches in NFL history. Moreover, the usual Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger went out with a shoulder injury during the game, bringing in second-string QB Byron Leftwich. So not only did the Steelers beat Washington, thereby bringing the luck of probability to the Obama campaign and beating the team with the single most offensive name in all of professional sports, but they did it with the relatively rare pairing of a Black head coach and a Black quarterback [2].

IT’S A SIGN PEOPLE, I TELL YOU!

[1] Because I really don’t know why it’s any better for me to say or write out that word than the n-word.

[2] Yes, I know that Washington QB Jason Campbell is also Black. But unfortunately he is also on the wrong side. Kinda like Condaleeza Rice. I know, I know, that was wrong.

T minus one and counting

I’ve been engaging in some fairly uncharacteristic behavior lately. This morning I headed over to the Brooklyn Academy of Music and spent a couple of hours phone banking for Obama, letting people in Florida know where their polling places are and encouraging them to vote tomorrow. Along with calls I made from home to voters in Pennsylvania using the Neighbor to Neighbor feature on Obama website, this marks the first time that I’ve ever volunteered for a major party candidate. Another first – I’ve donated to the Obama campaign not once, not twice, but four times, which is four times more than I’ve ever donated to a Democrat.

Yes, those were relatively small donations, and yes, two hours of phone banking is not a tremendous amount of time. But that’s a whole lot more time, money, and energy than I’ve ever before invested to get a major party candidate elected. I usually don’t get very excited over the sort of Democrats who are actually viable candidates. I usually vote for Dems because they’re better than the alternative, and often vote for third party candidates (mostly Greens) when they manage to get on the ballot. Even in this election, I’ve lamented the dearth of attention paid to Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, the Green Party presidential ticket, and for a while was leaning towards voting for them.

I know that Obama isn’t perfect, and that the fact that he is as close to the presidency as he is right now is itself a testament to the fact that he does not represent nearly as much of a departure from the status quo as I’d like to see. I’ve vacillated between feeling excited, hopeful, and proud when I voted for Obama during the February primaries to feeling pretty much over him by April.

But lately, my political pendulum has been swinging back in Obama’s direction. The final weeks of the campaigns have thrown the crucial differences between Obama and McCain into sharper relief than ever. And I’m not even talking policies here, where there are substantial differences but occasionally unfortunate similarities. I’m talking the philosophies of the campaigns and their approaches to politics, which have proven vastly different.

The McCain/Palin campaign seems to be trying to top themselves daily with increasingly vile and spurious appeals to the lowest common denominator. The whole line about Obama being a socialist and wanting to be the “Redistributionist-in-Chief” really got me shaking my head – they are actually billing “spreading the wealth around” as a bad thing and somehow getting people who would most likely benefit from more equitable distributions of wealth to buy into it! They’re rallying their base by blatantly stoking racial animus, by drawing out hatred and prejudice and capitalizing on it. I know that cultivating negativity and division is par for the course with conservatives, but they really have outdone themselves this time around.

Meanwhile, the Obama/Biden campaign continues to cultivate positivity and unity. They are inspiring, energizing, and uniting people, not based on shared prejudice and fear but on a shared desire for something better, not just for themselves, but for this entire country and this world. Barack Obama has created a movement unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When I walk through Brooklyn and see the amazing abundance of Obama signs, stickers, and buttons – especially in communities of color – the feeling of collective hope and joy becomes palpable. That’s a precious thing, and it’s something that we need to fight to preserve, to sustain, and to strengthen.

So I’ll be making more calls to voters tonight (you can, too – it’s easy!), and I’ll be heading to the voting booth early tomorrow morning to help vote Barack Obama in as our next President. I completely understand and encourage folks who are voting for McKinney or even Nader instead – believe me, being in a solid blue state, the temptation is there for me, too. But you know what? We’re about to make history here, damn it, and I’m going to be part of it. I hope you will be, too.

Cross-posted at Feministe