The Silenced #MeToo: War, Rape, & Racism

“Me Too was about reaching the places that other people wouldn’t go, bringing messages and words and encouragement to survivors of sexual violence where other people wouldn’t be talking about it.”–Tarana Burke, activist who started the #MeToo campaign

I hear a Me Too. It’s not a neat hashtag, I can’t heart or retweet it. The voice is bloodied and choked, burned and forgotten.

For the last few months America has been having a conversation that is most often not welcome  at the dinner table or the nightly news. Multitudes of women and a few men have come forward to expose sexual abuse by powerful men. Social and corporate media have been a buzz with new accusation after another. Many of the powerful men were fired from their positions as a result–a shocking phenomena in a country where most rape victims are treated as criminals.

While a movement to hold sexual abusers accountable is necessary, a movement born in the US and embraced by people with power is likely to be limited by bourgeois feminism and American exceptionalism. Many in congress have adopted #MeToo with conservative house speaker Paul Ryan stating “sexual harassment in America is absolutely pervasive and it’s got to go and we need to end it”. An ironic comment from someone who enthusiastically voted to violate the human rights of millions of people.

When movements are co-opted by the ruling class, the potential of the movement becomes limited to keep the scope within parameters that work for them. US lawmakers like Paul Ryan are sitting on a dirty secret–the depraved wars waged against the people of the Third World for the benefit of the US ruling elite. Wars where the invaded population is assaulted not just with bombs but with brutal sexual assault and rape on an everyday bases.

Let’s take #MeToo where it hasn’t gone: to speak for the girls, boys, women, and men raped due to US Wars—our government’s invasion of their national boundaries.  

War is by definition rape. It is the unwanted invasion of land, the peoples’ body. It is non consensual penetration of bombs and drones on the daily life of dark skinned people in nations far away.

Very few Americans say that they are pro-rape but many are pro-war or indifferent. How come a nation of inter-sectional feminists, leftists, Hijab respecters, Pussy hat knitters, Black Lives Matter chanters, human rights warriors, immigrant defenders, fetus worshipers, and gun controllers, keep tiptoeing around the enormous monster in the room?

The bombs and bullets we banish from thought by changing the channel, are unavoidable to their targets.

Abeer was 11 years old when the US invaded her country, Iraq, in 2003. Three years later a group of US soldiers planned her rape over a game of cards. They waited for the fall of night and invaded her family’s home. She endured hearing her parents and little sister being killed as she fought her rapists. In the second it took sweaty fingers to ignite a gun aimed at her head, young Abeer’s life was over.

Rape in US wars is not the deviance of a few bad apples, it is a documented strategy used by the US defense apparatus . When the rape and torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, the US run prison in Iraq, was exposed, Brig General Janis Karpinski admitted that this grade of rape and torture  came directly from Military Intelligence, the CIA, and private contractors.

Hardened criminals and terrorists didn’t fill Abu Ghraib. Ordinary Iraqi citizens ruitenly were rounded up and thrown in the literal hell hole because for the US military, the line between civilians and “the enemy” is microscopically thin. In practice, civilians are the enemy.

Iconic investigative journalist Seymour Hersh revealed in a couple of speeches that Iraqi mothers held at Abu Ghraib were forced to watch as their young boys were raped in front of them. A former Iraqi detainee testified to the rape of a teenage Iraqi boy by a US military personnel at Abu Ghraib.

The atmosphere of rape savagery is all consuming in US war zones. The first American women  to die after the invasion of Iraq was 19 yr old soldier Lavena Johnson who was found severely beaten, raped and murdered in a tent belonging to the defense contracting firm Kellogg Brown& Root (KBR).  Also in 2005, defense contractors from the same firm raped and beat their female colleague so badly she had to have her breast implants removed. KBR continued to win competitive and lucrative contracts from the government following Lavena’s murder.

Rape cards—photographs of acts of rape were traded like baseball cards by US personnel in Iraq. When there was push to release hundreds of thousands of such images to the US public, US decision makers decided they were too disturbing to release.

PTSD is not only suffered by those who get hurt in war but also by those who commit crimes in war. War is a horrific nightmare that makes monsters of men.The atmosphere of chaos in war zones is intentionally created by decision makers by utilizing the violent masculinity, white supremacy, and patriotic bigotry that is the life blood of this settler colonial nation.

The youth, like Lavena Johnson,who join the military for a better future are victims of the US ruling class–their bodies are offered up to shrapnel and their minds are made into psych wards. US wars are the wealthy using the poor to accomplish their agenda of  wealth accumulation. The movement for free college is not simply about affordable education but an economically secure and fulfilling future for low income youth that doesn’t involve doing the dirty work of the wealthy.

But of course, the ultimate victims are the youth of the invaded population, dead before they have a chance to contemplate the sunrise over the misty desert air of their homeland.

The most American thing is not to be able to see our American privilege. We live in a land where our elected officials and their billionaire backers wage a nightmare called war on the rest of the world. Forget Donald Trump’s wall, how about the borders on our hearts that makes us so removed from the struggles of people from the so called “Third World”. Ironically the Third World’s problems are our government and our military.

So what do we do? How do we move forward in this politically hot moment where the planet’s future is in flux, waiting to be caught by Nazis OR the dark skinned hands of justice.

How much is enough solidarity when hashtags aren’t enough? An end to business as usual. No work! No School! Until every US base on foreign soil is closed. No work! No school! Until reparations for Libya and Haiti and every victim of US wars. No work! No school! Until every political prisoner held by the US–at home and abroad–is released. No work! No school! No work! No school! No work! No School!

Until peace.

 

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Erica Garner: The White Progressive’s Dilemma

Erica Garner died at 27 years old in the closing days of 2017. She left behind an 8 year old daughter, Alyssa, and a 4 month old newborn son named Eric after her dad. Little Alyssa starred in the 2016 campaign video for Bernie Sanders along with her mom. In the short glimpse of their lives, Erica reveals the sorrow in both their lives since an NYPD officer killed the man who was daddy for Erica and pop-pop to her daughter. “Are you ok mom? Do you miss pop-pop” asks the little girl in the film. Now the same child has the added trauma of losing her mother, her protector and guiding light. A tragedy happening in quick succession to Black and Indigenous children of the world because of Western led capitalism and neo-colonialism.

Erica Garner was typical of the young Black women found in cities across America: working class, committed young mom, weaving through the maze of capitalism to provide the basics of life for her family. Erica was unknown outside her circle of family and friends but when she died on December 30th her name trended worldwide on Twitter.

Her rise from ordinary to extraordinary was born of a routine tragedy in America:  State forces murdering citizens; and of the brave action of an ordinary citizen, Ramsey Orta, who dared to film the crime.

The powers that be hoped that Erica, after making a few statements at a press conference would slip back into obscurity.

The ruling class holds working class people of color in utter contempt. They can’t empathize with us or imagine us having the ability to feel the same pain or joy. Our life value is low and our death is at best irrelevant.

To the NYPD, Bill De Blasio, and President Obama, Eric Garner was just another surplus Black man. His death meant nothing and his family’s feelings meant nothing.

Erica kicked back against the devaluation of her dad’s life, her reflex changing the trajectory of her legacy forever. Erica’s defiance was the sick-and-tired reaction of a generation raised in the illusion of color blindness but faced  too much injustice to believe it.

Erica led protests every week regardless of the weather. She spoke at conferences, rallies, and wrote articles. In 2016, she endorsed Bernie Sanders and went to bat hard for him. She spoke at his events, made a powerful video for his campaign, and put in groundwork campaigning in South Carolina. She  wasn’t “liberal” for endorsing Sanders. He appeared to be the most progressive candidate with the highest chance of winning. If Bernie won, she had plans for running for congress. Erica understood the importance of taking power.

When Sanders fouled the Democratic nomination, Erica moved on and endorsed the Green Party ticket even though it was being projected that Hillary Clinton would win. Erica was principled.

Erica did not have a college degree, she was an organic working class intellectual whose knowledge came directly from her fight against the oppressive system. Erica used her platform on social media to criticize the Democrats, capitalism, Israel, US wars, and the police state. “When i think about capitalism I think about slavery, share cropping, bank scandal wall street donors… #HillaryClinton’s people” she summed up on twitter.

Even with the everyday stresses of being a working class Black women and mother under capitalism along with the added stress of being an activist with the NYPD on her back, Erica vowed “I’m in this fight forever” weeks before she died.

White Progressives and Working Class Black Women

Bernie Sanders betrayed Erica Garner and flowery condolences from his twitter page can’t change that. Two days after her death Bernie hovered over a Bible to swear in Bill De Blasio into his second term as mayor of NYC. Months before, when Erica was still alive Sanders publicly endorsed De Blasio putting his campaign cred behind the “blue lives matter” mayor.

Bill De Blasio is a poor people hating, elitist character who used the spectacle of a black wife and kids to make himself appear progressive. More significantly De Blasio was the one who made Erica’s life hell since the summer day in July when her dad’s life was snuffed out.

Either Bernie Sanders wasn’t listening to Erica or just didn’t care the effect his betrayal would have on her emotional, mental, and physical health. And in turn how his betrayal would effect the little girl who appeared in his video.

Bernie Sanders neither listened to Erica or cared about her wellbeing. His settler colonial status, patriarchal upbringing, and his acculturation into the ruling class made him physically unable to really see a working class Black woman and value her opinion. This misogynoir thing is so hard–he tried to see her but he’d blink and only see stereotypes and Charlie Brown wonk wonk.

He didn’t have the decency to stay out of sight of De Blasio’s inauguration two days after she died. He was in NYC to swear in her antagonist but did he stop by to see her family?

He made a social media statement about her but he also did the same for the notorious right wing supreme court justice Antonin Scalia.

Bernie Sanders has not been called out by his supporters for betraying Erica–someone who put her heart and sweat into his campaign. The only way for former supporters of the Bernie campaign to not appear as racist and classist as he, is to reject the Bernie2020 nonsense. Our future depends on setting our sights on something better than the crumbling façade of a liberal reactionary.

Erica Garner’s life and revolutionary potential was cut short but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a revolutionary. She was a revolutionary, not brought into the fight because of abstract ideals but because of the oppressive details of her life. She had her sight on power, kept her eyes constantly on the prize, and made moves based on the conditions on the ground. Erica didn’t have the support that she needed because of the shortcomings of our movement–revolutionary self criticism is the only thing that can help a movement move forward in the right direction.

Revolutionaries and movements change the dna of nations and communities; let Erica’s story change us.

“WE are not democrats. WE are not republicans. WE are Black in America which means we will NEVER be American. Cant u tell 300 yrs later?”

–Erica Garner 1990-2017

Forthcoming: Erica Garner was NOT homophobic & What Erica Garner’s Death says about Black Lives Matter

How To Keep Self Promoters From Stealing Movements

The energy of Ferguson reached Western Massachusetts but the possible movement was hijacked by self promoters masked as leader organizers.

 

Vanessa Lynch of BLM413 emerged in the position of leader/organizer of the Black Lives Matter effort in  Western Mass. Many young people eager to get involved in a movement gravitated to her enthusiastic claim of “the revolution is happening!”

 

While we were marching screaming “not one more” it felt right. I fell behind in classes as did my roommate Keysha. Homework seemed like a distraction compared to working to make a world where black lives actually matter. My skepticism began to rise as we continued to answer the calls of BLM413. What were we actually doing to ensure “not one more”?

 

The following is a critique of Vanessa Lynch’s leadership. Vanessa has great qualities that can be used in a revolutionary movement. I have been to multiple events where she was the only speaker who connected the struggle for Black liberation to Palestine and to the struggle of indigenous people of this land. And still her leadership style indicates that right  now she is more committed to making herself a public figure than being involved in a real movement.

 

Red flag #1: There was a glaring absence of political education in the movement. Energizing people with solidarity protests is fine and has its time and place.To build the foundation of a powerful radical organization that brings change, comprehensive political education has to be a focus.

 

“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”–James Baldwin

 

A real movement is not possible without political education. A lot of people know that the situation that we are living under is messed up and needs to be changed but don’t know where to start. A lot of people feel powerless to change these hostile condition we live under. A lot of people know the basic oppressors but don’t know the ins and outs and the intricate layout of the system. This is a vulnerability because we can’t fight and win against enemy that we don’t know. The objective of comprehensive political education is to understand the intricate layout of the system on the local, national, and global basis and to be able to identify the people who are stealing our wages, lives, and futures. When we understand this, ideas flow and we can plan strategically how to end the assault on working class Black people* world wide.

 

  1. a) Vanessa talked about the system of White supremacy but capitalism was not discussed. It is vital to have a comprehensive understanding of capitalism because we live under a capitalist system. Millions of people are killed every year from dangerous work conditions. Millions more are seriously injured because of unsafe work conditions. Billions of workers suffer long term health deterioration from constant exposure to carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and neurotoxins all while earning slave-wages. Who is subject to the most dangerous working conditions and slave-wages? Capitalism is the number one threat to our safe, healthy, and happy existence. It is the number one cause of war and conflict. The number one cause of displacement, illness, starvation, and death of Black workers* world wide.

 

Besides subjecting workers to dangerous work conditions and slave wages, capitalists are destroying the environment we live in. Millions of people die from polluted water every year. Who is subject to the most toxic living conditions? The communities of the Black workers* who get toxic waste dumped on them, are targeted for the building dangerous factories, landfills, and generally suffer the toxic side effects of oil and mineral mining in their communities.

 

Understanding capitalism is empowering because we gain a consciousness of ourselves as workers. The capitalist ruling class is fooling us by having us do all the work while they take all the profits because in reality workers are the people who make the world go round. The Big Boss may ride high by stealing wages and subjecting workers to unsafe work conditions but if the workers took control of the means of production and refused to work to make him rich, he would fall flat on his face. The wealth accumulation agenda of the capitalist ruling class is unattainable without our labor. Workers have the power to shut shit down. It the goal of making revolution our role as workers is our strongest asset.

 

Red flag #2: Vanessa’s style was more dictator than organizer. Vanessa disregarded step up step back, a method that allows everyone’s ideas to be heard. At gatherings after protests she dominated conversations. If others managed to get a word in, it wasn’t for long. Vanessa would interrupt by saying “just cutting in” while making it clear that “cutting in” was a privilege just for her.

 

There was no collective decision making for the protests. The protests were unorganized. We didn’t present demands to the local city governments–the people who decide the funding for the local police departments. There were no discussions prior to the protests to collectively decide 1) Should we avoid getting arrested 2) Can we afford to get arrested 3) Is making bail (enriching the police state) the best use of our resources?

 

One night, a couple of us opposed Vanessa’s decision to move the protest from Holyoke to Westfield. Instead of listening to our reasons, Vanessa promptly shut us down. We ended up protesting inside of an empty Walmart where the only people there were tired workers on the night shift. A Black worker told Keysha that Walmart was denying them their bonus because of missing inventory. I relayed this to the group and suggested that we should add ‘Walmart workers deserve their bonus’ in solidarity with the dispossessed workers. Without so much as a show of hands, Vanessa shut it down with “I think black lives matter is enough”.

 

Once, I suggested a film by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers as part of a political education agenda. Vanessa turned it down saying people “wouldn’t get it”.

 

These are just a few incidents where this “leader-organizer” disregarded people, alienated people, and empowered only herself. What kind of leader organizer doesn’t want to listen to the people and yet assumes the authority to dictate what the people are able understand? A counterrevolutionary one.

 

When Vanessa left the area sometime in January it was quiet in the activist circle. When there wasn’t a call from BLM413 there was no action. This should reflect very badly on any leader-organizer. Vanessa’s actions show that she wants uncritical followers who won’t challenge her and a movement that is dependent on her.

 

Revolutionary leadership is collective leadership where the masses are empowered thru political education so we all have the agency to act and have power to change these circumstances. A movement where political education is disregarded, only a few voices are held up, and the masses are silenced, will not work to the best interests of the people.

 

This critique of the black lives matter movement leadership also applies to organizers like Kahlile Rodriguez whose “womanizing” behavior is straight out of Why Misogynists Make Great Informants.  It applies to mealy mouthed professor Chris Tinson who calls himself a feminist but has been described as misogynist by multiple women of color who have worked with him. And as a mentor to  Vanessa Lynch, this critique applies to him and her leadership style  should reflect negatively on him.

 

There are others in positions of influence in Western Mass who need to be called out. Rapists, rape apologists , victim shamers. It isn’t my place to do it but I hope it happens.

 

This letter came about from what I witnessed of the movement and from conversations with other people who are disheartened by their experience in the Western Mass movement.  There was a culture of respect of authority in the movement that made being critical of leaders taboo so people whispered their discontent. We need to be critical of leadership and we need to be loud about it. Being a leader is not a game that revolves around egos. It is a job. And when a job isn’t being done right these people need to back off and make room for others who will work for  the best interest of the people’s movement.

Venture out on a political education project on your own. Become a regular reader of Black Agenda Report. Build on what you know and expand your knowledge on what you don’t know. If you want more resources comment below.

“The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”–Steve Biko, Afrikan Revolutionary