What if you want to support student activists and new feminist bloggers? WTF! is the answer!

I am excited to announce that the blog created by students in my Feminist Activism class at Cal State San Marcos, WTF!,  launched today! Woot woot!

Students felt the creation of such a blog from our campus community was particularly crucial at this time due to the arrival of the sexist and racist paper The Koala (covered by Anna North at Jezebel recently), the presence of pro-life extremists on our campus, and the appearance of “noose grafitti” in campus bathrooms (covered in my earlier post here).

Thus far, the WTF! blog has posts on sexism in the workplace, LGBTQ rights, single motherhood, The Koala  and much more (with more posts on the Occupy movement, World AIDS day, and many other topics forthcoming soon!) The anti-Koala poem has already been attacked by pro-Koala commenters, so please visit that post to voice your opinion regarding hate speech vs free speech.

If you could spread the word about the blog and encourage your networks to read the blog and comment, that would be very much appreciated. Students could use the encouragement and feedback as brand-new bloggers!

Also, the WTF! writers will be putting out a “call for contributors” soon and anyone can guest post so if you or people you know are interested in guest blogging, please considering submitting to WTF!

The blog is called WTF! We’re the future and can be found at wtfcsusm.wordpress.com.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 10: Avoiding the ATM: Breaking the Consumerist Mindset)

This series has been based on my conviction that green products, pink ribbons, rubber bracelets, political t-shirts, and Oprah give-aways are NOT going to bring about social justice. The consumer activism mindset that has taken hold in US society will not end genocide, war, poverty, racism, or anything else. In fact “consumer activism” is largely an oxymoron. Although one can be a “conscientious consumer” (and take an activist stance via NOT shopping/promoting certain corporations (i.e. Wal-Mart)), I don’t believe a socially just world cannot be bought – no matter how much is being spent.

Further, although many social justice organizations need money in order to do their work, donating money will not in and of itself bring about equity. Such donations are important no doubt, but what is just as necessary (if not more so) is using your voice, your brain, your pen, your keyboard, your body to PROTEST those things that are wrong in our world. (And NOT buying can certainly be a form of protest.) Besides, throwing money at a situation never works – it may make things look better on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and the problem will still be there.

In spite of this, justice through consumerism is being sold to the world citizenry at an alarming rate. Donate to this politician and your country will be saved. Buy this car and the environment will be healed. Purchase products with pink ribbons and breast cancer will disappear. Send money and the ravages wrought by Katrina will be fixed. Order a box of Thin Mints for a soldier and ameliorate the damages of militarization. These are the types of messages that we are inundated with. They vary in type and urgency, but all, at their core, have the same purpose: to make us, as humans, believe that through consumption we can make the world a better place.

This mass-delusion keeps the wheels of advanced corporate capitalism spinning us happily towards our doom as we go about lives driven largely by consumerist desires. Even more abhorrent though is the way the consumer mindset has infiltrated activist/social justice movements. I imagine many earlier visionaries are rolling in their graves. Emma Goldman certainly would take issue with consumerized voting movements such as Rock the Vote. Karl Marx would hardly endorse the push for re-usable bags over and above the push for worker’s rights (after all, how many of those Whole Foods shoppers with their cloth bags are thinking about the exploitive labor that picked that organic produce?) Virginia Woolf would see right through pink-washing. And I doubt if Sojourner Truth would be quick to buy a rubber bracelet claiming “Ain’t I a woman?”

Part of the reason that this consumerist mindset has taken such a strong hold is that consumerism has become the new one world religion, as discussed in parts 1 through 5 of this series. We are encouraged that with shopping comes salvation, that buying is the best form of worship. Yet, in spite of the ways consumerism has infiltrated every facet of life, including not only religion but also activism and protest, there are a number of indications that the world populace is beginning to question justice through buying. Sites like Enough.org are good signs “enoughism” is gaining appeal. Enoughism, a concept that Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown describes as “a threshold of wealth and consumption above which no one needs more…a threshold below which no one can thrive” seems to be the type of system that combines socialism with capitalism in a productive way – a system that would allow for capitalism with a social conscious and a collective world view (Brown quoted in Ms., Winter 2009, p.37). Perhaps one positive outcome of the global economic crisis will be more people saying “Enough!” to the corporatist greed that got us here. Perhaps it will lead people to break their ATM habits, to a switch from a consumerist mindset to an enoughism one.

Meanwhile, I believe that instead of heading to the ATM, literally or figuratively, we would do better to spend time, rather than money, doing the following:

  1. Reading/Writing
  2. Thinking
  3. Talking
  4. Listening
  5. Acting

To elaborate:

Reading/Writing: We would be better served by educating ourselves about the many problems in our world rather than running out to buy green/pink products. Reading about the complex history behind the problems that plague human society is vital. We cannot hope to change the world without doing our research first. Writing is the next part of this equation – whether it is writing a blog post, a letter to an editor, or a missive to Dear Aunt Hilda. The pen (or keyboard) is indeed mightier than the sword.

Thinking, an activity that is woefully under-rated, must occur both individually and collectively. We need to think about the changes that need to be made, examine what prevents these changes, and consider how we can make change a reality (rather than merely a rhetorical stance peppered in speeches). Buying is easier than thinking, hence many opt to purchase something in hopes this will bring about change (i.e. a politically hip t-shirt or a rubber bracelet) rather than THINKING about what really needs to occur for change to happen.

Talking, or raising awareness, is crucial. We cannot hope to change the world until the masses wake up from their slumbering sheep-state. However, as the conversation is currently controlled by the corporate owned BIASED media, most of the ‘talking’ that takes place on a societal level works to maintain and perpetuate things as they are. We must interrupt this conversation and CHANGE the subject(s)!

Listening to ALL kinds of ‘others’ regarding how to make the world a more socially just place is vital. Everyone deserves a place at the table, and the more diverse the voices the better. We must listen to others as their experiences will be different from ours – even if they share the same sex/gender/race/class/sexuality/belief etc. This is one of the reasons the big umbrella labels we use can be problematic – not all women are the same, not all queers are the same, not all trans people are the same. Each person, no matter how many ‘social positionings’ they share, will bring something new and different to the conversation. We must keep our ears open for to ALL types of voices coming from all types of places. We need to seek out others to listen to who have different “lenses” or experiences from our own.

Acting in ways both small and large to bring about the socially just world we envision is the essential culmination of these five steps. If we do the first four, and forget about the fifth, not much will be gained. We need to take action regarding all of the above, continually asking ourselves “What actions can I take to change things? What activism can I be a part of?” What we do NOT need to do is act in more ways that our bound up with consumerism!

(And, for a list of sites that encourage NOT buying, go here to find a number of great sources compiled by Dervish.)

What if our silence indicates our life is ending? (In honor of Martin Luther King, Junior on the eve of Barak Obama’s inauguration)

A poster with the following quote hangs in my campus office:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

When I consider this quote, I usually consider it in reverse as well, or via the concept that our lives BEGIN the day we become vocal and engaged with things that matter. Looked at in this way, the quote is one many of my students convey, albeit in different words, once they are awakened to feminism and/or working for social justice.

Coretta Scott King, whom I think should share this holiday along with Martin Luther King due to her lifelong commitment to social justice and to her many activist contributions, notes that “Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day.”

MLK’s insistence on “walking the walk” led to 29 jail sentences and various violent attacks against his person, yet he refused to become silent. Moreover, in spite of the violence and hatred directed against him, he refused to use his voice as an instrument of hate. He believed, as Coretta Scott King summarizes, “that nonviolent action is the most powerful, revolutionary force for social change available to oppressed people in their struggles for liberation.”

Today, unfortunately, we have not taken this lesson to heart. Oppressed groups struggling for liberation often resort to violence in attempts to bring about change. Likewise, those in power use violence as a first choice rather than a last resort. The US, for example, continues to act as if violence is they way to bring about change, that “freedom is on the march” due to our imperialist actions in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe.

If MLK was alive today, he would decry those pundits who claim that we have achieved the dream of a post-racist world, he would certainly be against the US occupation of Iraq, and he most definitely would speak about the enduring injustice of an anti-Palestine war/media machine that, through its lies, frames the oppressed as the oppressor.

MLK said that we must decide if we “will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Well, the US, and Israel, and many other global centers of power, are certainly walking in the darkness of destructive selfishness. In so doing, they are marching the world closer to its death.

Further, on this, the eve of a historic inauguration, many are remaining silent about things that matter. Even more disturbing, many are voicing comparisons between MLK and Obama while failing to discuss the very important ways in which their differences matter. Glen Ford, of Black Agenda Report, wrote an excellent piece, “Who is Black America’s Moral Emissary to the World?” which analyzes these erroneous comparisons.

As Ford argues:

It is true that there could have been no Obama presidency had Dr. King and the movement he sprang from not existed, but that simple fact of history does not amount to a King benediction from the grave for Obama’s moral character and political policies. Indeed, Dr. King’s life and words are indelible evidence that he and Obama represent opposing moral and political camps.

Yet, rather than examining the ways in which they differ in their visions, what we are supposed to see is the similar color of their skin. This melanin based ‘sameness’ is supposed to comfort the progressives and social justice workers among us. Many have indeed latched onto this only skin deep hope for change.

However, Obama’s bailout record thus far, his choices for his administration (Bush’s defense guy, the head of the Fed running the treasury?!?), his pandering to bankers, his hawkish support of EXPANDED military intervention, his alliance to AIPAC and the Center for Foreign Relations, all of these are proof, that, as Ford argues, comparisons to MLK are misguided. As Ford notes, “the fact that one of these men fought his whole life against the forces of militarism and economic exploitation, while the other empowers, and is empowered by, bankers and militarists” should be raising serious alarm bells for “Obama-ites.”

Using the Vietnam War as an example of MLK’s refusal to become silent on things that matter, Ford further writes:

If the Obamites had more presence of mind, they would avoid comparisons with Dr. King, which can only redound to Obama’s great detriment. King’s break with his onetime ally, President Lyndon Johnson, set the standard for both political and moral behavior. When it became clear that the War on Poverty was doomed by the war in Vietnam, which acted “like some demonic destructive suction tube,” devouring all available resources, King publicly declared against the war. In doing so, he severed what had been the most productive relationship between an American president and a Black leader in U.S. history. But the war gave him no choice, since military expenditures made “rehabilitation” of the American poor impossible. Both morality and politics led to the same conclusion: the Movement could not coexist with war.

The lesson is directly applicable today, but Americans, Black and white, find it difficult to recognize the characters. Obama is Lyndon Johnson. National revitalization, including redress of historical African American grievances, is impossible unless military expenditures are dramatically reduced. But Obama is committed to putting 100,000 new pairs of Marine and Army “boots on the ground,” an expanded war in Afghanistan/Pakistan, a beefed up AFRICOM, and a generally bigger U.S. military footprint on the planet. This, in the midst of global economic collapse.

To compare Obama to MLK is insulting to the King legacy – yet, many remain silent when these comparisons (and other similar fawnings) occur. Obama does share some attributes with MLK – most obviously, both are excellent orators. Both are brilliant. Both have more understanding of racial injustice and white privilege in their little toe than G.W. has in his entire body. Yet, Obama IS not the champion for peace, non-violence, and equity that MLK was. Ironically, we are going against MLK’s call for a “color-blind” society when we act as if he is. What we are doing instead is acting as if his color makes him all the things so many of us hope he is. Further, the “touchy” issue of race is keeping many silent in fear a critical stance towards Obama would lead to accusations they are racist. Sadly, this fear is true.

We have become so wrapped up in the euphoria of Obama’s win and its symbolic meaning that we have forgot to take a harsh look at what really matters – NOT the win, but what he will do as president, NOT the color of his skin, but the character of his heart and mind. So far, I am troubled by what seems to be an extreme disconnect between his words and acts- he is charming, brilliant, passionate, and many other good things, but he is not the anti-empire progressive leader I crave. He is no MLK. He is no Coretta.

While I realize these assertions may anger many, I can’t remain silent about this. A colleague of mine shared that she is not critical of Obama in front of students as she fears she will be labeled racist, especially as a white woman. Yet, if progressive academics remain silent along with others working for social justice, our lives will continue to end at the hands of the imperialist corporatist war machine.

On this day, in honor of Martin Luther King, Junior and Coretta Scott King, I hope that you will find something that matters to NOT be silent about. I hope, more specifically, that people will speak their concerns about Obama’s worrying collusions with all those things that our marching the planet, and humanity, towards death.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 5: The Mall as Place of Worship)

(Due to the impending date of the Join the Impact “Light up the Night for Equality” on December 20th, which will take place in MALLS and commercial centers across the nation, I have inverted posts 4 and 5 – part 4, on Disney, will be up in a few days.)

The notion of “a place of worship” tends to be quite general, encompassing churches, temples, synagogues, outdoor gatherings, and yes, malls. There is, in fact, a place of worship called “Church at the Mall” at Westfield Mall in Annapolis, Maryland.

A “place of worship” can be any location where people gather to carry out the (religious) practices of worship, prayer, devotion, study, etc. Usually the term indicates that a certain congregation regularly gathers to perform such acts. In terms of raw numbers, it would seem malls have the biggest global congregation of all, beating out Christianity, Islam, and, yes, even Disneyism.

The Mall is one of the primary locations where devotees of the religion of consumerism practice their faith. To be honest, I really should say “my faith” here –I admit I am not immune to the lure of a good mall!

Anyhow, while mall shopping has been supplanted by internet shopping and other cultural trends since the 80’s, or the ‘era of the mall’ (view Valley Girl as a reminder of 80s mall days!), malls are still very iconic in the consumer world. Further, while traditional malls have been supplemented with virtual malls, outlet malls, and print malls (catalogues and the like), if you say the word “mall,” most people will conjure a similar image – big parking lot, long concrete edifice emblazoned with different store names, shiny floors, a food court, escalators, impossible to find restrooms…

That we have a shared cultural conception of what a mall looks like and what its functions are reveals a lot, namely that malls are an important part of our assimilation into a consumer capitalist worldview – they are places we as citizens are supposed to congregate to shop, eat, socialize, view movies, etc. Yet, unlike earlier marketplaces (the work of Bakhtin is key here but I do not have the energy to wade through my dissertation to find pertinent quotes just now), malls are not communal, or subversive, or ‘carnivalesque.’ Rather, malls promote uniformity, conformity, and, yes, as so many films indicate, a zombified populace. (Drawing on this trend in horror film, Buy Nothing Day encourages zombie mall invasions that aim to raise awareness about the ways in which consumerism turns us into zombies.)

Yet, as films such as What Would Jesus Buy reveal, consumers do not take kindly to being told they should stop shopping. To those of us born and bread in the land of consumption extraordinaire such a message is tantamount to telling us to stop breathing. We, the United Shoppers of America, do not want to stop shopping because consumption has become a huge part of our existence – or, as the saying emblazing mugs and bumper stickers claims, “I shop, therefore I am.” (Another favorite in this genre is the “Save the Planet. I need a place to shop.” – as seen on mugs and t-shirts.)

Malls, even though they are being supplanted by internet shopping and Wal-Mart super centers, are still an important American cultural symbol. In fact, when I lived in the UK, I can’t count how many times people asked me about malls and/or made fun of America’s obsession with shopping malls.

As David Guterson argues in his article “ENCLOSED. ENCYCLOPEDIC. ENDURED: THE MALL OF AMERICA,” :

“our architecture testifies to our view of ourselves and to the condition of our souls. Large buildings stand as markers in the lives of nations and in the stream of a people’s history.”

If, as Guterson argues, malls convey a great deal about culture and history, malls in the US would seem to reveal that we like concrete, crappy food, and marked down merchandise. They also reveal that consuming (be it food or products) is a cornerstone of existence – especially considering how many malls there are, how long they are open, and how much trouble people will endure to worship at them (such as circling for ages for prime parking spots). They reveal we do not like physical activity (our parking practices and escalator reliance prime indicators here), nor do we like to have our worship interrupted (as the quick food intake at food courts and the like reveal). As per what they say about how we view our children, well, what are those horrible mall strollers shaped like cars and animals if not large plastic prison cells? What are those plastic play structures and soft play corrals if not jailhouses for those not yet able to shop?

Malls also reveal our penchant for being “out of reality” while shopping. As Guterson writes:

“Getting lost, feeling lost, being lost-these states of mind are intentional features of the mall’s psychological terrain. There are, one notices, no clocks or windows, nothing to distract the shopper’s psyche from the alternate reality the mall conjures. Here we are free to wander endlessly and to furtively watch our fellow wanderers, thousands upon thousands of milling strangers who have come with the intent of losing themselves in the mall’s grand, stimulating design. For a few hours we share some common ground-a fantasy of infinite commodities and comforts- and then we drift apart forever. The mall exploits our acquisitive instincts without honoring our communal requirements, our eternal desire for discourse and intimacy, needs that until the twentieth century were traditionally met in our marketplaces but, that are not met at all in giant shopping malls.”

Malls, thus encourage, to borrow from Baudrillard, an existence based on simulacrums – simulations of the real, endless repetitions without substance. Moreover, malls serve as a primary place where the manufacture of consumer desire is perpetuated and solidified.

As Anthony Robinson argues in his article,  “Articles of Faith: Consumerism is a greedy society’s religion,” malls help to propagate the eternally deferred desire that  drives consumer capitalism. As he writes, “for consumerism, discontent is essential. One must be in a constant state of anxiety about keeping up, having the newest and the latest.” Malls trade in producing this angst, inundating shoppers with anxious-inducing messages that the sale is about to end, the newest product is nearly sold out, that if you don’t have these shoes, this dress, that video game, you are not valuable.

More problematic still, malls represent such desires as virtuous and normal. As Robinson puts it, “The sins to be repented are still with us: greed, envy, sloth, covetousness. Only they are no longer sins. They are the virtues of ‘the good consumer.'” Or, in other words, consumerism exalts in what many religions and moral codes would label as sinful/immoral/selfish.

While the mall has little to no “carnivalesque spirit,” it can, nevertheless, serve as site where the world and its norms are turned upside down, or at least critiqued. The Join the Impact candlelight vigil planned for December 20th is an example of such a possibility. While some may argue that a silent vigil at a mall is hardly carnivalesque subversion, I would counter that promoting SILENCE and NON-CONSUMPTION at a mall is pretty dissident. Malls tend to be noisy places buzzing with the hubbub of chattering shoppers; they also are dedicated to sealing the deal – to making those prattling as they roam the promenades stop by and PURCHASE. For, if the cash registers are not the altar of the mall at which the congregation is meant to worship, what is?

Thus, promoting non-consumption, reflective silence, and the raising of awareness about SOCIAL JUSTICE, the vigil planned for the 20th undercuts traditional mall worship, turning the mall, instead, into a social, carnivalesque space that is dedicated not to mindless consumption, but mindful subversion. Here’s hoping that many more such actions take place at malls across the nation and the globe so that the mall becomes not a site of consumerist worship, but a site of collective, carnivalesque interaction – or, what a marketplace, ala Bakhtin, should be.

(For those living in my neck of the woods, San Diego, go here for information about the vigil in Escondido and here for other planned vigils at various San Diego county locations.)

What if you would like to partake in some everday activism with a Halloween twist?

Well, there is pumpkin activism, of course. Here is my contribution:


I would love to see a No on Prop 4 with no wire hangers image… This was beyond my carving skill. (For more pumpkin activism, see Harriet’s Daughter’s post with the link to yeswecarve.com here.)

And, there is all sorts of costume activism — I will be out as Rosie the Riveter today, carrying a sign that reads “We Can Do It! Vote NO on 8!”

I hope those of you who celebrate Halloween are finding fun, activist ways to spend the day. Happy Halloween everyone!

What if “change the world” was the most popular major in college?

Well, for starters, the business buildings probably wouldn’t be the fanciest places on campus. There would be a whole plethora of social justice classes with cool titles like “How Katrina Could Have Been Prevented 101,” “Stopping the Darfur Genocide 210,” “Feeding the Entire World With Sustainable Food Production 320,” and, the senior capstone, “Putting an End to Corporatization 500.”

However, at the moment, colleges are instead tending to focus on how much bang for your buck you can get out of such and such a degree rather than the ways in which university study can be used to better the world. This is why when someone share’s they are getting a degree in Women’s Studies, the response is invariably “What are you going to do with that?!?”

I remember my father being heckled by his friends at a family BBQ some 20 years ago when they learned that I, his youngest daughter, planned to major in English. One friend looked over at me and smirked “Why don’t you get a REAL degree?” Another claimed I must be going to college “Just for fun.” Well, “so there!” to all dad’s chums who heckled him (and me) about my trivial degree – turns out there ARE things you can do, like be a professor, thank you very much.

Sadly, the attitude displayed by these people 20 years ago has been upped to a much higher wattage today. Parents and students alike seem to look to college as some sort of ATM of degrees where you deposit your dough and withdraw your ticket to a well-paying career. Sure gives Paulo Freire’s notion of “the banking model of education” a different spin! While the student as empty vessel where the professor deposits knowledge model of education has thankfully waned (at least in many disciplines), what has not is the degree as ticket to a bigger bank statement model.

As another academic year is about to begin, and as I think about all the problems that plague our world, I so wish that more students would choose world changing as a life goal. Happily though, more students seem to be very interested in social justice and attack the activism project I assign in my Introduction to Women’s Studies classes with relish. This coming semester they will take part in an activism forum (the campus’ first) and here’s hoping they carry this change the world message with them as they continue their college careers. If you ask me, changing the world is a lot more important (and rewarding) than changing the numbers on one’s bank statement via a shiny business degree meant to serve as ticket into the corporate machine…

What if the Sunday papers included information like this? Links for June 23-28, 2008

As I appreciate so many of the links and read-a-rounds of the bloggers I read, I have decided to do a weekly link round up of my own.

I wish that everyone were reading news like this in their Sunday papers rather than the same-old same-old msm corporate controlled (dis)information…

  1. Over at Counterpunch at the beginning of the week, Robert Fantina questioned McCain’s claim that the recent Supreme Court ruling that granted Gauntanamo prisoners the ability to seek redress in civilian courts is “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” As his post, “McCain, Racism, and the Supreme Court,” suggests, apparently giving prisoners habeas corpus rights is WORSE than the Dred Scott decision. Perhaps we should call him John McRasict.
  2. At the Labor is Not a Commodity blog, Tim Newman explored the exploitation of sugar workers in Brazil and examines how this links to the biofuel boom. This post serves as an important reminder of labor rights and how corporatism fuels global exploitation.
  3. Cortney at A Feminist Response to Pop Culture in The Feminist Blogosphere is a Site of Resistance” posted on blogging feminist activism. Hurrah!
  4. Wal*Mart Watch analyzed Pink magazine’s article on the women of Wal*Mart here. As the post notes, focusing on a few “top women” at Wal*Mart in order to suggest this corporation is saving its soul leaves out the majority of women that Wal*Mart screws over with its inhumane labor polices both here and abroad.
  5. Womanist Musings mused about “Policing the Muff” in her typical smart, funny style, asking why the “nether regions” need trimming. Reminded me of the muff-policing scene in the Sex and the City movie. Oh yeah, how empowering, attack your best buddies for their ‘overgrown’ pubes!
  6. Dave at The Fanonite posts on the anti-Arab message of the film Don’t Mess With Zohan. I haven’t seen the film, but it sounds like yet another movie to trade in the “oh isn’t racism funny” stance.
  7. And, to limit myself to seven posts for the seven days of the week, the inimitable WOC PhD posted an update on Maria Isabel Vazquez’s death and the urgent need to protest Trader Joe’s stocking of Two Buck Chuck (and to fight for farm workers rights). See her post for more information and links.

Lastly, I will throw in a book recommendation for the week, Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism coming out in paperback TODAY. Get thee to a library/bookstore and get stuck in this great book (first published last fall). See Klein interviewed here where she briefly describes the concept of disaster capitalism (and shares that homeland security is now a 200 billion dollar industry – jiminy cricket that’s one heaping load of corporatist windfall!)