“Summer of Resistance”

This past Monday, we attended a screening of Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four, a documentary featured as part of a special season of QUEER|ART|FILM called “Summer of Resistance.” The film highlighted 4 Latinx women who were wrongfully convicted for supposedly molesting two little girls. While it was the little girls who testified against these women, it was not the fake testimonies alone that convinced the “justice system” that the 4 women were guilty, but rather, it was the fact that the women were queer that gave the judge even more reason to put them behind bars. The fact that gender expression and sexual preference held more standing than cold, hard evidence just goes to show how people’s racial and homophobic biases can ruin the lives of queer people of color.

By being alive and allowing themselves to love the people they wanted to love, these women were simply resisting. Resisting the gender norms imposed upon them by a stubborn patriarchal system. Resisting the consolidated notions of a typical family that lingered in their town of San Antonio. Resisting the mere idea that love is only restricted to heterosexual relationships. But unfortunately, their resistance was met with 15 years behind bars.

The theme of resistance has always been present in the LGBTQ community. From the Stonewall riots to the Pride Parades that take place across the United States, this resistance is what eventually fuels the radical change that marginalized communities seek and allows for identities to be fully expressed and eventually accepted. Some may even say that the sole act of existing is resistance itself.

The San Antonio Four are an example of how existing as a nonconforming individual can have repercussions, and it is unfortunate to see how our current justice system criminalizes sexuality, gender expression, and race. Right now, it can be difficult for me to begin to fathom a world where identities are no longer policed, but I am constantly reminded that there are individuals out there who are attempting to address systemic/institutionalized oppression that affects queer people of color. From organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign to F2L, little by little, they are addressing issues that affect LGBTQ individuals by joining in the resistance and advocating for their right to unapologetically exist.

The Real Enemy

I don’t know about you, but I love movies. One of my top go-to movies is The Hunger Games. If you’ve never watched or read The Hunger Games trilogy, in a nutshell, The Hunger Games is the story of a woman who bridges together many districts/cities who were purposefully pitted against each other by the governing Capitol district. The Capitol successfully pitted each district against each other by creating The Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death match where two people from each of the twelve districts participated in and the standing winner was promised a life of riches. Through the Hunger Games, the districts were constantly rivaling each other, never realizing that this was just a tactic to prevent the districts from realizing the true motives of their actual common enemy, the Capitol.

Fast forward to last Saturday night, where our lovely Moxie group watched a play titled Sweat. Sweat presents the lives of several friends who work in the same factory during the early 2000’s. Some of the characters had been affiliated with the factory for around three generations, ever since their grandparents emigrated from Europe. The other characters, minorities, had only just begun to work with the factory within their own generation. Each of the characters were proud to work in the factory, and more importantly, were very proud to be friends. This held true until the NAFTA treaty was signed. When each of the characters realized that their jobs were at stake, and basically that their hard work and contributions to the factory meant nothing, racial tensions started to fly and each of the friendships began to wither away. Rather than direct their anger toward the factories, each of the characters rivaled each other.

So, what does this have to do with The Hunger Games?

While I really love movies and I really love plays, when I left Sweat, I realized that the themes they presented are more than just entertainment, they’re an actual fact relevant to our current existence. These racial rivalries, as a result of public manipulation, aren’t just theories or a fun plot to make the movies interesting. They’re a real issue that we’re dealing with on a daily basis yet often blind to. While we’re busy trying to figure out who deserves the low-paying, exploitative job in the factory, or who deserves to win the mansion at the end of the fight-to-the-death free-for-all, we’re forgetting who’s actually winning the game. Whoever that is, the government, NAFTA, World Organizations, the President, that’s up to you to decide. All I can say is, none of us are winning when we think that the next person stole our job or doesn’t deserve what we think they have. In the end, none of us have been secure in the first place. We need to question why our economic insecurities manifests as racial tensions, and perhaps who is producing them at the origin, because if not:


Playing SPENT

This week I played an online game called Spent, (shout out to Norma for recommending this game) which was created by the Urban Ministries of Durham. I entered the site and immediately noticed how dark the layout was. It gave me an ominous feeling. The first words I see say “Urban Ministries of Durham serves over 6,000 people every year. But you’d never need help, right? Prove it.” I was nervous.

I accepted the challenge and was given $1,000 to live on for one month. I then had the options of choosing between minimum wage jobs that peaked at $9 an hour. I was immediately overwhelmed by the hard decisions I had to make. The one that particularly affected me was deciding what money I could use on my child. I felt that it was unfair to take away experiences for them because of my financial state. For example, they received a birthday card with $10 and I chose to keep the money because I only had $48 left and I was barely halfway through the month. They also had an opportunity to go the museum with their class, but it would’ve cost me $15, so I decided that they would stay at school for the day. One thing that I did pay for was a sports uniform so that they could participate in an after-school sports league. Growing up, sports were very important to me, so I thought this one luxury would be beneficial. Other situations arose during the game like making the decision if I should live closer to work for a higher rent or farther with a lower rent but higher transportation costs. The bill collector called and I chose to hang up on them and my landlord raised rent without a written notice 30 days in advance, which is an illegal practice, so I had to leave.

Bad situations came up one after another and I was calling the shots. However, I appreciated the facts and stats that accompanied most decisions I made. Even though this was a game, it really brought me back down to Earth and reminded me that this is real life. People are going through this every day and they don’t have the luxury of leaving this online game after the 30 days are up. It was easy for me to have the mindset that this is just a game and I don’t have to think too much about it. However, I knew that if I thought this way, it would undermine the purpose of the game which strives to raise awareness about the issues of poverty, homelessness, criminalization, and many more. I feel that this game should be played by everyone because it is a simple way to “put yourself in the shoes” of the less fortunate and to begin to understand the problems they face everyday.

More Confused Than Ever

These past three weeks have been confusing, but in a good way. I am confused because Moxie is constantly challenging my perception of the world and introducing me to social justice issues that I hadn’t paid attention to.

Last week we visited National Domestic Workers Alliance and talked about reproductive labor and its impact on women’s role in the private and public spheres. The readings and discussion really challenged me to think about the relationship between globalization and low-paying jobs, regarding both domestic work and offshore sweatshop labor.

Let’s talk about domestic work first. Because paid domestic work takes place in the home, a sacred place, and requires tremendous emotional investment, employers are often reluctant to establish a formal employer-employee relationship. People also remain profoundly ambivalent about positioning themselves as employers of domestic workers because of the implication of the racialized master-servant relationship. So should we establish a professional relationship when it comes to domestic work? If we do, how do people measure emotional labor? What can women do to effectively fight back the notion that performing domestic work is part of a feminine attribute? I would say I am starting to recognize the power dynamic in domestic work, but also becoming more confused. What happens when women challenge our social role in the gender-based division of labor created by capital?

The frustration does not end with domestic work. In order to keep labor costs down and profits high, many companies, including Apple and Samsung, have chosen to set their factories off-shore. These factories are more likely to hire women because women are viewed as docile, easily manipulated and willing to do boring, repetitive assembly work. Oh and because they can be paid less. It is upsetting and infuriating to see people still view women like this in the year 2017. What is more frustrating is that these companies are willing to expose human bodies to occupational diseases, such as leukemia, for faster production and higher profit. What else has to happen to make these companies stop? What can actually be done to change the entire industrial system?

At the beginning of Moxie, I was hoping to get answers for my questions on feminism and other social justice issues. However, I am now stuck with more questions that nobody knows the answers to. Honestly sometimes I feel like Moxie is messing up my world. This raising-more-questions thing is not working for me, because I need answers. Even though it gets frustrating sometimes, I am so glad that I am doing this program and that there are people working on these issues.

It’s the least I can do…

On Saturday we watched an independent film at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival called “Complicit“. The documentary follows the journey of a Chinese migrant worker who is diagnosed with an occupational disease, Leukemia, due to exposure to carcinogenic chemicals in an electronics factory. He and many others have found agency in China by organizing against the exploitation of migrant workers in mass production factories.

I am not an expert on this topic, and if anyone is interested in the story you should check out the film, but I think it is important to share this story and the many like it. Men and women are leaving their homes to make additional income for their families and returning less than a decade later with severe medical problems and all of the burdens and complications that come with chronic conditions. And no corporations are being held accountable for their role in cutting these lives short.

We must recognize the humanity in the men and women that are stuck in systems of oppression and acknowledge that we, as consumers, are complicit in and benefiting from the exploitation of capitalism. Apple. Samsung. Walmart. Forever 21. Urban Outfitters. HP. Microsoft. Victoria’s Secret. Adidas. The list is truly endless…

I know I’m not the first person to address the implications of global production and the necessity to recognize my own privilege, but I recently read an article that changed my perspective on what it refers to as “conscious consumerism”. Conscious consumerism is the actions that consumers take to promote sustainability and fair practices – buying from companies that claim not to use sweatshops, recycling, buying organics, etc. What they say is that conscious consumerism is well intentioned but it will not change the world. The efforts we, as individuals, take are not enough to combat structural oppression and systems that are built to succeed on the backs of marginalized groups.

It is important to be informed about corporate practices and to support companies that align with your values. It is also important to support efforts working to combat corporate injustices and to support politicians and organizations that are committed to implementing long term, large scale change.

Consciousness is about more than just being aware. As I continue to learn, I want to find ways to lessen my role in structural labor oppression. This might make aspects of my life inconvenient or more costly. And as I make more money, I may find myself give more to organizations that fight against systems. The reality of today is that there are young people dying before they reach their 30’s to produce my iPhones and laptops. Any and all of my efforts are in no way saving the world, but it’s the least I can do…

Take that, Pat

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An example of a poster used by anti-choice protesters

Two Saturdays ago, I returned to Choices at a painfully early hour to escort patients past protesters and into the clinic. Saturdays are one of the busiest days at Choices, as many women are working or unable to arrange for childcare during the week. Patients come for a number of services, from an annual Pap test to a medical or surgical abortion. And as the patients arrive early on a Saturday morning, so do the protesters–though “protest” seems too gentle of a word to describe the vile and violent actions of these fervently anti-choice individuals. They held up graphic posters of bloody, supposedly aborted fetuses, distributed medically inaccurate pamphlets, and ranted about the baby killing and racial genocide that they claimed was happening behind the clinic’s doors. I spent the morning escorting patients and their partners, companions, and even sometimes children past this angry crowd and into the clinic doors, attempting to minimize contact between patient and protester and generally de-escalate an intense situation.

Because I have had little contact with people whose views on abortion differ drastically from my own, at least outwardly, it was important for me to come face to face with people who actively and vehemently oppose abortion. It also reminded me that the stakes are incredibly high. I had to be careful about using names, or wearing any clothing that would allow me to be identified, as these protestors are connected ideologically–if not personally–with individuals who are willing to commit violent atrocities to scare patients, volunteers, lawmakers, and providers away from abortion. Even after women have surmounted all of the barriers to even arriving at an abortion clinic, they are met with violent harassment outside the door. These people are willing to lie, coerce, physically block, or perhaps even become violent in order to prevent women from holding autonomy over their bodies. I left Jamaica that morning with an increased sense of urgency in my commitment to reproductive justice.

AG Schneiderman with Merle Hoffman

Today, a historic step was taken to prevent these protestors from infringing upon reproductive rights. Standing on a police-barricaded street in front of Choices’ back door, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a federal lawsuit against a group of 14 anti-choice protestors who repeatedly harassed and threatened patients, families, escorts, and staff at Choices. (One of these is an individual named Pat who had some particularly peculiar things to say on the morning that I escorted, lamenting my indoctrination in Communism and asking how many times I had sinned by “fornicating.”) The motion seeks to establish a sixteen-foot buffer zone around the Choices premises, which would require protestors to remain on the other side of the street and could set an important precedent for such legal protection of abortion clinics around the country. This lawsuit has been more than five years in the making, and includes a lengthy list of alleged illegal conduct by the protesters, which you can read more of here.

I feel privileged to have witnessed such an important moment in reproductive justice legislation and immense pride for the bravery and commitment of the staff that I work with every day. Though it is only the beginning of a long road of legal proceedings, I am cautiously optimistic. And as someone looking to approach issues of gender equity and reproductive justice from the legal front, I hope to follow in the footsteps of these impressive lawyers and advocates. As Merle Hoffman proclaimed this morning, this injustice must stop.

Get in Loser, We’re Going to a Co-op

Almost everyone knows this iconic Mean Girls scene:

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I assumed Regina George and crew are most likely going to a mall that features stores like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, H&M, you name it. If this is the case, I would’ve gladly hopped in the car, despite the whole name-calling thing.

After this week’s readings and seminar at the National Domestic Workers Alliance, it’s hard to reconcile my shopping habits with the knowledge that almost all of the stores I shop at outsource their labor. Women all over the world are working terrible hours, living in unhealthy environments, and sacrificing their lives and autonomy to make the clothes that I buy. The products that these women are producing are most often consumed by other women. In other words, women are oppressing other women. Many of us felt that we wanted to change the way in which we were consumers, but weren’t sure how to do so. The aforementioned stores are cheap and easily accessible, perfect for our age and stage right now. Do we ditch Forever 21 and H&M forever?

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Honestly, I don’t really have an answer. As much as I would want to be able to go to co-ops to buy my food and clothing, I’m not sure how realistic that would be. And clothing stores that do not outsource their labor tend to be much more expensive than those that do. I wish I had a magic wand to resolve this issue, but I’m hoping that educating myself is the first step to figuring out how to live a more conscious and thoughtful lifestyle. Stay tuned.


Learning about Reproductive Justice one case at a time

During week 2 of Moxie we discussed Reproductive Justice and had a seminar at Choices in Jamaica, Queens. Leading up to the visit I only thought of reproductive justice in terms of pro-choice and pro-life. My idea of what reproductive justice is changed, however, while in a weekly meeting with my Legal Momentum supervisors:

In 2013, a NYPD officer named Akema Thompson was denied the opportunity to change the date of her Civil Service Test, which is an exam a police officer can take to earn a promotion, because the date of the exam was the due date of her first child. Her request for a makeup exam was denied because her reason did not meet the guidelines for accommodation. She appealed again to city officials and she finally heard back as she was in labor, three days before the exam. They said they would give her extra time to finish or a cushion to sit on.

I was so confused that the excuse of having a child and recovering from this monumental event were not enough to allow Officer Thompson to take a makeup exam. This was an obvious example of discrimination against her as woman. But how does this case fit into the realm of reproductive justice? With a few quick internet searches I found some helpful explanations.

Reproductive justice is defined as “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.” It is helpful to look at this definition through different approaches that include reproductive health and rights. The refusal of the NYPD to adequately accommodate Ms. Thompson discriminated against her and her pregnancy and violated her reproductive rights as outlined in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This federal law states that, “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions” be treated the same as other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” In other words, Officer Thompson was denied the opportunity to take a career changing exam because she was pregnant. She was therefore discriminated against based on sex. This is because a man would never face this problem: women are the only ones who can get pregnant, and thus women are the only ones with this challenge.

My organization, Legal Momentum, took on this case and filed a pregnancy discrimination charge against New York City with the Equal Opportunity Commission. The city agreed to pay Officer Thompson $50,000 and allowed her to take the exam on a different date. They also agreed to change the policy and included pregnancy-related problems as cause for rescheduling an exam.

The fight is far from over–polices now must be enforced, but learning about Officer Thompson’s case opened my eyes to the vast and complicated topic of reproductive justice.

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The Freedom to Choose

This past Friday, I began my day anxiously anticipating the visit to Choices, a women’s health clinic that also offers abortion services in New York City. After reviewing the Choices website and reading up on the type of services the clinic offers, it made me happy to hear that someone out there was providing women the freedom to choose.

However, the excitement I felt about visiting Choices began to subside as I considered the words I had read two nights prior in Loretta Ross’s chapter “Color of Violence” from her book White Supremacy and Reproductive Justice. I began to consider how in the past, the freedom to choose was not always available to white women nor women of color. While white women were discouraged from having abortions, women of color were subjected to forced contraception and sterilization all in the name of white supremacy.

The awful history that hides behind the shadows of the plight for reproductive justice still lingers to this day. All women are caught in a constant battle against short sighted politicians who don’t seem to take their humanity into account.These politicians deprive them of reproductive education and then expect them to “know better” when they face an unexpected pregnancy. But not surprisingly, those who catch themselves at a double bind tend to be women of color and women in poverty. Because they can’t travel long distances to an abortion clinic or even afford an abortion in the first place, they are more likely to subject themselves to dangerous methods that put their lives at risk.

As we continue to fight the battle for reproductive justice, we must consider the negative effects the lack of choice produces. Being pro-choice does not mean murder, it does not mean carelessness, and it does not mean immorality. To me, being pro-choice means providing women reproductive education and allowing them to take ownership of their own bodies.


Ethics of Service

I started my first week at the New York City Family Justice Center, in Queens, with anticipation. As someone who has been working directly with children for 3 years now, I couldn’t wait to keep meeting and spending time with bright new faces! Working with children who witnessed or experienced domestic violence is definitely something new, but I felt like I was ready to do it. On my one hour subway ride to work, I wondered what I’d be getting do with the children this week, what activities we might partake in, how our relationships might form! However, since I hadn’t been cleared by New York State to work directly with children just yet, my first week was just a bit of office work.

After one week, I was finally cleared! Now, I could start being with the children who came in, and provide all that I thought I could. I was ready, I was determined, I was….excited! Nothing makes me happier than working with children. I eagerly waited to hear the news that a child was coming into the center and needed to go into the Children’s Room. As I was waiting, my excitement suddenly felt …wrong. How could I be excited to see children who have or still are suffering from domestic violence (DV)? What am I doing? How could I want them to come into this center, when coming in means that they and/or their families need assistance, safety, counseling? Suddenly, I didn’t know what to feel.

Of course, as someone who will interact with the children and partake in therapeutic play, I may be the first or only person these children open up to or feel comfortable being around, and that’s something to be happy about, right? I will provide something to these children that may be a great step in recovery or a great technique for them to adopt into their lives. Yet, the biggest paradox of all is the fact that without these children suffering trauma, no one at the center would have a job. I don’t know how to sit with myself. Sure, without sick patients, doctors wouldn’t have a job. But what does it mean to be excited to work with children, to make a living or participate in and benefit from a DukeEngage project based off of the trauma of others? Not only this, but, what does it mean for someone who has never experienced or witnessed DV, someone who hasn’t even finished their Psychology degree, to be considered qualified enough to provide trauma informed play for children of DV? These are the ethical questions that I don’t know how to answer, and I don’t know that I will ever get one.

In speaking with my supervisors, co-workers, and Moxies, perhaps I’m overthinking it. While these are the paradoxes of service-work, what truly matters most is the fact that I am here, willing and ready to learn and serve in any way that I can. Hopefully, what I learn and how I serve provides a positive impact, a ripple of positive change, in the life of at least one child suffering from the trauma of domestic violence. What genuinely matters is that I am here to serve in solidarity with these families and work alongside them to provide them with what they want and need, not what I think they’d want or need. Most importantly, advocacy and constant attention is what I need to do to work in solidarity with these families and their experiences, and ease these questions. Perhaps my job and my project survive because of these issues now, but with constant advocacy and attention, I can hope that this job will no longer be needed in the future.