FIGHTING WORDS (MAY DAY EDITION)

Barbara Ehrenreich: “U-VA’s president could have defused the protest with time-honored delaying tactics, like promising to form a committee. Or he could have done the honorable thing and agreed to go with the students to the state legislature to demand more funds for wages. But no, he had to go and make national news by treating his most idealistic, morally responsible, students like common criminals.”

Charles McCollester: “The union has the right to accompany inspectors and provide documentation and testimony. The heart of the union presence, the local Mine Committee, meets monthly, receives additional training, has the right to inspect any part of the mine including its access, and must perform full inspections at least every two months. Critically, workers in a union mine are not afraid to speak.”

Nelson Lichtenstein: “These May Day demonstrations and boycotts return the American protest tradition to its turn-of-the-20th-century ethnic proletarian origins—a time when, in the United States as well as in much of Europe, the quest for citizenship and equal rights was inherent in the fight for higher wages, stronger unions, and more political power for the working class.”

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FIGHTING WORDS (ALITO EDITION)

Barbara Ehrenreich: “In the ‘dress for success’ literature we learn not to look ‘too feminine’ or of course ‘too sexy.’ Shoulder length hair has to go; large breasts should be concealed under mannish jackets. Corporate dress guru John Molloy actually warns women against the “too busty” look, as if an elective double mastectomy might be a good career move.”

Robert Kuttner: “The world that Bush inherited was not an easy place in which to promote U.S.-style civil society, or a civil world order. But Bush has poured oil on the flames (or in his case, flames on the oil). It will take decades to undo the damage and restore a world in which pro-democracy again equals pro-America. In the meantime, we need nothing so much as an outbreak of democracy at home.”

Russ Feingold: “This administration reacts to anyone who questions this illegal program by saying that those of us who demand the truth and stand up for our rights and freedoms somehow has a pre-9/11 world view. In fact, the President has a pre-1776 world view.”

Ed Schwartz: “This President seems to be of the view that it’s an honor to die for your country but an imposition to pay for it.”

A fitting close to the strike today, with a roving band of musicians on the pickets and poetry in several languages on the Languages picket (I was even compelled to write up a quick sonnet during the picketing), followed by a sprawling march around campus to Helen Hadley Hall, where Chinese graduate employees are fighting discrimination from their landlord, and from there to Betts House, home of Yale’s Globalization Center. Today we called for global leadership from Yale in the form of a new commitment to human rights and global justice. And LWB-favorite Barbara Ehrenreich was there to share moving words on issues and the fight ahead.

This week we ratcheted up the pressure on Yale, brought the message to new audiences, mobilized and organized new people, and broke down Yale’s decade-long policy of non-engagement with the union representing the teachers who makes this university function. Now on to that meeting with Roland Betts…

The past few weeks have seen a good deal of sarcasm and indignation from various pundits, print and virtual, in response to criticism of the very real lack of women among the ranks of high-profile opinion journalists. As usual, we’ve seen conservatives and a fair number of self-identified liberals advocating blindness to inequality amongst groups as a sign of respect for individuals. And claims that if different women can have different opinions, then there can’t be any particular problem with having most of the opinions voiced prominently be those of men. And that really valuing individual women writers means not seeing them as women at all. Thing is, while different women and different men will of course each have different perspectives, when a medium overwhelmingly represents the voices of men it represents only the voices of a spectrum of people much more narrow than its audience. And if one really believes in the equality of two groups, then inequality of results cannot but suggest the absence of full equality of opportunity. As Katha Pollitt writes:

It may be true that more men than women like to bloviate and “bat things out”–socialization does count for something. So do social rewards: I have seen men advance professionally on levels of aggression, self-promotion and hostility that would have a woman carted off to a loony bin–unless, of course, she happens to be Ann Coulter. But feminine psychology doesn’t explain why all five of USA Today’s political columnists are male, or why Time’s eleven columnists are male–down to the four in Arts and Entertainment–or why at Newsweek it’s one out of six in print and two out of thirteen on the Web…The tiny universe of political-opinion writers includes plenty of women who hold their own with men, who do not wilt at the prospect of an angry e-mail, who have written cover stories and bestsellers and won prizes–and whose phone numbers are likely already in the Rolodexes of the editors who wonder where the women are. How hard could it be to “find” Barbara Ehrenreich, who filled in for Thomas Friedman for one month last summer and wrote nine of the best columns the Times has seen in a decade?

…That opinion writing is a kind of testosterone-powered food fight is a popular idea in the blogosphere. Male bloggers are always wondering where the women are and why women can’t/don’t/won’t throw bananas…There are actually lots of women political bloggers out there–spend half an hour reading them and you will never again say women aren’t as argumentative as men! But what makes a blog visible is links, and male bloggers tend not to link to women…Perhaps they sense it might interfere with the circle jerk in cyberspace–the endless mutual self-infatuation that is one of the less attractive aspects of the blogging phenom. Or maybe, like so many op-ed editors, they just don’t see women, even when the women are right in front of them.

Speaking of Ehrenreich, Jay at HipHopMusic.Com is pondering the reaction among the center-left blogging establishment to this column, in which she skewers Nader’s 2004 candidacy and repents for voting for his last one. As Jay says:

Most of the A-List lefty bloggers are not really all that far to the left, at least compared to the wild-eyed hippies I hang out with at WBAI. And I don’t have any problem with that, we need a variety of voices out there.. but it’s disappointing to see how smugly contemptuous some of these guys can be towards folks who are a little further left than themselves. Ehrenreich’s crime, evidently, was to voice her support for Ralph Nader in 2000, which so offended these guys that four years later they still disparage her mental health and (quoting Lenin) diagnose her with an “infantile disorder.” And now that Ehrenreich is joining them in rejecting Nader’s 2004 campaign, they can’t let go of their grudge, and just keep on with the sniping and condescension even when she’s on their side…sometimes you can cling to a grudge so tightly it stops the flow of blood to your brain. And if you want those who supported Nader in the past to feel welcome joining you this time, you should probably stop treating them like you think they are idiots.

That last sentence can’t be repeatedly enough. It’s something many of us have said in many fora, but it seems strangely inscrutable to a crowd all too eager (as they should be) to welcome the conversions on the way to Damascus of those who literally, willfully voted for Bush the last time but seemingly congenitally unable to organize or organize with those who cast a vote in 2000 which they see as equivalent to a Bush vote. Had this crowd – or the larger Democratic establishment – channelled a fraction of its anger against those who cast Nader votes against those who systematically expunged Gore votes, things might be very different right now.

As Jay says, one of the more perverse manifestations of this selective Nader-induced blindness has to be the refusal to understand the irony in the following Ehrenreich paragraph:

So, Ralph, sit down. Pour yourself a Diet Pepsi and rejoice in the fact that — post-Enron and post-Iraq war — millions have absorbed your message. You’re entitled to a little time out now, a few weeks on the beach catching up on back issues of The Congressional Record. Meanwhile, I’ve thrown my mighty weight behind Dennis Kucinich, who, unnoticed by the media, is still soldiering along on the campaign trail. In the event that he fails to get the Democratic nomination, I’ll have to consider my options.

Get it? In other words, I too harbor hopes for progressive national leadership of a kind we’re unlikely to see in a Kerry administration, and I continue pushing challenges to the conventional wisdom of the two-party system. But I also recognize political reality as it is now, and however reluctantly, I’m ready to make the sacrifices necessary to see Bush out of office.

Only when she says it, it’s a hell of a lot more clever. To read her paragraph and claim that it shows she hasn’t learned her lesson and isn’t ready to support Kerry is just absurd. For those who did, and who think that I’ve somehow misinterpreted it in the preceding paragraph, let me just say that I know what she means not only because the article makes it abundantly clear but also because she told me so personally six months ago when she came down to New Haven to participate in our women’s arrest. Quoth Ehrenreich: “I’m throwing whatever weight I have behind Kucinich for now, and when the time comes, I’ll throw it behind Dean or whoever the guy turns out to be.” And by the way, when she mentioned having weight to cast, in person as in writing, she clearly meant to be fecicious.

I keep committing to myself not to link every column Barbara Ehrenreich pens for the Times all month. But then again, I do owe her something for coming down to New Haven to get arrested with us. And maybe more links will help, in whatever small way, to shake enough sense into Bill Keller to carve her a permanent niche on the page. And ths piece is just damn good:

‘The lower-economic people,’ Cosby announced, ‘are not holding up their end in this deal.’ They let me down, too, sometimes – like that girl at Wendy’s who gave me sweet iced tea when I had clearly specified unsweetened. She looked a little tired, but, as Cos might point out: How hard can it be to hold a job, go to high school and care for younger siblings in all your spare moments while your parents are at work? But it’s just so 1985 to beat up on the black poor. During the buildup to welfare ‘reform’ in 1996, the comfortable denizens of think spas like the Heritage Foundation routinely excoriated poor black women for being lazy, promiscuous, government-dependent baby machines, not to mention overweight (that poundcake again). As for poor black youth, they were targeted in the 90’s as a generation of ‘superpredators,’ gang-bangers and thugs.

It’s time to start picking on a more up-to-date pariah group for the 21st century, and I’d like to nominate the elderly whites. Filial restraint has so far kept the would-be Social Security privatizers on the right from going after them, but the grounds for doing so are clear. For one thing, there’s a startling new wave of ‘grandpa bandits’ terrorizing rural banks. And occasionally some old duffer works himself into a frenzy listening to Cole Porter tunes and drives straight into a crowd of younger folks. The law-abiding old whites are no prize either. Overwhelmingly, they choose indolence over employment – lounging on park benches, playing canasta – when we all know there are plenty of people-greeter jobs out there. Since it’s government money that allows them to live in this degenerate state, we can expect the Heritage Foundation to reveal any day now that some seniors are cashing in their Social Security checks for vodka and Viagra. Just as welfare was said to “cause poverty,” the experts may soon announce that Medicare causes baldness and that Social Security is a risk factor for osteoporosis: the correlations are undeniable.

Is there an urgent place for social criticism of the African-American community from within? Certainly. Is that place filled by a millionaire who made his money first offering a not-too threatening image of Black America for White America and second offering a whole lot of jello blaming the victims of economic inequality for being the ones not holding up their end of the bargain? Not in the slightest.

The Yale Corporation met this weekend and agreed, in response to a sustained mobilization by community members, and a broad coalition of students, to extend its Homebuyer Program to all of Fair Haven, prompting an official announcement yesterday of the policy shift VP Bruce Alexander promised last month. This is a real victory for light and truth at Yale.

The Corporation also appointed its Senior Fellow, John Pepper of Proctor and Gamble, to replace the Vice President for Finance and Administration seat Bob Culver left over the summer. Let’s hope he makes a better effort to respond constructively to the demands of working people than his predecessor. Replacing Culver as Senior Fellow will be long-time GWB friend Roland Betts.

Meanwhile, tonight at 6:30 PM members of Local 34 and GESO will march out of their membership meetings and converge on Cross Campus for a powerful Human Rights Day action demanding change in the University’s policy towards its female workers. Be there. Barbara Ehrenreich will be.