Friday, October 31, 2008

Reviewing my Values and the Candidate's Positions

I believe in my worth. It hasn’t been easy for me to get to a place where I can say that honestly and without shame. I’ve spent most of my life questioning my value, identifying where I don’t measure up, and criticizing myself for being without worth. It’s not a unique story; I’m sure everyone goes through it in some sense (though some more intensely than others), but about two years ago, I asked myself why. Of course I always knew that a lot of my feelings of worthlessness were being enforced by bullies. But why did the bullies believe I was worthless? And why did I believe the bullies?
What I began to realize was the bullies were enforcers of a societal measure of value. They weren’t inventing the criteria; they had simply accepted their positions in the larger economy of bodies and were asserting their position in respect to me and anyone else who fell below them in relative value. As a child, I noticed that the same sorts of conflicts were taking place among the bullied. The kids who wore the “wrong” clothes bullied the kids who said the “wrong” things. And at the time, I identified myself within this system as being more valuable than “this” person even whilst being less valuable than “that” person. We had all sorted our selves into our roles in the economy of bodies, and were playing out the power relationships it implies.
Adults often assure kids that these instances of bullying are due to low self esteem, or immaturity; that children will eventually grow out of such behavior. But when I found out my mother felt disrespected in our family church, and was being mistreated in her job, and when adults wouldn’t speak directly to me even about issues that concerned me directly, as I began to notice more and more instances in the adult world where people’s voices were brushed off and ignored, I began to make the connection that these people who ignored others, disrespected them, or mistreated them were bullies. And the older I got, the more I realized these cases weren’t anomalies. People of all ages, of all walks of life, are constantly engaged in power relationships, asserting their value in the economy of bodies.
Now I see these relationships everywhere, recognizing all forms of oppression as power relationships within the economy of bodies. I identify how in some ways I have been advantaged by this economy and in other ways disadvantaged. And I have asked why this is the case. Why am I more valuable than “this” person and less valuable than “that” person? And my answer comes as the identification of arbitrary differences. There is no definite reason for why I am valued for being white while I am not valued for being female except that the dominant ideology says so.
I have tried to deconstruct my internalization of the economy of bodies. In some ways it has been easier than others. Speciesism has been especially difficult to overcome. And I know I still have room to grow, still have prejudices to fight within myself. But I try very hard every day to stop relating to people and animals with power assertion, and relate to them always as two persons with distinct and acknowledged value.
At the core of eliminating the economy of bodies is a shift in ideology. Ideology is always most easily taught to young people, and I believe that Freire’s model in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed would be a deeply valuable way to create a new model for interaction, as well as empowering people in their own sense of worth. Additionally, I believe movements where marginalized people are speaking or in some way communicating their own worth outside of how the economy of bodies dictates it is important in changing the way we view one another, and the way we view ourselves. Movements like Project Life Size, and The Revolution of Real Women are two examples of people inspiring others and changing the image that is presented to the populace. Claiming our voices is possibly the most crucial way to assert our power.
Although what I seek overall as the solution to the problems created by the power relationships within the economy of bodies is a change in ideology, I recognize the important role of government in combating these relationships, or the danger of reinforcing them. And certainly one means of asserting our voices is through the political process. Certainly the government sometimes tries to silence voices, often through manipulation. But in any forum when we have an opportunity to make our voices heard, we should. And when considering how to use my voice in the upcoming election, I believe that Barack Obama is by far the superior candidate.
In particular, on the issue of women’s rights, Obama sharply contrasts McCain. On Obama’s webpage, women’s rights are broken down into many issues, including health, poverty, economic issues, education, reproductive choice, and violence. The only women’s issue I feel is lacking from his plan is that he doesn’t identify the need for services for women faced with unexpected pregnancy who carry their pregnancy to term. I believe we can not truly say that reproductive laws are pro-choice unless there are options for women to make any choice regardless of her economic position. McCain, on the other hand wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and improve services assisting women who carry their pregnancies to term. And this is about all he has to say about women. This disturbs me to my core because it isolates a woman’s womb as the only part of her with value.
I feel Obama is also the stronger candidate on issues of civil rights (most directly those of Latinos and African Americans), identifying the problems clearly as injustices, addressing pay inequality, hate crimes, efforts to suppress votes, and disparities in criminal justice. He effectively maps out the reforms he believes will combat these problems. I could not find anything about civil rights on John McCain’s webpage.
On the issues of the LGBT community, much like with women’s issues, McCain is actively fighting against their rights, making it his mission to “protect marriage” as an issue of “human dignity”. I could find nothing further on LGBT rights on McCain’s page, but according to Obama’s page, McCain is against every LGBT issue. I think Obama almost has LGBT rights represented perfectly, but the fact that he believes in equal civil unions but not marriages for homosexual couples, is a betrayal of prejudice, a type of separate but equal stance in categorizing that I don’t believe has ever really proven to work in achieving social justice.
Barack Obama also has a section of his webpage devoted to addressing the issues facing people with disabilities. He says “We must build a world free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination .... policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped, and buildings and organizations must be designed to ensure that everyone has a chance to get the education they need and live independently as full citizens in their communities.” ( He includes a video of himself detailing his plans for taking down barriers and providing assistance for disabled people. This is, again, an issue I could not find details about on McCain’s page.
On the topic of health care, I don’t think either candidate gets it right. I believe socialized medicine is the only way to equalize the health care system so all people have equal rights to health regardless of personal wealth. Both candidates have plans to reduce the cost of health insurance for the individual, and to expand the health care system to cover more people, but I believe that as long as health is a commodity to be purchased, the system will remain unjust.
I was very surprised by the sharp contrast between the candidates. I was expecting to see at least some issues of human rights addressed by the McCain campaign, but he leaves me appalled on every issue. Barack Obama addresses the power relationships that society demonstrates on where certain groups of people are placed at a disadvantage or whose value in undercut, simply because they have the “wrong” characteristics, although I wish he would go further in efforts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Volunteer Fair

Before attending the volunteer fair today, I mentally organized my priorities in selecting an organization.

The general issue I am most interested in is oppression as created by power relationships. Among these, I include racism, speciesism, classism, sizeism, ageism, colonialism, sexism and any prejudice of sexuality or identity; any relationship where one group of people is subject to the will of another group of people based on arbitrary differences. I would be proud to be a part of any of these movements, and I have some difficulty separating one out of the list to give special attention to (especially since I believe so fervently that they are all connected). However, recent events in my personal life, and the central role sexism has taken in this presidential election, and the far reaching implications I see in amendment 48 has made me feel that the women's rights movement in the U.S. is in danger of loosing ground, and as a believer in my own worth, and the worth of my mother, sister, grandmother, and all my fellow females, I feel I can give more of myself to these issues that are so close to home.

I want to find an organization that addresses at least some of the issues I feel are essential to women's rights: asserting our worth in our own words and terms (finding our voices, and challenging what others name as our value); claiming our bodies as our own, and combating instances of objectification, commodification, exploitation, and violence (and defining what these terms mean to us); breaking down binary oppositions of gender, both in the power structures they imply and the crude categorization of all people into simply defined, restrictive groups, encouraging women to form our own individual identities without regard to tidy categories and the expectations they carry with them. I believe these are the root issues in all feminist causes, and in combating all forms of oppression. In practice, I believe these issues are addressed through education, legislation, and community building.

I also revisited the last criteria I mentioned in my previous entry: to find a volunteer organization that allows me to use my current strengths while encouraging me to develop new skills and broaden my perspective. I believe my greatest strengths are my sensitivity, compassion, passion, and respect for people. I am also creative, insightful, analytical, and introspective. I believe I am very effective in communicating (especially in writing), and I believe I could be most helpful if given the opportunity to put this skill to use.

My greatest pitfall is my tendency to be paralyzed by anger. At these times, I desperately need another person to help me find my voice and direction again. I am hoping finding an organization with which to volunteer will assist me with this. Movement keeps me motivated. Stagnation makes me loose faith.

I want to find a position as an intern in order to experience the different aspects of an organization working for social change. What is vital to its functioning? What problems threaten it's existence? And how do they combat those problems? How do they interact with the community they serve, as a business, a service, and as partners in social change? And how do they identify the problems of their community? What root causes do they address and how? What symptoms do they address and why and how? How do they challenge themselves to become more effective? How do they implement innovation? How are they successful? How are they not as successful?

At the volunteer fair, out of the 70 or so organization present, the organization that spoke to me the most was Moving to End Sexual Assault . Their mission statement struck me immediately: "We believe that every person has a right to live free of sexual assault. We are moving to end sexual assault and the suffering it causes in our community. We challenge all forms of oppression and recognize their connection to sexual violence" [my emphasis]. I don't think any single sentence could have spoken to me more. Additionally, on the application, they asked not only that the applicant identify the connection between forms of oppression, but also that the applicant identify how they have personally benefited from a form of privilege. I have spoken on this topic many times, and I feel it is of great value to ask because refusal to acknowledge personal privilege is the failure to see the oppression of others.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Where I Begin

Growing up in my family, community service was a requirement. I never really connected it with any sense of personal pride, nor did I feel particularly inconvenienced by it. It was simply something that we were expected to do. It was a responsibility. I largely still agree with this mentality. Giving an hour or two a week to lend a hand in your community shouldn't be a rarity nor a pride boosting experience nor an act of repentance. Being a responsible member of your community should be like being a responsible member of your family: when you can help out, you should, recognizing that only when we all work together to make our communities strong and prosperous can we create an environment where all can thrive.

In my more recent experiences in the animal rights community, I have become more critical of the community service experiences of my youth. You see, within this large group of people all giving there time for the same general cause, there are divisions. Some of these divisions lie along ethical lines, some along questions of strategy, and still other divisions arise when we question if it is harmful to the movement to criticize other ethics and tactics within the movement or if constructive criticism within the movement is the best way to strengthen it. It is through observing these lines that I found I have different opinions than most of the animal rights organizations (and most of the activists) I have encountered, and it has made me question if I am being true to myself when I give my time to an activist group whose tactics I believe are imperfect at best, and counterproductive at worst. And certainly when an animal rights organization begins to show signs of racism, classism, and sexism, I see the vital importance of removing myself from their ranks and finding my own path as an animal rights activist.

As a child, the community service I participated in was blind. Of the hundreds of hours I gave, I can only connect a few activities to a particular cause and organization: I painted wooden animals to raise funds for "Heifer", I sorted and packaged school supplies for "Operation Back to School", and I asked for donations and stuffed envelopes for "Christmas Unlimited". I wasn't critical of the organizations, and I rarely knew which organization I was assisting. It just didn't seem important at the time; I had faith that all community service was good and all community service organization represented the needs of the community.

My experiences with animal rights groups have taught me differently.

I begin this journal with a new quest: to find a volunteer organization that has a strategy that I find productive, inviting, and progressive, doesn't further its aims through the strategic use of exploitation or oppression of any kind, treats root causes rather than symptomatic problems (the closer to the root the better), has an aim that I can feel passionate about, and allows me to use my current strengths while encouraging me to develop new skills and broaden my perspective.