Sunday, March 16, 2008


(Aurora Levins Morales)

Last night I was avoiding reading some of my heretofore favorite political blogs, especially Daily Kos which has, to quote a blogger friend of mine, turned into a seething viper's nest of misogyny. I was tracking down a piece of women's herstory, or trying to, when I ran across an essay which broke air and light into every fissure of this campaign for me. Now for something COMPLETELY different...

I want to share the whole thing with you, but I also want to support the site on which it appears, online archive of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, so I'm linking to it and will extract fair use portions to whet your appetite here.

A bit of personal background: The author, Aurora Levins Morales, is a woman I knew and respected without qualification in the Bay Area. (Pay note to that "without qualification" -- not many people get that accord from me.)

Raised Jewish Puertorriqueña, she's been a bridge builder her entire life. She's a poet, essayist, community historian, activist, and curandera. Her essay on being middle class dropped into the lesbian-feminist 1980s community like a lifeboat, ending any number of class wars. She's a mother, a straight woman whom I trust as much as any dyke, and a woman of color who -- well, years ago I was at a gathering where Barbara Love, an African-American activist, said the notion of building bridges is overused (as I just did above) because most of the time, the bridge between us already exists, has been there all along. It's simply obscured by the debris of lies. And it's important to realize this because building a new bridge is much more work than clearing an extant structure of garbage. So, I revise my definition of Aurora: She's got one hell of a broom, and she's clearing strutwork with every breath she takes.

At the outset, Aurora says:

"First let me make clear my view that as progressives in this country we have very little impact on the outcome of the elections, and less still on the post-election behavior of the winner; our votes are not the kind of favors presidents reward. In a way, that means we have less at stake in the short term and can concentrate on our long term goals. We're a small part of the electorate. We're far more potent as organizers and catalysts than as voters.

"Our ability to save our species from extinction and create a world we can thrive in does not depend on who wins this election. It depends on our ability to dismantle profit-based societies in which greed trumps ethics. As my brother Ricardo Levins Morales points out, we live in an empire in steep decline. The election is about finding a CEO capable of holding domestic constituencies in check as they are further disenfranchised at breakneck speed and, as much as possible, make them feel that they have a stake in the military aggressiveness that the ruling class understands is necessary. Having a Black man and a woman run helps to obscure the fact that this decline of empire is what is driving the whole political elite to the right. Both these people represent very reactionary politics in ways that I don't want to get started on. Part of the cleverness of having such candidates is the very fact that they will be attacked in ways that make oppressed people feel compelled to protect them.

"There are two points here:
1) Neither Obama nor Clinton represents an alternative human strategy to propping up a failing empire that is based on pirating the world's resources (including ours) for the sake of a small elite.
2) The fact that someone is being targeted by oppression may arouse our outrage and lead us to identify with them, but it doesn't change their actual political positions."

A while later, she points out (and backs up fully):

"Among all the candidates running for national office Clinton and Obama rank first and second as recipients of health industry contributions, and are in the top four recipients of donations from the finance (banking, investment and insurance), energy/natural resources, communications/electronics and construction industries. What's more, Obama is ahead of Clinton in taking money from pharmaceuticals, electrical utilities, internet companies and foreign and defense policy PACs."

She goes on to clear a giant path for us with:

"First let me say that as a woman of color, though I am not surprised, I am disgusted and angry at the way a Black man and white woman have been put into the ring against each other, while the white male elite looks on. So should we all be. As Robin Morgan says in her essay Goodbye to All That #2 , it's strongly reminiscent of the way the same two constituencies were pitted against each other to compete for the right to vote during the late 19th century. It was utterly predictable that the first serious female and Black presidential candidates would run against each other.

"The people who disappear in this contest are women of color who are subjected to both sexism and racism, and who, with our children, are suffering more devastation at a faster rate than anyone else in this country. In 1981 I was a contributor to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings of Radical Women of Color, a collective refusal to make an untenable choice, and resist the pressure we faced to abandon ourselves either as female or as people of color, to distance ourselves from the political struggles of one or the other of our peoples or face being called traitors. The book had a strong impact on many progressive people, but not, of course on the wider society. In 2008 we are being told, as usual, that we have to choose between a man of color and a white woman, neither of whom will do much to change the increasingly desperate conditions of our lives."

Aurora makes it clear throughout her essay that she is neither a supporter of Clinton nor Obama, not in the advocacy sense. She says:

"I began this article in response to Robin Morgan's article on the viciousness of the sexism in this campaign. What it's permissible to say in public is only one marker of oppression, but it's an important one. I agree with her that its important to notice and talk about how much easier it is for Clinton's opponents and the media to go all out with violent and degrading sexist attacks on her than it is for the same level of racism to be openly expressed at Obama. Which is not to say that he isn't constantly targeted by racism, but in the public arena where this battle is taking place, sexism is considered trivial.

"The power brokers expect Obama to be a model minority candidate, and he has that option. He can assimilate himself enough to be Black in a way that's acceptable to a workable number of white people. There's no comparable role for Clinton. To the degree that she assimilates by acting like one of the guys, or taking hawkish positions on the war, she loses her femininity and becomes less acceptable, not more. A model female doesn't run for president."

And, finally, she give us the blessed relief of an utterly fresh viewpoint (fresh for those of us impaired by racism):

"Recent history gives us another way to redefine American politics. America is much larger than the United States. After five hundred years of brutal economic and social oppression, Bolivia, the poorest country in Latina America has elected a radical indigenous man with a mandate to take back the countrys natural resources and redistribute wealth into the hands of its majority indigenous population. In Venezuela, under the leadership of a mestizo man, petroleum wealth is being used to put power into the hands of working people, and to improve the quality of life and build solidarity and mutual support far beyond its borders. Cuba, in spite of 49 years of economic blockade, has one of the best health care systems and most ecologically sustainable economies in the world. Together with newly elected progressive governments in other Latin American countries, they have created an alliance that allows them to start defying the corporate powers that force their will on so much of the world.

"Imagine that instead of arguing about Clinton and Obama we put our considerable energy and smarts and capacity for thinking big toward joining that alliance; toward stripping illusions, revealing possibilities and overcoming discouragement in order to make such a thing possible."


(Aurora Levins Morales at the River Residency, a program of Tulane University)

Other blogs linking to this post: Yes We Can (do anything): On the elections, feminism, and our future, by Victoria Marinelli at Anachroclysmic.

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