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‘Another Country,’ redux: Americans are (again) moving abroad to seek a better life

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/10/2020 - 4:38am in

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Sixty years after James Baldwin fled to Europe to escape his native country’s racism, Americans are once again leaving to seek a better life.

Election day in the U.S. is November 3, but some Americans have already voted with their feet, fleeing a country whose values have become anathema to them: racism, police violence, the bizarre fantasies of QAnon, exorbitant living costs and daily anxiety of life under a Trump administration.

The U.S. government does not collect data on Americans who leave the country, but estimates that 8.7 million live abroad. A website with information on how to leave says that since May 2020 it has seen its traffic surge by 1,605 percent, or sixteen fold, for Americans seeking information on which countries are open and how to move.

Even if Trump loses, it appears that none of them will be rushing back.

“We do not plan to return to the U.S., regardless of the election outcome,” said Corritta Lewis, who moved in August with her wife and their year-old son to Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Like Tiffanie Drayton, a Black American writer whose June 12 New York Times Opinion piece about “fleeing” America to Guyana went viral, Ms. Lewis sees no future in the United States.  “A new president doesn’t change the systemic racism, police brutality, wealth gap, and overall experience as a black woman in America. It took hundreds of years to build a society of oppression; that won’t change in four.”

They left, she said, “due to the increased racial tensions, police encounters, politics, and overall safety. My wife and I are two Black women raising a biracial son, and we didn’t want him to live in a country where his parents are harassed by police for being Black.” She continued, “On more than one occasion, we have been stopped and questioned by police for no reason. His first interaction with police scared him to the point that we cried for almost five minutes. It broke our hearts… We were simply two Black women in a nice neighborhood, taking a morning walk.”

“We haven’t felt this free in our lives,” she added. “Mexico will probably be our home for the next several years… As the election approaches, I watch in horror and am scared for my family still in the States. I don’t have confidence that things will get better anytime soon.”

For Black Americans, the choice to flee police brutality, racism and income inequality is compelling. For others, economic pressures can feel just as overwhelming. Why spend more than you have to for a safe and healthy life?

Tim Leffel, 56, and his family, chose Guanajuato, a colonial city in Mexico, in 2018; he has written a book explaining how to move abroad to more than 20 countries. “Our daughter is 20 now, but she went to school in Mexico for three years: one of elementary, two of middle school. Private school, but all in Spanish,” he said.

“We had no reason to stay in the U.S. and keep paying inflated prices for rent, healthcare, and other expenses. We own our home outright in Mexico. Living in Trump’s America was becoming more stressful and unpleasant every month, so why pay a premium to put up with that deterioration?”

“It’s doubtful we’ll move back,” he adds. “The U.S. is just way overpriced for what you get, especially in terms of healthcare, the worst value in the world for self-employed people like me. If a new president and congress can get us to universal healthcare, different story.

For travel blogger Ketti Wilhelm, 30, being married to an Italian means moving back to his country of origin. Wilhelm has spent much of her life living and working outside the U.S. She and her husband have no children and can work remotely. “We’ll most likely move back to Milan, because my husband’s family is near there, and we both have friends and connections there.”

“Our motivations are political, but it’s also about much more than that,” said Wilhelm. “It’s what the politics means for living in the U.S.: minimal vacation time, no family leave, no pension, health insurance stress and massive health care costs. Not to mention safety concerns – guns, white supremacy, and mass shootings. All of this is because “socialism” is a dirty word in the U.S., whereas in all the other countries I’ve lived, it’s just part of a modern, well-run and equitable society. There are other ways of living, both culturally and politically, and in plenty of ways, I think they’re doing it better elsewhere.” Her recent blog post offers 11 ways to live and work overseas.

Working as an E.R. physician in training horrifies medical student Alex Cabrera, 30, who lives in Reno, Nevada. Now in his final year of medical school and taking an online degree in public health, he sees patients every day whose care, he knows, can medically bankrupt them—even with insurance. “It’s so hard to live here! Wages aren’t going anywhere, unemployment benefits have been cut, people have no health insurance and the rent here for a one bedroom is $1,200.” He recently drove a friend his age to her new home in Victoria, British Columbia and saw another leave for France.

He’s desperate to flee. “I feel like I’m screaming into the void. On one side, you have Donald Trump who just makes it up as he goes along and Biden promising to improve and expand the A.C.A. (Affordable Care Act), which the Supreme Court plans to overthrow.” He wanted to find a medical residency abroad but is resigned to doing his training in the U.S. for the next four years. “As a physician, it’s almost hard to practice medicine in this country when everything is about profit and patient care is secondary. I’m so tired of this system.”

Because the United States remains a global hot spot for exponential transmission of the novel coronavirus, most countries are no longer allowing its citizens to enter without a pre-approved visa. Exceptions among the European countries include Croatia, Albania, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Ukraine. “However all European countries are accepting and approving applications for resident and work visas for U.S. citizens,” says Cepee Tabibian, founder of a website with information for women over 30 who choose to leave the U.S. “They can’t [currently] travel to most European countries,  but they can still apply to move right now,” she said. And prior knowledge isn’t an issue, she adds. “You’d be surprised how many people move to a country they have never been to or have maybe visited once in their life.”

Tim Page is one. A Pulitzer-winning music critic and journalism professor at the University of Southern California, he boarded a flight from New York to Belgrade a few months ago, arriving to live in a place he’d never seen. He owns a house in Nova Scotia, but the Canadian border remains closed to Americans and he was deeply disturbed by the U.S. government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He wanted out.

“I’d had some students at USC who came from Belgrade and who kindly adopted me on Facebook and took me out once I had begun to acclimate myself,” he says. “My welcome was a warm one, and this may have been the most beautiful and radiant autumn I’ve experienced since childhood. It’s a fantastic walking city and built in so many layers…I feel very much at home.”

“I’m unmated, I have no dog, my children are grown and doing well. I communicate with my friends through video conversations, phone calls, email, and I keep a nervous eye on developments in the States through on-line television. It’s a much gentler life and, at 66, I appreciate the order,” Page adds. The rent for his one-bedroom apartment is $400 a month.

“I’ll stay until I want to return,” he says. “Social Security has just kicked in. I have dear friends in Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam and London whom I’d love to see when things open up a bit, but life is startlingly less expensive here and I think this will likely be “home base” for me in Europe for however long I stay. I’m much more at ease than I’ve been in a while.”

The post ‘Another Country,’ redux: Americans are (again) moving abroad to seek a better life appeared first on The Conversationalist.

The case for taking from the Pentagon and giving to the people

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/10/2020 - 3:44pm in

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“Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value.”
–Joe Biden

In 2019, America spent $732 billion on its military. China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea and Brazil spent $726 billion combined. Since American defense philosophy is predicated on the belief that national defense is better carried out abroad rather than at home, it spends billions of dollars on overseas military bases—of which the U.S. has more than any other nation—and aircraft carriers.

Meanwhile, more than 210,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 7 million have contracted the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control. But the Republican-controlled Senate has refused to approve bills initiated by the Democrats, which would provide relief of $2,000 per month to people deprived of an income, even as frontline healthcare workers struggled during the height of the pandemic to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) while the federal government declined to help. 

The country with the biggest economy in the world failed to protect its citizens from unemployment, economic recession, and a pandemic. 

It’s clear we value guns and other weapons of war over the medical needs of citizens those arms are supposed to protect. 

Last summer, as financial relief to individuals under the CARES Act was about to end, Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey proposed an amendment to the $740.5 billion annual defense budget that would cut 10 percent, or $74 billion, and invest the funds in education, healthcare, and housing in poor communities. 

The Senate rejected the amendment, with 37 Democrats joining their Republican colleagues to vote “no.” Senators Sanders, Warren, and Markey were among those who voted in favor of the amendment. 

In the House, Democrats split 92-139 against the amendment to cut the defense budget. This prompted Representative Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat representing California’s 17th District, to tweet: “I don’t want to hear anyone tell me that we can’t enhance expanded unemployment benefits when we spend more on endless wars than the next ten countries combined.”

Bernie Sanders argued that the cut would help create jobs by building schools, affordable housing, hospitals, sustainable energy, clean water facilities and other community centered needs that have been proven to improve health and decrease crime. It would help the federal government improve education by reducing class sizes, increasing teacher pay and supporting free public tuition for universities, colleges and trade schools.  

More poignantly, Sanders said:

 If this horrific coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything, it is that national security involves a lot more than bombs, missiles, tanks, submarines, nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. National security also means doing all we can to improve the lives of the American people, many of whom have been abandoned by our government for decades.

The United States government claims to be protecting its citizens from foreign threats, yet cannot shield them from domestic ills like homelessness, underpaid teachers, the lack of universal healthcare, and failure to implement a minimum wage that keeps full-time workers out of poverty. 

The conservative position is that a superpower needs a strong military to protect itself from “emerging threats” in China, Iran, North Korea and Russia. 

But what good is a strong military if it protects a nation that cannot provide food to low-income school children

And what good is it to be a nuclear power if America cannot solve the problem of Black women—ironically America’s most committed voters—dying at childbirth at higher rates than any other ethnic group in America?

President Dwight Eisenhower warned in 1961 of an oversized military when he spoke of an overinvestment in military spending and the excessive influence of the “military industrial complex.”

We have failed to heed that warning. We need to reimagine what safety means.

America’s defense policy needs to change, beginning with its position on nuclear weapons. As late as the 1980s, the United States and the former Soviet Union held close to 90 percent of the world’s nearly 75,000 nuclear weapons; through various nuclear non-proliferation treaties, that figure has dropped to around 14,000, with the U.S. and the Russian Federation continuing to hold 90 percent. 

Serious, knowledgeable people have called for reducing America’s weapons stockpile.

William Perry, who was Deputy Secretary of Defense during the Clinton Administration, wrote in a 2017 Washington Post op-ed that America’s proposed $1.7 trillion nuclear weapons spending was unnecessary. No surprise attack could destroy all of the navy’s submarines, he explained; but the risk of a conventionally armed cruise missile being mistaken for one with a nuclear warhead was real—as shown by the three narrowly averted Cold War catastrophes. Moreover, cutting nuclear-armed cruise missiles and cancelling plans to replace Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) stockpiles would save $30 billion and $149 billion, respectively—i.e., more than double the $75 billion that would be saved with a 10 percent cut to the current military budget. 

Similarly, Berry Blechman of the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., argued in a 2016 opinion for the New York Times that the $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program approved by President Obama was unnecessary because it would “impose an increasing burden on the defense budget, making it difficult to maintain our conventional military superiority—the real guarantee of U.S. security.” Like Perry, Blechman recommends cutting more than 100 ICBMs. 

Defunding the Pentagon is an essential strategy for appropriating funds to social services, exactly as is defunding police departments that do not actually reduce crime. This is a message the public needs to hear.

America has 6,800 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. But it only takes 100 nuclear weapons to destroy the Earth. And yet, the Trump Administration has asked for $29 billion in nuclear weapons spending for the 2021 fiscal budget—even though the president’s own Air Force Chief of Staff has argued that the Pentagon cannot afford it. 

COVID-19 has killed more Americans than the five most recent wars the U.S. has been involved in combined. Our current military outlook is too focused on defending the homeland instead of actual Americans who actually reside in it. Republicans are angling to push through a SCOTUS nominee to end the Affordable Care Act, threatening to strip millions of Americans of the only healthcare safety net they have—during a pandemic.  

Small businesses are struggling to secure COVID-19 relief while Donald Trump, a billionaire, notoriously paid only $750 per year in federal income tax.

During the 2012 presidential debates, Mitt Romney worried that the U.S. had fewer naval ships than at any other point in the country’s history—to which Obama responded that it also had fewer horses and bayonets. In other words, having more doesn’t make us stronger; on the contrary, being smaller and nimbler makes us more efficient. Obama was wrong to dismiss the threat to U.S. security posed by the Kremlin, but Putin’s most potent weapon wasn’t the military: it was disinformation and election meddling, against which Republicans in Washington refuse to protect the nation. 

The United States Postal Service is an essential service, particularly during a pandemic election year, when millions are choosing to mail their ballots rather than risk being infected by COVID-19 while standing in line to vote. And yet, the USPS is facing a budget crisis. We are a democracy that can single-handedly destroy the Earth, but can’t make it possible for every citizen to vote.

The knowledge that we have an arsenal of unnecessary nuclear weapons and a military capable of occupying several nations simultaneously might make conservatives feel secure. I’m willing to bet, however, that most Americans would rather have universal healthcare, affordable housing, and improved public education. That silent majority must surely feel some bitterness at seeing their tax dollars allocated to fund endless wars when the local hospital doesn’t even have enough ventilators to save all the Covid-19 patients. 

 

The post The case for taking from the Pentagon and giving to the people appeared first on The Conversationalist.

Belarus’s protests are fueled by an unprecedented civil society movement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 3:32pm in

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Belarusians have found a unifying crucible in their resistance to state violence.

Mass demonstrations erupted in Belarus on August 9 to protest what was widely viewed as a rigged election that gave long-time strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26-years, a victory over the popular incumbent. The protests have continued on a daily basis for nearly two months, despite mass arrests, beatings, and torture. The largest civil society movement in Belarus’s history is shaping the future of this former Soviet bloc country.

Mikita Mikado, 34 years old, is the CEO of PandaDoc, a California-based software company. From his office in San Francisco, he is following the news from his home country of Belarus. In the midst of the nationwide protests over the result of the presidential election and a crackdown of unprecedented force, he stepped in and urged police officers to resign. Money? “We can solve it,” he promised.

Never before, Mikado said, had he felt like standing up against Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader who has been president of Belarus since 1994. The breaking point was when he watched in horror as his fellow countrymen were dragged away and beaten up by riot police.

“I knew someone who was tortured and beaten,” he said. “I could no longer stay silent and do nothing, when stun grenades were exploding on the streets.”

Mikado’s crowdfunding initiative, Protect Belarus, was successful: over the ensuing three weeks it raised money to financially support police officers who quit their jobs. Hundreds of security forces members applied for re-training in the technology industry and for financial aid.

For years, Belarus’s rapidly expanding IT industry coexisted with Lukashenko’s government, keeping out of politics while benefiting from preferential tax rates and little regulation. For many tech professionals, the luxury of having a stable and relatively well-paid job allowed them the privilege of not following politics.

That relationship was already changing ahead of the August 9 election. Valery Tsepkalo, a former Belarusian ambassador to the United States and founder of the Hi-Tech Park— the Minsk equivalent of Silicon Valley—joined the opposition. Some startups created apps to monitor vote counts and collect data on poll violations.

Young and savvy engineers, fashion designers and successful entrepreneurs joined the protests. Passivity became just what a country could no longer afford. The middle class that long flourished within the system began separating from it. Post-election violence became the last straw.

An apolitical nation fights

Middle class disenchantment with the regime became apparent during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lukashenko played down the danger posed by the virus and dismissed it as mass “psychosis.” He said it was a minor health issue that could be cured easily with a shot of vodka, or with a day of working on the farm. A mass Victory Day military parade went off as scheduled. Public gatherings were not banned.

Without guidance or policy from the government, Belarusians organised what they called “the people’s quarantine”: either individuals stayed home from work, or businesses introduced work from home policies without official guidance. Lacking support from the government, dozens of local initiatives and crowdfunding efforts emerged to buy and produce medical equipment, sew protective masks and raise financial support from local and diaspora communities.

In Belarus, the pandemic utterly destroyed Lukashenko’s reputation as the controller-in-chief. Despite all his bravado, the president failed spectacularly to contain the virus. More importantly, civil society proved faster, more creative and resourceful than the state. By his very inaction, the president of Belarus unintentionally galvanized ordinary people to take action.

Andrej Stryzhak, a human rights activist and volunteer worker, co-founded the #ByCovid19 initiative to help doctors deal with the pandemic. An informal group of some 1,500 volunteers delivered personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment, purchased with money raised through crowdfunding, to hospitals across the country. Private businesses contributed funds and masks. Restaurants donated food. Hotels provided rooms pro bono to medical workers.

In May, when we spoke about the initiative, Stryzhak told me he hoped the crisis would develop trust in the country’s third sector.

“I see it as gradation from dissidents to parliamentary opposition,” he said. “Even if the dissidents are being trapped, they exist. If there’s less control, they are slowly becoming civil society. Later, alternative candidates appear, after which political parties will be initiated.”

As numerous initiatives and projects exploded since then, he’s emerged from all that’s taken place in recent weeks in a distinctly optimistic mood.

“Alternative structures of society are being created at the moment. These structures, which citizens are forming themselves, will eventually take over the current dysfunctional politics,” Stryzhak says now.

The needle has indeed moved quickly.

Unprecedented solidarity

A vibrant popular movement has unfolded in the past months in Belarus. More than 100,000 rallied against Lukashenko in Minsk each of the past seven Sundays, despite detentions and police violence, insisting that his landslide re-election in August was falsified.

Unlike in previous elections, the widespread grassroots protests —the largest in the country’s history—are sustained and organized with skillful use of social media. Telegram, a social media app that often remains available even during internet outages, has become a crucial tool in coordinating the unprecedented mass protests that have swept Belarus since the election. Several channels, such as Nexta and Belarus of the Brain, have become the most popular and main tools to facilitate the protests. The crowds are coming from all walks of life. In addition to the middle class, popular public figures are joining the protests.

Among the celebrity protesters are athletes and Olympic medalists who march under the banner of the Free Union of Athletes, a newly-created movement. Nearly 600 Belarusian athletes signed an open letter demanding, among other things, new elections and an end to police violence.

The wave of solidarity and self-organization is unprecedented in this country. Strike committees have been formed at state enterprises across the country, even though police are arresting and fining workers. Students gather on university campuses to protest repression and censorship. Lecturers support them. Media outlets publish blank pages when journalists are detained. Local residents feel the pride in belonging and self-identification; nearly every neighbourhood has its own newly designed flag.

In the largest crowdfunding campaign, Belarusians have raised more than $6 million to help those who suffered from police violence and were fired for political reasons. It is a significant amount in a country where the average salary is roughly $500—and hasn’t increased in the past decade.

New values

The tide of anger and frustration with the Belarusian authorities is longstanding.

People have united in the face of blatant injustice. But why was it this particular election that proved to be the tipping point? “Now it’s different. Belarusians made a sharp leap thanks to the generational change,” says Minsk-based sociologist Alena Artsiomenka. “People who grew up in the post-Perestroika era are more inclined to contribute to the society’s well-being. Those who were brought up in more stable and safe conditions are more interested in post-materialistic values.”

Technology has been essential to the movement’s growth. Crowdfunding platforms made philanthropy easier. But this is no longer considered desirable. The work of one such platform, MolaMola, came to a halt after the government shut it down. It was launched by Lukashenko’s main rival’s son, Eduard Babariko, who has been under arrest since June. The same platform was used to collect money during the pandemic and previously for civil society projects that were not related to politics.

Mikita Mikado felt a desire for revenge, too, after police raided the Minsk office of PandaDoc and arrested four of the company’s managers. The government subsequently blocked the company’s accounts. In order to save his employees in Belarus, Mikado left the project Protect Belarus. But this did not halt the initiative.

The state’s use of violence against protesters has proved to be not only a breakthrough in the way people think about the authorities— and the Belarusian public’s reaction against police brutality— but also in the way they see many realms of day-to-day life.

Belarusians have been moving away from the paternalistic culture that was the tradeoff for economic stability during the post-Soviet period. In recent years, local communities managed to preserve a historic district that was slated for demolition. Residents also protested against the construction of a plant that would pollute their environment. Belarusians have long been associated with a strong paternalistic culture. This began changing in the recent years —people took matters into their own hands.

The 2020 demonstrations are not without precedent. In 2017, ordinary citizens rocked the country with widespread protests against a tax on the unemployed, a bizarre plan that would have forced those who do not officially work to pay a penalty to the state. Injustice was the main driving force for the protests; the same is true of the current protests. In response to the 2017 protests, Lukashenko initially agreed to impose a ban on the tax—only to reintroduce it at a later date. He might not have changed in the intervening years, but the country has. Belarusian society had for years seen the trust of ordinary people in one another drain away. Now it has found a unifying crucible in its resistance to violence. Self-organizing and helping one another became fundamental. A nation’s new, yet old, encounter with its autocratic leader may not be finished yet. But there is little to no chance that Belarusians will submit any longer to Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.

 

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‘Life and Limb’: Foresters on the front line of climate change in Vanuatu

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 8:48am in

The documentary follows Vanuatu's foresters


Foresters in Vanuatu. Source: Facebook page of Vanuatu Department of Forest.

One of the films being screened at the ongoing 2020 Eugene Environmental Film Festival is ‘Life and Limb’ which features the work of foresters in Vanuatu.

The Eugene Environmental Film Festival highlights initiatives around the world that share  “a deep connection and responsibility to protect the environment and work in solidarity with others in the struggle toward environmental justice.” This year the festival is free and all films are screened online.

Vanuatu is a South Pacific nation of 80 islands. It is extremely vulnerable to climate change, in particular the threat posed by rising sea levels to coastal communities.

One of the environmental protection initiatives that the Vanuatu government has recently launched aims to make an inventory of forest lands on 12 major islands. This was last done 30 years ago.

Ginny Stein, a veteran Australian journalist and filmmaker, documented this work. Stein has been helping Vanuatu’s Department of Forestry as a volunteer and consultant.

Global Voices emailed Stein and asked what inspired her to document the work of the foresters:

After a long career as a foreign correspondent and film maker, I moved to Vanuatu to work as a volunteer in communications at the Department of Forestry.

The National Forest Inventory kicked off while I was there. I thought it was a great chance to teach foresters about the power of media in raising public awareness about what they do. I was fortunate to get a chance to work with them, to talk about filming using phones and tablets, before they departed for the field.

She added how her team decided to make a documentary:

They started sending me short video clips which I would turn into social media videos and post on the forestry Facebook page. At the same time, I had the chance to meet up with them in the field, on a number of islands where I would film with them. Over the course of six months, I realised we had enough material to make a documentary, which is how ‘Life and Limb’ came together.

The documentary follows a team of foresters who are part of the government project to make an inventory of the forest lands and offers a glimpse into their battle against climate change. It also shows the importance of the forest in Vanuatu culture and how logging for several decades has gravely affected the ecological balance in the country’s small islands.

It also narrated the impact of the rise in cash-crop demand on Vanuatu’s agricultural and forest lands.

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For the past year I have worked with the Forestry Department of Vanuatu to help protect one of this South Pacific Island's most unique and valuable resources….its forests. Foresters became camera operators as they began the first stocktake of the island's forests in more than 30 years. The proof of everyone's efforts…a documentary "Life and Limb" will be launched next week at the Australian High Commission in Port Vila. For the past few weeks, we have all watched from here in horror as Australia's forests have burned. Vanuatu, a small pacific island on the front lines of climate change, is one of a number of island countries that has chipped in to help Australian firefighters. This documentary is about Vanuatu's forests, but it highlights the value of forests to people's lives the world over. Tankio tumas olgeta blong Vanuatu and all who helped make it. #forestartist #forestmapping #forests #conservation #lifeandlimb #climateemergency #wildlife #wildseas #kauri #nabunga #forestry #climatechange #climate #sustainability #theworld #camera #documentary

A post shared by VanuatuForestryDepartment (@vanuatuforestrydepartment) on Jan 6, 2020 at 7:49pm PST

Stein explained some of the challenges faced by the foresters:

For the teams, the biggest challenge was getting to where they had to go, by boat, truck, or foot. And the weather. They were reliant on the support of communities. For me, connecting with them was the greatest challenge. And data is really expensive in Vanuatu.

The film was screened in Vanuatu in January 2020. Stein shared the feedback of the audience:

Showing the film the first time and watching the reaction of foresters was priceless. There was lots of joy and pride in what they had done. And a thrill of seeing themselves on the big screen. Taking it into communities was very rewarding. At Hog Harbour in Santo, people watched it at an outdoor screening. There was laughter and joy at seeing ni-Vanuatu working for their country. People really loved the music as well. I was lucky that Vanuatu's Cultural Centre gave me access to some of their archived music and that the Soul Harvest Choir also allowed me to use some music I recorded with them.

Finally, Stein’s message to the international community:

My message is please watch “Life and Limb”, and please support those on the frontlines of climate change who are working hard knowing there are great challenges coming their way. You can do that by taking action yourself, wherever you are. By learning more about climate change, and calling on your representatives to start taking action now.

The whole film can be watched by visiting the website of the Eugene Environmental Film Festival. Watch the film’s trailer here:

The struggle to combat cyber bullying begins with compassion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 6:06am in

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The balance between a commitment to free speech and a means of preventing online abuse is elusive.

A few weeks ago, while scrolling Twitter, I came across a brewing controversy about the Netflix film Cuties, about a young girl from a conservative Muslim family in a Parisian banlieue who becomes involved with a dance crew. While director Maïmouna Doucouré—who is French-Senagalese just like the film’s protagonist—has said that the film is “sounding an alarm” about the all-too-early sexualization of girls (partly) through social media, its critics—many of whom seemed not to have seen the film—immediately objected, essentially accusing Doucouré of creating softcore porn and petitioning for the film to be removed.

Janice Turner, a columnist for The Times who is known for her “gender critical” stance, wrote a particularly scathing review of the film. In it, she conflated Cuties with the work of a charity that had, weeks earlier, put out a call for queer black youth in the U.K. to respond to a survey asking about their age, sexuality, location, and vulnerability of housing. The call, claimed Turner, violated safeguards intended to protect children’s privacy.

Turner’s critics, myself included, saw the piece as an attempt to paint the charity as sexualizing children. The sub-hed of her column stated so plainly: “Attempts to sexualise minors are always wrong but a vocal minority of gay campaigners twist concern into prejudice.”

I tweeted at Turner, accusing her of seeing sexualization where it didn’t exist, but she refused to engage on that point, repeatedly deflecting and implying that I didn’t care about safeguarding. I gave up shortly thereafter, but her followers did not: For hours after our brief exchange, they attacked me from just about every angle you can imagine.

There was a handful of reasonable comments that brought up the issue of safeguarding, but most were overtly transphobic: My attackers denied the existence of trans individuals, stated that children have no conception of gender, and implied those who are trans are simply insane. One person called me “batshit crazy,” while another accused me of having told trans people that “suicide is their only alternative to life-limiting drugs.”

Later, when I tweeted about the controversy around Cuties, one of Turner’s lackeys assumed I was a trans woman (presumably because I include “she/her” pronouns in my bio, which is a simple reflection of my gender identity) and began harassing me, calling me a man. Then that person’s followers began harassing me, in public and in DMs. I closed my laptop and curled up with a book.

***

This was not my first experience with online harassment. I am, after all, a woman on the internet—and a public one at that. Public critique for my political views (most often fair) has sometimes resulted in brigading by the critic’s followers; I’ve at times spent entire weekends offline, avoiding Twitter and waiting for the controversy to blow over, as it almost always does.

But this was different. For the first time, I experienced firsthand the kind of outrageous abuse that seems to follow transgender individuals wherever they go online. The next day, I logged back in and tweeted about my experience: “Someone on this hellsite mistook me for a trans woman last night and I got brigaded for a bit (thank you, block button), and holy shit I don’t know how y’all deal with that all the time what the fuck.”

That tweet received nearly 2,500 likes and retweets and dozens of comments both public and private. Trans followers confirmed that my one-off experience was their daily reality. One person called it “living in hell.” Others shared their tactics (“block early, block often”) and their solidarity.

I was in the midst of finishing the final edits on a book that covers a number of issues related to free speech and social media, so the topic of harassment had been on my mind. But now I began to reflect more deeply on positions I had taken in the past, on my own experiences, and how those two things interacted.

I was raised in New England to be tough and stoic. I didn’t talk much about my emotions growing up, nor did I feel the need. Then, soon after arriving at a university where I knew no one, I went through a breakup that threw me into a major depressive episode, unable to get out of bed. I tried calling my close friends, who were at other universities, but eventually they got sick of my late-night crying jags. I saw the university psychiatrist, who sent me home with pills after talking to me for just five minutes. They didn’t help, but eventually I found my way out of that depression.

From there on out, I was Teflon: I didn’t let anything stick. My hard-won ability to slough off criticism gave me the confidence to work toward my goals but I still struggled, financially and otherwise. I decided that, in order to get ahead, I had to tuck my emotions away.

By the time I became well-known for my work, my belief in free expression was near-absolute. The experiences that had led me to take this position were noble: the state-sanctioned murder of a blogger I’d been emailing with in Iran; the arrest of a friend in Tunisia, then another in Egypt and one in Syria; and helping people I knew through the asylum process in the United States.

For a while, free expression was my religion. I studied government censorship and, later, the role of social media companies in governing our speech. I became one of the first experts on content moderation, and among the first to suggest that perhaps corporations aren’t the best arbiters of speech. For a long time, that stance felt unimpeachable. And then Gamergate happened.

Gamergate, for readers who may not be aware, was a 2014 online harassment campaign. At first it targeted women in the gaming industry who had spoken up about sexism and misogyny in their field, but later it broadened to target loads of other women. Many say that it was a precursor, or an early warning, of the alt-right brigading we see online every day now.

I ignored it at first. I was in Australia to give a series of talks; upon my return to San Francisco, I had two weeks to vacate my apartment and move to Berlin. It was not an easy time (there was plenty else going on beneath the surface that I’ll save for an eventual memoir). Since my colleagues were following Gamergate, I allowed myself to block out both the phenomenon and the feelings that the incident raised for me. Eventually, I was asked to comment and—still not having quite caught up on the details—I did, deflecting to talk about the importance of not allowing the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world to define acceptable speech. I argued that what we really needed were better tools that would enable users to control their own experiences.

Over time, I recognized that I hadn’t given the victims of Gamergate their due. I focused harder on looking for solutions that would both preserve free expression and ensure that harassers—and the pain and silencing they cause to those they target—wouldn’t be tolerated. But I did so quietly, behind the scenes, unsure of what to say. I knew that the tech companies’ failure to take action was partly due to my prior statements on free speech.

This latest incident over Cuties brought my previous missteps into clear focus. I still believe, as I write in my upcoming book, that corporations have far too much power over our speech, and that we, the people, should have the ultimate say in what is or is not acceptable expression. At the same time, I now understand that too many of us—on all sides—treat our perspectives as religion. We are dogmatic and inflexible.

What I realized from the brigading I experienced a few weeks ago, and the conversations that took place in its aftermath, is that we must always remember to be compassionate. This is important not just for others but for ourselves as well. I now realize that part of the reason I once found it so difficult to express compassion for victims of harassment was that I was burying my own feelings, and thus couldn’t empathize with people who lacked my ability to grow a thick skin. I could intellectualize the harm of harassment, which I most certainly recognized as harm, but I found it nearly impossible to put myself in others’ shoes.

Some of my well-known critics have themselves experienced intense harassment. And yet, they too have taken an approach that feels a lot like bullying—or at least punching down. To be sure, public figures should be criticized when they say something awful, particularly when they have the privilege of access to a massive platform like the New York Times Opinion page (I am thinking of the notoriously thin-skinned columnist Bret Stephens, but there are many like him). But we should also be careful to remember the humanity of others—especially when they’re willing to engage in discussion about or account for their mistakes.

When it comes to harassment online and what to do about it, I don’t have all the answers, but here’s what I do know: We need to listen to people when they are describing their lived experience. This is particularly true of queer and trans individuals, and people of color. We need to think about holistic solutions that start with education. We need to teach people how to stick up for victims, and how to help them fight back. And we must create better tools and architecture that pre-empt those who would engage in harassment and brigading.

I am fine with booting serial harassers off social media platforms, but we also need to be careful about any solutions that fail to consider free expression. In my experience, companies all too often come at harassment with a hammer, whacking not only those who are causing real harm, but also those who are engaging in counter-speech, or sharing their experiences while quoting their harassers. This is harmful too, and we should not accept it as a reasonable tradeoff.

There are many partial solutions, but we must be wary of anyone who claims to have a silver bullet; and while there are many worthy ideas out there, each has significant tradeoffs. Nor can we simply ignore harassment or wish it away. Our societies are increasingly divided, a fact that leads to more vitriol, more anger, and more hate. Social media is part of the problem, but it isn’t the whole problem. What we need is to take the holistic view, to see that social media, its architecture and design, maximize controversy for profit, and that there will never be a technological solution to stop online hate and harassment, because it is rooted not in code, but in human behavior. We cannot separate “real life” from “online.” And so, whatever approach we take to combat that which ails us must be rooted in compassion.

 

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The failure of ‘respectable’ evangelicalism, part 3

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 1:28am in

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After years of shallow coverage, legacy media in the U.S. are finally engaging critically with white evangelical ideology. Read part one of this three-part series on the trajectory of the Christian Right; and part two.

The would-be respectable evangelical elite, which includes Beltway-based media analysts and political lobbyists who rose to power under the Reagan and Bush presidencies, have positioned themselves as Never Trumpers. But they have failed to take responsibility for their role in waging the culture wars that led to Donald Trump’s election to the presidency and subsequent consolidation of power, which happened largely on the back of the Christian Right’s unswerving support. And while majorities of all white Christian demographics voted for Trump in 2018, white evangelicals led the pack and remain America’s most Trumpist demographic.

While elite evangelicals like Peter Wehner, Michael Gerson, and David French all find Donald Trump a bridge too far, they have long supported the kind of Christian schooling that serves to indoctrinate children in patriarchal and anti-LGBTQ views, toxic purity culture, Christian nationalist history, young earth creationism, and right-wing political ideology. They also share their rank-and-file coreligionists’ obsession with banning abortion, which has served since the late 1970s as a proxy for white supremacism, as white evangelicals and other right-wingers invested in respectability felt compelled to give up overt support for racial discrimination.

Concentrated in the Republican Party since the late 1960s, white Christian America has never had to face up to its crimes. These range from supporting slavery and Jim Crow, to supporting the war crimes committed abroad post-9/11 under the presidential administration of George W. Bush—along with complicity in a predictable spike in hate crimes against Muslims at home. More recently, they include complicity in anti-Black terrorism and support for the voter suppression and “law and order” politics that Trump is counting on to win a second term in office.

Thanks to white evangelicals’ unwavering Trump support, “respectable” evangelicals have failed to keep a lid on the quiet part of their ideology; as a result, they have begun to lose control over the image of the Christian Right in the media, which means they can no longer direct the national conversation about evangelical Christianity as effectively as they used to. Although progress in this regard has been uneven, and particularly limited in major legacy outlets, a significant shift is detectable. Even if Trump loses the election this November, I hope the presence of diverse voices and critical perspectives on evangelicalism will continue to increase in the media, so that the public can begin to deal seriously with the threat authoritarian Christianity poses to democracy and human rights.

The primary barrier to covering right-wing Christianity fairly is the legacy media’s unspoken taboo on careful, critical examination of views that prominent Christians say are the product of “sincerely held religious belief.” This lack of critical coverage allows conservative Christians to get away with insisting that they are above politics; and because reporters for cable news and major media outlets fail to challenge the claim, they reinforce the white Christian supremacism that has become such an important political force.

Like freedom of the press, religious freedom is an important First Amendment right. But when believers use their faith as a bludgeon to attack othered groups and to prevent equal accommodation of members of those groups in the public square, we have moved beyond the bounds of a truly democratic approach to pluralism.

Because white evangelicals are using their religious beliefs to mobilize politically, the media must hold them to account just as they would any political movement. Advocates of democracy and human rights must make the Christian supremacism that pervades American politics visible; this is the most effective means to reclaim a robustly democratic understanding of religious liberty from the Christian Right, which defines it as their right to impose their religious beliefs on a public that does not share them.

Since 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the flagrantly impious Trump in 2016, journalists, pundits, and commentators have scrambled to explain why. The initial flood of commentary about white evangelical support for Trump was ill-informed, presenting the Christian Right through the lens of hypocrisy; while this criticism was shallow, it was important in that it indicated the extent to which respectable evangelicals were losing their control of the Christian Right’s media image.

Eventually, critical hashtags created by former evangelicals (including myself) like #ExposeChristianSchools and #ChurchToo garnered coverage in outlets like New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press.  Liz Kineke, a religion journalist, produced Deconstructing My Religion, a documentary about ex-evangelicals for CBS Religion (I appear in the film).

More recently, New York Times religion reporter Elizabeth Dias wrote: “Evangelicals did not support Mr. Trump in spite of who he is. They supported him because of who he is, and because of who they are.” An evangelical herself, Dias has a history of uncritical, positive coverage of white evangelicals, so it is remarkable to read her critical assessment of white evangelicals in the most prestigious newspaper in the country, even if that assessment was framed very similarly to the introduction of a recent book on right-wing Christianity and gender that Dias failed to cite.

Bradley Onishi, an ex-evangelical who is Professor of Religious Studies at Skidmore College and host of the podcast “Straight White American Jesus” (full disclosure: I have been a repeat guest), told The Conversationalist that the media still has a tendency to give disproportionate coverage to evangelicals who are critical of Trump, which he sees as “a reticence on the part of legacy outlets to be fully critical of white Christians.” He added: “We have it baked into our ether that they are good, wholesome, moral Americans who are the backbone of the country.”

Instead of exploring “the ways white evangelicals are entangled with white supremacists, white nationalists, homegrown terrorists, militias, and other anti-democratic groups,” prominent outlets take pains to represent evangelicals as largely benign, said Onishi. In his view, ex-evangelicals should be given far more media time. They know better than anyone “how and why white evangelicals became the most extreme religious group in the country when it comes to immigration, race, reproductive rights, and religious liberty.” I agree completely, because I believe in the power of stories to change minds.

The American media’s increasingly critical coverage of white evangelicals, however incomplete, has coincided with the rapid growth of the non-religious population. The latter has been driven by the Christian Right’s culture wars, which would seem to be at the root of much of the asymmetric polarization the United States has undergone in recent years. Just as Christian nationalists are concentrated in the Republican Party, a large majority of the religiously unaffiliated tend to vote for Democrats. Secular Democrats could help change the ways Americans discuss religion and pluralism; and the more the party recognizes them, the more likely we are to see such changes.

Many secular Democrats are frustrated at the heavy emphasis the Democratic National Committee places on trying to reach white Christians, the vast majority of whom will certainly vote for Trump again this year. But the Democrats have recently taken some serious steps toward embracing the nonreligious vote. These include the DNC’s 2019 Resolution 38, which recognizes the contributions of nonreligious Americans, and the appointment of Sarah Levin, formerly of Secular Coalition for America, as co-chair of the DNC’s Interfaith Council. Levin deserves much credit for pushing the DNC to include secular voters, which could create a positive feedback loop with the press that will further weaken respectable evangelicals’ control of their movement’s narrative.

Levin told The Conversationalist that the rot at the core of conservative evangelicalism “has been exposed to a new level in the eyes of everyday Americans,” who now see clearly “what it looks like when a narrow set of beliefs is privileged, when religious liberty is weaponized to undermine civil rights, when patriotic pluralism is replaced with Christian nationalism, and [how it affects] our foreign policy.”

The disastrous impact on American democracy of an empowered Christian Right could easily, as Levin points out, have been predicted. Many secularists are ex-evangelicals who know white evangelical subculture intimately have been sounding alarm bells for years; they should be part of the national conversation. The lesson of the Trump years could and should be that if the media learns, with the help of ex-evangelicals, to cover the danger of Christian nationalism accurately, it could make possible a healthier democratic future in the United States of America.

The post The failure of ‘respectable’ evangelicalism, part 3 appeared first on The Conversationalist.

Revenge of the patriarchs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/09/2020 - 12:09am in

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Women are seeing their basic rights rolled back in the era of rising authoritarianism exacerbated by the global pandemic.

For the past several decades, the world maintained a shallow consensus, propped up by international human rights law, that women and girl’s rights matter, that it was important to educate them, protect them from violence, and give them the means and opportunities to make a living outside the home.

Although global mainstream discourse and rhetoric around women was nominally positive, even liberatory, women and girl’s material realities still suffered. Among the 1.5 billion people living on one dollar or less a day, the majority are women and children, a phenomenon the sociologist Diana Pierce calls the feminization of poverty. Women and girls make up 70 percent of trafficking victims, according to a 2016 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report. As the #MeToo movement has shown, even in allegedly egalitarian countries, women and girls still commonly experience sexual assault and discrimination. Just this morning, Amy Dorris accused Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her, making her the 26th woman to level allegations against him.

Women and girls are perpetually gaslit about the glaring disconnect between the dignity they are told they possess from birth, and its continuous violation. Far too many women and girls aren’t afforded basic rights to begin with. Is it any wonder that a new wave of grassroots, intersectional feminism is growing all over the world, particularly among younger generations of women who broadcast and amplify their activism on social media. The Chilean protest song, Un Violador en tu Camino, A Rapist in Your Path, became a viral feminist anthem against rape culture and personal, state, and institutional complicity.  

Now amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, women are bearing the brunt of the impact. They are losing their jobs at a rate disproportionate to that of men; globally, domestic violence has risen to crisis levels, even as women are forced to shoulder the burden and stress of caregiving and child rearing. Now, with so many school districts having opted to go online, women have had to take on homeschooling as well. 

Many states have overtly regressed on women’s rights.  This week major U.S. media outlets published shocking allegations of mass hysterectomies having been performed without informed consent on detained migrant women in a privately run ICE concentration camp in Georgia. The allegations emerged after Dawn Wooten, a nurse at the camp, filed a whistleblower complaint. As one detainee said, “I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.” Reports of women being raped in the camps are widespread and ongoing. In a federal lawsuit filed in May 2020, a Mexican woman said she was sexually assaulted and impregnated at an immigrant detention facility in Houston hours before she was deported to Mexico.

Last year, the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women narrowed its definition of domestic violence to felonies or misdemeanors, in a move similar to Russia’s decriminalization of most non-lethal forms of domestic violence in 2017. In recent months Turkey and Poland have been threatening to leave the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty on domestic violence. 

We’re in an era of chest-thumping authoritarians, (Trump, Duterte, Modi, Xi, Putin, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Netanyahu, MBS, Kim Jong-Un) who, despite their diverse religions, ideologies, and geopolitical backgrounds, are universally patriarchal. Women’s subordination is a given, and deviations are punishable with cruelty. Fundamentalist religions, men’s rights movements, and incels have fueled misogynist terror and aggrieved men’s reactionary backlash against women’s empowerment. Their growing political success is costing women their lives. 

Misogyny is key to understanding the male entitlement powering the global trend away from feminine-coded social democracy and toward toxic masculine authoritarianism. 

I use the definitions of feminist philosopher Kate Manne, who, in her books Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny and Entitled, makes an important distinction between sexism and misogyny. Sexism, she writes, is the “theoretical and ideological branch of patriarchy: the beliefs, ideas, and assumptions that serve to rationalize and naturalize patriarchal norms and expectations—including a gendered division of labor, and men’s dominance over women in areas of traditionally male power and authority.” 

Misogyny, she says, “should not be understood as a monolithic, deep-seated psychological hatred of girls and women. Instead, it’s best conceptualized as the “law enforcement” branch of patriarchy—a system that functions to police and enforce gendered norms and expectations, and involves girls and women facing disproportionately or distinctively hostile treatment because of their gender, among other factors.”

The focus is thus flipped from perpetrator to victim. Rather than concern ourselves with men’s intentions, which are easily denied and impossible to prove, misogyny is the hostile treatment women and girls experience when they step outside gender roles or are perceived to. 

Separating sexism from misogyny is necessary to understanding the current attacks on women’s rights. As Manne noted in a recent  interview with Isaac Chotiner for The New Yorker, “There is this somewhat new phenomenon of men who believe women are perfectly competent and will take advantage of their talents, but who will smack them down if they try to assert their authority over a patriarchal figure.” 

Misogynists who happily exploit women’s talents while still maintaining patriarchal order are everywhere. Look at Trump and Ivanka, or Erdogan and his daughter, Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar. Their idea of women’s rights is a bouquet of flowers, a refrigerator, and a demand to have more babies, but only if you’re of their preferred ethnic or religious group. 

At the same time, women, once empowered, never forget what power and respect look and feel like. Absent sexism, misogyny grates more harshly, and brutish patriarchal power plays become more transparent. Women are organizing locally and sharing their struggles online. They’re speaking out like never before, whether it’s the women who brought down Harvey Weinstein, or the Turkish feminists sharing black and white photos on Instagram. 

What exactly is being rolled back, and how do we fight it? 

For decades, women have been fighting for recognition and protections in international laws. 

The first major international treaty on women’s rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979. In 1995, Hillary Clinton famously said, “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights” to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. In 2014, education activist Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, after the Taliban shot her in the head as punishment for advocating the right to education for Pakistani girls.

In 2012, the Council of Europe passed a groundbreakingly progressive treaty on gender violence, the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. 

The Istanbul Convention was held in response to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) 2009 ruling in Opuz v Turkey, which found that Turkish authorities failed to protect Nahide Opuz from her ex-husband’s years-long abuse, even after he stabbed her repeatedly and murdered her mother. Turkey hosted the convention, and became the first country to sign and ratify the treaty on March 12, 2012. Since then, 45 countries and the EU have signed. 

Two sections of the treaty stand out:

  • Article 12.1 of the Istanbul Convention says, “Parties shall take the necessary measures to promote changes in the social and cultural patterns of behaviour of women and men with a view to eradicating prejudices, customs, traditions and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority of women or on stereotyped roles for women and men.” 
    • This article commits parties to undoing patriarchy in their respective cultural traditions, social norms, and interpersonal behaviors, which the treaty identifies as the root cause of domestic violence. 
  • Article 12.5 says, “Parties shall ensure that culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” shall not be considered as justification for any acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention.”

Another direct shot at patriarchy and organized religion. At the root of toxic male entitlement is the idea that male honor is more valuable than a woman’s life. Look at Trump directing Bill Barr’s Department of Justice to take over the defamation case brought by columnist E. Jean Carroll, who alleges that the President sexually assaulted her and then called her a liar.  

It is these attacks on patriarchy that have triggered the misogynists. Turkish feminist Feride Eralp, who recently was interviewed for The Conversationalist about the anti-femicide protests in her country, calls this the anti-gender movement. 

Erdogan’s government, said Eralp, had established a pattern of announcing extremely controversial policies regarding women’s freedoms and equality in order to “gauge public reaction.” If the reaction is overwhelmingly negative, the government postpones until public memory fades, only to re-introduce it. “It’s an incredibly frustrating government tactic, because it [makes it] impossible to achieve lasting gains.” 

In 2016, for example, the government tried to pass a law that would give amnesty to male sex offenders if they agreed to marry their underage female victims. Widespread public outrage led to the tabling of the legislation, but the government continues periodically to reintroduce it with slight changes. “It’s the same with the Istanbul Convention,” Eralp said. 

Turkish women have been protesting rising rates of femicide for well over a decade, demanding that the government  implement the Istanbul Convention—and that it enforce the law that specifically protects women from domestic violence. Recently, Polish and Turkish women protested in solidarity with one another against their respective governments, and the ultra-conservative Catholics and Islamists who are lobbying to preserve “traditional family structures,” aka free labor, at the expense of women’s lives. 

Eralp argues, however, that unlike grassroots women’s movements, the Turkish men importing these new formulations aren’t seeking solidarity with other men, but rather want to adopt effective tactics to keep women in their place. This is a cynical move by ultraconservative men who are taking advantage of Erdoğan’s weakening political position to backtrack on women’s rights, she argued. Turkish ultra-conservatives have adopted “pro-family” anti-LGBTQ tactics from their Catholic neighbors that Americans will be familiar with: white Evangelicals have long stoked moral panic among conservatives about feminists, single mothers, abortion, and gay and trans rights.

Gains for women in America are being erased in law, too. Decades of legal advocacy efforts brought about a series of legal breakthroughs in recognizing domestic violence as a basis for protection in asylum law in the United States, only to have them dashed in 2018 by Jeff Sessions. Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education’s new rule undoing protections for campus assault victims under Title IX went into effect last month, to the delight of men’s rights groups. 

Abortion rights are perpetually under attack, as conservatives gain seats in federal courts, and acts of misogynist terror, whether its intimate partner violence or mass shootings, are increasingly common. Anti-semitic QANON supporters are obsessed with human trafficking conspiracies, while the President is trafficking thousands of children across the border in front of our eyes.

The picture is bleak, and the struggle will be hard. But as we have reported—and will continue to report, here at The Conversationalist—women everywhere are strengthening their own sense of entitlement – their right to life, to bodily autonomy, to political opinions — to being a full human being independent of men. Women and their allies are motivated, organized, and pushing back in new, creative ways at the grassroots and institutional level.

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Russia as a mirror of American racism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/09/2020 - 2:30am in

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The curious case of the Russian grassroots movement that borrows racist and alt-right language from America to advocate for the rights of white anti-Putin protesters.

As a Black woman who is an historian of the Soviet Union and Russia, the Black Lives Matter movement has put me in an interesting position. The ongoing demonstrations taking place across the United States illuminate the depths of the physical, spiritual, and emotional violence that African Americans and ethnic minorities experience. The Trump administration’s response is callous and includes the use federal power to violate the protestors’ first amendment rights. In Russia, meanwhile, while responses to the protests have ranged from empathy to victim-blaming, one hashtag caught my attention: it is called “Russian Lives Matter.”

Despite its name, RLM does not seek solidarity with BLM. The Russian version calls out police violence committed against anti-government protestors. To be clear: police also target ethnic minorities, such as migrants from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan, but RLM advocates specifically for ethnic (i.e., white) Russian citizens. The largely overlooked element in the Russian Lives Matter movement is its “borrowing” of American racist and alt-right language.

While a Twitter search for the hashtag Russian Lives Matter brings up a few responses in support of the demonstrations in America, many more regurgitate the Kremlin’s messaging, which mirrors the right-wing American response—i.e., that protestors are criminals and looters, and that the demonstrations are contrary to the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter is a popular argument in both the United States and Russia, with the right using it to dismiss the validity of the contemporary struggle for civil rights—not realizing that Dr. King was murdered for his perceived radicalism.

In the United States, the right describes Black Lives Matter protests as riots, planned violence, and “poison.” This language is meant to portray the movement as anything but what it is—i.e., one that demands accountability and reform of the public institutions that maintain the racist status quo.

Many Russians deny that racism exists in their country. Alina Polyanskikh, a Russian television presenter who is Black, described her experiences with overt racism, and with those who deny its existence, in a recent blog post. When Afro-Russian blogger Maria Tunkara posted on her social media accounts about her experiences with racism, she was threatened and even investigated by the prosecutor in St. Petersburg. Popular Russian memes about the American protests compare African Americans to apes and call them thugs; the vilest make fun of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of American police.

My first reaction to these images was disgust, then sadness. They reminded me of my first experience with racism in Eastern Europe, when in spring 2011, I spent a couple of weeks in Varna, Bulgaria, volunteering at an orphanage for Roma children. On one of our first visits, the children (a range of elementary-aged kids) encircled me and called me a “n—-r” and “monkey” to the tune of “Ring Around the Rosie.” I was mortified and deeply hurt; seeing my reaction, one of the kids ran off to tell the orphanage director, who made the other children apologize. I did not understand how children in Bulgaria knew the racist slurs that whites had directed against me when I was growing up in southeast Texas in the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, almost ten years after my experience at the orphanage in Bulgaria, I see the people who inhabit the corners of the Russian-language internet using the same slurs.

American ideas of racism and the racist undercurrent of conservative populism have a transnational impact that is now felt in Russia. As Natalia Antonova wrote in the early months of the Trump administration, many American racists see Russia as a “white man’s paradise” where there is no political correctness, no vocal ethnic minority demanding rights, and no legal protections for the LGBTQ community. An exploration of the connections between American and Russian white supremacist groups provides further insight into this phenomenon.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Hatewatch initiative has documented the close relationship between white supremacist groups in Russia and the United States. In 2018, members of League of the South, an Alabama-based white supremacist group, launched a Russian-language version of their organization’s website. Michael Hill, the League’s leader, said that Russians and American white supremacists have in common “real, organic factors such as shared blood, culture, and religion.” This idea of a shared culture or blood is a dog whistle for a shared white race.

The SPLC also examined the “strange alliance” between Russian Orthodox monarchists and radical white Evangelicals in the annual meeting of the World Congress of Families (WCF). The WCF is an ultra-conservative religious group; its goals include promoting anti-LGBTQ legislation. Participants in the group include far-right and nationalist groups across the United States, Europe, and Eastern Europe, all committed to white supremacism. In this case, Russia reflects American racist ideology.

Claims of a shared culture and religion notwithstanding, the image of a “white paradise” is belied by the numbers that illustrate its ethnic diversity. Russia is home to hundreds of ethnic minorities that speak over 100 languages. It has not seen the mass protests against racism that spread across Western Europe since the murder of George Floyd, but Afro-Russians, Africans, and Central Asians who live in Russia have spoken out and led discussions about their experiences of racism and prejudice.

These discussions can complicate our understandings of how racism assimilates into the relatively unique context of Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet space. Russia does not have a history of institutionalized racism against people of color (POC) like those of the United States and the former imperial states of Europe. This is not to erase the treatment of Jews, and people from the Caucasus and Central Asia who had long been targets of institutional racism and oppression in the Russian empire. In fact, the Soviet Union did not track race in its censuses. People were classified by their nationality; thus, their race was not even a possibility of official identification. This fact lends itself to current understandings of racism and prejudice in Russia.

In contemporary Russia, POC are called racial slurs, denied housing, violently beaten, and sometimes killed. Acquaintances from Russia and Ukraine have posited that these documented cases of racism are manifestations of xenophobia—i.e., that POC are not trusted or are not treated as equals because they are outsiders. But this logic illustrates the greater issue. It shows that people who have dark skin, even if they were born in Russia or are permanent residents, are still excluded from the dominant concept of who is Russian.

There is a Janus-like dichotomy when it comes to Western media portrayals of Russia. Some American conservatives see Russia as a paradise for white heterosexuals, while some American liberals see Russia as an authoritarian regime plotting to destroy U.S. democracy. From my own relatively unique position, I see in Russia a mirror of the United States.

The language and logic of racism in Russia, particularly toward Black people, is not an organic development. Throughout the Soviet period, African American and African people visited, studied, and lived in a country with relatively few incidents of race-based violence (although one African student was murdered in 1963). Even the use of racist language was different. Central Asians were called “chornyi” (black) as a slur, but Blacks were called “negr” (similar to “negro,” but without the negative connotations the word carried in the U.S..)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian lexicon of racism has absorbed elements from America. If Americans and Russians can take away any lessons from this development, it is that anti-racist forces in both countries need to engage with one another and build alliances. Because the forces of white supremacy certainly have.

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“We don’t want to die!” Turkish women demand government action to end femicide

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/09/2020 - 10:18am in

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Even as femicide rates rise, conservatives in the ruling party want to roll back legislation designed to protect women.

For the last five years Turkish feminist movements have faced one backlash after another and are perpetually braced for the next one. “There is always this… feeling of insecurity, uncertainty, and inability to see the future,” activist Feride Eralp told The Conversationalist. “Your most basic rights are constantly under threat.”

Eralp has been advocating for women’s rights since she was 15; her mother was active in the founding women’s movements in the 1980’s. In recent weeks, thousands of women have been demonstrating on the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, and 35 additional cities across Turkey to demand their civil rights and to protest a shocking rise in rates of femicide.

The catalyst for this latest round of protests occurred in July, when police found the mutilated corpse of Pınar Gültekin, a 27 year-old student, in a rural area of southwestern Turkey. They arrested her ex-boyfriend, Cemal Metin Avci, who confessed to having beaten and strangled Gültekin, before burning her body and stuffing it into a barrel, which he buried in the woods. The horrific incident was heavily covered by Turkish media, eliciting widespread revulsion; the murder became a rallying cry for feminist groups, which had already been protesting for months the failure of government authorities to protect women from domestic violence and femicide.

The government’s obligation to protect women is enshrined in the Istanbul Convention, a groundbreaking human rights treaty against domestic violence that is aimed at preventing violence against women. It is formally called the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Turkey was the first country to ratify the treaty, signed on March 12, 2012. Since then, 45 countries and the EU have signed. No country has ever withdrawn from it.

Recently, President Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) suggested they would withdraw Turkey from the treaty.

The impetus for the Istanbul Convention was the 2009 decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Opuz v Turkey, which found that Turkish authorities failed to protect Nahide Opuz from her violently abusive ex-husband, even after he stabbed her repeatedly and murdered her mother.

So far this year, 285 women have been murdered in Turkey. That’s more than one woman murdered per day, the majority at the hands of their estranged spouses.

Despite these numbers, lobbying groups for political Islamists, composed mostly of conservative men, have been pressuring the government to withdraw from the Convention on the basis that it undermines ‘family structure.’ In fact, the Istanbul Convention truly aims to protect the most vulnerable members of the family from domestic violence.

Preservation of the traditional family structure has long been a foundation of values instilled by the Turkish ruling party, explained Sinem Adar, an Associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “I think the current government definitely has a very particular, rigid understanding of the family,” Adar told The Conversationalist.

Erdoğan has said numerous times throughout the years that women should have at least three children. The President has also referred to women who do not wish to have children as “unnatural” and “incomplete.” The deputy chair of AKP, Numan Kurtulmus, once described single women as “hedonistic,” and asserted that they put “dynamite in the foundations of the family.”

When Erdoğan, who was then prime minister rather than president, made his 2013 statement about woman having to bear three children, he played into this capitalistic driver of women’s oppression. As Eralp said, the family becomes a unit to keep women producing labor, inside and outside the home. Turkey does not have a strong social welfare system and it is on the brink of a financial crisis; under these circumstances, women become primary caregivers for children and the elderly. “With an economic crisis of this degree, you don’t want to lose free labor,” Eralp explained. As Erdoğan said in his speech: “One or two children mean bankruptcy. Three children mean we are not improving but not receding either. So, I repeat, at least three children are necessary in each family, because our population risks aging.”

Turkish society invests the family with tremendous value and importance; the average Turkish citizen is inculcated from childhood with a strong sense of responsibility for relatives. But when the issue of gender is contextualized within the family, individual rights are undermined. “It’s almost like not seeing the woman as an individual but seeing them as part of a family,” Adar said. In other words, a woman’s safety, security and freedoms cannot be seen as intrinsic, but instead debatable within traditional family structures.

The government’s rhetoric and policy can be seen as systematic pressure to suppress individual liberties when it comes to family, sex, gender relations; they leave very little space for women to seek change. “It’s like making the voice of the women who need the help the most, less and less heard, because again everyone is packaged in the context of the family,” Adar said. “If they decide to abolish [the Istanbul Convention], it would definitely have an influence on individual liberties.”

Canan Güllüm, the president of the Federation of Women’s Associations in Turkey, said during a phone interview that the Islamist lobbying groups have long advocated for the “protection of the holy family.” She agreed that this contributed to a culture that threatened women’s safety and freedom. “Family, where the violence is reproduced as it is happening now in the society, is not a safe place for women,” Güllü said.

The composition of the protests belies conservative claims that Turkish feminists are primarily secular. Practicing Muslim women wearing the traditional headscarf are as visible at demonstrations as their secular sisters; they are all willing to hold picket signs reading “We don’t want to die!”; the phrase recalls the last words of Emine Bulut, whose husband stabbed her to death last year in a café—in front of her 10-year-old daughter. Women who represent a broad swathe of political and religious views have come together in these protests to advocate for their right to life. As Güllü pointed out, they “do not feel comfortable in today’s patriarchal and unequal family structure where their rights are not protected.”

Whether they are religious or secular, there is only one set of laws, and one path of recourse for all people in the country. “Women are aware of these rights and they’re not willing to give them up for any ideological or political reasons,” Eralp said. “I can’t imagine a woman who would push that away under her own free will.”

The debate around the Istanbul Convention in Turkey has also divided the ruling AKP’s base. Erdoğan’s own daughter, Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar has come out in support of the Convention. Bayraktar is the deputy chair of the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), which is conservative on issues such as LGBT rights; it advocates for ‘woman’s human dignity’ and is often engaged in lobbying the government.

There is something religiously conservative in the family value model the government is trying to “preserve,” but it isn’t predicated on a secular vs religious binary. A more accurate analysis would emphasize the ongoing inequality between men and women, and how the impunity and lack of justice demonstrated in Turkey promotes it. In recent years, a more moralistic, conservative discourse has become salient in the public realm. At the same time, there has been an increasing intensity of violence by the state and break down of the justice system in order to consolidate power.  As Adar put it; “it has to do with the institutional deterioration [and] the deterioration of the primary rule of law.” To a certain extent, the increase in violence now prominent in the public eye, reflects the socio economic situation of the country.

The rate of femicide has more than doubled in Turkey since the signing of the Istanbul Convention, which means that its legal and protective measures are not being implemented. Rarely is there justice for women who are murdered or abused, particularly if the perpetrators are well connected. For Turkish women, their rights, as Eralp observed, are transactional.

Güllü added that while the framework to protect women and promote equality is already in place, it hasn’t been prioritized. The government, she believes, has not upheld the values of civil and gender equality in the last 20 years.

The rhetoric employed by Erdogan’s conservative government further conveys to the public an implicit understanding that this type of discourse and behavior is acceptable; this acts as a legitimizing power. In general, there is an acceptance and understanding of men’s motives to commit violence towards women, which ends up being passed from one generation to the next. Amnesty International went so far as to say in an August statement on the rise of femicides that “even the discussion of a possible withdrawal [from the Convention] is having a huge adverse impact on the safety of women and girls.”

At the same time, women in Turkey are clearly going through a period of consciousness raising and are becoming much more politically assertive. But unless the value of gender equality is internalized throughout all levels of government and civil society, the task of protecting individual rights in Turkey will continue to be challenging. What’s needed is a widespread understanding that no one “deserves” to be subjected to violence.

Turkey’s feminist activists are hopeful, given the increasing numbers of women coming out to protest and stand up for their rights. “The women’s movement in Turkey is very strong and consolidated, and we will not give up fighting,” Güllü said, emphatically.

 

The post “We don’t want to die!” Turkish women demand government action to end femicide appeared first on The Conversationalist.

To become a citizen or not? Long-term U.S. permanent residents consider their options in the age of Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/09/2020 - 5:43am in

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Being able to vote is rarely the reason people choose to become citizens.

It’s an election year, the most momentous of this century, possibly for the U.S., in the last 50 or 60 years. Eager to vote, many residents are rushing to apply for and win citizenship, with 126,000 ready to take the oath that will offer them a plethora of new privileges.

Millions more are not.

The process is neither simple nor quick, as Amy Zhang recently wrote in The New York Times: “filling out a 20-page application, paying almost a thousand dollars, organizing piles of supporting documents, planning my life around five years of residency requirements and waiting another two — as well as F.B.I. background checks, InfoPass appointments and a civics test.”

Other obstacles prevent some long-time residents from making this move. If a naturalized foreigner, (even the word “naturalized” being one that some find abhorrent), repatriates or permanently leaves the U.S., they’ll still owe income tax to the U.S. government until or unless they renounce their American citizenship or even their green card.

But being able to vote is in fact rarely the reason people choose to become citizens, said Nancy Foner, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She’s an expert on immigration and author of 19 books on the subject. “They mostly want citizenship for instrumental reasons,” Foner said. “They don’t want to get deported. If they’re citizens, they can sponsor their parents and minor children. Very few people become citizens because they want to vote.”

Having full citizenship does offer important protections, she said, like losing anxiety over “a change in laws. There’s a fear about that.”

The very high cost of acquiring U.S. citizenship – which has risen 83 percent lately — is an inhibiting factor, she adds. “The expense is very high! [rising to $1,170 as of October 2.] And some people are unsure of their English and the test they have to take.”

Thanks to current policies under Trump, “citizenship rates are not that high,” Foner said. “They’re higher in Canada which encourages citizenship and offers classes while the Trump administration is actively discouraging it.”

No matter how long they live in the U.S., often married to an American, maybe raising their American-born children, some remain determinedly faithful to their original roots and passport. Fiona Young-Brown, 47, a writer who lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her American husband, grew up in England, her accent still strong after 22 years in the U.S. A global traveler who met her husband when both were teaching English for three years in remote areas of Japan, Young-Brown first came to the U.S,  in 1993 as an exchange student at the University of Iowa. Coming to live in the U.S. has offered her professional opportunities and social freedom she knew she couldn’t have found in class-conscious England, she said.

“I grew up in a working-class town and we were always working class, living paycheck to paycheck. I’m the first college graduate in my family.” Watching American TV in the 70s and 80s “it always seemed so glamorous and exciting, just this place where you make your own future, a blank slate where you were free to re-invent yourself,” she adds. Even at 13, she wrote to the U.S. embassy in London about how to obtain a visa.

She had attended a local prep school in England as a child on full scholarship, but the inevitable class differences reminded her daily how inescapable they were. “America was going to be a place where that wasn’t an issue,” Young-Brown said. That proved to be true, but her initial optimism has faded.

Today, even after decades in the U.S., and a thriving writing career, she’s still not interested in citizenship. “America is definitely not the same as when I got here,” she said. “It’s become a much crueler country, much meaner, with more delight in kicking people who are down. It’s not a place to dream but a place you’ll struggle, and you’ll never make it anyway. To take citizenship at this point feels like an endorsement of all this shit that’s going on. To wave a little flag would feel hypocritical and completely tasteless.”

If she were single, she said, “I would have left a long time ago,” but her husband has deep roots in Kentucky, parents in poor health and, now with Brexit, she faces a much more complicated path to repatriation.

For Kevin McGilly, a 55-year-old gay married Canadian in Washington, D.C., there’s a powerful attachment to the U.S. in the form of the Black teenager he and his husband are adopting. Although he’s lived in the U.S. for many years, he still takes “existential pleasure in being Canadian. The two countries look similar, but underneath things are very very different.” Now at a point in their careers they enjoy more mobility, he and his husband have seriously discussed whether or not to return to Canada. “If Trump’s re-elected, it’s a very serious prospect,” he said.

Taking citizenship, as anyone considering it quickly learns–even if you can retain dual citizenship—means literally formally renouncing allegiance to your country of origin. “I love this country and am grateful,” he said of the U.S., but he doesn’t want to take a further step “because of what you do to become a citizen – stand in front of a magistrate and take an oath to abjure your former country. That stopped me cold. I’m not going to say I’m no longer Canadian, even if it’s pro forma.”

Other requirements were off-putting as well, he said, like having to list all the groups you’ve ever belonged to and every country you’ve visited and when. “It’s ridiculous!” And you have to swear that you’re not a Communist, a “1950s language” McGilly calls silly in today’s era.

And yet, he wishes he could vote, as he calls himself “a political animal” – instead channeling his energies into canvassing and registering voters for the candidates he believes in.

The first time Inge de Vries Harding, who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, came to the U.S. she was only three-and-a-half, when her Dutch father got a job in San Diego, and she has spent most of her life living in the U.S. But at 16 she also spent three years living in the Netherlands because her brothers were then 18 and 19, and her mother said, “there was no way her boys were going to fight in Vietnam.” Living in Holland was difficult after being so accustomed to American freedoms, she said, and she was relieved to return to the U.S., where she trained as a pediatric nurse, married an American and had two sons in the U.S. In 2015 and 2016 she “very seriously considered” moving to Vancouver, Canada, thanks to its “very different mindset” but there were too many practical obstacles.

Now, still refusing to take U.S. citizenship, Harding remains rooted by family in the country. “For me it’s very simple,  I have children and grandchildren here. I’m not  going anywhere.” The few times she considered becoming a U.S. citizen she was put off by  “too much pomp and circumstance.” She has since been inhibited again by the “fairly large expense. I sometimes wish I could vote, but not enough to take that step. You actually have to denounce your country. I can’t do that! I’m proud of my Dutch heritage.”

For immigration attorney David H. Nachman, managing partner of the New Jersey firm Nachman, Phulwani, Zimovcak (NPZ) Law Group, P.C., people who cling to their cultural roots — even after decades living in the U.S. —form a large part of his practice.

“It’s related to how people feel about their cultures. None of my Japanese clients want to become citizens because it goes against their culture. Japanese are fiercely nationalistic and the French are the same way. Even getting a green card is seen as giving something up of their heritage so they don’t want to do that,” he said.

To help these clients, Nachman can offer options like an E-1 or E-2 visa, which allows permanent residence to those who can produce a solid business plan, show sufficient capital to invest in it and eventually grow their business enough to hire Americans.

“The vast majority who don’t want citizenship plan to work here temporarily and then go home,” he said.

The post To become a citizen or not? Long-term U.S. permanent residents consider their options in the age of Trump appeared first on The Conversationalist.

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