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Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op

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Democracy is a tetchy, elusive proposition. It is the common goal of humans that spans centuries, nations and cultures. It is as much an art as it is a science, a deep human yearning and a universal thread that ties humanity together. But it is something that must be practiced every day; left untended, it does wither and die.

Here in Putney, Vermont, democracy is just as elusive, and just as imperiled, as it is anywhere else in America and anywhere else in the world. Some of the imperilment is our own making: Like elsewhere across Vermont, selectboard meetings are sparsely attended, if at all; attendance drops a little more each year at town meetings, and most of us have become happy enough with the status quo to do little more than trust that our progressive ideals are being well-protected and preserved.

But look beyond the reputation of Progressive Vermont and we find that corporations are increasingly taking control and our government offers few protections from the excesses and tyrannies of corporate greed. AT&T and other telecoms have been given carte blanche to bypass local ordinances, local zoning laws and local democracy in order to build cell towers, as many as they want, wherever they want and as big as they want. Fairpoint—notorious for erratic, substandard service—gets our tax dollars to build broadband infrastructure and make money by charging us for the service, but without any oversight or guarantee that they’ll actually provide adequate, reliable service. Comcast, Iberdrola, NSTAR, and a host of other corporations are finding there’s little they can’t do, legally or not, because there’s no meaningful oversight in the state of Vermont. More importantly, there’s no longer the political will to control the corporations.

Under the new health care law, insurance corporations operating in Vermont have been given carte blanche—and obscenely unprecedented subsidies of taxpayer dollars—to set premium rates far beyond what was already unsustainable, already bankrupting families across Vermont, and then to continue raising their rates every year. In the state of Vermont, there is no oversight, no structure to rein in the rampant, destructive greed of corporations. And there is no political will to take on these corporations, only the faith of good citizens that our progressive reputation will protect us.

Just as the Reagan gestalt shifted our national political paradigm so far to the right that we consider moderate Republicans to be flaming lefties, our concept of what constitutes democracy has shifted into something far less than democracy. We have come to accept a level of corporatist paradigms and corporate control in our personal and public lives that could not exist under true democracy. Like the frog in the pot of water slowly heating to boil, we accept and normalize the gradual erosion of our privacy, of our civil and economic rights, our access to politics and education, our ability to control our own government. Meanwhile, the water coming to a boil is the increasing level of rights, privileges, wealth, power, and control of governmental policy that we have handed over to the corporations.

And here in Progressive Vermont, here in Putney, one of our most cherished institutions—the food co-op—is in the process of being co-opted by a large corporate entity.

The first many of us learned of this was at the October annual meeting when members were asked to vote up or down on some changes to the existing by-laws. Most of us trusted that the Board of Directors had merely tweaked and, as they termed it, “updated” some of the wording. However, thanks to the diligent efforts of a staff member, we discovered that what was being proposed was a major overhaul not just of the entire by-laws, but of the fundamental direction and governance of the Putney Co-op. The proposed by-laws represents a shift away from cooperative, member-controlled governance to an entity modeled on hierarchical corporate structure and control.

We also learned that behind this fundamental shift is a large national consulting firm, CDS Consulting, which has created standardized templates of uniform governance, by-laws, corporate structure, purchasing decisions, store design, labor management, membership management, public relations, hiring decisions, board training (promoted as “professionalizing” boards), and a range of other decidedly unco-op-like services to create a single model for all coops. Currently, they have over 200 co-ops as regular clients, charging a base rate of $6,650 per year. Beyond that, there are additional charges for seminars, webinars, retreats, board trainings, staff trainings, ongoing consulting, and membership in the United Natural Foods Incorporated distribution network. In fact, the relationship between CDS and UNFI is disturbingly close—more like incestuous, with joint ventures, co-sponsored conferences and seminars, and former employees of each being hired by the other. There is also a pattern emerging of a corporate approach to the way workers are viewed and handled, particularly those who oppose the co-optation of their co-op.

Unions are not welcome, as evidenced by management at the Brattleboro Co-op (a CDS client). As a member of another CDS client, the East End Co-op in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, we saw management wage a long and expensive battle against unionization, which included hiring a notorious union-busting law firm and ultimately firing workers who supported unionization. In Portland, Oregon, another CDS client, Peoples Food Co-op (which I used to patronize until they gentrified), was the subject of a 2005 Portland Indymedia report following the firing of a dissenting worker opposed to the decisions being made to “corporatize the coop.”

According to the report, CDS “is pushing the Policy Governance model on Coop boards. In effect, this board policy mandates that the board divorce themselves from the community, and only deal with the general manager, while refusing to hear the concerns of workers. It is a method for a board to ‘democratically’ decide to cede all power to management, while management does what they want with the Coop and employees.…When workers voice concerns, they get fired. Some try to organize unions, like in Seattle and Pittsburgh. Management typically hires a consultant and confers with CDS people on how to keep the board of directors unconcerned and uninvolved, by using Policy Governance as an excuse to not hold management accountable to the community.”

Equally ominous is the report’s assessment concerning UNFI’s relationship with CDS:  “All of this has to do with making more profits for United Natural Foods Incorporated, who has a monopoly of the natural food distribution in the US. No more direct purchasing from local producers, or dealing with small distributors. Their hostile takeover of Blooming Prairie distribution speaks to that. The pretext is to compete with Whole Paycheck, but if Coops get corporate enough, they’ll just be sold off to
the highest bidder in 20 years.” (http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2006/07/342631.shtml)

Certainly the by-laws template being touted to CDS clients—including the one being proposed by the Putney Co-op board—paves the way for this. The wording is generic and vague enough, and the elimination of nearly everything that makes the current by-laws specific to the Putney Co-op and to cooperative governance, makes for an easy, and completely legal transition from a cooperative entity to a subsidiary of a large corporation.

The Co-op’s Board of Directors adamantly denies that their proposed changes are anything more than “streamlining” and “updating” the by-laws “to make them clearer and more overarching.” In my own experience serving on by-laws committees with different non-profits and community organizations, I’ve never seen better, more eloquent and a more clear set of by-laws than the Putney Co-op’s existing by-laws. From the inclusion of the beautifully-worded cooperative principles (removed from the proposed by-laws) to the specifics of Board responsibilities and member rights (both also removed), the current by-laws are clearly and unequivocally cooperative in governance and progressive in nature.

The proposed version, on the other hand, is a bare-bones corporate model, a boiler-plate one-size-fits-all template that can apply as easily to the Putney Co-op as it can to a Whole Foods or Pepsico subsidiary. One reason given by the Board for the generic, boiler-plate language is to prevent future boards from having to go through the laborious process of changing the by-laws “every time we need to change something.” But anyone familiar with the true and supremely important purpose of by-laws understands that changes to governance, structure, principles, and fundamental purpose embodied in a set of by-laws should be laborious and hard-thought.

The Board also argues that the current by-laws are too long and needed to be “stream-lined.” Aside from the implication that Putney Co-op members are too dull-witted to comprehend anything longer than a few pages, it would appear that the only ones who requested and pushed for creating a Twitterized version of generic by-laws for the Putney Co-op was CDS Consulting. In a conversation with a board member, I was also told that having by-laws that are a “boiler-plate template” is what everyone is doing, and one of the great things about it is that we can have people come into the co-op from anywhere else and they’ll know that our by-laws are the same as the by-laws at their own co-op and so they’ll feel right at home.

Admittedly, I’m still trying to make sense of that explanation, but turning the Putney Co-op into a uniform clone of all other coops across the nation is not a direction I’d ever imagined we’d be heading. It’s the corporatist future of America that’s already here. All Hannafords and Rite-Aids look alike, all tablets and smart phones direct us to the same small handful of corporate merchants, and notions of beauty and human value are stripped down to a single generic standard of impossible emaciation and brand-name labels. Even the very notion of cooperative governance has been perversely turned upside-down and repackaged by corporatist shills as the new future of coops.

The water is now simmering.

Here in Putney, we’re being offered a chance to become a standardized clone of all other coops, in exchange for which our coop gets discount prices, particularly if we limit our options to foods produced and distributed by big corporations. Here in Putney, it feels like we’re facing a smaller version of the same big shift as the rest of the world. If we don’t hitch our future to the big corporations, we’ll be left out in the cold. Go with the corporatized, big brother flow or hang onto our humanity to our last breath. The task here is made so much more complicated by the Board members being our friends and neighbors, by Putneyites striving to be nice always. We all want the best for the Co-op and we all want to trust in each other’s integrity and good intentions.

But those good intentions and the trust was seriously damaged when the Board attempted to force a vote at the annual meeting and imperiously attempted to shut down the discussion and questions by members. Vote up or down now, we were told; the Board has put in many months of work on these new by-laws. But using that rationale would dictate that no change be made at all in view of the extraordinary amount of time the previous Board put into creating the current by-laws.

The trust was further eroded by the behavior of two board members at a public meeting in December. Though the meeting was somewhat disorganized and poorly facilitated, the intent was to give respectful space to all parties to speak and be heard. Instead, one Board member engaged in making insulting, snickering comments when people spoke in opposition to the proposed by-laws, while another shouted angrily at someone attempting to present information about CDS and UNFI. In response to direct questions about proposed changes, Board members took the opportunity to tell us lovely stories about our wonderful Co-op. I could almost hear the advice and promptings of the consultant as they steered the conversation away from substance and “managed” the discontent of the members.

Without a better, more forthcoming explanation than what we members have been given as to why the current by-laws needed major reconstruction in the first place, the trust continues to lie fallow. Characterizing the concerns of members about fundamental revisions to the by-laws as a matter of “perception as opposed to reality” doesn’t help the Board’s case or credibility. Nor did one lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed change which would allow members to attend but not participate in general meetings: Despite the vehement assertions of the Board that there is no difference beyond semantics, there is. It’s called democracy.

Mimi Yahn, ©January 14, 2015

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Detailed comparisons and explanations of the proposed changes to the Putney Co-op by-laws, along with copies of both current and proposed by-laws can be found at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/365926466919055/files/

Everytown, Earth

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Dear Friends,

This is truly an awful time, made even more horrendous by the ease with which anyone can purchase weapons of mass destruction. I keep thinking too, of the first responders arriving on the scene to find the bloody bodies of such small children, and of the deep and life-changing grief of the parents.

If there’s anything positive in this horrifying massacre, it’s the instinctive reactions of most Americans: it’s heartening to see this kind of sorrow and empathy sweeping our nation, to know that our humanity and concern for others is intact, despite the inhuman and callous malevolence of some. As we come together in sorrow and the desire to help, let’s nurture that instinct to do something to help, to do the right thing, to stop this from happening again. But how can we do that when we’ve seen it happen before, when we know, discouraged and feeling helpless, that it will happen again? Let’s all of us take a good, soul-searching look at our society, a society in which we promote violence every night on television, in which owning weapons of mass destruction is an inalienable right. Collectively, as a culture, as a society, and with the worst of unintended consequences, we don’t just teach our children that all problems are solved with violence and guns, we show them how to do it and we prove it to them every day in the endless, permanent wars we wage against other human beings.

Let’s all take a good, soul-searching look at our own hearts and what we’re teaching our children: We grieve deeply for those massacred in Newtown, but where is the sorrow and empathy for the children massacred with our drones and bombs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine? We live in a society which teaches us to value some human beings, while dismissing the humanity of others. But the lifeless body of a slaughtered child is the ultimate witness and challenge to hypocrisy and the separation of heart and mind. The reality is that once you’ve dehumanized any human, violence becomes a facile and appropriate option. Whether it’s a mentally ill young man incapable of seeing others as human beings or an entire nation incapable of seeing the “enemy” as human beings, the result is still horrific slaughter.

Please do something, please take a first step; making violence acceptable has got to stop. Whether it’s getting involved in changing the gun laws in your state, teaching our children that violence against women is wrong, getting involved in anti-racism or anti-homophobia work, or joining the anti-war movement, please start doing something to stop this from happening again. To anyone.

Peace, solace and hope for change to everyone,
Mimi Yahn

Whose Lives Will Matter on Tuesday?

We are the critical mass.

 

My Webster’s New World Dictionary defines critical mass as “the minimum amount of fissionable material that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction under a given set of conditions.” In other words, the number needed to go boom when pushed up against the wall.

A woman by herself can get pushed around an awful lot. But a lot of women together who’ve been pushed around a lot will suddenly push back when they join forces. That’s critical mass.

A woman will experience a lot of separate injustices throughout her life. But the day she puts all those injustices together is the day she reaches critical mass. And goes boom.

Critical mass is important because that’s how things get changed. Without it, we go on suffering the violence, suffering the racism, the misogyny, the day-to-day assaults on our minds, our bodies and our souls.

So how do we achieve critical mass?

For me, it happened when Anita Hill was publicly assaulted and  William Kennedy Smith was acquitted and white men in the media who kept refusing to publish my articles kept telling me what we women felt and how feminism was a dirty word and, anyway, it was dying and women were glad. So I decided to publish a magazine that actually allowed women to speak. I reached a critical mass.

 

It is difficult for women to reach critical mass. We are taught that everything else in the world is more important than women. Our jobs, our families, our unions, our religious activities, our political activities, even our struggles for social justice are more important than our sisters and our own selves.

We look the other way when a “leader” harasses, dismisses, insults, demeans, beats, rapes or otherwise dehumanizes a woman. We say, “We can’t afford to lose him—or her”; “They’re too important to the movement” or “We can’t afford to be divisive.” But no one is above moral accountability and, in fact, those people are destructive to the movement, to our principles, our values, and to each woman harmed. And don’t forget: if you allow one woman to be harmed, you not only lose that woman, you lose the trust and support of all other women who have been similarly harmed. An injury to one of us is an injury to all of us.

We don’t, as a matter of course, shop at women-owned businesses. We don’t, most of us, make it a point to spend our money at stores that support women. And most women-owned businesses don’t, as a matter of course, support women’s arts, media, social services, etc.

We are fractured, and therefore weakened, in our politics, our principles and our lives. And so we find it hard to reach critical mass.

But we are the critical mass. Each one of us sitting silently in our rooms, our houses, our offices, our cars. Each one of us raging silently against the injustices done to us every day. While in the next room, the next house, the next office, the next car, is another woman raging silently against the same injustices suffered daily. Another woman powerless as you because she doesn’t know you are sisters.

Two hands stretched to each other. Two women sharing their experiences. Switching stores to support allies. Switching your dollars to women’s projects. Putting women first.

 

A simple act of sisterhood, multiplied by the masses that we are, is all it takes to reach critical mass.

 

 

Originally published as the editorial for The Feminist Broadcast Quarterly of Oregon, Volume I, Issue 4, Spring 1993.

 

 

Sisters, don’t just vote like our lives depended on it, vote because your life depends on it.

Call for an International Women’s General Strike on March 8, 2012

by Mimi Yahn, ©2012

 

Across the globe, International Women’s Day will be commemorated with mass marches, rallies and celebrations. In the U.S., women will be marking it by shutting down banks, corporations and other actions to highlight the economic disparities between women and men and the economic hit that women have endured over the past several years. Across the globe, women have borne the brunt of the economic disaster.

In the past several months, the assaults against women have escalated, our rights are being eliminated. If we are to be out on the streets on March 8th demanding justice, the power of our outrage and determination will be magnified a hundred-fold by taking action as a united international women’s general strike.

If you’ve not had enough, consider this:

Women go through everything that men go through — hunger, poverty, injustices, torture, imprisonment, racist colonialism, etc. — but in addition, they are subjected to a whole other set of injustices, not only because they create life and therefore have an additional set of basic human needs, but also as a direct result of their second-class, subjugated status across the globe.

In the U.S.:
<>More women than men were targeted for subprime loans and so more women than men lost their homes.
<>Women already earn on average two-thirds of what men earn, so every financial setback impacts them more severely.
<>More women than men have no health insurance, and so more women than men are forced into bankruptcy due to a medical catastrophe.
<>Over the past several months, dozens of bills have been introduced in states across the country that will restrict or outlaw women’s access to contraception, abortion and related health care.
<>Both political parties are fighting for power on the bodies of women in the belief that whichever party can eliminate the most rights for women wins.
<>In Occupy encampments across the country, women are being sexually assaulted, harassed and terrorized into silence; those speaking up are labeled divisive, crazy, hysterical and delusional.
<>Popular culture continues to demonize, brutalize and marginalize women. Rapper Too $hort recently released a video showing young men how to sexually assault teenage girls; ABC-TV is ignoring public outcry and going ahead with airing their new show, “Good Christian Bitches”; sales for video games that give extra points for stalking, raping and murdering women and girls continue to climb, and nearly every crime drama on television features women and girls being stalked, raped, beaten, tortured, mutilated, and murdered every single night.

Across the globe:
<>Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income.
<>Women and girls make up 51% of the world’s population, but are 70% of the world’s poor.
<>Women produce more than 70% of the world’s food, yet own less than 2% of the world’s land.
<>Women are usually the primary caretakers of children and elderly parents which means they are financially responsible for more people on less money.
<>Women are far less likely to get credit, and when they do, they receive less than men.
<>Women make up two-thirds of the estimated 876 million adults worldwide who cannot read or write; and girls make up two-thirds of 77 million children not attending school. As the economic crisis deepens, it is the girl children who are being pulled from school, further entrenching their second-class status as dependent, impoverished, illiterate servants of men.
<>Men are the first to receive aid, whether in the form of food, loans, grants or education. In refugee camps, women & girls suffer malnutrition and starve to death at much greater levels than men, boys and male-headed families.
<>Throughout the Global South, the neocolonial economies were made deeply dependent on export industries like electronics, textile and clothing manufacture, food processing, and outsourced service-sector jobs. In all cases, women made up anywhere from 60% to 90% of these low-wage, no-benefit, insecure jobs because women are the primary “flexible” labor source across the globe: Since women have fewer political, human and legal rights than men in nearly every nation, they are viewed by international capital as the ideal cheap, disposable worker.
<>After the economic crisis, millions of women were fired from export-dependent jobs throughout the Global South, as the sweatshops, farms and factories shut down. Millions of destitute, desperate women have been forced into prostitution in order to feed their families.

We are not not a special interest group, we are half the world. Our society’s current patriarchal model of subjugation and exploitation influences every aspect of life on our planet and it excludes women at all levels: from decision-making and governing, from negotiating peace and ending wars, from organizing movements, from long-term economic, social, and environmental planning, even from sharing in life’s bounties.

We are the working class of the working class, the 99% of the 99%. And in virtually every nation across the globe, we have no equal status as citizens or even human beings. We are hunted and murdered like animals, we are bought and sold like property, we are silenced and erased from history and public life. We have no choice but to stand up for our rights and our lives. And men have no choice but to support us as allies if they ever want a world free of brutal injustice.

If you’re still not sure if you want to strike, then do it for the millions of women who cannot. Do it for the women who are struggling to feed their families; for the women who earn one-half to three-quarters of what men earn; for the women who became homeless in order to escape brutal beatings; who have been denied health care, reproductive care, contraception or abortion; for the women who cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot own property, cannot be seen in public without a man; for the women who have been beaten, tortured, raped, and sexually degraded; do it for the girls whose genitals have been mutilated and destroyed; for the women who are beaten by husbands, boyfriends, fathers and brothers; for the women who were been beaten into believing they were crazy, hysterical, neurotic; for the women who’ve been denied medical insurance because domestic violence is a pre-existing condition; for the women imprisoned in rape camps in war zones; for the women and girls who’ve been sold into sexual and domestic slavery; for the women whose legal and civil rights have been eliminated; for the women who have yet to gain legal and civil rights; and do it for the women and girls who are no longer with us because of dowry murders, acid attacks, honor killings, domestic violence, and the dozens of gender hate crimes perpetrated every day.

Do it for the women of Juarez, Tahrir Square, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Congo, King County, Montreal, Suffolk County and everywhere else women and girls have been targeted and murdered for the sole “crime” of their gender.

Do it for our daughters whose future must not be the same.

We strike for them.

Whose Occupy?

Whose Occupy?

by Mimi Yahn, ©2012

January 11th was the 100th anniversary of the Bread & Roses Strike. It was more than a strike that successfully raised wages and improved working conditions for 250,000 textile workers throughout New England, more than a strike involving over 20,000 mostly immigrant workers speaking 45 different languages: it was a strike called by no one, led by no formal organization, but spontaneously initiated, organized, led and won by women. From the mass meetings—where the people’s mic consisted of continuous translations—to organizing actions that formed human chains around entire factory blocks; from organizing strikers’ welfare committees to going head-to-head with armed police and state militia called in to break the strike by any means; from organizing soup kitchens to ensuring the safety of their children by sending them to allies and supporters in other cities, it was the women who carried out most of the organizing and who consistently and persistently refused to let the men take over. It is the strike most famous for the banner carried by a group of women and young girls that read: “We Want Bread And Roses, Too.”

This understanding of the link between the personal and the political, between the human body and the human spirit, is what gives women our power and wisdom to lead. But you’d never know it from looking at the Occupy Movement.

Women have been pushed to the margins, just as they’ve been in every failed revolution and progressive movement throughout history and across the globe. Once again, women are being threatened, silenced and made irrelevant by those accustomed to writing the agendas, formulating ideology, setting policy and implementing practice.

The media—both mainstream and alternative—have played into this: The vast majority of images, interviews, videos and articles feature men as the dominant face and brains of the Occupy Movement, as if only the men’s opinions matter as the important experts and thinkers of Occupy. Worse yet, it is one race that predominates, even in the images of women: the white race. As if whites, and especially white men, represent the 99%.

But the images of Occupy presented both by the mainstream and the alternative media is an image that has more to do with image itself and far less to do with the realities of the 99%. The mainstream press mostly portrays the movement as a bunch of leaderless, unemployed (male) street kids and their female camp followers, while the alternative media present an idealized image of noble, brave, young men fighting in the trenches for the rights of the downtrodden, while their radicalized girlfriends stand bravely but quietly beside them, occasionally bearing the brunt of some out-of-control cop’s tear-gassing spree.

Neither present the women who are angry and in the trenches every day struggling against the same injustices taking place within the movement that they struggle against outside the movement. Neither present the deep analyses and outsider perspectives of women because our opinions don’t count. There’s no mention of the women who continue to be sexually harassed and assaulted, who continue to be pushed further to the margins to form their safe spaces and auxiliary caucuses in order to escape degrading and dismissive attacks, no discussion of how a movement can call itself progressive while its women cannot safely participate unless accompanied by a man.

None of the white media talk about the hard decisions that people need to make about whether or not to involve themselves and their own communities in a movement that is so clearly dominated by whites who so clearly hold onto their privilege by behaving as if the rest of the world’s populations are merely guests and bystanders rather than participants and co-creators of this movement. Do people really want to ask their families and friends to willingly put themselves into yet another racist situation, where their minority presence guarantees no allies?

Already, the dominance of men has been established and the exclusionary agendas they consider important implemented. Though attempts to introduce “fetal rights” have so far been blocked around the country, Occupy Austin decided that since abortion is a “divisive” issue, it will not be part of any Statement of Principles or official action plans. Of course, no progressive woman would ever agree to that since reproductive rights are absolutely fundamental to our most basic human rights. But the men who have taken over the thinking, policy-making and agenda of the Occupy Movement have decided that, since reproductive rights don’t concern them, it’s a minor issue. More than that, their lifelong privilege as men gives them the certitude that they have the right to make decisions for those they consider less relevant, less valued to the Movement and the human race.

For women, whose marginalization always includes terrorized silencing through physical and sexual violence, and who have almost no training in fighting back, the choice is no choice at all: Either remain silent and remain with us or go off and do your own “little” thing far from the main movement. For women, whose dehumanization and objectification has always included being reduced to her reproductive body parts—body parts which she doesn’t even have the right to own, control or protect from assault—the choice is never hers. The decision as to whether the basic human rights unique only to women should even be on the agenda is left up to those whose privileged body parts make them uniquely protected from those human rights abuses.

These are the choices we’ve been given for thousands of years: Put our own rights aside for the “greater good,” choose between your race or your gender, your religion or your gender, support your man or be a traitor to the cause. Even sexual orientation has been disconnected from gender oppression—as if only straight women experience misogyny and lesbians only experience homophobia the way gay men experience it—leaving lesbians to choose between the struggle that most oppresses them.

The principles of the early days of the Occupy Movement included recognition of privilege and a commitment to addressing and undoing the destructive, counter-productive and regressive behaviors that arise from privilege. Step back/Step up was immediately instituted at General Assemblies: This meant that those traditionally holding privilege—those who were accustomed to being the first to speak, the ones accustomed to dominating the room and the agenda—would step back, remain quiet, while those whose voices, ideas and perspectives were rarely heard would step forward. White men were to listen for a change and begin understanding that their ideas and voices weren’t the only ones that mattered. Women and people of all other races were to be given priority for speaking, setting the agenda and leading this movement to a new paradigm.

It didn’t work. Just as governments and corporations won’t stand idly by while citizens take power into their own hands, within a few weeks the entitled men who had come to Occupy in order to have their voices and ideas listened to and heeded began lashing back to retake their privilege.

In Occupys across the country, similar stories have been emerging: When people bring up the subjects of misogyny and racism, they hit back with proposals to ban those words from all public Occupy discussions permanently because they’re “divisive.” In Oakland one woman was told that including discussions about how “Blacks, Indigenous People, and Asians have been colonized in this country was a distraction,” while in Nashville, an attempt to form a women’s caucus was labeled “divisive.” In Boston, a proposal was presented to allow rapists to return after a specified period to present their case for remaining in Occupy. In New York, an angry demand was made that a women’s caucus be summarily disbanded because the women failed to include the words “female-assigned, female-identified” in a draft statement. In Nashville, women who raise the issue of the rampant misogyny—which includes cutting off live feeds when women begin speaking, refusing to allow women to create their own caucus and using social media to slander women who speak out—are being called “bullies” and labeled as “trouble-makers” and “man-haters” with an “agenda.” The Nashville men are also using the centuries-old tactic of labeling women as emotionally unstable and hysterical. As Norma Jones points out on Nashville’s Occupy Patriarchy blog, “Email after email uses language like ‘going off the deep end,’ ‘tantrum,’ ‘chaos,’ ‘severe malfunction.’ And, as elsewhere across the country, men’s postings to blogs, live streams, Facebook pages and the Occupy sites are filled with ugly, dehumanizing comments about women, ranging from crude sexual remarks to suggestions that women “deserve to be beat.”

Meanwhile, where are the men calling for change in misogynist attempts to marginalize women? Before men started becoming defensive, nearly every casual conversation I had with men regarding gender issues resulted in them telling me about the women’s area and the women’s daily meetings, as if that addressed any grievance the “feminists” might have and absolved them from any concern or need to educate themselves about “women’s issues.” More recently in New York, a man sent a request to one of the women’s caucuses for the group to intervene in what he characterized as an inappropriate, exploitative relationship developing between a man in his 30s and a 16-year-old girl. His comment was, “Who will look out for women in this movement if not your group?” But what makes this man who considers himself a member of the Occupy Movement incapable of intervening himself? Does he realize how insulting and dismissive it is to see, once again, a man treat injustice toward a woman as less important than other injustices, less morally imperative that he also “look out for” someone being exploited because of her gender? Instead, once again, sexual harassment and exploitation is disconnected from issues of injustice, oppression and abusive privilege. It’s just a women’s problem, a personal issue; so let the “girls” handle their own separate problems in their own separate safety zones and caucuses. Ironically, earlier that day, a friend posted to Facebook an appropriate quote by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

One of the worst and most insidious tactics I’ve seen yet is being implemented in New York’s Occupy. A group of white men are now claiming that they are being marginalized because they are losing their prerogative to speak whenever, wherever and for however long they want.

Let’s be clear about this: marginalization is oppression, and there is real violence, real blood, and real dehumanizing, objectifying, terrorizing physical and sexual assaults in those words and the lived experiences that inhabit those words.

Marginalization is not getting nervous and uncomfortable because you may no longer be masters of the universe. To use that word to describe what the 1% is feeling right now is an affront and utter dismissal of the human injustices done daily to the 99% who have been silenced, enslaved, impoverished, deprived of basic human rights, and yes, marginalized for too many thousands of years. And it is an inappropriate and outrageous insult to the dignity and very existence of every person who endures real marginalization and oppression every single fucking day.

There will be many women in the Occupy Movement who will be angry with me for airing the dirty laundry, but they’ll be even angrier at me for the loud, aggressive and combative tone of this article. These men are part of the movement—they’re crucial to the movement—we should not be antagonizing them or creating divisions.

Sisters, the divisions were created the day you were born. If my tone is unladylike, it’s because I’m fucking angry and, as a woman and a human being, I have every right to be angry. These men, who use their privilege as a weapon against us in order to occupy what belongs to us all, are not as important to the movement as we are. It is not up to us to be conciliatory, to attempt to adapt to their privilege. It is their privilege and arrogance that divides and weakens the movement. Women—as the ultimate working class, as the class that is at the bottom of every culture, nation, race, and society across the globe and across history—are the Occupy Movement.

Either you’re part of this movement that is all about egalitarianism, co-governing, and a cooperative sharing of life’s bread and roses, or you are not. If you are more concerned with hearing your voice heard above all others, imposing your vision of a revolution—without input, creative development and consensual process by others who do not share your gender, race or privilege—and maintaining your position above all others at all costs to everyone but you, then this is not the movement for you.

If ever there was a movement that needed to be led by people who understand the connection between heart and mind, between the personal and the political, it is the Occupy Movement. If ever there was a people whose past history proves extraordinary power, strength and leadership in the face of crushing odds, it is women.

I ask sisters everywhere to recognize, cherish and activate your innate abilities to take charge of our world too long run by those with none of the skills, wisdom, heart or strength that we have. We may be marginalized by men, we may be assaulted, deprived of basic human and civil rights, paid less, impoverished more and universally despised, but ultimately it is we who make the decision whether or not to rise up and create the world we want for ourselves and our children.

One hundred years ago, immigrant women and girls who were at the bottom of society, who were paid less than $7.00 for a 56-hour work week, who spoke little or no English, whose lives were enslaved to poverty, stood up from their machines and said, “Enough.” On the hundredth anniversary of their historic and successful uprising, we can honor and carry on their spirit on International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012, holds more meaning than ever before. If ever there was a time for women to rise up in one united, global general strike, this March 8th is the time. Women have borne the brunt of the global economic disaster, and women are continuing to bear the brunt of the political, economic, religious, social, and cultural wars. Across the globe, women are still at the bottom of society. As the New York-based Movement for Justice in El Barrio says, “Women around the world are rising up and saying, “Enough!” Their event will honor the women who “are organizing new movements from Chiapas to Egypt, from Greece to Spain, from South Africa to New York…They are ’indignadas,’ outraged by the staggering inequalities, the violence and deceit, the hatred of democracy, the flagrant corruption and utter disregard for life on this planet that characterize our society, our economy, our governments. They are struggling against this nightmarish status quo, and laying seeds for a new world in the process.”

This year’s International Women’s Day has been declared by Codepink to be the day of Women’s Call to Action (see statement below). As part of the Occupy Movement and the role that women play in the global economy as the ultimate disposable worker, there are actions planned around the country, including shutting down banks, actions targeting corporations, yarn-bombing, mass marches, rallies and demonstrations.

Let’s join our sisters across the globe, and join in spirit our foremothers who rose up to fight for a better world for us, their daughters: On March 8th, let’s begin.

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“At the forefront of these global movements are countless dignified women whose ‘Enough!’ resounds in different colors, in different languages, across the lands. They are spearheading these movements, and battling injustice head-on and without compromise, often at enormous risk. Those from above attempt to repress them; those from ‘within’ attempt to disregard and silence them. But they are insurmountable, and with their dignified struggles, transform our world each day.”—Movement for Justice in El Barrio

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International Women’s Day 2012: Call to Action

     Women make up 51% of the world’s population but 70% of the world’s poor.
      We perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of the food, but earn 10% of the income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.
      While our work remains unpaid, underpaid and undervalued, making us invisible to economic indicators and ineligible for the rewards reaped by the most “productive” members of society, we have become the prime targets of predatory bank policies and economic collapse. Women are 32% more likely than men to receive sub-prime mortgages and Latina and African-American women borrowers are most likely to receive sub-prime loans at every income level.
      It’s time we started targeting banks. On March 8th, we call on people across the globe to fight back against the patriarchal economic system. Show the banks what a REALLY free market looks like. Shut down a bank. Yarn-bomb an ATM. Move your money. Force a CEO to take a walk in the shoes of those hardest hit by the economy.
      This International Women’s Day, our work will be visible.
      We are the 51%.
      Expect us.

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For more information about IWD events:
http://codepink.salsalabs.com/o/424/t/9750/p/salsa/event/common/public/search.sjs?distributed_event_KEY=590
https://www.facebook.com/events/312376845479656/