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Sex, Class, and Occupy Wall Street

Crossposted from Sasha Said

I’ve been following the Occupy movement with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s the first thing in a very long time that’s given me any hope for this country. It’s high time that we start focusing on economic injustice and the damage done by the greed of the mega rich and the corruption of those who do their bidding. The system is badly broken, as evidenced by the fact that politicians of both major parties are talking austerity and cuts to safety net programs at a time of record unemployment, growing poverty, and economic inequality comparable to the developing world. Clearly there’s a desperate need for a movement that raises awareness of the class war the wealthy have been waging on the rest of us.

Which brings me to my first issue with Occupy Wall Street. Who exactly are “the rest of us”? From a branding perspective, the 99% versus the 1% is very appealing. But is it accurate? Clearly not. If your household income is half a million a year, I’d say the system has been working very well for you. You may even be part of the problem if you outsource jobs or pay workers less than a living wage. But you’re still part of the 99%.

At the same time, “the 99%” has become synonymous with the downtrodden, debt-ridden, and dispossessed. I remember a Tumblr entry written from the perspective of a small child who’d witnessed her mom cry because she was unable to buy her kid a birthday present. It ended with the words, “My mom doesn’t know that I know we’re part of the 99%.” Huh? The mom doesn’t realize her kid knows she makes less than $590,000 a year? No wonder people are confused. I’ve seen numerous blog posts and comments by individuals with low six-figure incomes stating that they “stand with the 99%.” No, actually, if you have a low six-figure income, you are the 99%. In fact, if your household income totals $190,000, it could triple and you would still be part of the 99%.

So. Not very useful, is it? The bottom 90%, on the other hand, have an average household income of $31,244, which is probably more like what people have in mind when discussing the economic difficulties experienced by “the 99%.”

Okay, so maybe the focus is on the top 1% because they’ve been gobbling up a disproportionate share of income and productivity gains and wield a toxic amount of political influence. But then, why stop at the 1% mark (average annual income $1,137,684)? The top 0.1% (average annual income $3,238,386) are even more culpable and the top 0.01% (average annual income $27,342,212) are the most culpable of all.

Ultimately the 99% is more about branding than reality. Which, I suppose, is okay, as long as we don’t forget that there are HUGE differences among the 99% and that we are NOT all in the same boat. Even if we ignore the 99 percenters with household incomes topping $200k, there’s an enormous difference between a family making $160,000 and a family making $60,000 a year. And there’s an even bigger difference between a $60,000 household and a $16,000 household.

If the power elites had half a brain, they would have been content with exploiting and oppressing the people at the bottom, while continuing to provide economic opportunities for those in the middle. Most 99 percenters were just fine with a system in which the disproportionately black, brown, and female folks at the bottom of the income pyramid were paid so little for their labor that an entire lifetime of hard work was insufficient to escape poverty. And even the ones who saw the injustice and had a problem with it weren’t about to take to the streets to protest the exploitation of the working poor.

Alas, the greed of the power elites knows no bounds and they began outsourcing middle class jobs and cutting middle class pay and benefits. So here we are. We’ve now got the beginnings of an economic justice movement. People are starting to wake up to what those of us at the bottom of the pile have known for a long time: The system is rigged. Hard work and skill are not enough. The rules that apply to most of us don’t apply to the people at the top. And these people have been waging war on workers for over three decades. Their greed commodifies and destroys everything in its path.

So, yeah, I realize that this newfound solidarity with workers came about only because those who grew up expecting to live a middle class life with decent pay, home ownership, vacation time, health care access, and savings accounts are seeing their prospects evaporate. But you know what? I’ll take it.

As for the much-discussed demographics of the Occupy movement, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that white dudes with middle class upbringings are disproportionately represented among the “full-time” occupiers. With the exception of those currently unemployed, the working poor are typically too busy working two or three jobs to keep a roof over their head to occupy stuff. If we don’t show up for work, we don’t get paid, and if we don’t get paid, we can’t make the rent. The Occupy movement doesn’t just protest the economic realities in this country, it also reflects them.

Women are not only more likely to be poor and underpaid (roughly two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are women), but with all the unpaid domestic work and caretaking we are saddled with, we’re going to have far less time to join protests. On top of that, the ever-present threat of rape serves as a powerful deterrent against overnight stays in tents surrounded by dudes.

It’s absolutely critical that the white male protesters who are in the majority at every “occupation” understand *why* they outnumber female activists. I’ve seen some pretty disturbing statements from dudes who clearly don’t. Suggesting that those present 24/7 at Occupied sites are more committed to the movement’s goals than those who are able to stay only a short time demonstrates a stunning lack of awareness of male, white, ableist, and class privilege.

Unfortunately there seems to be quite a bit of that going around. There have been reports of general sexism (lots of it), sexual harassment, and even a couple of sexual assaults. While that’s no different than what happens outside of the Occupy movement’s encampments every minute of every day (don’t get me started on the hypocrisy of right-wing blogs who have seized on these incidents as supposed evidence that OWS represents the end of Western civilization), male OWS protesters are supposedly trying to fight injustice and inequality. That, my brothers, will require tearing down patriarchy, male privilege, as well as porn and rape culture.

It probably won’t come as a shock that many lefty men have no intention of abandoning male supremacy. That became, once again, abundantly clear during the Occupy Wall Street Perv Project fiasco (otherwise known as “Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street”). Women can be objectified, dehumanized, and used as perv bait without their knowledge or consent, and, judging from blog comments, about half the pro-Occupy dudes think that’s a-okay. Oh, and feminists are overreacting, of course. Perv project creator Steven Greenstreet is actually helping the movement by getting more people dudes to show up at the protest, so it’s all good! Who cares that he’s creating an unsafe and oppressive environment for women in the process.

The absolute lowest point, however, came when Occupy London Stock Exchange invited probable rapist and definite sexist sleazoid Julian Assange to speak at the LSX protest. While there were some boos and a few people left, the vast majority of the crowd cheered for this piece of shit. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. LSX sent a clear message that day to women and rape survivors that we’re not part of their “justice” movement.

So I understand why most radfem blogs have concluded that Occupy Wall Street is a men’s movement in which dudes set the agenda and women clean, cook, and look pretty. Same as it ever was.

And yet. Linking to right-wing blogs that claim to be outraged about sexual assaults occurring at OWS encampments while they support candidates and policies that make women even more vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment? If you must link to them, it would be nice to at least call out their breathtaking hypocrisy. But then, just like left-wing dude politics have a blind spot where women’s oppression is concerned, feminism can be amazingly oblivious to class-based (and race-based) oppression.

While pointing out that “we” are not the 99%, that the 99% are made up of predominantly women and children, all women are presumed to be in the same boat. In fact, I’ve even seen statements to the effect that low income women have more in common with women in the 1% than with low income men. There are indeed experiences women share across class or race. But there are also important differences, and in some instances, poor women and women of color are going to have more in common with men of their class or race than with rich white women. The point is, we shouldn’t have to choose. We shouldn’t have to ignore one form of oppression to focus on another.

Some of the most troubling comments I’ve seen on radfem blogs question the Occupy movement’s legitimacy because “worldwide, the 99% are the 1%.” Apart from the fact that this statement is untrue (Western industrialized nations are home to substantially more than 1% of the world’s population, and not everyone in the so-called developing world is poor), it comes perilously close to the right-wing talking point that poor people in the US have nothing to complain about because we have it so much better than poor people in the developing world. Sort of like feminists have no business complaining about sexism and misogyny in the US, because, hey, women here are so much better off than women in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan.

Let me be clear. Being poor in the US of A is not just about not being able to “buy stuff.” Being poor frequently means going to bed hungry. It means watching your partner collapse after a day of hard physical labor in 100+ degree heat for which he was paid $5 an hour. It means walking home seven miles in icy cold wind and rain because you can’t afford a car and public transportation is extremely limited. It means cops automatically regarding you with suspicion, and courts locking you up for minor offenses. Most of all, being poor in the US means suffering, and possibly dying, because you can’t afford medical, dental, or psychiatric care–and being forced to stand by helplessly as your friends and loved ones suffer.

For women, being poor also means that you are more likely to be raped and less likely to see your rapist brought to justice. It means you are more likely to be sexually harassed on the street and at work, and less likely to have recourse against employment-based harassment and exploitation because you really need that job. It means you’re more likely to become a victim of domestic violence and less likely to be able to escape because you’re not paid enough to live alone. And yes, being a poor woman also means that you’re more likely to turn to prostitution or other sex work–either as a “career choice” because that’s the one form of employment open to you that pays enough to possibly escape poverty, or as something you do occasionally to make ends meet.

This is why, despite all the problems, I support the Occupy movement. No, it’s not a radical movement (at this point), and yes, it’s far from perfect, but it’s still the best thing that has happened in this country in a long time. Unfettered capitalism is killing us and the planet. Hell, it may already be too late. But maybe, just maybe, we can still turn this thing around. People are finally waking up and figuring out that something has gone very, very wrong. Our elected representatives don’t represent us; they’re on the payroll of massive corporations intent on devouring everything they can turn into profits–human beings, animals, natural resources, social programs. I’m not going to turn my back on the first (and possibly the last) inkling of a chance to change course because some of the dudes involved are fauxgressive douchenozzles.

Get involved in the Occupy movement and point out how unbridled capitalism, environmental destruction, and patriarchy are inextricably linked? I’m all for it. But not support the movement at all? I don’t have that luxury. I need this movement to succeed. And, really, so do you.


Good Example of Grassroots Education

Concise educational video explaining what’s wrong with PIPA and SOPA.


More Christianity in America

Matthew 6:5 & 6:6

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men…But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”



Bizarre Hobby 2A – Answer to Hobo Nickels

For people unwilling to spend days re-embossing nickels, there is an easier way:

Abraham Lincoln Profile Carved Into an open Oreo cookie.


Modern American Christianity

I pity Religious Studies scholars in the distant future, who are going to have to explain this particular mass psychosis.









Goldman Sachs Disgusting Elevator Talk

Wow, some leaker in Goldman Sachs has published a twitter feed of conversations overheard in the elevators at Goldman Sachs.  What do the 1% talk about when they think they are alone?

Whoa!  Here are a few tweets added today:

We’re all God’s children. Some of us just deserve a higher allowance.

Spent last night pouring champagne, feeding her dessert, & telling stories of my trip to Bhutan. I’ve never been to Bhutan. 

Girls with huge boobs will never know if they’re really interesting.

Some chick asked me what I would do with 10 million bucks. I told her I’d wonder where the rest of my money went.

Skirt #1: Whenever I get stressed, I go shoe shopping.  [exits]. Suit #1 (to Suit #2): Obviously not for running shoes. 

Total Frat Move has assembled a best-of-Goldman-Sachs-Elevator-Talk compendium.

UPDATE: If that seems like an awful lot of elevator conversation, keep in mind that Goldman Sachs has 35,000 employees and fills many buildings with many elevators. And yes, this is the worst of the elevator talk.  Most of the other 35,000 talk about their philanthropy, how to help the poor, how to combat Goldman Sach’s undue influence over the political process, and ways to advance world peace.


Bizarre Hobbies Part 2: The Hobo Nickel

Who ever heard of a “Hobo Nickel“? As usual, everyone but me.  This guy takes 10-25 hours to make each (buffalo) nickel.


Rabies and Civilization

I live in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which is currently at the epicenter of the skunk rabies outbreak.

2011 Map: http://nmhealth.org/ERD/HealthData/documents/AnimalRabiesbyCounty_2011_017.pdf

There have been rabid skunks trapped as close as eight blocks away from me in Carlsbad. The map is misleading.

Recently some people with an unvaccinated dog with puppies all had to be given rabies shots, small children and all, because the bitch got exposed to a rabid skunk, and she contracted rabies.

The bitch and her puppies were euthanized, of course.

I have a friendly acquaintanceship with the manager of our local animal shelter, which is long-suffering though very well run overall, by the Noah’s Ark Foundation.

I emailed her about this. She wrote back that they are very worried, that they in fact are expected by the State to euthanize any incoming untagged dog (and presumably cats, too) that smells like skunk.

But skunks don’t always spray, she noted.

She pointed out further that when things get too bad, the legal response can run towards mandating that animal control people shoot all loose untagged dogs on sight.

Alternately, they can haul them all into the animal shelter and demand that the shelter personnel euthanize all of the animals that are not tagged, after the four day hold during which the owners can retrieve them.

She is a nice person, this animal shelter manager, and very strong, but she surely does not want to have to deal with having to kill just about everybody who comes into the shelter. She wrote me that only about 2.5 or so percent of the intake animals are tagged.

It is already very difficult for them. There is a high burnout level with the shelter staff. This business of killing people’s abandoned pets does not come without its spiritual cost.

The abandoned pets will vary. Some will be suspicious, beaten. Some will be ill with a wide variety of diseases.

But many will be reasonably socialized, and trusting. What does it do to a person, to have to kill all of these animals, over and over again, year after year?

And now they have to deal with the rabies epidemic.

More death. More killing. Less trust. More anger.

If we were all feral, we’d just deal with consequences. It would not be about rewards and punishments.

But civilization is all about rewards and punishments. Who is getting punished here? Who is getting rewarded?

I see lots of punishment, with thin soup for rewards.


Macroeconomics Is Bullshit

Economic theory assumes a world of rational agents that weigh options and make choices.

If you get caught up in the fake reality of economic assumptions, you can almost imagine people investing in their education to gain job skills that increase their income by more than the cost of the required training, and working 10% harder to achieve a compensation increase of at least 10%, etc.

If you divorce yourself from real human emotions and experience for long enough, the Dogma Premises of Capitalism might even start to seem like how things really work.

But if you spend time with the real person who loses their job, instead of the theoretical displaced workers who are reallocated in the economists’ fantasy world, you’ll see that job displacement isn’t just an economic mechanism to reallocate labor to more efficiently meet market demand. Instead, it involves real people, real pain, psychological costs, and other unintended negative consequences (see photo below) that aren’t included when economists calculate the friction costs associated with job retraining.

A just, caring, and economically efficient society would never allow unemployment to exist. Everyone should always be secure in the notion that every single day of their lives they could be compensated comparably to anyone else who works equally hard and well on something of social significance, whether it be street cleaning, fence mending, or managing a complex endeavor. What justification could there ever be for allowing someone to sit idle, for preventing someone from contributing and getting rewarded, for inspiring interactions like this:


School Success — Do the Opposite of What the US Does

A review in The Atlantic of a book by Pasi Sahlberg (Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?is rife with shocking revelations that are shocking even though we already knew them.

The basic story is this Finland’s schools are much better than US schools, and indeed are among the top schools in the world, as measured by student performance.  Here is how they do it:

    • No standardized tests
    • No private schools
    • No teacher accountability programs

Instead, they have:

    • High teacher salaries
    • High teacher prestige
    • High teacher responsibility/autonomy

All of this is driven by the principle of Equality.  Every child should have the same opportunity to learn, regardless of:

  • Family background
  • Income
  • Geographic location

This includes:

    • individualized guidance
    • Free school meals
    • Easy access to health care
    • Psychological counseling

The goal in Finland is not to produce star performers, but to even out social inequality.  The result is both: social justice AND educational excellence.

Skeptics quickly discount the Finnish results, saying that the US can’t do that because the US immigrant population is three times larger than the Finnish immigrant population.

What the skeptics must mean is that the Finnish outcome doesn’t fit their world view, because the idea that US diversity is preventing the US from achieving educational excellence is outrageous on many levels.

In any case, it’s demonstrably false: Norway looks just like Finland demographically, but Norway follows the American approach to education, with predictably dismal results.

The article ends,

Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn’t the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

The Finnish experience is important for Right of Assembly because it is good evidence against the Dogma Premises of competition.

Cooperation and equality are the engines of excellence; competition produces waste.