Sunday, December 28, 2008

Years From Now

When they speak of the great Honolulu black-out, I can say I was there. The table lamp blinked three times; the television went off and on three times and in half a heart beat, I’d pulled the power cord off my laptop, isolating it from any electrical surge. Then the panic came: I was in trouble; I’d short-circuited the whole apartment. Oh, no! A quick look outside where only half the corridor lights were on. Oh, no, I shorted the whole building. A glance out the lanai (porch). Oh, no, I shorted out the whole city, what the hell did I do? Such is the nature of hubris.

And because I’d seen, a few weeks back, A Quantum of Solace, I was assailed with images of a land-sea-air assault on the island of Oahu because the president-elect was somewhere therein. Was that lightning I saw or an EMP bomb knocking everything out? I thought of the P-e-OTUS house ringed by kamaina Marines with fixed bayonets and fully cocked assault rifles, ready to defend everything and everyone, their ears practically sprouting antennae, eyes bulging at the sudden dark.

Were this the case, help for insignificant me would take a long time. I was stuck on the 25th floor, with no water and no way to cook food. My hyperventilating mind was already calculating how many bed sheets tied end-to-end it would take to reach the ground floor when the resident/owner of the apartment showed up, along with the resident/owner of the apartment next door. There was an emergency generator, it seemed, and one elevator was working. Thus were my hopes of doing a Die Hard escape from a high rise thwarted! Hmmp!

Actually, it has been an easy two weeks in Hawaii where I forgot my birthday and, had it not been for a Sports Authority gift card, I would’ve forgotten Christmas as well. Time just flows differently on an island; it seems to gather in shallow pools and eddy there, bringing forth random images, so that events transpire at the very instant of one’s remembering.

While lining up for kona coffee ($1.95 per 8-ounce Styrofoam cup) at the central kiosk of the food court of the Ala Moana Center, I suffered a mild fugue. Like palimpsest, the image of the food court at the Ali Mall in Quezon City, Philippines, seeped through the environs; surely, that must have been the ancestor of all food courts in the world. Then, the guy behind me said to his companion that the line was too long and they should go to Starbucks. I’d barely managed two sips of the burnt coffee at Starbucks the previous day. An outraged “haole!” nearly escaped my lips and instantly, the face of this Hawaiian guy rose in my mind, telling me that haole, used for Caucasians, actually meant salmon-bottom.

It had taken me weeks to work out why the “natives” would focus on that particular anatomical part. If you’re puzzled, link it with the missionary position that you’ll realize just what kind of past time must have occupied Captain Cook’s “marines.” Eh!

But not to cavil since I took my first half-way decent photo here in Hawaii, with my new used Nikon D-70. This one’s for my friend Agnes, who frightened me with a challenge to a photo exhibit the day I told her I got the Nikon. And since I took this one on Christmas Day, I gave it the title “Walking On Water.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tyranny of Small Things

Posting from Honolulu, Hawaii, where I am at the moment. I’d made my zigzag way here from the East Coast, while under siege by things so very small it seemed incredible they could make one’s life totally miserable.

My cell phone died; no one could say why – and in lieu of spending another $60 for a new phone, I decided to try some old chargers in the house. After two hours, I had gathered 13 chargers, five cell phones, three CD burners, one old laptop, one old desktop CPU, 4 gallon-pails of paint half-full, a quarter-full, a third full; a thousand nails, 500 screws; three sets of Allen screwdrivers.

I had to call someone to ask in a piteous voice: “why do I have a million bed sheets?” And a thousand towels, a sackful of unmatched socks, gloves and squashed hats; a carton of photos of people I can’t identify, another carton of me in places I can’t recall. Also six left flip-flops (the rights seemed to have walked off), three mop sticks without mops, 32 plant clay pots, vacuum accessories to a long gone vacuum cleaner. I fled and left the house in total disarray.

Somehow, these small things had managed to convince me they would come in handy some day, that I would have an urgent need for plastic nametags given at a hundred conferences whose historic significance escapes me now. Or for hundreds of rolled up posters, whose causes have long perished. What I couldn’t find were the really significant small things, like the poster signed by the Dalai Lama. Drat, it was a souvenir of a huge moment of ignorance when, not knowing he was, like the Pope, to be addressed as Your Holiness, I kept chattering at and calling him Mr. Lama.

Like invasion troops, small things move in and occupy space. They hitch a ride with guests, ostensibly for a visit and never leave. Here’s a plaque of miniaturized Moro weapons (who brought this here?), teddy bears of all sizes, ashtrays of crystal, glass, copper, porcelain… each time a friend quits, she brings her ashtrays to the last hold-out smoker (that’s me). Along with jars full of matches. What will I do with them?

My residence has been colonized – which is likely why I spend six weeks out of nine on the road, in evasive action. I’m trying not to get sucked into the atmosphere small things create – that crazy smallness and meanness. Last time I was home, two acquaintances suddenly started yelling at each other over a missing Corelle plate. When I said the plate only cost $2, one friend snapped: “No, it’s $5!” Worth a friendship, I supposed.

Later, I asked why she’d picked a fight with other, considering how much help she’d obtained from this one friend. Her reply: “Just because she’s helped me doesn’t mean she can ‘under’ me…” Said in half-Tagalog, this was difficult to translate. But it was a warning, I should get out before the small and mean get me.

As I pondered – rather weak and weary – whether to dispose of the occupation forces, they got me. I was suddenly made aware that a certain acquaintance was going around warning people about me because I was, in her words, “a creative writer.” Irritated, I told the message-bearer: “Spoken by a woman without accomplishments and even less talent.” For which I felt bad afterwards. Some small truths must never be articulated, because they can loom large in the summing up of lives.

Hence, I flee – crossing the continental US, and half of the Pacific Ocean, lugging with me many, many small things. The young man in the next seat says “you look sad; are you missing someone?” No, I tell him; traveling is no longer fun. He nods sagely, completely misunderstanding my meaning. Never mind; it’s a small thing and he smells nice.

It’s no longer physically fun. I have to lug an IPod, a laptop, a Nikon, a photo-lens, a smaller camera, digital tape recorder, a cell phone, a hotspot detector, and – good lord – all the batteries, chargers, connectors, USBs, earbuds, accessories, etc., that will keep them useful. I used to travel with simply a pen and a notebook, plus three books to amuse myself! Now, I pay the airline $15 to carry a tiny suitcase of my clothes while I carry everything else in a padded vertical laptop bag which took forever to find. It’s anchored by a strap around my right shoulder, its weight resting on my hip, ensuring that in my oldest old age, I will need a rotor cuff, hip and knee replacement.

The depressing thought must have been visible on my face. The young man in the next seat asks: “would you like to read a book?” Depends, I reply, I read very strange books. “I have a thousand,” he says and hands me an e-book reader. “Read whatever your heart desires.” Ay! A thousand books in such a small thing. A very small thing. -- #

Friday, November 28, 2008

16 Days of Activism

From the GABNet Secretary-General:

"Gabnet continues its commemoration of the 16 Days Against Gender Violence, as it turns its attention to the Political Repression in the Philippines and also pledges support for the Divorce Bill, introduced in Philippine Congress by the Gabriela Women's Party. Please access the Gabnet national blog here: http: //"

Sorry; I tried to link the last but had to stop because I was slowly going mad working on it for hours. A better techie will have to do it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

More Pictures

To supersize, click on any photo. Enjoy.

Protesting An Inglorious Presence in Los Angeles

Nov. 21, 2008; 6 p.m.; in front of LAX Sheraton, Los Angeles. Photo directly above is the advance party of GABNet; second photo at the peak of the gathering.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Caterwauling About Hillary Clinton

Bored to death over the hysteria about Hillary Clinton becoming Obama's Secretary of State. Semantical analysis will show it’s all driven by fear of a strong intelligent woman. Will she take orders? Whose foreign policy will it be – hers or Obama? Will she be working for him or for her own political interests? Blah, blah, blah. Pure macho panic. Seems to me that everyone should take a page off the Obama handbook: that a strong and intelligent woman is an asset, not a liability. She won’t be a yes-person but you can trust her to be the among the hardest working and competent persons in your command. Unlike wet noodle secretaries of state like Condi Rice. Or types like her. Not to be a Hillary partisan but the long primary battle between her and Obama underscored one really desirable trait which all women should learn: tenacity and no surrender.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gloria's Karma

Three times she phoned President-elect Barack Obama to ask for a meeting. Ay, inglorious Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, de facto president of the much-imposed upon alleged Republic of the Philippines, she who countenanced the killing of a thousand community organizers, including 93 women, must now beg for an audience with the community-organizer-in-chief.

Sweet karma.

Friday, November 07, 2008

A Final Tidbit

The final day of the United Astrology Conference in May featured a panel on the presidential elections. All seven panelists predicted that Barack Obama would win --because they said that Saturn would be in opposition to Uranus and that signified change. This Saturnian transit began on Election Day.

Weeks ago, I laid a bet on Obama winning by 190 electoral votes. I'm off by one vote, I think.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Interesting Tidbit

World polls on the election showed that three countries -- Georgia, Israel and the Philippines -- favored John McCain. The Economist had the Philippines down as going 70% for McCain. One can look at this as either the glass half-full or half-empty. After 40 years of persistent struggle against imperialism, 70% remains mired in colonial racist mentality. Or one can say that at least 30% are in some "liberated zone" mentally. Sorry, it's a country of "at leasts."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notes on the Obama Victory

This will be my last post on the subject of the elections, swear to God.

The first few minutes when CNN showed McCain leading, I found myself saying s***t atthe speed of 34 times per second,STG!

All those images of African Americans weeping made me wonder how it would be when we finally, at last, and ultimately gain public recognition of the right of women to hold and exercise electoral political power. I hope it will be an Asian-American woman who will write finish to the garish symbol of Sarah Palin.

Love the idea of an intelligent First Family, for a change. John Cleese of Monty Python fame said that Americans, unlike the British, have little envy over wealth but heaven forbid if someone is more intelligent. Filipinos – some of them – have the same predilection: you can be richer but you can’t be smarter. Conversely, you can only be smarter if you’re richer.

Got a note about some Filipinos planning to return to the Philippines because the election of Obama, according to them, would mean “genocide of the unborn.” How very Catholic of them to worry about what’s not there and ignore what’s there; to agonize over potential suffering while ignoring the suffering of millions and millions of children living at barely subsistence level. Hey, knuckleheads, half a million abortions take place in the Philippines every year, illegal though that may be; and who knows how many gallons of the herbal abortifacients sold at the Quiapo Church steps are guzzled down every day??? Silly knuckleheads.

Loved the sight of a crowd in front of the White House celebrating. But Bush might be too dense to appreciate the depth of the people’s contempt.

Impressed by Chris Matthews comment on Barack Obama first public response to his grandmother’s death. Matthews said, “attention has been paid” referencing a line from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a virtual liturgy about unknown men and women living lives of quiet desperation under capitalism.

Somewhat surprised that the Republican bulwark was the white working class. And equally surprised that Obama’s was the educated sector.

Can’t believe that California wanted to ban same-sex marriage while legalizing prostitution.

Tempted to do a Rev. Wright g-d on the INS where I spent six hours waiting, endured one hour and forty minutes listening to talk about a younger girlfriend, kept a poker face through one ethnic joke and one xenophobic joke, only to be told I’d have to wait another two years to take the oath. And if you know me, you’d know I take citizenship VERY seriously. I started this process almost four years ago when I sensed that the next presidential elections would be a historic one and wanted to begin a new phase of my life in a historic manner. Please, Rev. Wright, add a few g-d's on my behalf.

Terribly irritated to discover that being “upgraded” to digital cable by my cable company meant I lost the SciFi channel, the National Geographic channel, TNT, Spike and FX and gained a million channels on tennis, running, basketball, football, etc., none of which interests me. They could’ve at least given me a Yoga channel, the jerks! How about a campaign for gobs and gobs of regulations on cable companies?

Congratulations to Barack Obama and Joseph Biden. And to the Democratic Party. I will miss the campaigns. But does this mean an end to discussions on socialism? - #

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

No hot/cold water today, which led me to conclude that my building’s run by jerks so self-centered they can’t even see the historic nature of this day.

Jerks, jerks, jerks!

This building’s a mix of senior citizens and young families, who will want to go vote, as well as hold innumerable election night parties in various apartments. I’m tempted to whip out a placard and march up and down the corridors of all six floors, just to scandalize this smug clique of property managers and coop boards.

Since returning from Canada, I’ve been up 19 hours per day, keeping track of the elections, unable to do anything else, OMG, I just fell into the maelstrom! Though not one to be “charismatized” by anyone, I dropped a tear or two at the news of Obama’s grandmother passing away, suddenly remembering the young man who used to play basketball at the Ponahou School grounds when I lived about two blocks from there and walked home in the afternoons from the University of Hawaii.

I listened to an entire Palin spiel, amazed at Cafferty asking what would happen if Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin had an election confrontationin 2012. Aside from noting how men love cat-fights or the idea thereof, I’d concluded, months ago, that Palin was being dressed up for the next election, a probable “new” leadership for the conservatives, using her femaleness as a cover-up for the ideological positions.

Here we go. Watch out, women. The first thing conservatives and fundamentalists go for is women’s rights, women’s power and women’s public space. Take note, take note.

BTW, Cornell West was cited as saying that sexism is even more endemic than racism.

Watch out, watch out, watch out, women. Don't be ducks in the water.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bauhaus House

I tried to load this picture in the post below but somehow couldn't. So here's Fagie's tremendous residence. The Canadian government should declare it a landmark, really.

Bear with me; I just got this new Nikon D70 (actually second-hand) and became so entranced with it, I shot over a hundred photos in one day -- and learned I'm not very good at this (yet).

Through the Plains and Back

The cold came on my last day in Winnipeg, riding blustery winds, reminding me that all my socks were mismatched pairs, and so Fagie and I hied off to a mall on the way to airport. It seemed a logical thing to do at the time, despite my exhaustion, as my nights were plagued with bad dreams, ever since I learned that certain elements were saying that organizing women and women’s centers was akin to setting up cults or a cult. All the work of women should be, according to the new inquisitors, erased – burahin, burado, bura, bura, bura – the viciousness of the word like a whiff of smoke and ashes, engendering memories of witches burning, millions of women tortured, Sisa driven insane and Maria Clara chased to a nunnery’s rooftop by a lust-driven Padre Salvi. I was prepared to be lynched when I gave a talk on the patriarchal surge which I characterized as partly occasioned by the epidemic of selling women as trade goods all over the world…

One reads about how the women have been deprived of historical signification but it’s something else when one watches it in the 21st century.

I flew to Winnipeg barely 24 hours after flying home from Davenport, Iowa, where the Ambrose Women for Social Justice had held its annual conference, this time focused on trafficking. Attendance was over what the women had expected, the discussions lively and interesting. People were interested in doing more even beyond the conference. My central thesis was that trafficking does not take place in a vacuum; that it rests solidly on feudal-patriarchal foundations that view women as disposable, replaceable and interchangeable, a view that capital uses to transform women into trade goods and cheap labor, for the maximization of profits that is a pillar principle of imperialist globalization.

That is not too difficult to understand, is it?

And therefore, to eradicate such afflictions, one must dig deep to uproot patriarchal and feudal values and perspectives, as well as oppose and struggle against imperialism… That’s not too difficult to understand either, is it?

In any case, I almost missed going to Winnipeg, Canada, because I had it in my mind that, having reached New York from Iowa on a Wednesday, I would have Thursday free to decompress and prepare, but sometime in the evening, I get a call from Canada and this very sweet voice tells me that she’d pick me up at the airport on the morrow. OMG! I checked my ticket and sure enough, I was due to leave the following day. My little luggage ($15 to check it in at American Airlines) had gone astray, with all my good clothes in it… I spent two hours rummaging for another suitcase and serviceable clothing. I wish the RNC had taken a buck or two off Sarah Palin’s clothing allowance to get me a new pair of jeans.

Of course, the plane from Winnipeg to Minnesota was delayed and I had only 15 minutes to make it from one gate to the other, to catch the last plane to New York, running and praying I didn’t destroy the painting Grassroots Women had given me; I made it at last boarding call but my second suitcase didn’t. Oich vech!

But Fagie’s home was really gorgeous, of the Bauhaus architecture, which meant glass windows all around, so the four seasons moved light and shadow through the house. It’s as close to living in the open as one can get without the inconvenience.

At home, I find the TV full of Barack Obama, who seems to have a thousand rallies going on, on top of doing a million interviews. He’s really tanned, red brown, probably from all the outdoors campaigning, what we call in Tagalog kayumangging kaligatan, a most prized complexion. I never did find out what kaligatan meant, never having heard it linked with another noun, but I presume it means pristine, pure, deep… The intensity of this campaign is delineated by the creep of gray through his hair, more now than two years ago. Appearing with Bill Clinton at a midnight rally, Obama appeared nervous, made two mistakes in his speech (A top McCain aide admitted that if we continue to talk about the election… should’ve been “the economy”) and looked really exhausted.

These elections are becoming ever so amusing, what with all the talk about socialism, re-distribution of wealth, Marxist, communist, terrorist, etc., – subjects rarely addressed in US politics. Jon Stewart asks whether, should Obama win, it meant the electorate approved of socialism? Hmmmm.

I hear “women’s rights” enunciated in speech after speech, on par with all other rights, and I wonder whether it will take another thousand years before we of Philippine ancestry will hear a man of our people say that with due sincerity. I glance at Obama, note the dark circles under his eyes, and say “there’s a chasm between intent and implementation, always!”

At the Winnipeg talk, an immigrant (not sure, could’ve been on student visa) from Africa stands to excoriate us for critiquing Sarah Palin. Women shouldn’t speak ill of women is his thesis. Then he launches an excoriation of Barack. Fortunately, others set him straight and tell him that he’s contradicting himself. I have to step on my tongue figuratively to keep from saying “a black man can critique a black man but an Asian woman should not subject a white woman to analysis; let’s be mindful of how colonialism has defined for us what’s due one sector of the population versus what’s due another.”

And how were your last two weeks?

Friday, October 17, 2008

On The Debates III

I kind of miss the “terrorist” fist bump that Michele and Barack used to exchange. At the last debate, with the final statement made and the wives climbed the stage, I half-expected it, so delighted was the look that Michele and Barack gave one another, a pleased innocence difficult to come by in this age of cynicism and angst.

POTUSes of the last 20 years (one generation, my goodness!) have not been likeable. Bill Clinton came close but wrecked it with that Monica Lewinsky stupidity. George W. and Cheney made one feel like spitting.

Barack and Michele are simply likeable – intelligent, without obvious trauma, even-tempered in their passion, of even keel, and with that air of not quite believing their own success but delighted by it. Joe Biden has the same quality, though less self-contained.

Those of us on the Left should probably learn this lesson; too many of our leadership being just NOT likeable as persons. Respect is fine as respect goes; faith in the leadership is fine as faith goes, but at some basic level, it’s better to be both respected and liked.

I used to take as an article of belief Bertolt Brecht’s poetic line: those who would bring kindness into this world cannot themselves be kind. It was a harsh dictum. And I think, wrong.

Something striking from an Obama speech, paraphrasing: before you can make history, you must make a difference. -- ##

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On The Debates II

About a dozen students and I watched the last presidential debate here at the guest apartment I’m using at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. Some had been perturbed by my thesis that McCain is the Republican candidate because the party considers this election a throw-away one, and they intended to use and are using the election to launch an allegedly new generation of right-wing politicians like Sarah Palin into national prominence.

I came to this conclusion at the end of the Republican primary because McCain, whose specialty is national security, did not seem apropos for the times. It was of telling significance to me that Palin knew only one Supreme Court case -- Roe V. Wade – indicating that what stuck the most in the right wing crow was the expansion and deepening of women’s emancipation.

Still I was shocked to see McCain raise his hands and place under virtual quotation marks the phrase “women’s health.”

For a guy whose (partial) medical records run to 1,000 pages, this cavalier dismissal of legitimate concern for womankind, 90% of whom have neither access nor the means to medical care.

The National Center for Health Statistics says that US maternal deaths at childbirth has been rising steadily; it’s now 13 per 100,000 live births; it was 12 per 100,000 in 2003 – the first time maternal death rose above 10 since 1977.

In NY, women are dying at the rate of 2.5 times the national average.

Women, we had better work to eradicate "contentless" feminism because we're sure to meet Palin or her doppelganger somewhere, sometime, down the road. -- ##

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cries of Terrorist!

Wasn’t that something – seeing/hearing McCain supporters screaming THE WORD at the mention of a U.S. presidential candidate? OMG!

Which was why GabNet immediately took to the streets in protest when the US came out with its terrorist list that included Filipinos and Filipino organizations, sans proof, sans due process, sans verification...

Go around the world attaching labels to those who don't agree with you and the practice comes back to bite you in the behind. Now it's become part of what's supposed to be the bedrock of Western democracy -- elections.

The McCain camp has an incipient national hysteria brewing, stoked undoubtedly by the economic meltdown. Some parents are reportedly freaking out over some dolls – yes, the toy variety – allegedly mumbling pro-satanic and/or Islamic opinions.

So be careful out there, everyone. But do take the time to at least say something against this racism and xenophobia.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On The Debates

After the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, I’d worried that Barack was suffering from that familiar avoidance of confrontation with white people hammered into people of color by centuries of racism. We all know this subconscious awareness that the system is weighted against us, that whiteness can, by simply being, crush us into nothingness.

The second debate put that to rest. And if only for the fact that Barack voted to appropriate money for an overhead projector for a planetarium used by 8th graders, I’d gladly endorse him. A man who understands the wonderful impact of standing under a sky visible with planets, stars, galaxies and nebulae must have great empathy – something rare among those who deal with and in power.

John McCain’s “that one” comment confirmed my suspicion that he found it outrageous and enraging to have a young mixed blood challenge his right to power and title. Uppity, indeed! It must have lodged like a boulder in his bowels; he looked so constipated the whole evening.

As for Sarah Palin, she’s become a political potty-mouth. I should feel sorry for the woman but I ain’t.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Language of Ourselves

The inglorious president of the Philippines wants to change the current medium of instruction from Pilipino (based on Tagalog, the common language) to either English or local languages or both, so as to make Filipinos more competitive in the international market. If that's the rationale, then English would be likely restored as the medium of instruction, the mention of local languages a sop to lull suspicions.

Such reasoning boggles the mind. Consider that a million Filipinos leave annually to work in some 168 countries; consider that the country has 20% of the world’s call centers market and will have 50-60% of it in a few years’ time; consider that Dumaguete, Davao and Naga – hitherto rural areas – are now major call centers for the world medical transcription industry… how much more competitive do Filipinos have to be? To the extent where the whole archipelago devolves into a handful of disparate tribes unable to speak to one another except through the prism of a colonial tongue? It’s enough to make one gag.

In my New York neighborhood, a 20-block run takes you to Argentina, Chile, Columbia, India, Pakistan, Philippines; 30 blocks and you’re in Africa, Jamaica and other places whose names escape even a geography fan. It is so diversely ethnic here that it occasionally brings surfeit, like eating six black apricots one after another, mesmerized by the oxymoronic name. Over a hundred languages are spoken here and one meets Filipinos from every region of the archipelago, chance encounters blooming into friendship at the spurt of “ay, Pilipino ka, kumusta ka, saan ang lakad, kumain ka na ba?” This is where MJ, who comes from GenSan, speaks Ilongo to Tess from Davao, and both speak Tagalog to me.

A decade ago, only three Filipino households were in the neighborhood – myself, a friend at the next block and another ten blocks away. But eventually, others moved in, led by some self-described “stalkers” of mine, in a rush for the then relatively cheap apartments in pre-war buildings originally constructed on wheat fields to entice workers to Queens, catapulting the then-lone Pinoy real-estate agent to the million-dollar-sales club. Our tribes increased but remained invisible, because our “ghetto” was blocks away, streets peppered by Filipino restaurants, banks, courier/balikbayan agencies, beauty salons advertising the cryptic puting kilikili, singit guaranteed (white armpits and -- I have to invent a phrase here -- crotch-folds guaranteed). Sometimes a presence is announced – Maximo Bartel is here – which I took to be an ethnic version of Kilroy Was Here until a friend enlightened me that this was a hair stylist, this a make-up artist, that a singer. Pardon my ignorance. Gossip, of course, flows from corner to corner, unstoppable and without fact-check, in our common language.

I once offered to temporarily care for the child of someone who was ill and desperate. Two days later, a friend I hadn’t seen in four months came knocking, wanting to see “the child you adopted,” sending me into hysterics of “Did Not, Did Not, Did Not!” as anything about children often do. Two days, my goodness, for this bit of news to reach ten blocks; no wonder any tale from me was greeted with “ay, bahaw na iyan, may bago na!” (that’s stale, there’s something new!).

Point is that there’s a vast current of communication flowing through this neighborhood, welding us together into a people, no matter what region or tribe we came from. Because we tend to use perishable materials for our culture – bamboo scrolls, textile, beads and the like – and those of permanence like paintings and sculpture are reserved for those who can afford, language is what binds us together and our Putonghua (Chinese for common language or Mandarin) is Tagalog. I’ve spent hours of talk-story time with men and women from any of the 7,100 islands, occasionally with lapses of silence as we mentally translate from one language to another, working out meaning. My first language is Tagalog but I can do a little of Bisaya and a little of Ilongo and can curse heartily in five languages.

Point is practicing ethno-linguistic chauvinism in this area is impractical, because we have become a melting pot unto ourselves. In areas where ethno-linguistic chauvinism is practiced and defended, the Filipino population tends to decrease. Likely because a common language is needed to forge a community, to identify common interests, dreams and goals, and develop a common plan of action.

Even the second-gens, raised monolingual by misguided parents, listen with envy to the “bubbling water” cadenza of our conversation. How do you manage? I was asked once, and it was someone from Sulu – a place as unfamiliar to me as Alaska – who replied: “We use Tagalog.”

Making the leap from “my language” to “our language” is part of the process of nationhood; of achieving a sense of the collective entity we call our nationality. This "leap" to a larger self is absolutely necessary for the struggle for better work and living conditions, and against exploitation, discrimination and sexism. Organizing is ten times more difficult if one does not have a common language with those being organized.

For women, the issue of a common language is critical. Because of their intimate nature, certain topics can only be discussed effectively in a language reflective of one’s stream of consciousness. Instructions in safe sex or domestic violence or sexual preference are triply difficult in English, whose nuances are often alien to that of the archipelago’s social context. Blank stares are often the response to anything I say in English regarding such subjects but if I say, “walang k- ang asawa mong bugbugin ka, lalo pa pakain mo siya…” (Your husband has no right to beat you up, especially since you pay for what he eats)... the reaction is instant. Those who can read the Tagalog version will appreciate the difference.

That Tagalog has become the common language is a historical accident, true. But there it is and it binds us into an exiled nation, rather than an accumulation of tribes, and it seems to have lent itself to easy learning, being of the same stock as the rest of the islands’ 170 languages. The Philippines is not the only country with a multiplicity of languages; there’s Indonesia which has more and Malaysia as well. They thrive on Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia. China’s one billion population manages with Putonghua (Mandarin), despite 6-12 regional languages, each with tens of millions of speakers. And here we are, trying to devolve the Philippines into incoherence and to force the national conversation into a colonial paradigm. It is both stupid and tragic. -- ##

Monday, September 29, 2008

Stop The Traffick Concert

San Diego CA rocked to the Stop the Traffick Concert as the Southern California chapters of GabNet started this year's Purple Rose Campaign against the Trafficking of Women and Children, especially from the Philippines. Kuttin Kandi, Mystic, Bambu and others whipped up the crowd into a poetic, musical and dancing protest against the Woman Trade. Started over a decade ago by GabNet, the Purple Rose Campaign has been expanded to include labor trafficking.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Events, talks, etc.

I will be at the University of Illinois, Urbana, for a week, next month. Also giving a talk at the St. Ambrose Conference on trafficking. Hereunder are details. After St. Ambrose, I will be in Manitoba, Canada, to give a talk on globalization and the patriarchal surge.

Global & Local Perspectives on Human Trafficking
Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2008
All events are held in the Rogalski Center on the
St. Ambrose University campus
Presented by the Ambrose Women for Social Justice

1:45 p.m. Panel Presentation
Attorney Samir Goswami, founder of the Prostitution Alternatives Round Table for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and director of policy and outreach at Justice Project Against Sexual Harm

Mark Rodgers, dsw, lcsw, bcd, dean of the Graduate School of Social Work, Dominican University, Chicago

Yogesh Shah, md, associate dean for Global Health, College of Osteopathic Medicine, and associate profes­sor, Department of Geriatrics, Des Moines University; and assistant clinical coordinator, Iowa Foundation of Medical Care

3:30 p.m. & 5:30 p.m.
FILM Cargo: Innocence Lost
This compelling documentary by award-winning director and writer Michael Cory Davis unveils the dark under­world of sex trafficking through interviews with some of America’s top officials on the subject, victims’ advocates and victims themselves. “Cargo” looks at the full scope of the crime of sex trafficking—from where and why it’s happening, and what’s being done to stop it.

7:30 p.m.
Trafficking as Re-feudalization of Women
Filipina writer, human rights activist and feminist Ninotchka Rosca addresses the ways in which the international trafficking of women in both labor and
sex markets profoundly threatens the gains
made by the global women’s movement.

INFORMATION (including Nursing CEUs)
Katy Strzepek, 563/333-6113

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Steinem on Hillary, Palin

This isn't the first time a boss has picked an unqualified woman just because she agrees with him and opposes everything most other women want and need. Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere. It's not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It's about baking a new pie.

We had all better weigh in and work on what the flavor of that new pie should be -- and how it should be sliced.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Joy of Resistance

From the GABNet Chair-Elect.
Click on the title above.
Enjoy, all.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Any Woman Will Do

Apologies for the tardiness of this post. I’ve been watching the conventions, bemused by how warring factions are brought into the fold – always a matter of interest to me, since I belong to an ethnic community eternally wracked by grudges.

Still watching the Repubs and feeling uncharacteristically drained of energy; something about the spectacle is deadening. I can’t even take seriously the debate about Sarah Palin, the shrill outcry of “sexism!” whenever her credentials as a politician and/or as a soccer mom are questioned. Seems to me that there’s sexism in here, all right, but everybody misses what it is, exactly.

The choice was, to put it mildly, totally d**k-brained, classical patriarchal thinking that women are interchangeable, replaceable, disposable. The objective was to sop up all those females left disgruntled by Hillary’s loss and never mind that Palin’s and Clinton’s positions on women’s rights are diametrically opposed; in the patriarchy’s eyes, they are, as one comedian put it, “genital sisters.” Most of the so-called male “pundits” – a word that comes from the Indian pandit, meaning scholar; just as boondocks come from the Tagalog word bundok, meaning mountain, ah, these legacies of colonialism in the English language… in any case, most male pundits ignore or take as normal this assumption in the Repub’s decision to field a female vice-presidential nominee.

Truth is I’ve seen many a cynical and contemptuous decision about women but this just takes the cake, assuming as it does that women wouldn’t notice the difference; that, in that comedian's words, the “genital sisterhood” would flock in support of a woman who’s for restricting women’s reproductive rights.

The view that women are interchangeable is right up there in the mainstream, an undercurrent through a range of political thought and agenda, left to right. In this era of patriarchal resurgence – one undoubtedly partly fueled by the success of the worldwide trade in women in both labor and sex markets – few notice it and many take it as normal, par for the course. From Canada to Africa, women with a combined ten thousands years of accumulated knowledge from lifetimes of engagement in women’s liberation are being disposed of, with impunity, and replaced by often younger, malleable ones willing to accept the thesis that the struggle for women’s rights and freedoms comes last in the pantheon of social grievances that must be addressed. Had they been male, they would’ve been considered irreplaceable, in the tradition of octogenarians who occupy positions of power to their death beds.

Fact is the momentum for a “de-genderized” female leadership has been increasing in the last decade, as various deceptions and arguments are used to erode the little gains in rights and freedoms for women. The small centers of political power that women manage to develop are under constant siege from day one of their establishment, the viciousness of such attacks disproportionate to the power and influence such centers wield. From day one, such organizations and centers for women’s political power are reminded of their “proper” place in the hierarchical universe.

A further irony is that women are complicit in this disempowerment of women, preferring a familiar oppression to the unknown responsibility of a new freedom. And as long as a sizeable portion of womankind refuses to acknowledge the particularities of oppression and exploitation for women, refuses the commonality of oppression stemming from what Engels called “the historic defeat of womankind,” then the task of women’s emancipation is made that much more difficult, that much longer to achieve.

BTW: here’s news from GABNet:


SAN DIEGO, CA, 1 September 2008 – The 10th Congress of GABNet USA elected its new national council and laid down the new focus and direction for the largest and oldest continuously operating all-women's organization led by women of Philippine ancestry. Members from seven cities attended the three-day gathering.

Candice "Kuttin Kandi" Custodio, world-famous hip hop artist, was voted GABNet National Chair-Elect. Her formal oath-taking will take place at an event to be designated by the organization…


Ms. Custodio heads an impressive national council that includes union organizer Jollene Levid as GABNet secretary-general; Executive Director of the University of California San Diego Women's Center Emelyn de la Pena as campaign director; youth organizer Ivy Quicho as organizing director; writer and paralegal Olivia Quinto as education director and civil engineer Laureen Abustan as finance director.

The National Council will have a term of two years during which it will lead GABNet in mobilizing women to intensify the Purple Rose Campaign Against the Trafficking of Women and Children; to protest US militarism and expose its devastating effects on women; and to defend defenders of women's rights and freedoms around the world.

My first meeting with Kuttin Kandi was way back in ‘99, I think. Sockie, another GABNet member, and I were sent to speak to her as she had volunteered to put together an event for the Purple Rose Campaign. It was near Thanksgiving and New York City was practically devoid of people (yes, most New Yorkers come from elsewhere). We entered this building which turned out to be a nightclub with dim red and blue lights, complicated musical electronic equipment and music blaring from mammoth speakers. We walked past a male teenager upside down on the floor, twirling on his head. Sockie bent down to ask, “are you all right?” We searched for Kandi through six floors, feeling like we were in a weird labyrinth, encountering performers trying out what looked like Cirque de Soleil antics (yes, I was a Cirque groupie when it was just an unknown Montreal circus). We finally found her, spoke a little through the eardrum-splitting music and agreed to meet. So a week later, I went – very, very, very nervous – to Kandi’s family’s house in Queens, not knowing what to expect, the hiphop world being totally alien to the Shankar fan that I was. To be frank, I expected bizarreness galore. I walked into this bungalow and laid eyes on a life-sized Virgin Mary in the living room. Ah, well, nothing to worry about, familiar grounds and all that, very Pinoy... Years later, Kandi cracked up when I told her the story. -- #

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Usual Can Be Criminal

We Filipinos needed to re-calibrate our understanding of what’s usual or normal, the instant we began to move out into the world en masse.

Unfortunately, that has been difficult, because of the re-feudalization accompanying migration, particularly for women. The necessary re-definition of relationships – from the most basic (family relations) to the most complex (labor relations) – has been frustrated by the very nature of the work into which majority of exported Filipinas are funneled.

Household work has been historically women’s slave shackles, rendering her a service unit in the family power structure, stunting her growth and development, erasing her sense of self.

It is much more so when one works in a foreign household. Here, one’s needs, one’s hopes, come absolutely last – after the father’s, the mother’s, the children’s, the pet’s, the guest’s… Here, one is told what to do every minute of the day, how to look at events, what to think … One is forever a junior member of the household, isolated even while ensconced in the family bosom.

I had to tell a friend who had been an organizer, an activist and a former political prisoner to quit being a nanny when she turned out to be the only one among us who could finish the “I’m a teapot short and stout” song. Your brain has turned to oatmeal, was my reaction.

The irony is that most Filipinas who leave the country do so with a vision of achieving an Angelina Jolie-Laura Croft personality: self-sufficient, independent, adventurous, treasure-seeker... Many do have adventures galore but there’s hardly ever a treasure at the end; only drudgery and the black hole of a demand for money that becomes the family they left behind. The de-skilling of nurses and even doctors, of those holding degrees and doctorates in various fields, of artists and writers, is tragic to watch.

In an effort to re-calibrate the essence of household work, we call our women domestic workers, so that work standards may be set, employer-employee relations may be modernized and even the processes of entering into such relations brought into congruence with modern labor standards. As a consequence,, we miss the essentially feudal and patriarchal nature of this work into which we send millions of Filipinas.

The women have to be maintained in a docile state, beholden to a patriarchal system of power and obligation. Domestic workers are prime targets for religious recruitment by fundamentalist sects and cabals of all kinds. Whenever a domestic worker visits, she leaves behind inevitably a pamphlet or two about this-that charismatic group, the crudeness and inanity of which can take your breath away. Who’s this so-called prophet with a keyboard around his neck, singing in the worst voice possible?

But we ignore what it means really to tie women to kitchen and bed and children. And in a 30,000 year tradition, we accept that as normal and usual.

Hence, Marichu’s adversaries can make such claims as she was recruited in accordance with normal procedures, hence no trafficking was involved; or she’s filed a complaint against a man with an astonishing curriculum vita, more’s the pity he will be sullied on the word of only a maid…

Well, an intern’s word and a blue dress nearly impeached the president of the U.S., remember that.

We should remember that:

If one recruits for one category of work and substitutes another -- that is considered fraud and deception and will land one in the realm of trafficking.

Trafficking is not limited to the sex trade; it includes labor – as in slavery and peonage, and even debt bondage.

These definitions we Filipinas helped create, through the 11-year Purple Rose Campaign of GABNet.

They do not go far enough in bringing us to a thorough understanding of re-feudalization and the patriarchal surge that accompany the sale of women as domestic servants.

Yes, I know, that phrase is not the correct one. I use it deliberately, in the hope that we will come to a comprehensive understanding of the nature of this unconscionable situation into which we place roughly half a million Filipinas every year; and having come to that understanding, we can take full cognizance of all the issues and problems attendant to it.

As a Canadian reporter said to me, what Marichu underwent, this is normal treatment of servants in the Philippines, no?

Yes, I said to him; but this is not limited to Filipino employers. Something happens to the human psyche when one has control over another human adult. I was thinking of the Stanford prison experiment (see wherein students fell into their roles of guards and prisoners.

Unfortunately, for lack of radio time, I couldn’t develop my thesis: that having a household servant impacts even the employer who slides into this semi-feudal role of patriarch and patron. I hope others will seriously develop a political economy of housework. A serious one.

Please note: The U.S. GAO report on the abuse of “private employees” by diplomats was revelatory in what wasn’t said. Of the top ten countries bringing in household staff for diplomats (“A” visas for employees of foreign embassies, consulates and governments; “G” visas for employees of international organizations like the World Bank) -- four are likely to use Filipino domestic workers: Manila, of course, which leads the pack with 1,775 visas issued; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (558); Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (509); and Doha, Qatar (502). And although only 42 cases of abuses have been reported and hence, documented, like most cases of abuse and violence against women, it is likely that only one in ten reaches the ears of authority. -- ##


The SONA (State of the Nation Address), usually delivered by the President of the Philippines at the start of the annual session of Congress, at the Batasan (Legislative) Building.


Best Comment on the SONA:

TV Reporter: What is the significance of the SONA to Filipino-Americans?
Interviewee: It is significant because it is important…

SONA of my dreams: The President arrives to find the red carpet still rolled up. Except for the occasional jeepney, the streets are empty. Even the vendors of ices, fans, hats and what-nots have gone elsewhere. The police have gone away. Media’s disappeared. No radio or television crew. The House security guards are just leaving. Inside, the congressional hall is empty. Just rows and rows of vacant seats.

If one cannot move the 90% to action, perhaps they can be moved into inaction – a Zen point of passive aggressive resistance.

Hard to stay awake listening to Gloria.

Amazing that, considering all the money from corruption floating around Manila government offices, they can’t even hire a better speechwriter. Were a SONA speech to carry as banal a truism as, say, “tomorrow is another day,” 80 million people would go into instant shock and die applauding, so used are we to the boring fabric of lies and spin that partisan political speeches have become. If one were to string together all the pages of SONA speeches, they will reach to the moon and back, “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Same as last year, when in the aftermath, the attempt was made to hold the GABNet 3 at the Ninoy Aquino Manila International Airport and instead three women took down the so-called "terrorist" list of 500 names created by minions of Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum Gonzales.

I make a point of this because women are so deprived of historical signification. --#

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Journalist's Nirvana

By-lined article, banner headline, Sunday edition of the country's premier newspaper.

I've died and gone to heaven.

For months, I've been picking up little rumors about this from hanging out with Filipina domestic workers. Then one of the specialized search engines I use (is that the proper term?) gave a ping! And there it was, docketed with the Southern District Court of New York.

Have a glass of my favorite Riesling wine with me, friends. And thanks to you all; you helped me survive a two-year-running crisis.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bushwhacking Gloria

It’s the most popular item on the HuffPost, with nearly 200,000 viewers and nearly 1,500 comments, most expressing astonishment at what George W. said to Gloria Mac-Arroyo, de facto president to de facto president. He said “First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that -- in which there's a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.” And then added: “And the chef is a great person and a really good cook, by the way, Madam President. “

I wish she’d replied, with a smile, “thanks and General Taguba was no pushover either” or “I hope she serves you dinuguan” or “have you checked on your dogs lately?” But she sat there like stone, muttering “thank you” as George W. Bush stereotyped her and her entire nation.

Oich! To discern ethnic stereotyping can be difficult, especially if one has had little experience with racism. In my early months in New York, a guest at a dinner given in my honor started telling me about her maid in Italy. This guest was Rome bureau head of a mega news magazine and she had a “Filipino maid” who was, as she put it, a “good person” but who had started pilfering small items. Embarrassed, I vacillated between allegiance to my compatriot (how much was this news great paying her?) and being polite, per Catholic nuns' instruction. Fortunately, my host returned from the kitchen, asked what we were talking about, gave me a swift glance, and started shouting at her guest: “Why are you telling her this? She’s a journalist and a writer. What’s she got to do with maids? With your maid?”

The Rome bureau head stuttered, turned red and said, “I just thought…” My host snapped: “Well, you just stop that thought right now!”

Not having experienced insidious, constant and subtle ethnic stereotyping, I had to work out the subtext of that conversation in my sleep and woke up furious. A year later, as guest of honor at a one-woman show at a Washington D.C. art gallery, I was introduced to the artist’s mother, who promptly said: “Oh, you’re from the Philippines! My daughter’s nanny is from the Philippines.” By then, I could snap back: “What a coincidence! My secretary’s white!”

How ironic that one had to be prickly to fit into this society, especially when one wasn’t white. But one had to acquire armor against the subtle put-downs, usually given when one was occupying, in the eyes of the put-downer, a “privileged” position. When my first book was reviewed favorably by the Times and my excited landlady made practically everyone in our building read the article, one neighbor who had a toy terrier with a diamond collar asked, “is it true Filipinos eat dogs?” I said of course and called out to his dog, “here, Foxy, here; straight to the kitchen, I’ll make you a good dinner.”

Sometimes you just have to out gross "them."

Many Filipinos do not get this kind of nuanced insult. Some would even be flattered that George W. remembered the Filipina chef in the White House kitchen, “a very good cook,” chrissakes. It’s akin to the pleasure we feel when a feudal warlord joins the town fiesta and dances with the hoi polloi; never mind that he's just taken away half of the harvest. I’ve had Filipinos tell me to “please not insult our American friend” who’s just insulted me galore, as if they, despite citizenship, weren’t Americans. I would’ve dearly loved to have said "neither can your president" to this guy in my neighborhood – a guy who, upon catching sight of me walking on the sidewalk, said over his cell phone that the place was beginning to be full of aliens “who can’t even speak English.” As it was, I could only advise him to buy a Vlasik and sit on it.

Two things mystify me about this Gloria Mac-Arroyo visit. First, the “roll-in-the-dust” gratitude for the paltry sum of $700 million in aid, considering the public humiliation. If it’s just a matter of money, overseas Filipino workers send home up to $20 billion per year, without needing to insult anyone. Had Gloria Mac-Arroyo been attentive to their needs – ordered the government to negotiate for really decent wages and working conditions for domestic workers, instead of the monthly $200 they get at the United Arab Emirates, for instance, working 16 hours 24/7 – the bloody $700 million would’ve meant only a hundred dollar donation per OFW. Were the Philippine government just a shade more caring, OFW’s would’ve sent home an extra billion dollars, with pleasure and without subjecting even the most deserving public servant to public embarrassment.

More, that would’ve been cold, hard cash -- unlike foreign aid, which is usually spent on goods made by American corporations and on salaries for American experts who tell Filipinos what to do and how to do it. Aid is not aid for the recipient country; it is aid for American big business who thus are spared the need to be grateful for U.S. taxpayer's money. More, such goods invariably change the lifestyle of the recipient country so it becomes a vulnerable market for U.S. goods. It’s part of the national US budget for advertising. Consider that at one time, the weight-loss meal replacement Metrecal was sent to the Philippines as part of foreign aid.

After all these years of receiving foreign aid, one would expect Philippine government officials to conclude that foreign aid, foreign investments, etc., do not solve/resolve anything; that issues of poverty and inequity have to be resolved at ground level, by our bootstraps, as it were.

The second mystifying thing is why Gloria Mac-Arroyo started thanking U.S. congress people for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill – which is not even approved yet. The bill is intended to provide pensions for the few surviving Filipinos who fought with USAFFE in WWII; they were denied equal benefits as U.S. soldiers by the Rescission Act of 1946 which declared that the services of some 250,000 Filipinos under the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East "shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits."

That clause meant no medical attention, no recognition, nothing whatsoever, all history of that service erased. I have occasionally exclaimed, "that's what you get for fighting under a foreign flag" but this is such a palpable act of racism it cannot be overlooked.

Over the years, the veterans and a few allies have fought to eke out “rights, privileges or benefits,” starting with access to the Veterans Hospital. Now here comes Gloria Mac-Arroyo thanking US legislators for an unpassed bill, pretending that she had had a role in the struggle for veterans’ rights. And who weren’t thanked for this struggle for equal rights? Why the veterans themselves, the Fil-Am community of supporters, advocates who’d gotten old and hoarse trying to correct this discrimination. As 86-year-old veteran Faustino Baclig said, “sobra ang tsu-tsu” (too much of a suck-up).

Because the Philippine government refuses to recognize and rely on the indomitable character of the people it purportedly governs and represents, because the Philippine government continues to be led by suck-ups, all who are of Philippine ancestry become vulnerable to ethnic stereotyping, public humiliation and the disgrace of being perpetual beggars even as the Philippines gives away all of its resources -- from human to natural. Sad, just too sad. -- ##

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Post Script

Watched Hillary Clinton's concession speech. Was taken aback when everyone started praising her afterwards. I thought the speech was ironic. She laid it on really thick, mentioning Barack's name like 30,000 times in half an hour. The speech's undertone, it seemed to me, was "you want me to roll in the dust? okay; i'll not only roll in the dust; i'll tear off my hair; smear my face; claw my eyes out; etc., etc." Overpraise, overstate, over-everything -- something women do when they get tired of the caviling; just give in so totally no one knows what to make of it. Or am I being overcomplicated?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hammurabi in Texas

The evening he amasses enough pledged delegates to win the mantle of Nominee Presumptive, Senator Barack Obama chooses to deliver an apotheosis on Senator Hillary Clinton, thus creating the rather curious phenomenon of a winner lauding his defeated rival at the instant of his success. He thanks her on behalf of his daughters, in tacit acknowledgement of the truth that what one woman achieves becomes a potentiality for all women, that indeed there is a world of commonality among women. He says he is a better candidate for having had the honor to run against a formidable woman… and while it is true that one CAN’T not listen to Barack, he’s that good an orator, it is still a pleasure to hear a man acknowledge a woman’s strength, capability and accomplishment. This is rare, happening mostly at funerals, underscoring society’s implicit message that the only good woman is … well, you know the rest.

Of course, right after, everyone jumps on Hillary for not having instantly conceded, rolled in the dust in abnegation, thrown ashes on her head for having had the temerity to contest a male’s right to head a major political party… She is "ungracious" for not instantly falling to her knees. I’m sorry but I find this illogical; the defeated is not expected to be gracious, the victor is. The undertone of this caviling is fear about what she might do, and guilt over another frustration of a woman’s and women’s attempt at achieving even a surface equality. Enough already; she lost; leave her alone.

It’s been a bad season for women, underscored by that raid on the compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ’s Latter Day Saints (FLDS) where some 400 children/minors were removed over allegations of abuse and forced/manipulated weddings. As details of the polygamous sect’s lifestyle unfolded over the air waves, one couldn’t help thinking of the reign of Hammurabi. Likely this was an insult to him, considering he had created an empire from the proto-slave societies on the plains of Babylon, Mesopotamia, Nineveh… And of course, he was first to codify laws, enshrining the principle of assumption of innocence in the juridical system. So apologies to him, but the similarities between the FLDS and Hammurabi’s milieu became more and more palpable with each revealed detail.

When the “moms” appeared on television, the affinity of their hair-do and clothes with the android Rachel in Blade Runner was striking. Rachel was given a false memory to render her closer to human, as it were.

The discourse on the FLDS was disquieting. Because it focused so much on the issues of the abuse of children and of child-brides (which are important), what underlay so much of this cruelty was lost: the relentless oppression of women within this absurdly patriarchal society. The oppression of women enabled the oppression of others: the young men whose unpaid labor was used to fulfill contracts with the Pentagon, the children who were kept in ignorance of the world, the girls who were raised to believe that their ultimate destiny was no more than becoming an adjunct of the patriarch… On top of this was the relentless concentration of property (including women and children) in the hands of men adjudged worthy of becoming patriarchs, on the say-so of a (yet another) clique of men, testifying to the truth that power-cliques self-replicate… Gerda Lerner must be chuckling over her breakfast tea, over this virtual dramatization of her book Creation of the Patriarchy on the plains of Texas.

I was inclined to dismiss the FLDS lifestyle as an aberration, until a friend from Switzerland said, for the umpteenth time that she couldn’t understand why, in a city that jumps out of its skin 24/7, television producers chose to feature some vacuous women in a reality show. I’d managed to ignore her remarks until she said: “the only interesting character there is the housemaid; I bet she’s from your country.” That sent me scurrying to watch re-runs of the The Real Housewives of New York City. Yup, vacuous as vacuum cleaners; yup, the housekeeper is from my country, I’d recognize that accent anytime, anywhere. Swiss friend added that she couldn’t see any great essential difference between the New York City housewives and the FLDS wives. That gave me great chill.

In an interview, Nepal's Hisila Yami gave a capsule description of what the problem was: “Women were the first to be oppressed, and will be the last to be liberated when class oppression ceases. So the test of whether class oppression still exists is if women’s oppression still exists or not.” That, in effect, acknowledged that all of class societies rests on women’s oppression.

The one ray of sunshine in the FLDS gloom came from women as well. Former child-brides, who broke through their conditioning and who took their children out of that hierarchy of oppression. Escape was not sufficient for them; they continue to speak out, warning others and trying to reach other women, calling on them to free their minds from the constructs of oppression, asking them not to be complicit in their own powerlessness. Perhaps, after all. women may not be the "last to be liberated."

And in keeping with the dawn-of-history ambience of this whole affair, I will end with an injunction that comes from those times as well: Go and do likewise. -- ##

Note to mostbeau, who's been denouncing me: this is the only place where I post; so I have no idea what you're referring to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

additional postscript

Results in Nepal Constitutional Assembly election, with 240 constituencies declared: Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) 120; Nepali Congress 37; Communist Party UML 33; Madheshi People's Rights Forum 30; Terai Madhesh Democratic Party; Sadbhavana Party 4; Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party 2; People's Front Nepal 2; Independent 2; National People's Front 1.

Results from the proportional representation election may still change the Assembly's make-up. More women -- over 3,000 -- are running under party banners in this election.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Postscript on Nepal

Hisila Yami won. CPN(M) has thus far won in 61 of 115 constituencies. Let's see what happens next.

Breaking the Box in Nepal

Four days after the elections for the Constitutional Assembly in Nepal, ten women, including a 77-year-old, will climb Mt. Qomolangma in the Himalayas. That seems a strange way to commemorate a new political development but in this tiny country wedged between India and China, it is characteristic of the way Nepali women are breaking centuries-old traditions and pushing their way toward the 21st century.

Last week, parliament revoked a law that gave men the right to divorce their wives if they don’t bear children in ten years, never mind if the cause is male infertility. Some time ago, Nepal recognized the gender designation M/F, neither male nor female, for the transgendered. And in the coming Constitutional Assembly, Dalits (who used to be called untouchables) will sit with higher caste representatives to write the Constitution that will formally end the 269-year Shah dynasty.

The ten mountain-climbing women come from different castes and ethnicities, thus symbolizing the hoped-for national unity, in the face of a disintegrating kingdom. Already, its interim government has stripped King Gyanendra of his powers, canceled his annual $3.1 million allowance and taken away 10 of the royal palaces. Royal wealth seems excessive in a country where the literacy rate runs between 35-40%, and where the poorest of the poor, mostly women, own literally nothing.

Gyanendra, a businessman, ascended the throne following the murder of his brother, the old king, and eight other members of the immediate royal family, allegedly by a prince, over a thwarted romance. This story was, of course, widely disbelieved. Gyanendra assumed the throne in the midst of a burgeoning people’s war waged primarily by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) or the CPN (M), with the twin political call to end the monarchy and liberate women. I confess that when I was first made aware of the latter, I nearly jumped out of my skin, having been engaged in debate for 20 years over class, gender and liberation.

Sometime in the early ‘90s, I was introduced by a mountain-climbing friend to a Nepali man who seemed terribly – and to me, inordinately -- interested in discussing women’s rights, issues and women’s struggles. I can’t remember his name now but this was at the time when the first pro-democracy movement was occurring in the country. Because I was chair of a national women’s organization then, he wanted me to meet a visiting delegation from an all-women’s association of Nepal. I begged off, knowing very little about Nepal and afraid I would say something stupid. But also because my mind simply couldn’t wrap itself around why a man would be interested in women's rights; I'd never met one before.

The call for emancipation appeared to have inspired a dash among Nepali women to join the revolution. From various accounts, women comprise anywhere between 36% to 50% of the armed fighters of the CPN(M), with the aggregate membership of women’s organizations numbering 600,000. This was dizzying, indeed. Then from the turmoil came one woman's clear and strong voice. an essay on women’s leadership in Nepal’s people’s war, written by Comrade Parvati, head of the CPN(M) Women’s Department.

Parvati is running in the Kathmandu Valley, under her real name Hisila Yami. She’s one of only 373 women among 4,000 candidates contesting the 240 seats to be determined by direct vote. Under the proportional representation system, though, over 3,000 women are contesting some 5,998 seats, carrying their political parties’ banners. Nearly 10,000 candidates in total are running in these elections.

By mandate, women are supposed to occupy 30% of the Constitutional Assembly. But political parties have fielded very few women for the direct elections or have them running in areas where they’re sure to lose. The CPN(M) has the largest percentage – 20%; it’s second-in-command said that the Party wanted 50% but couldn’t find enough women. That sounded like the usual excuse but with women’s literacy running to only about 26%, not finding enough to meet eligibility requirements seems plausible. Indeed, Nepal’s Election Commission threatens to disqualify 49 women candidates for lack of documentation.

In a move that resonates, CPN(M) fielded 100 candidates who each had lost a family member in the course of the 13-year people’s war. 80 are women, widowed in the struggle for Nepal’s national liberation. What better way to honor the dead of a movement than to give their kith and kin the right to have a say in governance?
That a Maoist party finds women’s emancipation to be of major interest is explained by Parvati thus:

It is interesting to observe that revolutionary communist women have always been on the offensive when they are fighting against the revisionists. The reason may be because they are painfully aware that revisionism breeds bureaucratization, which in turn strengthens patriarchal values, ultimately negating women in politics.

It should be noted that in third world county like Nepal, where class differentiation is not sharp enough, inner-party struggle may often appear in the form of gender, ethnic, regional struggle. Hence the gender issue becomes quite an important component of the class issue. In such a case dismissing the gender issue as an alien force will ultimately affect class struggle.

True, one large box – feudalism -- has to be broken in Nepal but that box contains many little boxes in which women are held captive. Officially, 80,000 Nepali women work in 65 countries, mostly as domestics, contributing roughly 10% of total remittances to the country but many more work in clandestine situations, especially in the Gulf countries. 10,000 are (sex) trafficked annually to India, creating some 200,000 women exiles. Among the Dalits, 60% are married before the age of 16. And while widows are no longer automatically immolated at their husbands’ funeral pyre, they are not allowed to re-marry. Property rights are also by male lineage, leaving widows and daughters impoverished. Nepal's women have a shorter lifespan than men --an anomaly in this world.

A civil war may seem a drastic way to break traditional boxes but as one woman fighter put it, being engaged in an actual liberation movement has brought about more political, cultural and ideological changes than “if universities had taught equality for a hundred years.” - ##

Sunday, March 30, 2008

post-script to arrests

Thanks to the many, many people who expressed concern for Mirk and Gemma. It was most heartwarming to know that, though many didn't know the two GABNet members, it was enough that they were of this sovereign sisterhood.

What's the probability ratio that of the 200 arrested at the latest anti-war actions, two would come from GABNet? It seems to me that that says something about the mettle of this organization.

The two are out and will likely face court hearings. I hope the charges are dismissed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

2 GABNet Members Arrested

Mirk and Gemma were arrested at the anti-war march in San Francisco on the 19th of March.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sex, Lies & The Gender of Power

New York lost its governor, he who rode to victory on 70% of state votes. Eliot Spitzer, who was reputed to be the scrubber – he would clean corruption out of every aspect of state politics – resigned after revelations of sex trysts with (a) prostitute(s) which reportedly cost him as much as $80,000. Shocked New Yorkers went around for a day or two asking “what was he thinking?” Friend Mirk and I agreed, over phone lines stretched between New York and San Francisco, that it would be more correct to ask “with what was he thinking?”

Actually, when the news first broke out, my immediate reaction was to say “stupid!” Why’d he use his cell phone? Why not a prepaid disposal one? Why not ask his aide to make the arrangements? In other words, my shock came from his inability to finesse the illicit act – in other words, to get away with it, not to get caught. Goes to show that even someone like me who examines her thoughts constantly for “constructs” falls prey to the assumption that among the accouterments of power is sexual access to the object(s) of one’s desire; that a rampant libido is part and parcel of leadership.

The roots of this assumption lie in history, of course, leading back to over 10,000 years ago when sexual dominance over women began humankind’s experiment with large-scale marginalization of portions of itself, and preemption of community resources (including women) based on strength, eventually institutionalized into class divisions based on property. This is one of the basic reasons why power has had a male gender in class society. We can posit as well that power became synonymous with strength, since the idea of dominance was embedded in the hierarchical and quasi-military formations at the beginning of human history. Thus leadership equals power equals dominance, strength and an enhanced libido.

New Yorker shock lasted only a few days and then, former Governor Spitzer became fodder for the worst jokes ever in the political scene. The song Love Potion Number 9 was rewritten to become Client Number 9 – the pseudonym by which Spitzer was identified in court papers when the management of the high-class prostitution ring was sued. Speculation was that “Kristen,” the woman given over $4,000 by Client Number 9, had to take the train instead of flying from New York to Washington D.C. because she was carrying toys. Uh. She’s reportedly making a lot of money from the scandal – underscoring the message of U.S, pop culture to young women: you can have it all by selling yourself.

Despite huge advances in concepts of women’s equality and women’s rights, we still can’t seem to end the view of women and sexual indulgence as accessories of power. Solomon’s harem of hundreds of women was written up as kingly virtue; the emperors of Rome gathered women, men and children for their sexual proclivities, as did the emperors of China. In more recent times, there were the Kennedys, Bill Clinton and that guy who was soliciting congressional pages via text messaging. The irony is that political leaders are brought down by sex scandals in this bourgeois society where women are as much a commodity as anything else. I can’t remember any similar event happening in the socialist bloc, when it still existed. Chiang Ching, the wife of Chairman Mao, allegedly indulged in orgies of drinking and watching Western films with her colleagues in the Gang of Four – but that was mostly rumor. She committed suicide after decades in prison in China.

Some supporters of Hillary Clinton floated the opinion that the Spitzer scandal underlies the importance of gender in the selection of leadership. I tried to recall if there ever was a woman leader who linked power with sex as much as men often do. Catherine The Great, if accounts are to be believed, could fall into that category. But by and large, women of power were more linked to cruelty and excess in spending than anything else. Like Imelda Marcos, who’s just been cleared of money salting, while 10,000 human rights victims of her husband’s dictatorship remain bereft of compensation. The Philippines, it seems, has a long history of allowing injustice to go un-redressed, like the peasants killed at Hacienda Luisita, the thousand activists murdered since 2001, the union leaders killed at various factories…

I would agree to some extent with Hillary’s supporters but for different reasons. First and foremost is the need to de-genderize power. For over 10,000 years, the gender of power has been male; decisive work has to be done to end that. Second reason would be to end the assumption that women are accessories of power and wealth – an assumption that continues the historical objectification of women as possessions or as objects to be conquered. Third reason is that, despite all good intentions, the highest representation of women in government has only been 26% -- and that was in former Soviet Union, China and various governments of the former Eastern bloc. This view that women are to be governed, not to govern, is linked to our historical and social definition of woman. We cannot leave that view unchallenged; part of the struggle for women’s emancipation is the need to redefine what a woman is, should be; indeed to redefine what gender is, socially. Otherwise, we accept the proposition that a woman is she who works for the interests of profit-makers, exploiters and oppressors. The new definition, which we need to uphold in all our actions and pronouncements, must come from the women’s struggle and women’s movement toward their emancipation and the people’s liberation. -- ##

Monday, March 10, 2008

Mystic at the Los Angeles IWD

Grammy-nominated artist/rapper Mystic whip up the crowd at the 8th March against the War rally in Los Angeles.

Fierce! Really Fierce!

International Women's Day March in Los Angeles

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Fil-Am Women Lead Historic Los Angeles March

from Dr. Annaliza Enrile, national chairperson, GABNet; initiating committee, Mariposa Alliance:

City of West Hollywood Endorses 8th March Against The War rally

LOS ANGELES: Thousands of women are expected to march under the butterfly insignia of the Mariposa Alliance and the purple standard of GABNet as the City Council of West Hollywood passed a resolution endorsing this Saturday's anti-war gathering. It will be a historic event for Los Angeles where no women's march on International Women's Day has been held since 1994.

Said GABNet National Chair Dr. Annalisa Enrile: "that women of Philippine ancestry are taking the lead on this makes our community and organizations proud. As Filipino-Americans, we are taking our rightful place in the political discourse of the United States, on issues that impact our lives on a daily basis." The GABNet chair thanked the member organizations of the Mariposa Alliance for their staunch and unwavering support. She also thanked the City Council of West Hollywood and Mayor John L. Duran for "confirming the validity" of women's actions and women's voices on "the burning issues of the day."

The West Hollywood City Council Resolution # 08-3644 is entitled Resolution In Support of International Women's Day: March 8th Against The War Rally." It notes that: "March 8th Against The War Rally serves to unite female activists and groups that usually work on different issues for a common cause." Declaring that the City Council of West Hollywood "has been a vocal opponent against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has a history of supporting community programming for women's rights," the Council duly passed its resolution of support for the 8th March rally against the war. (see text below)

Among the participating organizations are the Association of Raza Educators, Somos Raza, Bienestar, CHIRLA Home Health Care Workers, University of Southern California student groups, California State University LA, ELAC, Pomona and Long Beach student groups, Kappa Psi Epsilon, Chapinas Unidas, CODEPINK, ANSWER, Global Strike for Women, INCITE, MIWON, US Labor Against the War and others.

GABNet members from Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego and Santa Barbara will be busing to the rally. They are calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Philippines and the prosecution of military rapists, sex abuses and traffickers. "We march for Nicole. We march for the bansamoro women. We march for the Filipina raped in Japan by a U.S. soldier. We march for all women victims of U.S. occupation all over the world," declared Jollene Levid, GABNet national organizing director.




WHEREAS, nearly 4,000 Americans and 1 million Iraqis have been killed since the Iraq War began in 2003; and

WHEREAS, the majority of these victims are, disproportionately, women and children; and

WHEREAS, the "International Women's Day: March 8th Against the War" rally serves as an opportunity to unite female activists and groups that usually work on different issues for a common cause; and

WHEREAS, the march will mark the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War and call for an end to the war and victimization of women in war-stricken countries; and

WHEREAS, no large mobilization of women activists on International Women's Day in Los Angeles has taken place since 1994; and

WHEREAS, West Hollywood has been a vocal opponent of the recent wars in Afganistan and Iraq, and has a history of supporting community programming for women's rights;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the City Council of the City of West Hollywood hereby supports "International Women's Day: March 8th Against the War" rally on March 8th, 2008 in Los Angeles.

PASSED, APPROVED AND ADOPTED by the City Council of the City of West Hollywood at a regular meeting held this 3rd day of March, 2008, by the following vote:

AYES: Councilmember Guarriello, Heilman, Land, Mayor Pro Tempre Prang and Mayor Duran
NOES: None

Signed by Mayor John Duran; Attested to by City Clerk Thomas R. West.

Comment from NR: FIERCE! Morph to Liberation!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Election Iconography 2

The day Hillary Clinton lost eight primaries in a row I suffered acute distress – which was really insane. I can’t vote. I’m one of the million backlogged at the INS; it’s likely I will be forever backlogged and will have to retire in Antarctica, since I take democracy seriously and practice it whenever I can – something power structures don’t like. I watch U.S. elections as intensely as any citizen nevertheless, because I have to live under the term of office of the successful, as much affected as any citizen. Once in a while, I think of the Boston Tea Partygoers who dumped tea leaves into the harbor, with the battle cry “no taxation without representation.” This election, with the opportunity to have either the first African-American or female president, my interest is ten fold. Hillary losing despite the great wave of female pride that greeted her candidacy was a bad nightmare. Has The Cause died, who/what did it in? The last two weeks I’ve kept eye and ear on her, fascinated by the on-going malversation of a huge political capital. She was, after all, the double-digit lead; unstoppable, possessing a war chest of $100 million and anointed by the party hierarchy when the primaries started.

The more I watch and listen, the more I am at a loss to get a handle on her. Her speeches are thematically all over the place, without structure (writers know how important structure is to message), though full of specificities; her replies to critical questions fudging and verbose. The contrast was vivid when she and Obama were asked whether undocumented aliens should be allowed to have driver’s licenses. She took what seemed a minute to reply and I still don’t know what her position is. Obama said one word: “Yes.” On the Iraq issue, there she went again, round and round the mulberry tree. “If I had known then what I know now” doesn’t wash – because you are supposed to know, then and now. Hey, the vote for war was wrong; say it, say it, say it.

What happened to the feisty woman who took on, during her husband’s first term of office, the health care behemoth of an industry? Was she pummeled too much, did the scaffolding of risk-taking and derring-do give way? Or did she, after such a brutal treatment, submit to have her personality calibrated, to avoid the accusation of being divisive, to get the approval of those in the party hierarchy? Oh hey, I could’ve told her that no matter what, strong, intelligent women with ideas of their own will always be called divisive. The whole women’s liberation movement has been called divisive time and again.

The first part of this blog (see below) brought me responses, which can be grouped into a) you gender traitor; b) it’s not the candidates, it’s the issues; and c) it doesn’t matter because what’s needed is radical change.

When the candidates’ positions regarding issues are not too far apart (or as they say, not much daylight in between), one is forced to look at other reasons for choosing: what they represent and their style. Choosing between the first African-American and the first female candidate for the presidency is difficult, since both belong to the same class stratum. One is left with style. Hillary speaks in specifics but her message isn’t consolidated; I get the impression she’s making it up as she goes along. Obama speaks in general phrases, some resonating strongly (“We are who we have been waiting for!”). In the matter of organization, Olivia of GABNet NY, told me of this guy who went to volunteer at the Obama campaign center. He could write, he said, and could issue an endorsement. No, he was told; he should visit every building in his neighborhood and find one person within who would endorse Obama. And he did, door to door, turning his neighborhood into a virtual Obama campaign center. For Hillary, I get an emailed letter from probably the richest Filipina around.

So, the first African-American president or the first woman president? Is it fair to use candidates as objective correlatives? I have no idea and am thankful I will not have to resolve this quandary, which drives some of my friends into a tizzy. Truth to tell, what fascinates me with the primaries is how Obama grows, how Clinton becomes more elegiac, and how, as Obama gains delegates, I feel like a character in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel, specifically Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I am poised between the certainty of the story’s ending and the unfolding of that end, and yet hoping that there will an intervention somewhere, so it doesn't end the way one suspects it will end. Now I read that the Nobel Prize laureate Doris Lessing has reached the same conclusion, which probably underscores the depth of cynicism this culture has bred in those of us who are not of it. -- #

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Election Iconography

The temptation is great: put one’s self behind one candidate and explain the choice with a simple but incontrovertible truth: she’s a woman; he’s African-American; I want someone different. That he couldn’t be summed up in a simplistic tag-line made for much, I think, of John Edwards’ difficulties. I was sorry to see him go; he kind of completed the Democratic Party’s election iconography, being the social analyst to Hillary Clinton’s number-crunching intellection and Barack Obama’s visionary approach. Edwards evoked this desire in me to mount the ramparts; Clinton, to mount the Library of Congress and dive into facts and figures; Obama, to mount the mount in search of enlightenment.

Perfect if all three could’ve been rolled up into one.

The Republicans, with their cookie-cutter candidates (all hair-sprayed straight white males in dark blue suits, you gotta be kidding, in this day and age!), simply put me to sleep, from which I occasionally awoke laughing to ask of Ron Paul, “dude, you sure you’re in the right party?” or screaming at the words “I have always been for the rights of the unborn,” “the Constitution must conform to the laws of God.” You gotta be kidding, in this day and age! That what you learned from 9/11?

Curious as to how an anointed star would spin defeat, I started watching the night Barack Obama lost the New Hampshire primary on the heels of an Iowa victory. I haven’t stopped. Work pile up on my desk; the computer turns cold. I swear he can hold the attention of even the worst ADD-afflicted. The hand of fate was palpable on his forehead; karma-marked, like Achilles, for a life exceptionally triumphant or tragic or both. Destiny, he clearly had.

The adjectives applied to him by commentators are rarely applied to politicians: transcendental, luminous, memorable, a phenomenon. A CNN “expert” said the Dems should enjoy him, as what Obama had was something one couldn’t buy at a store. Clearly, from the great enthusiasm of his meetings and the amount of money rolling in, considering he’s really a neophyte, everyone feels it. I am beginning to wonder if, in the 21st Century, this would be our archetypal dramatic figure: tall, lean, lanky young man embarking on a quest. Who does that evoke in your mind? Under the Bo tree, on the shores of Galilee, on the rocks of Aghanistan, Shiva dancing creation and destruction.

Dems and Reps agree on a narrative for this election: that somewhere along the way, governance has taken a wrong turn and needs to be restored to its proper place, in defense, as it were, of that amorphous group called “the middle class.” The Dems call for change; the Reps chant about a broken government. But what’s wrong exactly remained unspecified; perhaps, it is too frightening. Edwards was the most forthcoming: corporate power, which had secured too strong a foothold in Washington, had to be reined in. He was both right and wrong; corporate power had become too overt, true, but it has always held Washington in its grip. Remember Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex.

The candidates also seem to have agreed on a laundry list of “major concerns”: border security, immigration, health care, tax cuts, Iraq occupation – pieces and patches on which one can articulate an equally patchwork. Yeah, we don’t like the war but I’d like to know what a democratic foreign policy is and the role of war, invasion and occupation in that policy. Sure, deprive the undocumented of a way to legalize their stay in this country but what do the Reps plan to do with the 12 million undocumented? Deport them all? Impossible. Let them remain undocumented, so they can be paid wages below the minimum? I’d like clear policies on phone taps, mail and email security, and the right to travel. Of course, I am pro-choice but I’d also like to see the buying and selling of women, in whatever form, eradicated. The candidates’ answers leave me with many more unanswered questions.

One day at a Staples branch, I asked an African-American woman for whom she was batting and she said, “Hillary.” I said I thought Barack seemed preferable and she said it was a conundrum. She liked Obama but her experience as a woman, especially in the workplace, made her decide that it was time for a woman to be chief executive. “Otherwise, we’ll never make that breakthrough.”

I then asked a Caucasian woman who was supporting and she said “Obama.” That surprised me as well but she explained that Hillary was too embedded in the established system and she wanted an outsider. In this day and age, she said, ethnic minorities seemed the only viable outsiders to everything. She added wryly that had Hillary been of mixed bloodlines or Obama female…

Having seen elections galore which produced little change (I tend to look at them as huge manipulative ordered chaos that delude everyone into thinking they matter), I am tempted to be cynical and ask, does it really matter who wins? That being a dialectical question, the answer is both yes and no. Consider the proliferating checkpoints, the ever stringent rules on travel, the phone taps, the email taps, the growing acuteness of xenophobia and I realize that, to some extent, who will wield White House power will affect the amount of democratic space we will have. That space is important, in the coming recession, as the unemployment rate climbs to the 13% that is the hallmark of a stagnant economy, as multinational corporations siphon wealth from the ordinary folks through such schemes as the mortgage and credit bubbles now threatening to blow up, as states lose their tax base and cut government jobs, social welfare and public projects… We will need that space to make known, through mass action, how the steadily worsening economic crisis affects us on a day-to-day basis… We will need it, now that all mass communications are owned and controlled by multinationals.

That said, while I can barely stop watching Barack Obama, the spectacle of male politicians/commentators/pundits ganging up on Hillary Clinton angers and saddens me. That the two are at dead heat in this contest attests to how deep and profound and in many ways equal, marginalization is, whether based on gender or based on race. Being ethnic and female, I waver back and forth, forth and back, but realize ultimately that my choice must be made on who will mean a larger and more profound democracy. Do ethnic men oppress/exploit women to a lesser/greater degree? Or do white women, by virtue of their class privilege, oppress/exploit ethnic people to a lesser/greater degree? Send me your answer. -- ###