The Growing Movement For Sex Worker Safety & Rights

The US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS), formed in 1981, is a multi-racial network of former and current sex workers working in different areas of the sex industry. We are part of the International Prostitutes Collective. Our starting point is women who work the streets who are most likely to get arrested and face violence.

We estimate that about 70% of sex workers are mothers, mostly single mothers, supporting kids and other family members. Most are driven into prostitution because of poverty and lack of financial alternatives. The poverty rate for single mother-headed households was triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population in 2011. Punitive welfare reform policies have thrown thousands of moms into destitution. When welfare is cut, more women are picked up for prostitution and more women end up in prison.

We work in the sex industry for a variety of reasons. One reason is that sex work pays better than many jobs on the market, such as working in the fast food industry or as a receptionist or cashier. Sex work also often allows for flexibility and control over our work schedule. Whether working the streets, as call girls, online, as strippers, making videos, etc, if we are mothers, we can fit sex work around our kids’ school schedules. Those of us who are students can set our hours around classes and studying. Many of us use sex work to top off the low wages of other jobs.

But sex work is illegal and we face arrest every time we go to work. The prostitution laws criminalize us and we are illegal workers with no rights. An arrest or a conviction for a prostitution-related offense can have devastating consequences. We can lose custody of our children, get kicked out of our homes, or be deported if we are immigrants. And once we have a criminal record, it is much harder to get out of prostitution and find another job. Criminalization also makes us vulnerable to rape and other violence, and fear of arrest prevents most sex workers from reporting violent crimes. Police themselves can be part of this violence. 20% of street workers and 14% of indoor workers have experienced violence at the hands of police and 16% of indoor workers had been involved in sexual situations with the police.

One of the women in our network, a young Black mother, was convicted of violating a “Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution Order.” Working with Legal Action for Women (LAW), a grassroots legal service, we contacted numerous agencies for help with affordable housing so the young woman could leave prostitution. Nothing was available. She was left with a choice between destitution and sex work. Either way she risked losing custody of her children. Tragically, this young woman was arrested again for pimping, after she helped another young woman to get off the street. US PROS intervened to stop her from being registered as a sex offender which would have had drastic and lifelong implications.

Under a new California law called the Case Act, this young woman could now be considered a “trafficker” and face 12 years in prison. The Case Act (Proposition 35) funded by ex-Facebook billionaire Chris Kelly, and supported by law enforcement, will further criminalize sex workers and anyone who we associate with. US PROS vigorously opposed the CASE Act and was joined by other sectors in the community such as people of color, church, gay, legal, civil rights groups, and many individuals. Despite claims by the people behind this law, victims of trafficking will not be helped by it. As prostitution is pushed further underground by increased criminalization of those working in the sex industry, it becomes harder for victims to report exploitation, rape and other violence, including trafficking.

Laws of this kind are part of a moral crusade. Some anti-prostitution groups, including some who call themselves feminist, claim that all prostitution is violence against women and that all immigrant sex workers are trafficked. But a recent crackdown on massage parlors showed that anti-trafficking laws are used primarily to tighten immigration controls and deport immigrant women, not to protect genuine victims.

The anti-trafficking lobby has used phony statistics to exaggerate the numbers of trafficked victims and to shut down online ads such as on Craigslist and Village Voice, claiming that these ads promote trafficking and exploitation. Sex workers protested that censoring ads made it harder for them to work independently–some were forced onto the streets where it is 10 times more dangerous to work. US PROS organized a counter protest of anti-trafficking feminist groups protesting Craigslist. We exposed those organizations which have profited from anti-trafficking funding without any consideration of the impact on sex workers’ rights and safety.

Sex worker-led actions like this are part of a growing movement for the decriminalization of prostitution which is gaining momentum and support.

In 2008 a voter initiative in San Francisco (Proposition K) called on the city to follow the example of New Zealand which had decriminalized prostitution in 2003 leading to clear improvements in safety. Despite ferocious campaigning by the Mayor, the District Attorney, anti-trafficking forces and the police, Proposition K won 41% of the vote. It was modeled on the recommendations of the path-breaking San Francisco Task Force on Prostitution, which called for the millions of dollars squandered on criminalizing sex workers to be redirected into community resources.

With the Homeless Coalition and others, US PROS has organized against recent Sit/Lie laws, which have increased the harassment of street workers, homeless people and immigrant day laborers. Sit/Lie has made it illegal to sit or lie on the sidewalk between 7am and 11pm in San Francisco. Claims that laws used against people on the streets are implemented in a racist way, are strengthened by evidence which shows that Black sex workers are seven times more likely to get arrested than their white counterparts. Occupy SF was the location of one of the actions where people spoke out against the criminalization of survival.

We’ve also taken action against serial rapists. With Legal Action for Women/SF we spearheaded a community monitoring initiative at the trial of serial rapist Jack Bokin. Bokin brutally attacked and raped four women, three of them sex workers. For two years, we co-ordinated a rota of people to attend court and pressed for justice for the victims. This public scrutiny was instrumental in ensuring a conviction and a prison sentence of 231 years. The case of Joseph Naso charged with killing at least four sex workers, is coming to trial soon and we intend to be there.

As cuts in benefits and services deepen, the numbers of women, young people, homeless and transgender people going into the sex industry increases. US PROS is part of a new national campaign to end the poverty of mothers and children by supporting two breakthrough bills in Congress: the WORK Act, by Pete Stark, to “provide low-income parents the option of staying home to raise young children without being pushed into poverty”; the RISE Act by Rep. Glenn Moore, which demands that “poverty reduction be put at the heart of welfare policy”. These bills signal a much needed change. From the point of view of sex workers, if mothers were given the recognition and support we deserve, women wouldn’t have to go into prostitution to feed our kids.

“Like women everywhere who do 2/3 of the world’s work for 5% of the world’s income, sex workers are fighting for more money and less work,” says Rachel West, US PROS spokeswoman. “If the billions currently squandered on war and destruction came to women, the primary caregivers everywhere, and to our communities to fulfill people’s needs, no one would be forced by poverty into sex with anyone. Our demand, increasingly taken up by others, is: Outlaw Poverty, Not Prostitution.”

For more information, visit US PROS’s website at, contact us at

The Gay Agenda: How the Corporate Media Fails Queers

As a freelance broadcast technician, some days I have to get up at 3AM to run camera, lights, and sound for corporate news shows like Good Morning America, The Early Show, and Meet the Press. The combination of sleep deprivation and old white guys yakking routinely tests my ability to stay awake and attentive. In order to pass the time, I sometimes try to focus less on the news, and more on the construction of the news and its discourses, lending equal attention to form and content. The producers know that people will be watching through pre-coffee morning haze –these shows are called “Breakfast Television,” after all. So, what is being communicated underneath and between the script, so subtle it won’t distract from your toast, but so prevalent it structures the very way watch you watch? (What lends the anchor their authority as a speaker? Who’s wearing makeup, and how much? Who’s speaking on behalf of whom? What’s being sold?) These wonderings give me something to think about as I push the volume sliders up and down.

Fortunately, most weekdays I go to my other job (at a slightly more humane hour), where I talk to high schoolers about safer sex, birth control, sexuality, healthy relationships, and consent. My two jobs can seem worlds apart: one involves telecommunication, scripts, and advertising; the other, face-to-face interaction, empathy, and moments of sheer vulnerability. And yet, my students’ experiences (filtered through a background in radical sex and queer theory) challenge me to think about where and how media, school, and sex intersect, and what these intersections reveal about each.

* * *

On October 3rd of this past year, the American Family Association (AFA) published a press release “exposing” the Mix It Up at Lunch program, which once a year brings together students of different socioeconomic status, racial background, and sexual orientation at lunchtime in order to break down social cliques and isolation.

The AFA’s contention, broadcast by its leader, Bryan Fischer, in an interview on CNN, was that Mix it Up is “designed… to establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools… and push its gay agenda.”

There’s a lot being invoked in that soundbite, and it’s worth unpacking. When Bryan Fischer mentions “the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools,” he’s inserting himself into a history of homophobic fear-mongering that goes back a hundred years. George Chauncey has documented how in the 1930s and 40s gay men were characterized in public media campaigns as sexually abusing children, which set the stage for a long lineage of public homophobia justified in the unspoken interest of creating straight kids. Folks who were alive in the 1970s (or have seen the Harvey Milk biopic Milk) may remember California’s 1978 Briggs Initiative, which would have barred gays from teaching in public schools for fear that they’d make the students gay; others may find it helpful to think back to Proposition 8 in 2008, which banned gay marriage in California after supporters notoriously distributed literature featuring the slogan “Protect the Children!” Historically, few politicians have made the link as explicit as Senator Jesse Helms, who in 1989 sponsored an amendment to refuse federal funding to any organization “promot[ing]… or produc[ing] images of… homo-eroticism, [and] the sexual exploitation of children.” So it is not a stretch to say that when Bryan Fischer warns us about “the gay agenda,” this is a PG-13 way of claiming, “the homos in the cafeteria are going to make your kids gay and then fuck them in the ass.”

Of course, CNN’s anchor didn’t call Fischer out on what, exactly, he was insinuating with his talk of, “the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools.” (And to her credit, she eventually just cut him off.) Instead, here’s how the story played itself out: The center-left media took Fischer’s bait, accusing the AFA of a category mistake. Maureen Costello, Director of the lunch program, countered: “Teaching Tolerance and “Mix it Up” day have nothing to do with sexuality… Bryan Fischer sees the homosexual agenda in a dish of ice cream.” At first blush Costello’s response feels right; Mix It Up is about “breaking down barriers,” increasing diversity, and other laudable, standard liberal fare, none of which is explicitly gay. One can even imagine Mix It Up as an advertisement for heterosexuality, bringing together straight students of the “opposite” sex. As a logical refutation of Fischer’s bullshit, this might be a good start–but it also completely misses the point.

Fischer’s argument is a straw man: not just a “misrepresentation” of the Mix It Up program, as Costello put it, but an intentional one. That’s the bait. Fischer and the AFA get to unilaterally set the terms of the debate: to claim where “the homosexual agenda” is or isn’t present. The “homosexual agenda” is so historically overdetermined that it is literally undebatable, meaning homophobia becomes hard-wired as the very currency of the discourse. The stage is thus set for Fischer to blather on CNN, and for both Fischer and Costello to get quoted in the New York Times. Other news orgs, from ABC to the Huffington Post, as well as gay blogs like Queerty, Toweroad, the Human Rights Campaign’s blog, and JoeMyGod then run the story in this same he-said, she-said format. Two hundred schools drop out of Mix It Up, and another 180 join. Tit for tat.

What’s missing from the entire scuffle is anything remotely queer. No one questions whether the school cafeteria is really the asexual space that American liberalism insists it must be and pretends it already is. Within this premise, Fischer presents a nightmare that school could become a space for “alternative sexual behavior”; that if sex and school collide, students may question the narrative they’ve been fed about waiting until marriage, monogamy, procreation, and privacy as the bedrock of personhood. So the “homosexual agenda” is a trope for the threat not only to children’s sexual integrity (the physical integrity of their virginal hymens and assholes), but also the moral integrity that hinges on how, where, and whom they fuck. Costello’s assertion that “Mix It Up has nothing to do with [any] sexuality” is her ground for legitimacy because public youth sexuality is so haunted by the twin specters of pedophilia and gay recruitment that it is an all-or-nothing affair. Either there is no sexuality in the cafeteria, or the cafeteria is full of sweaty, queer bodies indoctrinating and fucking everywhere you look. Once the public debate has been set up this way, Costello has only one option–no sex. Such is the power of the trope of the “homosexual agenda.”

But this is exactly the point and the moment for critical intervention: the school cafeteria, like all non-explicitly-queer spaces (e.g., the rest of the school), is a sexual space–a heterosexual space. From the cutesy drawings of straight families on the mini milk cartons, to the narratives in history textbooks (which at best minoritize “gay rights” to a post-war footnote), to the gender-segregated bathrooms, to the posters for candidates for prom king and queen, to the abstinence-only or “family planning”-focused sex ed curriculum, to the school-sanctioned violence visited on queer and trans students, the cafeteria perpetuates the heterosexual indoctrination that is simply the background noise of American society. As Michael Warner puts it, heterosexuality is “the one thing celebrated in every film plot, every sitcom, every advertisement. It is the one thing to which every politician pays obeisance, couching every dispute over guns and butter as an effort to protect family, children, and home.” By pretending that the cafeteria isn’t already rife with straight sexuality, Costello et al. miss the opportunity to discuss whether it should be and what form it should take.

In other words, what Costello won’t ask is why it would be so fucking bad if two (or more) young women met at Mix It Up and decided to spend fourth period discovering their bodies together behind the bleachers. She won’t ask why it would be bad if a “homosexual agenda” were indeed being served up with the tater tots and chocolate milk–if, that is, the cafeteria were a little less straight. Nor, for that matter, will she ask what the homosexual agenda really is, and what it ought to be. And she can’t ask these questions because she’s already accepted Fischer’s terms of the debate, which are calculated to obscure the construction and ubiquity of heterosexuality, desexualize public space, and foreclose debate about queerness in schools. We need not look past the name of her program–Teaching Tolerance–to see why this concession was necessary. Tolerance –liberal egalitarianism as social policy–offers a place at the table in exchange for fealty to the status quo that bestowed the privilege to begin with. (Consider the gay marriage movement: gays and lesbians can cash in on the benefits of marriage as long as they don’t question the couple form, monogamy, and private property.) Tolerance says, “the queers in the corner deserve to eat lunch in peace like everybody else.” But it says nothing about why it might be awesome to be young and queer, much less what their straight peers, teachers, and parents could learn from them–if only they’d let themselves be “indoctrinated.”

Of course, we shouldn’t expect the mainstream press to ask students to question their sexuality. When stuff like this happens, the media producers’ goal is to win the debate on the terms in which it was found and score some rhetorical points (and ratings). It will poke holes in the sham arguments put forth and proclaim a job well-done. The homophobic fire will be temporarily extinguished, and mass attention will soon drift to the next news cycle. But that’s not to say we can’t learn from the mainstream press. Our suspicion that something is gravely lacking from the discussion can incite us to examine what’s not being asked, like how heterosexuality is at once ubiquitous and obscured at school. Further, the rabid focus on the “homosexual agenda” calls us to question the homophobia that frames the discourse. When’s the last time you heard a queer person non-ironically refer to the “homosexual agenda”? Never, which confirms what we’ve known for years: these words aren’t ours. More to the point, when’s the last time you heard anyone talk about the “straight agenda?” Rarely,* which means there’s a lot of room for us as queers to represent ourselves on our terms.

What I’m suggesting, then, is that we may be able to harness–in an interesting, potent way–the revulsion to corporate media that so many of us share. We can queer the media. These moments are opportunities to break the he-said, she-said confines of debate in order to question, reappropriate, and reinvent the terms–whether this transformation takes place over coffee, on an Internet forum, or live on Democracy Now. This doesn’t require that we grab a notepad and tune into CNN. (I, for one, would love to see the creation of a radical queer zine, The Homosexual Agenda, which would parody the term itself, offering a third way between homophobia and the heteronormative fetishizing of marriage.) The point is that we don’t have to be stuck in a binary of agreeing with what’s said (and buying what’s advertised), or tuning out.

Recently, as an experiment, I took Costello’s quip about Bryan Fischer “see[ing] the homosexual agenda in a bowl of ice cream” seriously, and to the website of the ice cream company closest to my house, Dryer’s. As of this writing, the three images rotate through their splash page portray: a woman cuddling with a young child who resembles her, each with a bowl of ice cream; a middle-aged man and woman feeding each other ice cream; and a woman handing bowls of ice cream to two children. A bowl of ice cream, evidently, is as much an advertisement for procreative, familial heterosexuality as it is for frozen dairy products. That we don’t immediately see the straight agenda swirled into the chocolate and caramel indicates only how well the dominance of heterosexuality, like fake sugars and preservatives, has been hidden.

* Note: The 2012 Yes on Prop 1 campaign deserves limited props for warning that schools would push a “radical straight agenda” in Maine if the proposed same-sex marriage law failed.

Problematic Ways of Dealing With Problematic Behavior

I think understandably, there is a lot of negativity in the radical movement. The atrocities that the system produces are on display everyday, and to varying degrees all of us have directly felt the effects of this white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, settler colonial, capitalist, ableist, sizeist, ageist society. There is so much worth fighting against, but what I have seen myself and others do too often, is take the aggressive mentality essential in challenging structural systems of oppression, and apply it to interpersonal relationships, where it is really not effective. I have seen and heard the tales of “fucked up”, privileged, ignorant behavior, to panels or presentations without the strongest analysis of power and privilege. But what I have not seen enough of are responses that recognize that mistakes are inevitable, and that help people move forward so that they will be less likely repeat those same mistakes.

Now being an extremely privileged person, there have been few times in my life that people’s language and behavior has felt personally oppressive (that they are oppressing me), and I am not here to tell anyone how to react when one’s own identity/body is marginalized, silenced, or attacked- it is not the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressors. What I want to address is how those of us who share in a particular form of privilege could engage with one another when problematic behavior comes up, for example how I (a white person) could react when a white friend is considering wearing an Indian headdress for Halloween.

My most common reaction is silence, accompanied by judgment, which I then vent to others at a later point in time. This is common behavior for me at public discussions, or during the question period after panels. And when I do challenge people on problematic ways of thinking it seems to inevitably come out with a “look at how much more I know about anti-oppression politics than you do” kind of vibe. I also hear phrases such as “that was fucked up!” and “check your privilege” tossed around a fair bit. None of these strategies create meaningful dialogue, or help anyone move towards safer space and stronger movements. It is so important to realize that no one has the perfect analysis, most of us have privileges in some areas, and that we are all in the process of learning.

The ethic in these situations feels ironically similar to the (il)logic of the prison industrial complex, which so many are trying to dismantle: if I punish someone, they will learn from their mistakes. If I expose someone, the shame of their transgression will keep them from repeating their actions. Of course I’m not seriously comparing the effects of being locked in a cage to getting a few harsh words from a comrade, but what I’m getting at is that a culture of fear does not breed change. If I start a conversation in attack mode, the natural response is probably going to be defense mode, which is usually not the best mind set in which to be taking critique and making reflection. If folks coming into my circle are always afraid of saying something “fucked up” and then don’t say anything, they will most likely never get a chance to properly deconstruct the thought process that brought about the thought in the first place, and perhaps continue to think in problematic ways, hindering the work they are doing, and undermining the potential of a collective movement that benefits everyone.

What I strive for myself, and what I want from my community is a transformative justice approach to dealing with friends who act in ways we don’t agree with. Why don’t I approach people and say “I don’t know all the answers here, but what you said felt pretty weird, can we talk about it?” or “I used to think the same way, so I totally see where you’re coming from, but I think that way of thinking is problematic because…” Each person has been influenced by different contexts, and we were all exposed to radical ideas with the help of others, so expecting perfection from our comrades (or ourselves for that matter) is guaranteeing a stagnant, static movement, exiled to the sidelines of power.

The Revolution Starts at Home is a fantastic zine on the very serious issue of partner abuse within radical circles, looking at strategies to truly support survivors, while holding perpetrators accountable, which often requires a support system for the perpetrator as well. Considering the use of maintaining the humanity of all members involved in some of the most horrific of situations, with the goal being to create strategies for the perpetrator to actually change their behavior, there is absolutely no reason we cannot do the same under much lower stakes.

I do want to mention however, that as stories from The Revolution Starts at Home show, it can be extremely difficult or impossible to keep people accountable. There will be those friends who it will take many conversations to change, or will always dismiss critique from others. We have to be strategic about who we are trying to grow with, and where we put our time and physical/emotional energy.

A culture of collective education, respect and love is what revolutionary movements need, not out of liberal ideologies that the world would be a better place if we all just loved each other more, but out of the idea that these things are an integral part of becoming stronger together, and to creating radical change.

A couple brief endnotes:

1. Hand in hand with people being more strategic in their commentary, is the need for people to be open to receive commentary. Someone bringing up your mistakes does not make you a mistake. Take time to reflect on people’s comments, and try not to take it personally. In that spirit, if you have comments on this article, things you liked, completely hated, send them my way!

2. Thanks to folks from Catalyst Project for giving me pretty good real life version of these practices, and supplying me with interesting literature which influenced this piece, such as Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture. And thanks to the person who first exposed me to radical ideas, for the most part with impressive patience.

Zombe Dialectics

Zombies are on the move! There are even fast ones now… In 2009, Time magazine declared zombies “The Official Monster of the Recession.”

Zombies are quite odd, a dialectical unity of opposites…

On the one hand there is the zombie as the ultimate alienated laborer– in Haitian lore, zombies are the living dead, working sugar-cane fields by night–devoid of all feeling and facial expression. They don’t even have to be fed–presumably they fall into rotten pieces after a while–but hey–plenty more where they came from… Should they be feared? Coming across even one would make a person’s hair stand on end, and it would have a machete… but it would just keep working. Really to be feared would be its “employer,” the Haitian-American sugar company… (see “the Magic Island” by William Seabrook 1929).

On the other hand, there’s the zombie as implacable consumer.

George Romero with his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead originally thought of his creatures as ghouls… in a later film he has them attack a shopping mall… crazed consumers indeed…

The poet William Blake sums up his dialectical Method as: “without contraries is no progression.”

For every song of innocence (say, The Lamb) Blake will have a song of experience (The Tyger).

The Lamb

Little lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life & bid thee feed,

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing, wooly, bright;

Well, it’s hella namby-pamby by itself, but here’s The Tyger:

The Tyger

The zombie walks must continue, for they have revolutionary potential. I think a horde of zombies appeared in Oakland at a First Friday Art Murmur, shambling forth in defense of libraries. Also, zombies have interrupted anti-abortion rights rallies. These are a good start, but there is more awesome power to be unlocked!

At a costume party or masquerade ball, people are often able to access underused aspects of themselves, taking on the persona of the mask… Save your Guy Fawkes visages, occupiers…In the film Fight Club, members receive the homework assignment of going out and picking a fight, and losing! A lesson in the incredible power of not giving a flying fuck!

Does a zombie have anything left to lose? A pretty picture: each member of the zombie-bloc, when they put on the peeling flesh and open-sores of their costume has also put on the head-space of “I’m already dead.” Now they stumble towards the police lines, chanting:

What do we want? Brains!

When do we want it? Brains!

Narrative Sharing: Rethinking Communication

Here’s an idea so friggin’ radical you just may dismiss it out of hand. Well, that’s one possible narrative. I’m open to others.

Narrative sharing. It’s about opening up to one another’s life stories, regardless of political outlook or life experiences. We are all living our stories, are we not? But who really knows these stories if we speak mostly in general terms of political discourse? How can I get to know you, and you me, beyond politically shaped categories?

Narrative sharing. It’s about pushing back at being told what to think, and given space to fully experience oneself beyond our categories. What if available categories miss who you really are? Politically available categories tend to fit me like a tight pair of shoes, inhibiting me from strolling freely in public spaces. I’m transgender with a spiritual dimension, or so I am told. More authentically, I am a ‘transspirit’ with a transgender dimension. I am compelled to connect to deeper potentiality, prompting me to transgress the more divisive constructed norms. But without a narrative for others to follow, this notion tends to get lost in political terms. I am much more than can be captured in generalized terms of political rhetoric. I am fully human.

Narrative sharing. It’s about transgressing the norms for idea sharing, to get to the depths of emotional sharing. Anyone can disagree with my liberal, conservative, anarchist or libertarian views, or my lack thereof. But who dares disagree with my anguished feelings about being a Native American in colonized spaces? Who dares dispute my emotions about being asexual amongst a sea of sexual privilege? Can anyone argue with my visceral reactions to being trapped within the American gulag? I mean, really, is it ever wrong to feel a certain way?

Are not emotions merely messengers, to the message of beliefs? And what point is there in shooting the messenger? Or in following the dominant culture notion that all feelings must be subordinated to rational thought, as if my thoughts and feelings should not be integrated with equal value? Narrative shares the emotions and the beliefs; political discourse tends to skip the wealth of vulnerable emotions and goes straight for defending beliefs. How engaging is that for others we seek to reach?

By sharing my narrative I expose the feelings that indicate my beliefs. I neither defend nor reject them, I simply acknowledge their existence and expose their level of importance to me. Since I don’t have to qualify my beliefs I feel free to share how I arrived at such beliefs. It’s a vulnerable space I protect from premature repudiation, to preserve intimate awareness. In the process I naturally invite others to more deeply feel their beliefs, to repudiate their own thinking norms, and find their own truth.

Narrative sharing tends to be more inviting and potentially more engaging than our typical Western styled didactic approaches. It invites others to relate in their own terms. Narrative sharing doesn’t ask for agreement, rather it asks for sharing the journey to those experiences shaping our beliefs. Political generalizations have an insidious way of overemphasizing our differences. Narratives potentially spark awareness of our common humanity, where it transcends all divisions and disharmony.

Transcending political differences

Not to say there is no place for political discourse. Can we do a little of both? Is there some way to integrate the two? Is there some way to invite understanding without relying so narrowly upon political rhetoric? Raw discourse is great when appealing to a mindset ready to share our beliefs, but can easily alienate a broader audience ready to empathize with our cause if expressed through a relatable character and plot driven narrative. The privileged white liberal has some experiences in common with the anarchist person of color, but if they start with their political differences, trying to convince one another of the rightness of their views, they will tend to keep invisible this potential for empathetic connection.

Understandably, sharing opinions feels safer in mixed company than exposing our feelings. The more diverse we find ourselves, the more we tend to depend upon the common ground of shared generalizations. Like traditional gender and sexuality norms getting in the way of our full potential, I find other interpersonal norms limiting our optimal possibilities. That includes imposed political divisions, as well as the constructed divide between rational thought sharing and emotional narrative sharing.

Narrative sharing challenges these norms of privileged alienation. By privileged alienation I mean the normalization of social spaces with others we barely know and accords advantages to those who function well with little if any intimate awareness of one another. It is a privilege skewed toward those with recognizable identities and against those with emergent identities. Who can know me as a transspirit if they have never heard of this potentiality?

Narrative sharing empowers us to transcend those political differences presumed in the norms of what Max Weber called rational-legal authority. Instead of constantly negotiating fluid social spaces, legal-rational authority allows us to settle for policies and norms established by our supposed cultural and political leaders who lay down the norms for us all to follow. That allows someone’s behavior on the West Coast to be readily predictable for someone on the East Coast. This mitigates stranger anxiety; otherwise the unpredictability of others would potentially make strangers of us all.

But such normative familiarity tends to stifle the diversity of human potential. Through narrative sharing we may find ways to explore such diverse human potential, as it finds expression in our unique experiences of gender and sexuality. I suspect nature counters this stifling of wholeness through organically atypical sexualities and gender modes. By being compelled to integrate my inner feminine and masculine ascribed energies I am naturally propelled toward communion of what is normatively alienated. This could create subject matter for a compelling, attention grabbing narrative.

Meanwhile, our unique experiences tend to be shared exclusively among group members and remain poorly understood outside of our social circles. In-group diversity tends to challenge any one-size-fits-all narrative, but is it not possible to craft a narrative with enough ambiguity to be more inclusive? Is it not possible to craft a narrative that starts to open vistas to welcome others’ insight into our uniquely shared experiences and needs? Or is it possible to craft a politics that allows others to understand me well enough to enter my space?


For me, politics make good windows, but poor doors. They’re great for looking into my world and getting a sense about what is inside, but no one may enter simply by approaching me with some trusted sociopolitical category. As a transspirit, I tend to defy just about every constructed category put upon me, and even scapegoated for not easily fitting in where expected. This definitely includes any political categories. As a transspirit I am not only transgender, I am also trans-political. Pulled toward connecting to all potential, I naturally transgress the political divide. I naturally yearn to connect to all across the political spectrum.

As I listen to the narrative of my conservative friends I hear them expressing their ego needs as more pressing than their social needs. Their sense of belonging tends to be richly met in their close-knit circles. But who they are individually, with unsettling erotic desires or anxieties toward a larger impersonal world crashing in on their smaller tightly-knit circles, appears painfully exposed and wanting. To fill that void, I see them gravitating toward ideals of individualism, as an ideological or even pragmatic hope to ease the pains of unmet ego needs. If by some chance they can actually ease their strained ego needs, I see them becoming less dogmatically conservative.

Likewise, as I listen to the narrative of my liberal friends I hear them expressing their social needs as more pressing than their ego needs. Their sense of identity tends to be richly met with a strong sense of who they are in any social environment. But who they are socially, negotiating where and how their unique selves may fit into their many social environments, appears painfully exposed and wanting. To fill that void, I see them gravitating toward ideals of collectivism, as an ideological or even pragmatic hope to ease the pains of unmet social needs. If by some chance they can actually ease their strained social needs, I see them becoming less dogmatically liberal.

When attempting to critique their political views they tend to react as if it was an attack. They circle the wagons, only to reinforce the very views I invited them to question. Often, all I am doing is attempting to share some wisdom to perchance open a dialogue to their life stories. It is not my intent to impress them with my words of wisdom, as if I could ever change their political views. As long as their needs swing toward imbalance (and who of us doesn’t by at least some degree?), I don’t see any amount of convincible rhetoric will ever sway them.

Narrative sharing isn’t about demanding a change in one’s beliefs. But it can begin an exploration to uncover the experiences and their interpretations leading to our hardened beliefs. Instead of my ideas asking them to see what’s inside my head, my narrative invites them to come and see what’s in my heart. And it’s mutual. I’d rather relate to what they honestly feel than sort through what they think. Yeah, it goes both ways. Like most of them, I’m open to any opinion, except those being crammed down my throat.

Steph Turner served as editor to a zine for and by trans/GNC prisoners (2005-2008) till the money ran out, and was a regular contributor to Fort Wayne’s (IN) Reality Magazine (2009-2010) till the money ran out and it folded too. After earning a master’s in public admin with a nonprofit emphasis and serving as a strategic planning consultant to a statewide trans org, Steph is currently working on a second master’s degree, in counseling, at least till the money runs out.

Poke Surveillance Culture in the Mechanical Eye

Fun Tips & Tricks to Confuse Cameras

By Anonymous

Surveillance cameras are increasingly forced into public spaces without warning. They are everywhere. If this is the environment we must engage with, then we will use all the tools at our disposal in resisting the processes of facial recognition. The liberal logic of transparency validates the existence of such technologies–one can think back to Aeon Flux which depicts a society where transparency is fetishized and exploited by politicians to at once control the masses and to construct their own spectacular presence. The American center-left is full of what Noam Chomsky would call proto-fascists: closet authoritarians who are quick to dismiss their presented permissive openness for the goal of societal control. Without further ado, here are some simple tips to resist surveillance culture in your town.

Make a Map – Surveillance cameras exist in physical spaces. Knowing where they are is part of the fun. Meet up with friends and split an area into digestible pieces. Now walk through your area, making note of where the cameras are. Pool the information found together with your team and then map it. After you have your map, you can figure out which routes avoid surveillance and which territories to be vigilant within.

Paint Your Face – Facial recognition software focuses on the area from the bridge of your nose to where your eyes meet. Avoid make-up that will highlight distinct facial characteristics like eye shadow and lipstick. Since most software converts photos to black-and-white, monochromatic face-paint works best. Do what you can to scramble your face. Obscure shadows. Think asymmetrically.

Style Your Hair – Use the same approach as you did with your subversive make-up. Asymetricality is key. Cover as much of your face as possible. Especially the area between your eyes and nose. Extra points for cheek coverings.

Smile – When taking photographs for the state (driver’s license photos, mugshots, etc.) make sure to smile. Facial expressions that change the distances of your facial features make it harder for software to recognize your neutral face. Extra points for weirdo expressions.

Turn the Camera Around – If you can, move the camera. Make it face a wall so that its surveillance days are temporarily over.

Bag on the Camera – Get a shopping bag and tie it over an accessible surveillance camera.

Picture Perfect – Trick the camera with a picture of the very street scene it is supposed to be capturing. Set it up in front of the camera lens. See how long it lasts!

Stand in Solidarity with Berliners – 19 February 2013 will see the European Police Congress in Berlin. In preparation, German anarchists of the anti-surveillance CAMOVER are asking people to participate in a game. The only rules: see how many cameras you can covertly destroy. CAMOVER is also calling for a demo on the 16th of February at 8 pm in Mariannenplatz, Berlin.

Mail Time

Dear Slingshot,

I was happy to see Alex making the effort to keep prisoners in the loop with their article “RABBID Wants You to Write Prisoners.” Hey Alex, I dig mail! I also really dig that Alex did not refer to us as “inmates,” a term of derision inside the walls (Liane Apple, please take note). However, Alex should know that there’s no such thing as a “Prison Industrial Complex (PIC).” This is a misnomer Angela Davis has been trumpeting for years, and as far as I can tell, she made it up. It falsely implies that somehow various governments, state and federal, are making money from prisons, when nothing could be further from the truth. Even with our slave labor, the profits, if any, are negligible and prisons are bleeding state budgets and taxpayers dry. There is nothing “industrial” or “complex” about prison, so people should refrain from using this misleading terminology.

In counter-rhythm,

Rand Gould C-187131

Thumb Correctional Facility

3225 John Conley Dr.

Lapeer, MI 48446

Dear Rand,

Thanks for writing! We dig mail too! But I’m going to keep using the term “Prison Industrial Complex” and here’s why:

The body of a prisoner is a hot commodity under capitalism. Every aspect of a prisoner’s life is parceled up by the government and auctioned off to corporations. Multinational powerhouses such as Sodexo, Aramark, Westinghouse, GEO Group Inc, Correctional Communications Corp., Sprint, and AT&T (to name a few) have won massive government contracts to exclusively sell or rent their shitty food, furniture, facilities, vehicles, surveillance & communications technologies to prisons at inflated prices. (Ever wonder why it costs six times the normal amount to make a collect call from prison? …this would be why.) Some corporations–such as American Express and General Electric–have gone so far as to construct private prisons in Oklahoma and Tennessee which they rent out to the state at a profit.

With over 1 percent of the American population behind bars at this time, the prison market is booming and CEOs are scrambling to get a piece of the pie. As of 2011, total state spending on corrections reached about $52 billion–which is double the cost it was ten years before. Taxpayers are picking up this enormous bill, which subsidizes the corporations that profiteer off prisons.

The irony of all this–or “strategic investment incentive,” depending on your point of view–is that prisons create more crime. Once you have prison time on your record, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to ever get a legit job again. In most states, you can’t even receive food stamps. After release, many former prisoners find they must engage in criminal activity to survive. It’s a vicious cycle, with over 40% of folks released from prison ending up back behind bars within 3 years.

It would seem the system is designed to keep its captive market captive, with the lobbyists and PR specialists that write the laws and control the mainstream media ensuring that the War on Drugs and fear of crime are used to legitimize the PIC to the taxpaying public.

Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that the emergence of the Prison Industrial Complex can be traced to banking tycoon Nelson Rockefeller, who, as governor of New York, signed the controversial Rockefeller Drug Laws into effect in May 1973. These laws instituted minimum sentencing of 15 years for possession of narcotics, criminalizing the choices made by consenting adults about what they do with their own bodies. These laws became the model for future drug laws that have dramatically bolstered the prison population.

Also, I wouldn’t discount the economic impact of prison labor. Around 1.6 million people are in state & federal prisons (as of the last U.S. census in 2010), and every able-bodied one of them is required to work. Prison laborers are paid between 23 cents and $1.15 an hour for manufacturing clothing, solar panels, weapons, etc. Although it is illegal for Federal Prison Industries (also called “Unicor”) to sell prisoner-made goods to consumers, the government purchases these goods, replacing private sector companies. The result is the elimination of manufacturing jobs, decreased wages, and subsequent damage to the economy. Last year, NASA contracted prisoners at San Quentin to make Satellite parts for pennies an hour–a job once reserved for unionized engineers. Soon, the products of prison labor will be floating between us and the stars.

I wish I could say that this is all some freakish accident. But the truth is, this is exactly how capitalism is supposed to operate. The Prison Industrial Complex is simply an extreme example of the way capitalism hijacks the lives of all workers: thanks to private property laws and the taking of the commons, the working class has been made doubly-free–We are free from the ability to provide for ourselves, and free to sell our labor to bosses. Ironically, capitalism’s exploitative double-freedom operates just as easily behind bars.

Over the last two decades, similar trends of privatization have occurred in education and medicine, with corporations increasingly forcing themselves into the lives of people who interact with those spaces. Last year, in the tiny college town of Davis, a group of students and teachers shut down a bank on their campus through peaceful protest. Now they are facing 11 years in jail. The corporations are determined to invade every scrap of public space left in the world, and if they deem you a threat to this conquest, you will end up serving them in prison.

In contra-rhyme,

Teresa Smith of the Slingshot Collective

Ready to Respond: Food Not Bombs network offers grassroots model for disaster relief after super storm Sandy

Food Not Bombs has supported a number of disaster relief efforts in the movement’s 30 year history. Since we have autonomous groups sharing food and supplies in roughly a thousand cities, our volunteers are already pre-positioned and ready to respond. When the earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay area in 1989, Food Not Bombs was ready sharing food at Civic Center Plaza, Peoples Park and near the epicenter in Santa Cruz hours after the earth shook. When Katrina flooded New Orleans, Food Not Bombs was already prepared to help. Volunteers from across America headed towards the Gulf Coast before the storm came ashore. Super Storm Sandy was no different.

The Food Not Bombs hotline started getting calls as the high winds were bending the palm trees across Florida, often sharing that they had responded to Katrina and wanted to help again. That same day, volunteers with Long Island Food Not Bombs also started to prepare for Sandy, emailing out an announcement for their first planning meeting. The newly formed Staten Island Food Not Bombs also called seeking support.

We rushed up the coast past wrecked cars filled with sand and boats tossed on to homes, eventually arriving at the Park Slope Community Church. Joseph and his family pulled in from North Carolina with two truck-loads of food and supplies plus two U-hauls full of propane and other equipment. A local Native American activist Bobby and his family also arrived at the same time so we unloaded the food, large cooking pots, cutting boards, knives and other materials and started franticly preparing the first meals.

Calls continued to flood in with offers of help, requests for help and suggestions of places to bring food. After sending out a car-load of food and supplies to the coast of Red Hook and another load to Rockaway, several of us rushed over to Staten Island in two vehicles filled with cooking equipment, stoves and food. We met Olie and the other Food Not Bombs volunteers and unloaded the equipment while discussing where we should set up. Huge tractors pushed the remains of houses and cars filled with sand out of the streets, dumping their loads in to lines of dump trucks. As soon as we stopped, a family appeared from the wreckage and asked if we had anything to eat. Their faces expressed the type of shock you would expect to see in the eyes of people that had just survived a bombing.

Before long we had set up a field kitchen and started to share the already-prepared meals. Some of us returned to the church to help with the clean up and the next day’s meals. A continual parade of volunteers and donations arrived at the church. By now, Occupy Sandy was up and running a few blocks away from our kitchen down on 4th Avenue. That evening, several of us drove over to the produce market and bought as much as our vehicles could carry. We followed news reports to determine if areas of the city were being neglected.

By day two we had a system, delivering meals and supplies to three or four locations after cooking all morning. The servers would stay out until dark. As we saw after Katrina and the San Francisco Earthquake, the American Red Cross was nowhere to be seen but they did give out our toll-free number as they had after Katrina. We received over 200 calls during the first week, most offering to help. We set up a list with volunteers’ phone numbers, email addresses, skills and details of how they could help.

At the same time, Long Island Food Not Bombs was recovering tons of food working around the clock to distribute the donations. Power was off for thousands of groceries and food warehouses. Phone service and electricity were so random on the island that we had people call a volunteer in Oregon who had helped the Long Island Chapter before moving west. Even with all the challenges, Long Island Food Not Bombs pulled off their annual World’s Largest Vegan Thanksgiving at the Hempstead Train Station, providing groceries, clothing and warm meals to over 1,000 people. They also provided hundreds of meals each day at their other regular locations, helping make the holiday much better for several thousand people that had survived Hurricane Sandy.

Super Storm Sandy was the hurricane many believed would spark the climate crisis debate into high gear. Just weeks before the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty was set to expire, negotiators were heading to the UN climate conference (COP18) in Doha, Qatar. Sandy inspired a feeling of urgency about addressing the climate crisis at the grassroots level but most leaders remained silent.

Many climate scientists have written that until a huge storm floods Wall Street, leaders will continue to ignore the fact that no one is immune from the rapidly changing climate. It would seem that Super Storm Sandy would give pause and direct attention towards the impact of industrial meat production, fossil fuel extraction and other policies that increase the impact of the climate crisis but this has not been the case so far. Government and corporate policies that drive the climate into crisis are related to the policies responsible for hunger and homelessness. These connections are taboo in U.S. corporate media.

Sandy hit just as America was about to start its annual Thanksgiving attention to hunger and homelessness. Sandy provided a visible reason for so many families to become homeless. Public compassion for those made homeless by the hurricane would soon turn to distain of those lazy homeless people blighting our city streets. After each emergency like the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, Katrina or the 2008 housing foreclosure crisis, sympathy for the survivors will soon turn to anger at those freeloading homeless. When people started to call from the west coast asking if they should race across the country to help, we reminded them that there were people in need in every community and directed them to their local Food Not Bombs group. We also explained that local relief programs would be struggling for help and financial support since most people would be directing their assistance towards the New York area.

Many volunteers who participated in the Katrina relief effort met at the Fourth Annual North American Anarchist Studies Network Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana in early January 2013. Several workshops discussed the failures and successes of both the Katrina and the Sandy relief efforts. There was recognition that we are often the first to respond. Some participants were critical of how people coming from the outside failed to respect that many survivors had valuable skills to offer. After two days of discussion, the participants proposed that we needed to be better prepared since Sandy is unlikely to be the last time we will need to respond to a disaster. It was suggested that each community could prepare by announcing a local planning meeting, organizing affinity groups, organized to provide first aid, aid in the recovery of people and pets from homes and other buildings, emotional support, and crews prepared to help with the clean up, rebuilding and other aspects of community recovery. Local Food Not Bombs volunteers could participate in the formation of this initiative. There was also a discussion about organizing a North American conference on disaster relief, the publishing of a community disaster relief manual based on past experience and a communication network ready to respond as the crisis emerges.

Disability and Capitalism

Most days the bike ride home from work fills me with joy. I am at ease on the open streets, appreciating life around me, thankful for the city roadblocks that limit car access and encourage communication with other passersby.

One fine autumn day I was riding home in the golden hour before sunset singing Tower of Power. I passed the regular neighborhood softball game, then a mom towing a tot in a bike trailer with their dog running alongside. A few blocks later I saw a person in a wheelchair pulling a skateboarder skitching behind and smiled to think: This is home.

* * *

I work as an in-home caregiver and attendant, helping a few quadriplegic guys with their lunch, dinner, or nighttime routines. Each of the guys is paralyzed as a result of a traumatic accident that resulted in a spinal cord injury and each depends on a number of attendants to move from bed, shower, do housework and run errands, prepare for sleep, and so forth.

Truthfully, I kind of just slipped into becoming an attendant. I needed paid work and it seemed like one of the few options that felt important, allowed me to be myself, and offered dignity and fulfillment. It turned out a bunch of folks in the area were in need of attendants and I was soon officially employed, beginning to learn about their lifestyles and beginning to form intimate, cherished friendships.

Before that I had, so far as I knew, relatively infrequent contact with disabled folks. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, it was rare for me to see or interact with people in wheelchairs, excepting visits with my grandmother who had multiple sclerosis. Later, living in the suburbs south of San Francisco, I was asked to help a classmate with spina bifida. He used a walker and could not speak, and was the only person with noticeable bodily challenges I have ever shared a public classroom with. People with invisible disabilities like those with psychological, emotional challenges or chronic pain or fatigue who do not use assistive devices or show outward signs of their challenges weren’t on my radar at all.

Here in Berkeley there is a significant population of folks who use wheelchairs, many of whom go out and about. One of my buddies calls Berkeley “Disneyland for a quad” because it has wheelchair-accessible sidewalks, busses and rapid transit. Libraries, banks, stores, and restaurants are often accommodating, he says. People here are accustomed to interacting with folks with disabilities and for the most part they don’t stare. I have heard, though, of theft in public and car drivers hit-and-running persons using wheelchairs. And months ago I saw a driver honk at a blind woman crossing the street.

* * *

Each of the three guys I work for came here to attend UC Berkeley, which offered a program for disabled students unique in its time. The “dorm program” provided appropriate housing and on-call attendants as students transitioned into school life and hiring help themselves. Many who participated in this program ended up staying in Berkeley because of the disabled community, the city’s efforts toward accessibility, and the social climate here. From what I have been told, the opportunities available here for personal independence and community integration are unparalleled elsewhere.

The broader San Francisco Bay Area has been and continues to be one of the epicenters for the disability rights movement and radical actions led by disabled organizers. It is home to disability rights advocacy groups, disabled artists, performers, and activists. Berkeley was the first city to be home to an Independent Living movement and an Independent Living Center aimed at uniting different disabled groups to change social and structural ableisms.

Perhaps owing to this radical history, Berkeley was one of the first cities in the country to begin implementing federal legislations such as the Architectural Barriers Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These laws are meant to ensure that public spaces are designed to be accessible for those with disabilities and that disabled persons cannot be discriminated against in the field of education or the workplace.

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as walking, seeing, hearing, learning, breathing, caring for oneself, or working” and is intended to protect “those who have a disability, those who have a record of such an impairment,” and those who are “regarded as having such an impairment.” This definition includes persons in very different positions with widely divergent lifestyles and needs. Persons who are blind or deaf, who have severe back injuries, cancer, or AIDS, who are former drug addicts, have learning disabilities, and those who were diagnosed with emotional or psychological conditions are all amongst those that the state recognizes as disabled. “Disability,” then, is defined by the state largely as one’s inability to work.

This condition is problematized in a growth-based capitalist paradigm as one’s value to the nation is quantified in purely economic terms. Government agencies and programs meant to support those who are not financially self-sufficient — physically disabled and otherwise — are commonly referred to as “entitlement programs” and are consistently under attack by those who would prioritize balancing the state budget over peoples’ health needs. The attitude that sees inability to work as a character insufficiency is of course not limited to government financiers; disability advocates have worked to show that disability is a socially created and maintained category.

* * *

What are disabled persons’ lives like? How does it feel to be labeled “disabled,” how is one treated? How do individuals with state-designated disabilities feel about their relationships with their local communities or their relationships with the state? What is sexuality like for someone with paralysis? Romantic love?

As I began working as a caregiver, I realized that I was afraid to ask questions like these. I didn’t want to ask anything too personal, too sensitive, to overstep the bounds of my new relationships. At first I mostly observed, a beginner trying to absorb any information that would help provide care, comfort, and mindful presence.

Soon I was seeing how each person has carefully developed and designed individualized systems, engineering custom fabrications to maximize their autonomy and access to communication and technology. How a rhythm of routines is necessary to meet one’s basic needs, ensure efficiency and completeness, and maximize opportunities for other activities. I was seeing a highly refined sensitivity to one’s bodily needs and respect for ensuring that they be met. Complex ways of navigating health concerns, relationships with medical supplies, pharmaceutical medicines, and the medical industry. A life simultaneously lengthened and regulated by the state, a life in which anything necessary or desired must be asked for from a position of dependence.

* * *

The paper Capitalism and Disability (Russell and Malhotra, 2002), which this article is much indebted to, researches and explains the history of how capitalist industrialization increasingly demanded a type of labor that disabled bodies are unfit for. This grew to result in the institutional incarceration of those bodies in many countries, including segregation in asylums, isolated group care facilities, work camps, prisons, and special schools. It also codified and enforced the involuntary sterilization of those who could not work and, at its most extreme, exterminated tens of thousands of persons in Nazi Germany.

Today disability continues to be a boundary category that divides those whose relationship with the government is based on need from those whose relationship is defined by their ability to work. Those disabled persons who would prefer to enter the workforce are excluded from doing so by a profit-centered logic: disabled employees cost more to accommodate and produce less in their individual work. They will by definition make a business less money than able-bodied counterparts who want the job.

Though the ADA mandates that employers provide assistance when necessary and do not discriminate against the disabled, data clearly shows that disabled persons seeking work have become increasingly unemployed compared to able-bodied persons seeking work. Those disabled persons who do work live in a form of state-maintained poverty because of regulations that limit the amount of paid work a person who receives disability benefits may perform while continuing to receive financial support and/or health insurance.

Some theorize that these structures and attitudes have created a fear of disability amongst able-bodied persons, a fear of one’s own inability to work and the social and material conditions of the lifestyle that would result. It cannot help this fear knowing that some entrepreneurs shape institutional care facilities and the public policies that determine who lives in them to house persons that might otherwise live in their own homes. Disabled bodies commodified in this way may be worth anywhere from $30,000 – $82,000 each in guaranteed annual revenue and in such situations, “disabled people are worth more to the Gross Domestic Product when occupying a ‘bed’ than a home.”

* * *

We all suffer when a person’s individual value is conflated with their capacity to produce labor for institutional interests. We all become judged — by authority figures, new acquaintances, friends, and ourselves — according to the perceived value of the labor we can do.

We all suffer as opportunities for life outside this norm are diminished. The world becomes less diverse and many are marginalized, oppressed, and eliminated. This is an issue that affects any person who does not serve such interests, disabled and otherwise, and more generally, it affects all earth beings.

This last insight is something I heard in a roundtable conversation with disabled activists who had created and performed in the show Sins Invalid. One said, “When will we all be honored for who we are, the fact that we are, and not what we can do?”

In extending this attitude toward nonhuman beings, she was voicing a principle for the beginnings of a maximally diverse and inclusive community. What would such a world look like? What about our relationships within it, to others, to our built environment, to technology, to health care? How would we continue to ensure that such a world would be available to all?

* * *

The state of California currently pays for services that enable many quadriplegics – amongst others – to live in their own homes, employing folks like me through In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), a division of Social Security. Without IHSS, quadriplegics would have to afford essential care themselves ($40,000 a year) or depend upon their families and communities to provide this support as well as access to health care and medical supplies.

In Alameda County there are more than a hundred fifty thousand disabled persons and but one IHSS office to serve them. All new IHSS workers must register here and watch a mandatory video on how to commit fraud and what the penalties for doing so will be. Each new worker proves that they have been fingerprinted, a state background check paid for by the individual hiring them. Felons, though they have in theory served their time in a “correctional” facility aimed to rehabilitate them, are de facto ineligible for this form of state work.

What is life like for quads living in places without state-provided support? According to one of the guys I work for, the vast majority of quads that live in such locales are at home with their families or in assisted living facilities. Many of them rarely – if ever – venture outside their homes as the built environment may be inaccessible for those who use wheelchairs. People help, though, and logistical challenges can be overcome with motivated assistance.

Go to the Alameda County IHSS office and you’ll encounter attitudes that show that workers are underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked; call and the time you wait on the phone reveals a severely understaffed agency. For many it is an impossibly long trip on public transit, accessible only by bus in East Oakland. Limited though these resources are, they provide a quality of life for severely disabled persons that is to my limited knowledge unavailable anywhere else.

* * *

In opposition to the norm of productivism, there exists an opportunity for a positive project. We can value each other in ways that are not rooted in our suitability for a dominant and damaging paradigm of work. We can value each other in ways that affirm the magnificent diversity of this world for its wild difference, celebrating the richness of opportunity for relationship and experience that results.

In this spirit I would like to celebrate my relationships with the individual quadriplegics who have become intimate friends. I would like to celebrate the closeness of our friendships, the reciprocity of our relationships, the wisdom, support, and nurturing care each has given me. I would like to celebrate the beauty of their chosen lifestyles and the particular beauty of each as an individual, to be grateful for the ways in which I receive care from each of you.

Friends, you have helped me to listen to my body for real, to strive to identify and honor my own bodily needs. You show me that grown men can be unashamed to ask directly for the help we need, and with you I experience difference in repetition and beauty in necessity. You have helped me to mostly get over a streak of cranky fundamentalist ludditeism.

You have helped me to become more mindful of my relationship to our shared physical surroundings, more sensitive to my responsibility for the changes within it. You teach me to be grateful for our interdependence and grateful for the gifts we continue to receive. Friends, we are here together and our lives are richer in caring for one another.

Boldly Going Where No Zinester Has Gone Before: Zine Reviews

Zine Reviews

Å¡! Baltic Comics Magazine #10 Biedrība Grafiskie stāsti
Robežu iela 18-4
Rīga, LV-1004

Each volume of the Latvian Å¡! is centered around a theme. The concept pushing #10 into the world is “sea stories,” which half of the time means the beach. The beach marks our entry into the dominant geography of the ocean. The beach offers us comfort in the face of the open sea. These comics, done by Baltic artists, as well as artists from abroad, explore the fears and joys that accompany human relationships with the sea. The 146-page publication is perfect-bound and printed in full-color. Twenty-nine artists contributed to this issue.

Something for everyone. (joey)

Datacide: Magazine for Noise and Politics #11 C. Fringeli c/o vision

P.O. Box 591 CH-4005 Basel, Switzerland

MRR-style publication with stories in the front (business), reviews in the back (party). Seemingly these cats are talking less about “noise” in terms of non-musical sound specifically, than as a generic term for electronic music in Europe. This issue includes pieces on raver politics, right-wing elements in martial industrial & neofolk, poetry, and reading recommendations. Layout is so plain you’ll be looking around for ketchup. (joey)

Artifacts of Light

Carefully presented photographs of empty landscapes. Black frames border these glimpses into silent films that never were. Light finds its way to the viewer twice removed: once through the photographs, and a second time through photocopy (this is a conservative estimate… if one considers the number of times an image can be copied for a zine, it could be much more). The graveness of the photos seems to hint at the world-weariness mentioned by the author, an Albuquerque-to- Oakland transplant, at the end of this collection. Recommended punk-house coffee

table zine. (joey)

North American Yob

P.O. Box 4912 Thousand Oaks, CA 91359

The mind behind Southern Californian zine BACON IN THE BEANS is back with a new one. The font gets just as small as previous issues, so bring out your magnifying glasses and enjoy. Starts out with a story about sexual segregation at a Florida KFC continues on with bad advice and all-around degeneracy with a soundtrack. This issue has a couple of comics, including a page full of puns by Slimey Valley legend Joe Franke, of 80s fanzine LIFE IS A JOKE. The author promises an answer to the riddle “Who’s the one posing? The punker or the sheep?” in issue #4 so stay tuned. (joey)

Scam #9: Damaged 1011 Bedford #3 Brooklyn, NY 11205

Long-time writer Erick Lyle spent his 2012 researching the story behind Black Flag’s “Damaged.” And did he put some work into it. Lyle’s work included interviews with all of the bandmates about the recording that he wouldn’t hear until 1988. For not having lived it the first time around, Lyle does some serious footwork to make this a worthy addition to the Black Flag Library (c). Chronicles the war on the punks by LAPD. Understand that police story. I will always have respect for the band that provided my first glimpse of an anarchist lifestyle. It was all through a fourth generation copy of Decline of Western Civilization playing at my local record store. Seeing that they managed to live in closets, without understanding exactly why, and avoid rent to make music was awe-inspiring and terrifying to a me at 12-years. Hopefully this zine will make its way into the hands of unknowing youth in a

similar way. (joey)

Scream Queens interview Yacob/Melting Wreck

An accompaniment to the Yacob/Melting Wreak cassette split. Got this one at a house show with what change and lint was in my pocket. This zine contains a transcript of an on-air interview with solo electronics manipulators Yacob and Melting Wreck. Both seem to drift in and out of the Oakland scene with many hats. These cats are pretty political, which made for an exciting interview. The facilitators of the interviews are a collective of DJs who call themselves the Scream Queens, who have a radio show every Wednesday night from 10 pm to 12 am. Like the tape it is meant to supplement, this zine has a side A and B for each interview. Included are life-size reproductions of the Yacob/Melting Wreck tape’s art. (joey)

Nancy: A Queer Zine #1

“Hail to the Nancy! Effeminate queers are my heroes.” These are the words that open Alex Creep’s zine. NANCY is a day-dreaming manifesto for the effeminate queer with pop culture on the mind. References include “My So-Called Life”, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, Glee, Ziggy Stardust, and more. Like clip-art, Creep’s cartoons create homes for themselves among the text. The images, both hand-drawn and software-illustrated, feel like escaped characters from 1930s Betty Boop shorts. For all you World Wide Web potatoes, be sure to see Alex Creep’s online presence, which is a meeting place for glitched-out GIFs, music videos, and digital mixtapes. (joey)

The Core

This colorful comic by Dieter VDO is the European answer to Johnny Ryan. Four short stories manage to incorporate aliens, body-builders, Smurfs, and monster dance parties in just sixteen pages. Full of shiny nudity and violence. Unlike Ryan, Dieter is a bit more playful and less dogmatic. Very phallic art. One representation of poop inside. The people at Hirntrust seem to put in extra effort to make sure degenerate art like this is circulating in the world. (joey)

Size Queen

Surrealist digital photo-collage on glossy paper. Why he isn’t the official portrait artist of US Presidents might explain the problems the US faces on a whole new level. These portraits devalue the subject matter, highlighting the absurdity of power. Yes, that is Lincoln as a unicorn. Theodore Roosevelt has two space-surfing dinosaurs flying out of his skull. Richard Nixon is high on lawn gnomes. Thank Lachlann Rattray for SIZE QUEEN. (joey)

Shit Your Pants and Do the Death Dance #3 and #4 $2 or trade

SYPADTDD (!) is made by a bay area teen who goes to a lot of shows, listens to a lot of new albums, and then records it all in his zine. What I like about the authors record reviews is that he sometimes reviews each song on the album and when referring to an album he doesn’t like, he says stuff like “it’s not really my cup of shit.” The band interviews are funny and entertaining and with each issue getting progressively better, issues 3 and 4 go hand-in-hand, showing that the author has found his niche and even have him showing more of himself through the writings that were not found in issues 1 and 2. Highlights in issue 3 are the cool flyers for upcoming shows and ads for his OWN zine. And, in issue 4, the readers are finally clued in as to what the death dance really is. There’s no way you could flip through the pages of this zine and get bored when both the writing and eye-catching cut and paste style on every page is frantic, fun, and drenched with humor and attitude. I look forward to many more issues and catching up on all the latest bands and shows through the author’s (enthusiastic) point of view.(vanessa x)

Jealouzine: Hellousy is Real #2 $2,

The stories in this Jealouzine are all very personal and very real. Each contributor has written (or drawn) their own experience with jealousy, a topic that’s not so easy to talk about. The stories range from very serious self-help style essays to fun and amusing comics about queer jealousy, where the author creates a new name for her jeawlousy as “chillarity.” My two critiques would be that some of the handwriting and fonts were too small to read but I was able to understand them, and I would have liked to see a male perspective, as this zine had all lady contributors. Regardless, I found each story to be important and inspiring and Jealouzine shows how different our triggers, our feelings, and our relationships can be. This is not just a zine, but a conversation piece and a chance for the reader to reflect on the subject and work through their own feelings of jealousy. If you’ve ever dealt with jealousy or are currently dealing with it and want a DIY therapy session, pick this up today! (vanessa x)