I got dragged into meetings a lot while I was in college, because if you are really a threat to the status quo, people will try to change your behavior. Fortunately for me, people took the time to help me develop, so as irritating as these meetings were, occasionally I learned something important from attending them.
I was talking to one of the university administrators that dealt with diversity issues and who was also queer identified. Complaining about my classmates and the enormously awful things they used to say in class This isn’t mild microagression stuff where people were being vague in their bigotry either, this is stuff like, “poor people deserve to go to war more often because they are better at killing. ” And stuff like, “don’t you just hate everyone in your neighborhood because they are like, trash, and you aren’t.”I mean, don’t get me wrong, I got the milder stuff too. Except when people asked me where I was from, they were sometimes black. The world was dark for the most outspoken, strongly self-identified working class activist on campus.
But the administration team had high expectations for me, and so they said, “honestly, Heather, a lot of this has to do with your age. Your classmates are still learning. So are you.”
Boy was that administrator right.
I WAS A FUCKING NIGHTMARE IN COLLEGE.
You know how radical the current crop of college activists is? Yeah, well, add some actual well-read Marxism, some righteous anger about having been poor and abused, and the influence of punk rock. I probably had a conduct disorder, but I was at Stanford anyway. And I drank, like a fish, to cope. So a typical Friday night involved me making my classmates cry about how privileged they were for sport. All the kids coming up after me who think they do this now are just pretenders.
I talked about incest at actual dinner parties. Freshman year, I made one of my male classmates hate me forever when I made a public performance of my personal protest about his having the Latina girls in my dorm do laundry. I made people break down in class, often. Men feared me, and some would go to parties just to see what crazy stuff they could get me to say.
And I was pissed about really valid shit. Don’t get me wrong or mistake what I am trying to say. I was right to be angry about classism, about sexual violence, racism and I was right to hate everything about that culture. But I had no idea how to express that anger in a constructive way, and I was too angry to see anyone else’s pain even when it was obviously there.
This was partially a function of my age. At 19, no matter how smart you are, or how much life experience you have, or even how talented an activist you are, there are certain things you just don’t know that you still need to learn.
One of those things, impulse control which (as evidenced by the professor that just got beaten by her own students) is a challenge that developmentally comes with time. Another thing is how to not follow a crowd, or not act like a complete asshole just because everyone else is doing it. I learned that one much younger than most, but others tell me that ideally children are supposed to learn that sometime before college. Based on the behavior of the college students who keep having struggle sessions against other marginalized people, this is clearly not a skill many of our college students (who to be honest are almost entirely rich and middle class) currently possess. No one who is getting lectures should be giving lectures.
I was part of the founding team of folks who were working on class and first gen issues. My work at 19 can be traced to the existence of first gen offices and the resurgence of class identity on college campuses. I’m damn proud of what I accomplished as a dumb kid, and my resume is far more stacked than most of the kids that are operating now.
BUT EVEN WITH ALL THAT, I can promise you that I am grateful everyday that an administrator or professor at Stanford encouraged me while keeping my voice on campus.
Freedom Summer participants weren’t given the control over their movements either. They operated, with extensive training, under the direction of activists like Bob Moses and Fannie Lou Hamer. And, frankly, I believe that the entire Civil Right’s movement of the 60s, pretty much got off the rails the minute the rich kids got back to their campuses and started treating activism like a popularity contest and rock concert.
That’s who I blame for the failures of the 60s and so does most of the rest of the country.
The elite college grads don’t have a great track record overseas either: the entire Cultural Revolution can be traced to largely the same phenomena.
Don’t get me wrong, we need their voices and we need their work. And they need to be trained during these years, but I think they’ve demonstrated that they can’t be IN CHARGE OF SETTING THE AGENDA and making the final call about tactics anymore. No one gave me that power at 19 and I had very serious problems, like PTSD, to discuss. I’m not sure why we are allowing them to set the agenda now.
What I am even more grateful for, is that I was raised with an ethos that you respect your elders.
These college kids think they know better than the people who have been doing it longer than them. And here’s the thing, those people are just as smart as them but have more experience, which makes them MORE QUALIFIED TO BE IN CHARGE. The fact that the college kids can’t recognize that makes me worry about the future.
Being in charge is a real and painful responsibility. I know because I never had a childhood, and I’ve been appointed a leader in my community for longer than I can remember.
It is hard. And if it is fun, you are doing it wrong. The responsibility and the the enormity of the task should haunt you.
Playtime is over when lives are at stake, and since I saved my brother from a fire when I was four, I’ve been keenly aware of that responsibility. So it worries me whenever someone wants to be in charge, but what worries me even more is when people lack the self reflection to even recognize when they shouldn’t be in charge.
One of the best classroom teachers I’ve ever met once said to me that the difference between a good teacher and a great teacher was the process of self reflection. We have to instill the belief that people should examine themselves.
All day, everyday.
Not scream about how mean people are when they point out that your tactics are likely to backfire during planning discussions where we are supposed to be professionals who care about others and serving the masses.
But I’ve also been loved by elders, and there’s something special about the people who DON’T HAVE to take an interest in you, who don’t have to deal with your incredibly shitty attitude, and who take aside the time to save you. I’ve got tons of those, and I learned from them.
They taught me that I was no smarter than prostitutes, or my grandparents or my teachers. They taught me that even if I was, I still had things to learn. They taught me about when grown folks was talking and in the process taught me how to be a grown folk.
At 19, I would have been a BAD LEADER for a national movement. I would have been mostly because my rage was still uncontrolled, but also because there are a lot of things that come with life experience. I have gained a lot of empathy and ways of speaking in the last few years just from my relationship with my husband. The fact that I fell so in love with someone with such a different background changed everything about how I approach my work. The fact that I’m now married has forced me to accept responsibility and maturity in a way I otherwise wouldn’t have. Pre-married Heather was likely to light some fires and go out like a crazy person when Trump got elected. Married Heather has responsibilities and has to plan better.
I was a much worse activist before I became a teacher, and I wouldn’t be half the teacher I am if not for the mentoring and wisdom of an veritable army of older men and women who guided me through that process. And I know this because I’ve had the time and distance to reflect on my actions and behaviors. 19 year old Heather was not this smart, reflective and mature, and 19 year old Heather was arguably one of the most qualified college students of that time to be leading a movement.
So here is my plea to the adults: Let’s stop pretending we don’t know this is true because we are afraid of discouraging people. Anyone who is unwilling to put the work in, and listen to other people or reflect on their behavior does not have leadership qualities in the first place.
Anyone who resorts to physical violence or emotional bullying hasn’t learned how to behave like a grown up. They’ve demonstrated that they are not developmentally ready for the task.
Real leaders can control their behavior. These should be baseline qualifications for who gets mentored and handed the microphone. Even Malala had her dad, and Malala has yet to see her best work. I can basically guarantee that.
College is a special time and place, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to argue, debate, and learn from my classmates. I’m a better speaker, writer, and activist because of every white boy who was willing to engage me and learn from me, and I think most of them would say they are better at what they do because of their friendship with me (unless they were traumatized by what I did to them in which case, I’m sorry, I was young).
The funny thing about those white boys is that they are people too. (Edit note: ACTUALLY IN COLLEGE IT WASN’T JUST THE WHITE FOLKS. AND ALSO IT WAS GIRLS TOO, STOP LETTING THEM OFF THE HOOK, SOME OF THE GIRLS SAID SOME OF THE WORST STUFF, THEY DON’T GET A PASS BECAUSE OF THEIR GENDER. NO ONE GETS A PASS. NOT EVEN ME).
They were people when they were learning in college, and as awkward as it was to be invited to lunch to talk about my childhood like a token, I’m happy about every lunch I went on. Either they learned something or I learned how to talk to people better. If all of our activists behaved this way, it’d be a lot easier to push an anti-racist, pro-working class and feminist agenda.
So here is my plea: stop treating this struggle like it can be run by a bunch of self-contained and disconnected brats who have no life experience.
There are people who are really truly suffering who need our help and these college kids need to be trained before they are useful. No one should be leading on a national level without some frontline service work behind them. They should have some actual success and the demonstrated commitment to the cause of the suffering of all before they are given a national platform to operate. They need to learn how to do research, and care for kids, and show up and take down chairs, and sweep floors before they can make themselves useful to any of the people they claim to serve.
They need to know what it is to serve.
They need to know who the masses are.
They need to not put their issues at the center of the struggles for people more marginalized than them.
They should be able to recognize those people without their professor’s checklist for what the marginalized are (First of all, most of the professors can’t remember either because they haven’t seen the masses in a long time, but secondly, the word oppressed has meaning and they should be able to recognize it independently without help before the training wheels come off).
The fact is, we aren’t even serving them when we give them as much power as we have over the last few years. We should all be ashamed of ourselves. The adults fucked up real bad by abdicating their responsibility in the name of self esteem.
And like adults, we should roll our sleeves up and get to work.
It’s already too late.
Because Trump is President and the left lost so badly, they still are trying to develop amnesia about it.
But the conservatives may be in power a long time, so the time to be forgetful is over.
Now is only the time to plan and to sweep and to teach.
Some of you must remember what that’s like?
You sure remembered it in my case.
And for that, I am grateful.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an actual flood of recovered, horrible memories and the resulting somaticized pain that accompanies their discovery. What follows is a list of reasons I no longer have to listen to anymore privilege lectures from anyone unless they qualify with the conditions below. Try to make it through this whole list before you vomit.
1) I’m an actual childhood sex trafficking victim. Yeah. That’s my starter. Should be sufficient. Before you romanticize that or imagine it was less bad than it was, let me make things clear. It started when I was at least 6. My mom knew about it. My father was the one who sold me, and it happened SEVERAL times with multiple men at truck stops.
2) I was born the bastard of drug addicted psychopaths. My familial attempted kill count is now up 5 independently confirmed. These were not all the same family member. This does not count the drug fueled mock execution when I was six.
3) I’ve been homeless, my neighborhood was in a food desert, and I’ve lived in government housing. When my neighborhood finally got a library, it was an hour walk away and contained none of the classics.
4) I have severe chronic pain from the rapes, beatings and manual labor I endured as a small child. X-rays show the development of arthritis in my spine which doctors could not figure out the cause of until learning about the abuse.
5) I have gone hungry quite a lot of times. This was sometimes done on purpose to me by my mother to force me into the sex trafficking. I have permanent nutritional deficiencies.
6) My high school counselor told me people “like me” didn’t need to go to college. She was black. Working class whites are extremely under-represented in the media, and when they are portrayed, it has been in a degrading and derogatory manner (see: Shameless, Sons of Anarchy, The Outsiders). Because I’m mixed race and also not totally white, I often fail to pass even when I am in academic settings, where I speak the academic language. There are still words I mispronounce because I never heard them said out loud. When I got to college my classmates actively went around correcting my speech and speaking down to me. They called me “articulate.”
7) When I got to college, treatment for my mental illness, PTSD, was not covered by my insurance. No members of the mental health staff qualified to handle it. I am frequently interrogated by authority figures as to whether or not I even have PTSD. When they finally believe me, I am profiled because of it despite having put one of my abusers away for life.
8) I have been denied medical care because of my class background. I’ve been denied access to places because of my appearance.
9) When I got to college there were no support services for people like me because I was poor and white and therefore didn’t fall under the umbrella of existing organizations. I had to create those resources.
10) I’ve been pulled out of school to baby-sit my sister. I also had to teach myself how to read. I was the first in my family to go to college and had to figure out how to apply to on my own.When I took the SATs, I had to ask my friend’s mom for a ride because the only testing center was too far for the first bus to reach in time.
These are just ten off the top of my head. For the last many years I’ve been getting privilege lectures from people who claim that my white privilege somehow protected me from the horrors I’ve been trying to be upfront about.
Instead of letting me speak, many of you thought it was better FOR THE CHILDHOOD SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIM to be told that her white privilege made her irrelevant.
All of these things happened to me in California.
I did not live through the Dustbowl.
So from here on out, the only people allowed to give me any privilege lectures are those that can check ALL OF THESE off their personal lists. And I would suggest that maybe the rich only lecture each other and keep their mouths shut around the poor. I didn’t hide these facts about myself; I was ignored and gaslighted into silence. From now on, if you have some residual societal anger you wish to express you can punch upwards and take them out on someone who has power. Taking them out on me just makes you part of the sociopathic brigade that has destroyed my body but not my spirit.
YOU TRIFLIN’ BITCHES HAVEN’T BEEN ABLE TO DESTROY THAT BECAUSE I AM A GODDAMN WIZARD AND A MUTANT. Be grateful I am not also vengeful.
Or am I?
I remember the first rally I was involved in planning quite clearly, though I never talked about it until now. The reason I never talked about it is because I don’t really consider it a big deal and I don’t really think of it as mine. This was a community victory, that I was proud to be part of, and I didn’t feel the need to bring it up until I kept having other leftists tell me who was in my community. You see, according to the left, white people and black people always live apart, never intermarry and apparently never go to school together before college. This was news to me and if you had told me this when I was a child I would have laughed in your face. When I tried to laugh in the left’s face for the same offense, I got called racist and then told to shut up. Because clearly the goal of the left is to end racism by stopping poor whites from suggesting that they live with, love, and feel a part of the black community. That’s obviously a problem worth fighting. Still, I didn’t want to bring these inconvenient facts about my upbringing up because I was trying to keep my mouth shut for the good of the group. But because the left went and got Trump elected and have clearly demonstrated that they have NO IDEA what they are doing, I’ve decided to stop doubting myself and explain to you why I think this whole idea is complete bullshit.
I grew up in a black community. The whole time. I have black family members and neighbors. I love them. And if you try to do anything to them, I will fighting cut you the same way they promised to cut people for me when I was a 15 year old girl and the other white girls at my high school were threatening to jump me and the black girls told them that if they came for me, they’d better come for them too.I have not forgotten who I still owe. And I owe the black community a lot. They have been my home and my shelter even when I was cast out from my actual family. And then I got to college and this curious thing happened and people kept telling me that I hated black people. This was extremely confusing, because my first thought was, “why the fuck would I hate my own people?”
You see, the idea that we are somehow separate was not mine and I know this for a fact because I remember the community I was raised in. I went to high school with the children of actual Black Panthers and the real grassroots folks of Civil Rights. They were vets, factory laborers, and yes, hookers and drug dealers too (if you are judging right now, you have the problem, people need to feed their kids). Though you certainly could not tell who’s parents held what job by their race (that’s right kids, trafficking can happen to anyone even white girls who went to Stanford!). I don’t remember EVER being in the racial majority in school and I don’t remember ever being that upset about it. It never really seemed strange because these were my neighbors and friends. We grew up together. We got in fights. We fell in love. We died beside each other in battlefields. We were married into each others’ families. The very first question everyone asks me when they visit Stanford for the first time is, “why are there so few interracial couples?” And maybe this world isn’t yours. Maybe that’s not in your sociology books or it doesn’t reflect your lived experience. I don’t know, but it is mine, and I’m proud of it and I’m sick of apologizing for it. We did some beautiful things in this world.
When I was 14, I had just been elected class president. In February, it was brought to my attention by my people that our school, despite being majority black, didn’t have a Black History Month Rally. We found that rather egregious, so in addition to the normal basketball homecoming festivities, we decided it was time for our school to represent basic reality. Although I helped plan the basic logistics of that rally, I had very little to do with it day of, and in fact sat in the audience. Instead, I handed the microphone to my good friend who gave what I still consider the best spoken word piece ever written outside the Civil Right’s era and then the black community ushered in their own traditions because it was THEIR show.
I’m not here to change that. Black people have their own histories and struggles and pain, and some of that struggle has been in common. Some of those issues we can fight together on, but no movement for justice in this country can happen without black leadership. I know this, everyone who truly does this work for any period of time knows this. If given power, the first thing I will do is hand over the mic to my black friends, family members, community leaders and activists LIKE I HAVE SINCE I WAS 14.
When they tell you that WE HAVE TO BE separate, know that is their game. Know that it has taken an army of subversive poor white folks who have believed that we can love each other to get me to this point. We don’t have to let the likes of Steve Bannon and Richard Spencer speak for us. First of all, they ain’t working class and secondly, they don’t know our people. And if they so much as look at my community the wrong way, they aren’t going to have to worry about sucker punches. I don’t sucker punch. I bare knuckle box because I was raised right by a community that loved me, and by a community that was majority black. There ain’t nothing those racist pieces of shit can do to me to make me forget that and don’t for a second think they haven’t tried. Know that I also know it has taken an army of subversive black folks who have also believed in love to get me to this point too. They all paid the price for it. And I know who I owe and who I serve.
Here’s how delusional the Establishment is, they think that they don’t have to examine their behavior after suffering the most devastating and humiliating loss in modern history to a racist man who joked about sexual assault on film. And apparently it’s mean to even suggest otherwise. They also think it is mean to even suggest that they lost and have to give up some power to the people in the party who suggested that their tactics weren’t going to work. They think it is being HELD HOSTAGE when their working class says, “hey, you have to represent us.” WHICH IS SANDERS’ JOB. This is just his job, it is the job of representatives to say, “you have to represent the people, and I’m going to push you to.” This whole article is a transparent attempt on the part of party elites to tell the working class members of the party that they aren’t allowed to talk. These are classic silencing tactics and there is no reason why we should listen to them. They think their platform was “the most progressive in history” and never ask who it was the most progressive for? I don’t remember there being a whole lot in there for the poor, even though we tried to push that in there, and I seem to remember several people telling me I had to accept this to “Stop Trump” or else. Well, they failed to stop Trump, so I’m not sure what excuse they have to keep me quiet now. And they think that all the Sanderistas are independents who aren’t actual members of the party. Despite the fact that this has been proven to be false several times.
So, allow me to pop some bubbles and bring them up to speed on the actual hostage situation they are now in.
1) You lost. You lost big and because you lost, the elements of the party, which are the Sanders folks, now get to take the party over because that’s how the game is played. You can whine about it. You can fight it. But this is inevitable. And it ain’t a hostage situation. This is a hostile takeover and the name of your enemy isn’t Bernie Sanders. The name is Heather Raffin and if you were real feminists you’d give a bitch credit. There are a bunch of me around the country who are sick of you failing to represent us. Who are sick of being treated poorly and who are sick of people bullying us into supporting a party that not only doesn’t represent us in any tangible, meaningful way, but is also actively oppressing us while expecting pats on the back in the process. We DON’T HAVE TO DO anything for you. You need to explain us why we should help you.
2) I’ve been a card carrying Democrat since I was 18. I’ve registered voters. Caucused for you. Increased turnout. I come with a veritable army of working class people that will follow my votes with me and if I leave the party, they will decide what to do themselves like adults, but I promise you that they trust me a lot more than they trust you. TEST ME and see what happens.
3) Your platform was not the “most progressive” in history. It was progressive FOR RICH PEOPLE. It had no tangible benefits for the poor. For that, you have to go back to FDR and LBJ, but you don’t remember that because y’all don’t remember your roots. Well, your working class hasn’t forgotten. We remember and we pass that shit around through oral history. And we are taking the party back for their rightful owners whether you like it or not. You can get out of the way or you can fall. The choice is yours, but don’t blame it on Sanders. You brought this on yourselves.
4) You fucks have been running around laughing about how funny it is that white trash like me will die under Trump. You’ve been doing nothing while my friends have to worry about their baby dying. You have sat back and passed symbolic legislation that puts the poor in more danger while exploiting our labor and expecting pats on the back. This makes you my enemy, not my ally. According to the laws of MY PEOPLE, I have everything I need to justify using everything in my arsenal to take you out. And yet, here I am kindly giving you a warning about what is coming for you if you don’t change your tune. That’s because, unlike you, I have a sense of honor and dignity. That’s me being nice. You should be grateful we are being so kind. You are lucky you are getting this much warning after how you treated us. If I were you, I wouldn’t complain about it.
5) The Republicans are offering to talk about class and to deal with the issues the working class face, you are not. They’ve mentioned this to several Sanderistas in public while you’ve been publishing this bullshit. GIVE ME ONE GOOD REASON WHY I SHOULDN’T TAKE THEM UP ON IT?
That’s right folks. If you don’t change your tune, we have an alternative. In exactly a month, if the following conditions aren’t met, I will LEAVE the Democrat party and encourage the rest to come with me. I will re-register as a independent and support candidates regardless of their party affiliations who back the needs of the working class exclusively. I will continue to organize the working classes, and I will do absolutely everything in my power to take down what remains of the rich among the left who can’t pull their heads out of their asses and do what is right for the poor. From here on out, I am making it my personal mission to COME FOR EACH AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU RICH FUCKS THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE POOR. I CONSIDER YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR TRUMP’S PRESIDENCY.
If the following conditions are met within the next month, I will remain within the party and continue to try to work within it. NOW YOU ARE IN A HOSTAGE SITUATION. I hope now you’ve learned an important lesson about checking your fucking rhetoric.
1) You don’t have to make Keith Ellison the head of the party, but I want a Sanderista, and I consider the placement of Rahm Emmanuel as the head of the party a Declaration of War.
2) I want a party platform that includes the input of actual working class people with progressive economic policies that include things that benefit working families and large swathes of the population. I want this process to include actual consultation with the working classes and I want it working class led.
3) I want a microphone and exposure given to working class people similar to what was given to Diamond and Silk. http://www.diamondandsilkinc.com/
4) I want the rich members of the party to stop engaging in bigoted rhetoric towards members of the poor, including poor whites. I want them to accept a backseat role in activism. I want them to give up leadership positions to working class and grassroots activists and I want the focus of the left to change to problems of the poor.
5) I want the party to deal with voter suppression and to admit that there were problems during the primaries. I want the party to advocate for a national holiday for voters so that everyone has the opportunity to vote and I want the left to organize voter ID drives like they used to do.
6) I want the adults on the left to actually get the bullies under control. No more ruining the lives of innocent people. This means no more going after people’s jobs for tweets. This means no more purging of dissenters. This means that the college students are exposed for the brats they are. This also means that the left disavows and repudiates any tactics that puts innocents and the working classes at greater risk under a Trump administration.
THIS IS A START TO FIXING THE PROBLEMS YOU NOW FACE. You guys can fall in line on this or you can fall. I don’t care. We got three years before 2020 and I have the more compelling narrative on my side and the facts. You wanna underestimate us, go ahead. Every time you do, you make this much easier for me. You wanna try to purge me? Go ahead. You make this easier for me. Ignore me? Go ahead? You are proving my point. I suggest you take the deal I am offering you now and save the position you presently hold because we don’t even have to let you have that.
Trump got elected on your watch. So we don’t owe you shit.
This isn’t a hostage situation. YOUR ASS IS BEING RIGHTEOUSLY DETHRONED AND MY NEW NAME IS KHALESSI.
Sanders was as nice as y’all were going to do. You should have gone with him. Attack him again and see what happens.
I’ve be re-learning how to cry. Or rather, I’ve been crying uncontrollably in public while I walk down the streets of Los Angeles because apparently when you repress everything for 28 years to survive, eventually your body rebels and betrays you.
So as I was sobbing uncontrollably after an acupuncture appointment in the middle of day, in yoga pants and wearing the kind of sunglasses that make New Yorkers long for their dungeons, I thought a lot about how this probably looked.
What did she have to cry about?
This little white girl in her yoga pants.
It’s only been ten months since I left my PhD program and started getting called a trophy wife. I think about this as I lie in bed sobbing because its been days since I’ve been able to move. And worse still, days since I’ve been able to read and write.
But if you looked at me on the street you wouldn’t know this. And if you saw me crying, you wouldn’t know that its because for the last few months, as I’ve been working my way up Maslow’s hierarchy, I’ve finally had to face the painful realities of my life. Twenty-seven painful, brutal years, that I can never get back.
How bad could my problems have been?
Well I was born the bastard of a meth addicted teenage mother with a sadistic streak. And she married a man that held a gun to my head when I was an infant and she threatened to leave. And he kicked her down a flight of stairs while I was still in her arms because I was the constant reminder of his failure. And this only half the times I know for a fact that an adult tried to kill me. She left him for beating her , only to move on to a pedophile that the D.A told us was a “2 percenter” in the seriousness of his crimes and pyschopathy. She didn’t leave him until I made it about my sister, she had long known and was complicit in what he’d done to me. I put him away when I was 13 after 10 years of sexual, physical and verbal violence. Which makes it sound nicer than it is, because its better described as torture. And when he left, my big sister took over the physical abuse and the rest of my family? They kept up the verbal abuse. The systematic hate they heaped on me because I was the constant reminder of what we were. They kept it going even while I was in college at Stanford (ever got called a whore by your grandfather before trying to deliver the eulogy of your prematurely dead grandmother during midterm season? I have).
All this time I was living the most ridiculous stereotypes you have of the poor. If the poor person were in a third world country. Like the fact that I now have permanent nutritional deficiencies because of what I didn’t eat in my youth. Or the fact that I almost died from a disease we eradicated in the 1960s. Or the fact that I went to a high school with no textbooks, where violence was the norm and where my counselor told me “people like [me]” didn’t need to go to college. I know the exact procedure for a drive by and how to make a prison shank. You wouldn’t know this by looking at me, and if I tried to explain, you’d say, “but she’s white.”
But don’t worry. It’s happened hundreds of times. I get that it’s not what I look like.
I should, statistically have been a crack whore, and I’m not.
No, I’m a Stanford grad. Twice.
And you wouldn’t know that by looking at me either. You wouldn’t know about how alone and alienated I felt. About the work I did to make sure no one who was poor like me would ever have to suffer like I did. You didn’t watch me dedicate my few healthy days to research and to advocating for the poor. You didn’t see me dragged in on administrative meetings designed to silence me. And you didn’t watch me fight behind the scenes all those years to be included in discussions about oppression. Or to be called what I was, because the administration tells you they expect you to be ashamed of what you are. Not first gen. Not even low income, as if you can sanitize reality to make it go away. “I’m poor white trash.” I tell the admin this before they introduce me at a Stanford staff training.
I do it because the look of horror has begun to amuse me. I do it because I know how lies lead to oppression. I do it because of the words, “what happens in this house stays in this house.” Words I heard after a beating because Child Protective Services is investigating. You wouldn’t know about the nights I woke up crying in my sleep in my dorm room, unable to speak because I knew if my classmates knew the real reason, it’d only”make them uncomfortable.” I start to enjoy their discomfort. I get very good at never telling anyone what is actually going on because I’m so afraid they can’t handle it. I try to find positive pathways to manage the two pieces of me, I go into education. Eventually I’m ripped into more than two pieces.
I made sure no one was around when I worked at the high school and they expelled a boy who was “living under a bridge doing meth” because “he’s an adult now.” He was sixteen. He loved Black Flag. He still had his baby fat and fear in his eyes. He reminds me of my brother. You didn’t see me as I privately went to go cry when there was nothing left I could do. And when I get into grad school that year my boss will question my right to a fellowship for the poor who want to be teachers focused on saving those kids.
“But she’s white.”
I finally enter the classroom and no one sees me throw up in-between classes. Because I’m good, I’m so good at covering up what I’m feeling because my mom laughed at me when I cried. And if it isn’t safe to cry in front of your mom, its not safe to cry in front of anyone. And because you don’t know this, you don’t know how much I’m struggling in graduate school. How many times I’ve been dragged into meetings because my classmates don’t like that I make them feel inferior. They didn’t know that I had spent my whole life feeling inferior. And when they look for an excuse to kick me they’ll use my health even though they admit I’m excelling academically.
“We don’t see how you could be doing so well if you are that sick.”
“I can perform under just about any conditions, I’ve been doing it my whole life.”
I’m a walking and talking cause of cognitive dissonance. I learn how to identify when it is happening and to push through. It’s my secret weapon in the classroom.
You can’t tell from looking at me, how bad my health is. You can’t tell that I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 25 because my family told me I was making it up and because my doctors don’t believe uneducated trailer trash women. When I’m finally diagnosed, it’s a genetic condition, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Type 3. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia adds to my fun. When I’m finally diagnosed, my doctor is angry because the damage and conditions are so obvious. Just like that time my mom almost let me die from pneumonia because I was being dramatic when I told her I couldn’t breathe. I was prepared to “fake” my way right to my death, but then it becomes visible. And before long, I am in a wheelchair, braced up, and told it’s game over. This is my new normal. This is my new normal because no one believed me because of what I looked like. I learn that my class matters when my aunt dies the summer before Stanford. She was 50. They caught her cancer too late to stop it because they didn’t believe in her pain. I learn that too, when my cousin kills himself that summer and I go to grief counseling only to be told it was “expected for someone from his background.” It’s not until I can wear my Stanford shirt to the doctors that I can finally start self advocating because they finally start listening.
And when I stay in the classroom after the repression and years of neglect to my health takes it toll, you didn’t see me struggle to stand while I taught my students complex historical thought. When I finally have no choice but to leave, I spend three years in recovery. Not working was never an option for me, despite what my advisors and more privileged friends seemed to believe. Because you see, to heal in a safe space, I would have needed a safe family and that was never an option. So instead of healing, I bounce from one explotiative relationship to another. First my parents torment me and under feed me until I get a concussion, then my fiance crosses the line into what my friends called rape, and then a former teacher exploits my labor. By the end of my “year off” I’m still profoundly sick. I’m off to a PhD program in battered conditions.
I leave because I can’t imagine it’ll ever be any different.
I leave because I don’t know how I’ll be safe if I don’t find somewhere to hide.
I leave because god damnit, I miss an intellectual life.
They apparently couldn’t tell from my application that I had applied in a post-concussive state with spotty internet and money I raised from friends from undergrad. They didn’t see it in my application, when my mother mocked me and my step-dad told me to give up. They didn’t see me write my personal statement about school segregation while unable to walk and they didn’t see the experiences I had drawn from, the ones so familiar to me that to talk about them sounded like a fish talking about water.
And so I move away to grad school and not long after I drop out. And lots of friends have lots of opinions about it. But they didn’t see how sick I was. That my hair was falling out. They didn’t see how bored and tokenized I felt. They didn’t see the professor who was inappropriate, again. They didn’t see me get excluded from the very thing I was there to study because I was white. And when they called me white, they didn’t see a bastard from a multi-ethnic family, or the Indian blood that flows through my veins as a result of interracial marriage. They saw a white girl in a PhD program who went to Stanford. And so they were wrong about half of me.
And you wouldn’t know it from looking at my husband, but it’s him that’ll finally save me. You wouldn’t think he sees beauty from pain, just from looking at him but he falls in love with my pain all the same. If you just looked at our demographics, you might be confused as to how we got together, even though we are both certain it was fated to be. Neither one of us believes in fate. We’re both atheists. You wouldn’t know that by looking at us either.
You didn’t watch us plan a wedding around a strong desire to avoid my family. We elope instead because I’m too scared to be in public with any of them. And some folks judged me when I got married and moved to Los Angeles and cut off my whole family. Because they didn’t see the continuing abuse and boundary violations. And they didn’t watch my husband find me a new number and address. And its because you don’t know how badly I wanted to escape my name and my past, you judged me when I took his name. They didn’t have to walk me through repressed memories as I began to deal with my life, they didn’t see how expertly he did it.
And if you saw me on the street today, you’d have all kinds of cute labels. None of which would tell you how I continued my activism even when I was homeless. They won’t show you the hours I continued to mentor former students while I was incredibly sick. Lots of people assume I’m stupid because of what I look like, because boobs and intelligence are somehow mutually exclusive.
I tell you all of this, so that no one will have to go through what I went through. But also because I am afraid. I am afraid that we live in a world that no longer sees the virtues of breaking down the walls that divide and hide us. I am afraid that we are hurting everyone who doesn’t look like our statistics by demanding that they justify their existence, as I often have to do. “Where the fuck are you from” and “What are you” because my origins don’t fit into the preconceived narratives we’ve allowed to define us. But I’m also sad, because I want all of you to actually see how beautiful life is outside the bounds of these walls. The places of complexity and nuance. The places and people that cause cognitive dissonance, that make our civilization more complex and real by showing the absurdity of our systems. Because humans aren’t statistics and because demographic data doesn’t define reality And I’m afraid we’ve bowed to absurdity because we can’t stop yelling and hating and excluding. I learned one thing from being in a house where everyone yells at you, no one can hear you when they are yelling.
Every time someone points out that the walls are ultimately constructed, we are forced to remember that they can be torn down.
And if the only good that comes out of my experiences is that I’m part of the wrecking crew, it will have been worth it.
Let me explain something to you, to all of you on the left. I hate the vast majority of you. I think your ideologies are stupid and that half the time you are acting as the oppressor. Every single leftist connected group and organization has does something actively horrible and oppressive, personally, to me over the last 28 years. But if Trump tries to oppress you, I still consider it my responsibility to try to stop it the best I can, because that’s what a real leader does.
I ain’t Mexican but if Trump comes for Mexican people I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him come for the Mexican people I love, and if you don’t have anyone who fits that demographic that you love, maybe you are the problem.
I ain’t queer but if Trump comes for queer people, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him come for the queer people that I love and if you don’t feel that way about people you claim to love, maybe you are part of the problem.
I ain’t black but if Trump comes for black people, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and let him do that shit on my watch without any opposition. You don’t come for people I love without my fighting like hell for you.
I have people I love in every marginalized group in the leftist coalition and I have since I was a kid and we fucking look out for each other. He comes for one of us, he comes for all of us.
But even if I didn’t have people that I loved in these categories, even if I hadn’t experienced poverty and gender violence and oppression firsthand, I would still fight anyone who would seek to hurt other human beings because that is the right thing to do. It is just the right thing to do. Everything I have ever done in social justice has been for someone else. I did not benefit in any tangible way from starting FLIP. I alienated myself socially, professionally, and personally defending the marginalized. I have a list of actual physical beatings I have taken for other people and injuries I’ve endured defending the defenseless. I did this stuff while I was homeless, while I was sick, while I was myself being tortured and abused. I don’t do any of this shit for me or what I can get out of it and I sure as fuck don’t do it for my mental health. This is service, if you aren’t willing to do it, that’s fine. This isn’t for everyone and I respect that, but if you call yourself a leader then the first thing you need to learn is that it isn’t about you. If your work costs you nothing, I doubt it is as subversive as you think it is.
I don’t stand in solidarity with specific groups or ideologies. I don’t have particularly strong affinities for any of your parties or for the work that most of the left does. I’ve never had a home on the left, and the left has done almost as much to oppress me as the conservatives. I do my work in solidarity with the people and the children. If you can’t handle doing that, it’s not something I would brag about and it certainly isn’t a legitimate policy position for a movement to have.
And before you lecture me about self care, I don’t want to hear it. I’ve been going through a hell that none of you can even imagine over the last month and I have still managed to be strategic and thoughtful in my organizing. Let me tell you about some memories that I’ve been battling over the last month and half since Trump has been elected and you guys have been whining about the mourning you still have to while giving a fascist advanced warning of terrorist acts that you half-assedly planned. I’ll name just three, but there are more. 1) It turns out that my family has tried to kill me on four separate occasions all occurring before the age of 13, two of which happened when I was an infant. 2) When I was 9, I was so violently raped by my father as punishment for resisting his advances that I needed 6 stitches in my vagina. My own mother helped him cover it up. 3) I was trafficked as a child more than once , at least as early as 8.
I’ve been spending the last month and half processing all of that while listening you guys whine and complain and give privilege lectures, and you guys can’t even be bothered to properly plan things so that you don’t screw over the working class with your bullshit. So look, if you don’t want to stand in solidarity with all childhood trafficking victims, and everyone who has gone hungry and anyone who might be the target of state repression, then fine. Now you are corroborating with the oppression of others. And if you are doing that, frankly, I’m not terribly interested in your help or your opinion about anything.
Don’t you think it works to Trump’s interest if we are constantly doing this to each other? They are planning for us to do this and you are playing right into their hands. Divide and conquer is a very old strategy indeed. But you guys aren’t actually interested in doing anything to stop him are you? Because you live in a magical land where the consequences never affect you and where the working class will take all of the bullets for you anyway. You’ve lived there for so long that you can’t even properly plan basic safety tips for a protest during a Republican administration. We don’t need more “leaders” who put their own needs first. We don’t need more “leaders” who expect other people to act as their cannon fodder or pawns. That is not good leadership, that is childish. This is service. You are here to serve. If you are not here to serve then WE DON’T NEED YOU. You are no good to us until you get the ability to make decisions that will put other people’s needs first. Social justice is not a brand. It is not a t-shirt you put on or something you wear when it is convenient. Social justice is about liberating the actual people who aren’t free yet, and if you have the luxury to say, “I won’t be disciplined and thoughtful enough to do what is needed to free the most people that I can” or “I won’t be adult enough to put aside my own feelings for the good of others in the name of liberation” then I don’t know what form of imprisonment you’ve experienced but it was very different from the one I experienced.
When you are hungry, there is no room for error.
When they can and do torture you, there is no room for error.
When the consequence is death, there is no room for error.
When rape is a form of punishment, there is no room for error.
You sure as fuck don’t make mistakes because you are too lazy to plan if it means someone is going to kill you, what is even more monstrous is to make these mistakes on someone else’s behalf when the consequences don’t affect you. Do you know what it is like to be threatened with someone else’s pain and to offer to take the beating instead? I do.
My bottom line is this: all this theoretical bullshit was fine when it was on your college campuses and no one was getting hurt. But if you become a reason that people might get hurt, even if it’s because you are incompetent instead of just straight evil, then you are right that we aren’t in solidarity with each other. Because I consider you part of the problem and you can either get your shit together or else you can find out just how fiercely I fight on behalf of the oppressed.
Here’s something I know about all of you, you hit like a bitch.
In the past decade alone, the deaths of Egyptian Khaled Saeed, Iranian Neda Agha Soltan, and other fatalities caused by repressive governments ignited nation-wide revolutions which were recognized and lauded internationally. A youtube mashup by Andreina Nash of violence against student protests in Venezuela brought international attention and pressure on their government. The massacre of dozens of civilians in Sharpetown by South Africa’s apartheid government crushed their reputation internationally. Same goes for Gandi and the British empire. And today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. who brought “Bloody Sunday” to the nation’s television sets.
These are all considered examples of “political jiu-jitsu,” when activists use a regime’s repressive actions to damage the regime’s own pillars of support. It is arguably the most powerful weapon available to activists in a nonviolent struggle.
Yet when nearly two million Indonesians were slaughtered within a period of months in 1965, the international community shrugged, domestic reaction was muted, and the authoritarian Muhammad Suharto rose to power and reigned for the next thirty years. Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt best summed up the western world’s reaction to this genocide in commenting that he was pleased since “‘with 500,000 to 1,000,000 [of them] knocked off… it is safe to assume a reorientation has taken place.”
The difference in results lies in whether the activists or the opponent are better able to manage the outrage or backfire resulting from repression. While the majority of readers may find the above quote by the then-Prime Minister abhorrent in its current form, more than a few would be pacified if the brackets were replaced with “terrorist sympathizers.” The Prime Minister was talking about “communist sympathizers.”
Political jiu-jitsu can nonviolently coerce opponents or even ignite the disintegration of the opponent’s regime. When properly crafted, even if the regime chooses not to repress activists, activists will still be able to claim a victory. On the other hand, if the regime successfully defends against political jiu-jitsu, they can violently repress dissidents without fear of consequence. To understand how regimes fight political jiu-jitsu, the core assumptions behind nonviolent struggle must be examined.
WHY DOES POLITICAL JIU-JITSU WORK?
Perhaps the biggest difference between modern pragmatic theories of nonviolence and Gandi’s beliefs involved explaining the success of this jiu-jitsu. Gandi believed that forcing police to violently repress peaceful civilians would throw off the policeman’s “moral balance” (what Richard Gregg called “moral jiu-jitsu”). This process would be mainly psychological. However, later studies of the Dharasana salt raids found that if the policemens’ moral balance was thrown off, their behavior was certainly not effected. Observers noted that many police became angry at the lack of resistance and even more enraged. Professor Gene Sharp (whose book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” was a guide for several 21st century successful nonviolent revolutions) , proposed that the effectiveness of Gandi’s acts were due to political, not psychological, processes. Namely, the backlash from Webb Miller’s graphic reporting on the British government’s political, social, and economic pillars of support.
Political jiu-jitsu aims to make repression “backfire” in that it creates more support for activists. This is best done by leveraging the pre-existing beliefs of a regime’s supporters against the regime itself. For instance, the Ukranian student resistance group “Otpor” crafted dilemma demonstrations by identifying regime policies that conflict with widely held beliefs and then forcing the government to choose between doing nothing or applying sanctions that violate those beliefs. If the action goes forward without repression, it accomplishes something worthwhile related to the issue. If the regime represses these actions in a way supporters find intolerable, the regimes pillars of support are eroded and the activists gain even more attention.
If, instead, the action can be ignored or tolerated (such as an antiwar rally on Hiroshima day in Japan) or if the repression does not generate popular concern (such as arresting a protester who punches a policeman), there is no dilemma for the regime. In these cases, the regime will always have the option of avoiding political jiu-jitsu.
HOW REGIMES MANAGE OUTRAGE
Violent suppression does not guarantee political jiu-jitsu will occur. This will only happen if two conditions are met. First, individuals with influence over the regime’s pillars of support must believe the repression is unjust, unfair, wrong, or inappropriate (a receptive audience). Secondly, information about repression must be accurately conveyed to those individuals (a secure communication channel). An empirical study of violent repression against nonviolent protests from 1989-2012 found that regardless of severity of repression, the biggest predictor for the success of political jiu-jitsu was pre-existing campaign or communication infrastructure. For instance, what if Gandi had failed make sure reporters like Miller would cover the march? What if Miller’s newspaper was only read by a handful of British citizens, none of whom could include the relevant pillars of support? This was not the first time police had beaten innocent civilians. It was the first time that these acts were conveyed through a secure communication channel to a receptive audience.
Regimes can prevent backfire by ensuring one of the two above conditions are violated. Brian Martin outlined five such methods: cover ups, devaluing the target, reinterpreting what happened, using official channels to give the appearance of justice, and intimidating or rewarding people involved. Cover-ups involve restricting media access, censoring the media, and discrediting any sources. Devaluing innocent Indonesian women and children as “communist sympathizers” allowed the Australian Prime Minister to condone Indonesian atrocities without so much as an angry letter to the editor. Americans in Guantanamo Bay tortured “terrorists” and “criminals” not “men and women imprisoned without due process.” The fairness of repression can be reinterpreted by lying, minimizing, reframing, and blaming. When first asked about the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor, the Indonesian government claimed that the protesters were carrying weapons (they weren’t), that only 19 people died (271 people were murdered), and that the protesters instigated violence (they didn’t). The American government claimed it did not engage in torture since waterboarding and stress positions leave no lasting (observable) injury. And even if the American government tortures a few arabs, it is just because the alternative is letting a “ticking bomb” detonate on American soil.
One of the more insidious means for regimes to manage outrage is the use of official channels to give an appearance of justice. Ombudsmen, courts, commissions of inquiry, panels of experts, grievance procedures, and any other formal process for dealing with problems can be exploited to reduce public outrage by creating the perception that the problem is being dealt with. Due to the slow and technical nature of these channels, people’s outrage dies down as time passes. Reports are issued, low level lackeys are sacrificed, charges are dropped as public attention dwindles. When questioned about massacres, the Indonesian government claimed they were investigating the issue of “rogue soldiers” killing civilians. Many committee hearings and investigations occurred into Abu Ghraib, but only a few privates were convicted while the preponderance of evidence showed the abuses were systemic.
Notice how each of these five techniques effect either the secureness/accuracy of a communication channel or the receptivity of the audience. Cover ups prevent either condition from being fulfilled. Devaluing targets lowers the receptivity of the audience by lowering the resulting disgust or outrage. What is unjust about mistreating an inhuman target? Believing the victims were violent or aggressive makes violent repression appear to be a more reasonable (less unfair) reaction. It can even be considered “just” to kill peaceful protesters as long as the audience believes these protesters were a serious threat. Similarly, a sense of unfairness about the repression can be dampened with the appearance of sanction through official channels.
If activists have no control over communication channels, the regime can flood the audience with propaganda aimed at lowering their receptivity or discrediting the very existence of the repression. While the internet has provided an invaluable opening for communication, regimes have equal if not superior access to that channel. If every major newspaper and blogger claims violent repression did not happen, even photographic evidence of the act may not convince the relevant audience. In the future, however, the greatest challenges to the truth will not come from an unified “cover story” but from multiple disinformation narratives that create debates over what should be basic factual information. The recent controversy over “fake news” is a good example of this. What if an activist’s website gets labeled “fake news?” What if a trusted source is secretly turned by the regime and comes out against the activists? What if everyone has a different explanation for what happened because the opponent has purposefully created multiple, contradicting narratives?
COUNTERING REGIME “OUTRAGE MANAGEMENT”
Each regime outrage management technique can be countered. Most immediately, the regime’s cover up will fail if activists can expose the actions with video, photographs, eyewitness accounts, and other forms of evidence. In 1991, Indonesia endured yet another massacre, this time two hundred and fifty civilians. The government informed the international community that it was a “misunderstanding” due to protester-instigated violence. Same as they had for decades.
However, these civilians were part of a funeral procession covered by journalists like Amy Goodman and videographers like Max Stahl. The footage was broadcast across television networks inciting international outrage that lead the US Congress to cut off Indonesia’s military aid. However, had this occurred a decade earlier, Suharto’s iron control over media access would have prevented the story from coming out. The cover up would be complete.
Once repression is exposed, activists must be sure to validate the victim. The regime depends on dehumanization to lower the outrage of the public at a perceived injustice. As noted above, simply referring to civilians as “communist sympathizers” allowed the leader of a western nation to condone borderline genocide without raising an eyebrow. However, what if activists had been able to put names and faces on these “communist sympathizers?” At the very least, the Prime Minister’s reaction to the massacres would not have been so flippant.
If the repression cannot be covered up and the victim’s humanity has been acknowledged, the regime must invalidate the injustice itself. The perception of injustice depends on the perception of the government having a disproportionate reaction to the activists. So, the opponent and activist’s struggle is over how the audience perceives the event. The regime’s lying, minimizing, reframing, and blaming must be actively countered. This is why pre-existing procedures and institutions for communicating activist viewpoints was the best predictor for success in political jiu-jitsu.
Only a deep knowledge of the relevant political institutions will protect activists from being entangled in meaningless official channels to give the appearance of justice. The difference between “congressional hearing” and “independent inquiry” could be the difference between a scapegoated bureaucrat and an overthrown dictator. In many cases, no good official channel exists and nonviolent struggle is the only option. Psychological preparations must be made for resisting regime intimidation or bribes.
Successful political jiu-jitsu is not a simple matter of activists encountering repression. Even genocide, carefully reframed, can be stomached by the masses. Every photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. marching depicts the tip of an iceberg: below it are months of planning and the careful crafting of dilemna demonstrations. This means forcing the government to choose between allowing activists to accomplish a protest-related goal or increasing activist support through repression.
If the regime completely dominates the receptive audience’s information channels (ex. news media, AM radio, internet, etc), it can cover-up violent repression, devalue the victims, reinterpret events as not being an injustice, dampening outrage with the appearance of justice, and even bribe or threaten witnesses and sources into recanting. In response, activists must collect the evidence needed to counter official regime statements that the mainstream news media may parrot as truth. They must actively humanize victims that the regime seeks to dehumanize as unworthy of outrage. Careful analysis by relevant experts must be undertaken before allowing regimes to resort to official channels. The longer the regime can drag out an event, the more activists must fight to mobilize people to maintain outrage. Political jiu-jitsu is not a result; it is a process. And when successful, it can crush the world’s most dangerous and most powerful tyrants.