For about five years now, I have been volunteering with an adult literacy program in DC. That is a couple hundred Monday nights that I spent reading (mostly) black history with my “learner.” (The program refers to him as a “learner”.)
I hope I’ve helped him. I know he helped me. There have been times in the last five years when there was not much in my life outside of work. Since my work life is in the nonprofit industrial complex, that means way too much time around valedictorians with hero complexes. But even when I didn’t have time for friends or anything else extra-curricular, I always had that time on Monday night.
Aside from the relief of being with someone who knows that a job is a way to put food on the table and not the whole of your identity, I learned a lot. I know more about Frederick Douglas, Fanny Lou Hamer, and even the history of black wrestlers. (Turns out wrestling is fascinating. Who knew?)
But I’m almost certain that I am going to stop tutoring. The reason is that my “learner” has a goal of passing the GED. So we stopped reading black history and started doing GED prep work. Meaning we stopped reading black history and started reading a bunch of Europeans.
I’m supposed to teach him Emily Bronte and Plato. I’m supposed to help him decipher blog posts by obnoxious, white yuppies. I’m supposed to help him take paragraph-long Dickensian sentences and make them sensical.
And the whole time I am doing it I just keep asking why. Why the hell does a person have to know that crap in order to be worthy to have a job?
I end up trying to teach him test-taking tricks and explaining that, while his answer makes a lot of sense, it isn’t what they want him to say. I end up trying to teach him enough of the white supremacist code to maybe pass a test, to maybe get a piece of paper that tells the world…..what? That he has been socialized sufficiently into European education and won’t shake things up too much?
I’ve been thinking about quitting for a while, but I keep hesitating. I hesitate for the same reason I end up doing a lot of things that I am not 100% in favor of. I don’t think my discomfort should stand in the way of what someone else says they need. So I find myself in this dilemma.
Not helping someone to jump through the hoops that may give them some material advantages doesn’t seem right. But neither does participating in the indoctrination process when I want to be participating in the exact opposite.
So what do we do when faced with choices like these? How do we find ways to help people get by in the here and now without becoming part of an indoctrination process that moves in the opposite direction of what we know needs to happen?
In 2012, Prison Culture posted a little story.* The author’s friend wrote:
I saw a toddler running down Ashland barefooted and wearing very little clothing. No one was in sight. A month ago, I know that I would have immediately called the police. In light of recent events, I got out of the car and did my own detective work. I was nervous. The child was pre-verbal and I’m not good with small children, plus I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was painfully conscious, however, that calling the police might bring irreversibly negative consequences for someone — a family, the baby, me.
The good news is that I found another passerby. We wrapped the baby in my sweater and together we went door-to-door until we found the mom, who by that point was hysterical because she realized that her child was missing. Between the neighbors confirming the child’s identity and the woman’s expression when we walked up with the baby, we were pretty confident the child was hers.
Now contrast that story with two others from recent history.
You may have heard about Danielle and Alexander Meitiv. They have been fighting protective services for letting their kids go to a playground by themselves. Like a lot of incidents, it all started when someone decided to call the cops. Luckily for the Meitivs, they are suburban, white professionals with the resources for an attorney and a lot of public sympathy. They won’t be losing their kids.
Contrast that with Debra Harrell. Harrell let her child play in a park while she worked her job at McDonalds – a job that doesn’t pay enough to afford day care. When someone in the park discovered that the child was not there with a parent, they called the cops. Harrell was arrested. She lost her job. The state took her kids. She was lucky that her case received national attention. She got her job back and received the resources to fight. Many poor women and children of color are not so lucky. The “child welfare” system disproportionately chews up poor children of color.
Most white children who enter the system are permitted to stay with their families, avoiding the emotional damage and physical risks of foster care placement, while most black children are taken away from theirs. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children.
Note the stats in that graphic. But a post about the terrifying foster care system is something for another day.
Most of us do not yet have alternate means of dealing with some types of violence. We need to work on that. For now, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone for dialing 911 about a murder or a rape. But perhaps we can all agree that calling the cops shouldn’t be the first resort for everything that seems a little off?
Conservatives are supposed to be about personal responsibility. Liberals are supposed to be about social justice. Radicals are supposed to be about creating a better system. So what would be your excuse to call the police instead of taking responsibility, finding out what is going on, and trying to do the right thing? I suspect even some cops must get tired of being called for every bullshit thing. There have to be a few who would rather investigate murders than lock up mothers.
Surely this is one tiny (and yet not so tiny) thing that most people can agree with.
*Do read that whole Prison Culture post. It is good stuff.
How is it that so many people are stuck in The Highlander method of getting things done?
Let’s just strike the word leader from our vocabulary. No more Oprah comments about leaderlessness in social movements. No more hand-wringing about the lack of replacements for non-profit leaders. And no more confusing leaderlessness with structurelessness.
Groups need vision, inspiration, decision-making, facilitation, public representation, resource procurement, planning, expertise, conflict management, and accountability mechanisms.
But it does not have to be that, the minute a group gets together, the biggest narcissist takes over. It is possible to find more equitable and long-lasting means of providing those things than picking a “decider.” Lots of people have successfully managed commons, navigated consensus decision-making, and still found ways to mitigate power imbalances. Not easy, but certainly not impossible.
Sadly, my experiences have been that – even in supposedly left nonprofits that explicitly support things like worker cooperatives – there is an automatic default to The Highlander Model. And in the non-professional groups that I have been involved with, people don’t take the time to carefully think through all the various responsibilities usually taken by the “leader” in order to make sure that we don’t end up with either a mess or an informal/hidden power structure.
So lets just get rid of the word leader and focus on what needs to get done and how.
On Monday, the Guardian posted a piece about how Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, thinks that citizens in the UK must give up more of their freedom for safety. Bristow says; however, that consent is important and that “consent is expressed through legislation.”
Back on the home front. New York officials allowed a company to put beacons in hundreds of phone booths around the city. New Yorkers were not told that these tracking/ad devices were being placed all over and had no opportunity to object.
If that isn’t infuriating enough. How about this.
Cops downloaded photos from a woman’s phone and then used them to set up a fake Facebook account without her knowledge. The account was used to communicate with suspected drug dealers that knew her. The pictures included one of her in her bra and underwear. They also included pictures of two small children – her son and niece. The government thinks it was totally entitled to do this, saying:
Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations [sic].
You see, the woman in question had been prosecuted for playing a minor role in some drug dealing (allowing her friends to keep things at her house). She cooperated in exchange for a light sentence. Much like the scum that thinks if you say yes to a date then you are saying yes to everything, the cops did what they wanted.
As I was talking about all this with @bcduggan, I started thinking about that affirmative consent law that they passed in California. And I started thinking about what that Bristow character said about consent. He is right. In the totally non-functioning “representative democracy” that we have, we are told that consent is expressed through legislation. If you want to change something, spend 10 or 20 years trying to get legislation passed.
In the meantime, whatever inconceivable violations people can think of that you have not managed to specifically legislate against will continue. Just don’t think about how, by the time you get that legislation passed, they will find more ways to abuse you. And if there is a power imbalance that puts the consent equation in the abusers favor – say the power of a cop or prosecutor or maybe a little roofie?
Well, she didn’t say no.
What do you do when somebody removes your street art? You take a picture of him and then put him up on the very same wall. So meta. So hilarious.
DC PD will soon be experimenting with body cameras, but are police body cameras really such a good idea?
LAPD killed almost 600 people between 2000 and 2014.
A Texas cop thinks Copwatch and Peaceful Streets are domestic terrorist organizations. He also thinks they are starting a revolution. Let’s hope so.
Thirty two people have lost their jobs at Florida Dept of Corrections for prison deaths, including the guy who had his skin burned off in a shower. But some say the ones truly responsible were promoted while little people were scapegoated.
Don’t get too excited about prison reform or the end of mass incarceration. Evidence for change is slim.
There is a whole dirt bike and ATV culture in DC. It isn’t legal. Police run over riders. Riders run over pedestrians. Like one woman said in that first article, “If the city can build skate parks and traffic lanes for bicyclists, why can’t it find a solution for these riders?” I mean you wouldn’t believe the bike lanes and million dollar dog parks around here.
According to CDC “Between 2006 and 2010, condom use decreased by 4% overall; among teens, the drop was nearly 50%.” Holy shit, kids. I hope to hell this isn’t true for DC also. Our rates of HIV/Aids are epidemic. Like officially epidemic.
Speaking of epidemics. What would you say to 1.4 million cases of ebola by January?
At first I thought that people rifling through your garbage and then fining you for throwing away too many banana peels was going to be the most invasive thing I read about this month. Then I thought, no, it is the kids who have to get fingerprinted and their biometric data collected to get their school lunch. But then I watched this video of cops forcibly taking blood from drivers who refused breathalyzer tests.
Conservative Republican Kentucky town opens public gas station…and loves it.
A long but fascinating report from GRAIN on the rise of supermarkets in Asia and the effect on small farmers and open markets.
Quite happy that I haven’t had to put up with much abuse on the internets. I like my tiny corner and thoughtful commenters. But I have seen what goes on in other spaces though. And it surprises me not at all that trolls are sadists and psychopaths in the rest of their lives too.
Another good piece against the “sharing” businesses in Jacobin.
Hitting kids is a bad idea. Adults on the other hand…. (I’m a little cranky this week.)
In Hong Kong, students are protesting elite colonization of their city.
In Chile, three people who are “accused of being members of an anarchist cell” will be charged in the recent bombing.
Also in Chile, three ex army officials will be charged for Victor Jara’s murder.
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