Monday, November 29, 2004


The US economy needs global consumers.

Last year, at the World Social Forum in Porte Allegre, Brazil (January 27th, 2003), Arundhati Roy called for an application of Ghandi's strategy of non-cooperation to a worldwide boycott:

"The U.S. economy is strung out across the globe. It's economic outposts are exposed and vulnerable. Our strategy must be to isolate Empire's working parts and disable them one by one. No target is too small. No victory too insignificant....We could reverse the idea of economic sanctions imposed on poor countries by Empire and its Allies. We could impose a regime of People's sanctions on every corporation that has been awarded a contract in post-war Iraq. Each one of them should be named, exposed and boycotted—forced out of business."
Excerpt from "The Role of Boycotts in the Fight for Peace: Notes on Post-Election Strategy," Paul Rockwell. On, Thursday, November 18, 2004.

Monday, November 22, 2004


Heartwarming protests at summit of the powerful:

"protesters opposed to George Bush, the war in Iraq and unfettered capitalism marched through the Chilean capital Santiago just before the American president arrived for a weekend summit of 21 Pacific Rim economies.... at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum....But most of their outrage was aimed at Bush and the US-led war in Iraq.
Marchers held up posters saying “Bush, you stink”, and "Terrorist Bush”. Some chanted: “Bush, listen: Chile is not for sale!” and “Bush, fascist, thief, murderer!”

Organisers said 40,000 protesters participated in the march...Police put the number at 25,000.... Scattered protests erupted into today in at least four working-class districts around Santiago"

Friday, November 19, 2004


The film director Pedro Almodóvar says:

My rebellion is to deny Franco...I refuse even his memory. I start everything I write with this idea, What if Franco had never existed?

Can we deny Bush?
Can we refuse his memory, when he is gone?
Can we imagine his nonexistence?
Can we at least make campy extravagent films?

Quoted by David Denby in The New Yorker, 11/22/04, 85.


What does it mean that we see the departure of Republican soldier Colin Powell with regret?
That we root for Arlen Specter (R) to remain on the judiciary panel?

Markers of climate change - how red the temp and times.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


The calls for the democratic left to address religion are increasing. (See discussions in the NYT, Tikkun, and NPR among other venues.) This religious project has several components:

1) Increasing the volume of progressive believers and clergy, having them voice dissent about the prevailing interpretations of punitive religious orthodoxy and strengthen a kinder, gentler Judeo-Christian (Muslim?) flank. This has been a project for pro-choice and pro-gay forces for a while.

2) Changing the discourse about values, compassion, and ethics. Stress the failure to attend to the poor, the Vatican's objections to the war in Iraq, the religious devotion to peace and charity. Recognize a widespread anxiety about materialism and consumerism.

3) Develop the spiritual, religious cast to the left. Dilute the Marxist opiate, or secular elitist tones. Convey the connection between spirituality and progressive politics.

One problem for the general program is its ecumenicalism. Religion, the abstract noun, is an artifact of modernity, the result of colonialism and state management of diverse populations and forms of intellectual categorization. Many fervent believers don't see their faith as "religion," if we mean one form of spirituality among many. As one feminist evangelical Christian told me, "Religion is what other people believe. What I follow is The Truth." Fundamentalist belief is not ecumenical -- there is One Way. The rest is superstition or satan or heresy. At most, the orthodoxy of the hegemonic faiths will recognize the people of the book, the few established religions. They recognize religiousity through established signs -- through these signs, Bush, who oversees the execution and torture of prisoners and the killing of civilians, is a good Christian. Expresident Jimmy Carter, who attempts to live a life of good works, is not.

Appealing to the critics of progressive politics by stating one's spiritual path, immersion in Buddhism, Bahai, Sufism, or the like is not going to work.

Using spirituality or religion to appeal to the fundamentalist evangelical Christians who voted overwhelmingly (but not completely) for Bush will also not work -- satan takes all kinds of forms, and attempts at connection might be a sign of his presence.

Our aim should be a secular state with a clear separation from religion (or the euphemism, faith-based organizations). This is the only possible mechanism to coordinate peoples of different, mutually exclusive and at times hostile beliefs.

Monday, November 15, 2004


At the American Studies Conference this last weekend in Atlanta, a number of us were talking about collective guilt -- how in three decades (or sooner) Americans will be taken to task for Abu Ghraib and other failures, and about how difficult it is for young radicals to perceive that they will someday be criticized too.


Whose vote counts in Ohio?

Below from a letter drafted by Hugh Urban on behalf of the Comparative Studies Department of The Ohio State University appeared in the November 27, 2004 Columbus Dispatch.

  • Franklin County was unprepared for the election: In the 2000 election, there were 681,949 registered voters for 2,780 voting machines. In 2004, with 150,000 more registered voters (845,720), only 13 new machines were added -- instead of 672, at roughly 245 votes per machine.
  • Which wards got fewer machines? There is a strong correlation between wards that voted primarily Democratic and wards that had fewer machines. There also appears to be a correlation between wards that are predominantly African-American and wards that had fewer machines.
  • There are documented cases of voters leaving the polls because of the long lines, which seem to have been particularly bad in minority neighborhoods.
  • According to, there were at least 1831 complaints of problems and irregularities across Ohio, ranging from long lines, to lack of provisional ballots, to voter intimidation, to failed machines and computer glitches.

They call for a VOTER'S BILL OF RIGHTS:

  • The number of voting machines must be proportional to the number of registered voters in each precinct;
  • All voters must be able to vote within a half hour of arrival at the polling sites;
  • There must be no differentiation in kind of machines that correlates with voters' ethnicity, race, or income level;
  • All voting machines must have an apparatus and regimen for a manual recount if necessary;
  • The number of "spoiled" votes that have been discounted must be made publicly available, listed by precinct, within three days of the election;
  • The total number of provisional ballots, their precinct and the number that were discarded must be publicly reported when the final vote is certified;
  • Where there are discrepancies in the number of votes cast as compared with numbers of voters in a given precinct (or any other such mathematical irregularities), there must be a full and complete investigation before the count is certified;
  • There should be uniform voting processes across the state and across the country. If electronic machines are used, they must leave a voter-verifiable paper trail, and the software must be subjected to scrutiny by a non-partisan observer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


One week later, it's time for more meta-level reflections. There are different underlying approaches to the disaster that was the 2004 elections, to explaining why people would elect a president who is so wrong for their lives, their children, our future. Let's consider them at this meta-level.

A. CONSPIRACY THEORY - This theory isn't packed away just yet, with reports of voting machine tallies way outstripping the actual numbers of voters in some republican counties, it seems. And the discarded votes, and untallied absentee or provisional votes, and long lines orintimidation driving blue-ish voters away. And from the White House, escalated color-coded threats, inflated reports of job growth, and ties to swift boats for deception.


  • IGNORANCE - True enough, given how little people read and where they get news, but not truer than other places and periods and not a sufficient explanation.
  • FALSE CONSCIOUSNESS - There's a cynical elite who brainwash gullible masses, accompanied by that time-tested opiate, Christian evangelical religion. Not to be dismissed, this view. In Marxist terms, it's accurate -- many people say they voted for Bush even though they disagreed with or would be harmed by his policies. Many poor people did vote for him. One problem with this approach is their consciousness of false consciousness -- they see voting against their interests as a badge of honor, a sign of integrity, a commitment to something greater, a respect for his resoluteness despite immediate self-interest. Another is that wealthy progressives also vote against their simple class interests, at least in terms of taxes.
  • FEAR MONGERING - People were afraid because the Bush administration has fostered orange alerts and diffuse anxiety about terrorism (and perhaps about gay marriage). See cynical elite above. When afraid, they choose the familiar, the same horse in midstream, and an image of strength (rather than actual experience).
  • "CULTURAL ISSUES" AND "VALUES": LEFTY - The male left thinks that issues like abortion and gay marriage are a cultural fog that obscures the true economic & class interests of people. The decline of union power supports this vision, as does the limited powers of socialism in US history. See Harpers Magazine, Zizek in LRB, David Harvey, among others.
  • "CULTURAL ISSUES" AND VALUES: CENTRIST - Since Clinton, mainstream pundits have repeated their chants that Americans were disgusted by Clinton's behavior and flocked to Bush in search of good honest family values. See Maureen Dowd. For a trenchant critique, see Joan Didion, Political Fictions.

C. PSYCHOANALYSIS/POP-PSYCH - Is there some pervasive psychic structure at work in the denial of reality and the longing for fabricated masculine protection? Is it diffuse masochism? Is it basic Oedipal compensation? (We need to pay more attention to psych-ops, to the use of a crude psychology in military and intelligence operations.)


  • ELECTION AS ENTERTAINMENT AND SPECTACLE - what role does news as entertainment, reality TV, media conglomeration play? (But careful that this doesn't simply duplicate false consciousness above.)
  • NARRATOLOGY - The story of Bush is better than the story of JFK2.
  • VICTIM POLITICS, INFANTILE CITIZENSHIP - Something about the wounded attachments of voters. See Lauren Berlant, Wendy Brown.
  • THE SECOND MARRIAGE OF CAPITALISM AND PATRIARCHY - At a systemic level, how capitalist interests and agendas coalesce with, or use, patriarchal ones.
  • HISTORICAL MATERIALISM - How longer trends have produced these voting blocs -- the long duree, with regional shifts, economic conditions, party membership and so forth. Nixon's Southern strategy, Dixiecrats, shifting populations, etc. Always good for the broad conditions, bringing analysis to the doorstep of individual lives.
  • RATIONAL CHOICE - Rational choice would assume that voters were voting in their best interests, to maximize something to their advantage, wouldn't they?

Monday, November 08, 2004



Cynthia Burack, political scientist: Cracking the cultural code involves being able to understand and speak the language of the Christian Right the way many academics can understand the speak the language of neoconservatives while translating their agenda for bystanders and explaining what's wrong with that agenda. We need to be able to do the same thing with the Christian Right. We may not be successful in reaching and persuading the hard core of the CR (that approximately 20-25 percent of our fellow citizens). But we can certainly understand their theology and the links between theology and politics well enough to speak effectively to those who are outside the core of the CR but can be persuaded in different directions. We just need to be willing to treat the theology-politics nexus of smart CR thinkers with the same degree of intellectual curiosity and respect we accord to people we believe are deeply wrong in other areas. Only then will our attentiveness to consequences and our arguments about morality resonate. Until then it will be weaken our hand that we are often so clueless about the deep structure of right-wing Christian thinking.

Stephanie Grant: Ten or 15 years ago the NGLTF started doing these Religious Roundtables, getting queer and left religious people together for strategic meetings to discuss how to fight the religious right. It was like, "look, you people speak their language, you talk to them." I think this was Urvashi Vaid's brainchild, tho I'm not sure. I remember gagging at the time, but even then I knew it was SMART to get someone who could sit at the same table with the religious right. How is it, all these years later, that we still haven't done this work in a larger way? I think it would be smart to talk about this public/private split more....There are social justice traditions in some religions--Catholicism is the one I'm thinking of--that place importance on the public.


Cynthia Burack, again: "I think segmenting our understandings and communications are crucial so we're getting at the intersectionalities of politics and psychology in the heartland."

On segmenting, see this breakdown of red and blue districts nationwide that should implode rhetoric about "Americans," "a mandate," "the American public/people," "mainstream America," etc. (I haven't learned how to link these images to the blog.)

Friday, November 05, 2004

Feminist statement on the elections (draft)

With a tip of the pen to the transnational statement against the war (, here is an initial formulation of what some of those around me are saying.


Bush did not win by a landslide. This was the largest amount of votes against a successful presidential candidate. He did not win all the evangelical votes, all the white male votes, all the married white women's votes. Take Ohio -- the East is more blue, the West more red. The maps of Columbus reveal this variation - in the city, more for Kerry and more against the amendment to prevent gay marriage.
Here's the breakdown from the CNN exit polls:

Mary Margaret Fonow, Chair, Women's Studies:
Even though 22% of the voters in the exit poll identified moral values as the number one issue, the economy at 20% was next. ... If you look at the map of Ohio, the old industrial/rust belt went for Kerry even more than they did for Gore in 2000 (need I mentionSteubenville went blue!). It is white folks in the small town and suburbs that went for Bush. Those are two very different constituencies. We need to break them apart.

Segment, segment, segment!

And then we have to ask about the trends that are there -- not all Americans, but:

  • Why did so many white married women vote for him?
  • Why do some (but not the majority) of poor men and women vote for him?
  • Why did more people in Florida vote for him than in 00?
  • Why don't young people (especially women!) vote much?
  • 21% of gay voters are that masochistic? (That would make 79% doms, which we know isn't true.)

Stephanie Grant: I do think it's this kind of thinking we're up against: who makes people feel "comfortable"? And again, the comfort comes from a sense of moral recognition; he'd do what I do, or at least decide the question using the same compass I have. ... Because logical argument- -appealing to people's material needs and priorities--isn't getting us there.

Mary Margaret Fonow: A lot of people I think voted for Bush because they perceived him (as a person) to be down home, average, folksy, a championof the average man or even of the down-trodden and not the rich guy heis! It's a gut reaction and has nothing to do with rational thought.Let's face it Kerry is married to a billionaire and it might have beenhard for people to relate to him.

The standard leftist view imagines that people should vote with their pocketbooks -- that their real interests are economic, as measured by their real incomes and by overall economic performance. This truism obviously doesn't hold up very well in recent years (although it's not entirely inaccurate -- poorer people and union states did vote more for Kerry).

First, what does motivate people to vote? As the media has noted, many who voted for Bush said they did so because of morality, values, and because of some sort of identification with him. So expecting people to vote for their interests, for someone who will act in ways that affect their lives, is often (but not always) misplaced. Perhaps they are seeking a figurehead, a father figure, a narrative, a symbol. Here cultural studies, psychoanalysis, and symbolic analyses could help. Explain what people are doing when they vote for the president -- how do they see the selection involved in voting, what is it for, what does it mean? From the second-hand answers presented in articles, it sounds like they are investing in an identification with an image (perhaps a simulacrum that has no reality behind it). It sounded as if they could imagine Bush in their world, mowing the lawn, like them. One said 'he works hard, he's honest, he's a good man': we know he doesn't work hard, he was famous for a moderate schedule as a governor and pre-9/11 president. We know he lies.

Second, an ethnographic perspective (or a Gramscian one) asks, how do people see their interests? How do they interpret their economic interests?

We still seem to circle around a version of false consciousness: we know that Bush is not what his ordinary supporters say he is, we know that he is not doing what they believe he is doing (handling the war well, making them safer, identifying with them, supporting families, etc).


Stephanie Grant, novelist:
What's really killing me is this question of "moral values." Why can't we seem to make a case for the war being immoral? For plundering Iraq being immoral? For Bush's cronies benefitting materially from his presidency being immoral? Because we're secularists (many of us), I think we shy away from the whole conversation, as if the question or morality were beneath us. In truth, it's sitting on top of us. The Right seems to be able convince Americans that only private acts--how you treat your wife, your kids, your relationship to
God, etc.--have the capacity for being moral. What about moral public behavior? What about sending poor people off to die so that Americans can drive big cars and not be shocked at the gas tank?

Rebecca Wanzo, Women's Studies & African-American Studies Professor:
How did the right manage to hijack language in this way? They own morality and family and values . . . the left has to get better at producing simple, seductive, messages that appeal to people's comfort zones. We have to learn how to make people feel good, while also mobilizing fear (the Bush administration is creating more terrorists everyday , Be afraid, be very afraid etc . . .) It's an overwhelming challenge. ... I'm feeling like we need whole new paradigms for understanding how U.S. politics are working now.

Jaime Grant, development director/screenwriter (paraphrased):
The Left has to work from a spiritual base--has to speak as if
spiritual values inform our decision making. (She sent an article by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun Magazine.)
Mary Margaret Fonow:
Perhaps we needto focus more on ethics/fairness. I don't know if spirituality is goingin the right direction.
We have to find a clear way to change the discourse. Christian fundamentalists are not the majority and they are not really representative of the voting population yet they were the deciding factor. Let's find some other group to be the deciding factor next time!

Why doesn't economic ethics register? This is the most corrupt regime in recent memory - the right was all over Clinton about a few hundred thousand dollars whitewatered away. What of Halliburton, oil meetings, Enron - and before that, Savings & Loans and small oil companies with big connections? Why doesn't such enormous corruption in Iraq and California and Texas get noted?
And why has religion come to focus soley on sexual politics? Have they no shame? Are the 10 commandments ranked? What of concern with poverty, the vulnerable, forgiveness, state killings, lying and deceit?


  • We need fewer analyses of Buffy the Vampire Slayer et al, and more of the motivations of US voters and the ideological powers of the right (for those who work domestically).
  • We need less pure critiques of reason and more talking points, message to stay on, images, soundbites.
  • We do need theories of ideology, identification, and imaginaries -- but we need them attached to the concrete and allied with rich material.
  • Mary Margaret Fonow: We have to stay focused on his policies and combat nationalism, racism, etc. It is obvious to me that we need to focus more on alliances and united front politics.


  • How has the right been so effective in rhetoric, discourse, "common sense?" How do they make "resolute" a key virtue for a candidate? How do they monopolize "values"? This work has been started but we need more that is oriented to strategies.
  • What narratives might be more effective with white married women, suburbanites, those who are critical of aspects of the republican right? What stories are needed, symbols, images, plots?
    ATTN: writers, artists, screenwriters: apply your skills!
  • If the right has been so successful, do we emulate their strategy, or do the means=the ends, do we need to forge some other tools? (We should remember that the right has stolen many effective strategies of the left. A major conservative funding organization says that they got the idea from Emily's List.)
  • How else can we win power, without appealing to endearing stories? Can we wrest power? Can we gain power from the urban, union, of color, young base that exists?
  • As the youth of the youth vote get older, will they vote?

Summary: Transnational Practices Against the War

Transnational Feminist Practices Against War
Paola Bacchetta, Tina Campt, Inderpal Grewal, Caren Kaplan, Minoo Moallem, and Jennifer Terry (October 2001)

This is a crudely condensed version of the document, which outlines a project for antiracist, globally minded feminists to critically address the US "war on terror":

1. analyze the thoroughly gendered and racialized effects of nationalism... an analysis that elucidates the repressive effects of nationalist discourses
2. views the impact of war and internal repression in a larger context of global histories of displacement, forced migrations, and expulsions.
3. comment on the extent to which domestic civil repression is intrinsically linked to the violence of war .... practices that will further subordinate communities (especially non-white groups) in the US.
4. call for an analysis of the stereotypes and tropes that are being mobilized in the current crisis.
5. recognize the gendered and ethnocentric history of sentimentality, grief, and melancholy that have been mobilized in the new war effort, ... a massive deployment of therapeutic discourses...
6. a detailed critical analysis of the role of the media especially in depictions that include colonial tropes and binary oppositions in which the Islam/Muslim/non-West is represented as "uncivilized" or "barbaric."
7. call for a deeper understanding of the nature of capitalism and globalization as it generates transnational movements of all kinds. ... in particular that religious and ethnic fundamentalisms have emerged across the world within which the repression of women and establishment of rigidly dichotomized gender roles are used both as a form of power and to establish a collectivity.
We refuse to utilize the binaries of civilization vs. barbarism, modernity vs. tradition, and West vs. East. We also call for an end to the racist scapegoating and "profiling" that accompanies the stepped up violations of civil liberties within the territorial boundaries of the US. We urge feminists to refuse the call to war in the name of vanquishing a so-called "traditional patriarchal fundamentalism," since we understand that such fundamentalisms are supported by many nation-states. ... Nationalist and international mobilization for war cannot go forward in our name or under the sign of "concern for women." It is our contention that violence and terror are ubiquitous and need to be addressed through multiple strategies as much within the "domestic" politics of the US as elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post-Election: I am not a Populist

I am not a populist. I cannot fathom the majority of Americans who voted for Bush, especially those whose patent interests will not be served by his regime.

They say moral issues motivated them to vote for the most corrupt, nepotistic, and cronyist president in recent memory.

What are white married women thinking?

Where are the young voters?

Is gay marriage this important?

What feminists need is an understanding of this why -- what is involved in this desire, this identification with a wealthy smug cheerleader? We fall back on false consciousness, whatever our theories -- we say that people are deluded, they are uneducated (my mother, and Brits I know say this), they are not voting in their interests, they don't see.

We have access to more information and media than ever before. Truly, most of it is consolidated into a small number of grubby corporate hands which don't shy away from blatant bias. But there are other sources. And there are the facts that are out there:

* the rationale for the war was false and changes; there is no link to Al-quaeda or 9/11 or Osama Bin Laden, who is at large
* Abu Ghraib violations
* Handing contracts over to connected American firms: if you give an Iraqi a fish, he eats fish for a day; if you give Halliburton billions of dollars, they can corner the fish market?
* economy down
* favoring corporations & business and the rich
* no understanding of suffering or hardship
* hasn't earned what he has
* convicted of a crime; his wife caused a man's death; his daughters are boozers
* responed to 9/11 with bafflement and deceptions about the threat to Air Force One
* sanctions lies in campaigns (John McCain, swift boats)
* lies, lies, lies

We need to ask, what is the desire that people feel? What are they desiring? What narrative do they want to be part of? What vision of America do they want, and why do they want a vision of America that so contradicts reality? Why is it that now they are so drawn to a superficial vision, a delusion, rather than to reality?

I have to go pick up my toddlers from daycare. Ta.