Old and New

After raising my brother and I in apartments, my parents bought a house in the early 2000s. It was in Pittsburgh and there was a toilet in the basement.

I never thought about that basement toilet much. Mostly it creeped me out, encased in a rotting and dusty wood stall. I’d scurry past it on my way to and from the washer and dryer, terrified of the monsters – or at least spiders – that hid in its shadowy crevices. Only later did I learn the Pittsburgh toilet’s a relic of the city’s steel town past. Steelworkers would come in through the basement door, use the toilet, and rinse off the ash and dirt from the mills in the washbin before going upstairs. To my memory, my parents never did anything with the toilet, neither getting rid of it or fixing it up to the point where we could plausibly have used it. Instead, it was simply there.

I’m back in Pittsburgh after a six year absence – only visiting, not to stay. My parents have moved to a different house and this one doesn’t have a toilet in the basement. Despite that, I keep running into Pittsburgh’s past. The steel industry is long gone, replaced by a high tech and robotics surge that makes the place feel like a boomtown, but homages to the past remain.

For example, Google moved into an abandoned Nabisco factory in a poor neighborhood on the east end of town. The developers received millions in tax breaks and a grant from the state environmental agency because the place was a brownfield, poisoning the poor as they and it existed, more or less abandoned by the state. The factory is unrecognizable now, transformed into hip clothing stores and startup incubators and security guards watching over the lot of it. But in the Google offices, the catalyst of so much change – developers have already renamed one neighborhood in an attempt to rid of its stigma as a poor and black area – sits a huge cookie dough mixer from the Nabisco factory, a bizarre remnant of the past.

Uber’s bringing the future to a brownfield site too. In Hazelwood, a neighborhood on the other side of town, they’re turning an old coke works into the grounds for testing self-driving cars. As for the people in the area? They continue as they were, ignored by the new economy poaching the land around them. Once a community of 30,000, Hazelwood’s population hovers at 5,000, a quarter of whom live in poverty. The neighborhood still lacks a grocery store – as do many in the city – but unless their local political mobilization wins out, it will likely be redeveloped to accommodate a private access road directly to the Uber site, one that will cut through other underserved neighborhoods as shuttles carry techies to and from the site.

And yet Uber plans to keep the empty industrial shell of the coke works, presumably to provide an aesthetic quirk, an oddity to point out to investors and execs visiting the state-of-the-art track for the cars within its walls.

These tech giants – and the countless industrial-themed bars and restaurants, the murals on the side of condos that depict steelworkers – appropriate a past that’s central to the city’s identity. The steel industry shaped the physical layout of the city, the streets, and the houses, all jammed together with ancient toilets lined up in their basements. But while it is shaped by it, the Pittsburgh of today is not that past. For most residents, the blue collars the city’s so proud of have ceded to the pink collars of low-wage service work, a unionized workforce to atomization, and the tech economy brings with it ideological baggage that threatens the democratic structures of the city itself.

This is nothing new. Andrew Carnegie, Henry Frick, Andrew Mellon – their names are scattered through our lives in this city because they had the same anti-democratic noblesse oblige that characterizes today’s tech billionaires. This philanthropic model gave us wonderful museums and libraries and universities that bear their names but not without also giving us the massacres of the Homestead Strike and air pollution so severe it made life in the city hell for hundreds of thousands who lived and worked within it.

When the past is ubiquitously evoked in the present, it’s worth being skeptical about which past we’re talking about. While that past is being cleansed, aestheticized and defanged by the city’s new elites, its salience as a reference point provides a means for working class Pittsburghers – Yinzers, if you prefer – to criticize what the new economy fails to replicate: a living wage and benefits, for one. Identifying which past is being kept alive by tech entrepreneurs and their counterparts in real estate, restaurants, and hospitality is the start. Countering with the city’s working class history comes next.

That last part’s not my role, prodigal daughter that I am, but what I am looking at is how the present echoes the past; the old, the new. The noblesse oblige of the industries remaking the city – and San Francisco, and Boston, and a whole host of others – to their taste sounds a lot like the ideology of the industrialists who built this city the first time around. Surely there is a ‘new’ to the new economy but the more time I spend looking at it, the more familiar it seems.

On that, more later

 

Storytelling

In a review for The Baffler, Amber A’Lee Frost takes a recent anthology on college sexual assault as a jumping off point to touch upon some concerning weaknesses in “the conversation” about sexual assault. Frost’s piece addresses a few issues I want to emphasize.

First, focusing on campus sexual assault without mentioning, as Frost puts it, the existence of “an outside world that’s even less safe” than campus is a problem. It’s one that stems from the class bias that comes with a focus on college campuses, particularly elite university campuses. Life at these institutions is far from representative of the average college student’s experience, much less the average sexual assault survivor’s. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But if we want to improve women’s conditions in society at large – and I believe we do – feminist movements on campus need to perpetually push back against this distorted focus, as the media, courts, police, etc will always privilege certain voices over others – this much we know.

I say ‘we’ because I’m part of these movements – on my campus as both a mentor to undergraduates and someone dealing with a university that’s inadequately addressing sexual harassment and assault  (boy could I tell you some horror stories). While we have the most power to force change in our own institutions, we need a more effective strategy of leveraging the spotlight on campuses to agitate for more resources in society at large for addressing sexual assault. That means increasing the options available to those who have been raped or assaulted other than going to the police (who are a source of violence against women in a number of ways), arguing for universal health care, rolling back the attack on women’s reproductive rights, and fighting for affordable housing so people can more easily leave those abusing them.

Second, the packaging and delivery of survivors’ stories deserves criticism. I don’t mean criticism of survivors but of the publications profiting off their pain. Frost writes expertly on this and its connection to the economics of the online publishing industry, and her piece made me think of this one from last year. It’s about how some women can only get published by writing about their trauma. As a young woman toying around with writing myself, it’s clear I could get published writing about being sexually assaulted. But that would entail committing myself to a future where anyone can learn intimate details of my life with a quick Google search rather than when I’m ready to tell them. I admire anyone who writes such stories but I can’t help wanting to burn down the outlets that greedily churn that shit out for clicks without concern for the women offering up their trauma.

Which brings up a related point: that the debate around sexual assault is overwhelmingly about stories from survivors can be both a) an improvement from when we ignored this problem completely as a society and b) a serious issue when it comes to my dude’s eternal question: what is to be done? As Frost writes “while these acts of public testimony are crucial, and therapeutic, for survivors, readers of We Believe You are curiously left asking much the same question that one of the victims here raises: ‘What am I supposed to do?'” She describes the anthology as leaving its reader directionless, and my years as a feminist in Boston – a college campus-centric city if there ever was one – feel similar. A lot of smart people write about why it is that a focus on the individual rises to the fore in the age of neoliberalism, which can accommodate – and sell! – individuals’ stories but not structural change, so I won’t try my hand at it. Instead, I’ll point out that this focus on the individual is pervasive when it comes to just about any feminist issue: abortion? Shout it! Sex work? Tell us whether you feel empowered!

I don’t want to disparage the people who support these strategies – fighting stigmas is good and I support them as people – but I am concerned with the strategic power of a focus on stories. I think it’s a shaky foundation for a movement. If all is predicated on what survivors want, what do we do when survivors disagree? It’s a bizarre parallel to the essentialized view of oppressed groups I wrote about the other day, where differential claims within “the black community” or “the trans community” become impossible to parse. I agree that it’s unproductive to judge the way any particular individual handles their assault; where I disagree is with the idea that this means we can’t discuss the efficacy of movements against sexual assault and the solutions they propose. It’s exactly this sort of critical analysis that Frost is doing in her review. People interpret their experiences differently, be these experiences as a woman, a person of color, a rape survivor, any combination of these identities, or anything else. What we as a movement must do is analyze the problems we’re facing and work out the best way forward.

A good friend of mine, one of the hardest working feminist organizers I know, has lately taken to saying that it’s wrong to say there is a feminist movement today, because there isn’t. I think she’s referring to the absence of collective feminist struggle – we have feminists, but not a feminist movement. I don’t think she’s entirely wrong. I don’t know what we do about that – I’m thinking out loud here – but we need to take her provocation, and Frost’s, seriously.

Left-Wing Language for Your Right-Wing Needs!

Because I hate myself, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately watching language created by the left get taken up by the right. Conservatives are wielding the language masterfully, leaving many well meaning progressives disoriented and asserting the righteousness of any cause that comes packaged in the correct words, forgetting that language is meant to advance our goals, to serve us, not the other way around.

I’m not the first to note that a lot of activists today are fixated on language and that with this comes a fear of saying the wrong thing and getting iced out of a movement. The flip side of this is that when someone speaks the right words, we assume it means they’re one of us. But there’s a problem: language can be learned by anyone, it can be taught in business seminars and in online forums. If we don’t subordinate language to the material changes we’re fighting for, we lose the ability to draw clear lines between us and them.

Who’s Doing This?

Zionists are the cutting edge when it comes to hitching progressive language to reactionary ends. For the past few years, the attention of the American Zionist movement has been focused on college campuses. Campuses are bellwethers of broader political trends, making what happens on campus important for those concerned with future societal developments. For Zionists, it’s the growth of pro-Palestine groups and the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) movement that’s the most worrying. Their response is a case study in the use of left-wing language by right-wing assholes.

Take the first #StopBDS Conference hosted by the Israeli mission to the UN and World Jewish Congress at the UN headquarters in New York this week (that’s right: a UN conference with a hashtag in the name – welcome to 2016). As Rania Khalek reported from this gathering of the trolls, the speakers struck a repetitive message: “Speak left,” said Frank Luntz. “Speak the language of the left,” reiterated Yosef Tarshish, chairperson of the World Union of Jewish Students.

What does a Zionist “speaking left” look like? On campus, it means yoking one’s Jewish identity to support for Israel and then claiming to feel “unsafe” in response to pro-Palestine organizing. The impulse to make this claim comes from the rise of progressive students demanding ‘safe spaces’ for members of oppressed identities. While I’m not opposed to this, as it comes from the long and ugly history of violence against the oppressed by those with privilege, as I’ve said before, this demand is becoming one of the prefered tactics of campus Zionists.

A letter sent out by the university chancellor to UC Santa Cruz students offers a great example. Here’s an excerpt:

“On our campus, which has a long and proud history of student engagement in critical issues of equity and social justice, I want to be sure we acknowledge differences of opinion and work to maintain civility in the midst of turmoil.

In student government, as is their right, the Student Union Assembly this week voted to reinstate a resolution urging the University of California to divest from Israel. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has generated passionate opinions on both sides.

I’m concerned this resolution will have a chilling effect on individuals within our campus community. However unintentional, its passage may create an environment in which some of our Jewish students feel alienated and less welcome on our campus.”

The chancellor invokes the campus history of social justice, positioning himself as a progressive. From there, he brings up the student union’s resolution in favor of BDS and insists this may make Jewish students feel “alienated” and “less welcome.”

More accurate would be to say the resolution could make Zionists feel unwelcome. But the chancellor’s conflation of Jewish identity with support for Israel allows him to invoke a discourse of safety for oppressed identities as the bludgeon that it often becomes; a human shield, as it were, against criticism. That this conflation inflames anti-Semitism is curiously not a concern of these douchebags, who are happy to pretend all Jews support Israel. Much better to take what power you can from the discourse of oppressed groups and use it to cover for support for an apartheid state. And that’s what makes black Zionists like Chloe Valdary doubly valuable for Israel, as they can make additional claims to the need for safety, cynically counterposing black and Palestinian struggles – a particularly coveted trait when these movements are forging stronger ties.

To take another egregious example, let’s look at Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

A while back, Clinton’s team produced a chart of “intersections.” Indecipherable, it invoked the necessary know-how of the language of intersectionality as a signal to voters: “Clinton’s with it,” it shouted. No matter that the chart was absurd and that Clinton’s policies have and will continue to reinforce, not undo, oppression. No matter that Clinton doesn’t even pay her interns, who more likely than not are overwhelmingly women.

As she asked at a campaign rally in February, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow…would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make immigrants feel more welcome?”

“No!” her audience responded, but this cheeky remark was to a strawman – no one, not Bernie Sanders, not even weirdos on the internet, claims it will. But it’s enough to know the language for Clinton, to “speak left” as Luntz put it.

Fortunately, most working people aren’t fooled by this insincerity. We want redistribution. We want real feminist and antiracist gains: abortion on demand, universal health care, union protections and a $15 minimum wage for home care and fast food workers, defunding the police and an end to mass incarceration. Clinton won’t offer these but her cynical deployment of the language of the left is a feignt to pretend otherwise, and a quick look at the unbearable Clinton supporters penning articles about her radicalism is evidence that this is convincing a fair number of voters.

Why Does This Matter?

As usual, Adolph Reed Jr said it best: “[identity] politics is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism.” What he means by it is that rather than countering a strawmanned ‘class-first’ politics – the ‘break up the banks and stop there’ fantasy evoked by Clinton -the language of identity politics is elastic enough to incorporate the bourgeoisie along with the working class, particularly when it uncritically links identities to political ideologies.

It’s how we get the “black misleadership class” in Reed’s terms, bourgeois African Americans purportedly speaking on behalf of “the black community.” By pretending this community isn’t internally riven by class divides, this essentialized view of a definitionally progressive blackness lets the black bourgeoisie fill the symbolic role of a black voice, immune from criticism by their allies, who are told to shut up and listen, not question the political credentials of the speaker. This doesn’t just cause chaos at the level of institutional politics, though it does that too. It also opens up space for incoherence and misleadership in movements.

As Douglas Williams put it, “we have gotten to a point where any critique of tactics used by oppressed communities can result in being deemed “sexist/racist/insert oppression here-ist” and cast out of the Social Justice Magic Circle.” While Williams is writing of the need to build a broader, more effective movement, the phenomena he’s referring to – the belief that the oppressed shouldn’t be criticised – is not only linked to a condescending belief that oppressed groups can’t argue their views, it hands a cover to conservative projects as long as they’re led by members of an oppressed group.

Teach for America is one of the most prominent organizations to take advantage of this opening. As Drew Franklin detailed at Orchestrated Pulse, Teach for America faced a “race problem” in the wake of the devastation of the New Orleans public school system. In Franklin’s words, this led it to “re-brand itself as a Civil Rights organization. Selling such an image necessitated a new class of political operatives, one that was “majority-led by the oppressed group.”” Yet again switching out the substantive and often socialist demands of the civil rights movement for symbols, TFA could claim membership under the umbrella of social justice just as long as it had enough people of color on its payroll and knew the right words to use.

I can’t help but think that was the purpose of a recent event hosted by TFA Massachusetts. Titled “#StayWoke: Social Justice through Hashtag Activism,” the event promised to help attendees struggle for racial justice, even as the organization hosting it eviscerates black communities across the country. Want to know someone who looks like he attended one of these trainings? Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, pictured here wearing a shirt that reads #StayWoke while speaking with TFA alum and black misleader-par-excellence Deray McKesson despite the fact that Twitter has a severe diversity problem.

And that gets to the heart of the issue. Neoliberalism, capital, or university administrations have no problem accommodating symbols. New language can be learned by hiring a social justice consultant, new faces can coexist with old in high places, granted the majority remain shut out. It’s calls for redistribution that don’t jive with the status quo but these are ignored in favor of those demanding the easily assimilable.

Aviva Chomsky skillfully addresses this in the context of the university in a recent piece. “While schools have downplayed or ignored student demands for changes in admissions, tuition, union rights, pay scales, and management prerogatives,” she writes, they’ve incorporated the more symbolic and individualized demands “into increasingly depoliticized cultural studies programs and business-friendly, market-oriented academic ways of thinking.” Those demanding changes of language – apologies, inclusive rhetoric, an end to microaggressions – are recognized while those advocating for prison divestment  or an increase in material support for students from oppressed groups are shut out.

The critical stance I and the writers I’m quoting adhere to isn’t a condemnation of anti-racism or feminism as such – I support both the symbolic and redistributive demands of college students. Rather, as Ben Norton wrote in a post on Reed and identity politics, it’s “a condemnation of a politics that is centered on social constructs, like race or gender, rather than on material conditions.” If we focus our politics around achieving material changes, this necessarily entails fighting oppression wherever it appears. But to hitch this struggle to redistribution prevents those opposed to this project from claiming the mantle of social justice.

Where Does This Leave Us?

First and foremost, we shouldn’t blame those confused by this rhetoric – indeed, I was one of them until very recently. These are people who want progress but are being sucked into the morass of conflations of identity and politics. This is concerning not only because of its lack of strategic efficacy but also because it burns people out. To be always on, to have your identity, your cultural preferences, your social circle and your dating life all bound up with and signifying your politics is a recipe for exhaustion. And I’ve seen it happen: either these activists enter into non-profits and lose sight of radical movement work altogether, or they give up completely, shifting into a consumption or lifestyle politics. If we want stronger movements, we need to argue against these politics.

But for those in positions of power – people like Luntz or Clinton, groups like TFA – cynically emptying out the force of these anti-capitalist words, we should be merciless in denying them access to this cover. Where those in power seek to insulate themselves from criticism by invoking the language of the left, we need to insist on placing these words back in the context from which they came: the struggle against capital and for the oppressed. By refusing to bestow any magic on words, we can render them useless to the powerful and in doing so, make the sides in this fight unmistakably clear.

An Amazing True Story for Mother’s Day

filler

When I was a little kid, I went to a county fair-type Halloween festival in Pittsburgh. There were haunted houses, fried foods, games, and sideshow acts.

One such act was a “half man, half gorilla.” He started the show as a man but turned into a gorilla by the end.

Being a tiny jerk of a human, I hid in the pavilion after one of his performances and saw him change out of the gorilla costume. Apprised of the truth about this half man, half gorilla, that he was a fake, I stuck around for his next performance and right at the moment of the big reveal – when he turned into the gorilla – I yelled out from near the exit “It’s a costume!”

For whatever reason – likely something to do with the fact that this guy’s job was to be a gorilla-human at a Pittsburgh sideshow – he snapped. He jumped off the stage and began running straight at me in full gorilla costume.

I booked it, turning around and running out into the fairgrounds. He kept chasing me. I don’t like to think too much about what his endgame was if he caught me, but we ran around and around the grounds, eventually coming to circle Ivan the Impaler’s stage, another sideshow act (and local weird artist) in which Ivan hammered objects up his nose. We ran in circles, with the man picking up ground on me.

By this point, I began screaming my parents names and fortunately, fans of Ivan’s that they were, they weren’t far away and sprang into action to stop the grown man trying to kill their daughter.

Timing things as only my mother (and maybe some NFL players) can, my mom managed to launch herself into the gorilla man at just the right moment, tackling him to the ground.

I don’t remember what happened after that, but I think we just left the fair. My parents probably didn’t blame the guy for snapping, being small-time artists themselves who know how short a fuse a bad performance or hostile audience can leave you with.

My mom and I have had a rocky relationship at times but today, on Mother’s Day, I’d be remiss to deny just how special she is. And knowing as I do how consistently she reads this blog, I’ll end by saying: hi mom, happy Mother’s Day.

We’re All Poor So Let’s At Least Make Health Care a Right

healthcare

This is the bill for my hospital stay after I fractured my skull two years ago. Had I not had been young enough to be covered by my parent’s health insurance, I’d have been responsible for nearly $40k – and that’s ignoring other bills, like the $2k charge for the fifteen minute ambulance ride to the hospital.

In the two weeks since I wrote about the aftermath of that injury, one of my doctors caught a new problem: a fucking heart problem, of all things.

He added one more prescription to the eight on file for me at CVS. The pills stack up on the bureau in my room. They stack up because I don’t take them as consistently as I’m supposed to. Because some of them have weird side effects. Because a dozen pills a day is a lot to remember.

Most of the prescriptions have a minor price tag, a few dollars mysteriously not covered by my health insurance. $5, $10, $15. Nothing outlandish, but it adds up.

It’s lucky this doctor caught the heart problem. A tell tale sign showed up when his assistant took my vitals. I’d never have brought it up otherwise – the occasional racing heart, shortness of breath, full body weakness. It’s the least of my problems.

Before I left, I had my co-pay – $40 this time – for seeing this doctor, one of the best neurologists in one of the best medical systems in the country. $40 might seem like nothing in comparison to all that…and yet, I have health insurance. In the context of monthly visits to specialists, co-pays compete with groceries. And that’s with health insurance.

Without it? Who knows what these dozen daily pills cost. And were I still making as little as I used to, I doubt I’d have made that $40 appointment. On minimum wage, no one would have caught my heart problem.

We need to demand a system of health care that won’t force me and millions of others facing the same grinding combination of poverty and a failing body to cold quit prescriptions and avoid doctors as soon as we find ourselves without decent health insurance and maybe even when we have it. To those who mealy-mouth responses about realism and earning what should be a right, people like Hillary Clinton among others, I’d like to force them to watch millions of lives fall apart in the absence of free access to doctors.

And if we don’t make health care a right? Well, maybe I should hold onto those extra pills accumulating in my room – consider it a stockpile for a darker future.

Neoliberal Feminism

My “articles to read on feminism this morning” happened to include an interesting pair of explanations as to why so much feminist energy has turned away from collective struggles:

From Sarah Jaffe in the New Republic:
“Zeisler cites Marjorie Ferguson’s 1990 argument about the “feminist fallacy”—the idea that images of powerful women in the media translate into power for women out in the world. In this moment we too often fall under the spell of this and of another kind of “feminist fallacy”: that the success of powerful women will trickle down to the rest of us. In fact, as Zeisler notes, famous and powerful women often mistake what is best for them for what is good for all women; when we put too much weight on the feelings of celebrities, we end up cringing when their uninformed opinions, divorced from solidarity with anyone who might be affected, end up making headlines and even policy, as when Meryl Streep and Lena Dunham put their own feelings ahead of actual research and organizing on the subject of the decriminalization of sex work.

In addition to the feminist fallacy, Zeisler introduces us to what she calls “feminism’s uncanny valley,” the space in which ideas, objects, and narratives offer a superficial similarity to feminism but upon a closer look, turn out to be “deeply unsettling.” Instead of liberation, they wind up being about “personal identity and consumption.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is of course the peak example of such an uncanny valley, but even more insidious than a self-help book for the upwardly mobile are corporate initiatives that purport to “empower” women. Take Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, launched just months after the Supreme Court ruled against the women in what would have been the largest-ever class action sex discrimination lawsuit, Dukes v. Walmart. The company undertook a massive PR operation to appear woman-friendly, when the most important thing Walmart could do to empower women economically would be to raise its bare-minimum wages. It took further collective action from Walmart’s workers to push the company, finally, into a small wage hike after a series of strikes and protests rippled across the country, led by workers like Venanzi Luna, Tyfani Faulkner, and Janet Sparks.”

And from Abi Wikinson in Current Affairs (a great new publication worth reading):
“Feminist discourse on social media also focuses disproportionately on a relatively narrow range of issues. Sex work legislation notwithstanding, the conversation topics with most traction are concerned with either language, pop culture, or identity. Conspicuously underrepresented is consideration of issues concerning material reality. It’s not that the stuff that is discussed is always unimportant, but it’s a very limited version of feminism that doesn’t position women’s living conditions, their ability to care for themselves and their children, their financial independence and their ability to extract themselves from abusive situations as central concerns.

Partly, this is a reflection of wider trends rather than something specific to social media—U.S. culture has a strong influence on all aspects of the English language internet, including conversations about feminism. From a U.K. perspective, there has always been a weird class blindness to political discourse in the U.S., which lacks the labor tradition of European countries. (Admittedly, the sudden rise of Bernie Sanders may challenge these preconceptions.)

Regardless of wider influences, the very fact that discussions are happening online encourages a disconnect from material reality. Identity and language are the topics most relevant to gender as it’s experienced actually on the internet, so it’s logical—in some ways—that these might be the things that internet feminism focuses on. This would be less of a problem if “internet feminism” was a distinct subsection of the movement, but there are good reasons to believe that online discourse is influencing the priorities of feminism as a whole.”


Now, whether feminism is distinct from other identity-based political movements in being particularly prone to neoliberal cooptation has yet to be convincingly argued, at least from what I’ve seen. That said, whether due to the optics of media coverage or the unique amount of time and energy (and publications seeking the sort of confessional pieces Wilkinson refers to in her piece), feminism may be the richest site to study neoliberal identitarianism in the way these writers (and Andi Ziegler, the author of the book Jaffe is reviewing) do.

As for Wilkinson’s argument that the internet is itself an explanatory factor for neoliberal feminism’s idealist tendencies, it’s unclear how the fact that these discussions take place on the internet causes such a disconnect (in contrast to the wider political and economic influences Wilkinson brackets). However, there is an argument to made that our ability to engage online as feminists, influencing real life feminist organizing – a controversial assertion from Wilkinson but one that I think is undeniably true- will exacerbate feminism’s most individualistic and self-destructive tendencies in the same way it would any identity-based movement.

After all, it’s much easier to dismiss someone’s argument by attacking their character if you aren’t in the same room with them. I’ve seen arguments that tore organizations apart when they took place online play out as productive debates in person due to the basic fact that there is a threshold of commitment to material progress that must be reached for someone to show up to a meeting, and once you and your supposed adversary meet face-to-face in some godforsaken church or library, you realize how much you hold in common.

That said, I remain open to being convinced that there is something distinct in online communication that shapes our political strategies and thinking as well as our social behavior. But for the moment, I wonder if so much attention to the online elements of social movements isn’t one more product of the very media economies and attraction to discontinuities rather than constants that are being identified in these pieces. Both these authors acknowledge and seem open to that possibility, and I can only hope that the next few years see a return to the type of materialist feminist analysis they’re offering.

i’m beginning to think of the MBTA as a criminal operation

Okay, maybe I’m being over-dramatic. But in my defense, I just stood at Ruggles station for 40 minutes with nearly 100 other people waiting for the 28 or 23, buses that go through Dudley Square to Mattapan and Ashmont, respectively. It was windy, maybe 35 degrees out with some cold rain. A lot of people had little kids with them.

Lately the 28, which is always a double-length bus, has been a single bus. That means would-be riders get stranded at stops once the bus is so full that no more people could possibly fit inside. If I’m being honest, that regularly happens with the double buses too, but with these single buses? Abandon all hope.

I won’t deny that my annoyance at having spent so much time in the freezing cold tonight is part of my motivation in writing this, but most of the urge comes from a far larger objection to the recent decision by those who run the MBTA to raise the fare by nearly 10%. Our train cars are some of the oldest and most unsafe in the country, and for those of us on the bus lines, particularly in the poorest parts of the city, the situation is even worse. The census tracts that the 28 and 23 drive through are some of the poorest in Boston, as well as overwhelmingly black and Latino (out of the crowd waiting for the bus, I spotted only two other people who looked white besides myself). Tonight, having spent a while listening to moms worry to strangers about their kids getting sick from being outdoors for so long in the wind and rain – in one of the richest cities in the United States – I can’t help but think of the people “running” (read: neglecting) this public transit system as, at best, criminally incompetent.

If they were driving the bus I’m writing this from, the one I waited so long for, we would have already crashed.