Summer Reading Challenge

I realize that I haven’t posted much on this website since I entered graduate school, but now that I’m out and working in the world I’m going to start posting again. My goal with this blog, as it always has been, is to interrogate complex questions in social justice and activism, particularly the ways in which different movements or issues intersect and what we should do about those collisions. My general philosophy in activism is that thinking and acting must occur in balance with each other, and that strategy and tactics are just as important as understanding the issues.

With that in mind, and based on everything I’ve been absorbing on Twitter from the time the Ferguson protests broke out until this past week, I’ve decided to spend time this summer reading some core history and theory in a variety of social justice areas to learn more about them and challenge my assumptions. I would like to cover books from the following subjects, at a minimum:

  • Feminism
  • Queer Theory
  • Racism/White Supremacy
  • Cultural Appropriation
  • Intersectionality
  • Labor
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Organizing
  • Poverty
  • Economic Inequality

I welcome suggestions on core books I should read in these areas. Leave suggestions in the comments, or tweet them to me @jboschan. I also plan to post along the way detailing some of my assumptions going in, what I learn from each book, and how my assumptions change after each one. If people are interested in reading along like a book club, we could also potentially do twitter chats after each book.

I’m going to start by rereading a book called “All God’s Children,” by Fox Butterfield. This is a book I first read sometime in middle or high school, and in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’d like to revisit it and see if I pick up on things I missed the first time. Here’s the description of the book on Amazon:

“A timely reissue of Fox Butterfield’s masterpiece, All God’s Children, a searing examination of the caustic cumulative effect of racism and violence over 5 generations of black Americans.

Willie Bosket is a brilliant, violent man who began his criminal career at age five; his slaying of two subway riders at fifteen led to the passage of the first law in the nation allowing teenagers to be tried as adults. Butterfield traces the Bosket family back to their days as South Carolina slaves and documents how Willie is the culmination of generations of neglect, cruelty, discrimination and brutality directed at black Americans. From the terrifying scourge of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction to the brutal streets of 1970s New York, this is an unforgettable examination of the painful roots of violence and racism in America”

I hope you will join me on this journey to question my assumptions and deepen my knowledge of social justice.

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Education, Feminism, General Post, labor, Poverty, Race Leave a comment

“Stay in Your Lane”

Stay In Your Lane

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One of the common phrases/sentiments I’m seeing on Twitter in the wake of the Charleston shooting is that people should “stay in their own lanes”. Mostly I’m seeing Black and non-Black anti-racist folks saying this to White people. I have a few thoughts on this phenomenon that I would like to untangle.

The implication, if I’m reading my Twitter feed correctly, from most posters is that White people have no business lecturing Black people about race. In fact, I agree with this opinion and I would go further – people who lack lived and/or intellectual expertise on a subject have no business lecturing people who do have expertise on that subject, nor do they have the right to demand explanations or discussions about those topics from those informed people. People also have no right to hijack a space or community that is not intended for them. If they are welcomed into those spaces, they should follow whatever the behavioral conventions are for that space.

Despite my general agreement with the people on my timeline, I have some issues with where else this phrase could be taken:

1. I have questions about who gets to be in what lanes, and who decides on those lanes. I’m white, cisgender, Jewish, and an atheist. I see no reason why those four things – together or separately – should be the defining characteristic of the people I talk to or work with or spend time with. I also think for people who are bullied, especially queer people, other people trying to force lanes on them is a significant source of distress.

2. Socially, this phrase could be taken as a suggestion to only talk to people like yourself. Only talking to people who are like yourself is boring and overrated in my opinion, and often does not result in people being challenged in any way. I think there is room to learn from and engage with other people without being demanding or rude or abusive in the process.

3. Economically, I dislike the “stay in your lane” philosophy. Our economy increasingly – if not always, in service of capitalism – functions in a way that shoehorns an many people into specialized careers, whether they want them or not. Sure, there jobs that require deep knowledge of something, but the world still needs polymaths and generalists who understand not only a broad range of things, but the connections between them. I have always been encouraged to be a well-rounded person, and to seek breadth in addition to depth in my learning. I believe this encouragement has served me well, as much as it may confuse people I talk to. I have three degrees in not-obviously-related fields (information systems, public policy, and business). These three areas of education give me at least three different ways to understand and approach any given problem, but also enable me to understand linkages and issues that are missed by people who have more focused expertise. The same is true with my hobbies – my enjoyment of photography does not mean I can’t also be a tennis player. My decision to work in sports does not preclude my continued work in activism, and so on.

4. As an activist, my focus is primarily on complexities. Intersectionality, the interconnected nature of policy problems, structural and systemic analyses of inequities, breaking down silos – these are all inherently about rethinking, deconstructing, and reinventing lanes in better ways. I am naturally critical of silo-maintenance, though I recognize that not all silos are broken or pointless and we do need to preserve some of them – particularly ones that provide people space to be safely their whole selves – especially until such time as those spaces may not be needed.

Ultimately, I think people should be encouraged *not* to stay in one lane, in most contexts. However, people should be given guidelines as to how to do this exploration without abusing or otherwise mistreating people who have no interest in guiding other people’s discovery processes.

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Creating Change 1/28/2012

Today was the second full day of workshops at Creating Change 2012. The conference so far has been incredible. I have had opportunities to have some really interesting conversations.

I started off this morning in a workshop called “The 90 minute master’s in social change.” This workshop covered social movements, policymaking and policy analysis as a framework to try to adopt when thinking about how we can organize better.

For the second session today I went to “2-4-6-8 Get Ready to Evaluate” which was a workshop about the basics of program evaluation. Since improving the efficacy of activism is something I’m very interested in, I thought it would be interesting to see what they had to say. The workshop provided an overview of the evaluation process and some tips to keep in mind.

The mid-day plenary session had two components. First, we heard from Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama Administration, about efforts that HUD has taken to expand access to housing for LGBT folks. Donovan announced that a new rule is being established ensuring that LGBT folks have such access.

The second part of the plenary was a panel on international LGBT activism. This panel was moderated by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and we heard stories from Malaysia, Uganda, Guyana, and from a representative of the U.S. State Department.

The last workshop I went to today was about the emerging LGBT electorate in 2012 and resources for organizing for the election. These included resources for voter registration, voter education, and get out the vote. We also talked about the ongoing wave of voter suppression efforts and how to keep informed about the status of those campaigns.

I ended my day at the Netroots caucus, where we discussed how to improve the Netroots Nation conference and/or the LGBT pre-conference.

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Creating Change 01/27/2012

Yesterday was the first full day of the Creating Change 2012 conference. The previous two days included some workshops, a congressional lobby day, and an opening plenary Thursday night where we heard from Ben Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, about his experience as an activist for both the civil rights and lgbt movements.

The first session I attended yesterday morning was called “The Future of Sexual Orientation.” This workshop discussed personal evolutions of identity – gender, gender of sexual partners, monogamy vs non-monogamy, top vs bottom, and so forth. We talked about the challenges that changing labels and dynamics present in arguing publicly for our rights and for specific policies.

The second session I attended was called “Next strategies for LGBT Jewish movement building.” The session mentioned a variety of existing Jewish LGBT initiatives and organizations and had us discuss ways that the Jewish LGBT movement could work together more.

The mid-day plenary yesterday was Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey’s State of the Movement address. Carey spoke of all of the recent policy victories and ongoing campaigns, as well as some of the challenges we are currently facing. Carey spoke about the recent wave of voter suppression measures and how those will impact the LGBT movement. The metaphor for the address was the song “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked, which seemed very fitting.

For the third workshop of the day, I chose a screening of a film about asexuality, called (A)sexual. I thought the film was well-done and informative but I didn’t participate in the discussion after the session ended.

For workshop four, I attended “Laboring for LGBT Rights: Exploring and Educating on the Intersections of the Working Class and LGBTQ movement.” This session covered the overlapping history of both movements and some new lgbt-labor initiatives that are taking place.

For the caucus session, I went to the athiest caucus. There seemed to be a general sense that as much as the conference was being accommodating of religious folks, it seemed like the non-religious attendees were mostly not considered in the planning process.

Finally, I ended the day by attending the Shabbat service, which was very nice. It was mostly a typical Reform service, but with an lgbtq vibe.

Overall, it was a great day of workshops and conversations.

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Slut Walk Philadelphia

On Saturday, August 6th, 2011, I attended Slut Walk Philadelphia. The Slut Walk movement began in Toronto in January when a cop told a group of female students that if they didn’t want to get raped they should not dress like sluts. The women in the audience decided that they were fed up with the victim blaming and slut-shaming that is so common and organized a protest called Slut Walk to show that what a woman wears has nothing to do with sexual assault. Read the full story here.

This movement has galvanized women across the country, especially younger women, and inspired them to take action against this perceived link between attire and sexual assault. The Slut Walk in Philadelphia was held on the same day as San Francisco and Helsinki, Finland held their events, and similar events have taken place around the country and the world.

I actually missed the walk portion of the event, as I was running about an hour late, but I arrived at City Hall seemingly right on time for the rally portion. The host for the rally was Jake Aryeh Marcus, who also served as legal counsel for the event. The speakers at the rally were Hannah Altman, who was the primary organizer of the event, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, State Senator Daylin Leach (D – Montgomery County), Stephanie Gilmore, Deepa Kumar, Qui Alexander, and Kate Rush Cook. Bios for some of the speakers can be found here. All of the speakers were fantastic, and all had different perspectives on the issue. Some had been victims of sexual assault and some had not.

I found it interesting that many, if not all, of the speakers said that they rejected the idea of reclaiming the word ‘slut,’ but that they still supported the movement at large and felt it was important to participate. I think this really shows the strength of the concept — that even though not everyone agrees on the name of the movement or with a particular idea that some people bring to the movement, people nonetheless agree that people should be free to make clothing and sexual choices without fear of labels or assault. The fact that this movement has resonated around the world similarly speaks, I think, to the power of this movement. It suggests that women really are fed up and ready to take a stand.

My only criticism of the Slut Walk is that the organizers did not really make use of Twitter, except for a few tweets announcing it. Most social media communication was conducted on Facebook, which meant people like me who live on Twitter missed a lot of information prior to the event.

Photos:

All photographs copyright Jamie Boschan. Full gallery can be found here.

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Is Street Canvassing Still a Useful Tactic?

In the summer of 2004, I worked as a canvasser for Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., which is an independent organization that runs canvassing campaigns for good causes. I’m not actually sure if they are for-profit or not-for-profit. In my case, I worked as a street canvasser raising money for the Democratic National Committee. We would go out into various neighborhoods in Philadelphia, stop people ask they walked by, and try to convince them that they should donate to the DNC. More recently, I have been running into a lot of ACLU canvassers, who I suspect work for GCI as well.

From the perspective of the organization who the campaign benefits – whether that is the DNC, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, or anyone else – and whether or not they operate their own canvassing campaigns, I can understand why this seems like a good idea. Canvassing serves as a way to both raise awareness and fund-raise for your organization or campaign, and it’s something that can easily employ a lot of people. By hiring an organization such as GCI, the main organization can devote most of their internal resources to other tasks besides canvassing. And I understand that all of these nonprofits need money in order to both sustain themselves and promote their agendas.

However, the more I think about canvassing — especially from the perspective of the person who gets stopped by canvassers — the more it seems like a tactic that has outlived its usefulness. I think canvassers are mostly a nuisance for several reasons. First, I think people who get stopped on the street are more likely to be annoyed than interested in whatever this person has to say. It may be that some of the people who get stopped are out for no particular reason and just wandering around, but most people are probably on their way somewhere, and will be annoyed by having to stop and listen to a spiel that is only going to result in their being asked for money. Second, the ask itself always seems too high, and it seems kinda sketchy to give money or credit card info to some random person on the street with a clipboard and a t-shirt representing some cause. Third, if a person already cares and can afford to give to said organization, wouldn’t they have already given them money? If someone cares, but cannot afford to donate money, the canvassers are not generally prepared to direct that person to volunteer opportunities or other ways to help, because their job is to solicit donations only. Lastly, If the person doesn’t care, might there be a better way to conduct outreach to that person than by asking them for money immediately?

I believe that non-profits and campaigns both need to rethink their outreach and development strategies. There should be a two-pronged approach — one targeted at people who already agree with your mission, whether or not they can donate at the time, and one targeted at convincing new people that they should support your cause. These two different messages should be deployed across various types of media to reach different groups of people, and organizations should be prepared to offer those who cannot donate other ways that they can stay involved.

I can understand the idea that face-to-face interaction is a better way to connect with someone than a TV commercial or online campaign may be, but that doesn’t mean that the existing efforts are being conducted in a productive way. If an organization pouts and seems annoyed when I say I don’t want to donate but I’m interested in the cause, why should I keep them in mind when I am more able to do so in 5 or 10 years? If they can find ways to keep me engaged and convince me that they care that I care, I have much more incentive to keep their needs in mind when I do find that I have money I can donate. I think that the activism community needs to re-think how best to reach out to people, rather than iterating on old ideas. Just because it is still bringing in money is not enough of a reason for organizations to not reevaluate their methods from time to time and improve them.

So what do you think? Is there a reason, besides money, for campaigns and organizations to continue utilizing street canvassing teams? Is there a better way already out there to outreach and fund-raise?

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Call for Stories: What is Your Relationship With Fashion and Body Image?

This intersection between the fashion and beauty industries and self expression and/or body image is one that I am really struggling with. Personally, I am secure enough in my sense of self and body image that I can enjoy fashion — especially shopping and picking out outfits, occasionally magazines or trend-following — as a hobby and not worry about eating disorders, weight issues, or whether my attire reflects my personality.

For many people, though, this does not seem to be the case. For some, fashion presents a quandary because their gender identity may be difficult to express in clothing, or the general public is not receptive to their chosen mode of self expression when they do. Others work so hard to attain the thin, tall, white beauty ideal that they drive themselves to eating disorders and poor self esteem. Still others get so discouraged by the so-called beauty ideals that they opt out entirely, avoiding mirrors and shopping, cultivating  low self-esteem and body image.

I want to hear from you. What is your relationship with the fashion and/or beauty industries? Do you love it? Do you hate it? Why? If you have a conflict with the fashion industry, where does that conflict lie? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Women Money Power Summit Recap

I spent Friday and Saturday in Washington, DC at the Women Money Power Summit hosted by the Feminist Majority and YWCA USA. There were actually two conferences I considered attending this weekend, the other being the Civil Leadership & Public Policy (CLPP) 30th anniversary conference in Amherst, MA. I chose the Women Money Power Summit for two reasons. First, it was easier to get to and around DC than Amherst, especially since I don’t drive. Second, I guessed that Women Money Power might be more action-oriented, where CLPP might be more theoretical. There is no way for me to know if I made the right decision. There have been some amazing tweets from the CLPP conference. That said, I had a wonderful time in DC at the summit. The agenda was fairly inclusive and broad-based, and the attendees ranged widely in age and race (but not gender — There were virtually no male attendees). As I anticipated, the conference had a strong actualizing air to it. Workshops were focused on what could be done immediately or in the near future on the various topics. I will recap below the sessions I attended and what I learned each day. Continue reading »

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Abortion, conferences, Education, Feminism, jobs 1 Comment

Women, Money, Power Summit

I am in DC through Saturday evening to attend the Women, Money, Power summit. I am very excited to be at this conference. I will be live-tweeting throughout the summit, and as usual I will post a recap afterwards.

Conference info here.

Follow me on Twitter @jboschan.

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What Not To Wear and Gender Conformity

As many people who know me or follow me on Twitter can attest to, I am a huge fan of the television show What Not To Wear. I have been watching this show since the beginning — back before they replaced the original male stylist or eliminated male contributors (note: the person they make over each episode a contributor).

What Not To Wear is a makeover show. Women who are deemed to have terrible fashion sense are nominated for the show, and the selected contributor is presented with a $5,000 gift card to be used on a new wardrobe after the stylists, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, have gone through the existing wardrobe, explained why it does not work for the contributor, and thrown out anything they don’t like. (Most of the “thrown out” clothes are actually donated to charity.) In addition to new clothes, the contributors get a new haircut and are shown how to use makeup.

I am not going to criticize the methodology of the show, at least not in this post. Rather, I would like to use the show as a starting point for some thoughts about the relationship between fashion and gender. This is a topic I have been mulling often lately, and the show seems to perfectly illustrate the issues and contradictions that I see in trying to reconcile an interest in fashion with an interest in supporting body, gender, and expression diversity.

The Good

I would like to start with aspects of the show’s philosophy that are positive and helpful.

  • The show advocates dressing the body you have now, rather than waiting for some weight target that you may or may not hit.
  • The show forces each contributor to face how they view their body and why (psychologically) they dress the way they do. Whatever body image issues are uncovered get examined and processed.
  • The show highlights the impact that one’s style has on self esteem. When people believe they look good, their self esteem is much higher than when they are just going through the motions.
  • The show frequently talks about the importance of taking some time for yourself, no matter how busy and crazy your life may be. This is something more of us would do well to remember. Taking time to dress in a way one feels good about is an element of taking time for yourself.
  • The concept of personal style. Stacy and Clinton are very adamant about helping the contributor express their unique style in a way that is put together, not making them look like everyone else.

The Problematic

On the other hand, there are some elements of the show that I find really problematic and perhaps insensitive depending on the contributor’s gender identity and/or expression.

  • The stylists seem to have a very gendered view of fashion. Men wear X, Women wear Y, women should “dress like women.” They frequently ask contributors to wear dresses or pointy-toed shoes who seem apprehensive about said items. What if a contributor were gender-nonconforming or outside the gender binary? Even if some of the contributors are cisgendered women who want to look feminine but don’t know how, there are many women who may be good candidates for the show, but who do not fit that description. I have seen episodes where they help a woman find a more “masculine” style, but that is rare.
  • Even the “already beautiful” contributors are told to wear makeup. “You need makeup to enhance your natural beauty.” If they are naturally beautiful, why do they need makeup at all?
  • Many of the concepts they advocate, and presumably the guidelines used by most in the fashion industry, are tailored toward helping everyone achieve the same thin, tall ideal. Pointy shoes make one look taller, floor-length skirts/dresses make one look shorter, pants that go straight down from the hip make one look thinner. So they are making people look “better” according to a standard that maybe shouldn’t be upheld as the standard (or maybe there shouldn’t be a standard at all.)

To summarize, I applaud the show’s attitudes toward loving your body, taking time for yourself, and developing your own style that makes you feel good. What I struggle with, both when I watch the show and more broadly in thinking about the fashion industry and media, are strictly gendered ideas of appropriate/well-fitting/good attire, the idea that makeup is always necessary (as opposed to something that some people enjoy wearing), and the idea that the so-called beauty standard is what the rest of us should base our wardrobes around.

I would love to see a fashion industry that encouraged everyone to find a style that worked for them, but not in a way that is unwelcoming of people who are gender-nonconforming or body-nonconforming. I am hopeful that we can create that culture, but I am still trying to figure out how to go about creating it.

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Fashion, Feminism, Gender 4 Comments