Let Bhopal Feel the Bern – Why we should demand corporate accountability in Bhopal

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Fellow Bernie Supporters,

We support Bernie Sanders because we care about corporate accountability, money in politics, health, worker safety, fair trade, humane economics, well-being and safety of consumers and the earth. These issues are all at the center of the struggle for justice in Bhopal, India where the American company Dow Chemical continues to evade justice. Senator Sanders has fought hard against Dow Chemical and its lobbyists for many years. Today, we should stand in solidarity with the people of Bhopal, as they continue their 32-year old struggle against the largest American chemical company.

What happened in Bhopal?
In December 1984, a pesticide factory owned by an American company leaked 40 tons of toxic gases killing over 8,000 people and maiming hundreds of thousands in Bhopal. The “accident” was the result of systematic cost-cutting over many years and flagrant violation of safety standards. After the disaster, the company refused to reveal the composition of the gases, claiming it was a trade secret. Left without an antidote, thousands more were killed or maimed. A few years later, it turned out that the company had also poisoned the groundwater of 300,000 people. That company was Union Carbide, now a fully-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

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Burial of unknown children, victims of the Bhopal disaster. More than 8.000 people died during the first days, cemeteries were overcrowded with no space for individual burials.

Today, thirty-two years later, the victims of that corporate crime have yet to receive justice. Union Carbide, and its current parent Dow Chemical, have been absconding from Indian courts. The abandoned factory, its chemicals, and toxic waste continue to infect, deform, and kill the people of Bhopal.

Dow, with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice, continues to defy Indian courts. They ignore court notices summoning Dow to appear in the ongoing criminal case. Since August 2014, the Department of Justice has blocked four notices issued by the Bhopal Court without sending them to Dow Chemical, as required under an international treaty with India.

Enough is Enough!
There are many reasons we are natural allies with the people of Bhopal in their struggle for justice against Dow Chemicals.

We do not support the US government shielding companies from the law. We want corporations to be held accountable for their criminal acts. Senator Sanders has emphasized corporate accountability many times. We should support the people of Bhopal as they demand that the US government serve the court notices to Dow.

We want to fix the democratic system and stop elections from being bought and paid for by special interests and corporations. Between 2013 and 2014, 10 chemical companies and organizations spent more than $154 million lobbying Congress and the federal government. The top spender, Dow Chemical, spent more than $14 million. Dow Chemical and the billionaire class continue to marginalize people’s needs with for-profit agendas infiltrating OUR political system. We cannot allow campaign politics to go on as usual. So long as companies control politicians, public interest will be sacrificed for corporate interests, like in Bhopal. We must GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS.

We care about our food, health, and environment. We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat. Bernie Sanders has been fighting to label foods with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). Vermont, the state Bernie represents, is the first state to require GMO labeling. Dow and others are pouring money to defeat GMO labeling, even though more than 90% of Americans want GMO labeling.

Dow Chemical has a long record of violating the health, safety, and well-being of consumers and Earth. Dow plants in Michigan account for over 95% of emissions of the cancer-causing dioxin in the state. After highly contaminating Morrisonville, Louisiana, Dow began a campaign in 1989 to buy out and relocate nearly all of Morrisonville’s 300 citizens to try to avoid the bad publicity and expense of a lawsuit. Before they closed their chemical factory in Bhopal, they dumped the waste improperly, polluting the city’s groundwater, soil, and air.

We want fair trade and humane economics. Bernie has been a vocal critic of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is terrible for workers, as it promotes outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries; it allows corporations to sue to overturn “Buy American” rules; it rolls back environmental protections to favor corporations. Dow is a vocal supporter of TPP and has used similar free trade agreements to sue governments around the world, attacking regulations protecting communities and the environment from harmful chemicals or mining practices. Dow obtained privileged access to the full text of the TPP even though members of Congress had only limited access.

We care about workers and job safety. Dow has a history of exploiting vulnerable workers, busting unions, and ignoring workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals. For instance, during the 1960s, management at Dow’s facility in Freeport, Texas refused to notify employees of evidence of genetic damage in workers exposed to benzene and epichlorohydrin. Banana workers in Central America have also won cases against Dow for their unsafe workplace practices.

We are angry as hell! And we’re fed up with the iniquities of the U.S. system and generations of leaders sitting idle on issues of injustice. We want ethical leaders like Bernie in our government who actually walk the talk, care about our planet and the dignity and worth of all those inhabiting it. Bhopal is worth our time and fight.

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INDIA. Bhopal. December 2, 1984, during routine maintenance operations in the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal, a large quantity of water entered one of the storage tanks triggering a runaway reaction that resulted in the deaths of more than 16,000 people and the maiming of more than 500,000 others. Here, Gas victims supported by Jabbar, demonstrated at the railway station. 2004.

Let Bhopal Feel the Bern!
We understand Bernie’s vision and progressive agenda requires engaged citizens working hard and Feelin’ the Bern together to demand change. Bhopal needs this same engagement. Bhopal needs Bernie supporters to demand justice for Bhopal right now. From May 15 to June 13 Americans can sign the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal’s petition to the U.S. government to insist that they immediately serve notice to Dow Chemical to attend court in Bhopal on July 13, 2016. The decades of the US government’s protection of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical must end.

DEMAND JUSTICE FOR BHOPAL. SIGN THE PETITION NOW: http://www.bhopal.net.

Yours sincerely,
Courtney Train

Courtney Train campaigned for Senator Sanders in the Kansas Caucus. She supports the struggle for justice in Bhopal.

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Bodify the Commodified

The 1972 enactment of Title IX exponentially increased female participation in virtually every sport. High school soccer in 1972, for example, maintained 700 female participants, and in 2007, this increased 48,133% to 337,632 (Billings 83-84). Though female athletes are on the field and court, the institution of sport remains generally masculine and uninviting to women. To capitalize on their sport career, women athletes might take to the sexualization and commodification of themselves, which begs the question, “Should female athletes market themselves sexually to make the most money in their careers?” To answer this, I will examine the attraction of sexualized commodification of the female athlete, hegemonic masculinity within the institution of sport, and limitations to positive change within sport and society. Numbers may have increased, but equality is a long shot.

As female athletes earn less money, receive less media attention, and maintain shorter careers than their male counterparts, “posing” can offer these women financial and commercial advantages. In 2005, the maximum salary of a WNBA player was $89,000, the minimum $31,200, and $673,000 was the team salary cap. That same year, the maximum salary for NBA players was $15.355 million, the minimum $385,277, and $46 million was the team salary cap (“Pay” 2011). In addition to pay inequalities, a 33-year study showed only 9% of Sports Illustrated stories focused on women (Barnett 351). These obstacles are exasperated when the female athlete is expected to reinforce stereotypes and double standards—she is to maintain all roles as fashionista, mother, and sex symbol; she is more successful if pretty; and she is to apologize for her successes and assure her fans she can win, bake, and be beautiful (351, 353).  With these pressures, women often find themselves happy to use their “sexiness” to gain audience approval, media attention, and sponsor interest. Sexualizing and commodifying her body can even seem empowering for her, as she can feel strong and sexy. She understands the rewards for marketing herself and wants to take full advantage of doing so (354-55). Sexually marketing herself provides the media and financial means she may seek.

While this may improve her career, the “success” female athletes gain from posing sexually is ultimately superficial and embedded within an oppressive system set up to privilege masculine superiority. Through language, our culture establishes, justifies, and normalizes socialized differences between genders and their expectations and capabilities. The notion that women are inferior to men and that male/masculine is dominant and preferred can be described as hegemonic masculinity. Language, then, upholds hegemonic masculinity through masculine generics, gender marking, and naming conventions. Rhetorical scholar Jeffrey Seagrave asserts that naming is never neutral or random; instead, it brings to surface biases and prejudices, retaining cultural prerogatives. The assumption of maleness in words like “defensemen,” the asymmetrical marking in ‘male’ sport versus ‘female’ sport (NBA versus WNBA), and the labeling of women as “girls,” “dolls,” and “princesses” are all means through which the female athlete is made inferior (Seagrave 31-2).

This female-subordinating language is then carried through sport commentators and media. Through use of marginalizaing, sexualizing, and objectifying language, televised sport media demote women to the position of “other” and contribute to the trivialization of the female athlete and female sport. Sport commentators’ depictions of the female athlete uphold discriminative views and values of women—portraying her and her accomplishments as childlike and lucky. In a loss, women are victimized, considered to have been too nervous and unconfident, while men were simply ‘not on their game’ and not at fault. The strength of athletes’ opponents is acknowledged for men but unaccounted for women. To further uphold hegemonic masculinity, commentators will describe women in familial terms to emphasize their dependence, ‘softness,’ and weakness. The female athlete’s skill is never solely recognized; her physical appearance and attractiveness to male viewers is commented on, or at least emphasized via camera angles and shots (Tanner 5-6, 11). Defining and manipulating the female athlete’s abilities, identities, and importance, media and sport commentators help shape the subordination and mockery of the female athlete and her skills and credentials.

Depictions of the female athlete set standards for identities which women are expected to conform. She is forced to ‘choose’ her identity within the patriarchal framework of stereotypical, standard, and constraining ideals of femininity.  Because “patriarchal cultures idealize, sexualize and prefer weak women” (Seagrave 33), the female athlete is sexualized and made inferior for the heterosexual audience in order to compensate for her involvement in sport—she is not too masculine, she is apologetic and fulfills her double-standards. Positioning herself in such light, however, discredits and diminishes her accomplishments, casting them as abnormal and deviant (Seagrave 33). Her sexual and feminine identities are then made prevalent, while her success as an athlete is silenced. Her body is made to be an object for visual pleasure rather than seen as a strong, muscular machine capable of victory like the body of a man is. These identities and portrayals of the female athlete remove ‘athlete’ from her indentity; she is seen as a mother, sex symbol, wife, and caretaker—not an athlete. Posing her smiling in a bikini rather than taking competitive action shots of her in uniform exploits her body and mocks her role and talents as an athlete (Hanson 15).

Contradictorily, identities represent the acceptance of and resistance to hegemonic forms. Linking the female athlete’s (hetero)sexual appeal to her empowerment is not only telling of society’s view of women but paradoxical due to its limiting of femininities, creating unachievable and discriminatory standards for female athletes (Mean 129). The notion that the female athlete is empowered by receiving media attention and money for her sexualized body is inherently false. Because the she creates her identity and makes her ‘choices’ within a patriarchal framework, her actions and thoughts are derived from hegemonic and oppressive cultural ideologies that privilege men and subordinate women. Though she is presented with choices, her actions and beliefs have been socialized with sexism and degrading depictions of what it means to be a certain gender.

Until the female athlete is recognized for her athletic abilities and strength alone, her role, identity, and expectations will continue to subordinate, victimize, and exploit her. While she has the right to ‘choose,’ the female athlete should not market herself sexually to make the most money in her career because she is only fulfilling the role hegemonic masculinity assigns her. As long as she continues to sexualize herself, she will repetitively be exploited because she is dependent upon this system that knows it can depend and capitalize on her oppression. Thus, she will never make more money, never truly be respected for her accomplishments as an athlete, unless she can break this cycle of dependence. She cannot be equal with men as long as she stays within the means of patriarchal oppression. While further research is needed to describe and justify what this might look like, it is clear that Title IX has irrefutably increased women’s involvement in sport, but society’s view and treatment toward women keeps them from achievement and being valued for their true athletic capabilities.

References

Barnett, Barbara. The Babe/Baby Factor: Sport, Women, Media. 350-358. Print.

Billings. “Gender and Sport.” Communication and Sport. 81-104. Print.

Hanson, Valarie. “The Inequality of Sport: Women < Men.” Undergraduate Review: a Journal of

Undergraduate Student Research 13 (2012): 15-22. Web. [date of access]. <http://fisherpub.sjfc.edu/ur/vol13/iss1/5&gt;.

Mean L, Kassing J. “I Would Just Like to be Known as an Athlete”: Managing Hegemony, Femininity, and

Heterosexuality in Female Sport. Western Journal Of Communication [serial online]. April 2008;72(2):126-144. Available from: Communication & Mass Media Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 19, 2014. http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=8e809d91-9f75-43ea-997e-e05315adb7ba%40sessionmgr4005&vid=4&hid=4114

“Pay Inequality in Athletics.” Women’s Sports Foundation. Women’s Sports Foundation, 1 Jan. 2011.

Web. 19 Sept. 2014. <http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/en/home/research/articles-and-reports/equity-issues/pay-inequity&gt;.

Seagrave, Jeffrey, Katherine McDowell, and James King. “Language, Gender, and Sport: A Review of the

Research Literature.” Sport, Rhetoric, and Gender. Palgrave Macmillan. 31-39. Print.

Tanner, Windy. Marginalization and Trivialization of Female Athletes and Women’s Sports through

Commentator Discourse. School of Communication, 2011. Print.  https://www.american.edu/soc/communication/upload/Wendy-Tanner.pdf

Female Anatomy: The Study of Society

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“If Victoria’s Secret ads are ‘scandalous,’ then why would you expose yourself in public to nurse?” -A comment on Kate Fridkis’ blog post, “I Don’t Care What You Think of Me Breastfeeding in Public.”

Let’s make things clear, comparing a Victoria’s Secret ad to a nursing mother is like comparing a cow at a factory farm to a cow at a small ranch. They just… no. Different purposes, people! One objectifies life; the other celebrates life.

First, I’d like to start this blog iterating my words stem from the words of others. It’s important we recognize all ideas are built upon each other’s. …Which is why intellectual property is not a real thing… but that’s another blog post 🙂

Now to the meat, …I mean milk. I’ve become increasingly interested on women’s role in society and how our every move, thought, and choice is over-examined by those around us. Everything from dress, language, and organs, we are picked apart and told we are innately wrong, disgusting, and deceiving. We’re suffocated in double standards–we’re told it’s immodest to breastfeed in public; yet, we criticize cultures where women are routinely covered; we’re told to be innocent and sexual, obedient and sassy, nice and emotional. Women could put together a whole novel of double standards. Plus, our bodies are never up to par. Somehow we’re convinced body hair is gross? While in India, I remember watching a mother and daughter cuddle. I watched the thirteen-year-old daughter rub her mother’s legs, which were naturally and beautifully covered with hair. At first I was taken aback, but then I became furious by western culture’s demand and expectation for women to be hairless, like little girls or naked mole rats. It’s really quite obscure.

Even more obscure: women’s organs and bodies and that their use, appearance, and ‘sacredness’ are still debated as a political issue like we’re voting on whether to criminalize chickens for having feathers. No matter your moral, religious, political, or personal views, just always keep in mind we’re talking about people. People with feelings, decisions, backgrounds, and futures. There seems to be confusion around pro-life/pro-choice/pro-birth debates. How can one identify as pro-life and not support social welfare programs, a livable wage, or human dignity? That is not pro-life. That is pro-birth. Huge difference. Likewise, pro-choice does not mean pro-death, pro-killing-babies, or pro-suicide. It’s pro-supporting individuals and their wants and needs to make the choice that is healthiest for them and their situation. Ever think there’s a correlation between abortion, suicide, and only pro-birth? If we cared about our fellow humans and animals, maybe people wouldn’t be forced into situations of choosing abortion or suicide.

And then to feel offended by a woman breastfeeding her infant in public because it’s indecent or immoral? Again, pro-birth. Until our society has true pro-life, supporting all forms of life every step of the way, judgement cannot be cast on individuals’ actions, especially when they are trying to feed their children or provide them with shelter. In each of these ‘debates,’ the woman’s selfishness never fails mentioning: She’s doing it for attention; It’s all about YOU, YOU, YOU–what about the comfortability of others; She was asking for it. The only thing we’re asking for is some humanity! I can’t do anything without someone thinking I have some negative motive. Why do women always have to be ‘up to no good’?

Oh, and hold up. Side note. I’m getting realllll tired of the argument that breasts are naturally sexualized and men are naturally attracted to them. That is incorrect. Breasts have been socialized to be attractive; breasts have been sexualized. Not every culture finds breasts sexually attractive. That goes for humans and animals. You don’t see Mr. Whisker’s drooling over Floppy Franny’s kitty breasts. There’s nothing natural about it. It’s actually the exact opposite. Just ask Mister Rogers–you know, the nice old guy who taught the world “manners” and love; he proudly and publicly supported public breastfeeding. Check out this awesome episode to find out the secret purpose of breasts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMAzpwVDON0

And the stereotypes don’t stop with breasts. Seems like our society really has a problem with women and reproductive organs.

BREAKING NEWS: WOMEN’S EGGS DO NOT NEED RESCUED.

They are not fragile, dependent, passive, dormant, or helpless. Our eggs are strong, powerful, and in control. While textbooks argue “mission”-driven sperm take a “perilous journey” “through the female tract in quest of the ovum,” sperm actually swim around aimlessly, dying along the way, until the egg captures a sperm. Clearly, the vagina runs this show.

BE CRITICAL OF INFORMATION. Language constructs our social world. If we’re told women’s biology is “weak” and “unproductive” and men’s is “strong,” “fueled,” and “aggressive,” we will believe women are innately submissive objects to act upon and men are resilient heroes. Debunk assumptions about men and women and their reproductive organs, and no longer accept that women are less worthy than their male counterparts. Don’t let textbooks convince you women’s ovaries are “scarred and battered” or that men and sperm are the actors/agents of life. If your body menstruates, shout that out and love the brilliant, clean biology inside of you!

AND WHY CAN’T THERE BE A DISNEY MOVIE WITH A MAN HELPLESSLY TRAPPED IN A TOWER SPENDING EVERYDAY NOT USING HIS BRAIN AND CREATIVITY TO ESCAPE, BUT, INSTEAD, ONLY PASSIVELY DREAMS OF A WOMAN SAVING/RESCUING HIM WITH A KISS SINCE, YOU KNOW, THAT’S WHAT PASSIVE PEOPLE WANT… SOMEONE TO BARGE INTO THEIR HOME AND SLOBER THEIR FACE.

It’s funny, when a heterosexual marriage/relationship ends, people are more likely to assume the woman is struggling. I say HA! Seems like men need women more that women need men. But you probably couldn’t tell that from movies or TV. It’s time to get critical and to let men cry. No more “manliness” talk–it isn’t real. Support those who act against gender norms. Support women, support their choices, support their wellbeing. And support yourself. Male, female, or however you identify, you are worthy and hold agency. ….And I love you.

Women. Race. Earth.

Browsing the old FB, I scrolled upon a friend’s status:

“It’s not cool to call women bitches left and right. Bitches be this or that. Not only do men do it and that’s a whole other issue but other women get in on it as well. Where did all of this self hate come from?”

Sympathizing with her thoughts, I decided to do a little research.

I have speculations that it could have stemmed from the idea of beauty and being desirable. It’s not natural for women to wear makeup, shave their legs, and be obsessed with their appearance. These ideologies stem out of patriarchy (man has power, women is object). Cosmetic and beauty companies were founded by men and most still have men for CEOs, like Dove, Maybelline, and Pantene. Even Victoria’s Secret was founded by a man. Men tell women what they need and what they should want. Men control media, advertisements, and industry. Men create the socially formed world we live in. These are not theories. These are facts. More men are in positions of power and decision-making. Significantly more men are directors, news anchors, filmmakers, tv producers, CEOs, government officials, etc. And while men control the social world, women become distracted from their purpose in the world, from the important aspects of life. Women have been trained to only care about what people think of them (there are actually studies to prove this as well. Read “Throwing Like a Girl: A phenomenology of feminine body comportment motility and spatiality” by Iris Marion Young). In that process, women become jealous of other women, use their energy bringing other women down. When the goal in life is to be the sexiest, thinnest, smartest, most innocent, most bangable girl, women will race to the top, pushing down as many along the way as they can. But women, once we realize that none of this matters, we can stop caring what others think of us and start supporting each other. If you want to wear makeup and high heels or t-shirts and boots, THAT IS OKAY. Hallelujah sister we support you! We can’t keep letting men distract us from what’s important: human rights, clean water, peace, equality, love, acceptance, clean air, livable wages, good health, sustainable agriculture, reliable government, respect, empowerment, ethics, kindness, brilliance, empathy, compassion, resilience, diversity, solidarity. Women, WE ARE NEEDED. There’s a reason we make up more than half of the population, and it’s that’s not to spend out time, money, and minds on makeup or holding grudges. We are here to make a difference. Tall, short, thick, thin, virgin, mother, hair, razor, lipstick, Chapstick, brown, yellow, white, black, red, orange, doesn’t matter. We are ALL valuable and worthy.

It is time women tell their own story. People who are not white tell their own story. Minorities tell there own story. White men, we love you; but you have to let other people contribute to this beautiful world too. Our government represents SIX percent of our population (male, white, married, straight, christian, over age 35, college degree, high income). There are other people in this world, other religions, races, ages, views. We all want representation, and the world would truly benefit from diversity and a more accurate depiction of society. When the people who make decisions never experience the consequences of their decisions, we have an endangered world. We have anger, hunger, violence, misrepresentation, discrimination, wealth distribution inequality, global climate injustice, child labor, family-farmer suicide, rape, mass incarceration. Government officials make decisions based on what they know and have experienced; filmmakers write and direct stories they know and experience. This means we’re getting one perception of this diverse world. People at the top, stay at the top and control what society looks like through the media… an inaccurate depiction. This post is not to degrade men, white people, or people of power. This post is to encourage acceptance, love, diversity, and accurate representation.

 

FuN fAcTs! (Read them. Get angry. Wrap that anger in love. And stand in support for ALL women… and really, for all people).

Women make up 18% of the 2014 US House of representatives.

Women represent 51% of the US population, yet comprise 20% of congress.

35 women have served as US governors compared to 2,319 men.

In Nancy Pelosi’s four years as Speaker of the House, she has been on the cover of zero national weekly magazines.

Women own only 5.8% of all television stations and 6% of radio stations.

71 countries in the world have had female presidents or prime ministers, the US is not one of them.

U.S. women continue to earn 77¢ to every dollar that men earn.

Women hold only 5% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing, and advertising.

In nine states and the District of Colombia women who are victims of domestic abuse can be denied healthcare coverage because domestic abuse can be considered a preexisting condition.

53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies.  That number increases to 78% by age 17.

It is estimated that out of the 8 million people with an eating disorder 7 of those million are women.

The U.S is the only major industrialized nation without paid family leave.

1 in 4 girls experience teen dating violence.

1 in 4 women are abused by a partner in their lifetime.

1 in 6 women are survivors of rape or attempted rape.

Depression in women has doubled since 1970.Between 1937 and 2005 there were only 13 female protagonists in animated films…All of them except one had the aspiration of finding romance.

The number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth under age 19 more than tripled from 1997 to 2007.

70% of women in the workforce are mothers; yet we have no national paid leave child care or flex time policy.

Women currently hold 4.6% of Fortune 1000 CEO positions.

In 2012, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents an increase of 2 percentage points from 2010 and an increase of 1 percentage point from 1998.
– Celluloid Ceiling 2012 Report

Women accounted for 15% of writers, 17% of executive producers, 20% of editors, 4% of cinematographers, and 25% of producers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2011. – Celluloid Ceiling 2012 Report

Only 11% of all clearly identifiable protagonists are female, 78% are male. – It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World

Things are not moving in the right direction for women onscreen.  The numbers are stuck at around 30%, yet remember, women buy 50% of the tickets.  The numbers continue to show that Hollywood doesn’t care enough about women.  They believe that sexualizing girls and women sells tickets. – Indiewire

Women support women. Films directed by women feature more women in all roles. There is a 21% increase in women working on a narrative film when there is a female director and a 24% of women working on documentaries. – Indiewire

Sources: http://film.missrepresentation.org/statistics, http://www.wmm.com/resources/film_facts.shtml, http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-ceos-fortune-1000

The bars of our youth

A country’s prison system is quite telling of the country and how it views its citizens. America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, incarcerating 5 times the world average. More than one out of every 100 American adults is behind bars. The most serious charge against 51 percent of those inmates is a drug offense. Only four percent are in for robbery and only one percent are in for homicide. African-American males make up 6% of the US population but 80.1% of the almost 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison. None of this is coincidence. As government continues to contract prisons to private companies, prisons need their beds filled. In fact, they overfill them. When an industry can get free and forced labor, they want all the “criminals” out there. And who else to work for free without any pullback than America’s minorities and poor? The rich commit more crimes than the poor, yet the poor live their lives behind bars, denied dignity since childhood. A country’s prison system is quite telling of the country and how it views its citizens. Profit over people. Retribution over forgiveness. Hell over humanity.

You’re killing us. After Kansas slashed mental health funding, suicides in the state jumped 30 percent (http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/22/2814181/kansas-mental-health-suicides/).

We need dignity, not prison, suicide, and unemployment/underemployment. We need rehabilitation, not incarceration. Most of all, we need to be seen as valuable citizens who contribute to our society and who are given equal opportunities. We’re “criminals” before we even have the chance to vote. We wouldn’t need your stupid “assistance” if we weren’t forced to live miserable and un-dignified lives. When your life has no value, killing yourself with drugs is the only way to feel good about yourself. Too bad our only source of pleasure makes us hate ourselves even more. See you in Hell.

 

“Only an ignorant person would maintain that laziness or some other moral defect is the source of poverty. As if being poor were somehow un-American.” -Sargent Shiver

“Before you can do anything about poverty, you’ll have to fumigate the closet in which Americans keep their ideas about the poor. You’ll have to rid America of all its clichés about the poor, clichés like the one which says that only the lazy and worthless are poor, or that the poor are always with us.” -anonymous 

“’Do what you love’ disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege, a sign of that person’s socioeconomic class.” -Miya Tokumitsu

“If the amassing a fortune has been at the cost of the health of the planet, if amassing a fortune because of wealth distribution in the favor of the rich, then amassing a fortune is a crime against humanity.” -Marlene Brubaker

 

Un-see the constructed world we live in to re-see a beautiful world to believe in. Nothing is permanent. We don’t have to accept everything as fact, normalcy, decency, or correct. Idealism is realism. We are real. Truth hurts? Well I say it heals.

Saving the world with one screw up at a time.

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So I’m trying this new thing where I watch the news.

First story was about the national increase in asthma and how it affects livelihood. But the news accidentally left out the cause in the asthma-increase and the extremely high correlation between the increases in pollution, consumerism, and asthma…

Second story was about kids bullied in school because of their appearances, and now all the kids are getting plastic surgery.

Gee it sure would be nice if media and society would quit setting unachievable standards of beauty. Seems like every commercial and paid advertising show (which if you get TV from an antenna, that’s your only TV show option) tells me to hate my body, my skin and acne, my clothes and hair, my teeth and smile. I spent an hour starring in the mirror today trying to make myself look “attractive.” Then I spent twenty minutes criticizing myself for wasting my time, buying into what media, advertisements, companies, and society all want. I’m supposed hate myself and alter and buy my way to happiness, success, and positive attention. Which makes perfect sense beings I have no money, which means I can hate myself even more.

My family grew up eating packaged, cheap, unhealthy food. And my family hates what that food does to their health. It’s unfair women are set to such stupid standards and constantly hate their bodies. It’s unfair that low-income people can only afford unhealthy food. It’s unfair our food system relies on unsustainable practices, controlled by large and rich corporations. It’s unfair low-income people have to be called fat and ugly for eating food they had no other choice but to eat. It’s unfair my mom has to feel like a bad mother because she can’t buy salad or prepare healthier meals. It’s unfair that some will just say I am complaining and should stop because life’s unfair.

But I’m bathing in my unfairness. I’m counting my beautiful pimples, smiling with my crooked bottom teeth, and loving my shortness. I don’t want your cosmetics, your bullies, or your abuse. I want my self-confidence without your guilt and labeling. Quit telling my family we’re ugly, dirty, and fat. We’re not harming anyone but ourselves. I’m the only one who’s been on an airplane, which significantly contributes to the asthma epidemic we have, along with so many other worldly problems. Yet I’m the one put on a pedestal. It’s time people who’ve never been on vacation, cruises, or paid leave from work stop thinking of themselves as unworthy criminals. They are Earth’s biggest heroes. No one will tell them that. In fact, they’ll tell them they’re screw ups. But we’ll see which way that screw points when Corporate America realizes the world can’t sustain on its practices. I’d rather be a screw up than a millionaire any day.

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And that was the last stop on that train.

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One week since I walked the earth of India, and it feels like just yesterday I complimented a cotton tree, giggled with a coconut, and cried to a caterpillar. But don’t worry, America was sure to squeeze my cheeks (the ones on my face) like a New Jersey grandma telling her grandson her little baby has been ever so missed. I was welcomed with white foggy breath and icy winter roads. Think Indian traffic is bad? Throw some ice on a Midwest interstate and you’ve got vulnerability crawling up your pant leg.

Overall, my homecoming has been pleasant. I will admit, going to Wal-Mart the day after Christmas made me feel nauseous. People everywhere, carts overflowing, and stuff stuff and more stuff. Nothing says “Welcome to America” like “Made in China.”

The consumerism and materialism that suffocates the Holiday Season left me writing bitter 2am-Christmas-Morning-Facebook-Posts:

Maybe if I had a big fancy house with a nice chimney, Santa would bring happiness, love, joy, and toys to my home. …Na, I think I like it better without the added stress of having the house clean for Santa. Also, I don’t want to feel bad when there’s no milk or cookies sitting out for him. Our fridge hasn’t worked in two years, and we’d just eat all the cookies immediately since we’re greedy, ungrateful, junk-food-eating slobs. So it’s okay. I’d rather Santa visit a more worthy home.

Merry Classist American Christmas!

The current materialistic Christmas leaves America’s bottom half feeling like there’s something wrong with us. Christmas is made out to be this reward system for more financially secure families. Santa has a list for who’s naughty and nice. If you’re good, you’ll get presents. If you’re bad, you get coal or your house is skipped. So, if you don’t get presents, then that means you’re bad, right? Well, yes, according to this logic. So, essentially, Christmas is just another way to tell lower-economic individuals they are bad, undeserving people. They have nothing because of the choices they made. They made bad choices. Huh, but that’s kind of funny because I bet the Wall Street men who cheat on their wives and steal Americans’ money, I bet they have an amazing Christmas filled with laughs and lavishing gifts.

I know people say Santa visits homes without chimneys too. But you’re missing the point. Most lower-economic families don’t have chimneys, and when the Christmas fantasy is centered on some fat white man who exploits small people and then comes down chimneys like some hero, people who don’t have chimneys (or who aren’t white) feel like they don’t fit the perfect Christmas scene.

You know, I believed in Santa once. It’s true. One Christmas Eve night I found a brand new purple bike with my name on it from “Santa.” My brother and I couldn’t believe our eyes. “Maybe Santa is real” trembled from our lips. I cherished that bike. Found out a few years later a participant of Salvation Army’s “Angel Tree” bought it for me.

Look, I don’t care about presents, toys, or stockings. What I care about is the discrimination of lower-economic class people. Yes, our houses are usually dirty. Yes, we probably use drugs, smoke cigarettes, and drink the days away. Yes, we’re sent to jail. Yes, our minimum wages remind us of the little self-worth we have. Yes, we feel inadequate with our lives. Yes, our limited vocabulary sounds vulgar to some. Yes, you saw us in detention as children. Yes, we’re reminded everyday that we make bad choices and cause our own pain. But no, we are not bad people. We are worthy. We are tired. We are artistic. We are so much more than society will ever see. We know what pain is. It smacks us across the face as we watch our mothers be thrown through windows and walls. Maybe our art isn’t valued because it’s spray-painted across the company that supports our low wages, but it sure is creative and meaningful. We become adults before we’re even out of the womb. Who has time for lullabies when there’s no one there to even wipe off our cries. We’ll work work work until we’re replaced because that’s all McDonald’s workers are seen as anyway, right? Easily replaceable. Because there’s so many of us. We’re like that cockroach infestation you paid to have exterminated. Oh but we relish in our roaches. We are the roaches. Just squash squash squash us because you know we’ll keep breeding. We’ll keep starving for your work because it’s our only option, a predestined fate. But just you wait. I feel an earthquake.

“Holding on to the Questions and Other Ponderings” by Amy Johnson

Friends, I would like to share a blog post my inspiring friend, Amy Johnson, wrote. I echo her thoughts and will never stop asking the questions. For a better world and more democratic nation, keep asking those questions, keep pondering on reality. When 400 Americans own more money than 50 million Americans and when the same millionaires control our laws, products, health/safety regulations, media, and lives, something doesn’t seem so natural.. Question what we take for granted.

“Holding on to the Questions and Other Ponderings” by Amy Johnson

What ever happened to holding on to the question? Are we even raised to ask questions? As soon as someone starts asking questions, they are seen as obnoxious, boring, too serious, etc. This semester has taught me the importance of holding on to the question. My whole life I have never been encouraged to ask the hard questions, to ask why I live my life the way I do. We are brought into this world and are made to believe that everything around us is natural, not man made, when in fact, most of the things we are surrounded by are man made: buildings, ideas about right versus wrong, what is valued in society, education, the government, the economy. The things that are not man made are grossly undervalued and seen as flawed or not good enough. Nature is patented an altered, used an polluted so human kind can “progress.” But who really progresses? Can progress be at the expense of millions of people? A few at the top benefit from the world we live in today and those of us in the middle and bottom are duped into believing we also benefit or we will benefit in the future if we “work hard enough.” We do not realize opportunities are not equal. We pursue wealth at the expense of other people and we believe in this system that we were born into without seriously questioning it. The bottom rungs of the ladder are pitted against each other and suffer as those at the top sit behind their gated houses and craft legislation to protect their wealth and continue generating more while people starve every day. This semester I have realized the importance of asking questions about everything, even the mundane. What food am I eating and why? Who controls the media and are they telling the truth? Why does my government make the decisions it makes? Why do we stand by as injustices occur daily? If we all asked a few more questions instead of just going along with the normal flow of society, we could create real change. It is easier to go with the flow, but justice will never be found this way. We all want a just society where everyone is equal, but this will never occur in the society we have established today. Humans made society and we can also change it. I don’t want to go through life worrying how my makeup looks, whether or not I am wearing the right clothes, which job will pay me the most, what happens on the next episode of scandal, my GPA. There are so many more things to devote my time and energy to, so many more important things. I am going to ask the tough questions, live my life according to my values. I may not be perfect in doing this all the time, but I am never going to give up thinking critically and asking the hard questions. I hope that by living my life this way, I can inspire others to hold on to the question in their lives as well. Some people may think I am idealistic and will never make any real change. Fortunately, I am a person with a lot of faith and hope. So to the pessimists and doubters I say, try me.

Communion Without the Wine

IMG_6649 WE LOVES TA LURN!

Between paper-writing, bucket-listing, and last-minute-learning, our group continues discovering more about ourselves, each other, and our loved ones back home. We’re anxiously pretending India’s ticking hands are lost somewhere in a beautiful Kerala forest, as visions of nieces and cookies dance in our heads. We’re calculating how many nature walks, post-dinner talks, and friendship locks we can squeeeeeeze into just one more week. Some call it procrastination, we call it appreciation. A feeling/action/opportunity that will be our only saving grace. Appreciation for such a beautiful and inspiring semester; appreciation for the strong women who’ve graciously served us tea, meals, and clean sheets; appreciation for the sensitive faculty who’ve always had our best interests at heart. For Roshen, Martin, Laura, and more. The people we never knew were apart of life’s simple yet powerful gifts. For the people back home who’ve supported us even when we pushed their thoughts, who were patient even when we disappeared for weeks. For the people we’ve sat next to in class these last four months who’ve challenged us, laughed with us, and stood up for us. India did not make us different people. India supported us, showed us perspectives, and encouraged us. We’re the same fifteen loving, enthusiastic, passionate, strong students that left Minnesota in August. And we’re nervous about leaving India and excited about coming home. Nervous about implementing new ideas and excited about engaging with our community. To our friends and loved ones, continue supporting us, and continue loving, admiring, and enjoying us as we will do the same for you. Today we practiced deep listening with each other, realizing the beauties of vulnerability and trust. We discussed the importance of communion and fellowship. Nobody is at fault in this system. We’re all learning and affected by the world around us. A world filled with personhood, nature, and wonder. Which reminds me, it’s time for my nature walk! As I go to wander in wonder, I’ll leave you with this uninspiring last remark: resist global warming/climate injustice, but tell MN to turn off the freezer until this girl can find a coat!

Peace out, girl/boy scout!

Love the world; Love you.

5:00 AM Walk to Paradise.

IMG_7742 Photo taken at Sambhavna, a nongovernmental/nonprofit hospital in Bhopal, India for survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide/Dow Chemical gas leak that killed thousands. Dow has yet to take responsibility for the gas leak or the cleanup of the American factory that remains in Bhopal. Propositions have been made to build a theme park where the abandoned factory is.

IMG_7511  Photo taken while driving in Varanasi, a city on the banks of the Ganga River (or, what Westerners incorrectly call, “The Ganges”).  The sacred Ganga is a lifeline to millions of Indians who live along its course and depend on it for their daily needs. Ganga River is now one of the world’s most polluted rivers, endangering hundreds of species of humans, fish, amphibians, and dolphins.

IMG_7144  Photo taken at 5:00 AM outside of New Delhi’s train station. Most of what you see are bodies of humans sleeping. We were boarding the train to visit Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.

IMG_6976 Photo taken at Agra Fort in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India. The first Sultan (supreme ruler) of Delhi lived here.

IMG_6903 Photo taken at the Taj Mahal in Agra. Taj Mahal is basically a giant tomb (known as a universally admired masterpiece of the world’s heritage) that was built for Emperor Shah Jahan’s third dead wife.

Inspired by my experiences in Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, and Bhopal, below is a poem I wrote to challenge perspectives of power, especially within symbols of beauty and prestige. Beautiful symbols, like the Taj Mahal and Presidential Palace, highlight and encourage admiration while ignoring the extracted labor and resources used to create such masterpieces. These buildings allow and justify “accidents,” such as the Bhopal gas leak and the continuation of millions of people without homes, begging on the streets. These buildings tell us some people are better than others. Kings and queens and presidents are more valuable than the people they are supposedly serving. However, society must remember that these positions were created to guarantee fairness and stability. The people in these positions work for us; yet, we are stuck working for them, constructing their large, beautiful buildings to, then, not even be allowed near them. I’m referring specifically to the lowest-economic class Indians one would never see at the Taj Mahal or Presidential Palace unless they worked there. This happens throughout the world, and no longer should we, as a society, tolerate such malice.

 

North by Courtney Train

 

Surrounded by royalty, I ignite.

I glide across Taj Majal’s marble and marvel at its tall montage

Symmetrical Beauty,

It’s like a compass:

Turn any direction

And that arrow still points North to Heaven.

 

Agra Fort bows at my feet,

Presidential Palace makes my heart weak.

 

What would the people of India do without their government’s Big, Beautiful Buildings?

Blocks of lawns and men with guns.

Nets to protect the flying rocks to protest a socialist government.

A government for the people by the people.

Too bad the millionaires crafting laws for the million-poors

Wouldn’t see difference between an Adivasi and Devadasi.

Only see the profit that seeps from their Marginalization, Cheap Labor, and Sacred Forests

Like a gas leak all too familiar.

I wonder what this lawn would look like filled with New Delhi’s street kids

Because I know I’ve passed eight in the time I wrote this sentence.

That’s not counting the ones in the tunnel.

Better yet, let’s build an amusement park on these lawns.

Anyway, isn’t that what’s going on?

Do you actually care about the victims of Bhopal

Or, are their Death, Deformity and Defeat just for your amusement?

A theme park of torment.

 

Krishna, Shiva, Durga, Rama,

No god will hear the cries of their shout

Vishnu, Ganesh, Kali, Brahma

The Sikhs know what I’m talkin’ about

 

Representing, laboring, and defending

Corporation Nation that uses “exploitation” in synonymous for “development.”

Seems like just short of “improvement.”

Especially when the only god these children know

Is the smog that warms their dying bodies

As they lay helpless on the cold cement

Counting blank faces that pass them by.

They want to die.

Blocks

Of dead bodies.

I cry.

Selfless soulless homeless.

You do the math. 

Hungry + Dirty + Migrant = Lifeless.

It’s like the aftermath of Rwanda.

A typhoon in the Philippines

Just so you can have your new Honda.

 

Dear God,

Rebirth me into a Dalit just so I can even out my karma

Because no matter how many Hindu hymns justify the slavery of a caste system,

The silk-maker will still only have enough for a thread to tie around the toes of her dead daughter.

This is human slaughter.

Buddah did not proclaim enlightenment for philosophy’s impracticalities.

Quit asking so many questions.

Quit procrastinating on reality.

And I’m talking to you, too, America.

Because as much as your Higher-archy preaches,

The billions below cannot save themselves

When they’re hanging by the same cross Jesus carried

Just so a thousand years later

White supremacists can use his teachings to defend racism.

But don’t forget your Israeli Lord

Looks like the father of the family your army just murdered

All in the name of terror.

 

If Jesus knew the presidential oath was taken in his name

Over bloodshed for oil, diamonds, and weapons,

He would kill himself before you had the sick joy to torture him first.

He would hammer the nail in for you.

 

You wanna talk about terror,

Well, then, Lord in Your Mercy,

Hear my prayer.

I met a boy named Rinku.

Between his seven-month-pregnant wife

And missing left leg

Probably buried in the heart of the train station he’s left to beg and die in,

Tell him:

This poem is for him.

For his 18 years of life that have been his same 18 years of death.

My 20 rupees won’t afford his infant any nutrients,

But his smile will never leave me.

 

Please, Lord,

Let me be the One Who Walks Away from Omelas

Because I can’t live to see another Ozymandias.

How can I be pure when I tell a hungry girl I have nothing?

She’s just a baby.

Why are the Brahmans your equivalent when they push aside a baby?

What happened to oneness and unity?

More like uni-fee

Because your system is corrupted with greed.

What more can you take from them?

When their life has no value

Yeah, I guess I see how you can just replace them.

 

But when will this end?

Because the underdevelopeds’ assessment of time is cyclical,

And it’s only a matter of time

Before our power is defeated.

Oh, you best get heated.

Grab the kids and let’s run away to a garden

Because if Eden won’t save us,

Bite that polluted hand that feeds you,

Be fruitful and multiply your vegetable supply.

Spit out the chemicals and swallow your pride.

It’s time to unite and sustain and live without disdain.

Take back your value.

We are beautiful, brilliant, and better than our wages

We’ve been fighting this battle for ages

But we’re not giving up

We’re like the Taj Mahal compass,

Only genuine and grateful and

Always

Looking up.