Women’s March 2018 Proposal: #BreaktheBanks Rolling Bank Strike

A woman holds a sign that reads "Find a way to get in the way - Rep John Lewis" at the St. Louis Women's March.

The United States is in a radically terrible place right now. Avowed white supremacists and rapists are openly working in government. The free press, the independence of the judiciary, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are all under open attack by the White House and Congress. All people outside of the 1% are suffering attacks on our economic livelihoods.

A radically terrible government calls for a radical response. That’s why I’m proposing a coordinated, rolling bank strike to coincide with the 2018 Women’s March. Women (and our male supporters, and non-binary folks) control the majority of the purchasing power in this country and we are sick of the pussy grabbing and rampant white supremacy. It’s time to act boldly.

The big idea

Every 21st day of the month, members of the resistance will pull their money out of corporate banks and put it into credit unions, then publicly challenge three friends to do the same. This would mean that every month, the corporate financial system experiences a predictable (and hopefully escalating) shock as funds are withdrawn. This gets the attention of wealthy power brokers and changes their calculus about where their best interests lie. We would launch the effort on January 21, 2018 to co-incide with the one year anniversary of the Women’s March.

The goal

The strike continues to escalate until all of the demands are met. The demands fall into three categories. Here are some ideas to get us started.
  1.  Protect human rights:
    • Congress opens a sex crimes investigation of Trump and any other lawmakers accused of harassment or assault.
    • A Clean DREAM Act is passed and signed into law.
    • The ICE deportation force stands down.
    • The Muslim ban is rescinded.
    • White extremist groups go back on the terror monitoring list.
    • DOJ reverses course on its support of police militarization and continues Obama-era work to curtail unnecessary use of force.
    • The tax scam is killed.
    • An emergency fund for opioid abuse treatment is made available to the states with the highest rates of opioid addiction.
  2. Protect global stability:
    • Congress revokes Presidential authority to order a nuclear first strike without Congressional approval.
    • The US State Department is staffed and made operational to Obama-era standards.
  3. Protect democracy:
    • No further judicial appointments are approved until Mueller’s Russia investigation concludes.
    • Congress passes a law that would automatically re-instate Mueller in the event that Trump fires him.
    • Each member of Congress publicly commits to call for the impeachment and removal of anyone in the Presidential line of succession indicted for criminal conspiracy with Russia, up to and including Trump himself.
    • Reinstate the Voting Rights Act in its entirety.
    • All states go to voter-verified paper ballots.

Potential obstacles:

  • Switching banks is a pain. We’d need to provide a portal that would make it easy for participants to scan their bank statements for recurring payments and auto-deposits that need to be switched over. That technology exists in the form of Mint.com already and could probably be licensed from Intuit. If they won’t license it to us, we’d need to reinvent the wheel somewhat, but I know some of the people who built the initial code and they could probably do it again.
  •  We’d also need to help people find the right community bank or credit union. There are public databases that we could work with on that front.
  • Obviously, the powers that be aren’t going to like this very much. Too bad for them.

So, what do you think?

Please let me know if you’re into it and consider tweeting and sharing this under the hashtag #BreakTheBanks.

Emotional Labor

Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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On Sexual Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress

I originally wrote this guide for my Indivisible group so that we could participate in the #MeToo conversation in a trauma-informed way. This post was meant to be short, so it doesn’t touch on the realities of sexual assault as it impacts men and non-binary folks as much as I would like. At some point, I will write a longer version of this.

I’m not a mental health professional, but I am a survivor of sexual violence and a post-traumatic stress sufferer in long-term recovery, so much of this is gleaned from my own personal experience. 

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Post-traumatic stress occurs when a person has an experience or series of experiences of other people breaking the basic human social contract. It can also occur in the aftermath of a natural disaster, but for the purposes of this discussion, the former is where we’ll focus.

When a person suffers a post-traumatic stress injury, they sustain observable, lasting changes in their brain structure and functioning. Brain activity in areas responsible for memory, fight-flight responses, emotional regulation, and interpersonal relationships changes in ways that leave the sufferer with a severely limited toolkit for handling stressful situations, especially when those situations trigger (or evoke memories of) the original trauma.

These brain changes can be healed with trauma-informed therapy, but it takes a long time and is a lot of painful work. Loved ones and community members must be patient and validating with trauma sufferers as they go through their recovery process; and this is especially important because interpersonal trauma can only be healed interpersonally. That means that survivors need trustworthy relationships, both in therapy and in their lives, in which they can process what they have experienced.

Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are part of a larger web of patriarchal barriers that make it harder for women to participate fully in the world. Childhood sexual abuse affects one in four American girls and often sets women up for confusion about boundaries and low self-worth, which can put them at greater risk for further rape and sexual assault as adults. The traumatic brain changes that take place after sexual violence also prevent survivors from taking risks in other areas of their lives, so their careers and prospects for healthy relationships can suffer as well.

When we discuss the issue of sexualized violence – as is happening with #MeToo – we will inevitably interact with those who have experienced it. Regardless of our own feelings or opinions about the specific case we are discussing, it is crucial that we validate and center the stories of those who are coming forward. Slut shaming, victim blaming, and “benefit of the doubt” postings can all re-traumatize survivors.

This does not mean we have to squash dialog about the issue or that we must immediately vilify the accused in the strongest possible terms, it just means that we have to prioritize having compassion for traumatized people over quickly arriving at a concrete, logical conclusion about the specifics of the story we are discussing.

My rule for conversations (online and off) about a trauma-related subject is: when in doubt, slow things down. If a conversation about this topic is getting heated or someone is getting triggered, invite the folks you’re talking with to return to the conversation in an hour so you can all do some self-care and let your nervous systems return to baseline. (This might take longer for some folks, so sometimes a longer cooling off period is appropriate.)

Finally, remember that text is a poor means of communication. We tend to read negative intention into neutral language when it is not accompanied by body language and other social cues. This will color how you experience online interactions, which is why slowing down is especially useful for online and other text-based conversations.

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My November 4 Speech

Below is the text of my speech from the Refuse Fascism protest in Seattle on November 4, 2017.

We are here today to refuse fascism. In order to refuse something, we must understand it at the root. So before I sing to you. I’m going to ask you to do something with me.

Notice the lowest part of your body that you can and then notice what is beneath it. The Earth is pulling you towards her as she turns in space.

Take a breath into the deepest part of your belly that you can feel. Draw power from the air and the Earth. You are wanted here.

Now look around. Make eye contact with someone you haven’t met. Say “hello.” Tell them your name. Now say to each other, “you are wanted here.”

There was a time when we knew that this was all we needed. Nature, our bodies, and each other.

There’s an old story about how this changed: we lived in a perfect garden. But we got curious, and we felt desire, and the next thing we know, God was casting us out to wander in the wilderness – naked and ashamed.

Notice how shame is what turned our view of nature from Eden to wasteland. So we started separating ourselves from nature.

To do this, we built a system of hierarchies. Men above women. Light skin above dark. Rich above poor. The closer you were to the top, the more you were entitled to take from those beneath you, and the closer you were to the bottom, the closer you were to the wasteland.

Fascism is the ultimate manifestation of those hierarchies. It is based in the delusion that those at the top can become invincible if we fortify our borders, punish our enemies, and extract enough from our bodies, each other, and nature.

To truly refuse fascism, we must do the opposite. We must relax our borders, open ourselves to those who are different, and nurture ourselves, each other, and the Earth.

We must become aware once again of our connection to nature. Like the old African American spiritual says – and I’ve adapted it here – “just like a tree that’s standing in the waters…”

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On Taking a Knee: The Text of My Solidarity for Peace March Speech

What appears below is the speech I gave earlier today at the Solidarity for Peace march in Seattle. The italicized portions are elaborations on the themes I touched on in the speech. I have also provided links to sources wherever possible.

The Solidarity March for Peace is a nonpartisan event rooted in our thirst for a lasting global peace. So why, in this context, would we choose to take a knee during the American national anthem when so much political tension surrounds that act?

Well, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “true peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.”

Taking a knee for the national anthem is a nonviolent act of advocacy for justice in the face of a deplorable fact: a black person in the United States today is more than 2.8 times more likely to die in an encounter with police than a white person is.

Now, we don’t mean to demonize police officers. Police officers are human beings, like the rest of us, and they are operating inside of the same economic, social, psychological, and historical systems as we are.

It is impossible to do the complexities of these systems justice in this short speech, but there are four main elements at play:

1) The over-distribution of guns in the United States make police officers’ jobs scarier and more dangerous than they need to be.

The United States is swimming in guns. Of the estimated 650m civillian-owned guns in the world, Americans own 48%. That’s 312 million guns in a country of 323 million people. The likelihood that any one person might have a gun is terrifyingly high, and that is just as scary for the police officers as it is for civilians.

2) We all carry implicit biases about black people being more criminal and violent than white people. I know I do, anyway. (We have to be able to admit we have a problem before we can fix it.) These biases have been handed down in our culture since abolition and they were set up as a justification for continuing to use unpaid labor to make the US economy function for the benefit of the wealthiest people.

To understand the true impact of slavery on our lives today, you have to understand the economic systems our forebears were working with. Slaveholders had vast sums of capital tied up in chattel slavery; to the tune of $30,000-$70,000 of today’s dollars per enslaved person. In addition to the capital investment, the entire economy of Southern agriculture was built on unpaid labor. 

Think about that. The price of a bale of cotton (one of the only fiber types available at that time for making all kinds of fabric) was tied up in a system of unpaid labor. To free those workers – essentially erasing the capital investment – and then pay them a living wage would have destroyed the United States economically.

As a compromise, the 13th Amendment, which was ratified in 1865 and made chattel slavery unconstitutional, was left with a loophole. The law reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

That loophole allowed for Southern economies to continue running on unpaid labor as long as there were sufficient numbers of convicts working for free on chain gangs and the like. 

Viewed in that context, it is no surprise that the cultural representations of gentle, childlike black people that predominated before abolition were replaced with representations of black people as vicious, rapacious, covetous thugs. After all, it’s a lot easier to lock up a “thug” than to lock up Uncle Remus. Those cultural representations which enabled the entire American economy at that time persist to this day, and are reinforced by the media. We all carry them in our subconscious programming and police officers are human like the rest of us, so they carry them too.

3) Policing in the United States emerged in the 1830s as a means of protecting the private property of wealthy people at the expense of the taxpayer. Remember that, in the 1830s, some of that “private property” was human beings. That history has not been entirely purged from the policing today.

We have not always had police in the United States. The very first formal police department didn’t exist in the US until the 1830s (so 35 years before abolition) in Boston to protect the property rights of merchants who were moving goods through Boston harbor.

Policing in the South was a direct outgrowth of the slave trade. Before abolition, “the police” were largely groups of people who patrolled for runaway slaves. After abolition, when the economy relied on the criminalization of black people, policing (and indeed the entire justice system) was bent to needs of the economy. 

Now, fast forward to today. Imagine what that history feels like for families that are only four generations out of slavery or the Jim Crow South. Now add in the fact that a black person is 2.8 times more likely to die in an encounter with police than a white person is and you can understand why many black folks mistrust the police. Wouldn’t you?

4) Our national anthem is rooted in the history of slavery as well

Francis Scott Key – a slaveholder – wrote the anthem during the War of 1812. The song originally had four verses. We only sing the first one these days, but here are the lines for the “rocket’s red glare” part in the third verse.

“No refuge could save
the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight
or the gloom of the grave.”

What historians generally agree Key is referencing there is the enslaved black Americans who placed their hopes for freedom upon fighting for the British in the War of 1812. For a bit more context, Britain abolished slavery in 1833. That’s more than 30 years before we did. When you consider that the average enslaved person in America only lived to be 20, you can see why so many would fight for “the enemy” for a chance to align with a country that was on a faster trajectory towards abolition.

If you had a choice between fighting for the people who were enslaving you or fighting for “the enemy” and a chance at freedom, what would you do?

Our ancestors set our systems up in such a way that police too often end up using lethal force against black and brown people in situations where it is not called for. Going forward, we need to do better by our communities and our cops alike.

The kneeling protests are a demand that that disproportionate use of lethal force by police against black and brown people come to an end. It is a reasonable and just demand, and one that fits within Dr. King’s definition of true peace.

And so now, I will ask you to join me in taking a knee as we sing our national anthem.

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Further reading:
https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/let-america-be-america-again
http://abolition.e2bn.org/slavery_111.html
https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1dp3cb/how_much_did_slaves_in_america_cost_in_todays/
http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/10/06/555861898/gun-violence-how-the-u-s-compares-to-other-countries

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My Thinking on Punching Nazis Has Evolved

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the optics of punching Nazis and how it plays into false equivalencies. I’m sorry to say that I was wrong.

I’m not a fan of violence; be that immediate fisticuffs or the horrifically banal racist violence that is part and parcel of our system. I’m very quick to reach for “violence is not the answer,” no matter what the question is. But in this case, the question is (sometimes) begging for a fist to the face.

The argument that punching Nazis is always wrong is rooted in the presumption that our society’s current state is one of nonviolent homeostasis; but that’s not true. The global system is a meat grinder that chews up poor people (especially poor people of color) and spits out fat checks for millionaires and billionaires (mostly white).

Nazis aren’t just advocating for that status quo. They’re calling for a full-scale ramp up of these human rights violations. They will violate human rights to the exact extent that we let them get away with it, up to and including committing genocide. There is no other possible outcome if the ideas they share are enacted into law or practice. It is definitionally impossible for Nazis to be arguing for anything in good faith.

Those who argue that Nazis have a right to free speech are technically correct. The First Amendment protects people’s right to say horrible things without government intervention. Thankfully, Antifa isn’t the government.

I still don’t think we should go around punching people when there are other options. The ultimate goal is to make Nazis afraid again. If we can do that by confronting them with huge crowds, or by peppering them with derision and silly string – that’s always preferable to throwing a punch.

I’m also not a fan of ganging up on Nazis and beating them bloody once they’re down. If we’re going to stay true to our moral center, we shouldn’t be brutalizing people at that level. In that same vein, we should not punch Nazis just for the fun of it. If you enjoy punching anyone who hasn’t consented to be punched, it’s time for you to reconsider your life choices.

All of that said, sometimes you just have to punch a Nazi because, in your most sober judgement, it is the most efficient and effective means of shutting them up.

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On Many Sides: Punching Nazis & The Importance of Nonviolent Resistance

I’ve rethought this somewhat. Read my update here.


Dear Black Bloc,

I don’t need to tell you how important it is that we win this fight for the soul of America. The future of humanity is at stake. I agree with your mission, but I cannot condone your methods.

A movement that remains peaceful in the face of violence has a moral high ground that’s impossible to call into question. That doesn’t mean we have to sit quietly and take a beating. If you want to show up with your home-brew shields and protect the vulnerable from the violent, I’ll be right there next to you.

But I draw the line at looking for a fight like I saw some of you do this weekend in Seattle. The minute anyone gets video of violent clashes between black bloc and Nazis, we give their leaders the ammunition to say, “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.

Obviously, this is a false equivalency. One side is engaging in acts of assault and battery, the other is perpetuating a centuries-long legacy of systemic white supremacy, colonialism, slavery, and genocide. Antifa comes equipped with two-by-fours and wooden shields. Nazis show up with assault weapons and kevlar. There’s no equivalency here. We should not make it easy for them to draw one.

Our best strategy for future actions is to outnumber the Nazis so thoroughly that they turn tail and run. When you start fights, you deter the young, the elderly, the disabled, and people of color from joining us in the streets. You also make it easy for privileged old white people who are ideologically aligned but not directly impacted to make excuses for staying home and we need them to show up because they’re the ones the police will serve and protect.

Finally, we have a moral imperative that goes way beyond optics. Our whole reason for existing is to refuse to dehumanize anyone, and that includes Nazis. When we go out of our way to punch Nazis, we become what we deplore. We may win some skirmishes with fists and two-by-fours, but we will not win our fight for the soul of this country if we sink to their level.

Please, at least think this over. No matter what you decide, please take good care. You’re human and valuable. You’re somebody’s baby. Never forget it.

I love you,
Tae

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Writing songs, speeches, and essays, researching and synthesizing information, and organizing and performing at protests are all emotional labor. Please consider making a contribution to my work.

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On November 4, we must be the adults in the room

This weekend, white supremacists from all over the country tried to take over Charlottesville, VA. They showed up with more firepower than the state police and used pickup trucks as weapons. Before the weekend was over, the senseless violence that necessarily follows from their vile rhetoric had killed Heather Heyer and injured many others.

At this very moment, a man sits in the White House who had to be persuaded to condemn the murderous actions of these white supremacists. Make no mistake, Donald Trump was reluctant to disclaim our home-grown Nazis because he is one of them in his heart.

There is no escaping the truth that the United States was build on the graves of Native Americans using the labor of enslaved African people. We went to war with ourselves because too many people thought it should be legal for one human being to own another. We’ve systemically brutalized black and brown people for centuries. We’ve denied them social, educational, political, and economic opportunity. We’ve snubbed them and shunned them. We’ve done everything we could to make sure they knew we didn’t see their humanity, and we’ve lived in denial of our crimes.

But we can make America’s future different than its past. We can refuse to allow white supremacists to start the Second American Civil War because they didn’t like the outcome of the first one. We can stand up, overwhelm them with our numbers, and calmly, peacefully tell them “no!”

On November 4th, I will be in the streets with Refuse Fascism demanding that our government find a way to end to this illegitimate presidency and peacefully transition power to people who have all our best interests at heart. I invite you join me.