Book Review: Freedom is a Constant Struggleby Angela Davis


Author: Angela Davis
Title: Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
Publication Info: Haymarket Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

This books collects several interviews with long-time activists Angela Davis as well as some articles and speeches.  The downside to this collection is that she touches on some of the same issues in each of the pieces (as you would expect of someone delivering speeches to new audiences) but the format of this collection doesn’t allow the reader to see Davis delve deep into any of the issues.

Davis reflects on the Civil Rights movement and feminist movies, her involvement in each, and their accomplishments.  She also compares it to the revival of activism in the Black Lives Matter movement that rose out of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri against the police killing of Michael Brown.  Davis urges the reader/listener to recognize the intersectionality of movements and that Americans need to broaden their scope to include global crises in their activism (with a particular emphasis on Palestine).

Davis always offers harsh truths but is never disparaging of efforts towards revolutionary change that are incomplete.  Instead she encourages the reader to keep trying and keep struggling.  I’m particular impressed by her reflections that Black Americans truly defined democracy since they are the ones who advocated for true freedom, which is more than civil rights.  I have had this book for some time and to my shame only got around to reading it now, but I’m glad I’ve read since it speaks to issues that are front and center in the current moment.

Favorite Passages:

Trying and trying again. Never stopping. That is a victory in itself. Everyone and everything tells you that “outside” you will not succeed, that it is too late, that we live in an epoch where a revolution cannot happen anymore. Radical changes are a thing of the past. You can be an outsider, but not outside the system, and you can have political beliefs, even radical ones, but they need to stay within the bounds of the permissible, inside that bubble that has been drawn for you by the elites.


It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.


It’s very interesting that during the commentary on Ferguson, someone pointed out that the purpose of the police is supposed to be to protect and serve. At least, that’s their slogan. Soldiers are trained to shoot to kill. We saw the way in which that manifested itself in Ferguson.


The civil rights movement was very successful in what it achieved: the legal eradication of racism and the dismantling of the apparatus of segregation. This happened and we should not underestimate its importance. The problem is that it is often assumed that the eradication of the legal apparatus is equivalent to the abolition of racism. But racism persists in a framework that is far more expansive, far vaster than the legal framework. Economic racism continues to exist. Racism can be discovered at every level in every major institution—including the military, the health care system, and the police. It’s not easy to eradicate racism that is so deeply entrenched in the structures of our society, and this is why it’s important to develop an analysis that goes beyond an understanding of individual acts of racism and this is why we need demands that go beyond the prosecution of the individual perpetrators.


I fear that if we don’t take seriously the ways in which racism is embedded in structures of institutions, if we assume that there must be an identifiable racist… The “bad apples” type of… …who is the perpetrator, then we won’t ever succeed in eradicating racism.


But if one looks at the history of struggles against racism in the US, no change has ever happened simply because the president chose to move in a more progressive direction. Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements—from the era of slavery, the Civil War, and the involvement of Black people in the Civil War, which really determined the outcome.


Many people are under the impression that it was Abraham Lincoln who played the major role, and he did as a matter of fact help to accelerate the move toward abolition, but it was the decision on the part of slaves to emancipate themselves and to join the Union Army—both women and men—that was primarily responsible for the victory over slavery. It was the slaves themselves and of course the abolitionist movement that led to the dismantling of slavery. When one looks at the civil rights era, it was those mass movements—anchored by women, incidentally—that pushed the government to bring about change. I don’t see why things would be any different today.


At this point, at this moment in the history of the US I don’t think that there can be policing without racism. I don’t think that the criminal justice system can operate without racism. Which is to say that if we want to imagine the possibility of a society without racism, it has to be a society without prisons. Without the kind of policing that we experience today. I think that different frameworks, perhaps restorative justice frameworks, need to be invoked in order to begin to imagine a society that is secure. I think that security is a main issue, but not the kind of security that is based on policing and incarceration. Perhaps transformative justice provides a framework for imagining a very different kind of security in the future.


Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect. What has kept me going has been the development of new modes of community. I don’t know whether I would have survived had not movements survived, had not communities of resistance, communities of struggle. So whatever I’m doing I always feel myself directly connected to those communities and I think that this is an era where we have to encourage that sense of community particularly at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms and not in collective terms. It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.


Deep understandings of racist violence arm us against deceptive solutions. When we are told that we simply need better police and better prisons, we counter with what we really need. We need to reimagine security, which will involve the abolition of policing and imprisonment as we know them. We will say demilitarize the police, disarm the police, abolish the institution of the police as we know it, and abolish imprisonment as the dominant mode of punishment. But we will have only just begun to tell the truth about violence in America.


As many times as I’ve spoken during Black History Month, I never tire of urging people to remember that it wasn’t a single individual or two who created that movement, that, as a matter of fact, it was largely women within collective contexts, Black women, poor Black women who were maids, washerwomen, and cooks. These were the people who collectively refused to ride the bus.


But freedom is still more expansive than civil rights. And in the sixties there were some of us who insisted that it was not simply a question of acquiring the formal rights to fully participate in a society, but rather it was also about the forty acres and the mule that was dropped from the abolitionist agenda in the nineteenth century. It was about economic freedom. It was about substantive freedoms. It was about free education. It was about free health care. Affordable housing. These are issues that should have been on the abolitionist agenda in the nineteenth century, and here we are in the twenty-first century and we still can’t say that we have affordable housing and health care, and education has thoroughly become a commodity. It has been so thoroughly commoditized that many people don’t even know how to understand the very process of acquiring knowledge because it is subordinated to the future capacity to make money. So it was about free education and free health care and affordable housing. It was about ending the racist police occupation of Black communities. These were some of the demands raised by the Black Panther Party.


I tell you that in the United States we are at such a disadvantage because we do not know how to talk about the genocide inflicted on indigenous people. We do not know how to talk about slavery. Otherwise it would not have been assumed that simply because of the election of one Black man to the presidency we would leap forward into a postracial era.


For some time now I have been involved in efforts to abolish the death penalty and imprisonment as the main modes of punishment. I should say that it is not simply out of empathy with the victims of capital punishment and the victims of prison punishment, who are overwhelmingly people of color. It is because these modes of punishment don’t work. These forms of punishment do not work when you consider that the majority of people who are in prison are there because society has failed them, because they’ve had no access to education or jobs or housing or health care. But let me say that criminalization and imprisonment could not solve other problems.


We will have to do something quite extraordinary: We will have to go to great lengths. We cannot go on as usual. We cannot pivot the center. We cannot be moderate. We will have to be willing to stand up and say no with our combined spirits, our collective intellects, and our many bodies.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley-Doyle


Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Title: All the Bad Apples
Narrator: Marisa Calin and Elizabeth Sastre
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2019
Summary/Review:

A Dublin teenager, Deena, on the precipice of her 17th birthday accidentally outself herself to her much older sister Rachel and her conservative father. Her other, wilder sister Mandy (Rachel’s twin) goes missing, and when her car is found by some cliffs on the other side of Ireland, she is presumed dead by everyone but Deena.

Instead, Deena goes on a road trip with her best friend, a mixed-race bisexual boy named Finn, and meets a previously unknown niece and an attractive young woman along the way.  They pick up clues in the form of letters from Mandy about the troubled history of women in Deena’s family going back centuries which includes forced pregnancy, rape, ostracization, accusations of witchcraft, abortion, and imprisonment in the notorious Magdelen laundries. The whole time they are pursued by three banshees adding an element of magical realism.

This movie ties together a story of contemporary sexism, homophobia, and discrimination in Ireland with folklore and history.  But does it with very little subtlety.  My mind wandered a lot during this book but let’s chalk that up to reader error. I’m sure this is a perfectly good book for young adults who want stories of adventure and family history with positive female and LGBT characters.

Recommended books:

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Antonia’s Line (1995)


Title: Antonia’s Line
Release Date: 21 September 1995
Director: Marleen Gorris
Production Company: Bergen | Prime Time | Bard Entertainments | Nederlandse Programma Stichting (NPS)
Summary/Review:

I’m pretty sure that I’ve never watched a Dutch movie before.  This one is described as a “feminist fairy tale” about several generations of women creating an intentional community of the castoffs and misfits of society in a Dutch farming village.  Recently widowed Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) returns to her childhood home with her nearly adult daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) just after the liberation of the Netherlands by the Allies.

Establishing a farm, Antonia refuses to marry widower Farmer Bas (Jan Decleir), but agrees to have a relationship with him.  Meanwhile, Danielle decides she wants to have a baby but no husband, and they visit a city to find a man to impregenate her.  Danielle’s daughter Thérèse (portrayed at various ages by Carolien Spoor, Esther Vriesendorp, and Veerle van Overloop) is a child prodigy in mathematics and composing music who forms a special bond with Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers), the community’s resident nihilistic philosopher. Thérèse’s daughter, Sarah (Thyrza Ravesteijn), narrates the story of four generations of women in her family.

The movie has the feel of many indie movies from the 90s with a mix of comedy and drama and eccentric characters, punctuated by moments of brutality – including rape, murder, and suicide.  The film covers five decades but you have to look at subtle changes in the background to try to pinpoint what year it may be.  The movie pairs well with Like Water for Chocolate in that it focuses on the community of women over an extended period of time, although I feel there’s another movie that is even more similar that I can’t put my finger on it.

Antonia’s world is one where women are liberated, people can pursue their dreams, and all types are welcome.  It’s not perfect, and things do go very wrong, but overall it looks like a good place.  I’m glad I was able to visit it in this lovingly-made film.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending May 9


What Next

How Extremists Capitalized on the Pandemic – White nationalists are strategically using this crisis to advance their hateful goals.

A Biden Accuser on the Latest Biden Allegation – Despite the Democratic Party’s claim to be pro-women, their presumptive nominee has a long history of sexual harassment allegations.  This is a big problem.

99% Invisible :: The Natural Experiment

Isolating during the pandemic sucks, but it’s provided scientists the conditions for scientific research not possible during normal levels of activity, such as: air pollution, boredom, vaccination, and redesigning cities for people not cars.

This Day in Esoteric Public History :: Coya Come Home

An historical event I’ve never heard of before involves Coya Knutson, the first woman elected to Congress from Minnesota (in 1955), and the letter allegedly written by her estranged husband telling her to come home.  Her election opponent used this scandal to win the next election.

Code Switch :: What Does ‘Hood Feminism’ Mean For A Pandemic?

Author Mikki Kendall talks about race, feminism and COVID-19 and the divide between mainstream, white feminism and the greater goals of women of color.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Appearances in 2020

Movie Review: Nine to Five (1980) #atozchallenge


 

 

I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!

TitleNine to Five
Release Date: December 19, 1980
Director: Colin Higgins
Production Company: IPC Films
Synopsis:

Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) arrives for her first day of work at the office of the Consolidated Companies in Los Angeles.  Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), a twelve-year veteran of the company, shows her the ropes.  Their boss Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman) sexually harasses the women who works for him and takes credit for Violet’s ideas.  The women who work in the office don’t trust Hart’s personal secretary Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton) because Hart has falsely stated he’s having an affair with Doralee.

After a particularly bad day, Judy, Violet, and Doralee leave work early and meet at a bar where they bond over their shared indignities of working for Hart.  Later, at one of their homes they smoke a joint and fantasize about taking revenge on Hart.  In the ensuing days, all of their fantasies come true as Violet accidentally puts rat poison in Hart’s coffee.  In a comedy of errors, she believes that he has died (he never drank the coffee) and she steals a corpse from the hospital (it’s not Hart’s). Doralee is forced to tie up Hart and Judy fires a gun at him, just like in their fantasies.

The three women eventually keep Hart hostage in his home while his wife is away on a cruise.  They hope to find evidence of his embezzlement to use against him for the various crimes they’ve committed against him.  In the meantime, they take over running the office, using Hart’s authority to institute flex hours, a daycare center, and equal pay for men and women.  Hart escapes and is able to cover up his embezzlement, but as he tries to expose Judy, Violet, and Dorallee, company chairman Russell Tinsworthy (Sterling Hayden) arrives and compliments Hart for the productivity improvements and gives him a promotion to the Brazil division.

When Did I First See This Movie?:

This was one of the movies that was frequently played on cable television in the mid-1980s.

What Did I Remember?:

I remembered the fantasy sequences the best, the bondage gear that Dabney Coleman has to wear while he’s held captive, and the fact that all the changes the three women make actually improve the company.

What Did I Forget?:

I forgot that the Consolidated employees initially dislike Doralee.  A lot of the details about the workplace, such as Violet having much more experience than men promoted ahead of her, passed over me in my younger years.

What Makes This Movie Great?:

Women have always had to work for a living, but in 1980 when this movie was made, there was a big trend for middle-class women entering into white collar jobs.  This movie captures that era perfectly.  And yet many of the issues that the women at Consolidated face – unequal pay, being passed over for promotions, work/life balance issues, and sexual harassment from male superiors – all remain sadly relevant in 2020.  This movie also features performances from three extremely talented women of completely different backgrounds as well as Dabney Coleman playing the man we love to hate.

What Doesn’t Hold Up?:

It’s rather depressing that a 40-year-old movie about women’s inequality seems totally relevant.

Is It a Classic?:

Yes, a great comedy, and a great social message movie.

Rating: ****

Five more all-time favorite movies starting with N:

  1. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009)
  2. The Natural (1984)
  3. Next Stop Wonderland(1998)
  4. El Norte (1983)
  5. North by Northwest (1959)

What is your favorite movie starting with N? What is your guess for my O movie (Hint: it stars two all-time great actors who had never me before filming)? Let me know in the comments!

Podcasts of the Week Ending October 19


Dolly Parton’s America :: Sad Ass Songs

This is a new podcast about possibly America’s most beloved living person, Dolly Parton. The debut podcast focuses on issues ranging from murder ballads to feminism.

99% Invisible :: Unsure Footing

The story of how soccer changed the backpass rule leading immediately to an embarrassing period for goalkeepers, but ultimately to a more exciting game.

Hub History :: Race Over Party

The history of African American politics in Boston in the late 19th century.

This American Life :: We Come From Small Places

The immigrant experience explored through stories from the Labor Day Carnival and the West Indian American Day Parade in Brooklyn.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “S” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “S” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Searching for Augusta: The Forgotten Angel of Bastogne, and Secrets of Underground London.

TitleShe’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
Release Date: 2014
Director: Mary Dore
Production Company: Music Box Films
Summary/Review:

This documentary offers a history of the second-wave feminist movement – a.k.a women’s liberation – of the late 1960s and 1970s. Rising from the New Left, Civil Rights Movement, and the anti-war movement, and inspired by the writing of Betty Friedan, women began to raise consciousness about their own lack of equality. And leftist men scoffed and insulted them (I’m disappointed in you leftist men!).

Interviews with activists and archival footage show women fighting for equality in their jobs, education, and marriages and seeking reproductive rights and child care. One of my favorite segments features many of the women who researched and wrote Our Bodies, Ourselves discussing the book together. The film culminates with the Women’s Strike for Equity, a massive protest on August 26, 1970 that commemorated 50 years of women’s suffrage while advocating for greater equality.

This documentary does not shy away from the struggles within the women’s movement. I’m pleased that they acknowledged how women’s liberation was largely a white women’s movement that ignored the specific concerns of Black women, when they were included at all. Lesbians also faced outright discrimination as well as handwringing over whether it would harm the movement if Lesbians were open about their sexual identity.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I learned a lot. I like to think I’m a student of the social movements of the 1960s, but I had only a passing familiarity with some of the women featured in this film and wasn’t aware of the Women’s Strike for Equity. Time to hit the books.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch The Black Panthers, a documentary about a liberation movement during the same time period with overlapping themes. Feminism is for Everybody is bell hooks’ wonderful primer on feminism and why we need it more now than ever.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett


Author: Terry Pratchett
TitleMonstrous Regiment
Narrator: Stephen Briggs
Publication Info: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004
Previously Read by the Same Author: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (with Neil Gaiman)
Summary/Review:

I’ve been wanting to find a way into the Discworld series but not knowing where to start, I asked folks on library Twitter, and this book was recommended as an entry point.  This novel follows Polly Perks as she disguises herself as a man and joins the army in order to find her missing brother.  Her ragtag regiment has a lot of individuals not ready for war as well as a vampire, troll, and an Igor.  It turns out that Polly is not the only one in the regiment with a secret.  Spoiler: It turns out that pretty much every member of the regiment is a woman. This leads to a comical plot where they go undercover disguised as washer women.  This is a funny and sharply satirical book, and it does make me want to read more Discworld (recommendations welcome).

Rating: ***

Book Review: Feminism is for everybody : passionate politics by bell hooks


Authorbell hooks
TitleFeminism is for everybody : passionate politics
Publication Info: Cambridge, MA : South End Press, c2000.
Previously read by the same author:  All About Love: New Visions
Summary/Review:

This book is a short primer on feminism that bell hooks always wanted but had to write it since it didn’t exist.  hooks lays down the basic concepts and theory on feminism and how it intersects with race, class, and lesbianism, among other things. It’s a book that at times is also very critical of some ways in which feminism is practiced. hooks makes an interesting distinction between feminism that seeks to advance individual women in careers, education, and politics without challenging the system within which they exist – what hooks defines as “reform feminism” and notes is beneficial mostly to privileged white women – and a “revolutionary feminism” which seeks to overturn patriarchal systems and create feminist alternatives.  It’s also a personal book as hooks recalls her own feminist journey from the earliest consciousness raising through various conflicts.  It’s a great introduction to feminism if you’re interested in learning more about the theory and practice, especially since feminism is all too often defined by its opponents.

Favorite Passages:

From the outset, reformist white women with class privilege were well aware that the power and freedom they wanted was the freedom they perceived men of their class enjoying.  Their resistance to patriarchal male domination in the domestic household provided them with a connection they could use to unite across class with other women who were weary of male domination.  But only privileged women had the luxury to imagine working outside the home would actually provide them with an income which would entitle them to be economically self-sufficient.  Working-class women already knew the wages the received would not liberate them. – p. 38

While visionary feminist thinkers have understood our need for a broad-based feminist movement, one that addresses the needs of girls and boys, women and men, across class, we have not produced a body of visionary feminist theory written in an accessible language or shared through oral communication.  Today in academic circles much of the most celebrated feminist theory is written in a sophisticated jargon that only the well-educated can read.  Most people in our society do not have a basic understanding of feminism; they cannot acquire that understanding from a wealth of diverse material, grade school-level primers, and so on, because this material does not exist. We must create it if we are to rebuild feminist movement that is truly for everyone.

Feminist advocates have not organized resources to ensure that we have television stations or consistent spots on existing stations.  There is no feminist news hour on any television or radio show.  One of the difficulties we faced spreading the word about feminism is that anything having to do with the female gender is seen as covering feminist ground even if it does not contain a feminist perspective.  We do have radio shows and a few television shows that highlight gender issues, but that is not that same as highlighting feminism.  Ironically one of the achievements of contemporary feminism is that everyone is more open to discussing gender and the concerns of women, but again, not necessarily from a feminist perspective. – p. 112

Rating: ****

Book Review: Bitch Planet. Volume 1 Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson, and Taki Soma


AuthorKelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro (Artist.), Robert Wilson (Artist.), Taki Soma (Artist.)
TitleBitch Planet. Volume 1 Extraordinary Machine
Publication Info: Berkeley : Image Comics, 2015.
Summary/Review:

Writer Phillip Sandifer stated that this comic series is “most unapologetically social justice oriented book on the stands” so I thought I’d give it a try.  Bitch Planet is set in a future dystopia where noncompliant women are sent to a prison on another planet.  “Noncompliance” in this society is basically anything that doesn’t please men, so women who are angry, opinionated, independent, unattractive or overweight and attempt to control their sexual selves are the ones incarcerated.  In a lot of ways it builds on a tradition of feminist dystopia from The Stepford Wives to The Handmaid’s Tale.  The comic draws on the aesthetic of 1970s prison exploitation films and it is unsettling in its graphic depiction of violence.  It takes me a while to connect with characters in comics, but one who stands out is Penny.  Shortly after I finished reading this volume this comic was published in Unshelved which is a good introduction to the story.
Rating: ***