Saturday Rec: Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pairs well with: organic foods, soil-testing kit, and solitary activities once you become unpopular for wanting to make space for the truth and criticizing “Pinktober”

This is another documentary based on a book, an academic text by Samantha King who also appears in the documentary. The film covers the problems with reducing fighting breast cancer to buying stuff with pink ribbons on it and includes many of the problems people have with the Komen foundation. More interesting, however, the film is a powerful discussion of the ways that relentlessly positive thinking is really harmful to people. It shows persuasively that when we focus on positive thinking, we center quick and easy solutions and end up missing real solutions, which are harder and take more time. We do not think about what causes cancer (e.g., living near oil refineries), and how more people are getting it. Instead we focus on finding it early on as if it were an inevitable fact.

Most strikingly the film includes interviews with women dying of breast cancer who discuss how there is no room for them or their experiences in a “movement” which only wants to hear happy stories and see pink objects. Where can one process the experience of dying from a horrible disease if people only want to hear about happy things? How can this be a “good” way of dealing with a disease if there is no room for the people actually experiencing its effects in an authentic way?

A great film for understanding how focusing only on the positive can literally harm the people around you.

Eulogy for UWS

I did not plan to be a college professor when I entered my PhD program in sociology. I was interested in more directly community engaged work and writing. I fell in love with teaching during my fieldwork at a movement run high school for adults in Buenos Aires, where I co-taught social sciences in a classroom populated primarily by young women who lived in the neighboring shantytown. But even so, I was highly suspicious that this experience could be replicated inside of a bureaucratic institution of higher education in any meaningful way.

It was only toward the end of my tenure as a graduate student when I saw one particular job listing that I decided to look for jobs teaching at the university level. The job was at the University of Michigan-Flint, a regional comprehensive university where my mom had graduated when I was a kid.

Looking at the posting brought back a flood of memories of attending classes the few times she didn’t have childcare, and had to take me to classes with her. These days are burned into my memory, because the visual inspection, behavior talk, and overall prep was intense! I must have been in about second grade, and I can remember my mom talking me into wearing my best clothes by telling me this is what all the “college girls” would be wearing. I know I was much more dressed up than I usually got just to go to my own school. Now I can see that my mom was worried about being embarrassed by having me or us look too poor, since having to bring your kid to class is already a bad way to stick out at college. Once I can remember getting a new toy doll just in order to go to class to be sure that I wouldn’t become restless during the lecture. Although I was generally a pretty good kid, I still remember the very serious talk I got before going to those classes about how essential it was that I be absolutely good.

I have told this story to more than one student at UWS, because I wanted these students to feel welcome in my classes and on our campus. And I always tell them their kids are welcome in my classes, because I know they will behave. After all, I know exactly the serious talk they got before coming to the class. I have wanted to be part of expanding these students’ access to education, their access to big ideas, and part of expanding their world. My mom’s life circumstance forced her to leave high school but her child is a college professor, in no small part because of my exposure to the importance of College, capital C, through her and her persistence in completing it.

I didn’t get the job at U of M-Flint, but after I saw that listing I knew that I wanted to teach students like my mom. Not just students with kids, but nontraditional students; students who never thought they’d find themselves in a university for a variety of reasons including race and social class; students who are afraid that if something goes wrong, someone will figure this out, and they won’t be let back in. UW-Superior has provided a tremendous environment for doing this, because it is open enrollment, has small class sizes, has a public liberal arts college mission, and my department is very supportive of deeper methods of teaching and learning. All of this is unsustainable with the loss of any faculty voice in the running of the campus, the partnership with for-profit companies who will put pressure on the campus to develop easier curricula for faster degrees regardless of what is being learned (if they haven’t already started), and the elimination of nearly all the liberal arts disciplines on campus. There is no longer any institutional support for these experiences.

I have been able to be a part of amazing transformations in my few short years at UWS that are considered impossible in most educational environments, and I will be grateful for that experience. But I will mourn the tremendous loss for all of us in the region at the abandonment of that mission, and I will not participate in the charade that it has not been abandoned. This is no longer the UWS where I hoped to spend the next twenty five years teaching.

picture is of 25 handmade headstones with the names of academic programs set out in a univeristy building. in the background is a cardboard casket flanked by paper flowers.

Headstones for each cut major and minor program and a casket for the University of Wisconsin-Superior we knew and loved. The funeral was held Saturday, April 14, 2018. Photo Credit: Trudy Fredericks.

Ongoing assassinations and violence in Honduras: Carlos Hernández

A selfie of Carlos Hernandez wearing a white Oxford shirt.

Carlos Hernández, killed in his law office in Tela, Honduras, on April 10, 2018.

Last week, another person two degrees of separation from me was assassinated in Honduras. His name was Carlos Hernández, and he was killed in his law office in the municipality of Tela. He was the lawyer of one of five people who have been criminalized for defending the water in their community as part of an encampment they have sustained since May 2017 against intense persecution. I have met all five of them.

 

I have visited their encampment.

He is not the first person to die in relationship to their small community’s struggle.

It is unlikely we will ever know exactly who his killer is, and even less likely that person will face any judicial process because rates of impunity in Honduras for homicide are estimated at over 90%.

It is heavy to feel so surrounded by death. I cannot imagine how it would feel if I were actually living among it daily, breathing in its possibility at every turn. The violence is so frequent even among the people to whom I am directly connected that I fear that my friends and family are becoming tired of hearing about the deaths and death threats to my compañerxs in Honduras, and will stop being willing to act. I do not wish to center myself, but rather hope to connect myself personally as an act of solidarity, enabling others to also feel personally connected and invested in the lives of others.

Carlos Hernández was young. He was the lawyer for the mayor of Arizona, Arnoldo Chacón. Chacón is one of 5 members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ – Movimiento Amplio por Dignidad y Justicia) who have been formally accused of “usurpation” for stopping the state of Honduras and the company INGELSA from developing a hydroelectric dam on the Río Jilamito.

These community members have sustained “Camp Dignity in Defense of the Río Jilamito” since May 2017, defending their water and community from attack by a foreign company. All 5 of the accused, along with the many other members of the community who have participated in the encampment, have been subject to threats and attacks over this time period. Yet they persist. They arrive, daily, in shifts, making sure the camp is tended at all times. They make food for each other, take care of each other, make decisions together, and they confront the alliance of government and private capital which not only criminalizes this care-taking activity but dares to call it usurpation.

I first met these community members after they had completed just a few weeks of their encampment, at the end of May 2017. The camp is humble but cozy, and the reception they gave to our large Witness for Peace delegation of 22 U.S. citizens was deeply welcoming. We ate soup together, we chatted, we played games, and took pictures. They found enough chairs for all of us and hardly a chair for anyone else, and we could not manage to convince anyone to swap places and take a seat in our places. Of course. It would be rude to sit while an honored guest was standing.

Picture is of a banner, sign, and Honduran flag that cover barbed wire and make up a barricade

Barricade at Camp Dignity in Defense of Water and Life at Rio Jilamito

The people who spoke that day to us are the very same people who have been criminalized and whose lives have been threatened since then. I would like to use their names and to show their faces to humanize these every day rural people who have decided to take such enormous risks to protect the water in their community, but I am afraid that it may put them in more risk. I would like to humanize them, to counter the implicit suggestion that they are terrorists for impeding economic development – to which they did not consent and from which they will not benefit – but the very act of doing so may harm them further.

The assassination of Carlos Hernández can only be understood as part of a larger system of structural and political violence which runs deep. He was killed in a country which has recently inaugurated a fraudulent President, and this presidency and regime (and the support it receives from the United States) is inseparably related to the skyrocketing rates of violence. (I plan to write more about exactly how all of this is connected but have linked to some excellent existing analysis above by Radio Progreso, Jesse Freeston, Sandra Cuffe, and Ryan Morgan to get that conversation started here.)

Even in the face of incredible odds and almost unthinkable danger, the community at Jilamito continues to maintain their active resistance to INGELSA and its hydroelectric dam project. Their resistance shows us all that it is possible.

 

Click here for a list of concrete actions you can take in solidarity with people in Honduras.