Husky Refinery Is Not Our Mayor

Only today I noticed that the Superior Mayor’s office had posted an update on the section of the Douglas County website he had previously designated to be the single place for information on the refinery fire on May 7. The people of Superior are still waiting for a place where we can ask questions about the fire which is not a Facebook page (which leaves people open to being personally attacked) or run by Husky refinery, so I will continue to ask questions here, among other places. The Douglas County website is a one way transmission.

There are several things worth pointing out about this update. One is that it would seem very few people noticed it being posted and that there are reasons for that. For example no one I know who is active in gathering information about the refinery explosion mentioned it at all or had seen it before me. While a single source of information is indeed a very good idea, one has to wonder why new posts are not also announced on the other places the city uses to give information such as its “Jim Paine, Mayor of Superior” or “City of Superior” Facebook pages. While I hate the use of these privately owned sites in general for the dissemination of information, the fact remains that most people have already become reliant on using them since until last week they were the primary source of information. Why not post something that says, “hey I put something new up on the Douglas County website” if getting information to people was the goal?

The much more disturbing thing about this update however is that while on the Douglas County website the update says “Information from City of Superior Mayor’s Office: A summary of the week’s events has been compiled for your reference,” once you open the document it is clear that the entire update was written directly by the Husky Refinery itself and not by Jim Paine or the Mayor’s office at all. I find this to be totally unacceptable and even reprehensible when the role of our elected officials should be to advocate for our community. Sentences such as “we are beginning to clear areas within the facility so we can facilitate cleanup and the next phases of work,” are a pretty good indicator of the authorship of the document. The role, actions, or even name of the city of Superior is not mentioned even once in the document.

The document is also buried on a list of other updates on the Douglas County website, almost all of which are about air quality. As we now know from our own local scientific experts, the major risk is not from the air quality nor has it been since the immediate few days following the fire. What was in the air has traveled into our soil and potentially our water. It’s on the animals and perhaps on ourselves, and our children. It’s hard not to conclude that all of these updates about air quality are little more than a distraction from other more distressing information included even in a report written by Husky itself, which includes answers to some of the questions we asked on May 1.

The section on wildlife reads:

“Protections and deterrents for wildlife have been implemented as part of the facility response. To date there are two known impacts. One resident deer has been identified with oil staining on all four lower legs and one deceased common grackle has been found. The deer is being monitored. A decision has been made not to tranquilize the deer to remove the oil as it is not showing negative impacts. There has been no observed impacts to fish or other aquatic life in the onsite storm water ponds or Newton Creek as a result of the incident. Water monitoring continues.”

Surely we are not supposed to believe that the real concern is one single deer but rather that where there is one, there must be more? And how could a deer covered in oil not be showing negative impacts? This defies the imagination. And what of the bird?

I see here it’s also mentioned that:

“Water samples collected post incident to date are comparable to baseline samples pre-incident under normal refinery operating conditions, with the exception of trace amounts of Perfluoroalkyl Sulfonate (PFAS) – a chemical component found in firefighting foam.”

As we suggested previously, these are part of the same class of chemicals for which 3M just settled an $850 million dollar lawsuit because of the known health risks to humans and aquatic systems. How will the public be informed of the “treatment strategy” which is “being prepared”? Why didn’t Husky already have such a treatment strategy already in place since surely an asphalt fire in a refinery is not such an unlikely emergency? This is one of the questions we have already asked, and to which we received deflective answers from our mayor, leaving me more concerned than ever.

But how is the public ever supposed to trust any of the answers we receive if our mayor is reposting a summary produced by the corporation responsible for almost killing us, and passing it off as if the city and the refinery are one and the same voice?

Protect the Water.pdf

between words

I started this blog in part because the air around me was too thick with gaslighting. Because I needed to tell the story of what was happening at UWS and in the UW system not just to the world outside, but to myself. Because I needed to write down and tell so many stories. Writing makes things clearer and makes them make sense. When I don’t have the time to write I start to feel the walls close in and everything feels too quiet here. Up starts to feel like down. I hope I can be back to writing the world into sense again soon.

drawing of an anatomical heart with the text "This Machine Kills Fascists"

Graphic by Jonathan Byxbe of Flight 64 Studio in Portland, OR, via Justseeds Collective

Reading on the Chaos in the UW system

Today I’m presenting a master list of high quality commentary and analysis on what has been going on in the University of Wisconsin system over the last several months, particularly around the merger of the UW Colleges and the extensive program cuts at UW-Superior and UW-Stevens Point.

I am a sociologist, and we are fond of saying that our discipline does not give us the tools to read the future. That being said, if I was the kind of person who made bets, I would be willing to place money on the fact that we will soon see another announcement of deep program cuts to another UW campus, made in the absence of faculty, student, and community input. Too much groundwork has already been laid for this to be the end of it. I think it will be important to be informed about what the situation is in Superior, at Stevens Point, at the Colleges, and throughout the UW system, as these cuts continue to roll forward.

Clenched blue fist in the shape of the state of Wisconsin with the text Stand with Wisconsin at bottom.

a meditation on tools

In the United States, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

In Japan, the nail that sticks out gets hammered in.

Audre Lorde famously admonished white feminists at a conference in 1979 that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Black and white line image of a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench.

If you are neither the wheel or the nail, you might start to wonder about your commitments to justice.

It might not be an honor to be the last one standing.

Does that make you a tool?

 

Stop Telling Me I’m Brave: On Courage and Being Set Apart

As feminists we know it’s important for us to have each other’s backs in a shitty heterosexist world. We have often done this by reassuring each other that we are strong and brave people. The thing is, after the year I’ve had, I’m not sure telling our friends over and over that they’re brave works the way it’s supposed to.

When you call someone brave you pretty much mean to say that they’re doing something that you’re not sure you would do in their situation. And that’s a compliment, but it also pushes that person away from you by making them different. When I spoke out openly about my experience as a stalking survivor and the incredible failures of the institutions that were supposed to protect me, it started to feel less like “brave” was about having my back and more like no one else was “brave” enough to have my back.

It started when I was doing things that did not feel like they even involved a choice, let alone courage. What I learned in surviving stalking is that even if you think you don’t want to go on, you pretty much do because there just aren’t that many other choices available. With the exception of suicidal depression (which I’m not minimizing, but I didn’t have), you will have to get out of bed sometime. I missed more days of work than ever before, but still I couldn’t just stop going altogether. I wasn’t so out of it that I couldn’t calculate those risks. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and showing up. Surviving.

My acts are not what I would characterize as “brave” necessarily. They are acts of resilience, like the acts that human beings who have survived worse things before me like intimate partner stalking, colonial wars, and daily racist police violence. Human beings are, at the end of the day, apparently pretty good at surviving some pretty terrible things, but that doesn’t make us all brave, and being called brave, when I was busy just surviving stalking, was almost like salt in the wound. Because all I felt, all the time, was fear.

I advocated, loudly, for my safety in my campus workplace. And, because I am a feminist activist, I did this in a way that I hoped would benefit future stalking victims and tried to point out how inevitable it is that this problem would happen again. I published my story with a major web outlet clarifying why I thought we needed better procedures on our campus not just for myself but for all of us, and called out my campus for their shameful disregard of the safety of my body and their refusal to “set a precedent.” I went forward with this story publicly even after I was issued an ultimatum insisting that it needed to be published anonymously or it could not be published. In each case, I was told by my friends and colleagues that my actions were very brave but in each case, I felt like I was simply doing the only right thing.

When my friends were calling me brave, it really felt like they were just letting themselves off the hook for not taking actions that were similar to mine or, worse, for not joining me in solidarity in the ways that they might have been implicated. I do not think my friends consciously meant anything negative when they told me I was brave. I think they really meant it. But what it usually means to say someone is brave is – what I heard–was, “oh wow, you have so much courage. I could never dare to do that.” What I needed to hear was: “man that situation sucks! Let me join you in this struggle.”

As a feminist method of support, bravery seems to work okay when we assign the label to ourselves. The women who wrote the groundbreaking All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave obviously got a lot out of it. There were times when I liked the idea too, but only when I decided on my own to do something that I felt was brave. When the idea of bravery backfired, it was when someone else called me brave. Like a lot of terms, there’s a big difference between applying it to yourself and having it applied to you by someone else.

The concept of bravery though is one that always sets people apart. It’s an idea that’s usually associated with extraordinary individuals. Extra-ordinary. And maybe that’s why it hurt me so much, because I was already feeling so isolated. Bravery just seemed to set me even further apart from the pack.

But there are other reasons to avoid setting people apart, even when they haven’t necessarily survived something traumatic. If we want to build social movements that will change the world, we will need groups of people, not a few extraordinary individuals. I don’t dispute that to do this work we will have to be brave, but maybe we need to stop calling each other brave. Instead we have to find ways to be brave together. The first step to doing this will mean not holding each other up on pedestals too tall to reach but alternatively trying to learn how we can better support and understand each other’s necessary and chosen risks. Here in the United States the cliché is that one person can change the world but the reality is that it takes many people to change the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not boycott those buses on his own. Assata Shakur didn’t break herself out of jail. Although in the course of history we’ve exalted only these single individuals, their names would mean little without the movements full of other people around them. If they had been set apart in their own time as singularly brave individuals, as merely exceptional people, we wouldn’t even know who they were today because nothing would have been accomplished.

I know by telling me how brave my actions were that my feminist friends were trying to be nice and supportive. I can see that I was moving from surviving to advocating and that people wanted to pat me on the back for that forward movement. But what I want is to change the world, and for that I need my friends to join me, not laud me. I want my acts, just like my feminist ideals, to become ordinary, not extraordinary.

solidarity is our weapon

“Solidarity Is Our Weapon. International Women’s Strike.”