Weekend Reading

Boom, weekend reading strikes again:

On a Tuesday afternoon conference call, the campaign again hit Romney for having been wobbly on time limits, which deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter called “the core of the bipartisan welfare reform.”  (Hence politicians’ insistence on measuring the policy’s success by how many people ceased getting benefits, and their refusal to even track what happened after that.)  Campaign Policy Director James Kvaal fleshed out the free car attack in near-pornographic detail: Romney’s program “paid for the cost of their insurance, deductions, tax, title, registration, repairs, even their Triple A membership. And if the people who transitioned to work later lost their jobs and went back on welfare, they were allowed to keep their free cars.  In one year alone, Romney’s Wheels for Welfare program cost Massachusetts tax-payers 400,000 dollars.”

The Obama campaign didn’t explicitly state its opposition to “Wheels for Welfare,” (a follow-up e-mail went unanswered), but its words suggested as much.  Worse, they suggested that the campaign saw the program as inherently self-refuting, as if the perversity of taxpayers subsidizing drivers on the dole was just self-evident.  Never mindthat the cars were donated by non-profits, or that what the government paid for was contingent on submitting pay stubs, or that the beneficiaries had to be parents, with clean driving records, with the prospect of work somewhere unreachable by public transit.

The out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

We have a summer camp. In 2010 we had a camp celebration, a party for families. This cute kid, just graduated 5th grade, going to middle school, randomly asks me, “Do I tell them I’m Muslim?” I totally didn’t get it. I was like, “Well, if someone asks you, of course.” And he says, “What if they hurt me?” And I’m like, “Why would they hurt you? You don’t have to worry about that.” And he says, “Didn’t someone just stab that guy in that cab? He told a white man he was Muslim and the man stabbed him.” I’m thinking, you’re 10 years old and you know that story? I told him at school there would be security guards and teachers and not to worry. All of sudden, all these kids had all these examples like, “Oh, remember your brother was on the train and these kids beat him up and called him a terrorist?” And I just sat back and was like, wow. We’re talking about eight-, nine-, 10-year-old kids.

That we may have another year without undergraduate fee hikes in the UCs, and without cuts to schools and colleges, should be understood as an effect of recent rounds of uncompromising student protest, including the cascading strikes and encampments that shook California’s universities last fall. These protests demonstrated to the state and to the UC Regents that further fee increases would come with a cost, and helped build support for the original Millionaires’ Tax, of which the current tax initiative – formed out of a compromise between the governor and the president of the California Federation of Teachers – is a pale copy.

While we might be inclined to consider the possibility of a year without cuts to public education as a victory, albeit an uncertain one, there are other political dynamics shaping the current situation that make for a murkier picture. Governor Jerry Brown, in tying the fate of students to his tax initiative, is working to co-opt and neutralize student movements – movements that otherwise could further delegitimate state institutions enacting and enforcing austerity, and even potentially set off, as in Quebec, a period of generalized social unrest. This fall, it will be incredibly difficult for those active on campuses to resist pressures to put our energies into campaigning for the tax initiative, despite the fact that relatively little of the revenue would go to education (much is slated to “pay down the deficit”); that the initiative includes a temporary, regressive sales tax; and that electoral campaigns force us to engage on a terrain and in a mode of struggle that work to our disadvantage, in comparison to campus-based direct action and mass organizing. As we recently saw in Wisconsin, social movements that allow themselves to be entirely diverted into electoral politics risk massive demoralization, defeat in both electoral and non-electoral domains, and the fraying of bonds forged through collective struggle.


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