Echoes of the Intifada in Seattle: Arab and Muslim youth take the lead

Echoes of the Intifada:

Arab and Muslim Youth Take the Lead

Statement by Democracy Insurgent

The newest round of attacks by Israel against the people of Palestine has been bold, outrageous, and tragic. However, these attacks have been met worldwide by an increasingly bold, confident, and outraged solidarity movement. Thousands of people have come together to protest Israel's violence in marches and rallies across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, while just a month ago, these rallies would likely have drawn only a few dozen. The numbers, however, are just the beginning of what makes these recent actions different from what Palestine solidarity activists have seen in the past.

On Saturday, January 3rd, Seattleites witnessed the largest Palestine solidarity march to take place in their city in years. Nearly 1000 people came out into the streets of downtown Seattle. The multiracial character of the crowd, comprised of Arabs, South Asians, East Asians, Southeast Asians, Black and Jewish folks, and also the multigenerational participation, ranging from pre-schoolers to people in their 60s and 70s, further distinguished this march from its predecessors.

As the week progressed, 500 more Gazans were murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces, bringing the total number to 850. On January 10th, the weekly Palestine solidarity protest outside of the federal building on the 700 block of Stewart Avenue reconvened for another day of struggle.

The event started off with protesters lining up along the sidewalk, waving signs such as "End the Siege in Gaza" and "End the Occupation". A lonely Zionist stood across the street waving an Israeli flag, but with no support. Many of the motorists that drove by honked their horns in encouragement, smiled, and waved at the Palestine solidarity rally. As the afternoon proceeded nearly two hundred people came out to support the people of Palestine. The coalition organizing the rally began to lead the crowd in chants, and settled in for a number of speeches by coalition members.

As the speeches continued, however, over thirty of the youngest protesters, ranging from 8 to 15 years old, amassed across the street, engaging in chants of their own. With the bulk of the protesters on the other side of Stewart Avenue, the youth fearlessly confronted the handful of Zionist counter-protesters that had gathered. One of these Zionists shouted "Kill them all!" at these young, yet very brave Arab and Muslim youth.

Determined to maintain the energy of this past week, the youth crossed the street joining the other protesters and starting their own march up and down the block. Our organization, Democracy Insurgent, decided to join with them and offered them our megaphone. To the rest of the rally, the youth announced that they were taking their march into the city for all to see. They led a small march through the downtown area, chanting all the way. As we returned to the rally, we were all determined to pick up more supporters, and as we walked through, the vast majority of the crowd joined in the impromptu march, following the leadership of it youngest members. These youth chose some of the most radical chants, from "Takbir-Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) to "Long Live the Intifada" and "Hey Obama, why the silence, speak out against this violence."

What had began as a stationary rally organized by the older members of the community turned into a democratic movement to reclaim the streets led by the youth. The level and scope of participation by these seemingly marginal members of the community is reminiscent of the popular character of the first Intifada in the late 1980s. While ardent patriarchs see the struggle for Palestine, and national liberation everywhere, as the sphere for adult men only, the first Intifada owed its success to the massive participation and leadership by Palestinian women and young people. Not only did Israel lose control on the armed fronts, but the Zionists lost control of Palestine as a whole, and a democratic society broke out in its place.

A free Palestine can only be won by a democratic movement from below; this means equal participation from every sector of society. With the traditional Palestinian political leadership exiled in Algeria, Palestinian women and students looked to themselves for leadership and created one of the most powerful direct democratic movements the world has seen. This goes to show that the explosion of vibrant movements often requires the emergence of new leadership and new energy. From Seattle to Gaza, Zionists claim that Arab and Muslim youth are being manipulated by their parents when they rise up, but the opposite is actually the case: often, they have led their parents towards a more democratic struggle.

On January 10th in Seattle we saw only a glimpse of how strong we really are, and what we can accomplish in a democratic movement. The Arab and Muslim youth, leading the community, forced the police to accept their demands to march even without a permit. Convening in Westlake Plaza, the youth took the stage and led the crowd in another round of chants. We joined with hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters in Baghdad, London, Alexandria, and Nairobi to fight alongside the Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation.

The presence of Arabic chants and Islamic slogans in these demonstrations has scared the cops, the Zionists, and some folks in the community. But we believe these expressions of faith and culture are a key part of the anti-racist character of these spontaneous actions. Arab and Muslim youth have had enough. It's about time we say, "We're right here, we're not going anywhere, so you better get used to hearing Allahu Akbar shouted in our streets."

This moment is marked by a different mood; a belief that now is the time to demand more from politicians and professional rulers. Now is the time when a democratic solidarity movement can take the reins of history and steer it towards a more just world. Arab and Muslim people, and solidarity activists the world over, are breaking out of the old forms of political actions that were more timid and less confident, demanding a democratic vision of Palestine solidarity that haunts Israel's dreams.

Democracy Insurgent is a Middle East solidarity group on the UW campus animated by principles of democracy, anti-racism, Third World feminism, and queer liberation. We are people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and non-religious backgrounds, and this is our strength. We are launching a campaign to demand that UW break off academic ties with Israel. We believe UW should be for education, not for aiding occupation. To contact us, please email: d.insurg@gmail.com


PRIDE is not a White Flag

Here is a piece that I co-wrote with fellow organizers in Democracy Insurgent, a anti-war/Middle East solidarity group at the University of Washington:

Bolshevism, Patriarchy, and the Nation: The Soviet "Emancipation" of Muslim Women in Pan-Islamic PerspectiveBolshevism, Patriarchy, and the Nation: The Soviet "Emancipation" of Muslim Women in Pan-Islamic Perspective

Pride is not a white flag

Democracy Insurgent Statement on Prop 8

Democracy Insurgent is an anti-war Middle East solidarity group based out of the University of Washington, Seattle. We are guided by principles of anti-racism, democracy, third world feminism and queer liberation.

On Nov 4th 2008, Proposition 8, the California ballot proposition that called for the definition of marriage to be limited to a union between a man and a woman, was passed. This measure eliminated the right of same sex couples to marry. Recent debates around Proposition 8 have centered about the apparent disproportionately homophobic nature of people of color. Some racists, including Seattle’s own Dan Savage, had suggested that African-American voters were responsible for the passing of Prop 8, implying that they were not reciprocating the favor of the white vote for Obama. Despite the failure of Prop 8 campaigning efforts to reach out to the communities of color, many of whom were newly registered voters inspired by the Obama campaign, the blame still fell on the voters, not the campaign organizers as it should. These organizers were extremely conservative in their methods; they often refrained from even using the terms “gay”, “lesbian” or “queer” in their messages, and failed to advocate an alternative vision of family relations that could speak to the grievances and aspirations of oppressed queer folks, including people of color.

We do not deny that there is homophobia in communities of color. Many of us have experienced it and continue to challenge it. However, the failure of the white middle class leaders of mainstream queer organizations to embrace an anti-racist, working class agenda contributes significantly to the continuing division between communities of color and queer communities. When gay marriage, isolated from other social demands, becomes the main focus of the queer movement, it ignores the lives and struggles of working class queers of color. This division is unsustainable.

Queer Families

We believe that all people should have the right to choose the forms of family they desire. We should reject the right of the heterosexist state to determine the kinds of families that we can have. It is for this reason that we should defend gay marriage against right wing attacks like Proposition 8. However, we should also keep in mind that gay marriage, as sanctioned by the state, is simply one among many forms of families that exist.

All too often, gay marriages have been used by the white middle class queer community to assimilate into straight society. The rhetoric that queer people are not any different from straight people except for who we sleep with is reactionary and conciliatory, because the vision of straight society is often racist, patriarchal and oppressive.

The idea of a happy nuclear family in the suburbs, where a housewife takes care of two children while the dogs lap around happily in the backyard, is a romanticized and unrealistic picture of a typical American family. This vision of a picture perfect family, to which every other family is dysfunctional in comparison, was born from the 1950s, at the height of vicious repression against communists and homosexuals. The US government was trying to project an idealized vision of American society in order to shore up the American nation against the turbulence of post-war anti-colonial movements occurring worldwide, as well as labor insurgencies against automation. As a result, homosexuality and communism were scape-goated as deviant threats to the social order of the nation.

Implementations of heterosexist male and female roles, with men working over time and women happily providing free reproductive labor (housework, child-bearing) to maintain the upkeep of the family, also served to sustain capitalism. Heterosexual, child-bearing, private families took on the task of bringing up and educating a new generation of workers, all on their own paychecks, separated from the public realm. This conveniently left the capitalist state and companies free from the economic burdens of having to foot the bill for reproducing their future employees. Yet, even as this version of a self-sustaining, private and nuclear family remains the dominant in ideal in the American imagination, the reality is that in fact, only a small fraction of American families fit this formula.

Our families have always been a little queer when compared to the white middle class norm. Many families of color, both immigrant and non-immigrant, rely on extended friendship and family networks to sustain ourselves. With resources stretched thin by the pressures of white supremacy and capitalism, our mothers have often taken up the slack by juggling work both inside and outside of our homes. In times of migration or hard financial times, our families have supported non-blood related children of friends, raising them as our own. For a long time, families of color have been criticized for not being “normal,”- our family structures were blamed for the disintegration of our communities, when in reality, the destruction was brought about by white supremacist and imperialist structures that were attacking us, from racial profiling and incarceration to invasions and bombing of our homelands. For many of us, our families were one of the few survival mechanisms we could count on. We have built bonds not based on blood, but on solidarity and kinship. This is what has kept us alive.

The mainstream queer movement fails to connect the dots between the struggles of queer families that stretch beyond state sanctioned gay marriages, with the battles against white supremacy and class oppression in our communities. In its racial and class prejudices, the mainstream movement fails to reflect the realities of communities of color.

Seattle Prop 8 rally, Mayor Nickels and the War

On Nov 15th, Seattle saw a huge turnout of supporters against the passing of Prop 8. 6000 people showed up at a rally in Capital Hill with signs, chants and lots of energy.

Despite our excitement at seeing so many queers politicized and rightfully enraged by the heterosexism of Prop 8, we were disappointed by the presence of Mayor Nickels and the warm welcome he received from the crowd. The cheers he received from the audience appeared to exemplify the class divisions within the queer movement.

It is not a mystery that many queer youth have been displaced onto the streets, kicked out by the homophobia of their hometowns and families. Mayor Nickels has presided over the rapid gentrification of Seattle, leaving these queer youth, and people of color and working folks out on the streets or pushed out of the city. Nickels has also been at the forefront of displacing homeless encampments in the city (see http://www.realchangenews.org/2008/2008_09_17/drwes_v15n39.html). His cops have been infamous for cracking down on homeless youth and adults. When Mayor Nickels attacks homeless queers, how is he supporting queer liberation?

How much does it really mean to working and/or homeless queers that he declared Nov 15th Marriage Equality Day in Seattle? Does this compensate for the crackdown on Nickelsville and the increasing loss of jobs? We certainly do not think so. Nickels is clearly giving middle class queers lip service, while he has not made any moves to legalize gay marriage in this city or state.

Queer liberation cannot stand alone

The separation of the Prop 8 rally from all the other social issues in the country is also stark. On the one hand, this speaks to a possible lack of concern of queer liberation by many other activist groups. It is a reality that many groups that confront other forms of social injustices fall into the same trap of patriarchy and heterosexism. On the other hand, the racist propaganda emanating from the organizing efforts of white middle class queer interests may have turned people of color and working class organizations away from the rally. Clearly, the rally organizers in their choice of speeches and literature, made no concerted effort to address and condemn the racist overtones of some anti-Prop 8 people.

As an anti-war and queer liberation organization, members of Democracy Insurgent are dedicated to building a group that confronts the monopoly of white middle-class queers who claim to represent all of the queer community. For those of us who are queer people of color, we aim to confront the war efforts that the heterosexist, imperialist US empire is waging in the Middle East. We aim to present an anti-racist and anti-imperialist alternative to mainstream queer activism. Mayor Nickels will not bring us queer liberation, any more than US empire will bring queer people of color and women in the Middle East any salvation.

We are not alone in our attempts to build an anti-imperialist queer liberation struggle, or a queer-friendly anti-war movement. Across the country and especially in California, people continue to see the bankruptcy of the reformist gay rights organizations and a younger generation is beginning to organize autonomously from below. This opens up new possibilities, making it even more important than ever that we foreground an anti-racist, working class perspective in the movement.


My tribute to Krupskaya

I have been reading this one book, called Midwives of the Revolution. Its a book about the roles that women played in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the events leading up to it. I had been very hesitant about learning more of Russian revolutionary history for several reasons. Even though I know there are relevant lessons to be learned from it that are still important today, I associated it very much with the lives of men like Lenin and Trotsky, men who were seemingly obsessed with theory and big ideas, stern and martyred, abstract and distant. I realized in my interactions with many leftists that the ability to quote Lenin or spit the facts of the Russian Revolution became somehow a marker of how knowledgeable, how theoretical, how MACHO one is. I associated it with the division between mental and manual labor, somehow that those who could think of the big theories were always more integral and valuable to an organization than those who did the work of interacting with everyday people in mass organizations, who related with others, etc. It was a hierarchy of talents rather than an acknowledgment that experience and practice feed theory and vice versa. There is another word for it: macho ego-dripping intellectual masturbation disguised as revolutionary activity.

This impression of the Russian revolution, and what I would still say is an accurate depiction of the macho left had alienated me from people around me, as well as the important lessons of the Russian revolution. I am starting to overcome that. I am trying to make that history less irrelevant, less theoretical, less abstract to me. I want to study who mortal Lenin was, not demigod Lenin. I wanted to study how women were involved in the movement. It's not cos I can't study anything that doesnt involve women, but more so that learning for me is as much an emotional as it is an intellectual process. I needed to know that the Russian revolution was created by people who had raw emotions like me and everyone else I know, people who had to struggle between family and politics, people who had to counter the patriarchy of the political organizations and broader society that they belonged to, people who were accused of being irrational, excessively emotional, illogical, when they were actually trying to express indignation against oppression. I needed to see how revolution is a concrete phenomenon based out of everyday working womens' desires and struggles to live fully as human beings; and not simply imagined and debated out of some genius's isolated neurological activity...

It is with this impulse that I turned to this book, Midwives of the Revolution. I was particularly struck by how the authors describe the way Krupskaya has been remembered. It makes me wonder: how much must women do to have a place in history? How much more must women give up before they have a seat at the same table with the Lenins and the Trotskys of the world, in various political organizations?

Krupskaya was the wife of Lenin. She was also the secretary of the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks party. When they were in exile, Krupskaya was largely responsible for corresponding with the underground Bolsheviks, organizing the logistics for them to communicate with the party, reporting back about the activity of the workers, taking care of their emotional needs during the stresses of political organizing, so much so that both her and Lenin always had their ears to the ground about the labor movement in Russia, always knowing what their cadre members needed.

Krupskaya had also been politicized way before she met Lenin. She had been involved in doing educational work with workers and their families. She helped Lenin build connections with workers that she had built strong relationships with. She was a revolutionary, who married Lenin because she knew he would also play an important role in the revolution she was trying to build. Her marriage was in itself also a political act.

Yet, the written literature of Krupskaya, is that of a woman without her own mind. It is that of a woman who was the "bride of the revolution," a woman who was a shadow of Lenin, who was happy to let him take the lead. A woman whose only talents were doing administrative work, brainless, routine and uncreative.

Now, what makes me even more mad, is I could not find ANY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY OF HER!! The only thing that seems to stand out about Krupskaya was: how was she able to stay with Lenin despite the fact that he was allegedy involved in an affair with Inessa Armand?
I mean, for real? That's all that these drippy phallus heads could say about Krupskaya? That's all she counted for? Her ability to keep her jealousy in check was all that counted? That makes me mad. Krupskaya gave her life to the revolution, all aspects of it. And all that these historians could say about her was that she was a brainless robot. It's reflective of many patriarchal writers and revolutionaries' own prejudice with the theoretical over the everyday. Its the separation of the mind and the body.

Knock that damn pedestal off. It's time someone made this woman their hero.


Gentrification in Seattle

Here is an article by our friends, Andrew and Jacqui. It was originally published in Common Action's newsletter. Common Action is an anarchist collective based in Seattle, Washington.

Whose Streets?

Gentrification in Seattle

Seattle today is a tale of two cities. For developers, government officials, and many new residents, Seattle is about its places of plenty: shopping opportunities, property values, beautiful views, and potential profits. Look beyond the skyscrapers and a different image of Seattle emerges: that of a blue-collar port city with an immigrant soul--a place of strength, survival, and struggle against racism and poverty. When these two Seattles collide, it's called gentrification: the displacement of poor and working class people by upper-income residents. It's a conflict over values, over purpose: who is claiming the city?

Before gentrification, there was Jim Crow segregation. The Central District (CD) was one of the few areas black residents could live. As they moved there, the predominately Jewish community fled. Now, with gentrification, wealthy, predominately white residents are returning. This dates back to the 1970s, when deindustrialization forced US cities to reorder their economies. Since then, Seattle officials have scrambled to build a profitable economy around those who don't even live here: suburbanites, tourists, and international investors. In the 1990s, a decade that also saw the city lose large amounts of its working-class residents, over $700 million in public money went to developers to build upper-class amenities like convention centers, museums, and retail stores.

The trend continues today, as rising housing prices push people of color further south--even out of Seattle altogether-- and new sweeps on homeless encampments physically remove people from public property. Yet people are resisting across the city. In February 2008, when the new South Lake Union Trolley was tagged with graffiti, it was not hard to see it as a statement against the city's priorities and the millions of dollars spent on a trolley that goes nowhere except Paul Allen-owned real estate. But the resistance goes well beyond small isolated acts.

In Little Saigon, Seattle's Vietnamese district, lies the Goodwill site on Dearborn St. and Rainer Ave. This prime piece of real estate is the location of a proposed new development, including a huge shopping mall and 550 housing units. Fearing the project threatens the vitality of their neighborhood, community members formed the Dearborn Street Coalition for Livable Neighborhoods. After several years of protest, the Coalition and the developer recently signed a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) to ensure good jobs, low-income housing, traffic mitigation, and support for Little Saigon.

Elana Dix, an organizer with Puget Sound SAGE, one of the coalition's 40 organizations, explains, "Reshaping how redevelopment and growth happens in the city is a good way to build a movement for workers." According to Dix, the CBA is a potential model for other neighborhoods in the city threatened by harmful development. She also admits, though, the strategy is limited to instances where a large development is planned. Fighting gentrification in other areas proves harder if the forces changing the area cannot be attributed to a single site or developer.

This has been the case for the Hidmo Eritrean Restaurant in the CD, which has experienced attacks from neighbors and the Seattle Police Department (SPD). Two years ago, sisters Rahwa and Asmeret Habte created Hidmo, "conceived from love of culture and structured after the village model of family." Their restaurant has grown into a community center that has supported the growth of local Hip Hop by hosting five regular shows, including an all-female Hip Hop show, a youth writing circle, and African music.

Lately, however, the Hidmo has been unjustly targeted as a "nuisance" business and an attraction to a "dangerous criminal element" by new white neighbors. About a year ago, the Habte sisters were summoned to a meeting, held in a police station, to hear racist fears from some of these neighbors. The Habte's responded by hosting a community gathering and extending invitations for future events to concerned neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Habte business has continued to receive a disproportionate amount of attention from the SPD. With nightly visits, the police continue to harass the restaurant by randomly carding patrons, ticketing people for smoking outside, and persistently threatening to pull the liquor and health licenses.

The stories of the Hidmo and Little Saigon represent only two stories in an ongoing battle over what Seattle looks like. They are only stories in a larger battle over what the cities of the United States look like. All across the country working class people and communities of color are also being displaced by sky-high rents, mass evictions, and low-wage jobs.
Will the struggles of working people take priority, or will the business motives of the rich?

War and the Economic Crisis

Here is the talk that two members of Democracy Insurgent gave recently. It explains the economic crisis that is happening today from a working class perspective, as well as the connections to the war in the Middle East.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Shame on Singaporean elitism!!

I know many of you who read this blog don't know very much about Singapore except that its a pretty little island whose authorities caned Michael Fay. Well, there are other people in the country who need their asses whipped, to say the least. Singapore is home of the Lee Family dynasty -- Lee Kuan Yew and his family RUN the whole country -- his son is the prime minister, his other son runs the telephone company, his daughter-in-law runs the state investment company (Temasek Holdings that recently bought out the Thai telecom company from ex-PM Thaksin...) I mean, the cronyism of these big shot authoritarians!! I am currently reading up on the history of the Malayan Communist Party, among other leftist leading parties of the region, in hope to learn more about what we've never been taught in Singapore schools -- that NO, SIR STAMFORD RAFFLES WAS A COLONIST! NOT A SAVIOR!!

Thats another reason why I take so much inspiration from the Korean democratic movement, which saw another upsurge this past summer. They overthrew dictatorships that were ruled on the pretext that they would herald in good economic stability for a third world country. They saw through the lies and the pretenses that US-supported strong-ruled authoritarian states would NOT bring prosperity to everyone. If anything, it creates a stable middle-class for a few, and a strong underclass -- casualized/temp/foreign labor which is constantly being put down, marginalized and oppressed.

Excuse me for the rant, but this is the youtube that my friends from Singapore sent me which contains a quote from Lee Kuan Yew. One could read it as an extension of an awful social program, elitist and eugenics in style. It is not stated in racial terms in his speech (he wouldnt dare) but the implications are racial because most non-graduates are working class Chinese, Indians and Malays. I am a Southeast Asian Chinese and we need a different vision of relating to other races beyond this stinking elitist BS -- another damned model minority myth needs some smashing!!

Here goes:

Drifting Flowers/ 漂浪青春

Another movie from the Seattle Queer Film Festival! I went with JG to watch it yesterday and we both enjoyed it tremendously.

On the surface, the movie had a very Wong Kar Wai feel ( yes, to all who love In the Mood for Love, or 阿飞 正专, and the like) What that means for me is that there is a strong sense of realism, yes, there is some drama but one that is like stream of consciousness. Things just happening without necessarily having a fixed conclusion. There is also a sequence of events that trail one after another, that reconnect is unexpected ways. This is the feel that Drifting Flowers had too. One could argue it is not all as intricate and detailed as Wong Kar Wai's films, but what is powerful about Flowers is that it captures a strong sense of movement through time and space, that the queer characters undergo. I have read comments that say that the film was too steretypical, its portrayal of lesbian butch and femme characters too expected. Maybe its cos in Western genres that is a old tired picture, but I think in Chinese films, there is a lot there that can be explored. The setting of a story is so important. It gives it all the cultural nuances that a similar story set in a different place lacks. I love the intermix of Hokkien or Taiwanese with Mandarin, just listening to the lesbian women talk about their needs and desires in a language that is home for me, feels different!

Call it cliche, call it cheesy and heartwarming, I really enjoyed Drifting Flowers and can't waiting to watch Zero Chou's previous film: Spiderlilies (which is apparently hot, beautiful and super gay)