Mar. 13th, 2014 12:02 pm
ajnabieh: A large orange cat with the text "Christianne Aman-purr, Colbert Report Middle East Correspondent" (amanpurr)
I keep meaning to write a post on academic language differences in Canada/the US (prompted in part by [personal profile] jae continually reminding me I'm marking, not grading, when I'm complaining about sitting in front of a stack of papers), but today isn't that day. Have a link dump of interesting things instead.

TessieMC, The Trigger-Warned Syllabus, which does a good job summarizing why trigger warnings on syllabi are kind of not the point. I've given trigger warnings as a teacher--when potentially triggering material will be dealt with in class and isn't otherwise prefigured by the content. (So when I screened a video about the problems of microfinance that indebted people describing their suicide attempts or the death by suicide of their family members, for instance.) I've also been triggered as a student, by something neither the teacher nor I could have predicted (tl;dr if you are a 16 year old undergoing traumatic life-threatening leg surgeries maybe don't read A Separate Peace, which I still haven't finished, btw). And, when I taught an entire course about political violence, I didn't give a single trigger warning, because the content of the course material was already apparent--we read about people killed by police, we read about riots, we read about genocide, we read about violence against women, and I trusted my students to be aware of what the class was about, to be aware of where their limits were, and to make adjustments if they just couldn't handle some of the material. The course title and the titles of the articles on the syllabus was their own trigger warning, in my mind. So I'm thinking actively about this issue, as someone who supports trigger warnings as a concept and also wants to think about how they can function usefully and not dismissively in different contexts.

On Feminist Philosophers, a faculty member wants advice for how to mentor a minority student who was recruited to a graduate program in ways that sound incredibly ham-handed and offensive, while not being either racist or subscribing to a 'colorblind' philosophy. I've mentioned what I would take into account, but some of you may have opinions on this subject!

Language Log gives some coverage to the language politics of the upcoming provincial elections in Quebec. I don't have anything specific to add, except that the adjective for "belonging to the Parti Quebecois" in French is "pequiste [PQ-iste]" and I think we can all agree that is the literal best political party adjective ever.

Mark Allen Peterson put together a brief primer to Middle Eastern media ecologies. Useful if the term is new to you, useful if the Middle Eastern context is new to you. Media hasn't been a primary area of research for me, but it's becoming one, so I'm absorbing this all as I go.

Kristin Diwan [ profile] kdiwaniya has a good new report on youth activism in the Arab Gulf. As always, I want to insert migration as a variable into all these conversations--what are migrant youth, both Arab and not-Arab, doing politically? Are they a part of Kuwaiti/Saudi/Bahraini/etc movements? Making their own? But the report is an excellent presentation of what's happening in a region where social movements are less studied.

And finally, for my fellow hoopy froods*, The BBC has re-released the Hitchhiker's Guide text game.

*Disclaimer: I am actually not a terribly hoopy frood.
ajnabieh: Happy woman with broom: FIGHT ALL THE OPPRESSIONS; same woman, dejected, "Fight ALL the oppresssions?" (ALL the oppressions?)
Like most of my fellow Canadians (and a lot of other people, obviously), I'm paying quite a bit of attention to the Winter Olympics. One of the reasons I'm paying attention, though, is because of the political controversy over the Olympics being held in Russia, for a variety of reasons. The most prominent in the eyes of a lot of European and North American observers is the recent law against the "promotion of non-traditional sexual relations," and the blatant homophobia that the Russian government has demonstrated in defending the law against international condemnation. While the law is terrible, there's the faintest whiff of hypocracy in some of the flailing about it--it's not like institutional homophobia is gone in North America, you know. There's also the fact that there are plenty of other reasons to be displeased about locating a major international event in Russia--such as Sochi's historical and contemporary relationship to the ethnic cleansing of the Causacus, or the abysmal ranking of Putin's Russia on most all measures of civil liberties. Many people are boycotting the games, though others don't think that's a good tactic or have pointed out that many of the attempts to boycott are hamhanded at best and that Russian LGBT activists have not called for a boycott.

But what I'm interested in is that the Olympics provide a reason to focus on Russia for activists for civil liberties, civil society, and social justice. Assuming that we don't only care about justice for different others when they provide an opportunity to feel better about ourselves--which we cannot always assume, but let's be generous at the moment--the Sochi Olympics brings all these issues onto the table, and makes them inescapable amid all of the pomp and circumstance and spandex.

So, in that spirit, here are two calls for political action that have been circulated by Amnesty International, which are specific to the Olympic context in Russia, but are also about generalized opposition to the worst parts of the Russian regime. If we care about what's happening in Russia, then we need to take action to help Russians change the situation.

If you've seen other calls for concrete actions that seem supported by reputable human rights networks, or that emerge from Russian civil society, pass them on--I'm happy to update this post with more opportunities for people to turn the Sochi Olympics into a focal moment for social change in Russia.


Yevgeniy Vitishko, environmental activist, detained on "petty hooliganism" charges, likely to prevent him from protesting at the Olympics. Here is more information about him from Amnesty International, and here is an article from the CBC about his previous suspended sentence being converted to three years of jail time. (I'd like to note, with appreciation, that this article is in the Olympics section of CBC's coverage, meaning that they aren't ignoring the political dynamics of what's happening in the rush to be like OMG CURLING.) You can take action to support him via Amnesty International here.

Elena Klimova is a journalist; she runs a website for LGBTI teens, called Children 404. She has been charged with "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations," the infamous law that has drawn so much attention lately. Here is an article about her arrest from the Russian LGBT Network, and here is Amnesty Canada's write-up about her. I haven't seen mainstream media coverage just of her case yet, though. You can take action to support her via Amnesty International here.
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
The subjects of today's analysis: Kahrabtak ("your electricity"), a new site that allows people to report power outages all over Egypt, and Harassmap, a several-year-old site that allows women* to report street sexual harassment. This is a very preliminary analysis, and I haven't started going through reports off Kahrabtak to see content; this is just based on the structure of the sites as they stand.

What struck me immediately on going to the Kahrabtak website is that it looks just like Harassmap. Sure, the color scheme is different, but in a way that's like how going to different Tumblrs or MySpace pages is different: you still inevitably know what type of site it is. In this case, they are both implementations of the Ushahidi platform, which allows people to send text and email reports of the thing they are recorded, which is turned into visual data that includes the text of the report. Because they share a common platform, they share a structure and a lot of text. But this is all, on some level, just a generic trait: they're both Ushahidi platforms, so that level of textual similarity isn't necessarily meaningful.

There are a few relevant differences, though. Harassmap has links in the top pink sidebar to information about the platform, a set of links to organizations providing help and support to harassed women, and a place where people can go to volunteer to do street-level anti-sexual-harassment work in their neighborhoods. Kahrabtak, for its part, doesn't have any of that information. There are no links to the broader levels of social contestation over electricity shortages: not the "We Won't Pay" campaign of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, for example, or any other political action around outages. There's no background on who the people are who are involved in the project, and information about the structure it comes from. Instead, there is a line of text, which says that the project is to capture real-time data about both outages and the "misuse" ( سوء استخدام) of power.

This suggests two things about the different mapping projects:

1) Harassmap is located in an existing network of people taking political action around street harassment/sexual harassment. In fact, street harassment has been one of the central concerns of Egyptian feminism over perhaps the last five years, and Harassmap as a project is an outgrowth of a coalition of women's & feminist groups looking for new ways to talk about the project. Kahrabtak, on the other hand, is unlinked to any broader project. That doesn't mean that the people behind it aren't; the article where I learned about Kahrabtak mentions that the people involved are also a part of another website monitoring Morsi's presidency, with a background in activism. But none of this is explicit, ready to be read anywhere. Purely from the site, Kahrabtak appears sui generis.

2) Harassmap places the blame for sexual harassment on the harassers, and does not make any judgments about the harassee. In their form, there is no space to document what you were wearing or what the conditions were. Sometimes people write about these things in their freeform comments, but even if you were wearing a tank top and shorts at two in the morning your citation of sexual harassment is still implicitly valid. Kahrabtak, on the other hand, lists as one of its categories to report "street lamps on during the day," a sign of electricity wastage. They're interested both in where blackouts are, and whether somebody's done something nearby to overload the system. This isn't, precisely, victim blaming, in the same way that it would be if Harassmap collected data on where there were women in revealing clothing who were "asking for it." But this is a way of saying that the cause of the blackouts might be something that's reportable, that people could see and label.

Geography is different between the two maps, as well. The vast, vast majority of Harassmap's reports of harassment come from the greater Cairo area, with Alexandria next, and then the resort towns in Sinai. Although the largest single location of reports is within Cairo on Kahrabtak (not surprising, given that nearly a quarter of the residents of Egypt live in greater Cairo, and that we're looking at people who use the internet, which also means an urban/educated bias), it's not even a bare majority; most of the reports are in Upper Egypt, which is also, incidentally, where most of the demonstrations are.

Assuming that those who have the ability to report blackouts also have the ability to report sexual harassment, and vice versa, this suggests one of two things. First, we have more evidence that blackouts are a bigger problem in rural and Upper Egypt than in Cairo. This isn't terribly surprising, but here we see the data in a new way. The second issue is that different people who have the theoretical access to these tools will choose to participate in one of them and not another. That is, that Cairenes might be more willing to identify and counter sexual harassment than people elsewhere in Egypt, and that they might be complaining less about the effects of the blackout. (Middle-class Cairo, which is who is on these sites, went from annoyed to super mad when the Metro went down a few weeks ago. Qena and Sohag were already livid by that point.)

I don't have any conclusions yet, but there are two general thoughts swirling around this for me. 1) People make choices about what issues to take action on. The extent to which a given problem bothers them personally makes a big difference, but so also does what sort of agency and blame they assign for the existence of the problem to begin with. So probably some of these differences are traceable to how people variously define the issues of sexual harassment and electricity shortages. 2) Whether or not an issue is taken up by a stable, pre-existing coalition of political actors is not generally a determinant of whether or not there will be some form of policy adjustment to deal with the issue. However, it is an issue if you're going to be defining a constituency to lobby for future changes, or for inclusion into political processes; there needs to be a group there that can be mobilized deliberately, not just turn out into the streets in a rage every now and then. It's not clear yet whether a group can grab onto the electricity issue and use it to define a constituency the way that feminist groups have used harassment to define women's interests and women as a group.

*Disclaimer: I'm going to use the term "women" to refer to the victims of sexual harassment in this context, because of the way that gender ideologies and the gender binary work in Egypt; there isn't a defined way to talk about the street harassment of gender-nonconforming individuals within this framework, or to talk about the sexual harassment of men by other men or by women. As the issue is constructed in contemporary Egyptian politics, we're talking about men groping, touching, or catcalling women. Obviously in the world things can get more complicated, but this is the active framework on the ground right now.
ajnabieh: Happy woman with broom: FIGHT ALL THE OPPRESSIONS; same woman, dejected, "Fight ALL the oppresssions?" (ALL the oppressions?)
I am watching two political struggles going on today. The first is the attempt to get the New York State Senate to pass a bill allowing same-sex marriage. The second is the "Women 2 Drive" protest in Saudi Arabia, where dozens of women who hold international driver's licenses are driving in violation of the law. (Check the Twitter hashtag if you want to see what's going down right now, on 6/17.)

The differences here are obvious and striking. One is about negotiating within a highly fractious electoral public, and mobilizing constituent power for and against a political position that's at the center of ongoing debates. The other is about civil disobedience against an authoritarian government, in the hopes of mustering transnational support for a change in policy. But what I keep coming back to is that both of these struggles are about symbolic rights.

I support both these demands. In fact, I'm spending a lot of my time engaged in the one that's happening in my home state (*ahem*). And I think the Saudi protest is pretty amazing, considering precisely how hard it is to mobilize any action at all in KSA. By calling these "symbolic rights," I'm not trying to diminish the importance of the claim, nor the strength of those making it.

But the centrality of driving to Saudi women's protest is largely about its symbolic value. Of all the injustices that Saudi women cope with--an enforced dress code, highly segregated work opportunities, unequal access to marriage and divorce, etc--driving seems relatively minor by comparison. And yet, it isn't: it's a daily insult to their personhood that, despite being autonomous adults with responsibilities and roles in the world, they have to be driven around like ten year olds going to soccer practice. The symbolic injustice so rankles that it becomes a mobilizing force for change.

I feel similarly about marriage. Frankly, in the world where I am philosopher-king, there would be no state-recognized marriages. 'Marriage' would be a purely social bond, which people could enter into or not enter into as they saw fit, in whatever configurations they felt appropriate. Simultaneously, the state would allow people to formally establish family relationships (among couples raising children, friends collectively supporting each other, siblings caring for an elderly parent, etc) which would provide for legal rights such as hospital visitation, tax benefits for providing unpaid caring work, rights of survivorship, etc. Being 'married' would be one thing. Being a legal unit would be another.

I don't get to be philosopher-king, so that's not how it works. But, even in this world, marriage isn't the battle I would put first of all my queer rights. I'd rather we were fighting harder for non-discrimination legislation, for the inclusion of material on LGBT issues in educational institutions, to make it easier for trans people to legally transition, and for rights to adoption and parenthood. And, frankly, I am married--I've got the white dress and the credit card debt to prove it, and anybody who tries to tell me I'm not is both empirically wrong and a douche of epic proportions, as far as I'm concerned.

And yet, it rankles whenever I look at my "legal docs" file, and realize that I have to have a will, a power of attorney, a health care proxy, and a living will to give my wife the same rights that straight couples get merely for registering their relationship. It rankles when I say "my wife" and people respond "your partner." (No disrespect to the many same-sex and opposite-sex couples I know who use partner; I think it's a good word. It's just not mine.) And, yes, it rankles that if I were an infertile man, my name would be on my son's birth certificate as his father even though he was conceived with donor sperm, but because I'm a woman I had to drop thousands of dollars and collect letters of reference to earn the right to be his legal parent.

The insult to me, and to thousands of queers like and unlike me, is enough that it's worth fighting for. And the massive insult that the Republican caucus can't even decide to bring this to a vote--and that thousands of people are mobilized to condemn my relationship--well, that makes me want to get a big angry sign and go yell at somebody, long and loud.

The deep political insight here is the one that Axel Honneth makes so clearly in his work--that the vast majority of injustices that people experience are injustices based in misrecognition, the sense that something crucial and important about yourself is being disregarded, misinterpreted, or silenced in social interactions. And the more daily one is that disrespect is a key experience of being an oppressed group within a society. Symbolic victories are real, because they undo this disrespect, and counter with the sort of recognition that make societies possible.

So, yes, I'm cheering for the women in Saudi who are driving through the streets, and hoping for their safety. Yes, I'm dropping emails to state senators, bombarding my poor Facebook friends with action links, and endlessly refreshing New York 1's website. Because symbolic rights are rights nonetheless, and we all deserve them.

And you know if the law passes, my ass is getting married. Again.
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
Oddly, my recent posts are tending towards the ranty. I apologize for this.

I'm reading an interesting essay by Omar Barghouti, one of the leaders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. He published it in a collection of forward-thinking strategy essays written about "where to go from here" for the Palestinians in the post-Second Intifada period, published in 2006. (If anyone's interested, it's in the Journal of Palestine Studies, or I can send you the PDF.) It's a good history of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, which is good, because I'm in need of such a thing that I didn't cobble together off websites. (Note to all social movements ever: document, document, document. Please. Love, all social scientists and historians ever.)

But there's something he's saying that's making me itchy. He's saying that, with good reason, outsiders ask why there isn't a unified national leadership for the BDS movement. He outlines the reasons why the PLO, the PA, and the other relevant Palestinian political bodies are unsuited for this task, and calls for a broadly unified, representative body that could do this work. All well and good. However, he says:

"Where is your ANC [African National Congress]?" is a difficult and often sincere question that faced Palestinian boycott activists everywhere.


the PLO must be resuscitated and remodeled to embody the claims, creative energies, and national frameworks of the three main segments of the Palestinian people.

I read these quotes, and all I can think is:

You don't need a new PLO

You don't need a Palestinian ANC.


The Unified National Leadership of the Uprising managed to coordinate the entire first intifada with, basically, mimeograph machines and telephones. They wrote the text of pamphlets which determined Palestine-wide (and international) actions, including strike days, demonstrations, special women's activities--the thousands of small resistance actions, most of them nonviolent, that made up the intifada, and that made it one of the most shocking and, I'd argue, successful social movements of the 20th century. (I mean success very relatively here: the fear and shock of the intifada lead to the increasing opposition to continuing the occupation among the Israeli electorate, which eventually lead to the Oslo Accords...which lead to the expatriate PLO coming into political power, the dissolution of the political unity of the Palestinian people when faced with the problems of poor governing and little internal negotiation, the eventual collapse of the peace process, and now we're right back where we started, only a little bit worse. However, no matter what happened next, Oslo was a hell of a concession to win for a social movement.)

The PLO didn't direct the intifada. It was an expatriate organization, mainly; cut off by first the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (and Sinai, and the Golan) from Palestinian communities, and then ejected from first Jordan, and then Lebanon, by Israeli negotiation and military attacks, the PLO had almost no connections the Palestinians on the ground in the territories. While many Palestinians in the territories had allegiances to PLO-affiliated parties, like Fatah or the PFLP, they weren't bound to it in any clear way. The PLO couldn't have managed the intifada back then. It just wasn't there. The UNLU was a coalition of members of all political parties, on the ground, networked, with good alliances across the whole of Palestine, and able to operate under the radar of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Barghouti argues elsewhere that "Only the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, can theoretically claim to represent the entirety of the Palestinian people: inside historic Palestine and in exile." But the UNLU did this as well: its bayanat (pamphlets) were followed in towns, cities, and villages throughout Palestine, and are some of the most important discursive data we have for the first intifada. It make gestures towards representation, but more to the point, it was able to show its representativeness by getting results. People followed UNLU because they wanted to. And even if UNLU's members hadn't been arrested before the peace process, I doubt they would have ended up running the Palestinian state. That wasn't what they were there for. They were there to organize.

I wish I knew why UNLU has dropped out of our historical consciousness about the intifada. They organized a people with words alone, and helped totally change the politics of the end of the 20th century.

They also, IMHO, have the most badass name I've ever come across in Middle Eastern political history. I mean, come on: Unified National Leadership of the Uprising? Who doesn't want a piece of that action?

ajnabieh: Protesters in Times Square, holding a banner reading "New York To Gaza" in front of a neon McDonalds. (gaza)
CNN Billboard
Freedom Flotilla protest in Times Square, New York, 31 May 2010. The CNN electronic billboard reads "9 dead as Israeli forces storm Gaza aid convoy." The activist sign in front reads "Arrest Netanyahu for Piracy and Murder."

I'm certain by now everyone's heard about the Israeli Defense Forces boarding the ships of the Free Gaza Flotilla, killing at least nine, and as many as nineteen, of the activists bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza, as well as the diplomatic and political aftermath that's ongoing. It'll be a while before observers (like me and my ilk in the discipline of political science) have a real idea of what the political effects of this incident are going to be. But from my perspective as someone engaged in ongoing research on Palestine activism in New York, this is a time where things are in flux for these movements, and when politics could change for the better or worse.

I was shocked when I woke up Monday morning to a long stretch of emails and Facebook updates about the boarding and deaths. It wasn't that I didn't expect the IDF to stop the flotilla; it was that I didn't expect there to be violence of this magnitude. In particular, what's shocking about this raid is that it is internationals, and not Palestinians, who were killed; the reaction to these 20 deaths looks like the reaction to the Gaza bombardment, which killed over a thousand Palestinians and injured more. (There are shades here of Rachel Corrie's death, made more apparent by the fact that one of the boats in the Flotilla is named after her.) The different political value of different lives is never more apparent than at moments like this, no matter that the human value might be identical.

When I woke up Monday, New York's activist community was already mobilizing to organize an immediate response. A pro-flotilla demonstration had been planned for Tuesday afternoon, no matter what, but the issue was too urgent, and another was scheduled for Monday afternoon. Because this was a holiday in the US, people were able to attend an afternoon event. Because of the short notice, a parade permit couldn't be gotten; therefore, this was a 'sidewalk protest,' meaning that protesters had to stay on sidewalks, and could not obstruct the flow of traffic. Sidewalk protests are easier to run, because they don't require advanced police approval; however, they do run the slight risk of arrest for obstructing traffic or, really, annoying the police at all. But nothing of that type happened at this demo. Mostly, there was standing around with signs, passing out flyers (including this cartoon by Adalah-NY member Ethan Heitner) to passersby, and then a march to the Israeli Consulate.

I attended the protest in Times Square, along with at least eight hundred other people (the highest estimate I heard was 1200). This was a mass rally, drawing from all the diverse constituencies that make up the pro-Palestine, anti-occupation, anti-war and social justice movements in New York. In particular, it drew from both sides of the divide between borough-dwelling Arab immigrants, who tend to mobilize in mass organizations with explicitly Arab and/or Muslim identity politics, particularly in the organization Al-Awda, whose protests and events I've been attending for my research, and the more ideological Arab, Jewish, and other American activists, who organize in smaller social justice groups, such as Adalah-NY, the group where I've done the majority of my fieldwork. At moments of crisis like these, all members of these communities show up. However, as the week is progressing, different groups are diverging and starting to plan individual actions; it's only at the first moment of crisis that the pan-group unity can occur.

As always, I took my camera to the demonstration. Normally, most of my research photos are crap: I take them to judge the size of the crowd, and to record slogans on photographs, or remind me of important moments I want to document later. But this time, I managed to get some that strike me as worth sharing. So below, under the cuts, I'm going to do some analysis of the demo, and of some images I took there. Warning: photo-heavy.

Spectacular Spectacular: Times Square as Site )

Messaging )

Dressing For Demonstrations )

And one story. )

This is News
The central sign reads: "This Is News."

There was a protest on Tuesday I wasn't able to go to. There are others scheduled for this week, though I'm not sure how many I'll be able to get to. It's a bit odd to be a researcher at a time like this, thinking about a big picture that isn't on the table for most participants. But there's this feeling you get when you realize you've stumbled into a data goldmine, and I'm getting it right now.

More photos (really!) at my flickr set.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
I'm certain everyone and their mother has heard about Bil'in's Avatar-themed protest by now. It got coverage in the LA Times; for the geek community, it was posted on io9; for the Middle Eastern studies blogosphere, Ted Swedenburg posted on it. In other words, it's been talked about.

The event had a strange set of resonances for me. The first is that Adalah-NY, one of the groups that I'm doing fieldwork with right now, is closely involved in support for the village of Bil'in, which has been home to a long-running series of protests against the Israeli separation wall/separation barrier/apartheid wall (naming the object is highly contested--those are the three most common).

The second resonance is that I actually participated in a demonstration in Bil'in when I was in Palestine and Israel in 2005 for the International Conference of the Women in Black. Here, have some of my photos:


peace signs


Click through to see them larger, in more detail.

Whenever I see video of Bil'in, I'm immediately thrown back to that day--to the sense of routine that accompanied the demonstration, to the energy of the activists gradually ebbing away as we realized that there wasn't going to be a big symbolic event, to the American Jewish women arguing with the Israeli soldiers, to the dramatic ripping away of the barbed wire, to remembering my promise to my wife not to get teargassed (I'm asthmatic), so making sure to stay towards the back as villagers and IDF soliders began to play the eternal game of chicken that, I'm sure, ends most protests. It's a vivid set of memories, and I'm glad I have them. Plus, now, if anyone asks, yes, I got teargassed in the West Bank. (I was way far away. It still hurt.)

The third resonance is that, as those who know me outside of of the [personal profile] ajnabieh context know, when I'm not being passionate about the Middle East, political theory, or feminist politics, I'm being passionate about fandom. (Everyone needs a hobby. Especially when writing a dissertation.) This was one of those awesome collisions of my interests: you got your fandom in my Palestine activism! You got your Palestine activism in my fandom! In particular, what I like about this is how it uses the metaphor from a fictional text to make a non-fictional point. I made a similar point about the Tigh/Roslin '08 campaign in this essay for a special issue of FlowTV on Sarah Palin; when fictional media are complex enough to carry political resonances, we can use them to make arguments about our world, and do so in a way that's going to get attention and attract people who wouldn't otherwise care about what we're saying. Pop culture is a way for activism to bridge worlds, to communicate outside of its neck of the woods. Of course, this is what Adalah-NY does in its protests; if you're singing Beyonce, someone might listen to hear what you're saying about apartheid.

In any case, I'm not overly hopeful that this protest will be the crucial one that changes Bil'in's situation, but I'm very glad to see them getting press, and, at least, they'll never be bored.
ajnabieh: Sign for a store reading "Hot Chick." (hot chick)
The first semester I taught, I was the TA for a class on modern Indian history. It was fun to teach--I love South Asian politics, even if it's not my main focus--but the course was challenging; it was a being taught as a general-education requirement-fulfilling course to (mainly) students in art schools, students who hadn't taken a course that required reading and writing papers since high school. They were very smart, very talented, and totally lost.

Once, while we were talking about the Indian independence movement, a student came up to me after class. She'd be asked to write about protest art in another class, one of her design classes. And she asked me, "Has there ever been a social movement that had success?"

I was momentarily struck dumb, because I had no idea how to answer the question. In the end, I talked about how we don't code a single event as a movement, but the whole long stretch of repeated protest; it's not that you hold a march and automatically get something back from it, but that over years of campaigning via different methods a change is made. I named the American civil rights movement, the Indian independence movement, and the anti-apartheid movement as good examples of successes. And I briefly considered going to the graduate teaching assistant office and laying down with a washcloth on my head until the headache went away.

I'm thinking of this today because I spent my Saturday at a protest held by Adalah-NY, one of the groups I'm studying in my fieldwork right now. Adalah-NY has been around since 2006, and is probably the most prominent group working on the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement in the city, and one of the most prominent in the US. The protest was a part of their ongoing campaign encouraging the boycott of Lev Leviev, an Israeli diamond seller. (You can read about their campaign here.) This was the third annual Valentine's Day protest at Leviev's Upper East Side store.

There have certainly been successes in the Leviev campaign, from Adalah-NY's perspective, even if he isn't out of business yet. Their actions are ongoing. How have they not run out of energy to do this campaign? Why are they still going?

I've got the answer: because their protests are fun as hell.

Come on. Doesn't that look like a good time? Wouldn't you want to be a part of that party?

What much of social movement theory misses, in my opinion, is that protesting is fun. It's social. It's loud. There's a feeling of victory in it. There's a feeling of efficacy in it. And, if an organization is good at what they do, they make it fun. At this protest, we sang songs, we chanted chants, we drank cocoa that someone brought in a thermos, we hugged people we hadn't seen in weeks, we recorded dance numbers and diamond commercials. We enjoyed ourselves. Ideology, tactics, all of this--it matters incredibly for activist groups. But at the same time? I've spent my whole weekend singing "It's apartheid so you shouldn't put a ring on it/Occupation is a crime so you must end it."
ajnabieh: Protesters in Times Square, holding a banner reading "New York To Gaza" in front of a neon McDonalds. (gaza)
I apparently have picked up a few readers! It's good to have friends with friends. I had planned to post a book review today, but in light of the fact that I have readers, I thought I'd do something a little lighter, rather than start with inside baseball. (If you didn't see my intro post, it's here.)

I work on discourse, by which I mean the ideas, concepts, and frameworks we use to understand the world around us, define it, and interpret it. One of the primary means of analyzing discourse is to work on texts: speeches, conversations, written documents, etc. However, discourse doesn't just exist in words; it also exists in symbols, images, sounds, music, and other sorts of elements to the complex patterns of human interaction. If we want to understand discourse, I believe we have to approach it broadly, and look for discursive signs in multiple formats. This is part of the reason I'm an ethnographer: I want to get a full, holistic picture of the context for any sign used in a framework, rather than have to interpret it with a set of preexisting limits.

So I spend a lot of the time I'm out in public doing my fieldwork taking photographs. Generally, they are terrible as photographs. What I'm trying to do with them is collect data: to see what of the visual information at an event I can preserve for myself, later. I'm going to start posting some of these photos, occasionally, and talking about them, to demonstrate how one gets data out of images, and to start to untangle some of the complicated information in them. Hopefully this will be interesting!

So, let's start here:

Al-Awda Protest, 27 Dec 09

This photo was taken in the middle of a demonstration organized by Al-Awda, held on 27 December 2009. The demonstration was held on the first anniversary of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza (called by Israel 'Operation Cast Lead'--more info can be found here). By this point in the demonstration, we'd rallied for an hour at Times Square, and then marched, by a long and circuitous route, to stand outside the Israeli Consulate on 2nd Avenue and 43rd St. It was a Sunday; the Consulate is in a large office building, and no one appeared to be there. Al-Awda holds the largest pro-Palestinian demonstrations in New York; its base lies in two places, first, the Arab immigrant community of Bay Ridge (and other Arab immigrant communities in the city) and, second, in the radical-left community, including the International Action Center (home to the ANSWER Coalition, which you may have heard of).

This photo is dominated by protest signs (though, between two of them, you can see a woman speaking on the stage at the front of the demo). Before we get to the actual signs themselves, I want to point out something about them--all but one of them are professionally printed. Central printing and organization of signs means several things. First: a group with a budget, resources, and time to plan their actions. Second: a group that wants to have some control over the message they send out. There's a desire to present a unified narrative of the action, and to put that narrative in the hands of as many people as possible.

Now let's actually look at the signs, starting with the one at the center of the frame. In addition to the name and contact information for the organization, there is a large graphic and then a slogan in bold print. We'll start with the image. The fist raised in struggle (hey, look, it's got a wikipedia page) is a sign that dates back at least to the black power movement (note what percentages of the images in a Google Images search for"black power" feature the fist, either as a graphic or as an action) and is used by revolutionary movements worldwide. The image behind the fist, if you don't recognize it, is a map of what's usually called "historic Palestine," meaning the territory ruled as Palestine under the British mandate, which is roughly contiguous with the territories now known as the state of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Historic Palestine is rendered in the colors and pattern of the Palestinian national flag; this symbolism here is not subtle.

The fist clutches a large key, which is the most complicated sign in the image; let me back up and take it from the top. This is a reference to the departure of Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 war between the nascent state of Israel and its neighboring states, who objected to the terms of its formation. Many Palestinians left their homes, either because of direct violence by representatives of the new Israeli state, because of fear of that violence, or because they were anxious about the situation. Many, if not all, believed that they would shortly be able to return to their homes, and, in general, brought few of their belongings, including their house keys, planning on returning back home in a few weeks. However, for those who had lived within the area that Israeli forces seized at the end of the war, they were not allowed to return, and were not compensated for their land or possessions. The key here symbolizes the desire of Palestinians to return to their homes and land within what is now the state of Israel; in fact, the name of the organization holding this rally is Al-Awda, which means "return" in Arabic (you can see it written in small print on the wrist in the image). The image of the key is repeated in the sign to the right of this central sign, where we see a photograph of an old man holding a key with the text "The Palestinian people have the right to return!"

The text beneath the image reads "Free Palestine from the River to the Sea." (The 'river' in question is the Jordan; the 'sea' the Mediterranean.) This is a common invocation. "From the river to the sea" is a way of referencing "Historic Palestine with easy geographical markers. It's also remarkably easy to rhyme in English; a major chant used at all sorts of protests goes "From the river to the sea/Palestine will be free." By referring to all this territory as Palestine, the sign makes a clear statement against the legitimacy of the state of Israel; Palestine needs to be free, and it isn't because it is Israel.

Stepping away from this sign, I want to point very briefly to a few of the other things we see going on in this picture. First, the other signs; the other one about return is by the Break the Siege on Gaza coalition, whose largest member is Al-Awda; the two groups are basically contiguous. The "End all U.$. Aid to Racist Israel" sign is from the International Action Center, though you can't read the name well. The hand-written sign in the upper left, which was a large illustrated sign, also has another organizational URL written on it (you can see just the end). The existence of these other signs, with other messages on them, are designed to gesture to a broader coalition of groups; having multiple identifications suggests that the group objecting to the decision isn't either one single (dismissible) organization or the two hundred (unusual) people who are standing with the signs, but instead a larger, amorphous, and potentially more powerful grouping with multiple bases. The messaging on all these signs, however, is remarkably congruent, which suggests either that the protest was collectively planned by all the groups, who decided on joint messaging, or that the groups share political perspectives fairly tightly.

Looking at the picture, what strikes me as someone who was at the rally is the amount of data that is missing. I only see one woman in hijab, who is also the only person in frame (in addition to the woman on stage) wearing a kuffiyeh, but this strikes me as an atypical frame; I'd say there wre probably 20-30 women, including teenage girls, wearing hijab at the demonstration (which probably had 200-250 people), and at least 50 people wearing kuffiyehs or kuffiyeh print. (If you don't know much about the kuffiyeh, Ted Swedenberg is an anthropologist studying its dispersion into American pop culture; here is an article where he talks about them. In this context, they're being worn as a sign of solidarity with Palestinian resistance movements.)

And, of course, there's all the non-visual data that's being missed: the attention of the passersby to our spectacle; the mutter of people talking to each other while, on stage, speakers yell into microphones; the endless rhythmic procession of an entire mass of people chanting along. You can't tell that many of these signs had been used at another demo six months before; you can't tell that the speakers belong to the same set of groups; you can't get the sense that the crowd has all been here and done this before. While using images to collect data is important, they can't be read alone, or without attention to what's missing or invisible in them.


ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

March 2016

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