Sunday, October 19, 2008

Because All Our Love Matters: State Economic Violence and the Beauty of Survival

First National Congress of Mothers: Address of Welcome, Mrs. Theodore W. Birney (1897)
Conference on the Care of Dependent Children: Call for the Conference, Theodore Roosevelt (1908)
Social Security Act of 1935: Title IV-Grants for Sate Aid to Dependent Children (1935)
Social Security Act Amendments of 1939: Old Age and Survivors Insurance Benefit Payments (1939)
"Cleveland Sends 9 Negroes South" New York Times, June 9, (1956)
Illegitimacy and Its Impact on the Aid to Dependent Children Program, Bureau of Public Assistance, (1960)
The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, Daniel P. Moynihan (1965)
"Woman Battles Sterilization Ruling," Harry Trimborn Los Angeles Times, May 31 (1966)
"47 More Negroes Held in Carolina," James T. Wooten, New York Times, November 13 (1968)
Dandridge vs. Williams, Supreme Court (1970)
"Welfare is a Women's Issue," Johnnie Tillmon (1972)
"States Abortion Law Helps Reduce Welfare Costs," Oakland Tribune, (1972)
Hearings on Health Care and Human Experimentation, Niel Ruth Cox (1973)
"Funding Sterilization and Abortion for the Poor," Sheila M. Rothman (1975)
"State of the Union Address," Gerald Ford (1976)
"Restoring the Traditional Black Family," Eleanor Holmes Norton (1985)
(All of the above can be found in Welfare: A Documentary History by Gwendolyn Mink and Rickie Solinger)
Welfare's End, Gwendolyn Mink, (1998)
Still Lifting, Still Climbing: African American Women's Contemporary Activism, Kimberly Spinger ed., 1999
"Vision Statement", National Black Women's Health Project
"'Triple Jeopardy': Black Women and the Growth of Feminist Consciousness in SNCC, 1964-1975," Kristin Anderson-Bricker
"'Necessity Was the Midwife of Our Politics': Black Women's Health Activism in the 'Post'-Civil RIghts Era (1980-1996), Deborah R. Grayson
Beggars and Choosers: How the Politics of Choice Shapes Adoption, Abortion and Welfare in the United States, Rickie Solinger, (2001)
Soul Talk, Gloria Hull (2001)
Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement, Jennifer Nelson (2003)
The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women's Struggles Against Urban Inequality, Rhonda Y. Williams, 2004 (and props to Rhonda for suggesting most of this reading list)
Faubourg Treme (

and especially
Prisons as a Tool for Reproductive Oppression: Cross-Movement Strategies for Gender Justice
Remarks of Gabriel Arkles from Sylvia Rivera Law Project on panel at CR10, 9/27/08

let me start with an excerpt from an email I wrote the other night:

predictably, becoming a 48 hour expert on welfare in the US has made me really really angry.

it's crazy how brutal and extreme the implications of US welfare policy are. the whole set of laws and the political speeches that endorse them are written to make black motherhood a crime and to make the production or sustenance of black life false value, unvalue, negative possibility.

like the federal government funding sterilizations at a 90% rate and abortions only at the rates that the states do (so at the most 50% in the 1970's

or this woman literally going in to jail because she refused to undergo a sterilization she was sentenced to in court for the minor charge or being in a room where she knew marijuana was being consumed.

never meant to survive. never even meant to be born.

but then the miraculous thing is how we keep doing both those things anyway, persistently reborn regardless...

like Martha Benton a black mother who as the leader of a second generation of black women organizing for their right to public housing in Baltimore says of her mentor Goldie Baker "I am her creation."

and like the sisters at what was National Black Women's Health Project and Sister Care and other sustainable health collectives for black women saying "necessity was the midwife of our politics"

and like the women who founded the Georgia Hunger Coalition who I literally saw chant down the evil EBT/food stamp policy makers at the Jimmy Carter Library when I was 18

and like Rosemarie Mitchell at Low Income Families Fighting Together who told me last weekend that her 7 years working for LIFFT is the pursuit of happiness made real even though she cries late at night sometimes

or like Paul Newman, one of my students/adopted siblings who read a poem to a crowd tonight while shaking from nervousness and the chill in the air about how the school to prison pipeline is doing everything to steal his life but how he's a superhero so it can't destroy him.

So anyway. I'm gonna be here tonight writing about it.

because all our love matters,

All our love matters. Neoliberalism be damned.
My reading up on welfare policy and politics in the United States has me wishing I was reading slave code instead.

We have all heard the myth of the welfare queen, having babies 5 or 6 IN ORDER to be poor enough to steal assistance from the government. Some of us have heard that myth over and over again for decades. That is the myth that allowed politicians (most notably Reagan and Clinton) to screw over poor women and children of all races in the United States over by dismantling welfare piece by piece. Somehow repetition got voters to believe that most of the people on welfare to believe that some scandalous black woman with a brood of kids was the typical welfare recipient. To forget that most of the people on welfare have always been white and that (according to the Bureau of Public Assistance itself) only half of one percent of mothers on welfare even have more than 5 kids. And, according to government stats again, most mothers on welfare don't have any kids while they are on welfare and the overwhelming majority of mothers on welfare only have one or 2 kids at all.

But somehow we are all told this story. Poor black young women have kids to cheat money from the US government. Which means that poor black children (and poor children generally) are not only worthless, they create negative value and negative values at the same time. How dare these black women pretend tha the lives of their children are valuable enough to make their survival a community concern. The nerve.

Of course we are hearing the same story about the children of immigrants now. People are coming to the United States to have their children in order to steal benefits, cheating into a citizenship that was never meant to value the lives of the children of those forom the countries that the United States destablizes for economic gain.

This mundane every day set of racist stories teaches, and makes normal the most deadly, inhumane and disgusting lie that has ever been told:

Some lives are worth less than nothing. At birth.

Which of course means, some people should be prevented from being born.

If the denial of benefits to children in need wasn't disgusting enough to someone reading this, please remember that these policies are in bed next to the targeted prevention of certain people's lives from the outset. Gary Bauer, chief aide to Ronald Reagan (who by the way along with all of his other crimes against humanity Reagan is the person who coined the term "welfare queen") blamed the "reckless choices" of poor women who had children the cause of an apocalypse "There will either be no next generation, or there will be a generation that is worse than none at all." Representative E. Clay Shaw of Florida agreed arguing that poor women be sterilized "when they start having these babies one after another, and the terrible thing they are doing to the next generation...something has got to be done to put a stop to it."

What does that mean? "Worse than no generation at all." Whose life is worse than the absence of life on the planet? What does it mean to prefer the end of humanity to a future in which the children of poor women exist?

And everything possible was done. When Georgia and North Carolina and Florida et al failed to make compulsory sterilization a requirement for women receiving welfare, California led the move, first a jusdge sentences a woman on welfare to sterilization for a minor infraction. And the federal goverment when slick institutional violence style, using imbalanced funding to make sterilization more accessible to poor women than abortion. (see Funding Sterlization and Poor Women citation above---i wish it was just a conspiracy theory, but it's not.)

And reading all of this, I was sickened, but not surprised. As Gabriel Arkles points out prisons have an explicit policy to govern the lives of transgendered prisoners in order to "prevent pregnancy" and we know that women who give birth in prison are often sterilized at the moment they give birth under anesthesia and very shady "consent" circumstances. The state, especially a state that has sold itself to neoliberal capitalism has every reason to prevent some folks from being born, some folks from parenting...because the values we create say life is everything, and all life is priceless, our autonomy of when and how we parent is ours, because we, queer, racialized, poor, immigrant radical parents and queer, racialized poor immigrant radical youth are creating a world that is valuable without the sale of people and the enforcement of really bad ideas.

And we are born and reborn again and again. So Bauer and Shaw and so many others are afraid of the world that we ARE creating...with our youth and our rebirth and our literal birth and all the other forms of our creativity.

Be scared. Shit.

Because we are born and birthing and just these past couple of weeks I met some amazing midwives of color like Ayanfe and Anjali and some amazing mamas of color and some amazing youth of color and especially some amazing organizers committed to survival, which is the resounding counter message that our lives mean everything

because all our love matters.


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