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Let the backlash begin.

More and more “articles” seem to be popping up opposing SlutWalk. You get the typical Fox News conservatives, right-wing bloggers, and proud anti-feminist women who miss the point completely. I can understand the argument that the term “slut” is problematic and people may not want to identify with it; however, about five minutes of research on any official SlutWalk website will explain why the term was chosen — it was taken right from the mouth of a victim-blaming police officer. There’s the misconception that SlutWalk is about dressing as scantily as possible; in reality, the wardrobe of protestors gets the least attention from those who are actually involved. Despite preconceptions, there’s absolutely no dress code for SlutWalk — the whole point is that the label “slut” is what others use to describe women, and that therefore being a slut cannot be defined by what type of clothes you wear or any other choices — only misogynistic point of views. So why not reclaim the word and say that we’re all sluts, regardless of attire, gender, nationality, age, or anything else? I tend to think it’s quite empowering, both for victims and allies working in solidarity. Sure, the message is radical and unpleasant to some — so is the harsh reality of the treatment of sexual assault victims.

So the articles are one thing. I tend to ignore them because, as of yet, any time I have actually looked into the opposition’s statement, it always goes a little something like “I agree that rape is always bad, but, [insert victim-blaming, sexist and/or judgemental rhetoric in here].” As a victim, this type of shit gets me mad real fast, not to mention sometimes boarders on triggering.

However, now the opposition’s rhetoric has begun to sink into my facebook newsfeed, meaning it’s less avoidable. I feel a certain responsibility to defend SlutWalk to friends or mutual friends since I’m helping to organize the marketing campaign for SlutWalk Chicago (June 4th, y’all!). And unfortunately, now I’ve come face to face with the fact that people are still ignorant as fuck.

I guess it still baffles me that people aren’t as educated about rape as I am. Then again, I’ve had the privilege of a college education at a notoriously liberal school, as well as the privilege of being a self-identified feminist since the age of 14. It doesn’t take being a victim to know that rape is all-too common. Every two minutes, someone in America is raped. One-in-four college-aged women will be sexually assaulted, making this issue especially relevant to my peers. Most rapists (15 out of 16, in fact) will never spend a day in jail. And also, police are often completely unsympathetic or unwilling to help victims of sexual assault. Case in point: I’ve been waiting for my rape kit results for seven months, and haven’t heard from my detective in five. While tons of friends, family, teachers, etc etc etc, have been supportive of me in the wake of my assault, no one in the position of authority has been cooperative in bringing my perpetrator to justice.

And I’m supposed to believe that this is my fault, somehow? That I’m not doing enough to prosecute him? That I didn’t do enough to stop my own rape in the first place?

One news article that’s started a recent facebook status debate that’s got me pulling my hair out states, “The attitude that rape victims bring it on themselves has largely (though not entirely) disappeared from mainstream society. When a Manitoba judge recently blamed the victim in a rape case for leading her attacker on, he was universally ridiculed. Everybody was amazed that any judge today would be so ignorant.” The sad truth is (other than the fact that this article is written by a clearly self-loathing woman) that this isn’t true. Rape occurs so often, if only it were possible for everyone to be universally ridiculed for their victim-blaming comments! And wouldn’t it be AWESOME if the amount of judges putting a rapist behind bars was proportionate to popular attitude against rape? Hell, lady, with such statements as “[N]o fewer than 62 per cent of female students say they’ve been sexually harassed at university – a figure that is credible only if you include every incident of being groped by some 20-year-old drunk,” you have to wonder where all these ridiculous victim-blaming attitudes have gone off to — oh wait, that’s right, they’re ingrained into how our fucking society views women, and you think you’re some great exception, right? In the same breath as you both undermine rape statistics and basically state that interpreting groping as sexual assault is overreacting. RIGHT! Victim-blaming attitudes have TOTALLY disappeared from mainstream society! (Hint: no they fucking haven’t, what a giant hypocrite.) As pro-wrestler Mick Foley would say, “The world gets an F in their treatment of women, but we’re getting a C-minus and we’re bragging about it.”

I wish people would just shut the fuck up about bashing SlutWalk already. It’s a protest to end RAPE, for god’s sake, don’t you want to fucking END RAPE? Okay, okay, so you think it’s morally irrephensible for women to be half naked in public… okay, fine, whatever, the cordgial invitation to the 21st century is still here, but seriously… what the fuck are you actually trying to say? Seems to me that most of the opposition to SlutWalk is either unwilling to do five seconds of research or completely, blatantly sexist. And if that’s the case, I guess I don’t want you on my team anyway.

It just seems silly to me… shouldn’t everyone be universally for the cause of ending rape? Isn’t it far more immoral to prefer that no one take any action against rape than to dress like a “slut?”

I guess this is why I’ve been avoiding the backlash for so long. It just doesn’t make any fucking sense, and if it doesn’t make any sense, it can’t be worth much of my time. All I’m saying is, before you write your poorly researched editorial or blogpost about why SlutWalk is counter-productive, do five minutes of research on the statistics of rape. I can guarantee that someone close to you has been assaulted. Why don’t you ask someone in your life what happened in the aftermath of their assault? How about reaching out to people with love, understanding, and compassion, instead of judgement, for once in your life?

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How many times have you heard a guy say this: “Women like you better when you treat them like shit.” Or: “I never get the girls I like because I’m too nice.” Or: “I’m a functioning alcoholic, and a complete asshole. Let’s date?” Okay, maybe that last one isn’t so popular (outside of my world, at least) but really, now, I’m sure all of us have heard the first two from multiple sources, usually men fresh from a break-up or another form of rejection. Really, it’s surprising that, being as gung-ho about gender equality as I am, that I’ve known so many men so eager to explain this rational to me.

The fact that many men categorize themselves/their behaviors toward dating women, unconsciously or not, as being “bad boys” or “nice guys” speaks less to the idea that women actively seek out men of either types and more to how society views women. “Bad boys” treat women like shit because they’re either to subdued or too stupid to know any better, while “nice guys” treat women well and get dumped because women are sex-starved bitches who do better when they’re treated like objects or children. Never does it cross their minds that they may not be treating their partner with respect. To avoid making sweeping generalizations as much as possible (since, after all, it’s these types of generalizations about women that really piss me off), it seems like, all too often, these guys are one in the same. These men never recognize or admit to their own flaws when it comes to dating; when a woman leaves, it’s always because “all women are whores,” “all women are bitches,” etc etc etc, instead of “maybe she has her reasons.” It’s always the “nice guys” claiming that women get turned on by being treated disrespectfully. Turns out they’re not really “nice guys” at all.

Now, again, this is with avoiding generalizations. As WhatEmbersConsume, a self-proclaimed “former Nice Guy,” points out, there are key differences between “nice guys” and “nice people.” A “nice person” will genuinely care about you, but also respect your boundaries and limits, and take responsibility for their faults and actions. On the flip side, here’s a few tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with a “Nice Guy:”

  • Often clingly.  May ask you far too frequently where you are, who you are with, what you are doing, etc. out of a supposed regard for your safety.  In reality, the Nice Guy™ wants to know where you are because he wants to keep tabs on you, like any other one of his possessions.
  • Easily prone to jealousy.  Doesn’t like you hanging around other people of your preferred gender and age group (or even your friends outside of your preferred gender).  This is because he is afraid of loosing you.
  • Will likely be upset when you try to put up healthy boundaries when it comes to personal time, space, etc.
  • Will often want to get involved with your family/friends as soon as possible if you have a good relationship with them.  This is because he thinks – subconsciously or not – that if he forges relationships with those close with you it will be harder for you to break things off.  The same goes for the reverse of this: he will likely want you to meet his friends and family for the same reason.
  • Will often talk about how important you are to him, how he couldn’t live without you, etc. especially as things get more serious.  He either really believes this, in which case it is because he has become dependent on the ideal of you; or is deliberately using it to manipulate you emotionally.
  • Will affirm you/praise you for your physical characteristics and accomplishments.  This is because these are the only things he cares about: things that others will notice and things that he can take advantage of.
  • Easily put off by arguments; not inclined to initiate serious conversations.  This is because he views differences between you two as freedom from him he does not want you to have.
  • Is not willing for you two to be anything less than he wants you to be.  If you maintain your boundaries, he will hightail it out of your life or seek revenge.
  • Will try to make you feel special.
  • Will never admit to making mistakes unless you threaten him with something.  He is always right, and even if your threats get him to concede that with words he will maintain that he was right in his own mind.

Looking over this list really startled me, because not only did it remind me of dating patterns I’ve witnessed, but also those my friends and I have experienced first hand–more than once.  And, what’s even scarier, is this lists’ similarity to that of an abusive relationship.  In fact, many abusive relationships–physically, emotionally, verbally, or otherwise–start off in the realm of the self-proclaimed Nice Guy and get that much more extreme as possessiveness worsens. The fact that so many men self-identify as “nice guys” is quite startling–even the OP recognized this trend in his dating choices (although he claims to be reformed now–we shall see).

So what’s the fucking deal? Why do so many men equate possessive behavior to genuinely caring? And why do so many guys think that they can’t get a date because they’re “too nice” when really they completely fail at seeing a woman as a human person with autonomous feelings and decision making capabilities?

It makes me really sad, to be honest. Some of these guys have serious issues.  This type of misogyny can often be a product or a side effect of other problems such as alcoholism, poor self-esteem, post traumatic stress disorder, or other serious mental/emotional limitations. Really, who’s to blame? The guy who thinks he’s supposed to treat women like shit, or the culture that says if he doesn’t manipulate her into submission, he’s not masculine enough?

Either way, it’s not an issue to brush over, and what’s most important is who this outlook affects the most—women.  Ladies, how many times have guys tried to guilt into dates, sex, or staying in a relationship, just because someone was “nice” to you? Probably a lot. Probably all the time. And chances are, when you reject these guys, it’s probably not pretty. He probably gets mad. He might use misogynistic language to describe you, like “bitch,” “cunt,” or “whore,” whether it’s to your face or behind your back. And a lot of times, he probably won’t back down after the first rejection.

What’s most important is to remember that you have control over your body and decisions first—no one else. I know a lot of times it doesn’t feel that way, but we must keep reminding ourselves. By owning ourselves first, before any ideas or cultural standards, we are taking a giant step against oppression every day. Don’t let anyone tell you whether or not they’re a “nice guy”—leave that to your own judgement calls.

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Yesterday I was browsing through GrrrlVirus, or maybe it was another of the other riot grrrl revival blogs I’ve been getting into lately, reading about SlutWalk Chicago.  My friend, Evan, glanced at my computer screen and asked, half-laughing, “SlutWalk Chicago? What’s that?”

I turned to look at him, thinking for a second how to best explain what the fuck I was doing, and finally said “Um… it’s a protest against rape culture.” He stopped smiling. I guess the seriousness of the message of SlutWalk is not an uplifting thing, despite the fact that it is fun enough to be approachable.

For a while now, I’ve been watching the GrrrlVirus community. I actually first heard about this whole riot grrrl revival phenomenon when a poem and non-fiction essay I wrote were published by Clementine Cannibal in her zine, “I Knew A Motherfucker Like You And She Said…” The zine itself impressed me–two volumes full of writing and art by women about their experience as a woman–and when my copy arrived, it came in an envelope stuffed with small flyers that looked like this:

or:

However, GrrrlVirus has never solely been organized long-distance, through exchanging zines and reading blogs.  They have always been about inspiring feminists to get together on a local level and organize their own protests and events.  There’s even GrrrlVirus international, which is having a meet-up in Germany in October. The most widespread and easy way to participate in the movement is by real-life “reblogging,” that is, taking these images and flyers and posting them up around your neighborhood. Instead of looking for feminist companionship in college gender studies courses or non-existant local political organizations, the idea is to go to the streets to spread ideas and find other like-minded people.

But I digress. GrrrlVirus is a great idea that’s quickly spreading, and there’s also a lot of other riot grrrl zines and organizations coming out of the woodwork now, but this sudden surge is all because of SlutWalk.  While SlutWalk, at first, may sound like a good way to see a lot of women dressed sexy with protest signs (and I’m not gonna pretend like there aren’t a ton of pictures of scantily-clad hipsters and crust punks floating around the internet that I adore), it is not just a sexual parade.  In fact, the entire point of the protest is to bring attention to the fact that simply being woman, or a man, or dressed a certain way, or religious or not, or anything else is not an invitation to be raped–rape is the exact opposite of accepting an invitation. In Toronto this past January, a police officer gave this statement at a campus safety seminar: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” So, a bunch of GrrrlVirus grrrls and other feminists got together in Toronto and decided to protest against this idea.  While it may not be an act of defiance against legislation, the importance is not to be understated—rape is the oldest tool of oppression and dehumanization, and it is disgusting that victims still carry blame for these crimes, even if it’s on a purely cultural or ideological level, because it’s these misogynistic opinions that allow women to still be raped, and even our laws and actions against rape are subject to this, first, before subjectivity of the law.

The fact that a police officer can walk into a room full of women and tell them the best way to protect themselves is to dress the way he thinks is appropriate is the symptom of a much larger problem. Outside the context of SlutWalk, it may seem silly to go out into the streets and picket against “rape.” Of course everyone hates rape! Yelling on the street about how much you hate rape isn’t going to stop it. All protests against rape or domestic violence that I’ve been apart of have always been more about providing comfort and community to survivors and their families–something that is equally valuable, but not the same as SlutWalk.  From their website:

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. … We want to feel that we will be respected and protected should we ever need them, but more importantly be certain that those charged with our safety have a true understanding of what it is to be a survivor of sexual assault — slut or otherwise.

So the people in Toronto got together and made a fucking statement. And the next thing you know, SlutWalks start popping up all over the world—New Zealand, Poland, London, all over Canada, Seattle, San Diego, Boston, Detroit, and, now I’ve caught wind, Chicago. Needless to say I contacted the person who made the blog immediately about how to get involved, and you should too, or start one in your town.

Despite the fact that the subject matter of this protest, and the experiences of rape, are not to be taken lightly, the reason I’m so excited about SlutWalk is because it’s an opportunity for feminists to organize together and make a statement about something, and not only that, but to call attention to a part of society that we do have the power to immediately change–how we respect and view women. The fact that this is all happening so quickly and on such a large scale is amazing. The potential for a global movement exists, as long as people continue to organize.

The most beautiful thing about it, though, is that SlutWalk is for everyone.

 

 

 

 

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INTRODUCTION

In the late 60’s, Detroit was a hotbed in the militant and logistical struggle of the Civil Rights Movement.  In the summer of 1967, race riots erupted and destroyed much of the already declining downtown area; with an increase in white flight and a focus on property taxes, the city continued in a trend of segregation that would persist to the present day, leaving poor blacks in the half-destroyed urban areas while white people moved to the prospering suburbs; in the 70’s, defacto regulations would keep ethnic minorities from access to public schools and suburban homes helping to cement rigid lines between white and black communities.

Through all this, The White Panther Party formed in the burgeoning local music and art scene of Cass Corridor.  Headed by John Sinclair, it was an effort to create an alliance with The Black Panther Party, formed in response to Huey P. Newton’s call for white allies to form a White Panther Party.  But unlike the BPP, the WPP focus was on revolution through cultural uprise, spearheaded by the legendary punk rock band, the MC5; like the Black Panthers, they also heavily endorsed violence as a method of destroying existing structures, but sought an anarchist—rather than communist—society at their formation.  Despite the MC5’s anti-consumerist influence on rock music, their association with the WPP is little recognized, with good reason—the MC5’s relationship with the White Panthers was more akin to The Velvet Underground’s relationship with Andy Warhol and The Factory, and later band member Wayne Kramer would admit, “Literally the plan was to win over Sinclair then we’ll win over the hippies and then we will be big stars! It was all about stardom as the motivating force” (Bartkowiak, 379).  Since The White Panther’s focus was on changing cultural views through music and publication, they had no effect on the legally institutionalized racism and defacto segregation taking place in Detroit and Metro-Detroit; instead of petitioning alongside Black Panthers for fair access to public education and housing, they called for a  rock n’ roll revolution.  Although they achieved some minor and unintentional victories, The White Panthers would fail as an ally group, not for lack of trying, but for lack of concrete political ideology in application.

THE RACIAL & CULTURAL CLIMATE OF DETROIT, ’67-75

In the 1970’s, the Michigan officials appealed to the Supreme Court in a case involving the desegregation of Detroit Public Schools, “so long as Detroit schools are desegregated fully within their boundaries the city [public school] system can lawfully remain predominantly black (currently about 65 percent) while surrounded by largely white (approximately 80 percent) school districts” (Recent Court Decisions 103).  Detroit had become stuck in the middle of national controversy as the city battled desegregation laws in favor of creating safe bussing, fearing racially fueled attacks between students.  Due to an increase in white flight to the suburbs in the 1950’s, when the white population of Detroit dropped by 23% (The Detroit Riots of 1967), only further agitated by the Twelfth Street Riots in ’67, a defacto segregated Detroit emerged, creating a decaying urban area of poor blacks surrounded by mostly affluent white suburbs.  Because of public education funding being based on local property taxes, conditions of schools in white and black neighborhoods reflected conditions similar to segregated schools in Jim Crow south.  The riots only heightened a fear and hatred between whites and blacks; a stark physical and socioeconomic separation would cement their perceived differences and keep ethnic groups mostly separated to the present day.

The riots on Twelfth Street in ’67 were the result of an accumulation of many social and economic factors, and also marked a turning point in Detroit’s already declining position of national influence as the self-proclaimed Arsenal of Democracy.  Conditions for black residents of Detroit were charged with racism; the number one issue concerning residents was police brutality (The Detroit Riots of 1967).  Black residents in the Twelfth Street neighborhood would be subject to random ID checks resulting in unlawful arrests and beatings.  Treatment like this across America would be the reason for the rise of black militancy and nationalism in the 1960’s; however, The WPP would form a year after the race riots broke out after the police attacks against white protesters in the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  Detroit would be left in shambles, with forty-three dead, five hundred injured, thousands of arrests, and two thousand buildings burned down (Kerner Commission).  John Sinclair, already active in the underground community through publishing Fifth Estate and creating the National Underground Syndicate, would try to reconcile the demise of a once much more vibrant city with a strong empathy for black citizens by forming a political organization that promoted violence through culture, not practice.  Despite The White Panthers’ success in creating an artistic community where “music is the revolution and the guitar is the gun” (The White Panther Party Archives), they did little to impact the developing apartheid in Detroit.

Perhaps within the context of the political climate of The Black Panther Party of the 1960’& 70’s, The White Panthers are far more relevant and important to the causes of the BPP than at first glance.  Although the BPP placed much emphasis on grassroots efforts in black communities, they also recognized the value of the now-burgeoning news media, and sought not only to utilize music reaching the public, but to recreate the image of a black man outside of the racist Jim Crow images that had persisted for so long.  But instead of creating an image of a black human equal to all, a new type of caricature arose—one that both “inspired and mimicked popular blaxploitation films of the time” (Myrick 71).  In addition, due to their emphasis on violence as a means of revolution (unlike many other non-violent activists of the time who were allowed much more unbiased air time), The Black Panthers came to be associated as the driving force behind many of the race riots that erupted during this time period; the public image of the BPP was less like a legitimate political organization and more similar to the street gangs that would eventually evolve out of hip-hop culture in the 1970’s.  The White Panther Party recognized this unfair representation and the growing relationship between capitalist consumerism and control of mass media and sought to assault this emerging culture through creating their own subculture, as can be seen through a comparison of the party’s 10 point program:

1. Full endorsement and support of Black Panther Party’s 10-Point Program.

2. Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock ’n’ roll, dope and fucking in the streets.

3. Free exchange of energy and materials — we demand the end of money!

4. Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care — everything free for everybody!

5. Free access to information media — free the technology from the greed creeps!

6. Free time and space for all humans — dissolve all unnatural boundaries.

7. Free all schools and all structures from corporate rule — turn the buildings over to the people at once!

8. Free all prisoners everywhere — they are our brothers.

9. Free all soldiers at once — no more conscripted armies.

10. Free the people from their “leaders” — leaders suck — all power to all the people! Freedom means free everyone!  (Sinclair)

Unlike The Black Panthers, who laid out their ten points with detailed reasoning and explanation and made an explicit focus on efforts within black communities, The White Panthers ten points are openly arrogant and degenerate, appealing to punk and rock n’ roll sensibilities of anarchy when not vaguely echoing the points of the BPP. Along with the 10 points, John Sinclair wrote a disclaiming introduction—an open letter to the people—which, in its very first sentence, notes “Our program is Cultural Revolution through a total assault on culture … Our culture, our art, the music, newspapers, books, posters, our clothing, our homes, the way we walk and talk, the way our hair grows, the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep — it is all one message, and the message is FREEDOM!” (Sinclair). The failure of The White Panthers at their on-set can be attributed to their success in creating a strong alternative scene in Detroit that was heavily influenced by anarchist politics, rather than grassroots socialism as The Black Panthers exemplified.  The result was instead two very different organizations with different views that complimented more often than contradicted each other, but failed to create the revolution they both deeply desired and saw as necessary to creating true equality.

Although the WPP attempt and success at creating a vibrant underground counterculture may seem trivial, they recognized that trying to work with mass media could not be successful in getting their true political message out.  Some white activists, such as Abbie Hoffman of the Yippies, were able to successfully use media for their cause, but their sympathy with The Black Panthers would be completely loss during broadcast in favor of the spectacle of their organization (Chicago 10). In Detroit, those who participated in the ’67 riots would be referred to as “black nationalists” in all the newspapers, despite the violence being an entirely disorganized response to police aggression. John Sinclair, forming The White Panthers directly in response to the infamy of The Black Panthers and the Yippies, had already been nurturing sources for alternative opinions for nearly a decade, and would try to penetrate audiences in a different way while continuing to portray the youth struggle honestly and fully.

Although they attempted to use mass media to their advantage, The Black Panthers were not able to create and sustain a cooperative relationship with white-dominated media.  While simultaneously trying to reclaim the black image, The Black Panthers had to function within the media who had for decades shaped images of minorities in stereotypes and myths (Crips and Bloods: Made In America).  The Black Panthers both inspired and mimicked the lifestyles put forth in blaxplotation films as a means of presenting themselves in an immediately recognizable form while attempting to create connotations of empowerment to these images. While this functioned as an advantage to the BPP is some respects—for instance, their ability to represent themselves through a physically powerful connotation rather than be undermined through less empowering stereotypical black images—they emphasized the wrong aspects of the organization for TV news and its audiences, but the right aspects for John Sinclair’s vision of a truly free America that transcended race and class.

THE CHANGED MORALE OF THE WHITE PANTHER PARTY

In the early 70’s, Sinclair himself would come to retract the culturally-motivated methodology of change in favor of Black Panther ideology and “living more like a communist” (The White Panther Party Archives).  Jon Sinclair had personally met Bobby Seale and was influenced to make The White Panther Party more militantly revolutionary and radically Marxist, and, overall, more relatable to The Black Panthers.  He would retract the policy statement, saying “You ain’t going to be able to tell no black panther … that music is the revolution and the guitar is the gun.”  By this time, their primary course of action would be producing & distributing radical magazines locally and nationally.  When one newspaper, The Sun, was banned from Oakland County Community College, The White Panthers began action with local jurisdiction fighting for their first amendment rights, which would lead to more involvement in the courts and contribute to lasting changes for Civil Rights (The White Panther Party Archives).  They would be successful in winning a case in the U.S. Supreme Court that would deem wiretapping an unconstitutional violation of Fourth Amendment Rights and overturn Title III of Nixon’s Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Acts of 1968, which claimed he had executive authority to secretly survey civilians without a warrant (Cornell).

The White Panthers would also be involved in many court cases involving the use and distribution of marijuana, which, after some success, would lead to the organization’s demise. In 1972, John Sinclair successfully appealed his fourth and final arrest for marijuana possession to the Michigan Supreme Court, which deemed his arrests unconstitutional.  “On April 17, 1968, the panel upheld the statutes against the contentions that they violated the equal protection of the laws; denied defendant due process of law; violated rights of privacy retained by the people; and that the penalty provisions imposed cruel and unusual punishment” (Michigan Supreme Court Reports).  While this victory was merely temporary until reversed by Federal law, in combination with their other court actions, The White Panthers were able to accomplish minor victories for those “hipsters” targeted by police, as well as blacks (including Black Panthers) involved in drug distribution and consumption.  However, The White Panther Party would crumble shortly after this court decision because of the conflict between John Sinclair’s new understanding of what a White Panther should stand for in contrast to the artist/activists who had been working with him for a cultural revolution for years previous.

CONCLUSION

The White Panther Party’s biggest impact was on the cultural atmosphere of Detroit.  With the launch of the MC5, a new wave of anti-capitalist underground rock music would arise; a grunge scene would emerge and prosper into present day Detroit, producing such bands at The White Stripes and The Detroit Cobras, but the political message would be virtually lost in the midst of a unique and influential sound.  Although John Sinclair and his associates were highly successful at creating a national network of radical alternative news, their ideas rarely transferred from philosophy to practice.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the WPP was their inability to foster good race relations between whites and blacks in Detroit; although they claimed not to be a white supremacist group and were clearly sympathizers with the BPP, their membership was exclusively white.  With all the fuss over black citizens’ access to public education and fair housing in the 1970’s, the WPP could have made an effort to petition for Civil Rights, but as their focus was on the purely cultural, grassroots efforts were left to the wayside.

Today there is little association between The Black Panthers and The White Panthers, with good reason—the WPP failed to truly answer Huey P. Newton’s call for a white ally organization.  Other than agreeing with Black Panther ideology, the WPP did nothing more than help to promote and publish radical ideas.  They succeeded in creating a cultural revolution—an alternative outlet for art and opinions other than mainstream, consumerist mass media—but this revolution did nothing to help the black citizens who were their neighbors.  If nothing else, The White Panthers proved that relying on culture and ideology to create revolutionary change will have no impact on the reality of struggle among ethnic minorities and those of a lower-class.  Although The Black Panthers also failed to create the revolution they desired, they at least had an impact on black communities and inspired resistance against police oppression.  The White Panthers had an impact on music communities and drug possession.

Perhaps, in order to truly create a revolution, it is necessary to change both culture and politics, shared ideology and notions of true equality, modes of expression and living conditions.  The White Panther Party is not without its successes and failures, but in place of a legacy they’ve left a lesson:  one cannot be an ally in sympathies alone; it must translate to practice in order to have a true impact.

Works Cited

Bartkowiak, Matthew J. “Sonic Anarchy: The Making of the MC5.” Journal of Popular Culture 41.3 (2008): 371-92.

Bodroghkozy, Aniko “Television in Black-and-White America: Race and National Identity” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 38.1 (2007).

Chicago 10. Dir. Brett Morgen. Perf. Mark Ruffalo, Hank Azaria, Nick Notle. Consolidated Documentaries, 2007. DVD.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America. Dir. Stacy Peralta. 2009. DVD.

Cornell. “United States v. United States District Court.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, 24 Feb. 1972. Web. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0407_0297_ZO.html&gt;.

“The Detroit Riots of 1967: Events.” The Detroit and Newark Riots of 1967. Web. <http://www.67riots.rutgers.edu/d_index.htm&gt;.

Hale, Jeff A. “WHITE PANTHERS: Total Assault on the Culture.” Make My Day. 2005. Web. <http://makemyday.free.fr/whitepanthers.htm&gt;.

Kerner Comission. “”The Communications Media, Ironically, Have Failed to Communicate”: The Kerner Report Assesses Media Coverage of Riots and Race Relations.” History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web. Web. <http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6553/&gt;.

Michigan Supreme Court Reports. “PEOPLE v. SINCLAIR, 387 Mich. 91 (1972).” Lois Law. Web. <http://www.loislaw.com/livepublish8923/doclink.htp?alias=MICASE&cite=387 Mich. 91>.

Myrick, Howard A. “Framing The Black Panthers.” Television Quarterly 38.2 (2008): 70-72. Web.

“Recent Court Decisions Involved In The Controversy.” Congressional Digest 53.4 (1974). Web.

Sinclair, John. “White Panther Party Program.” Luminist Archives. Web. <http://www.luminist.org/archives/wpp.htm&gt;.

The White Panther Party Archives. “Music Is the Revolution.” John & Leni Sinclair, 2001. CD.

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On September 25, 2010, I was raped.

There. I said it. So what? Well, I really haven’t spoken much about the experience since it happened. Because I’m knowledgeable about issues of violence against women, I knew exactly what to do in this instance. I called a crisis hotline to calm me down and give me advice. Then I went to the emergency room and did a rape kit. I spoke to an advocate at the hospital who further helped to calm me. I was required to file a police report; a week later, after much deliberation on my part, I decided to go ahead and press charges against my perpetrator. I sought out free counseling at my school, and when that wasn’t enough, I started seeing a counselor at Rape Victim Advocates. I told those who were closest to me about what had happened. But still, despite the existence of this blog and the fact that there is very little about my personal life that’s off-limits in terms of discussion, it’s been excruciatingly difficult for me to speak about the experience. The only thing more painful than my own experience is the fact that once I did open up to people and talk about what had happened to me, so many women I spoke to in private in turn confided in me about their own experience with sexual assault. However, although they all recognized what had happened to them as non-consensual sex, none of them were able to use the word “rape” to describe what had happened to them, in part because of trying to repress the memories surrounding the event, but also because of the blame they had placed on themselves for not being able to stop it.

Let’s back track a little bit. In my first semester of college, I took a little class called “Service Learning: Women’s Issues.” I didn’t know exactly what the class entailed, but already being a raging self-proclaimed radical feminist at the time, I signed up. The class, taught by Michelle Sayset, a wonderful woman who deserves more credit for all the work she has done with students and survivors, focused specifically on educating us about rape and domestic violence through direct action in protest and volunteer work, reading and critical responses, class discussion, and lectures given by guest speakers. It was there that I learned about the sobering statistics surrounding rape, as well as what to do in situations where you or a loved one have been assaulted. In a world where college women are 25% more likely to be victims of sexual assault, the importance of such a class is not to be understated.

The semester culminated in facilitating The Clothesline Project along with featuring student performers. It was at this event, more than three years ago, that I met my perpetrator, who was bandmates with a classmate I had befriended and would come to be a part of a large group of friends who I’ve subsequently all lost in the aftermath of the assault. He came to be my best friend, my confidant, my collaborator in terms of my art work, before he drugged me and took advantage of me while in a semi-unconscious state. If the fact that someone who had enough insight to speak out against rape would also have the balls to do it themselves wasn’t enough of a unpredictable twist in the epic of my life, I was coincidentally wearing a free t-shirt I had gotten through doing volunteer work with a women’s shelter as part of the class at the time of my assault. So, last week, when someone from this semester’s class stopped by my student poetry organization’s meeting to invite us all to read at The Clothesline Project’s open mic, I had a feeling of my experience coming full circle. I made the decision to get up in front of a room full of people–some strangers, some colleagues–and speak about my experience through my poetry and through discussion, not only because I felt it was an opportunity to exemplify how to combine the knowledge gained from the class with artistic craft to a room full of art students, but because I felt it was necessary in the process of healing myself.

(Here is a video of an older version of the poem I read; you can read the version from the event here.)

Although I was personally motivated in my performance, something happened after the event that had already occurred too many times–someone I had known for several years opened up to me about her own experience with rape. Apparently she had never thought of what had happened to her as an assault; her perpetrator was her then-boyfriend who was sleeping next to her. And apparently, like all the other women who had opened up to me, she had never considered it as rape because she blamed herself for not stopping it. I had, apparently, inadvertently lifted the blame from herself by recognizing my own experience as rape. As with all the other women I had confided in privately about my experience who in turn shared their stories with me, she didn’t use the term “rape” to describe what had happened to her–and who am I to label her experience–but the fact that I could take my traumatic experience and use it to help someone else somehow has made everything I’ve gone through (which, believe me, could be an entire blog in and of itself) completely worth it.

I can’t say that everyone who has ever been raped should speak to a room full of strangers about their personal experience. Doing so doesn’t necessarily exemplify strength or help in the healing process of such an experience, as it did for me. But I will say this: because I mustered up the courage to speak about what had happened to me in a safe space, I felt a huge sense of fulfillment. Using my experience and my art to reach out to people, and, hopefully, help them, while in turn helping myself, made me feel that some justice had been served. The legal process of prosecuting someone for rape is a strenuous thing (something that’s all-too topical given the charges surrounding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange)–I’ve made almost no process in my own case, and even if my perpetrator is behind bars, it won’t undo the damage that has already been done. We can, however–as survivors, as women, as people who feel the need to do something about it–speak out about these issues and educate men and women as a form of prevention against rape. Although these issues are something I’ve come to know all too well, unfortunately most people don’t realize how common place rape is. Not all men recognize their actions as rape even when it’s clear to the victim, and not all victims know not to internalize their blame. As I already mentioned, being educated about what to do when it came time to deal with being raped myself has helped a lot. Unfortunately none of the women who had confided in me were provided that privilege.

This blog post is a call to action. Whatever you know of rape, whatever you are comfortable speaking about, and whatever you can say without causing harm to victims, say it. Say it publicly outloud. Tweet about it or update your facebook status. Start a discussion at your school, workplace, or among friends. Do what I did and blog about it. You can’t always be there to physically intervene and prevent a rape from taking place, but you can raise awareness about the issues surrounding rape. You never know whose life you’ll be changing.

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Today a video from BuzzFeed.com, “How To Confuse Pro-Lifers With Just One Question,” has been just about all over my facebook feed. The video shows a cameraman interviewing folks at a pro-life protest and their responses to the question, “If abortion should be illegal, what should be the punishment for women who have illegal abortions?” I thought this video offered a fresh new prospective on the abortion debate. The intention of the protestors becomes suddenly illuminated: they want to end the practice of abortion, but can’t say how the crime should be punished. Most reply that they’d never thought of it, others say that God will provide punishment in the end, but none suggest any method of prosecuting offenders.

The video points out a fundamental flaw in how pro-lifers perceive pro-choicers as not being sympathetic to the unborn child, while on the flip side, it becomes clear that most pro-lifers don’t think of women as worthless sluts. In fact, pro-lifers and pro-choicers share a common goal: both sides want to prevent the situation of unwanted pregnancy. The difference is an arbitrary sense of morals. Pro-choicers don’t necessarily view abortion as a moral issue; most know the difference between “human life” and “sustainable life.” Meanwhile, many pro-lifers are attached to the idea that human life is valuable no matter what, and therefore abortions should be restricted under the law as a form of condemnation. Not that there isn’t already a whole lot of cultural forces that condemn abortion, from religion to pop-culture phenomena.

What pro-lifers blindly ignore is the fact that death, and the practice of humane killing, is just as much a part of the continuation of life as having sex out of wedlock. Living wills allow people to consent to be “aborted” should they fall into a vegetative state. We put animals to sleep 9 million times per year–some because they are old or sick, most because there’s no one to take care of them. I really don’t see anyone celebrating with champagne over these statistics (well, maybe a fucked up few), but if we didn’t “abort” unsustainable lives, everyone would suffer. Abortion is similar, but for some reason, pro-lifers are far more judgmental of women experiencing unwanted pregnancies than the drunk driver that put your grandpa in a vegetive state–yet it’s easier to name a punishment for those convicted of DUI’s than those who undergo illegal abortions. Hmm, how’d that happen?

Maybe there should be less people protesting whether or not abortion is legal and more people trying to offer support to women with unwanted pregnancies through education, financial aide, and improving accessibility to birth control. It’d be nice to live in a world where we only needed the assurance of being able to get an abortion when and if we needed one.

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My good friend Amelia recently wrote a post on how she became a feminist where she gave me more credit than was due for enlightening her to the meaning of the word back in high school. I feel kinda silly that she’d so specifically attribute me in her experience because, unlike me, she can date her realization that women are equal to men to a specific moment when she was very young. But the fact of the matter is, unlike Amelia, who clued in to gender equality at the ripe age of 6, my feminist identity was more the result of teenage angst and rebellion than anything else.

Like Amelia, I also remember the specific moment when gender equality entered my mind, setting into motion my thirst for feminist fury, but it came much later and started an avalanche of enlightenment that would make me into the green-haired, pot-smoking, self-proclaimed “poet anarchist” I developed into my senior year of high school (you know, the person in that little picture on the top of the page). I had a very traditional Catholic upbringing, which was just oodles of fun. My mother was a stay-at-home mom until I was 12, at which point my white-collar father decided to move into a bigger, nicer house that required her to get a job. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my mom was being subjected to a type of new oppression for women in the post-second wave America. She had to work just as many hours as my dad, but get paid less, at a less prestigious job, and then come home and keep house just the way she used to when she was unemployed, while caring for two adolescent daughters and an overgrown baby of a husband. In addition to all that, she continued to teach private music lessons as a way to stay connected with her passion in life. I remember most days when I’d come home from school, my mom would be with a student while periodically checking on whatever was on the stove. I never thought twice about how no matter how much my mom slaved for her family, my dad expected even more from her. In the world of Catholic Conservatives, that’s just the way the world works.

Like my good friend, my feminist enlightenment was also set into motion by one simple comment that blew the top off my head. One night, at dinner, my dad made a snide comment. He was upset that my mom never had dinner on the table when he got home from work because she was busy with lessons. He went on and on about how my great-grandmother would cook her husband eggs over-easy every morning and have a warm meal waiting for him when he got home each night. I remember him saying, “I thought I had a wife to come home to take care of me.” This type of rude conversation was pretty normal for the average Sutton-family dinner, but this night was different, because my older sister, an unabashed daddy’s girl, decided to speak up: “That’s chauvinist.”

I had never heard the word before and timidly asked what it meant. My sister went on to explain how women were exploited: they were expected to be beautiful and successful in competition with males, yet also rear children and keep house. Women were expected not only to adhere to traditional standards, yet also strive for success in a contemporary world. My dad was silenced, and my mind was completely blown. I remember posting about the event on my online journal, misspelling “shovenist” and being corrected by a friend. But at that point, I had found a new way to look at my strained relationship with my father: he disrespected women–he was sexist.

Unfortunately my sister’s outspoken attitude did not change my parents relationship. My mom filed for divorce earlier this year after my dad began a slew of affairs with women he met online who look creepily like a younger version of his mom. He once again cited wanting the envisionment of society’s perfect woman for his immature and inconsiderate actions–someone with good looks, prestige, and a paycheck that competes with his own. Not surprisingly, his quest for love continues, as women of that caliber are not only very rare, but dislike putting up with childish bullshit. Meanwhile, my mom has become the embodiment of a woman in charge of her own life: she’s bought her own home, continues to work–now getting paid more in a better position–and teach flute lessons, and has reconnected with old friends from college.

There were other factors that contributed to my coming-of-age as a feminist; mainly the efforts of my old high school’s social worker who gave an after-school lecture my freshmen year about body image issues that was surprisingly well attended. It was there that I first learned what it means to be a feminist, and knew I was one: it’s simple, if you believe in equal rights for men and women, you’re a feminist. End of story. Whether or not you’re an unaware douchebag is irrelevant, especially considering the fact that there are so many different sects of feminism that completely oppose each other in sub-beliefs.

I also have to give credit to the online community, because without people on online forums and livejournal communities continuously calling me out on my privileged brat douchebaggery, I would have never realized I had engrained attitudes that were racist, homophobic, or classist. It’s also because of the online community that I became enraptured by the abortion debate, declaring myself as pro-choice at the age of 14. “I hate babies and don’t give a fuck what other people do with their bodies” was my logic before my argument became much more complex and personal.

How did I become a feminist? Clearly the answer is complex, and still developing. As a white upper-class woman I recognize that there are many flaws in my outlook and experience; my beliefs are constantly changing based on continuing realizations of how I’ve been benefitted and disadvantaged just for being white and female. To be honest, I’ve changed a lot as a feminist as well; I no longer use the term as a blanket statement to describe my political beliefs because I also strongly believe in ending oppression for racial minorities and the working class. Nevertheless, I think it’s important for girls to become familiar with feminism at a young age in order to combat all the confusion thrust upon them, and if anyone asks, I will defend the “f-word” to the grave.

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