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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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I’m lucky to live in the wonderful city of Chicago. It’s my favorite place to live, my adopted hometown, and an important city for poets as the hometown to the Poetry Slam. Recently I traveled to New York and took part in the slam at the world-famous Nuyorican Cafe (the former home to Def Poetry Jam) and noticed a key difference between their scene and ours–feminist poetry was pretty much non-existent, and in fact some openly misogynistic poems scored pretty well. Meanwhile, in Chicago feminist poems are prevalent at pretty much any poetry slam, and often come from unexpected sources.

I like the Chicago poetry scene because political poems are encouraged to be shared from all prospectives, even when it’s a white woman talking about race issues or a black man talking about domestic violence. I’d like to share some of my favorite poems about issues of gender, empowerment, and female oppression that belong to big-time poets and newcomers from the Chicago area. Watch the videos to let the poems speak for themselves, and then let me know what you think.

1. Tony Denis, “Mothers”

One of the few poems that’s made me cry, read by a classmate of mine at Columbia College. He got a perfect score in the slam but, in turn, got slammed by the time restraint (still placing fourth overall despite the 4 point deduction). It still remains a memorable poem, and I was impressed by the insight and empathy young Tony demonstrated. Mothers are understated heroes and I admire that he made an attempt to pay his dues with this poem.

2. J. W. Baz, “Anointing the Hand”

This poem is a poignant statement on what could be called “masculinism” but is nevertheless important in the context of a larger discussion on gender and violence. Baz is a former Def Poet who slams Hillary Clinton (rightfully so) for being old money and equating soldiers to barbarians. I like this poem because as a feminist, it’s easy to forget the everyday struggles that people face other than women, and this poem totally made me see the world differently.

3. Robbie Q. Telfer, “2002 Silver Chevy Cavalier”

Okay, so, this is a feminist poem, huh? Well, maybe not. But I still love it for its hilarious satire of manliness equating to how many “bitches” you fuck and how nice your car is. Robbie Q. is probably my favorite poet, not just for his mad skillz, but also because he’s made a career working with at-risk youths through his efforts with Young Chicago Authors. Respect.

4. Marty McConnell & Tristian Silverman, “The Female Body”

My favorite poetry power couple. I loved them both separately before realizing they were dating, and had the pleasure of hearing them perform this piece in person during class called Queer Poetry. They both are stellar poets apart from each other who are perfect examples of “the personal is political” without being boring, overstated, or pretentious, using their personal stories as vessels for a range of topics from confused sexuality to checking their own privilege. They never isolate anyone with their poems. I think in the context of that conversation, this poem largely speaks for itself, and I like the juxtaposition between Marty’s rambling definition of “the female body” and Tristian’s nervous apprehension when seeing a naked lover for the first time.

5. Andi Kauth, “Orchestra of Bones”

Andi is another old classmate of mine from Columbia who has recently propelled herself to National acclaim as a slam poet (go girl!). This is her signature poem and for good reason–it addresses issues of body image and self-esteem in a completely original way, one that takes gigantic risks through exposing the ways bulimia had failed her and the way the bodies of starving people are commoditized through photographs. It’s a controversial favorite, but one has to admire the fact that she was willing to share her very human story and prospective, even when unflattering, on a national stage.


Black Swan is summing up to be one of the most controversial Oscar-hopefuls of the season.  There seems to be a strict divide on audiences’ opinions; “Either you view it as a flawed, gritty take on the rigors of ballet and how they affect this particular character, or you choose to view it as a Freudian nightmare of a woman contending with her repressed sexuality with the world of ballet serving simply as a backdrop.” Being the savvy peruser of all media on the internet, I found a DVD screener of the film and was able to watch it twice; the first try, I was unimpressed.  Natalie Portman’s performance was reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s superior portrayal of the damaged yet talented beauty throughout her career, but days later my mind was still reeling, dissecting the film, so I decided to watch it again. The second time around, I had the completely opposite reaction–I was moved to tears, feeling a deep sense of empathy and understanding for the protagonist Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman).  I definitely feel that it’s a film that haunts you, and it hits on a type of suffering that is very universal for women or artists (of which I am both), if you’re watching it in the right frame of mind.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments against the film’s perceived originality.  The psychological thriller is not a new genre, and in many ways Black Swan isn’t doing anything to its audiences that wasn’t done in Sixth Sense; its ambiguity is a bit frustrating in the context of its intense portrayal of female sexuality, more openly Freudian than Hitchcock’s best works.  It is clear at every moment that you’re watching a film written, directed, and produced from a male prospective, even down to the lesbian wet dreams and feminine sexual rivalry.  It’s perhaps the most open attempt at examining the male/female unconscious but it’s a Hollywood film that’s made over $60 million dollars.  With that in mind, Black Swan is not going to find a place among the great works of feminist cinema.

So it’s not the most groundbreaking film.  Compared to Darren Aronofsky’s other films, it’s not as original, nor does it offer an untold story as his other works (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream, Pi).  In fact, unlike his other works, Black Swan is a contemporary idiom on the story of Swan Lake–all the aspects of the original story are, in essence, borrowed from an early reference.  However, the film is still ambitious, relevant, even important as a testimonial to gender politics in post-modern cinema, if you’re willing to take the over-all ambivalent nature of the film with the highest expectations, placing a responsibility on the production values and semiotics in the visual aspects of the film.  That is to say, if you’re a person who is willing to see the film as the product of vision and struggle, rather than another voice yammering on in some conversation of what a man thinks it means to be a woman, you’re probably on the pro-Black Swan team.

For me, the beauty in watching Black Swan was knowing that all of the struggles of Nina Sayers were being felt by Natalie Portman through her preparation and portrayal of the role.  When Toma (Vincent Cassel) grabbed Nina’s face and shoved his tongue down her throat, the sexual aggression Portman had to endure in order to be professional was very real.  Although Portman is a trained ballet dancer, she spent a year preparing physically; Portman used the real, physical pain she felt as fuel into the psychological mindset of a prima ballerina, her stage being the silver screen rather than Lincoln Center.  Turns out Portman’s real life mother had some similarities with Nina’s as well: “She was always worried and scared about me working, asking me, ‘Do you really want to do that?’ And I would beg and cry and plead, but both my parents were very protective in not wanting me to act that much…. but she wasn’t a pushy mother at all.” The symbolic ending of the film added what I felt was a poignant statement on what it means to be an artist, visually portraying the physical manifestations of suffering one must endure through their bodies and minds in order to fulfill their purpose.

I thought the intense focus on the body that came with such a film was a greatly understated aspect.  Dance is the art of controlling one’s body, and I thought this played out in a very complimentary way in terms of this film being a product of post-modernism.  There is, again, the aspect of the interdisciplinary genre work–the fact that the actresses were all trained dancers, and also Clint Manswell’s reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s original Swan Lake score in order to create a new relationship between the choreography and cinematography.  But the other connection is one between female sexuality and the relationship with one’s body–at every turn, Nina’s body is rebelling against her, even to the point of psychosis.  This metaphor was perhaps a bit too obvious for most women, especially combined with all the prevalent bitchy dancer stereotypes that hinder Nina’s relationships with every woman she interacts with.  There’s also the fact that the famous French choreographer, Toma, was a huge pervert, with not even especially good pick-up lines, who basically gets away with sexually inappropriate relationships with his dancers because he’s just that good-looking and brilliant.  Not anything redeeming about that character, but, hey, maybe that was the point.

In the end, I liked Black Swan because I felt it was a film I could relate to.  I interpreted a lot of the more “ambiguous” parts of the film to be the product of Nina’s psychosis, which I think speaks to all artists who have ever struggled with mental illness or depression. The gender dynamics of the film didn’t offend me because I took them as a critique.  I came to accept the film’s similarities to previous works because of its success of reintroducing concepts that seldom seem to come out of Hollywood these days.  I related both the character Nina and the actress Natalie Portman’s process to writing a poem, and using your art to manifest all of the demons inside of you.  And I’d definitely recommend it to anyone prepared to stomach such a work. Like I said, there’s DVD screeners floating around on the internet, so take a look, and let me know if you think the film deserves any Oscars.

Or, just watch Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Black Swan on Saturday Night Live to get the gist of it all.


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.


We all have our guilty pleasures, submitting to cultural forces even when they completely contradict our beliefs and identities–we can’t deny it. I love reality TV—I find shows like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With the Kardashians addictive. Despite the fact that no matter how much I try to downplay my interests with a sense of irony, I’m still feeding into a capitalist mass-media phenomenon that’s ultimately perpetuating inane cultural ideals, mostly relating to fame, gender-constructed notions of sexual identity and dating, and especially money. I won’t try to explain it or justify it or say that it creates some sense of intellectual fulfillment, because it doesn’t, and that would just be flat-out pretentious. I try to keep my “guilty pleasures” on the downlow, queueing up the megavideos of Kourtney & Khloe at obscene hours of the night, only speaking publicly about these shows with my adopted grandmother who shares the same secret obsessions (and used an apt metaphor to explain herself: “You know when you’re driving on the highway and you see a horrible, fiery accident and you slow down to look? It’s exactly the same thing.”).

There is nothing wrong with being a feminist with guilty pleasures. But I do find it quite disgusting when people try to justify their indulgences with feminist commentary, as if they were serving some greater good by circle-jerking (online and off) about aspects of sexual liberation in Sex in the City.  The online magazine, Jezebel, has basically built a commentary empire based on post-feminist bullshit that tries (unsuccessfully) to reunite Western mass media with female empowerment. The thing that really irks me is that feminists, even the really intelligent, self-aware ones, keep buying into this crap, feeling some vague sense of fulfillment and pretension that somehow justifies what should be reduced to “guilty pleasures” instead of becoming over-glorified pseudo-social commentary that ultimately fulfills the same purpose as any other magazine “for women.”

Now, let’s be real for a second. Jezebel isn’t just a dumping zone for over-intellectual zealots, and for those who comb through the articles obsessively, it’s not too hard to find articles contributed by real activists with real, legitimate, culturally relevant opinions. But for the sake of example, today I loaded up the site and took a gander at the articles featured at the top:

Let’s take these headlines from left to right:

  1. “The Art of Getting Dressed While Drunk” – Hey, lady, even if you’re completely disoriented, you should still put thought and effort into your appearance because, after all, it’s an ART
  2. “Lady-Tears are Total Bonerkillers” – Don’t show your emotions in your heteronormative lifestyle because you will inevitably  push your man away and NOT GET LAID (and we all know that bad feminists don’t have sex)
  3. “Social Minefield: How to Deal with Shyness” – could be more aptly titled “How to Conform to Social Expectations and Succeed in Impressing People with your Fake Personality”
  4. “Cosmo’s Fake Cover Hides Orgasm from Advertisers” – Appropriate subtitle: WE DON’T!
  5. “Kendra and Betheny Dissect Their Own Body Issues” – Because models who willingly sexually objectify themselves and fulfill societal standards of beauty should also be the standard of how you measure your own body issues too.
  6. “What the Angle of your Ponytail Says About You” – Mm, yes, really important information for empowered women here.
  7. “The Harrowing Date-Rape Scene from Snooki’s Book” – Celebrity date rape, not regular rape, because that would just be too human for a celebrity gossip e-zine. Still not exploitative or anything. Nu uh.

Pretty much all of these articles are in reference to cultural ideals that promote “false-empowerment,” or the post-feminist notion of being empowered by choosing which ways to conform to society’s expectations. Jezebel ditched its title as a feminist pop-culture e-zine some time ago, now proudly toting themselves as “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women,” but its fans are not ready to let go. Smart women who consider themselves feminist still seek out Jezebel as a means to buy into the same cultural ideals that have oppressed women for generations, but then justify themselves as intellectuals — for some reason reading celebrity gossip on Jezebel is better than Us Weekly, despite the fact that it’s far more convoluted than just saying “Fuck it, I want to see Kourtney Kardashian’s exclusive baby pictures and I don’t understand why!”

Hell no–Jezebel is fucking proud of the way it can present the same topics that you’d find in any magazine “for women” yet justify it with some vague notion of being well-informed when it should be the exact opposite. If you’re well-informed, you should be dissecting the ways mass media exploits and oppresses women, not promoting it. I mean, if you want to buy into it a little bit, knowing full well you’re buying the ideas The Man wants you to, you can still keep a firm sense of boundary between your beliefs and their beliefs:  sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Yet Jezebel has no concept of this. In fact, it actively seeks to destroy it by continually attempting to reinforce the idea that if you’re a feminist, all aspects of your identity support this, despite the fact that no one is impervious to social pressures. In the end, if you want to continue to read Jezebel because they have articles that you like, go for it. Just don’t do it under the guise of being a well-read feminist. Please don’t encourage them or contribute to their sense of legitimacy as feminists creating change “for women. Without airbrushing.” Fuck no.


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.


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.