Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crescit eundo

New Mexico is currently ranked 50th among the U.S. states in child well-being, or obversely, we rank first in child-suffering. In a rational political environment those responsible for such a disgraceful result would be impeached for dereliction of duty. But in the unsustainable political climate in which we are quasi-functioning, our governor is poised to be on the national ticket for one of the reigning corporate goon squads.

The best we can say about our state's ignominious ranking is that none of the hundred or so attendees at The State of Female Justice in New Mexico panel on Sunday, November 17th, presented by One Billion Rising for Justice Santa Fe, the New Mexico Women and Girls Network, and the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, can reasonably have any illusions about the efficacy of working for reforms within the current system. In fact, panelist Corrine Sanchez of Tewa Women United characterized that system as: “An industrial non-profit complex in which our funding sources are invested in our culture of violence.” 

Emblematic of that violence, Bette Fleishman (New Mexico Women’s Justice Project) told us that New Mexico's women's prison population is the fastest-growing in the nation. The current women's prison is privately operated by a for-profit corporation—Corrections Corporation of America—where 77% of the 510 women currently incarcerated there have been placed on strong psychiatric meds, to control them as a captive slave labor pool for others' profit. But even on its own oppressive terms CCA is failing: Due to the low quality of the cheapest possible meds, side effects are rampant, some of the medicated women are acting out, and they're ending up in solitary. A bad metric.

Bette's current priority—she makes the 170 mile round trip drive from Rio Rancho to the prison in Grants weekly—is “to identify who shouldn't be there, who should be returned to the community?” She exerts herself in full knowledge that an additional facility with the capacity to imprison 850 more female prisoners in NM is in the planning stages. Whose daughters will fill those cells, do we think? Shall we tell Guadalupe Angeles, the soft-spoken Mexican immigrant who courageously stood at the podium and told us her story of privation and struggle, to hide her daughters from the state? That the state is planning, no, banking on, incarcerating them and other girls just like them?

In truth,I would not even be writing this post if Cecile Lipworth, Managing Director of Campaigns and Development for (Eve Ensler's) VDAY and lead organizer of the event on the 17th as well as the upcoming one next Valentine's Day, had not assured me that at the core of these efforts there will be serious political demands made to Power. I understood from her assurances that these are not meant to be exclusively feel good events, though it does feel good, really good, to forge friendships and community in political struggle for justice. (There was not a woman on that podium who I would not dearly love to interview for this blog.)

The panel discussion, which was filmed and will be available on the One Billion Rising's website after Thanksgiving according to Cecile, has inspired in me a series of questions:

How in good conscience can we Rise, Release and Dance—the tag line of One Billion Rising 2014—knowing that 850 of the daughters of Tewa Women, Adelante, El Valle Women's Collaborative, Esperanza Shelter, Young Women United, and Solace Center have already been slotted to people Power and Greed's new state-of the-art plantation? How exactly will shaking our booties at the Roundhouse this Valentine's Day forcefully give the lie to the “inevitability” of our daughters', sisters', mothers' fates in the narrative the prison-profiteers (and those in the Roundhouse and elsewhere who love them) have already written for certain New Mexicans?

In other words, and building on the real success of the Respect Albuquerque Women's electoral victory, can we Rise, Release and Dance our way into shutting this new prison down even before it's operative? And if we agree that preventing 850 of our sisters from being snatched into the modern-day State slavery apparatus is a worthy goal, what kind of a network would we have to build to get that accomplished?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy Ending

 As luck would have it my canvassing partner on Election Day morning in the Burque (as locals call their fun city) was Hunter Riley, who just turns out to be one of the people in all of Albuquerque I most have wanted to meet and talk to. Hunter's a manager at Self Serve, the charming sex shop I'd called to get hooked up with the hippest activists in town—Young Women United, and writes the monthly sex positive column in the Santa Fe Reporter.

Spending the day into night with the valiant community that is Young Women United was like dying and going to activists' heaven. You cannot imagine a more skilled and sensitive execution of a GOTV campaign. They got results and built friendships, community, trust, and mutual respect all along the way. The food and caring was everywhere abundant, and one could relax knowing that one's fundamental humanity would be supported as we joined together to work our butts off to send this proposed abortion ban after 20 weeks—no exceptions—back to hell where it was conceived.

I took the opportunity at the break between morning and afternoon canvassing sessions to drive down Central Avenue past the enormous UNM campus (Go Lobos!) to Self Serve Resource Center to buy a bunch of condoms; they have a fabulous selection priced from 25 cents to $2.50, the top of the line being the thinnest yet safest available. Owner Matie inspires confidence, and she really informed me about the stock (all non-toxic products). Though I think she may have upsold me; my purchases ended up qualifying for the volume discount!

While there, I pitched Matie a Literary Reading Series that I'd conceived on the gorgeous drive down from Santa Fe that morning—The Strap-On Reading Series. Basically the idea is that every literary artist who would dare read in the series would read while wearing a strap-on. I think it would help Literature and I'd be happy to go first.

Cormac McCarthy with a strap-on, anyone? George R.R. Martin...?
Back at HQ we got some tentative positive numbers from the early voting and felt encouraged as we sortied out for the afternoon session, this time four of us in my little red Honda Fit, back over to the West Side. With all of us working together we covered our whole turf, and submitted our data via the Mini-van app on a smart phone in time to revel in one of those blazing New Mexico sunsets that turn the Sandias to coral.

Before the polls closed I ran over to the Bareles Senior Center at the very end of 7th Street to vibe the atmosphere. Business was brisk as savvy voters rushed in during the last fifteen minutes to shut this thing down. I spoke with Janiece Jonsin, the sharp-eyed poll observer for the Respect Albuquerque Women campaign who had been on duty poised on a metal folding chair since 2pm. I asked her what motivated her to serve this campaign in today's capacity and for months previously organizing the phone-banking efforts in Santa Fe? “I was one of those women who had to have an illegal abortion. We never want to go back there. I think all women should have access to safe and legal abortions.”

Miguel, who hails from California but has lived in ABQ the better part of three years, thinks the city wasted a lot of money on this special election.

Likewise I asked Miguel, age 31, what had motivated him to cast his ballot on this day? “You know what? Good question. It shouldn't be legislated. People are good, I believe they make the best decisions in their interest.”

Our Victory Party was at the very stylish and swank Hotel Andaluz, walking distance from headquarters. All three local news affiliates plus Al Jezeerah America were in the room to document this historic pushback. Pure pleasure.

On the romantic ride back to Santa Fe, the moon and stars and vast blackness were my companions. Billie Holiday was on softly in the background and her velvety voice was mingling with all the other resonances from the marvelous encounters of the day.

Our bodies. Our lives. Our decisions.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Glad You're Waking Up To This

Like most of us, I've felt the unmediated brunt of some of history's tragic moments. For one, I was a 17-year-old political science student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem when the 1973 Yom Kippur War broke out between the State of Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. The U.S. Army took the occasion of the emergency to rid itself of dozens of faulty tanks, with the result that many young Israeli soldiers were immolated inside.

On November 2nd at the New Mexico Community Rights Symposium: Elevating Community Rights Over Corporate Rights—Building a Statewide Movement that Drives Local Self-Government into the Constitution, I heard words that marked another kind of corporate/state murder. “We're being fracked,” said the three activists that had driven from the Navajo Reservation in Sandoval County to Santa Fe to share their sickening news. “There was an oil spill. We see flares where I live...we see them from our kitchen table. The Bureau of Land Management leased our land. There are already 50 wells, and 50 more have been surveyed. The semi-trucks are taking over our roads. We live in a nightmare. We are glad you are waking up to this.”

The Bernalillo County activists' report was also grim indeed. “There are three existing Superfund sites already. We had 24 million gallons of jetfuel contaminate our water supply, it's the largest pollution of an underground aquifer. There are 568 waste toxic dump sites on the air force base [Kirtland] and Sandia National Laboratories, radioactive waste. The aquifer has been destroyed. There's no remediation, there's no plan for remediation. Resolution 214 was passed to put in monitoring of wells, but that hasn't helped. There was talk of a treatment plant, but that didn't happen. The remedy is cleanup. So how can a Community Rights Ordinance help with a major contamination site that involves the federal government, an arsenal of 2,000 nuclear weapons and two dangerous nuclear reactors at Sandia?”

The message from Dona Ana County couldn't have been clearer: “We have no water. And there's a big water lawsuit, Texas is suing us for a billion dollars. The suit has risen to the Supreme Court level. But the county is just whistling by the graveyard.”

The Torrance County report too was crushing. “We are in a severely drought-stricken area. We have low water in a closed water supply. We are seriously concerned about sustainability for the future. We have had three geology reports, they all say we are running out of water. We are working to change our irrigation habits, we're going to have to change crops. But the business interests contrast to community interests.”

John Olivas, Chairman, Mora County Commission, explaining the next steps in Mora County

And so on. Reports from San Juan County, which tragically has become the county with the highest child cancer and asthma rates; Catron, where a county CRO ordinance is pending concerning water extraction for profit; San Miguel County, where the eastern part of the county has been sacrificed to the frackers so the western part can remain frack-free; Taos which leads the state in rural electrical coops, but where they are only allowed to produce 5% from solar; and Santa Fe County where a robust effort is being mounted to stop the Santa Fe Gold Company from raping the Ortiz Mountains, all spoke to serious intrusions by corporations swaggering in with their “personhood” into local communities. Might all of the 33 counties in New Mexico, not just the 12 represented at the Symposium, have just causes to enact community ordinances?

The idea is that local communities in New Mexico could enact Community Rights Ordinances, such as the one passed on April 29, 2013 in Mora County, the first county in the US to ban fracking, in which a Bill of Rights is articulated and adopted. Thomas Linzey, founder of CELDF, reported that CELDF (we say cell-def) has helped 160 communities across the US pass CROs. He told us that those 160 communities are now stitching themselves together into a national structure, in the same way we are hoping to do in New Mexico at the state level. The ultimate aim is to change constitutions, our own state's as well as the federal constitution, to assert the right of local communities to self-governance.

I'm seriously attracted to the potency of the defiant language of the ordinances – we declare that all our water is held in the public trust as a common resource...–and the thrill of speaking it in our own voices. Back in one of those lecture halls at Hebrew U, my professor broke it down for us: “Power is a relationship,” she said just days before the outbreak of yet another senseless war about real estate. “They don't have it unless We give it to them.”

I haven't attended a full Democracy School, though I'd like to, but I have read Linzey's book Be The Change, and the CRO approach is an approach that has the potential to re-balance power relations. So I'm attentive to this approach. 

Thomas Linzey told us: "Vehicles are only as good as the values that animate them."

CELDF no longer practices traditional environmental law, which Linzey characterizes as the law of “a little less harm.” Rather the CRO vehicle changes the legal fight from one of challenging the validity of state permit applications, where even a “win” is only a win until the newly corrected permit application gets filed. Instead, it sets up a tar baby, a trap for Power. If Power wants to get ugly and try and overturn the CRO (as they have not yet attempted in Mora)[UPDATE: A suit has been filed against Mora], it has to say many repugnant things out loud. Community by community, people will come to Linzey's own game-changing realization: Sustainability is illegal in America.

And, in Linzey's vision, this new understanding of the very undemocratic way things actually are will drive the army of people who will create the national change. Linzey is hoping that we will help him to build a movement because “movements change structural stuff.”

Thomas Linzey, no longer seeking gaps, omissions and deficiencies, is ready to cross the Rubicon.
  “How,” Linzey asks, “do we build a movement where it does not matter what the courts do?”

I think it's a great question from a brilliant legal mind. And from my current elevation of 7,000 feet above sea level, from the high desert of Santa Fe, I don't see a better bet out there. Does anyone? Do you?

For more information in New Mexico, please contact Kathleen Dudley, Community Organizer, The New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights and CELDF at or Please enjoy watching her here (the lovely lady in the sunhat).