Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Five Critical Issues

I am very excited to be able to report that I'll have a new book coming out in the Fall of 2009 (Broadview):

Five Critical Issues for Contemporary Feminist Theory and Activism:

Sexual Identity and Politics,
Reproductive Technology,
Economic Inequality and the Culture Industry,
Religious Fundamentalism,
and The Status of Nonhuman Others

The new book includes many of the themes that have characterized my work throughout my career as a philosopher, writer, and university professor. But it also includes some new themes, for example, the emergence of religious fundamentalism - Christian and Islamic- and its place within the global capitalism responsible for the ongoing exploitation of women, children, and indigenous peoples. Broadly socialist feminist in perspective, Five Critical Issues seeks to connect some of the dots between, for example, the effort in Pennsylvania to constitutionalize heterosexuality and its attendant ratification of second class citizen status for gays. lesbians, bisexuals, inter-sexed persons, and transsexuals in that state, and the role that religion, racism, sexism, the commodification of sexuality, and our treatment of nonhuman animals figure into these complex political and moral dynamics. My principle aim, however, is to add one more voice to the 21st century's emergent coalition of movements - feminist, environmental, anti-racist, animal welfare, social and economic justice - in the effort to help us see that, especially in light of global emergencies like climate change, terrorism, the use of torture, sex-trafficking, and the widening gap between the wealthy and the indigent, there is no more important a time than now to work towards progressive change.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Patriot's Voice Tea Party: A Case Study in Hate Speech

Dear Mr. Sachetti,

This is not a letter to the editor.

It is an attempt to correct Michael Lester's tepid account of the Patriot's Voice Tea Party on July 4th at the Bloomsburg Town Park. I have no issue with Mr. Lester; however, his account seriously under-represents--and hence misrepresents--the speech and actions of the Tea Party participants. This record needs to be corrected, and it needs to be corrected publicly.

I attended the Tea Party from 1:30-2:50.

I took careful notes.

A friend was with me and, while I cannot of course speak to his interpretation of these events, he can vouch for the fact that I was there, that I took notes, and that I was approached by two Patriot's Voice members. Here are the events that took place at the podium:

1. Al Togno, self-identified speaker, claimed that without belief in a creator there could be no democracy--and that therefore atheists (as in the far past) ought not to be allowed to testify in courts. (applause)

2. Anonymous Speaker 1: refers to the Obama administration as a "gang." (applause)

3. Robert Runyon (especially rambling): The only moral government is based on natural law, handed down by God, whose specific aims are to realize God's plan on Earth. Without this God, there can be no government. (applause)

4. Anonymous Speaker 2: Identifies Obama with the Communist Party (repeatedly), referring to "Barack Hussein Obama." calls Obama a "Muslim Appeaser," and calls the Democrat Party "Socialists." (loud applause)

5. Anonymous Speaker 3: "The U.N. wants to disarm all people."

6. Robert Runyon thanks "his adversary Wendy Lynne Lee for coming and taking notes." (Laughter; crowd turns to stare, several boo).

7. Anonymous Speaker 4: claims that what's "wrong with America" is not the economy, but "homosexuality," that such persons must be "made to repent," and that "we must all come to repent...It is my desire to see people saved." (applause)

8. Anonymous Speaker 5: "All my news is from FOX." (loud applause)

9. Anonymous Speaker 6: "Republicans have failed because they have turned away from the Bible." (applause)

10. Anonymous Speaker 7: "Obama is good news because we're going to soon be raptured up." (applause)

11. Anonymous Speaker 8: "I want to talk about a delicate subject, abortion." The speaker then went onto deride Dr. Tiller as a "baby-killer." Claimed that "the media is controlled by liberals," and that what's coming is the "euthanasia of the elderly." (loud applause)

12. Anonymous Speaker 9: Claims that "Barack Hussein Obama is proud of his Muslim heritage," calls Michael Jackson a "pervert," implies that he's is glad that Jackson is dead, and claims a crowd in attendance of 200 people. I counted at that point, and the number was definitely not more than 70 (2:40). (very loud applause--despite dwindling audience)

Could the evidence of racism and religious bigotry really be any clearer?

There is no religious litmus test in the United States for becoming president, but what this speaker clearly implied is that if Obama were Muslim, this disqualifies him tout court.

Michael Jackson was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Could the evidence of bigotry towards homosexuals be clearer than in anonymous speaker 7's remarks (for which he received significant applause)?

Conservatives are not necessarily either homophobes or bigots. This was not an exercise in conservatism. It was an exercise in hate speech--protected by the 1st amendment, but as hateful, and as consistently hateful, as Kurt Smith mentions to Lester. Part of what I am trying to make clear here is that this speech characterizes ALL of the remarks made by the speakers at this event.

Patriot's Voice members can respond that they are not responsible for the specific remarks of the people they encourage to step up to the microphone.

But indeed they are.

This was their sponsored event; they applauded the speaker's remarks; they actively and repeatedly encouraged this group of speakers to "come forward" The passed around a petition to "fire" Arlen Spectre. They flew the Confederate flag directly next to the American flag. Could any African American person really feel comfortable at this event? A Jewish person? A gay person?

There are many African American, Jewish, and gay conservatives--they were not represented at this Tea Party.

Did Mr. Lester ask Mr. Runyon for proof that an invitation to Alan Keyes had been accepted? Perhaps it had--but it is unlikely in the extreme given that Keyes is a nationally known speaker who can command a significant speaker fee. Mr. Keyes could have offerred to do the event for free--but, again, hihgly unlikely. If the Patriot's Voice has access to this sort of revenue, they ought to file with the IRS--and it is highly unlikely that they either have such access or have so filed.

During the event, Evy Lysk walked directly up the the picnic table where Jay and I were sitting (we approached no one at any time before, during, or after the event), and took my picture (she did not ask permission). She called me "Miss Wendy." She told me to smile because it was Independence Day. I responded that her actions were not something to smile about. She laughed. I am sure this doesn't seem like a significant event, but the intent was clearly to intimidate.

What if they post that picture on their website along with the sort of language they routinely use to describe me in 30 Seconds? What if they post it on Facebook where Runyon remarks: "We are having a 4th of July Tea Party at the town park of Bloomsburg beginning at 12:00 noon till 4:00pm. This promises to be Memorable as we have an ahtiest, lesbian professor who wishes time to counter our party as she deems us as haters and homophobes. Come join the fun" (www.facebook.com/pages/The-9-12-Project-Pennsylvania-Chapter/57461030678). What was the point of this action? An event scrapbook?


Along with another picture and text already available on their website (posted 4.9.09), their aims are hardly consistent with the first amendment rights professed by conservatives and liberals alike. Their aim is to encourage precisely more of the hate speech to which I was a witness at this event.

Lastly, Kathy Wells approached me and said "I hate your articles in the newspaper." She turned to walk away, but then turned again towards me and said that she "didn't hate me," but that "she felt sorry for me," and then she repeated that she "hated my PE articles." I did not respond to Ms. Wells.

Let me be very clear: I am in no way suggesting that this gathering should not have taken place. This was an exercise in the right to free speech, and I applaud that. But it is the responsibility of the PE to report on the events accurately.

I am also not suggesting that any of these events were in any important way about me. I do, however, represent (whether accurately or otherwise) much of what they regularly demonize, and as the hateful and bigoted remarks of the attendees demonstrate, I--among millions of others--am not included in their America.

Again, this is not conservatism.

One can oppose the stimulus plan without identifying it as the product of a Muslim/Communist/Socialist conspiracy. One can object to the policies of the Obama administration without resorting to the incendiary language of "Barack Hussein Obama." One can be a conservative without insisting that ONLY a Christian nation can be composed of a free people (and this is a logical contradiction). Many conservatives, moreover, have little to say in support of the hero of this event, Glenn Beck.

I would be happy to talk to Mr. Lester further about this, and what I have posted here is a complete account of my notes. Had I access to Mr. Lester's email address, I would gladly have included him in this missive. This was not simply another Independence Day event like the Millville parade or the fireworks display. To report it as if it were misrepresents its meaning.

Thank you for attending to this matter.

Wendy Lynne Lee