Originally published in North of Center in August 2013.

Privatizing Lorain

Unless something very unexpected happens, we’ll probably see relatively little of any of them again. The picture will fade; whatever pattern was momentarily illuminated for us will fall back into disparate pieces; we won’t be able to see how any of this works. (more…)

Originally published in North of Center in June 2013.

The familiar Castro

You’re looking and looking at something for years. Eyes wide as they can be, waiting for the equation, or picture in the puzzle, or the kaleidoscope pieces to fall into place. So the problem can be resolved, so your life can move on. So that you can look at something else. (more…)

Originally published in North of Center in May 2013.

Misadventures in the city

Sometimes persistence is not a virtue. And this guy had it. The first time, he pulled up next to me in a way I could easily ignore as coincidence. When he then did a U-turn and honked at me, I started to get it. My ire flared, but I figured that the complicated maneuver of following me the wrong way down a one-way street would deter him. The issue would be finished. (more…)

Originally published in North of Center in March 2013.

Misadventures in the city

In December, I wrote a column about stickering over sexist images and graffiti that popped up along on my daily commute. In both cases, my resistance was reactive: I was trying to block someone else’s message.  Since then, more sexist—sometimes virulently and violently sexist—messages have come my way, although not always at street level.

There was the gang rape and eventual death of an Indian physiotherapy student in Delhi in December 2012. I read the details once and then stopped following the story. It’s too hard to live in the world with that kind of knowledge. There were protests in India, I know that; I listened to what a friend in Calcutta had to say about the cultural shifts that must happen. Ok, fine, I guess it’s heartening to know that the country roiled a bit after the violence, but the young woman’s suffering is too hard to look at with being swallowed up with hate that’s way bigger than I am. (more…)

Originally published in North of Center in February 2013.

The continuing struggle of garment workers

If you view history as a discrete set of events, then the similarities are eerie. March 1911: 146 garment workers, many of them young women, die in a factory fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. November 2012: 111 garment workers, many of them women, die in a factory fire at the Tazreen Fashions Company. Neither building had a sprinkler system, although the technology was available. Both factories had fabric stored in ways that led easily to raging fires; in both factories, escape routes were blocked and workers were hindered from speedy evacuations. In each case, workers had protested labor conditions before the disasters.

However, if you view history as a long struggle for progress and social justice, the similarities are depressingly tragic. One hundred years after the Triangle fire in New York City, the Tazreen blaze in Dhaka, Bangladesh, again finds Americans thoughtlessly complicit in deadly working conditions for garment workers. It may not have happened in one of our industrial cities, but the Tazreen fire still occurred in our supply chain—it is still a product of our economic structure and attitudes about labor. (more…)

Originally published in North of Center in December 2012.

Support Lexington’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund

 

The transcendent part of It’s a Wonderful Life is supposed to be George Bailey’s realization that his life, disappointing as it was to him, had positively impacted others’ lives. As viewers, we’re supposed to empathize with George’s struggles and be warmed by his hope and reconciliation at the end. However, when I watched the film again last week, the part that resonated the most wasn’t George’s redemption; it was the economics of housing.

If you haven’t watched the film yet this holiday season, I’ll recap: George feels the building and loan, which he inherited from his father, is a stone around his neck, but the thing that keeps him in the business isn’t careerism or a desire for stability. It’s that there is so much injustice related to housing in Bedford Falls. The villainous Henry Potter has immigrants and other working class folk over the barrel; as his tenants, they are at the mercy of his exorbitant rent, which keeps them from getting ahead. They can’t save; they can’t buy their own homes; they can’t start their own businesses. Potter benefits from the slums he creates; he profits from hamstringing the finances of “the rabble,” as he calls them. The building and loan, on the other hand, allows citizens to borrow money to build their own homes and get out from under Potter’s heel. (more…)

Originally published in North of Center in December 2012.

Misadventures in the city

I’ve been a feminist for a long time and have always seen it as a survival skill, a way of protecting myself. For instance, when I was in grade school I was issued this warning: “Stay a way from that park—a girl got raped there.” (The park area abutted our suburban neighborhood.) This turned out to be one of many warnings that I received over the years, many of which were validated by stories of friends who were raped, friends who were persuaded that sex was the main thing they had to offer, friends who circumscribed their lives because of sexist pressures. All this made me immensely angry—as it should have—and feminism helped me push back. It also helped me survive girlhood relatively unscathed.

But then came workplace sexual harassment. Then came working in a domestic violence shelter. Then came female students telling their stories in my office after class let out. Then came knowledge of human trafficking. Youth may have been hard, but being a grown woman hasn’t been much easier. Now my feminism is about much more than keeping myself safe, more than pushing for my own equality. I feel responsible for protecting my sisters, my nieces and nephews, my students—even women and children on the street whom I do not know. (more…)