2013/06/06

Book Review: The Meaning of Freedom

The Meaning of Freedom book cover
I stumbled upon Angela Davis's book The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues in the basement of the City Lights bookstore. It seemed like a great find at the time - I'd love to hear what Angela Davis has to say! And although something like the "meaning of freedom" is a huge and slippery topic, I'd expect Davis to make some profound contributions.

Unfortunately, this book disappoints. Rather than being one book-length discussion of freedom, or even a progression of inquiries, it is a collection of speeches Davis has made over the last twenty years. Each speech is remarkably like the others, which is fine if you're taking one speech and tailoring it for different audiences and developing it over time as you tour. But it doesn't make for a great book of essays read one after the other.

I'm in general agreement with each essay. Davis problematizes our understanding of freedom by focusing on questions of race, racism, and incarceration in the US. (She also explores a little bit how the US model of incarceration - the prison-industrial complex, we call it - has been exported to the rest of the world.) In particular, she shows how the prison-industrial complex functions to keep black Americans, in particular, as less than full citizens. She speaks often of prison abolition by analogy to the abolition of slavery, and considers incarceration the modern-day incarnation of slavery. She makes a lot of connections between the "civil death" of prisoners and that of slaves.

These are ideas I'd heard before, but it was useful to absorb them laid out the way Davis does. It would have been much better, however, for her to distill her thoughts down in a small booklet, rather than have similar points repeated so many times.

2013/06/01

My Comments to the SF Pride Board Community Meeting regarding the Bradley Manning as Grand Marshal Kerfuffle

My name is Martin MacKerel and I am a straight ally. [some remarks about the anger in the room and remembering the pastor's words about respecting each others' humanity]

When I say I'm an ally, I don't just mean that I think gay rights are cool and I have some friends who are LGBT. I have played for several years in a pool league that "just happens to be gay" and met many people and that's when these issues became important to me. I campaigned against Prop 8, and after it passed I joined a local grassroots group called "One Struggle One Fight" to fight against it, and as part of that I went to DC for the 2009 National Equality March.

I'm also a Bradley Manning supporter since I learned about his situation two and a half years ago. You may ask why? Is there a link? And, yes, there is a simple link in that these are both about justice.

Picture of speakers in line to speak at the meeting
(Left to right) Martin MacKerel and John Caldera in line; Lisa Geduldig speaking

But I think there is a deeper link. Both the process of coming out and Bradley's actions involve speaking truths that might make people uncomfortable. Many people might initially not want to know that a family member or friend is queer. But hopefully in coming out, attitudes are shifted, and both the speaker and the listener are transformed.

I know that lots of people would prefer to believe that the government is on their side, that its military doesn't commit war crimes, and that its foreign policy comes from good intentions.

Bradley showed us, as Daniel Ellsberg did, that these comforting notions are not true. I see the reaction to Bradley Manning's selection as Grand Marshal as part of a prolonged attempt not to face the truth. But sooner or later, and the sooner the better, we must face the truth.

To deny Bradley - to shove him and his uncomfortable truths back in the closet - is to fail in our responsibility as a community.