Monday, September 30, 2013

Against Revolutionary Tourists

By Kelly Cogswell

I won't go so far as to declare, "Anybody but de Blasio." New York lived through Giuliani. We'll probably survive de Blasio, too. But for the record, he shows all the signs of being a moron of the kind mass-produced by the Left, usually sporting a scruffy, bereted Che silk-screened on their chests. They embrace lefty revolutions that do some proxy nose-thumbing at the U.S., watch at a distance as ideologies and their consequences are writ large in somebody else's life.

When confronted with human rights abuses of their pet leftist regimes, they typically make half-hearted excuses, blaming a meddling U.S., (ignoring their own fingers in the pie), or tout access to health care or literacy or whatever. No matter that their revolutions' accomplishments were ages ago and relatively brief, and now the books are censored, the schools crumbling, health care reserved for the regime's faithful elite, and government critics end up in the brig or worse. They don't even notice that the gloriously downtrodden poor are still poor, and voiceless, unless you count the labor unions, run not by the workers but by their employers, the state.

No, when it comes to all that, I can't condemn Mr. de Blasio as being particularly unique -- one of those flowers that blossoms once a millennium. He's just the zucchini of leftwing cretins. Absolutely garden variety, celebrating every leftist revolution he's ever heard of. Usually a couple decades late.

In 1987, when he got involved supporting the Sandinistas, they'd already been in power since 1979, and it was no secret that they celebrated their victory over Somoza's brutal rightwing dictatorship with mass graves. Two or three years later they suspended civil liberties. And while they did teach peasants to read, the effort was often wasted when the newly literate were tortured or disappeared after protesting official policies.

While Reagan's contras helped destabilize the new Nicaraguan government, excuses for torture and mass murder and dictatorships make me think of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. When she was told a serial killer was only evil because he was abused as a boy, she responded, "Bullshit... He killed and he raped because he liked doing it...Gottfried isn't the only kid who was ever mistreated."

A grave is much like another, whether Somoza put you there, or a Sandinista. By making excuses for these regimes, we lend them support that extends their lives, and makes us as complicit in their abuses as Reagan was with the contras, as all Americans are when we support Middle East dictatorships to keep a nice cheap flow of oil.

Still, faux revolutionaries will probably continue to idolize Cuba, even if the honeymoon of the 1959 revolution also lasted only a few months. Already, in 1960, our hero Che was setting up the first labor camps designed for "people who have committed crimes against revolutionary morals." In the following years, they'd be filled with plenty of queers and dissidents. Most recently, people with AIDS were interned with only slightly better treatment.

It's hard to believe Mr. de Blasio didn't know that when he went there in the early Nineties to celebrate his honeymoon and supposedly protest the U.S. embargo. It was the beginning of the "Special Period" after the Soviet Union's collapse, when most people experienced the island as a place of hunger and repression, an enormous jail. The beaches and hotels open to him were closed to ordinary Cubans in a cultural apartheid (you can't blame on the U.S.) that only allowed them access if they were waiters or cooks or prostitutes. Here's to protesting U.S. policies over a mojito in a country where real protests are brutally suppressed!

It was even more vile, in 2002, when as a councilperson, he grinned next to Robert Mugabe in front of City Hall. Once a hero in Zimbabwe's fight for independence, the African dictator only continued to win elections by slaughtering his opposition, rigging votes, and distracting the population with anti-gay pogroms -- a favorite pastime of left-wing revolutions, especially those with communist roots like Cuba.

Since I can't rub de Blasio's nose in the messes his revolutionary tourism has supported, I'll just quote James Baldwin at him, "it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime."

Ever since Stalin, if not before, it's been clear there's no redeeming qualities in the dictatorships of the Left. And beyond that, history (and common sense) tell us, over and over, that social change can not be engineered from above. You can't march into Iraq and declare democracy. You can't torture and mass grave your way to freedom and economic justice. If interference by American government is wrong, so is interference and unquestioning support from any large groups of outsiders whose only real interest is in protecting a mythology, a cage that other people are forced to live and die in.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Inequality Addicts

By Kelly Cogswell

Last week, The New York Times broke the unsurprising news that Christine Quinn's electoral disaster may have been more than rejection of her politics, but of Quinn herself -- her female screech and high pitched voice, the childlessness supposedly antagonistic to families, her unfeminine pushiness and goshdang dykey masculinity no man wants to stare at, and of which no woman wants to be accused.
Her advisors saw it coming and told her she had to do something, but apparently Quinn refused to talk about it, either out of hubris and short-sightedness or despair. Realistically, there's little she could have done. If Quinn had tried to appear softer, she'd have seemed weak, or worse, duplicitous. There are some circles you just can't square.
All we can do is admit the problem like inequality addicts, try to take the first step again. "Hi, I'm Christine Quinn. I'm a dyke, and I'm screwed." We're not post-misogyny, post-homophobia, post-anything just because women have been able to vote for a while now, and even own property, and lesbians can mess around safely in their own beds, or tie the knot at City Hall and reduce their parents to happy blubbering idiots.
The problem is, there's no real change in sight. In movies and on TV gender roles are almost as rigid as ever. If we're lucky enough to get a female superhero with a muscle-bound gym bod, you can bet she'll have long girly hair. The toughest female politicians stuff themselves into pink Chanel skirts, while the religious councilors of their constituents advise their flock that their daughters shouldn't be sent to college. Keep 'em barefoot, pregnant, and ignernt as sin.
While a video of that preacher went viral on the internet, propelled by outraged feminists, nothing really happened. The women's movement is all but dead. LGBT groups are mostly mobilized for legal equality, and have minimal impact on daily life. In fact, there's little going on anywhere that might start giving people ideas. It's not like we've got a big movement against the Vietnam War or for Women's Rights. All is calm on the activist front. Ditto for the culture wars. There's no Woodstock or Haight-Ashbury on the horizon. No Harlem Renaissance, Audre Lorde or David Wojnarowicz.
In New York, activism has been particularly scarce since the demise of ACT-UP and the Lesbian Avengers. There were two or three big demos protested the Iraq War. A handful of folks denounced torture. Domestic spying is submitted to with barely a peep. Wall Street was occupied briefly then abandoned. After the Trayvon Martin verdict there were a few protests, but no budding movement. As humans, as Americans, it seems we've lost our hearts. We're dead in the water. Play taps or some old spiritual. Let's get it over with. Though maybe I'm missing something. Maybe there's some underground thing getting ready to bloom, though I doubt it.
The old tricks don't seem to work any more. In the U.S., we relied too long on identity politics to fuel progressive movements, rallying people around race, sexual orientation, gender. As if the categories had some independent existence tapping into hidden wells of Power. Raise your fist in the Black Power salute. Burn something like a bra. Or don't. Post-modern and queer theories seem to put the existence of any identity, especially the lesbian one, on the same plane as unicorns. Our lives are performed, not lived. They are as flexible and fluid as any Coney Island contortionist. No matter that the street tells us different, and the consequences of identity aren't flexible at all. Violence, rape, poverty of whole classes of people. Disenfranchisement.
And yet, and yet, what do we have in common? Females are just creatures with two mounds on their chests and reproductive organs conveniently tucked away. Even so, I get chased out of women's restrooms. Get called sir half the time in the street when my hair is short. Not that dykes embrace each other. We're too this or too that. Not enough of the other thing.
Likewise, nothing unites African Americans and other racial minorities but skin. Scratch beneath it and what do you have? More skin. And then flesh and icky stuff. Blood. And bones. It is only abstractions that are shared. The invisible web of history, and culture, or experience. Things that must be continually taught, continually explored. Whether the lesson comes from a bigot and is one of shame. Or something to celebrate, taught by somebody inside the community reminding us survival itself is reason enough for pride. We did it. You can, too.
Identity is largely an act of the imagination, filtered through imponderable flesh. It's a dream we deny the need for, but can't live without.