Archive for the ‘social justice’ Category


a health care post (and it’s not about SiCKO)

July 10, 2007

But it is about gay marriage.

Thank goodness for the good gay marriage fight, without which we would not have states suddenly denying domestic partner benefits because they violate constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Step back for a second. For some refreshing commentary (not to mention great historical context, if you read the full text), let us consult John D’Emilio:

Please, can we speak the truth? The campaign for same-sex marriage has been an unmitigated disaster. Never in the history of organized queerdom have we seen defeats of this magnitude. The battle to win marriage equality through the courts has done something that no other campaign or issue in our movement has done: it has created a vast body of new antigay law. Alas for us, as the anthropologist Gayle Rubin has so cogently observed, “sex laws are notoriously easy to pass. … Once they are on the books, they are extremely difficult to dislodge.” (“The Marriage Fight is Setting us Back,” from the November/December 2006 issue of the Gay and Lesbian Review:)

Case in point today: Kalamazoo, Michigan. Domestic partners of city employees used to have the option of accessing their partners’ health care. No longer, since legislators recently realized that they could use a 2004 constitutional ban on gay marriage to deem the practice illegal. The answer to this problem is NOT “find a way to guarantee that all couples can access each other’s health insurance.” The answer is not to tell the millions of Americans without health insurance to get married to someone whose employer provides insurance.

I haven’t seen Sicko yet, though I hope to soon. From what I’ve read, the documentary provides ample evidence that our country’s system of spending the most in the world on health insurance and having the highest number of uninsured citizens (not to speak of uninsured undocumented immigrants) is beyond absurd. What is also absurd is that so many gay people will rally around gay marriage as some piece of the solution to “our” (as in the gay community’s) health insurance problems, among other issues, when the reality is that a) many states, cities, and private employers recognize domestic partnerships as they do straight marriages when it comes to benefits and b) many, if not most, gay people would STILL be uninsured if gay marriage was legalized in the federal courts tomorrow.

But I digress. What did Kalamazoo do in response to this conundrum? Something really interesting, actually. They took the same language of the previous law allowing partners of city employees to access their partners’ health insurance and changed the wording from “domestic partner” to “Other Qualified Adult.” It’s kind of brilliant, actually, and it reminds me, if only nominally, of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement, which dares to ask for recognition for all kinds of family structures. The language needed to be ambiguous regarding the relationship between the two people in order to pass – it makes no requirement that the two people be romantically involved. It’s kind of cool, actually. Coolest part? It passed. Interesting.

I’ve said it before and I will likely say it again because if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know this issue drives me nuts. Gay marriage is not the answer to all your gay problems. Seriously. It’s doing us more harm than good (it’s also going against history: thank you John D’Emilio). And it’s taking energy away from other worthy fights.


salty sunday (domestic workers’ justice edition)

June 10, 2007

Salty Sunday is back after a brief hiatus. Hopefully the blogging will now resume to its somewhat-normal frequency.

This week’s Salty Sunday will be a roundup of links from last week’s successful Blog For Domestic Workers’ Justice day, which seemed to be kind of a bust by the end of the 5th but, to my delight, received a lot more writers as the week progressed.

The ever-eloquent Sylvia perused a HRW report and reports back in her Blog for DW post. A snip of her words on her personal connection with DW:

I think my respect for domestic workers comes from my history. It’s a history where I know women like me would not have had many jobs to seek, and we would have to work in someone’s home and raise someone else’s children to get by feeding our own. It’s a history where, through lots of pain and heartache, people were dragged here and raped and subordinated and beaten so someone could tend to another’s fields, clean another’s homes, shine another’s shoes, eat another’s scraps, and forget their humanity in the midst of all that work. It’s with luck that those workers’ descendants have maintained their fight to realize the value within us, the love within us, and the pride in our energies, our efforts. We’re still mired in a society that doesn’t recognize our worth unless we’re serving its flagrant abuses of power and wealth.

More beautiful personal words, more like a manifesto, over at Blackamazon. It’s hard to blockquote her words, I hate to chop them up because they can only be fully appreciated in context. Go read them, not a long piece. Carmen at All About Race writes about her mother and grandmother, who were both domestic workers.

KC connects the DW BoR in New York to California legislation that would protect DWs in that state. Sanne at New York Nannies discusses the legislation and domestic work not being valued as real work. Over at Jewschool, the fantastic Kol Ra’ash Gadol tells a story about a 19th century rabbi with a heightened sensitivity and appreciation for the hard work of his domestic worker and moves into the importance of the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights (BoR). She stresses that according to Jewish law, we are all subject to the same regulations and should be treated the same, regardless of immigration status. Rebecca Honig Friedman at Jewess writes about the importance of being conscious employers of domestic workers and of recognizing domestic work as real work. JR at JWABlog expresses her personal ambivalence and discomfort in being an employer, concluding with pushing for the BoR as a key step in DWs not depending on the “benevolence of their employer” for good working conditions.

For some high-traffic DW blogging, there was some linkage over at Feministing and also a lengthy and thought-out (not to mention researched!) post at Pandagon, which sparked an interesting discussion in the comments.

A short critique of some points of the bill can be read here – though I should say that this person asks why we don’t amend labor laws so that DWs can unionize, to which I respond that the fact that DWs can’t unionize is more because of the nature of their employment than because of what some law dictates. Meaning, each domestic worker has a different employer. How could DWs actually have a union with any power if this is the case? Also, this writer seems confused by my name. Saltyfemme. Saltyfemme?

Following the Blog for DW Justice Day and the successful Town Hall meeting held this past Thursday evening, Belledame writes about Betty Friedan and the DW BoR (OK OK I wrote about Friedan and she followed up). Belle also wrote this fantastic piece about feminism and the DW legislation, bringing in the BoR text as well as text from the executive summary handed out at the Town Hall.

Added June 15th: thoughts on DW Justice from Elle, PhD.

Quick hits also came in from JSpot and Appletreeblog.

Also, not related to Blog for DW day but mentionable nonetheless, following the NY Daily News and NYTimes pieces (!!) from May 31st and June 1st, respectively, this wonderful piece written by Labor Research Association ED Jonathan Tasini appeared at HuffPo and Daily Kos. NYTimes NY-metro area blog Empire Zone discussed the proposed legislation and annoying liberal NYTimes readers respond with skepticism. Following Thursday’s Town Hall, Daniel Millstone at the Daily Gotham urges readers to join Domestic Workers United (DWU) and their allies for a march down Fifth Avenue (which occurred yesterday and was moving and inspiring, by the way).

Whew. Quite a roundup. Congrats if you’ve made it this far. Thank you to all who participated in this great blogswarm. It was really wonderful to see all this great writing about an issue I have been organizing around on the ground for the last year and a half. I look forward to continuing my work with the Shalom Bayit: Justice for Domestic Workers campaign with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). If you’re interested, check back here for more on the progress of the campaign.


redefining the settler movement

June 6, 2007

In my mind, Jews moving to the West Bank because of religious fervor were the lowest of the low. During the time I spent in Israel, I learned to despise settlers. Where do they get off thinking that this is what God wants them to do? How can they justify this behavior with religious rhetoric?

But then, I find out that there are many American Jews who are moving to the West Bank to cities that are commuting distance from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for purely economic reasons. And then I throw up a little bit in my mouth. I am disgusted by American Jews who make sense of this unethical decision by citing how cheap it is and how they can have an even more lavish home than they had in the US.

Settlements near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have become a suburban paradise for North American religious Jews. They offer large homes with yards, lawns and swimming pools, and prices are low compared with those of the cramped apartments not only of Israel’s main population centers but also of such smaller cities as Beit Shemesh and Modi’in.

For the record, there is a water shortage in Israel. Israelis, settlers specifically, consume far more water than their Palestinian neighbors and Palestinians are frequently denied access to water that falls in the West Bank. (google ‘palestinian water crisis’ and you will find an endless number of hits). This new generation of settlers define their personal happiness not by God’s commandment to settle the land but by how many valuable public resources they can waste and how short their commute is. In a way, it is even more disgusting to me than religious settlers – at least the latter think they have God on their side.

Beyond that, I cannot even get into the rest of the ironies of this trend – the fact that these communities are “safer” than the ones they left in the US; that they have more security than cities in Israel proper; that the Israeli government cannot offer US olim (immigrants) economically comparable options within Israel proper; that these new communities are popular because they are “gated” communities, giving the olim a feeling of being part of an exclusive community for much less money than gated communities in the US.

Thank you, olim from Teaneck, for making it so clear that this occupation goes beyond religious rhetoric. At its core, this 40-year old occupation is about economic opportunities and natural resources.

““The take-home message is that whatever living standard you could imagine or dream is possible here.”

Right. As long as you’re Jewish and come from an upper-middle class community in the US and therefore feel entitled to all the land, space, and resources you like.


Why I support the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights

June 5, 2007


In the 1960’s and 70’s, the women’s movement empowered (mostly) middle-class, white women to recognize “the problem that has no name.” The problem, of course, was that domestic work had no intrinsic value. These women did work, hard work, for no recognition and certainly for no pay. It was and continues to be considered unskilled labor. I’d like to revisit Friedan for a minute. Feminist historical context seems key in this discussion, and text always helps me.

Just what was this problem that has no name? What were the words women used when they tried to express it? Sometimes a woman would say “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete.” Or she would say, “I feel as if I don’t exist.” Sometimes she blotted out the feeling with a tranquilizer. Sometimes she thought the problem was with her husband or her children, or that what she really needed was to redecorate her house, or move to a better neighborhood, or have an affair, or another baby. Sometimes, she went to a doctor with symptoms she could hardly describe: “A tired feeling. . . I get so angry with the children it scares me . . . I feel like crying without any reason.” (A Cleveland doctor called it “the housewife’s syndrome.”) A number of women told me about great bleeding blisters that break out on their hands and arms. “I call it the house wife’s blight” said a family doctor in Pennsylvania. “I see it so often lately in these young women with four, five and six children who bury themselves in their dishpans. But it isn’t caused by detergent and it isn’t cured by cortisone.” (Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique).

Many argue that Friedan’s book sparked the American second-wave feminist movement. The Feminine Mystique urged middle-class white women to get out of the house, to find fulfillment the way that their husbands do. Instead of critiquing a culture that has devalued traditional women’s work,” Friedan put all the value on men’s work, outside of the home and in an office, where training and skill is required and where the boundary between work life and personal life is clearly drawn. I realize I am being harsh on Friedan, but go with me for a second. Perhaps these women felt unfulfilled by their work because our culture is fraught with sexism and does not have the tools with which to understand the importance and weight of domestic work in both our day-to-day lives and in the long-term.

Fast-forward 30 years. Where are we now? The 1970’s into the 80’s saw a dramatic shift in the professional world. Middle-class women were leaving home to work in offices; feminism has won out! But who inherited the burden of the domestic work these women left behind? Children were still being born; homes still needed to be cleaned; dinner still needed to be cooked. And while second-wave feminism certainly left its mark, we continue to have a second-shift phenomenon. Families struggle with day care, cleaning on the weekends, etc. 200,000 households in the New York-metro area rely on outside help from nannies, housecleaners, and elderly care givers. The domestic burden did not disappear after the 1970’s. It merely shifted from middle-class white women to working-class immigrant women of color. And as Americans, we continue to not understand how to value and respect domestic work.

I’ve written about this before extensively so I don’t want to repeat myself. The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights is the only sensible next step in teaching ourselves and each other how to value traditional women’s work. The “problem that has no name” is not bored housewives. It is the continued devaluation of work essential to the functioning and success of New York City and everyone who works here. This city would simply not run without them, it is just that simple. Support the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. If you are in New York, join Domestic Workers United (DWU) this Thursday, June 7th at 6:30 PM at Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South, for what promises to be an amazing Town Hall event.


Blog for Domestic Workers on Tuesday, June 5th!

May 19, 2007


Attention bloggers: Tuesday, June 5th is Blog for Domestic Workers day! The event is in conjunction with a massive Town Hall meeting and accountability session at Judson Memorial Church in New York City on Thursday, June 7th. Domestic Workers United (DWU), an organization of nannies, housecleaners, and elderly care givers, is pushing a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights through the state legislature in Albany. If passed, it would be the first legislation of its kind, guaranteeing basic rights to domestic workers in New York state. Domestic workers have been excluded from most federal and state labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act.

Domestic workers number over 200,000 in the New York tri-state area alone. They work tirelessly for low pay and little respect, yet they enable about 400,000 middle- and upper-class folks to go to work every day. They make this city run, yet they have received little recognition for this work. It is no coincidence that most domestic workers are immigrant women of color and do traditional women’s work. The time has come for the world, or at least New York City, to recognize and appreciate what a vital role domestic workers play. (more here)

No matter where you live, please consider posting on June 5th about anything that relates to domestic workers: your experiences working as one; being raised by one; political issues from your own broad perspective; your thoughts on how this issue is a feminist issue; how it relates to the other immigrant experiences; ideas on how we might frame this issue for a mainstream audience. Anything you like, just frame it as why I support the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Take part in breaking the silence on this issue. Help bring it out of the closet by doing what you do best: writing your heart out. June 5th. If you can, please link to info about the Town Hall event and to the text of the Bill of Rights. And don’t forget to leave a link to your post in the comments section of this one and if you can, please use the image at the top of this page in your post. Thank you and I look forward to seeing all of your fantastic posts on June 5th!


*UPDATED 6/1* more fantastic resources:


Long Island couple accused of abusing domestic workers

May 17, 2007

Just another reason why domestic workers need a Bill of Rights. A Long Island couple has been charged with abusing, underpaying, and overworking two Indonesian domestic workers. From the NYTimes:

Police and federal immigration agents developed the case against the couple after one of the women, identified only as “Samirah” in court papers, was seen wandering near a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in Syosset on Sunday morning, wearing only pants and wrapped in a towel. Her face was bruised, and when shop employees tried to communicate with her, she made gestures of slapping herself and uttering what sounded to them like the word “master,” prosecutors said.

The police took Samirah to Nassau University Medical Center, where, with the help of an Indonesian translator, she told them that she and a second woman, identified in papers only as “Nona,” were forced by the Sabhnanis to work long hours, given little food, forced to sleep on mats on the floor, kept hidden when company came, threatened with violence, and in Samirah’s case, frequently beaten by Mrs. Sabhnani.

Nice. So now I want the mainstream feminists to pay close attention: there are over 200,000 domestic workers in the NY metro-area – I don’t even know what the numbers look like for the whole country. They are almost exclusively immigrant women of color. And they are not covered by labor laws. Talk about not valuing women’s work.

If we could pull our attention away from the pressing opt-out myth discussion for just a second and wonder who takes the place of these middle- and upper-class parents when they “opt” to go back to work? Where are the rallying cries from the feminists about double-standards, frighteningly low wages for care work (women’s work), immigrant domestic workers being blackmailed by their employers because they don’t have papers?

Plans are under way for a blog for domestic workers day on Tuesday, June 5th. Posts can range from personal stories to theory to political essays or any combination – the idea is to get the stories and issues around this important topic out of the domestic closet and into the public. These women have raised countless numbers of children who are not biologically theirs; they take care of elderly people who might otherwise have to move out of their apartments and into nursing homes; they also clean apartments so that people can work their 9-5 jobs and come home to a beautiful space. They work hard, they support their own families – and ALL of us, whether we are domestic workers ourselves, have a relative who is, were raised by one, grew up in a house with a “cleaning lady,” have elderly grandparents with live-in help, or simply understand that taking care of children and cleaning is difficult and thankless work, we are ALL connected to this issue in some way. Please consider joining me in this important project and check back into saltyfemme soon for updates – by next week, I’ll have pages for linking with the text of the Bill of Rights and information about the Town Hall event on June 7th at Judson Memorial Church here in NYC.


Do middle-class people have to play poor to make poverty newsworthy?

May 2, 2007

To prove how absurdly low $3/day is for food, a rabbi and his family in Portland, Oregon took on the challenge of eating on this budget for Shabbat. (I believe that $3 a day is what eligible Oregonians receive in foodstamps.). Rabbi Daniel Isaak was inspired by Governor Kulongoski’s Hunger Awareness Week challenge (p.s. Kulongoski’s challenge, and his shopping list, made it into the NYTimes last week). I think it’s a great lesson that this rabbi was trying to teach his congregants, and perhaps this is a lesson for all middle-class folks to learn. It might have even reached legislators. Beyond that, it’s kind of insulting that poor people in this country deal with these issues every day, without taking it on as a choice or an experiment, and their stories are not news- or blog-worthy.

This reminds me of the Oprah I caught a few months ago about Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame) and his fiancee’s challenge to live making minimum wage for 30 days. Spurlock went all woe is me on Oprah and I was thinking, couldn’t we get some people who actually make this amount of money as guests on this show? Why are their stories not newsworthy? The story makes some important points, though I would venture that they are points that poor people who don’t have a choice in the matter have thought about many times.

The Jewish piece of this also makes me uneasy. The article swallows whole the assumption that all Jews are middle- and upper-class when we know that this is far from the truth.

Thank you, Governor Kulongoski. I think your challenge is a very Jewish exercise. Many reasons are given as to why we fast on Yom Kippur. Among them is to remind us as we stand before God on this most solemn day in the Jewish calendar of those who have nothing to eat. And then when our stomachs begin to growl just after noon on Yom Kippur we read the words of Isaiah that I quoted two weeks ago calling on us to “Share your bread with the hungry, Take the wretched poor into your home, When you see the naked, clothe him, And not ignore your own kin.” Similarly we sit in the Sukkah in order to remind us of the innumerable people who do not have proper shelter and are exposed to the elements. On Passover we begin the Seder with an invitation to those who are hungry to join us in our celebration.

I shudder at the distance created between “we Jews” and “those poor people out there.”

I am committed to the notion that blogs and web 2.0 can be used as a tool for social change. But as I’ve learned in my community organizing, social change cannot happen unless, in this story, folks getting $3/day in foodstamps or working poor making minimum wage unite and speak out in their own voices, telling their own stories. Telling the world that their stories are what matter. I just wonder what good it actually does to tell stories about middle-class people “slumming” to learn (and subsequently teach) a lesson. It creates an incredible distance between people. Whose stories are worth telling and whose voices are silenced? Aren’t we just continuing a cycle that we think we’re breaking?

Via JSpot and Jewschool