krys méndez ramírez

Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

El Mundo Zurdo: Notable Queer People of Color on Art, Resistance, and Community

In Creative Writing, GenSex & Queer Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality, Latin@ Politics, Racial Politics, The Revolution on June 30, 2013 at 8:28 PM

Rather than be a spectator to this year’s celebration of Gay Inc.—with what I’m sure will be an overwhelming parade of “Equality” signs after last week’s ruling—I ended up, quite unintentionally, staying home. With my sickly body, however, I wouldn’t have been able to do much anyhow. I’m sure my headache light and sound sensitivity would have been irritated by the loud music, vibrant colors, the heteronormative displays of happy families and smooching couples, and the flagrant show of queer capitalism and “equality” symbols blazoned beside corporate logos. No, it may as well as have been for the best.

Yet, as I look over a Facebook newsfeed today, in 2013, I can’t help but ponder the meaning of the many displays of joy, love, and affection. While I sort of wish my wall wasn’t so littered with “Happy Pride!!!” messages, I’m also tired of being the Pride Grinch; the fact is, I do realize there is a need to celebrate. Communities besieged by multi-pronged wars against capitalism, imperialism, patriarchy, criminalization, and pathologization need to celebrate. Five hundred years of colonialism, genocide, and slavery (none of which have ended, in spite of what the McGraw-Hill® textbooks will have you believe) necessitate moments of enjoying the victories, enjoying life, enjoying the moment.

Yes, perhaps marriage “equality” was more a victory for bourgeois gay and lesbian whites. And, yes, it will likely perpetuate and fortify an institution of epistemic violence and exclusion that will hinder efforts towards an authentic queer liberation. The decisions of five people in our “highest court” will not liberate me as a Latin@, unemployed, and chronically ill queer person. But there are reasons to rejoice nevertheless. If it means less families will lose a loved one through deportation; if it means a partner getting much needed health coverage; or a couple being able to legitimize their relationship before their oppressively conservative families—then, well, it might actually be a good (albeit short-term) thing. So why not celebrate?

It is in honor of celebration, liberation, and resistance that I’ve decided to compile some important quotes from notable queer people of color in amerikka. While not to glorify these individuals at the expense of others, they were glorious, beautiful people in their own right. They showed us how we can persevere in the search for love—love of our (chosen or unchosen) families, love of a partner, love of our art, love of our communities, love of ourselves—amid the terrors of Oppression. They weren’t all “activists,” at least not in the narrow way it’s conventionally understood, but their work as embodied agents of change enabled for, not some paltry, self-oppressed form of acceptance from the mainstream, but rather a celebration of difference that confronts head-on the social realities of intersectional identity politics.

La lucha sigue

           James Baldwin

james baldwin

James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) was a renowned black novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic. Best known for his novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain (1953), his novels poignantly include such complex themes as exclusion, isolation, racism, and sexuality.

“Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
– 
“An interview with James Baldwin” (1961)

“[I]f one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person — ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
– 
from No Name in the Street (1972)

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera

Sylvia Rivera (1951 – 2002) was an activist and founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, Gay Activists Alliance, and STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries). She was a Puerto Rican New Yorker, transwoman, and vocal opponent of the assimilationist gay agenda.

“It was a fabulous feeling for me to be myself-being part of the Young Lords as a drag queen-and my organization [STAR] being part of the Young Lords.

I met [Black Panther Party leader] Huey Newton at the Peoples’ Revolutionary Convention in Philadelphia in 1971. Huey decided we were part of the revolution-that we were revolutionary people.

I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist. I was proud to make the road and help change laws and what-not. I was very proud of doing that and proud of what I’m still doing, no matter what it takes.

Today, we have to fight back against the government. We have to fight them back. They’re cutting back Medicaid, cutting back on medicine for people with AIDS. They want to take away from women on welfare and put them into that little work program. They’re going to cut SSI.

Now they’re taking away food stamps. These people who want the cuts-these people are making millions and millions and millions of dollars as CEOs.

Why is the government going to take it away from us? What they’re doing is cutting us back. Why can’t we have a break?

I’m glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought: “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!”

I always believed that we would have a fight back. I just knew that we would fight back. I just didn’t know it would be that night.

I am proud of myself as being there that night. If I had lost that moment, I would have been kind of hurt because that’s when I saw the world change for me and my people.

Of course, we still got a long way ahead of us.”

– from an interview with Leslie Feinberg

  Audre Lorde

audre lorde

Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was a self-identified black lesbian feminist best known for her poetry and critical sociopolitical essays. Her writings touch upon such topics as self-determination, celebration of difference, overcoming silence and oppression, and cancer, among other topics.

“If our history has taught us anything, it is that action for change directed only against the external conditions of our oppressions is not enough. In order to be whole, we must recognize the despair oppression plants within each of us–that thins persistent voice that says our efforts are useless, it will never change, so why bother, accept it. And we must fight that inserted piece of self-destruction that lives and flourishes like a poison inside of us, unexamined until it makes us turn upon ourselves in each other.
“Learning from the ’60s”  

“Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged… As women, we have been taught either to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”
– “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

Gloria Anzaldúa

Gloria Anzaldua

Gloria Anzaldúa (1942 – 2004) was a queer Chicana scholar best known for her book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Her works examine social and cultural marginalization in a physical and symbolic borderlands that goes beyond an either-or state of dominant binaries (e.g. U.S./Mexico, Spanish/English, indigenous/white).

“We are the queer groups, the people that don’t belong anywhere, not in the dominant world nor completely within our own respective cultures. Combined we cover so many oppressions. But the overwhelming oppression is the collective fact that we do not fit, and because we do not fit we are a threat. Not all of us have the same oppressions, but we empathize and identify with each other’s oppressions. We do not have the same ideology, nor do we derive similar solutions. Some of us are leftists, some of us practitioners of magic. Some of us are both. But these different affinities are not opposed to each other. In El Mundo Zurdo [the left-handed world] I with my own affinities and my people with theirs can live together and transform the planet.”
– ‘La Prieta’

“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it.
Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers, from This Bridge Called My Back


Black feminists marching“We realize that the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political-economic system of capitalism and imperialism as well as patriarchy. We are socialists because we believe the work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses… We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives.”
“A Black Feminist Statement” by the Cohambee River Collective

June Jordan

june jordan

June Jordan (1936 – 2002) was a Jamaican-American writer, educator, and activist who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. While in Berkeley, she founded the group Poetry for the People, and wrote extensively around themes affecting her and her students.

“Our earth is round, and, among other things, that means that you and I can hold completely different points of view and both be right. The difference of our positions will show stars in your window I cannot even imagine. Your sky may burn with light, while mine, at the same moment, spreads beautiful to darkness. Still we must choose how we separately corner the circling universe of our experience. Once chosen, our cornering will determine the message of any star and darkness we encounter. These poems speak to philosophy; they reveal the corners where we organize what we know.
-Introduction to the “Corners on the Curving Sky” section of  Soulscript (1970), compiled by Jordan. 

                                                                     

   

Alice Walker

alice walker

Alice Walker (1944 – ) is a black author, poet, activist, and womanist. Best known for her work The Color Purple (1982), for which she won the Pulitzer, she was also involved in civil rights activism in the South (with her professor, Howard Zinn). More recently, she has spoken out against the war in Iraq and Israeli apartheid.

“It has become a common feeling, I believe, as we have watched our heroes falling over the years, that our own small stone of activism, which might not seem to measure up to the rugged boulders of heroism we have so admired, is a paltry offering toward the building of an edifice of hope. Many who believe this choose to withhold their offerings out of shame. This is the tragedy of the world…  Sometimes our stones are, to us, misshapen, odd. Their color seems off. Their singing, like Paul’s whistling, comical and strange. Presenting them, we perceive our own imperfect nakedness. But also, paradoxically, the wholeness, the rightness, of it. In the collective vulnerability of presence, we learn not to be afraid.”
– from “Working Towards Peace

Cherrié Moraga

cherrie moraga

Cherrié Moraga (1952 – ) is a Chicana lesbian feminist, an essayist, poet, and activist. She co-edited This Bridge Called My Back (1981) with Gloria Anzaldúa, is currently a professor at Stanford University, and has written about intersectionality and the need for “oppositional consciousness.”

“We plead to each other,
we all come from the same rock
we all come from the same rock
ignoring the fact that we bend at different temperatures
that each of us is malleable
up to a point.

Yes, fusion is possible
but only if things get hot enough–
all else is temporary adhesion,
patching up.

It is the intimacy of steel melting
into steel, the fire of our individual
passion to take hold of ourselves
that makes sculpture of our lives,
builds buildings.”
‘The Welder’
                                                                                                                       

chrystos

Chrystos (1946 – ) is a First Nation (Menominee) rights activist and poet. From San Francisco, her poetry embodies such themes as love, alienation, identity, and violence.Chrystos

Chrystos

“Within this basket is something you
have been looking for all your life
Come take it
Take as much as you want
I give you seeds of a new way
I give you the moon shining on a fire of singing women
I give you the sound of our feet dancing
I give you the sound of our thoughts flying
I give you the sound of peace moving into our faces & sitting down
Come
this is a give away poem
I cannot go home
until you have taken everything
and the basket which held it

When my hands are empty
I will be full.”
–  “Ceremony for Completing a Poetry Reading”

The SCOTUS Rulings You Didn’t Hear About: The Reign of White Supremacy and Private Property in Amerikkka

In Class Politics, Decolonization, GenSex & Queer Politics, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Health Justice, Identity Politics, Racial Politics on June 28, 2013 at 11:08 PM

My head has been swirling with the various, pivotal issues upon which the conservative Roberts Court struck down its gavel this month. Voting rights. Affirmative action. The Patenting of Life. Indigenous Sovereignty. Housing Development. And, oh yeah. Marriage “equality.”

Not entirely familiar with everything on this abbreviated list? You’re not alone. After all, there were a considerable number of issues, all arbitrated by a mere nine people that make up this country’s judicial branch. A mere nine people who adjudicate rulings that govern a breathtaking jurisdiction: the entire united states** and its colonial “possessions,” over 300 million people.

The fact is, not only is wealth super-concentrated and polarized in this world (see videos on global and US wealth inequalities)—so is power and knowledge. Indeed, that something like NSA mass surveillance has been happening—and continues to happen—should not surprise us when we recognize the realities that enable unadulterated greed and the thirst for conquest. So, understandably, the project of trying to get at the roots of the many issues decided on by our “highest” court is daunting. The powers that be would never want us peering behind the curtains that enable them: our time-consuming wage labor, our mainstream media, our nefarious multinational corporations, our Orwellian Security State.

Given the spate of historic rulings this month, I made a deliberate effort to examine some of those minimized, distorted, or completely hidden from the limelight. I also wanted to contextualize some of the more well-known rulings against the backdrop of deeply-entrenched racism and u.s. colonization (without repeating a recurrent mantra found elsewhere on the Web). Unfortunately, I didn’t have as much time to analyze some of these issues as I would’ve liked—let alone trace their roots and connections. But I’ll leave that for another day.

So, please. Feel free to skim. (And share. And digest. And critique.)

Image

A bastion of Enlightenment reason…or kangaroo court for white supremacy?

Colorblind Racism and the Tradition of White Supremacy

1) Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (June 24)

Verdict: Universities will need to showcase evidence race is a “necessary” component in their admissions policy that can’t be achieved by any other means. 

Between the heart break over the evisceration of our era’s voting rights laws, and the hoopla over same-sex marriage, we might have forgotten about this one. Granted, affirmative action, a pivotal civil rights accomplishment, has been eroded over the years through numerous legislations, the consolidation of a black and brown elite, and the inauspicious rise of the culture of colorblindness. But this ruling still deals a considerable blow to a faltering, yet much-needed, compensatory policy.

In this ruling, the common admissions practice of factoring in race will now be regulated by a vague notion of “good faith.” Universities will now need, if ever pressed, to showcase evidence that it is “necessary” to factor in applicants’ race “to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.” Blanketed under this cover of multiculturalism is a blatant ignorance of politics and history—a perfect ruse for the neoliberal white supremacist state. And so farther thus we go from the promise of a truly liberatory and equitable education.

 Read More: Supreme Court Ruling May Spell The End of Affirmative Action

2) Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (June 25)

Verdict: A Cherokee father who has appealed for custody of his daughter under the Indian Child Welfare Act—a legislative attempt to preserve the integrity of indigenous sovereignty—has no parental claims above those of the white couple trying to adopt.

This ruling, which dealt a significant imperialist blow to indigenous sovereignty, got little media coverage outside race-focused news and policy agency Colorlines and the Rachel Maddow Show.

In this case, a Latina Oklahoma woman made a decision to give up her daughter for adoption—in this instance, to a white, non-Native couple, the Capobiancos, in South Carolina.  The biological father, an indigenous Cherokee, had been estranged from the mother throughout the pregnancy and initially agreed to relinquish his parental rights. However, upon learning of the news of the adoption, became upset and decided to take matters to the courts.

The father appealed the adoption under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a law enacted in 1978 for the preservation of tribal cohesion in the face of countless Native child adoptions by non-Natives. (As a matter of fact, a cursory inspection of the Act’s history reveals its dark, colonial legacy. From 1958 to 1967, the united states government was directly responsible for a program, the Indian Adoption Project, whose primary aim it was to assimilate Natives into white supremacist amerikkka.) As far as the Cherokee nation is concerned, the daughter, Veronica (“Baby Girl”), is Cherokee and is deemed eligible to live with the biological father. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father, and she was, against the wishes of the Capobiancos, returned to Oklahoma.

And it is upon appeal, at the Supreme Court level, where the politics of empire and white supremacy are most heinously manifested. In its decision, the Roberts Court undermined the determination of the South Carolina Supreme Court and, more tragically, that of the Cherokee nation by claiming that the ICWA does not bar termination of a father’s parental rights. The father, according to the ruling, was never able to invoke the ICWA because he never had legal custody of the girl.

However, it is the long-term implications of this ruling that are truly disheartening. The concept of indigenous sovereignty, or the rudimentary rationales that prompt a need for tribal preservation, never emerged in the ruling. The centuries of genocidal barbarism and destruction of countless First Nation societies, cultures, and languages were never discussed. And the dismissive attitude of the majority side towards Veronica’s claim to indigenous ancestry—that “she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee”—makes apparent the undergirding Amerikkkanist notion of race that guides the notion of how a child should be categorized. Indeed, as if to chastise her colleagues for their substral racism, dissenting Justice Sotomayor felt compelled to mention the “majority’s repeated, analytically unnecessary references to the fact that Baby Girl is 3/256 Cherokee.”

Yet little is said about the rights of Cherokees, First Nation peoples, and the threat this ruling poses to further white adoptions to tribal integrity. Such is the violence of the white supremacist state.

3) Shelby County v. Holder (June 25)

Verdict: The preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, imposed on certain states to curb discriminatory policies in voter registration, are no longer constitutional.

Although I don’t equate voting in corporation-hijacked elections “liberation,” we should nevertheless call this for what it is: a shameless coup on black and Latino self-determination. If appeal efforts prove unsuccessful, this blatant evisceration of Voting Rights Act of 1965 (sections 4 and 5) will surely go down in infamy Using a logic that is very much aligned with a conservative Court (even with the presence of two non-white bodies, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor), a decision was made to eliminate the “preclearance” requirements of states deemed culpable of discriminatory registration practices in the Civil Rights Era.

The decision, delivered by Justice Roberts, was based on two central arguments: 1) the “historic tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty” and 2) that much has changed in the country since 1965. Right. I especially relish this most exquisite pearl of racist color-blind wisdom: “Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.” To the extent that efforts at racial parity were ever realized, they likely won’t persist when threats of gerrymandering (redistricting) and voter identification laws are legalized.

Indeed, the voracious thirst for power—and the disenfranchisement of a potentially dissident voting bloc—has already seized the legislature of the affected states. As of today (June 28th), at least five of the nine states under the Section 4 preclearance requirements have forged ahead with voter ID laws.

In the case of Texas, where redistricting and voter ID bills were tossed due to failure to comply with Section 4 requirements, the threat is very inimically real. A federal court had previously rejected the infamous voter ID law because of its “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor,” and the state’s very own data that suggested Latinos were more likely to lack a certain state-issued ID. Now the voter ID bill has one less obstacle to passage.

Read moreSupreme Court Guts Voting Rights Act 

Colorblind racism

Throughout the centuries, racism has mutated and morphed in various ways. White people who assert “colorblindness” are doing little more than perpetuate a complicity in (post)colonial violence in the age of global neoliberalism.

Housing and Environmental Justice

4) Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District (June 25)

Verdict: This ruling in favor of a now-deceased developer argues in favor of limits on governmental fees and regulations over private land use—thus opening the door to unfettered displacement and environmental destruction.

Protecting the interests of private property is an amerikkkan tradition. And this ruling, which some of the justices referred to as a “revolution in land use law,” imposes scrutiny and constraints over governmental regulations and fees that would otherwise (so one would hope) benefit local communities and environments. If this doesn’t sound severe to you, imagine how your neighborhood, town, or nearest nature reserve could be impacted by the construction of a behemoth condominium complex…or even a natural gas company.

To understand this case, one must recognize the precedent set by two prior Supreme Court cases, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard. Together, these constitute the so-called Nollan-Dolan standard, which demands that the government’s request for land development concessions—such as monetary fees or a percentage devoted to public housing—have a “rough proportionality” (reasonability) as required by the Fifth Amendment. (For the Fifth Amendment reads: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”).

In this case, Koontz, who applied to develop a portion of his property in the Floridian wetlands, was denied approval by the local municipality unless he agreed to spend money to improve public lands elsewhere. Using the Nollan-Dolan standard as his defense, he appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing that the concessions were excessive. Defending the municipality’s decision, the Florida Supreme Court then argued that he did not have a claim for two reasons: 1) the Nollan-Dolan standard did not apply to the denial of a permit (as opposed to the approval), and 2) the standard does not apply to a demand for the payment of money.

As regards the first State claim, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that the application of Nollan-Dolan to only permit approvals, and not denials, was arbitrary and would enable all sorts of unconstitutional circumventions. However, the second claim created a 5-4 schism in the Court, with the majority ruling that the exaction of fees was under the domain of Nollan-Dolan and hence subject to scrutiny and litigation under the Fifth Amendment and the Takings Clause (eminent domain).

The dissenting argument, written by Justice Kagan, asserted that a demand for fees in such cases was constitutional and not excessive.  Furthermore, it acknowledged the threat that such fees could result in excessive constraints on local government efforts to regulate land use for the public good. As Kagan writes:

Cities and towns across the nation impose many kinds of permitting fees every day. Some enable a government to mitigate a new development’s impact on the community, like increased traffic or pollution — or destruction of wetlands… Others cover the direct costs of providing services like sewage or water to the development… Still others are meant to limit the number of landowners who engage in a certain activity, as fees for liquor licenses do…. All now must meet Nollan and Dolan’s nexus and proportionality tests. The Federal Constitution thus will decide whether one town is overcharging for sewage, or another is setting the price to sell liquor too high. And the flexibility of state and local governments to take the most routine actions to enhance their communities will diminish accordingly.”

And with an ardor only a severe injustice can muster, Kagan even chastises her follow justices:

“The majority’s errors here are consequential.The majority turns a broad array of local land-use regulations into federal constitutional questions. It deprives state and local governments of the flexibility they need to enhance their communities — to ensure environmentally sound and economically productive development. It places courts smack in the middle of the most everyday local government activity.”

Taxed with the bureaucratic nightmare of proving “proportional” concessions from avaricious, profit-centric land developers (after all, who’s under the impression that they’re here out of loyal servitude to the community?), local governments may choose to not entertain development proposals at all (my hope). Or they may just green-light catastrophes.

Gentrification image

Land “development” almost always does nothing to develop the land, but to destroy it (or reconvert it) for the sake of profitable consumption. Consequently, any “development” project you hear of is likely a nicely-worded disguise for environmental destruction (as in the case of Koontz and the wetlands) or human displacement (gentrification).

Patents, Biotechnology, and DNA

5) Maryland v. King (June 3)

Verdict: This ruling opens the door to the warrantless collection—and processing—of DNA for anyone merely suspected of a serious offense.

This one likely flew under the radar amid the more eye-opening revelations of the NSA surveillance scandal three days later. Yet, ironically, it also deals with surveillance (albeit of a slightly different kind). In fact, it’s quite startling how obviously invasive this ruling is in the name of “security,” permitting the collection of DNA for those merely arrested—not convicted—on the basis of “probable cause to hold for a serious offense.”

As far as this case went, Mr. King was arrested in 2009 on assault charges when he was processed through Maryland booking, at which point a cheek swab sample was taken. His DNA was then run against the FBI’s DNA database (“CODIS”), where it was matched to an unsolved 2003 rape for which he was subsequently charged and convicted. The defendant appealed on the virtue of the “unreasonable search and seizure” clause of the Fourth Amendment. Speaking for the 5-4 majority, Justice Kennedy wrote that such processing does not “intrude on respondent’s privacy in a way that [is]…unconstitutional.”

In the dissenting statement, which makes clear that the rape conviction was premised on a database scanning fluke, Justice Scalia writes:

“Court’s assertion that DNA is being taken, not to solve crimes, but to identify those in the State’s custody, taxes the credulity of the credulous….

Make no mistake about it. As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

That remarkably little has been said about this case reminds me of the sort of popular obeisance that enabled passage of PATRIOT Act, two catastrophic wars, and, arguably, the PRISM program.

Surveillance

Imagine a world where your a cheek swab sample of your DNA was taken you so much as looked a cop in the wrong way. And now imagine having that DNA checked, processed and stored in an FBI database. Impossible you say? Not after Maryland v. King (2013) it’s not.

6) FTC v. Actavis (June 17)

Verdict: This ruling potentially jeopardizes the affordability of pharmaceutical drugs by refusing to make generic manufacturing payoffs (the so-called “pay to delay”) illegal.  

This case is centered laws regulating the manufacture and sale of generic drugs—a significant issue in the realm of global public health. To reiterate the obvious, drug patents are designed as measures to protect intellectual property and raise prices for pharmaceutical companies. In 1984, however, a bill originally meant to ease the manufacture of cheaper generics was mutated under the Big Pharma lobby to become what it is now: the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act (aka the Hatch-Waxman Act). As a complement to patent law protections, this law now prevents generic manufacturing of brand-name products until after patent expiration—a process that falls under a somewhat complex rubric and can take as long as 14 years.

In this case, Solvay Pharmaceuticals obtained a patent for Androgel, a topical testosterone medication. Subsequently, two competing companies—namely, Actavis and Paddock—filed applications for generic drugs modeled after Androgel, an action that was quite naturally brought to suit for patent infringement.

What proceeded next was nothing less than a back-room dealing. When Actavis’ product was approved by the FDA (in spite of the lawsuit), it chose to not immediately market the product per a “reverse payment” settlement agreement reached with Solvay. Such ‘pay to delay’ agreement had two main conditions: 1) that Actavis not bring the generic to market for a specified number of years, and 2) that Actavis promote AndroGel to doctors in exchange for a multimillion dollar amount. Two other companies—namely, Paddock and Par—made similar settlements with Solvay.

Upon learning of this coercion through the dollar, the Federal Trade Commission sued Actavis, Solvay, and the other companies for unlawfully agreeing “to share in Solvay’s monopoly profits, abandon their patent challenges, and refrain from launching their low-cost generic products to compete with AndroGel for nine years.” A lower court, however, dismissed the suit for “as long as the anticompetitive effects of a settlement fall within the scope of the patent’s exclusionary potential, the settlement [between the two pharmaceutical companies] is immune from antitrust attack.”

Fortunately for us, the Supreme Court did overrule the lower court’s dismissal, asserting that the FTC does have a right to sue on the basis of anti-trust laws. The 5-3 decision thus effectively legalizes anti-trust lawsuits against morally ambiguous “reverse payments”—an unequivocal victory. However, it is now the responsibility of judges throughout the country to arbitrate individual cases to determine whether or not such deals are anti-competitive (i.e. monopoly price-promoting). And this ruling does not assert the illegality of such deals, let alone discourage this habitual, anti-consumer practice that favors profits over people. And given the incredible resources of Big Pharma (with revenues expected to exceed $1 trillion next year) it is unlikely that many successful anti-trust lawsuits are forthcoming.

7) Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics (June 13)

Verdict: This unanimous ruling affirmed that patents on naturally occurring human DNA, as a “product of nature,” is unconstitutional.

This case came about after a Myriad Genetics, Inc. obtained several patents over the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes—mutations they identified as dramatically increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Conceding Myriad’s contribution to locating these genes, the Court nevertheless nullified the constitutionality of the patents, stating that products of nature are “not patent eligible.” Its undeniable significance, according to Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, lies in the fact that it puts “patients’ health before corporate profits.”

It is noteworthy, however, that the Court also argued that synthetic complementary DNA (“cDNA”) is patent eligible as it is not a “product of nature.” The ruling also makes it very clear that it does not involve “the patentability of DNA in which the order of the naturally occurring nucleotides has been altered.” Thus, while this ruling made a significant, if not essential, contribution to patent and biogenetic legislation, it still leaves the door open for biotech corporations to tamper with human DNA and unleash potentially dangerous products (as in the case of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs).

Tumors in rats after being fed GM corn

If Big Pharma doesn’t kill you with its many pills, you can always count on big agribusiness to finish the job. The images here are of two female rats with large mammary tumors…not because their genes were directly tampered with, but because they ate genetically modified (GM) corn, with and without herbicide

Reproductive Justice and Same-Sex Marriage

8) Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice (TBD)

Verdict: Pending response from the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Like the Adoptive Couple case, this one deals with babies—err, potential babies—in Oklahoma. Except that the Supreme Court decided to hold off any “further proceedings” until after hearing from the State Court regarding its interpretation of the law in question

In the case, the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice sued various state officials for what was then House Bill 1970—a piece of legislation that heinously sought to regulate how doctors could prescribe abortion-inducing FDA-approved medication.

The violence against women is evident in the very language used in the conclusion of a district court, which stated the purpose of House Bill 1970 was to “impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.”

9) United States v. Windsor (June 25)

Verdict: You must have been living under a rock if you didn’t hear about this one. Plus, I’ve already written about this one.

** Many of the changes in conventional English grammar are intentional, including lower-cased proper nouns and otherwise “deviant” spellings.

Why I’ll Never Get Married: On DOMA, Assimilation, and Pink Capitalism

In Class Politics, Crip Politics / Disability Politics, GenSex & Queer Politics, Identity Politics, Intersectionality, Racial Politics, The Revolution on June 26, 2013 at 11:59 PM

While many news outlets, mainstream and independent alike, were saturated with updates about the different Supreme Court rulings this week, I made some observations about something that was vastly more intriguing: people’s reactions. In my social terrain within the left-wing spectrum, it was the rulings over civil rights—the right to vote and the right to marry—that garnered the most attention and provoked the most visceral reactions. One day people clogged my inbox and news feed with catastrophic laments over the callous evisceration of voting rights for disenfranchised people of color. The next day were various rainbow-colored displays of elation and relief, with a minor undercurrent of radical critique over the conservative institution of marriage (the latter of which I’m a part of).

Concerning yesterday’s Court case, United States v. Windsor, I find myself ambivalent, and extremely annoyed, with the deradicalized, traditionalist politics it embodies. Enough so that I’ve finally felt it necessary to add my voice to the infuriating cacophony of voices that infiltrate the Web. The notion of marriage has never been a component in my dreams or imagined personal narrative, and felt so distant that I didn’t care to give it more attention than economic inequality and the impacts of disaster capitalism. I’m breaking with this instinct to avoid “equality” talk because I see very little representation of people like me in the cyberscapes.

Enjoy Pink Capitalism

Do you prefer your oppressive, chemical-ridden carbonated sugar-water in black, brown, or pink? The U.S. v. Windsor (2013) ruling certifiably marks an additional step in the mainstreaming of “LGBT.”

For one thing, the “marriage equality” movement centers around an over-decade-long multidimensional debate with a mind-numbing amount of variables and issues, such as the quandary over dominant social norms, the role of the State in arbitrating interpersonal relations, and the constructions of meaning of the most ambiguous of terms used by liberals: “equality,” “justice,” and “liberation.” The numerous debates and critiques over “marriage equality” speak more to the issue than I ever can, though I think it’s important to highlight the Left critique of this historical practice that occupies such an integral part of the amerikkan imaginary landscape. As many queer theorists and activists rightly argue, “equality” and liberation are not identical concepts (although they may overlap). That “equality” has become virtually a trademark of the mainstream gay rights movement is a testament to how well their conformist, capitalist leaders have coopted a term, turned it into a politically saavy, marketable commodity, and repurposed it to mean a rigid form of formal/legalistic equality before the State. If this what “equality’ means, I want no part in it.

As a queer person of color, I simply don’t relate at all to the movement for marriage equality. Listening to and observing people’s reactions that confirm their deep-seated longings and acceptance for marriage, I can’t help but feel ever-more marginalized as the expansive scope of mainstream neoliberalism accepts more of this post-modern petty-bourgeoisie into its yoke. As dominant society accepts more “diversity” (if not the ever-growing legions of poor people) into its strictly-protected borders, I realize that those of us living in the alternative underground will be further invisibilized. Just as post-modernity fractures us within a kaleidoscope of subcultures, hybridities, and identifications, it can also atomize us to the point of colossal despair.

As someone sympathetic to anarcho-communist principles, such as State-less self-governance and the universal democratization of all human relations, I find marriage to be an extremely conservative institution, an oppressive relic of our sexist and colonial Judeo-Christian heritage. I fear that this latest ruling’s expansion of definitional marriage will only perpetuate an oppressive notion that the State has legal authority to sanction (i.e. “bless”) a particular, two-person relationship with exclusive benefits that would not be available to other, variably arranged relationships (e.g. polyamorous relationships, co-habiting non-spousal family members, non-romantic friends). If nothing else, a widespread legalization and proliferation of same-sex marriages would only deepen, and hence further the normalization and acceptability of, its significance in dominant society.

As a single, chronically ill man of color, I also find marriage to be an out-of-reach concept that has no pertinence in my life and would not, in any conceivable circumstance, proffer me any material benefits. It is alienating and disconcerting to see my affluent, white queers embrace this decision with hugs and wine glasses while I struggle through economic insecurity and chronic disease. The celebratory screams of my former classmates and co-workers simply accentuate the ever-present throbbing in my head as well as my disdain for an expansionist pink capitalism. I also need not say more about the rabid heteronormativity and singlism it perpetuates.

Having unleashed all this venom, however, I recognize that there are actually a number of radical leftists who defend the marriage equality movement in some shape or form. And I agree with some of them. There are great, substantive reasons (including some articulated below) to support a movement that can potentially ameliorate the material realities of marginalized individuals, even if it does come in a reformist package. In some of these more critical arguments in defense of legalizing same-sex marriage, the “movement” is defended as a short-term strategy that can uplift people on the road to revolutionary momentum. Although I can’t expound on these arguments, I think the general idea is that legalizing marriage today, within the oppressive western, white imperialist society we’ve inherited, could at least offer much-needed material benefits—such as adopting a partner’s health insurance, saving on expenses and taxes, and possibly gaining legal residency or other state-sanctioned status.  Since I am so disconnected from the very notion of marriage itself (I’ve never had a long-partner), I haven’t devoted much time to extricating the different strands of arguments and can’t make a decision about these arguments with any definitiveness. On the surface, at least, they seem to make sense granted one important condition: that it is done conscientiously, with participants being aware of their complicity in a structure that needs to be radically transformed.

In spite of the negative identity politics associated with marriage equality, I’m hoping, perhaps, that much of those millions of dollars and hours of human energy expended on marriage equality will finally filter into the frontlines of the working poor and add much needed fuel to the fights for humane housing, immigrants’ rights, labor justice, and health care equity. Perhaps.

Here are some articles and cases that DO reflect a good, immediate-term usage of marriage equality:

Colorlines: What DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

Colorlines: DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

Politico: DOMA ruling stops deportation hearing at last minute

Left* arguments around queer liberation and the same-sex marriage movement:

Scot Nakagawa (03.25.13): Why I Support Same-Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

Tamara K. Nopper (05.19.12): Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance

Kate Bornstein (12.04.09): Open Letter to LGBT Leaders Who Are Pushing Marriage Equality

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (11.02.09): Why Gay Marriage IS the End of the World (or the queer world, at least)

Yasmin (07.06.09): Legalize Gay, Or: So You Think You’re Illegal?

Dean Spade & Crag Willse: I Still Think Marriage is the Wrong Goal

 

Hear from Dean Spade, Kenyon Farrow and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in Queer Voices: Beyond The Queer Mainstream – Beyond Gay Marriage and the Mainstream Gay Movement:

[audio http://archives.kpfa.org/data/20130630-Sun1100.mp3]
Assimilation Not Liberation!

I seek to be free, not another consumerist cog in the white imperialistic power structure.

Surviving Chronic Pain In the Age of Global Apocalypse

In Chronic Pain, Creative Writing, Geography/ Spatial Justice, Multiple Sclerosis, Philosophical Musings, The Revolution on June 24, 2013 at 1:26 AM

Image

As you read this, our world is under siege. Unmanned drones kill Third World civilians, industrial pollutants threaten cataclysmic super-storms, government-corporate coalitions displace the indigenous and disenfranchised from their homes. And powerful war-profiteering corporations join forces with the hegemonic surveillance state, creating a totalitarian regime that dominates through greed, terror, and ever-present instability.

If only we had opened our eyes wide enough, listened closely to the sounds of our whimpering Earth, we may have noticed the undeniable: Our world is poisoned. And by poison, I don’t just mean the stab wounds of our ozone layer or the rape of our terrestrial biodiversity. Our terrifying poison is an all-consuming, all-pervasive drug that has intoxicated even our most innocuous fantasies. It has the power to rend entire villages and centuries of tradition. And its seductive, ambrosial qualities infect the highest reaches of corporate-state bureaucracies, building a thirst for power that co-opts, distorts, and desecrates entire histories and labors of love. The imperial capitalism of which I speak, harkening back to the euphemistically dubbed ‘Age of Exploration’ and extending to the present-day global neoliberal order, has never been so mercurial, so efficacious, so omnipotent.

To succumb to hopeless resignation, however, is to feed ourselves into the fangs of the Establishment elite. For those of us who wage battle on the street, in the office, in the home—we are survivors of this centuries-old war, first waged against our ancestors to now become our most unwanted inheritance. And contrary to the actions and beliefs of many left-wing ideologues, this is not merely a war of ideas and abstractions. It is also a war against our livelihood, our spirits, even our bodies.

As we wage battles along multiple fronts (e.g. injustices in the realm of recognition politics, military violence and occupation, poverty and health care inequities, to name a few), a new form of bodily sickness has emerged and proliferated. These are the chronic diseases that are product of our industrialized age, an “externality” in the endless tampering and manufacture of synthetic compounds and the steady onslaught of contamination of air, soil, water, and lungs. As the drive for profit and power slowly destroy us all, chronic diseases are but the most prolonged, penultimate manifestations of this impending dissolution of our species. Chronic diseases are mockingly defiant of conventional medical interventions, are largely incurable and difficult to treat. They challenge our binaristic healthy-sick conceptions of embodiment and produce immeasurable suffering and morbidity. The naturalization of high prevalences for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and a whole host of autoimmune conditions, can reasonably be attributed to a deliberate neglect by the corporatist state. Such diseases, after all, are the leading cause of mortality in the world, disproportionately afflict the poor and communities of color, and contribute to untold numbers of death, even in the global North. (In Amerikka, chronic illnesses reportedly cause about 70% of its deaths)

Image

Chronic pain: a source of corporeal suffering, or a motive for spiritual enlightenment?

Salient among them are the syndromes of chronic pain. Accustomed to the day-to-day scrapes and bruises ubiquitous within the landscape of mortality, pain is often misconceived as being an exclusively acute, short-term experience that can be treated or resolved, organically through the self-healing body or through an artificial intrusion of medical technologies. But there is another reality to pain that has been with us throughout the history of our species, captured in our various literatures and languages and most ominous nightmares. It is the reality of chronic pain—a pain that is, by its very nature, so deeply personal that it eludes the empirical technologies of established modern biomedical institutions. As more and more people around the world can attest to, pain can most definitely be a persistent, long-lasting experience that can cripple you psychically, emotionally, spiritually. Chronic pain can rupture lives and long-lasting relationships. Chronic pain can challenge deep-seated notions of self and prompt a spiritual, existential quest for meaning. Chronic pain can render you helpless and hopeless. Chronic pain can render you formidable and wise.

As far as its underlying pathophysiology is concerned, chronic pain is, for all intents and purposes, an insurmountable enigma. Having perused medical and neuroscience textbooks, overly self-assured self-help books, and numerous philosophical and spiritual texts, I have realized that no amount of knowledge of the neuromechanics of pain will truly afford us access to the deeper phenomenology of this overpowering, individualized and individualizing experience. The very meanings of family and community are altered as a bodily self-alienation takes hold. In isolation and virtual silence, you must take up arms in an epic, life-long battle that pits “you” against the pain-ridden body. And the disruptions are as evident as the heat of the sun. Chronic pain syndromes profoundly limit your engagement in social life, posing yet another obstacle in your struggle for liberation. Such a sinister impediment can even preclude your participation in the resistance movements against hegemonic regimes and the macro-violence(s) of the state, multinational corporations, bio-medical industrial complexes, and the various interlocking systems of oppression—all of which, in their totality, were the likely manufacturers of your disease to begin with.

Surviving chronic pain today is, in the midst of global apocalypse1, a profoundly psychological and corporeal odyssey. If anything truly dismantles the viability of Cartesian mind-body duality in the legacies of the “West,” it is most certainly the phenomenon of pain. A truly distinctive, subjective experience, pain defies compartmentalization. When it comes to pain, there is no one structure that the Foucauldian “medical gaze” can isolate, analyze, classify, and pathologize. (At least, not with our current devices.) Yet for those who are revolution-prone, the aggravating dialectic between the personal and political becomes disproportionately magnified before the tortures of pain. Between one’s phenomenological experience of pain on the one hand, and the disturbances to freedom and harmony induced by myopic capitalist self-interests on the other, personal resources and the will to live take preeminence and are often exhausted without a source of replenishment. An ideological debate around the importance of entrepreneurialism or the relevance of historical materialism simply disintegrate in the face of this most real, most compromising, of embodied experiences.

There is something almost mystical about pain, something that surrenders no secrets in its apparent simplicity. Wherever it emerges, pain is pain, simple and true. It is a distinctively organic experience that many of us believe precedes the evolution of our species. It is linked to the vastly intricate webbings of a poorly-understood nervous system. And in its ever-primordial phenomenology, it even transcends the constructed histories of imperial civilizations and the blood-stained conquests of the oppressor. That pain has been a salient motif in the literatures of disparate civilizations, across different epochs and generations, makes it seem—if anything accomplishes this in the postmodern zeitgeist—universal to the human experience. This is made all the more remarkable given that, among those it tortures, pain bears an indescribably individualized, unshareable and unknowable quality that strangely complements its power to unite and annihilate at once. Even in the absence of conscious access to the phenomenology of another’s pain, we’ve still managed to produce an intersubjective consensus on its existence.

To live with chronic pain is to be a survivor among war-weary heroes. Although I vehemently disagree with Nietzsche’s oft-quoted assertion, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” I nevertheless agree with the notion of honoring the integrity of our freedom fighters. And in our Age of Apocalypse, chronic pain may just be the vehicle of “disclosure” our world needs in the fight for the liberation—a fight that is encapsulated, in more spiritual terms, by the concept of moksha (“liberation” in Sanskrit, as in the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth). In my more optimistic moods, I hold out hope that the chronic pain that currently holds me back from the battle lines of revolutionary resistance will, in the end, provide me with a moral and spiritual guidance that brings me to that coveted goal of freedom. After all, isn’t liberation from mortal suffering a mutual goal of radicals and spiritualists alike?2 And can pain, in its alpha-and-omega Vishnu form, with roots in both the body and mind, dissolve this oppressively deceptive and imprisoning binary? What better way to transcend the superficialities of our constructed socialities than to “accept” (put link to other post) the unavoidable, not-easily-distractible realities of pain and concomitant suffering?

So while our world seems to be going to shit, with all aspects of life being infected and polluted by the products of our hubris, it makes a lot of damn sense that many of us would fall victims to the world’s growing pains. Quite literally. And this is not, of course, to imply that the material suffering of people the world over is an inevitable, cosmic tragedy of which we’re simply pawns. However often it leads us astray, our agency is a core component of our humanity—the very humanity we have to embrace if we are to reclaim our freedom.  We created this mess. And now Apocalypse rains heaviest on the most oppressed, the most marginalized, and the least responsible.

Those of us with chronic pain must somehow survive amid the chaos and destruction that is fundamentally unjust. And while we’re forced into surviving against difficult odds, why not embrace a Hope that is, in Freirean terms, our “ontological necessity”? After all, if we’re to survive, we need to embrace an optimism about a life under siege. What better way to do this than to hope that, one day, our knowledge as the oppressed will become the beacon to a new, freer, and more humane society? Our knowledge will unveil the hollow promises that poorly disguise the glorified ethos of the self-interested consumer. Our knowledge will unveil the enormity of the violence wielded at the hands of imperial, expansionist capital in the service of a tiny, global elite. Our knowledge will unveil what is truly behind those hegemonic fantasies of the fetishized Commodity: the blood-stained walls of our prison cells. And it is our embodied knowledge that will break those walls.

So, yes, we have a lot of pain in this world. But if, or when, we must recollect the pieces of a humbled humanity, it is us, the survivors, who will need to educate ourselves about a better way.

Image

Such an apocalypse need not necessarily denote “the end of the world,” as is often implied in casual conversations. Etymologically speaking, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek apokályptein, to “uncover.” As such, “apocalypse” can be re-interpreted as signifying a “revelation,” “disclosure,” or “uncovering” that develops at a critical juncture in human history—such as the climate catastrophe currently unfolding from the persistent onslaught of industrial pollutants and human-made distortions of the natural environment.

This is quite arguable, but nevertheless a parallel I felt necessary to make. I suppose some could disagree and say that, rather than running away from suffering, we should be embracing what is possibly a necessary, perhaps noble, experience. Even so, if you accept this sort of spiritual reasoning, the ultimate telos of the suffering experience itself is freedom and bliss in the after-world.

Additional worthwhile articles exploring the linkages between chronic pain and capitalism:

Living with Chronic Pain ‘In the Kingdom Of The Sick 

Sick of capitalism: the chronically ill body as a site of resistance

Capitalism Makes Me Sick

And just for general clarification from the mainstream medical community: WebMD’s Info on Chronic Pain

Making Sense of Medicinal Yoga

In Health Justice, Multiple Sclerosis, Philosophical Musings on June 11, 2013 at 10:12 PM

          For the longest time, I’ve been a fitness enthusiast. It started when I was a teenager trying to overcome severe depression, when hitting the gym to boost my confidence and self-esteem. Since aesthetics didn’t factor in until later, I simply enjoyed the way working out made me feel in my own skin. 

The law of impermanence would ensure that wouldn’t last. It just didn’t occur to me that it could happen so quickly. One summer afternoon, sometime after my sophomore year in college, I was in the gym as usual and sweating profusely after a few sets of an abs workout. Suddenly I noticed stars flashing in my left eye. I didn’t think much of it at first. I assumed it was an after-image from the bright sun that day. When the after-image persisted and intensified over the course of the following days and weeks, I became concerned and consulted an ophthalmologist in Brooklyn. Before long I was being shuffled between facilities and doctors, had blood and fluids drawn, had my head thrown into an MRI machine. Within two months, the life-altering diagnosis: MS, or multiple sclerosis.

Fast forward five years. I’m as dreadfully skinny as I was before hitting the gym. The Universe has tested my resilience by putting me through a number of flare-ups, including a heinous one just this past month. In this one, the lethargy and weakness were beyond what most of you temporarily healthy folks could imagine. A walk to the pharmacy felt like a hike up a canyon. Bedridden and constantly sick, I knew something had to seriously change.

After getting treated for my relapse, I made a decision to analyze my habits (again) and see if there was something else I could do that I haven’t already done. I’ve done yoga during sporadic periods of my life, never consistently, but always understood it was a “healthy” thing to do. I pursued this course of thought.

Now a few weeks in of assiduous practice, with as many as two to three sessions a day, I can optimistically report a number of improvements that confirm the widely reported health benefits of yoga I had previously only read about. First, I’ve been able to attain levels of flexibility unthinkable when I was an amateur bodybuilder. More importantly, I’ve seen an upsurge in energy, stamina, and libido, and find myself feeling more at ease with (and even enjoying) my newfound unemployment. And once again I am writing and returning to long ignored interests. Like millions of practitioners worldwide, I’ve become completely enamored with the millennia-old tradition of yoga.

Not one to be complacent with yoga-as-exercise, I decided recently that I wanted to investigate this ever-alluring science as thoroughly as possible. After all, why should I not invest some months learning about yoga when it can potentially revamp my quality of life for decades? With a chronic condition that is poorly understood and over which I feel little control, doing yoga gives me a desperately desired feeling of control. But my awarenss of the health benefits of yoga were rudimentary. Although I knew of research studies pointing to health benefits, the abstracts I read were unhelpful in explaining the actual substance of yoga. When I set out to investigate the literature on yoga more thoroughly, however, I was impressed by its nuanced complexity and sociopolitical history—aspects of yoga that are rarely, if ever, explored in the context of general courses. Per usual, I was left with more questions than answers.

Image

The Sanskrit symbol “Om,” inscribed within a mandala. 

          One of the things that has impressed me the most vis-à-vis yoga is the vast proliferation of schools, styles, and practices that fall under its name. For something as new to the West as yoga (having first been introduced to europe and the united states in the 1890s), it is fascinating that one can now find a yoga class, or even a yoga studio, in virtually every major amerikkan city. The many schools of yoga include such disparate styles as Power Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Astanga Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, even Naked Yoga and Laughing Yoga. Moreover, according to the New York Times, the number of U.S. practitioners rose from 4 million in 2001 to a whopping 20 million in 2011 (add link). Having experienced first-hand the variations in yoga, from the highly exercise-oriented Astanga to the breath-centric spirituality of Kundalini, I was fascinated by what seemed to be an ever-growing trend that churned out classes faster than you can finish chanting ‘Om.’ Quite naturally, my skepticism led me to wonder whether a rigorous traditional and spiritual discipline, said to be thousands of years old, was going the wayside of other traditional, non-white customs co-opted and bastardized by a dominant consumerist culture.

To be clear, I can emphatically say that I’m not against modernizations or alterations of tradition, especially when such changes are necessary or beneficial. Yet, when something becomes a trend in our media-saturated profit-driven society, with corporatized yoga being retailed in niche markets that engender highly lucrative careers for certain charismatic self-professed gurus, I have considerable reason to be skeptical. But this self-righteous skepticism is mixed uncomfortably with an insatiable curiosity to plunge the depths of a science with purported healing capabilities. And why wouldn’t I? Living with MS, I am lured by the idea that I can foster the healing power of my body and mind to keep disabling flare-ups at bay. So this brings me to the central questions I sought to answer: What exactly is yoga, and how do its supposed medicinal properties work? Is there a deep, uncovered wisdom in this practice from ‘the ancients,’ or are we being hoodwinkeden by a marketing ploy that exploits our exoticized fantasies?

Being relatively new to the study of Yoga as a bona fide discipline, I make no claims to being an authority in this field. Nevertheless, from what I’ve been able to cull from the literature, here are some basics:

  • The word ‘yoga’ is used to refer to a number of distinct disciplinary practices that have their roots in ancient India, and that are encompassed within Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Many scholars postulate an origin in Dravidian civilizations as far back as the 7th millennium BCE.
  • The very term ‘yoga’ is popularly interpreted from the Sanskrit as meaning “union” or “a bringing together”—an allusion to the Hindu belief in an ever-present connection between individual self (jivatman) and Absolute, or cosmic, self (paramatman).
  • Yoga has many definitions. For instance, Timothy McCall, a doctor and writer of the book Yoga as Medicine, defines yoga as “a systematic technology to improve the body, understand the mind, and free the spirit” as well as a “series of practices that allow you to steadily gain discipline, strength, and self-control while cultivating relaxation, awareness, and equanimity.” Jean and Doriel Hall, writers of Astanga Yoga & Meditation, refer to it as “an inner journey to the true centre of the soul,” while Yogi Bhole Prabhu defines it as “an experiential science of self-study.”     
  • The term ‘yoga’ appears frequently in the Bhagavid Gita, one of the oldest scriptural texts in Hinduism. In it, the deity Lord Krishna tells Prince Arjuna to “[p]erform your duty equiposed…abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga” (2.48). According to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, this aphorism can be interpreted to signify yoga as a “means to concentrate the mind upon the Supreme by controlling the ever-disturbing senses.”
  • The first writings to formally systematize the practices of yoga were the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (C. 100BC – AD100), which defined it as a state wherein “there is stilling of the movement of thought.” It is the foundational text of what is now called raja yoga.
  • The first known written introduction of asanas [bodily postures] come from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written in the 15th century.  It is believed that hatha yoga became the dominant yogic practice in India after the turn of the first millennium, and it is the basis of what we commonly refer to as ‘yoga.’
  • Much of what the mainstream calls ‘yoga’ (i.e. a set of postural movements) actually refers to a specific type of yoga, hatha yoga, and specifically within that, the asanas. Yoga has traditionally included meditation, breath work, and various practices aimed at taming the mind with the goal of self-realization. In classical texts, yoga simply refers to communion with the Absolute; consequently, there are forms of yoga that do not involve asanas, such as bhakti-yoga (yoga of devotional service) or karma-yoga (yoga of action).
  • While many of us have been taught that the asanas come from ancient knowledge passed on through the ages, research into the literature suggests that the vast number of the postures used today were invented in the 20th century, if not more recently, by a relatively small number of gurus (to see one treatment of this issue, read yoga expert Alanna Kaivalya’s article in the Huffington Post. In fact, much of what is taught in the different modern yoga schools can be traced to Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a yogi said to have learned the ‘original’ asanas from an unpreserved (and unverified) text. The only known asanas preserved in the writing of classical texts still with us today are the mere fifteen shown in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
Image

Warrior I pose

          Researching the historical and philosophical underpinnings of yoga gave me added reason to doubt certain claims (such as that it never hurts and always heals 123) while feeling validated in my belief of others. For one, I think it is necessary to acknowledge the modernization, commercialization, and yes, the colonization of yoga. The possibility that most of the known asanas were created after introduction of yoga to the West, as well as the known reality that certain yoga schools (such as Power Yoga and Phoenix Rising Yoga) were founded by Western yogis, makes it evident that yoga, in the broadest terms, is not simply an ‘ancient’ discipline. The most obvious changes, such as the invention of new asanas like “airplane pose” and the popularity of music-thumping yoga classes in sports clubs, make it clear that many amerikkans are not averse to the blatant evisceration of spirituality and philosophical inquiry from classical Yoga. Personally, I can respect some of the asana-focused courses of corporatized yoga—given, of course, that it is advertised as the exercise-centric activity that it is. So let’s at least make the terms clear.

As far as medicinal yoga is concerned, such clarification is needed if we are to genuinely understand its healing properties. After all, how best to disaggregate research data or understand the ideological substrate of yogic practice than to know what, in actuality, we’re doing? Putting Yoga Inc. aside, there are actually many reasons to take yoga seriously as both an ancient spiritual science and as a form of body-mind discipline. For one thing, yoga works. I’ve experienced firsthand its potential to heal, and this is in addition to the reports many of us have likely read or heard regarding its health benefits (McCall, 2007):

  • increased flexibility;
  • stronger muscles;
  • improved immune function;
  • increased oxygenation of tissues;
  • relaxation of the nervous system;
  • an activated prefrontal cortex;
  • lowered stress hormones, blood sugar, and blood pressure;
  • pain relief;
  • improved psychological health;
  • an elicited placebo effect and many others.

 Recently, it was uncovered that yoga has a beneficial impact on the genetic expression of immune cells. This latter finding is worth emphasizing, for the fact that yoga can tap into the molecules that formulate the fabric of our very being is a very powerful realization, indeed.

            One of the factors said to contribute to yoga’s success, even as evidenced in the realm of empirical evidence-based studies, is its ability to unify body and mind (and for believers, the cosmic soul) through the breath. Whereas Western science has only recently uncovered the role of mental force on bodily responses through such disciplines as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) and positive psychology, this connection has long been axiomatic to yogic philosophy. In fact, the vinyasa flow of the physical postures is believed to help relax the nervous system enough to facilitate meditation, known for easing excitatory responses and producing mental clarity. Because the ultimate goal of classical yoga was to produce serenity through a quieting of thoughts, the goal of which was self-realization and commune with Brahman, our cosmic self, breath work and meditation were always integral to yoga practice. In this day and age, when stress contributes to a disproportionate number of medical conditions, yoga can help us modify our bodily reactions to environmental stressors through a deactivation of the sympathetic nervous system and a “rewiring” of neural networks.

             At the macro-level of medical philosophy, yoga also provides a much-needed holistic approach to the body. Incorporating a corporeal ontology that links mind, spirit, and energy, yoga’s relation to medicine is arguably distinct from the dominant allopathic model that treats the body as a compartmentalizable machine. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras do not mention asanas, but rather, such concepts as pranayama,  yamas (abstentions such as non-violence or non-stealing), dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation), all of which are necessary for the ultimate goal of self-realization. Although they lacked the imaging technology to study the endocrine system, yogic scholars were nevertheless able to identify what they called chakras, centers of energy aligned with specific plexuses (nerve clusters) and endocrine structures in the body. Their studies also highlighted the importance of the breath in facilitating changes in energy throughout the body.

            This alternative to the dominant Western medical model, which has been with us in its modern form only since the 19th century, may become increasingly necessary as the years advance. In my own experience, yoga as an all-body, whole self discipline has provided me with benefits that the dominant medical model would have achieved only through excessive risk and costs: pain relief, nervous relaxation, aerobic conditioning, energy improvement, improved libido. By way of contrast, my own experience with doctors makes evident the alienating dynamics of capitalist medicine. Having seen various doctors for my neuropathic pain, the atomizing tendencies of the established medical field became apparent when the different neurologists I’ve sought for help all provided distinct explanations of my condition with corresponding, distinct remedies and treatments. The fact that four different doctors with the same specialty (neurology), three of whom share the same sub-specialty (pain management), could offer such disparate treatments is telling.

            While Yoga is no panacea, it might be the perspective we need in the face of austerity medicine, environmental degradation, factory farming and other forms of systemic violence that threaten the viability of our species. While acknowledging the breakthrough achievements of allopathic medicine, we should also be cognizant of the deteriorating effects of the neoliberal impetus to turn everything—including land, clean air, and water—into commodities. And I anticipate a rise in more young people, like myself, finding themselves with unexplainable autoimmune conditions. In this age of empire, we might just need yoga if we are to survive.

ChangeLab

Strategy, Research & Vision for Racial Justice

National Pain Report

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

andrea smith's blog

The 18 year plan to end global oppression

PhD(isabled)

What it's like doing a PhD with disability or chronic illness

Enero Zapatista

desde abajo y a la izquierda

Leila's blog

a blog on popular struggles, human rights and social justice from an anti-authoritarian perspective

Noticiero Agencia 3

Sin Censura Informativa

Prensa Comunitaria Km. 169

Comunicación desde los pueblos en Guatemala

Siglo de Lucha

Journal of Chicano National Liberation

Soconusco News Network

Periodismo de investigación y análisis

Al ritmo político

En sintonía con la realidad

Tropics of Meta

historiography for the masses