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A Few Thoughts on Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Anti-Feminists’ Feminist Icon

By: Shellsea Lomeli

Watching Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed to the highest court in the land in 2018, despite the sexual assault allegations against him, crushed me. I am sure it crushed a lot of people, especially sexual assault survivors who had finally started to see the significant impact of sharing their stories and holding aggressors accountable through the Me Too Movement. In a TedTalk given a month after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, described this feeling of numbness in the face of defeat. “Numbness,” she said, “is not always the absence of feeling. Sometimes it’s an accumulation of feelings.” I felt this numbness when Kavanaugh took his seat next to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a feminist trailblazer, and I felt it again when Amy Coney Barrett replaced her. 

Kavanaugh becoming a Supreme Court justice was not just a slap in the face for survivors. It was an example of how men in power step on the necks of women everywhere and society just lets them. When Congress confirmed Kavanaugh’s nomination, they also confirmed to women everywhere that their voices do not matter. What women think, say, and feel is not as important as what a man does. And it made me numb as a feminist — as a woman. 

It took me a while to build myself back up to the “raging” feminist that I was before my country’s government allowed a rapist to decide what I get to do with my body. But I did. Because a woman’s fight is never over, especially when facing setbacks like this one. 

It was easy for me to see Kavanaugh as a villain and to understand his abuse of privilege as a straight, white, affluent man. But it is also easy to make the mistake of believing that men are more likely to be against you but women will always be on your side. This error in thought is probably why this year’s Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, just a month after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, brought me back to that feeling of numbness. 

In theory, the confirmation of another woman to the Supreme Court is a huge step for feminists. All but four Justices have been men with Barrett being only the fifth woman to serve at the highest court. However, this is absolutely not the case when the woman confirmed goes against everything that feminists stand for and have worked tirelessly to accomplish. 

First off, Amy Coney Barrett is pro-life. While she may not have openly stated her stance on the controversial subject in such clear wording, her recurring comments on the topic align with the ideology of those who are against a woman’s right to choose. During a discussion in 2013, Barrett stated that “supporting poor, single mothers would be the best way to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.” Supporting mothers as an alternative to allowing women to choose whether they want to be a mother is a common strategy that the pro-life community takes. During her confirmation hearing, Barrett would not comment on Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that granted women the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, but she has previously said that “Republicans are heavily invested in getting judges who will overturn Roe [v. Wade].” As a Justice nominated by a Republican administration, it is not a far stretch to assume that she will try to strip women of the right to choose what happens to their bodies. 

Barrett’s stance on Roe v. Wade is not the only component of her confirmation that poses a threat to women and the feminist movement. There is also the fact that anti-feminist people everywhere are idolizing Barrett’s accomplishment as an accomplishment for all women. Another woman has been appointed to the Supreme Court which must mean that the divide between men and women in American society is not as dramatic as the feminist movement claims it is. But we, as a collective, must understand that Amy Coney Barrett is not all women. She belongs to the percentage of women who are privileged in incredible ways. She is a white, heterosexual woman who was born into a well-off family. She went to private school. She has access to childcare. The list goes on. Of course, I am not saying there is anything wrong with being privileged. What is wrong, however, is allowing the continuation of the false narrative that Barrett represents all women. 

The truth of the matter is this. Not all women with only three years of experience as a judge would have been confirmed to the Supreme Court. They probably would not have even gotten a nomination. 

In the past few weeks, I have seen a recurring post on social media. The wording is different each time but the message remains the same: Amy Coney Barrett is a perfect example of an under-qualified white woman getting the job before a person of color has a chance. We cannot ignore that. 

Overall, Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court poses a threat, both directly and indirectly to the past and future accomplishments of the feminist movement. There is a lot to be wary of in the coming years as she serves as a Justice. But, just as we persevered through the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, we will persevere once more. 

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The Illusion of the American Election

By: Atmanah Parab

As a kid, I don’t remember thinking much about politics. The founding fathers with their cherry trees and boat rides across freezing rivers seemed more like mythological characters than people to me. Their lives, their impacts, and their paradigms for existence were far separated from the world I lived in.  I was far more preoccupied with demolishing pancakes and watching fireworks with my family on the 4th of July than to even truly consider my own country. It seemed then that the United States had been around forever. I could not conceive of a world without the structures I knew. Understandable; I was, after all, a kid. In addition to this, my parents, Indian citizens, had little interest in American politics or any desire to express their political will in a country that had not yet become their own. As I learned and grew, things started to change. 

In middle school, I learned about the birth of democracy in Greece where pebbles and urns were the first ballots and ballot boxes. I learned about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and wondered if I would know if and when the political and social structures around me were crumbling or whether I would live to see the death of an empire. At this point, I still saw American politics as something far different than I do now. Politics to me was: the structures of government, neat checks and balances, and flow charts that showed a bill becoming a law. None of the grey areas, chaos, or high stakes that politics can have in real life. I was aware that there were two parties. I watched the presidential and vice-presidential debates, rooting for Obama wholeheartedly because I believed in the presidency and the “good” of the Democrats and American government in general. 

 But as I’ve come to learn through high school debate, many political science courses, and existing as a human being in the United States, this sh*t is kind of messed up.

 Why do politicians seem to value winning the electoral game over making a truly positive impact on the lives of their constituents? Why do we not have universal healthcare, a commitment to education or science, and the blood of the Global South on our hands? And most currently relevant, why on earth are our elections the way they are? Why are we always stuck choosing between the lesser of two evils and two parties only? Why does the electoral college still exist?

You see, now that I’m 20, the founding fathers have suffered a mighty fall from the mythological. I now recognize them as the creators of a purposefully restrictive and exclusive political structure. As much as living in the United States in 2020 is vastly different than in the late 18th century, the decisions made  based on the context of life then are still applied to the America that I live in now. This leads to many of the problems that plague American electoral politics.  The way that parties and candidates function within the American political sphere is neither beneficial to their constituents or democracy at large, however, the kicker is that this behavior is necessitated by the structure of American electoralism. 

The first and often overlooked component of the maelstrom of misrepresentation we find ourselves in is the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system. This is something so inherent to the process of American electoralism that when I first learned that there were alternatives, my mind was blown. FPTP is a form of plurality voting where the candidate that accrues a majority of the vote wins the election regardless of which percentage of the vote was won. For example, if three candidates A, B, and C are running for mayor and A wins 35% of the vote and thus the seat. However, B and Cs vote shares account for 65% percent of the vote. Meaning that the elected candidate was only truly representative of 35% of the electorate. Under FPTP, candidate A winning is fair and obvious as the single candidate with the most votes, but this is not a highly representative system. Alternative electoral systems either allow for ranked voting, ensuring that the votes of citizens are not wasted beyond their first preference, or have an increased emphasis on proportionality, and take into consideration vote shares. The reason this matters is because the majority of large-scale American elections, supposedly built on the ideal of democracy and representation, occur through FPTP. Even if we take aside the electoral college (which simply compounds these issues) there is a fatal and obvious failure at achieving true democratic representation even simply on the level of the winner-take-all mechanism of FPTP. 

Unfortunately for us and proponents of true representation, the effects of the electoral college cannot be overlooked. Probably the most maligned feature of our current electoral system is the electoral college. Pew Research Center polls consistently show that the majority of Americans would like to abolish the electoral college and yet it exists. We are taught that the electoral college was a compromise made to assure the voices of less populated states would not be silenced by areas of high population concentration. There is a barely veiled vested interest in reducing the potency of the public vote in the electoral college, especially given that at the time it was put into action, less than 6% of the nation’s population fit the requirements to vote. In modern-day America where the population is increasingly concentrated in either smaller geographical areas (metropolitan areas) or spread thin across vast swathes of land, the electoral college results in the votes of some being worth far more than others. A vote in Wisconsin is worth sixty-six Californian votes. 

However, because the Electoral College is a part of the Constitution and amending it to a more representative form of election such as a national popular vote or ranked-choice voting would result in a complete transformation of power in the political sphere, there is a hesitance for those in power to allow such a change. While people may vote, it is land that speaks. The electoral college creates an inherent imbalance in the value of different regions and it shows in the attention that candidates give to key issues and the lack of care dedicated towards uniquely urban issues. 

This matters because regardless of how voting potency is distributed, a majority of Americans are facing a dilution of their power as citizens and voters. The electors for a given state are obligated to vote for the candidate elected by popular vote in their state even if the margin that the candidate wins by is extremely slim. All electoral votes for a state going to a single candidate winning by a slim margin is a gross misrepresentation of the citizen will. In addition to this, people of color tend to stay in urban and metropolitan areas adding to the generalized institutional racism inherent in American society. The victories won through this electoral system are only perpetuated by office-holders who use their authority to gerrymander and disenfranchise. 

This combination of electoral systems leads to a huge and forceful oversimplification of the country’s policy preference. It is also the reason why voting for the third party is a risk.  Often third parties stray from mainstream/centrist politics and advocate for “radical” change which puts off a fair chunk of American voters. Any votes for third party candidates are likely to have the electoral effect of simply detracting from the vote share of one of the two main candidates rather than winning any elections resulting in what political science scholars call a ‘wasted vote’. This isn’t fair to the citizens of the United States or the political process because it effectively shuts down anything outside of the main two parties and devalues progress simply for the maintenance of power and electoral control. While all our votes do matter, we have to get real and wonder how much they matter and whether it is fair that things are the way they are. 

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American Complicity

By: Sheyenne White

With the eyes of the world on the U.S election, Israel’s military demolished most of a Bedouin village in the West Bank, displacing 73 Palestinians—including 41 children. Their vulnerability rendered by homelessness is further exacerbated by the onset of winter and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs excused their act of unforgiving brutality by citing a lack of building permits as their justification behind their biggest demolition of Palestinian homes in years.

Demolitions have served as a means of creating hostile environments designed to drive out Palestinians from their homes for decades. According to the United Nations, Israel has demolished more than 55,000 Palestinian homes, dwellings and other structures since 1967. Such an extensive history of Israeli abuses within Palestinian territories reveals the blanket of impunity Israel is afforded by the international community, particularly the United States. The amicable relationship between the United States and Israel predates Trump, exemplified by the provision of $142.3 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding since World War II, making Israel the largest cumulative recipient of U.S foreign assistance. Interestingly, almost all U.S aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance: transforming Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world and making the United States complicit in their afflictions of inhumanity.

Although American support behind Israel can be seen across the political spectrum, the Trump administration is an anomaly. Despite Trump’s infamous isolationist approach to foreign policy, his concessions towards Israel have made more of an impact than any of his predecessors. Early in his term, Trump recognized Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as their capital and moved the U.S embassy there: breaking the U.S precedent that the divided city be left to Israeli-Palestinaian negotiations and destroying the possibility of a two-state solution to decades of civil unrest and instability. Later, Trump went further by releasing a 181 page plan that afforded the Israel government the majority of its territorial demands, thereby cutting millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians and weakening their sovereignty. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called Trump “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.” Ultimately, Trump’s proposal emboldened Isralei ultrantionalists and positioned the Palestinian people as stateless people on their own land.

Given that Trump’s interests in the seven-decade conflict often appear opaque, Israel’s lobby influence in Washington demands further attention. Interestingly, the role of AIPAC in American politics is a highly contentious debate but their dark history of informal but substantial campaign contributions towards Presidential and Congressional candidates sheds light on the entanglement of money behind American-Israeli relations. In the 2018 mid-term elections alone, Pro-Israel lobbyists spent more than $22 million in campaign donations. By lobbying, pressuring and dangling donations in front of politicians, AIPAC has played a vital role in U.S foreign policy, particularly in the Isreali-Palestinain conflict. However, their monetary contributions not only incentivize public servants across the political spectrum to express pro-Israeli sentiment but they spin positive PR after Israeli atrocities. 

It must be noted that such criticism of AIPAC’s powerful influence is a hotly politicized dispute with both sides of the political aisle charging it antisemitic. Yet, the power of their financial contributions and political influence are under debate, not their faith. Therefore, criticisms of AIPAC reflect systematic concerns towards campaign finance and represent the severity of the dependence of the U.S system on money. Thus, only a political system less reliant on money for electoral success would be able to mitigate this capitalist disaster. A capitalist disaster that enables American politicians to profit from Isralei crimes against Palestinians. In light of Biden’s victory, we must fight for policies that advance Palestinian freedom.

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The Electoral College is a Ruthless Subversion of Democracy

By: Sheyenne White

After nearly four days of ballot counting, the United States has a new President-elect. On Nov. 7, the Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania for Joe Biden, giving him 284 electoral votes, pushing him past the required 270 and into position to become the next U.S. President. About an hour later, the A.P. also called Nevada for Biden, giving him a total of 290 electoral votes. Yet the presidential race was agonizingly close as our anxious nation awaited.

The only certainty was that for the fourth presidential election in a row, and the seventh of the past eight—the Democratic party had secured the popular vote. Only once in the past 30 years have the American people given their support to a Republican: but three times, a Republican has been elected. Despite Biden’s victory, the disparity between the popular vote and the Electoral College has intensified anger for a system that misappropriates political power. The Electoral College awards electors to each state based on their total population; thus, the larger the state, the more electoral votes there are. There are a total of 538 electors and a candidate needs an absolute majority of electors, meaning 270 or more, to win the Electoral College.

The dysfunctionality of the Electoral College can be reduced to its unique winner-take-all approach: in which all Electoral College votes within states go to one candidate based on the state’s popular vote, rather than proportional representation. To clarify, proportional representation is a decision rule in which the share of seats won by each party is roughly equal to each party’s share of votes it received in the election: ensuring fair representation for both white and minority voters. Therefore, our country’s political unwillingness to adopt such an equitable voting framework suggests that the winner-take-all character came about because of partisan power and reinforces a rigid two-party system. Along these lines, it must be noted that because a state’s number of electors is based on their total population, not actual voters, states—operating under the powerful influence of political parties—have no incentive to enfranchise new groups of people or alleviate the difficulties of the voting process for those already eligible. Such blatant inequitable incentives expose the Electoral College as a potent force of voter suppression.

In light of the cries for racial justice that ring across the nation, the issue of race and the Electoral College demands further attention. Deconstructing the racist legacy of the Electoral College requires one to recognize that by giving all states equal representation in the Senate, the Constitution gives greater influence to rural states relative to their population. Wyoming, where 580,000 people live, gets two senators. But so does California, home to 39.5 million people. Now consider that 92% of Wyoming voters are white and 37% of California voters are white but a Wyoming voter has nearly four times more influence than a California voter. This unsettling disparity sheds light on the foundation of racism upon which anti-majoritarian institutions rest. Thus, the Electoral College and the Senate work together to subvert majority rule and give a minority of people the majority of power: threatening the sanctity of American democracy.

Nonetheless, supporters of the Electoral College argue that it protects less-populous states, ensuring that their interests aren’t overridden by states like New York and California with highly democratic concentrated urban cities. However, this argument is tired and banal to say the least. The resilience of the current system reflects the intent to protect and preserve the power of conservative states through anti-majoritarian institutions like the Electoral College and the U.S Senate. The 2020 election reveals the Electoral College’s part in upholding white supremacy by disadvantaging large subsets of the electorate—particularly Black and Latinx voters, whose votes are often overpowered by the will of electors.

With this in mind, the Electoral College is a racist relic and it is time to move ahead with abolishing this outdated system, as it not only distorts popular will but heightens public mistrust in American democracy. Yet abolishing it will be difficult given that the same power it grants to less-populous states is also imbued into the institutions required to get rid of it: the United States Constitution and Senate. Simply put, the requirement of a two-thirds majority within the Senate to amend the Constitutional framework behind the Electoral College would be an uphill battle. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that politicians belonging to smaller states—that reap the benefits from anti-majoritarian institutions—would willingly surrender such political power in the first place.

With this in mind, the Electoral College is reflective of our founding fathers’ fear of direct democracy. In order to rectify this unjust system, we must begin with changing electoral votes to electoral points, thereby rewarding each candidate a percentage of points based on the percentage of popular votes received in each state. Therefore, effectively eliminating the winner take-all system and allowing all votes to carry the same weight. Ultimately, the Electoral College is an assault on our democracy and justice will only prevail once power has been restored to the American people.

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An Abortion of Rights: The Problem with Poland’s Newest Ruling

By: Sarah Ansari

Protests have been raging in Poland since October 22, when the court passed a ban on abortions for fetal anomalies, which made up the majority of legal abortions within the country in 2019. With the ban in place, abortions are now only allowed under Polish law in the cases of incest, rape, or threat to the parent’s health. Poland’s ties with the Catholic Church, however, also enable the doctors themselves to refuse abortions or contraceptives on the grounds of religion. While this mass of demonstrations is one of the largest the country has seen in decades, it is not the first surrounding the matter of abortion. Government officials in Poland have repeatedly attempted to make the legislation regarding the termination of pregnancy stricter, but have been met with opposition and protests each time.

The most common argument besides religious beliefs against the termination of pregnancy in the case of fetal defects is that it’s cruel to tamper with potential life simply because of disability. However, this sentiment projects blame entirely onto the parent without looking at the situation that led to them making their choice. 

So, What is the Situation?

Although there’s no way to pry into the mind of every person who decides to get an abortion, we can come to an educated guess about the factors that play into the decision to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal anomalies by looking at the numbers. 

Most countries rule that abortion is permitted until the 12th or 20th week of pregnancy. After the 12th week, doctors willing to perform the procedure are harder to find, except in some rare circumstances. The first trimester screening which looks for fetal defects, however, occurs between the 11th and 13th weeks of pregnancy

Many pregnancies are unplanned, and may go undetected for a bit longer than usual, especially since symptoms vary between individuals– with some experiencing them after a few weeks, and others not experiencing them for months. An estimate for the amount of time it takes to be alerted to an unplanned pregnancy is 4 weeks, a.k.a the time it would take to notice a missed period. Between awareness of the pregnancy and the 12th week, therefore, the parent has 8 weeks (around 2 months) to make their choice. Abortion is a life-altering decision, and one that does take time to consider, although it turns out that only 10-18% of women who approached an abortion clinic for information were uncertain about getting one.

Compiling all this information, it’s safe to say that at the point when the first trimester screening is performed, enough time has passed to deduce that the parent wants to keep the child. To flip that decision is not something that they would take lightly; it doesn’t take a study (but here’s one anyway) to show that the parent is far from apathetic about the fetus (as some in opposition to abortion would believe), but undergoes severe trauma and grief.

Then, Why Do They Choose to Abort?

While it’s easy to say that the parent should have the child regardless of the fetal anomalies, some parents simply can not afford to accommodate a kid with disabilities. A study regarding the costs to raise a child with a disability until the age of 18 revealed added expenses ranging from $180-$8,000 a year (NOTE: the definition of disability is this study was very broad, so the minimum costs could be higher, depending on criteria). The cost of raising a child in the United States until age 18 is approximately $233,000. Going with a median number of about $4,000/yr ($72,000 over 18 years) for the added costs of raising a child with a disability in the U.S., we discover that it’s approximately 31% more expensive.

The average cost of raising a child in Poland is 49,000 pln. Assuming that Poland’s healthcare system is not as bad as the United States’ (although I will talk more later about how it still is not the best), I will give a rough estimate of about 20% higher expenses for raising a child with a disability– bringing the grand total to 58,800 pln. The average salary in Poland is around 5,000 pln/yr.  Raising a child with a disability costs about 12 years of salary versus the typical 9 years worth.

Enough with the Numbers, What Does this Mean?

It’s simple, really; as much as a person might want to have a child (although it’s okay if they don’t), they sometimes do not have the means to provide the kid with the life they deserve, and should not be shamed for that.

People desperate enough to get abortions will find a means to obtain one regardless, and may resort to dangerous methods. Ultimately the fixation upon restricting access to abortions comes down to one thing: a prioritzation of prenatal life, and a disregard for the already-born.

Abortions are allowed if the parent’s health is in danger. I’m sure you recall me saying that at the beginning of this article, unless the big mass of numbers in the middle made your eyes go all fuzzy. The toll of working tirelessly just to make ends meet to provide for both parent and child is in itself a detriment to health for both parties. While the Polish government does provide some assistance for those raising children with disabilities, the stipends granted are still not nearly enough, and often only cover the child’s bare necessities. The age-old (and totally true) saying is that disability is a product of environment, rather than the fault of an individual. The expenses behind caring for a child with a disability points towards systemic problems with how countries deal with disabilities, and blame should be placed upon the system, rather than the individuals who fall victim to it.

Back to Poland

With all the information gathered about the reasons someone might choose to undergo an abortion for prenatal defects, the outrage felt by protestors is justified. However, the government is attempting to shift the rhetoric of blame back to the people, rather than holding themselves accountable.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gatherings of more than five people are prohibited in Poland, yet the protests break this rule. The Polish government blames the recent spike in coronavirus cases on protestors, choosing to villainize them rather than listen to what they’re saying. Yes, protesting during a pandemic is less than ideal, but without action, the people would have to watch their rights stripped away in front of their eyes. Many believe that the Polish government even took advantage of the pandemic in the hopes that the law would pass without a fight.

In fact, the government is the primary actor to blame for the surge of COVID cases, not the people. As recently as the end of October (around the time when the protests began), the German government reached out to Poland to offer aid in dealing with the pandemic. While Polish officials thanked Germany, they insisted that they need no outside help, and that they are self-sufficient.While some may argue that this statement was made before the protests began to grow, and that perhaps Poland was self-sufficient at the time their refusal of aid was made, that notion is incorrect. Poland has been having issues dealing with the coronavirus for months now, almost since the virus began (take this article written in April as an example). To that end, officials are using the virus as an excuse of convenience to silence protestors, rather than taking active measures to stop the spread. 

Amidst the villainization of protestors, Poland has also mobilized riot police to monitor the crowds. While protestors did partake in vandalism, the demonstrations were largely peaceful. Either way, property damage does not justify the pepper spraying of protestors and excessive use of force. Here are links to some twitter posts that capture instances of brutality, but please be aware that footage can be graphic. These examples are also not meant to sensationalize violence, but to provide evidence for people who would argue in favour of the Polish police. (x, x, x, x)

The most recent update regarding the abortion ban in Poland has it that the ruling will be delayed, which is only a minor victory for protestors. Officials still intend to carry through with their plans, although they are willing to engage in “dialogue” with the citizens. Polish president Andrzej Duda has attempted to placate protestors by offering a “compromise” that will allow abortions in the case of fatal fetal defects. Such a compromise is only lip-service to attempt to mitigate backlash, rather than a substantive acknowledgment of the reasoning behind the protests. The Polish government and its abortion rulings are, ultimately, just another instance in which a majority (cis) male-dominated body places restrictions upon women and others with reproductive capacities without letting the people who are affected voice their own opinions.

If you wish to help protestors, this website provides some resources that you can contribute to: https://www.bustle.com/life/how-to-help-protestors-against-anti-abortion-laws-in-poland