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A letter sent to a friend re community accountability

Date: April 29, 2011

Dear *****,

I understand that Olympia community has made efforts to hold this person accountable, and they have been unsuccessful. I understand that she may be dangerous and you want to protect members of your community. But I have doubts about banning her from social and activist spaces upon arrival in Eugene.

Eugene has an organised radical and activist spaces in which enough people take sexual assault seriously. I think it’s perfectly reasonable and sensible to warn people about this individual so that people in your community don’t get hurt. But if she is banned from social spaces where people take sexual assault seriously, she would only move on to spaces that do not take similar precautions, where people will not have been warned about her history and are likely to get hurt. And if she cannot enter the Eugene activist scene where people could be warned about her history at all, she would move on to the less organised, less informed cities and communities.

I feel that community accountability is an ongoing process, and even if she has failed to make improvements in Olympia, I don’t think that she cannot be rehabilitated. By banning her from social and activist spaces, we also fail at continuing the gruesome process of community accountability. I don’t fault Olympia community for giving up on her, because they have made efforts and couldn’t continue to let her hurt members of their community. But the Eugene community hasn’t made efforts yet.

Without a commitment to taking risks and making at least some efforts to engage with the offender, believing in her humanity and capacity for change, we are no better than the prison system. Besides, banning her from every social and activist spaces in the entire world is clearly not a viable strategy, as it is impossible and she will eventually find an unsuspecting community in which she can continue to hurt many more people.

We should definitely warn members of our communities about this individual and her violent history, but we need to also give her a chance to be part of the Eugene community–not necessarily because she deserves it, but because excluding her is not the solution. As I said I do not fault the Olympia community for having to exclude her after making serious efforts to hold her accountable, but I worry that excluding her upon arrival would only push her to other cities where nobody knows her history. Community accountability can fail but we cannot fail ourselves before we even try.



“Homosexuality, Gender Identity Disorder, and the Politics of Depathologization”–Alternatives 2006 Conference Keynote

Date: April 27, 2011

I was going through my computer, and found this slide from the keynote speech at Alternatives 2006 conference, an annual gathering of mental health client/consumer self-advocates and allies funded by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the federal government (with its baggage–read “Anatomy of an Epidemic” author Robert Whitaker’s experience of being invited, dis-invited, and then re-invited by the conference organizers due to his politics).

It was at this conference my bio simply stated that I was “an advocate” without specifically mentioning what sort of advocacy I do, because words like “intersex,” “transgender,” “queer,” “sex worker,” and others were unacceptable to SAMHSA (at least under Bush administration). Anyway, here’s the slide I used for my talk, which is pretty straightforward…

Memo: Data from FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative and Operation Cross Country

Date: April 24, 2011

So I was reading up on FBI’s Innocence Lost Initiative and “Operation Cross Country”–somewhat periodic nationwide sting operation targeting prostitution (well the goal is to target commercial sexual exploitation of minors, but a lot of adult prostitutes get caught up in it) in preparation for (you may have guessed it) my upcoming sine about the fraud that is the U.S. anti-trafficking movement. FBI does not publicly release all its data, so it’s hard to understand the full impact of these sting operations.

Below, you will see information about each of these nationwide stings that I can gather form FBI’s own celebratory press releases. I put the data into a table for my own convenience, and I thought I’d share with my readers just in case someone is interested. Data correspond to results of Operation Cross Country I thru V, plus a precursor to Operation Cross Country (labeled “0”).

Spotty Data from FBI’s Operation Cross Country sweeps
Source: FBI press releases

  Date City Rescues Arrests Rescues TD Convictions TD
0 12/16/2005 14 30 19   67
1 6/25/2008 16 21 389 433 308
2 10/27/2008 29 49 642 (73 pimps, 518 pros) 577 365
3 2/23/2009 29 48 571 670  
4 10/26/2009 36 52 700 (60 pimps) 900 510
5 11/8/2010 40 69 885 (99 pimps) 1200 625

Date = Date the operation was announced in a press release. Typically, the stings take place during the 72 hours before the announcement.
City = Number of cities in which stings took place.
Rescues = Number of minors FBI claims to have “rescued.”
Arrests = Number of arrests made. This may include adult prostitutes, clients, as well as pimps (FBI doesn’t fully disclose the breakdown).
Rescues TD = Number of minors FBI claims to have “rescued” to date since Innocence Lost Initiative began.
Convictions TD = Number of convictions FBI claims have resulted from Innocence Lost Initiative.

Some comments:

1) If OCC II is any indication, the nationwide sweep affects adult prostitutes in far greater numbers compared to youth on the street, johns/clients, or pimps (642 total minus 73 pimps and 518 pros leaves 51 arrests unaccounted, which I assume are johns).

2) On average, OCC results in the “rescue” of one or two minors in each city where stings are conducted. Sure, that may be “one too many,” but it doesn’t strike me as an evidence for a shockingly large epidemic. Anti-trafficking groups would have us believe that there are hundreds of thousands of teenagers being exploited in the sex trade, but these stings either casts serious doubt in their claim, or FBI and local law enforcement officials are totally incompetent.

3) I’m having difficulty believing that 73 pimps were arrested for trafficking 49 minors, or 60 pimps for 52 minors, or 99 pimps for 69 minors. Are they counting pimps who control adult prostitutes? Or are they labeling friends and family members of trafficking victims as “pimps” automatically–as the legal definition of pimping includes anyone who benefit from the earning of prostitution, even if they are not the traffickers? More disclosure would help me understand this data.

4) In fact, more data overall would be helpful, for example: breakdown of arrests (youth/adult, worker/client/pimp), and what happened to each group of people after their arrest. How many “pimps” are actually minors also? How many people are arrested on drug and other charges during the sweep–which often police officers do to coerce women to testify? How many of the convictions are for pimping and trafficking, compared to johns? (FBI boasts “these convictions have resulted in lengthy sentences, including multiple 25-year-to-life sentences”–the choice of the word “multiple” leads me to think that they probably have perhaps two or three such victories…)

Does anyone know if it’s possible to obtain more detailed data, including all the above plus the breakdown of different cities? Is there any researcher (i.e. someone who has more professional credibility than I do) interested in submitting a FBI records request (and share the result with me)? Now’s the time to take advantage of your class and social status privilege!

Another myth debunked: why “a third of runaway youth are trafficked within first 48 hours” is NOT true

Date: April 24, 2011

Last July, I debunked the false claim that “the average age of entry into prostitution” is somewhere around 13, which has been in circulation among anti-trafficking groups, politicians, and media.

But that is not the only falsehood that is passed off as a fact about domestic minor sex trafficking. Another oft-repeated claim is found in the 2010 Congressional testimony by Ernie Allen, president and CEO of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, otherwise a legitimate and reputable organization:

Some runaway groups have estimated that as many as 1/3 of teen runaways/thrownaways will become involved in prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.

This “statistics” is often presented without source, or attributed to the National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-2), which has been compiled by Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Depart of Justice.

For example, “U.S. Trafficking Facts,” a document created by anti-trafficking group Love146 states:

Astonishingly, with in the first 48 hours of being on the street, 1 in 3 children are lured into prostitution (National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children/NISMART-2)

However, NISMART-2 does not include any such information. And yet, variations of this factoid are repeated by many other anti-trafficking groups as well.

An estimated 1.6 million children run away from home each year in the US. The average time it takes before a runaway is approached by a trafficker or solicitor is 48 hours (National Runaway Switchboard)
GEMS (Girls Educational & Mentoring Services)

It is estimated that it takes as little as 48 hours for a child to be lured into exploitation by individuals promising love, money and lavish lifestyles
Rebecca Project for Human Rights

Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography (The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
Stop Child Trafficking Now

As many as 2.8 million children live on the streets, a third of whom are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home
Shared Hope International

There are more, but I’ll stop here.

There are some variations: some attribute the data to NISMART-2, while others attribute it to Center for Missing and Exploited Children or National Runaway Switchboard–these two organizations don’t have any report showing this data either. Also, some groups claim that one third of runaway youth are trafficked within 48 hours, while others say it takes an average of 48 hours for someone to be trafficked, or simply that it may only take 48 hours for some to be trafficked.

Where does the factoid come from? The only document that show some actual numbers is on the website of Gracehaven House, a faith-based organization in Northwest Ohio providing “shelter, security, and rehabilitation” to female victims of commercial sexual exploitation under the age 18. On its “fact sheet” about CSEC, Gracehaven House cites another Ohio group, Huck House. The document states:

Huck House FY 2007
– Served 1,409 youth in 2007
– Approximately 600 girls
– 1/3 will be approached within 48 hours by a pimp
– 200 girls &lt18 approached by a pimp
– 60-90 involved in prostitution

Huck House, or Huckleberry House is an organization in Columbus, Ohio that provides safe place for runaway youth. The one-third figure seem to come from the survey of its client/participant base for FY 2007, which included about 800 boys and 600 girls. Assuming that this report is accurate, here are some things to consider:

1) The one-third figure is often presented as a national data (attributed to NISMART-2, Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or National Runaway Switchboard) but it is based on a survey of participants at a Columbus, Ohio social service agency.

2) It is often claimed that one third of runaway youth are recruited into prostitution within first 48 hours, but the data do not support this. Huck House figure states that one third of girls who came to Huck House have been approached, but if all “runaway youth” are included the figure is close to 14%, not 33%.

3) That one third of girls who showed up at Huck House have been approached by a pimp does not mean that one third of runaway girls are. Here’s why:

If we assume, reasonably, that short-term or casual runaway youth (which comprise majority of runaways) are far less likely to be approached by a pimp or engage in prostitution than those who run away longer period of time or farther distances, many of the girls who are not approached by a pimp and don’t even come close to it go home (or find other arrangements) without showing up at Huck House’s door.

To illustrate this point, let’s imagine that 100 girls ran away from home in a hypothetical city or region. Imagine that 70 of them are casual runaways (i.e. low risk of being exploited), and 30 are high-risk runaways. Pimps generally approach girls in the high-risk group, so let’s say 10 out of the 30 are approached. Once the 70 casual runaways return home or find other arrangements, it leaves 30 longer-term, high-risk runaway youth who show up at Huck House.

Huck House surveys those 30 who showed up, and report that a third of its client base have been approached by a pimp. But you cannot conclude, based on this figure, that a third of all runaway youth (or just girls) are approached: we started with 100 girls, 10 of whom are approached, so the actual rate is 10%.

In short: Huck House, or other groups like it, does not serve a representative sample of runaway youth; they serve those who are part of a higher risk group. Therefore, you cannot take figures from its survey and generalize it to the entire runaway youth population.

4) Even though a third of the girls who showed up at Huck House report to have been approached by a pimp within 48 hours, only 10-15% of the girls (60-90 out of 600) at Huck House are involved in prostitution (and this includes any girl who became involved at any point, not just within the first 48 hours), according to Huck House.

In other words, it is false to claim that one third of the girls at Huck House are “forced into prostitution” or “trafficked,” as some anti-trafficking groups claim; they are simply “approached”–and at least a majority of girls are smart and empowered enough to turn them down.

Further, if we include all youth into the analysis (and there is no reason not to, because anti-trafficking groups claim that one third of all runaway youth are recruited, not just girls), it is 60-90 youth at Huck House among 1400 total. That is 4-6% of the group surveyed, far lower than the anti-trafficking groups’ claim.

None of us wants to see any number of (non-casual) runaway youth, whether 33% or 4%, having to engage in prostitution to survive on the street. But there is a huge gap between the claim that “one third of runaway youth are trafficked within the first 48 hours on the street” and the actual figure of 4-6% over the course of homelessness.

Bad factoids misinform the public about this very important issue and mislead our discussions over what to do about it. Those who traffic fake statistics and launder its true source must stop doing so.

Case in point: just a couple of months ago on this blog, I criticized GEMS for using this fake factoid on its main site. Later, in mid-March, I took a screen capture of the site, showing the line about “48 hours” myth, in preparation for my lecture at Grand Valley State University.

But when I visited the site again today, I found that GEMS had removed a line about the “one third” figure from its main site. The quote you saw earlier on this post is actually from GEMS’ ning group, because the main site no longer carries this fake factoid.

I don’t know if my criticism had anything to do with this, but good job, GEMS! Please also start verifying other equally questionable factoids on your site too! And please be brave and be more transparent about why you have removed that information, rather than just quietly removing it from the main site, because it will help other anti-trafficking groups recognize the errors they have made as well.

Will the Real Human Trafficking Hub Please Stand Up?

Date: April 22, 2011

“Houston is hub of human trafficking”
The Houston Chronicle, 11/26/2008

“Oklahoma’s position […] makes it a hub for traffickers”
The Oklahoman, 04/15/2011

“Portland a center for human trafficking”
The Oregonian, 01/09/2011

“Las Vegas: ‘Hub’ of Human Trafficking”
Las Vegas Tribune, 04/10/2011

“California […] is a hub for both international and domestic traffickers”
Oakland Tribune, 01/09/2011

“Toledo’s reputation as a hub for enslavement of people for the sex trade”
The Blade (OH), 01/04/2009

“Chicago is a major ‘hub’ for human trafficking”
The Chicago Sun-Times, 04/23/2006

“Atlanta is the east coast hub for human trafficking”
WALB News (GA), 03/30/2011

“North Carolina’s location makes it an increasingly attractive regional hub for human trafficking”
Gaston Gazette (NC), 04/08/2011

“The city [San Francisco] is a major hub on the global trafficking network”
San Francisco Chronicle, 03/09/2007

A response to the “economic coercion” argument that equates all prostitution with trafficking and then with slavery

Date: April 21, 2011

An “economic coercion” argument often invoked by anti-trafficking/prostitution activists holds that, even though many prostitutes and other sex workers appear to be making a free choice to engage in their work without “force, fraud or coercion,” they are nonetheless victimized by the sex industry and should not be viewed as freely choosing to do what they do because they have little or no other means for self-sufficiency and are therefore “economically coerced.”

I do not disagree that freedom to choose one’s occupation is severely restricted for many sex workers as well as for others who occupy low-end of the American workforce. Under capitalism, we all have to make choices under economic constraints (unless one is super-rich), although some of us have more and better options to choose from than others do. The “choice” to engage in sex work is often (but not always) made by people who do not have very good pool of options to begin with.

But it is not useful to talk about “choice” and “free will” in abstract or absolute terms, or to equate one’s difficult decision to choose the “least bad” option available to her in a pool of bad options with “coercion” in a more traditional sense.

Instead, I suggest that we start from this simple question: “If a better opportunity or option comes up, is she free to take it?” Below is a chart demonstrating why this is a more useful approach.

If a better opportunity or option comes up, is she free to take it?

  “Yes” “No”
Why is this person in prostitution? because it is the best option among what is available to her because she is not allowed to choose something else
What will benefit the individual? more and better options within and outside of the sex industry freedom so that she can make decisions for herself
How will “rescue” action impact her? possible criminal record; forced to choose among inferior options freedom, provided that appropriate support and services are provided
What should society do for this person? no persecution; make more resources and options available intervention to restore her freedom; resources to rebuild her life

I made a PDF version of the above chart available for download so that you can share it with others.

What this chart demonstrates is that we must reject the equation of so-called “economic coercion” with “force, fraud or coercion” that involve another actor (i.e. the trafficker) because there are very significant differences between the two, and conflating them leads to wrong policies and interventions that harm sex workers.

That of course does not mean that we should not address the fact that many people “choose” sex work under dire economic constraints. It just means that we need to understand the problem correctly and intervene in ways that are actually helpful rather than harmful. We must work toward reducing economic desperation among women, homeless youth, immigrants, queer people, and others by enhancing programs that ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, and creating better and wider range of educational and employment opportunities for all.

Yes, “economic coercion” exists. But the problem is not selling and buying sex; it is the lack of options. Let’s actually address the problem, rather than depriving the “least bad options” from the already disadvantaged population.

Simple chart debunking the “average age” myth

Date: April 21, 2011

Politicians, media, and anti-trafficking/prostitution groups repeatedly claim that the average age of entry into prostitution is 13. I’ve debunked this myth before by pointing out problems with how the number has been reached, but here’s a more simpler, common-sensical debunking.

Assuming normal distribution, mean of 13 and standard deviation of 5, here’s a chart depicting what age of entry into prostitution would look like.

Average Age Chart

As you see, you’d have to accept that there are equal number of 5 year olds and 21 year olds entering prostitution, and also that it’s more likely to enter prostitution at age 0 than at any age past age 26. If this is your view of the world, your sense of reality is severely distorted.

Yes, we read about 12, 10, and 8 year olds being rescued from forced prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation. But they are in the news precisely because they are rare. Non-commercial forms of sexual exploitation (i.e. plain old sexual abuse) is much, much more common, but it doesn’t make the news the same way.

(Of course, there is also a possibility that the distribution is not normal, which might explain why we hardly see 0-10 year olds in forced prostitution. But it would also mean that there are *huge* number of 10-13 year olds entering prostitution to compensate that, if we assume that the average age is 13, and it just isn’t true.)

Academic parasitism on activists must change.

Date: April 20, 2011

A Boston-area university instructor contacted me to seek permission to distribute copies of my (very old) article, The Transfeminist Manifesto. As you can see on my “readings” page, I have instituted a licensing fee policy: anyone who wishes to redistribute my article must pay $0.10 per page per copy (because there’s no middleman, my fee is lower than $0.12 that copy shops charge for copyright clearance), or give me a good reason for me to waive the fee.

The instructor wrote that she was hoping that I would waive the fee because she would be “using it in the classroom.” I understand that many people consider this a good reason, as education is given a special moral position in our society, but I did not feel it was. Below is my response to her.

* * * * *

Hi *****,

I am sending you a printer-ready PDF file, because my purpose for instituting the licensing fee is not to prevent someone from using my article. I am granting you the permission to print and distribute copies of the article in the class, though not the PDF file itself. This file also includes a “bonus” that explains some of the backgrounds of the Manifesto.

That said, “using it in the classroom” at an institution like ***** is exactly the situation for which the licensing fee is intended. I would challenge your assumption that liberal arts education at an elite private university might somehow deserve to be subsidized by this activist and author whose income is a fraction of the tuition necessary to attend *****.

I would question further: Do students get textbooks for free because it’s for use in the classroom? Are the chairs and other equipment donated to ***** for free because they are for use in the classroom? And of course, do instructors teach the class for free? The answers are obviously “no”–why, then, are materials published and made available online by activists any different?

As you might have gathered by now, I don’t request licensing fees just because I need the money. I do so because I want members of academic institutions to consider these questions and try to build a more respectful toward and mutually beneficial relationship with activists whose work is studied. Scholars and students often rely on countless hours of uncompensated access to activists and their work for information, source material, interviews, etc. to further their careers or degrees, and yet act as if they are actually doing them a favor by paying attention to the issues. It needs to change.

As I said in the beginning, I am already granting you the permission to use the article in your classroom. But if you feel like paying (or having students pay) for licensing, please make (and encourage your students to make) donations, in lieu of the fees to: The Network/La Red in Boston.

(By the way–the article is also available, sans the “bonus”, in the anthology Catching a wave: reclaiming feminism for the 21st century. You would still have to comply with the copyright law, but you can have students find my article in libraries that way. If anyone had to pay fees for copyright clearance, I prefer that the money go toward The Network/La Red instead of some copy shop).


Emi Koyama

* * * * * (End of email)

In this case, I decided to give her the permission to use the material for free, but only after she is forced to read the above (and hopefully it made her think); I have waived fees in other instances, for example when an isolated trans student contacts me from a small college in the Midwest because she wants to educate her classmates about trans issues in a class presentation.

That’s an example of what I’d consider a good reason for me to waive the fee, because what she is trying to do is a form of activism and it matches what I wrote the article for in the first place. Teachers sometimes think of “exposing students to new ideas” as a form of activism too, but it’s also their job and I expect to be treated professionally in that context–unless of course there are other factors.

I was attacked at the Tea Party rally–but not by Tea Party members.

Date: April 18, 2011

This past Friday, April 15th, I went to the Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland to check out the Tea Party tax day rally. It was my second time attending a big Tea Party event after the Oregon Tea Party convention right before the 2010 election, which was at the warehouse of a gun shop (I’m not making this up). Readers of this blog may remember that I’ve also attended an Oregon Right to Life rally in the past.

I of course do not support these groups, but I am interested in learning about groups and people who are politically active and hold views that are very different from my own. I am particularly interested in reading hand-made signs people bring to these political events, because I feel that they demonstrate the inner logic and emotions of people who hold (what I believe to be) reprehensible views more than any official speakers, or FOX News hosts that repeat lines calculated to energize the crowd.

So here are some of the signs I saw at the rally:

“Obama’s spending means freedom’s ending”
“Cut taxes, cut spending, no more pork”
“Are you better off than you were 4 trillion ago?”
“Re-distribute my work ethic, not my wealth”
“Less gov = more love”
“God bless the USA #1”
“Obama – Don’t let your socialist chefs cook Ameria’s goose”
“We the people own this house” (picture of capitol)
“Obama… You’re Fired!” (picture of Donald Trump)
“Wake up America – The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants”
“Prosperity follows liberty”
“Give me liberty not debt”
“Hell no to tyranny”
“Impeach Comrade Obama”
“Your ‘fair share’ is not in my bank account”
“We are not a piggy bank” (worn by young children)
“My debt today is $45,979.25” (worn by young children)
“Stop Obamunism before it stops U.S.”
“Taxation is theft!”
“Who caused the recession? The federal reserve bank!”
“$ support police fire military not banks”

As this was the tax day rally, many signs focused on taxes and how they take away (economic) liberty. Several speakers made critical comments about the public transit system Portland is famous for, and how they must stop the light rail’s expansion to Milwaukie and Lake Oswego, both of which are predominantly white suburbs to the south of Portland. Public transit is a public system funded in part by tax money, but I felt that there was more to their opposition than simply that they oppose public projects; it seemed that they disliked these suburbs connected to Portland by fast light rail because they think that it would bring criminals and other undesirables (including people of color, except those who clean their houses and cook their meals) to their neighborhoods in the suburbs.

There was also a small group of protesters who showed signs opposing the Tea Party. Here are their messages:

“Tea puppets for Koch”
“Tea puppet fascist”
“A future with the Tea Party: Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”
“Pay your taxes asshole”
“The party is over”
“Free humanity not free market”
“My movement isn’t paid for”
“Support people not corporate greed”
“Tea Party – No bright ideas from dimwits”
“Don’t be a Koch sucker”
“Tea Party – This is not 1773”
“Veterans Against a Dick Armey”
“Tax wealth like work!”

In case you didn’t recognize the name, “Koch” (pronounced Coke) refers to billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who have contributed close to 200 million dollars in the last ten years in conservative politics and is now the biggest funder of Tea Party groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Dick Armey by the way is a former congressman who heads FreedomWorks now. The sign stating “My movement isn’t paid for” is a snipe at how Tea Party claims to be a grass-roots movement of regular people, but is in fact heavily financed by super-rich like Koch brothers. But that doesn’t justify the statement “Don’t be a Koch sucker,” which, given the context, I find homophobic.

Some statements like “Pay your taxes asshole” seems to be an attack on the tax breaks rich people and corporations enjoy, but directing that at average Tea Party attendees doesn’t make very much sense, considering the fact that most of them are not rich. Calling them “puppets” or “fascists” probably only leads to further polarization, which make us forget that many Tea Party participants are angry about the same thing that those of us on the left/liberal/progressive are, which is the bailout of rich bankers while the rest of us struggle to find or keep employment and pay rent or mortgage or healthcare costs. I don’t agree with their solutions, but calling them fascists does nothing to improve the situation.

I experienced first hand what being called fascist feels like. I was taking pictures of Tea Party, and then moved on to the gathering of protesters to take their photos as well. But as I approached the protesters, I was surrounded by three white men who began yelling and screaming at me from three directions “Fascist!” “Go home teabagger!” “We’ll post you on YouTube” and various insults about my appearance. They apparently thought that I was a supporter of Tea Party, but this is not an acceptable treatment of another human being even if I were one.

At first, I didn’t want to tell them that I’m not a Tea Party supporter, because I didn’t want to imply that it was okay to act this way to someone if they were one. But I felt scared for my safety, so after some hesitation I told them “hey guys, I’m on your side.” But when I thought about it, I’m not really on their side: I oppose Tea Party, but I also oppose people who lack some basic level of civility and common decency.

My feeling was further reinforced when I saw the only physical violence that took place that evening. Pioneer Courthouse Square has a theatre-like stairs on the edge where protesters were gathering while Tea Party rally took place at the base of the stairs, but there was an elderly woman on a wheelchair on the other corner of the top of the stairs. She was sitting there by herself with a Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread On Me” with the rattle snake), which Tea Party as adopted as a symbol. It made sense that she would sit there: it’d be dangerous for someone on a wheelchair to be in the middle of a crowd, and she wouldn’t be able to see the stage if she went to the square.

At one point, several protesters walked over to the woman and surrounded her with big signs, blocking her sight. They also used whistle to make loud noise next to her so that she could not see or hear the rally. Someone carrying a Tea Party sign noticed this, and came over to demand that the protesters leave her alone. Protesters ignored him, so he jumped on the protester holding the sign and took him down. Others from Tea Party saw this, rushed over, and quickly separated the two.

As much as I oppose Tea Party and I also oppose violence, in this particular instance I totally support the Tea Party guy who came to defend the elderly woman who was surrounded and intimidated by the protesters. She probably benefits personally from government programs like Medicare and social security quite a bit, programs that would be eliminated if Tea Party had its way, but it doesn’t matter: there simply is no justification for behaving the way some protesters did. Who is fascist here?

It appeared that most of the rational, reasonable liberals and progressives did not show up to protest Tea Party, perhaps because Tea Party is not a big factor in Portland. But these protesters do nothing to promote rationality and civil discourse and probably push Tea Party attendees to be even more extreme in their convictions. If I was a Tea Party supporter and experienced what I experienced that evening, it would probably make me less likely to listen to those who protest Tea Party. And if I was a Tea Party supporter and witnessed the protesters’ harassment of the elderly woman, I would further strengthen my belief in the moral superiority of the Tea Party movement.

I don’t question that Tea Party is a fundamentally deceptive and irrational movement fueled in no small part by racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other prejudices. But if those of us who oppose Tea Party also practice these same prejudices or inhumane treatment of other humans, we are simply creating a left-wing version of the Tea Party movement. Still feeling scared from the hostile encounter, I went home feeling disappointed by the protesters’ inability to imagine something better.

Text of the flier holding journalist Mika Tsutsumi accountable for her endorsement of the racist/xenophobic agenda in Japan

Date: April 14, 2011

Note: Following is the text of a flier I made in preparations for Japanese journalist Mika Tsutsumi’s scheduled talk at Portland State University on April 14, 2011. I found out on the day of the talk that it had been canceled, so the fliers were never handed out.

For those of you who don’t know: Ms. Tsutsumi is the author of “United States: Poverty Superpower” and other books that expose social and economic problems within the U.S. for the Japanese audience, and is considered very liberal/progressive. However, in this particular case she aligned herself with the racist/xenophobic nationalist camp that target immigrants and migrant workers.


Until 2008, Japanese law did not grant birthright citizenship to children born to a Japanese father and a non-Japanese mother unless they are legally married.

This “loophole” mostly affected children of temporary migrant Filippina women who work as “hostesses” serving alcohol to Japanese men at clubs. The legal situation was convenient for Japanese men who seek extramarital affairs with these women without taking any responsibility for the consequences: both the women and their children disappear from Japanese men’s lives as they are forced to go back to the Philippines or wherever the women came from. Children are sent back to an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar culture and language without any financial or other support from their Japanese father.

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled this part of the citizenship law unconstitutional, and demanded that the legislature fix the problem. All major parties endorsed the change to the citizenship law, while a small but vocal group of right-wing nationalists (mostly organizing in the social media) argued that granting citizenship to children born to foreign mothers would result in massive citizenship fraud and the foreign (often claimed as “Chinese”) “takeover” of Japan.

Journalist Mika Tsutsumi, along with her husband and member of the Parliament Ryuhei Kawada, joined with the right-wing nationalists to lead the opposition to amending the unconstitutional citizenship law. Tsutsumi warned of the “dangers” of historic proportion eroding Japan’s sovereignty if the law were to be changed, while Kawada specifically insisted that the immigration law’s impact on Japanese unemployment must be addressed before proceeding with protecting the rights of the children whose citizenship rights are unconstitutionally denied.

By the end of 2008, the change to the citizenship law passed both houses of Parliament by overwhelming majority (with Kawada and a few right-wing politicians opposing it). Contrary to the racist/xenophobic arguments in opposition to the change, there have been no report of massive citizenship fraud, or foreign “invasion” of Japanese homeland in the three years since the change.

Ask Ms. Tsutsumi to investigate and report how her own claims regarding the citizenship law hold up with the reality. And if they don’t–which, they don’t–demand that she make a public statement regarding her endorsement of the racist/xenophobic nationalist agenda in Japan. That is her responsibility as a journalist.