See the original blog post, "PLP Defends Rapists" for the announcement and call to action regarding PLP's defense of admitted rapist Seth Miller.


***TRIGGER WARNING*** Everything in this blog is a frank discussion of sexual violence and rape.



Monday, December 31, 2012

How PLP Unwittingly Confesses to Misogyny and What We Can Do About It

Background


On December 16th, 2012 allies of a Los Angeles area activist who was raped by Seth Miller, a member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), decided to make public their fight against sexual violence. Seth raped his close friend and college classmate in 2006. After years of inaction on the part of PLP to address the issue, and months of concerted effort to push PLP to do something about the rapist in their midst while respecting PLP’s desire for secrecy, these allies had the audacity to speak publicly about their experience and encourage others to join them in challenging PLP.

A number of statements that detail the history of PLP’s involvement in sexual violence can be found on this site, run by allies of the survivor: http://necessarymeansfight.blogspot.com/

In response to these public statements, PLP released a letter criticizing the allies for daring to tell the truth. You can find their letter here. Similar statements have been released by individual party members to smaller audiences in the last few weeks.

Why PLP’s Letter is an Attack on Women and Our Community


Their statement is the best evidence so far of why PLP itself is a problem. Alternate titles for PLP’s letter could include “Misogynists Unwittingly Confess to Misogyny” or “Shut Up Bitch, I Said Shut Up!”

The goal of PLP’s letter is to take something that is unambiguously wrong, the rape of a woman and subsequent cover up, and make it ambiguous. The tactics they employ warrant listing as we are likely to see them again. They parrot rehearsed statements about the oppression of women to demonstrate their “ally” status, they cast doubt on the testimony of the victim by referring to an “alleged rape,” they attack those who dare to speak up as being “fascist, bourgeois, counterrevolutionaries,” they abstract the discussion to one of process rather than outcomes, they blatantly lie about the actions they have or have not taken, they feign victimhood for being called out and imply that their history of activism in the past ought to buy our silence.

PLP’s letter is directed at three primary audiences: the survivor and her allies, the broader activist community, and PLP’s general membership, affiliates, and allies who may just now be learning of the extent of PLP’s cover up.

As a direct response to the survivor and her allies the letter amounts to one profoundly misogynistic and deeply delusional assertion: "Shut the fuck up!" The survivor and her allies must keep their mouths shut because their honesty hurts PLP and hurting PLP is synonymous with hurting revolution. The survivor and her allies should feel ashamed of doing damage to PLP, an organization worth their support, because it has the right analysis of class and oppression. I am hesitant to write what should go without saying: an organization that does what PLP has done does not deserve support and PLP’s vision of revolution is neither “revolutionary” or worth envisioning.

As a statement to the broader community the letter is designed to muddy the waters. Readers are encouraged to question the credibility of the survivor and her allies and to focus on any number of issues other than the fact that Seth Miller, rapist, remains a prominent member of PLP. Their hope is that by distracting from this, readers will be disinclined to challenge PLP and the issue can eventually boil over without any real consequences. To this end, PLP hopes we will engage in protracted tit-for-tat debate about the finer details of the history and the nuances of revolutionary theory, making the basic reality of rape and cover up undecipherable beneath all of PLP's distractions.

As a statement to PLP’s general membership, affiliates, and allies the letter is even more troubling and outrageous. It is a call to dismiss the public statements by the survivor’s allies outright as the machinations of agent provocateurs. It recasts PLP’s secrecy and cover up efforts as righteous acts of resistance against the police state, which PLP fantasizes is aligned with rape survivors instead of against them. In this context, the survivor and her allies become the enemy, the dangerous, bourgeois, fascist, counterrevolutionary “other” that must be stopped. If you think I am exaggerating, consider this facebook comment about the survivor and her allies published on December 29th at 6:40PM by Fernando Chirino, PLP member and faculty at Chapman University:

... Burning hacienda/ plantation owners is ALWAYS a good thing. The REAL problem is getting to that haute bourgeoisie to put them on a spit. I also wouldn’t mind using coward ass, white, petite-bourgeois anarchist COPS and counter-revolutionaries-in-disguise that some of my well-meaning friends and comrades unintentionally legitimated by trying to organize with them... as the hot coals to start up the main roast.

I feel compelled to take a moment and say that any member of PLP who believes it is an act of  “cowardice” for a survivor of rape to go public in a hostile world does not understand the meaning of the word “courage.”

The letter has one implicit demand from for all groups of readers, that we recognize a collective, comradely obligation to protect PLP from harm. PLP is the real victim in their telling of the story. They would like our protection from things that will hurt their recruiting, from the possibility that their work on behalf of immigrants, workers, or students might be damaged by their work against women, and yes, they also want protection from the police state which they incorrectly imagine would lift a finger, even against PLP, to defend the survivor. In short, PLP expects that we will all protect PLP from being judged by its deeds.

PLP’s letter is in perfect harmony with PLP’s public anti-Feminist position, as stated their March 2012 article, “International Women’s Day: Only Communism Can End Sexism,” from PLP’s publication Challenge:
“Feminism, a bourgeois philosophy, disregards the class nature of sexism. Anti-sexist struggles must reject it, because it divides the working class by blaming male workers and shunning them from anti-sexist struggles. This all-class unity for women sets us up for fascism by mobilizing women against their own class interests."
For PLP, when gender concerns are in conflict with class concerns in organizing projects, gender defers to class. PLP promotes a hierarchical, ladder-like understanding of oppression where women’s struggles are not only a lower rung than class struggle, but even below a concern that men might be made uncomfortable by feminism and feel too "shunned." In practice this means that if you commit a misogynistic act but portray addressing that act as being in conflict with "class struggle," even if that act is rape or the cover up of rape, you can get away with it because only a “fascist” would “mobilize women against their own class interests." This is nothing but more of the old, “after the revolution” bullshit that is more about enjoying the benefits of patriarchy than it is a commitment social change. Case in point: Seth Miller raped a woman and is still promoted by PLP as a leader in our activist communities while PLP is criticizing the people who dared to point that out.

Fortunately, no amount of lying, threatening, accusing, misogynistic theory, or manipulative co-optation of our movement’s language of revolution and community can distract from the following basic truths:
  1. Seth Miller is a rapist and continues to be a member of PLP.
  2. PLP leaders have decided at multiple points over the last six years to do nothing, ask that others stay silent, and hope the issue goes away so that they can continue to work with Seth without complication.
  3. PLP only ever talked about some vague future “dialogue” as a way keep the survivor and her allies silent while hiding their decision to do as little as they can get away with.
  4. PLP blames the survivor for not doing enough, and going about what she has done in the wrong way. They locate the social burden outside of themselves and Seth Miller. 
  5. PLP remains to this day more concerned about publicity and their reputation than the fact they have a rapist in their midst. 
PLP's commitment to obfuscation and inaction along with their implicit demand for protection amounts to a message to all survivors and everyone who has not (yet) been assaulted, "be quiet and don't complicate things." It is also a message to every perpetrator and potential perpetrator of sexual violence, "we got your back and understand how hard this is on you."

It is now a matter of historical record that PLP will sacrifice the bodies and souls of comrades for the sadistic pleasure of prominent party members, as long as the party thinks that doing so will not hurt them in their "real" work. No amount of canned lines about revolution and women’s struggle can negate what PLP tells the community through its actions, or the basic facts of this issue up to this point. The question that PLP has put before the rest of us is, “Should we protect PLP?"

Should We Protect PLP?


Despite PLP’s longstanding desire that this story never be told, they have only ever had the option of how it would be told. PLP’s assumption that secrecy was to be the permanent mode of existence for the survivor as well as a viable approach to addressing the widespread sexual violence in our movements demonstrates only PLP’s depravity. Pressuring the survivor to remain silent in any way is itself an act of violence, replicating the experience of being a discardable tool for another’s use including the terror and  
profound degradation accompanying that experience.

I will forever feel guilty for accommodating PLP’s desire for secrecy so long before going public. I wanted to give the people who I trusted and respected in that organization every opportunity to do the right thing, in the hopes we could have told a more empowering story about solidarity against patriarchy’s most extreme and violent manifestations. During this time I was depriving our community of critical information about the real danger that PLP and its members pose to women, and my accommodation of PLP may have had tragic consequences. Our impulses to hope things will work themselves out, to avoid conflict, and to see harsh truths in more comforting lights can be both liberating and oppressive forces. PLP turns these impulses against our community, using them the same way a cop uses his baton to bash our brains in. Their goal in weaponizing our impulses to hope and unity is to achieve our neutrality.

Neutrality is the position which accommodates PLP’s demand for protection and silence. By doubling down yet again on secrecy, obfuscation, and inaction, PLP gambles that the rest of the community shares their misogyny. They are counting on us to buy into the idea that class and gender struggles are in conflict and that class trumps gender, they are counting on our desire to avoid confrontation, they are counting on our cowardice to prevent us from making all of the interpersonal sacrifices that we must make to confront PLP but are so much less significant than the sacrifices that are demanded of survivors of sexual violence. By playing for neutrality as the position that protects their interests at the expense of the survivor and women generally, they have removed the neutrality from neutrality. PLP is not worthy of the protection that silence and neutrality affords them. We can no longer tolerate PLP or any groups or individuals that share their values.

Given PLP and Seth Miller’s utter lack of accountability and continued demonstration of profoundly unself-critical misogyny, we must achieve the total exclusion of PLP and all of its members from our organizing and social spaces. We can no longer pretend that through the course of time PLP will reform itself. We cannot entertain the possibility that any solution outside of exile is appropriate while the basic facts of Seth Miller and PLP’s actions are being obscured and denied. I have learned the hard way that the desire to pursue other options is nothing but the desire to return things back to normal at the precise moment we are confronted by how horrific normality is. Changing that reality is not possible without first accepting it, a step PLP refuses to take. Our reality is that we live in a world where rape is OK, and it is so because we don't do anything about it.

We must not believe in PLP because PLP does not believe in us. Their cynical gamble reveals how little faith PLP actually has in our community’s real potential for courage and revolution. Whatever it is that PLP is fighting for, despite whatever sincere delusions they may have about their efforts, PLP is not working for us and is not working for revolution. We cannot tolerate the presence of any group in our community when that group’s position to that community demonstrates such undeniable contempt and pessimism, and we cannot count on others to do the work of confronting PLP for us.

by J. Ball

7 comments:

  1. Hey friends,

    Thanks for sharing your stories. It helps all of us to learn from the process that y'all are in.

    In accountability work I've been doing in revolutionary communities in Portland, I work to use language that doesn't fix a person to their behaviors. For example, saying "a person who has raped" instead of "rapist." By separating the person from the behavior, we make space for the person to choose to act differently in the future.

    It's a small linguistic detail but it has helped my communities to grow and learn better.
    We all do things that cause harm. To move into the world we want to create we must choose to act differently.

    Best,
    Kate

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kate: Unless a rape survivor can be un-raped, a rapist will always be a rapist.

      We've seen too many "reformed rapists" welcomed back into our circles with their "changed ways" as badge of honor. Fuck this shit. Rape survivors will never feel safe around their attackers. Rapists should never feel safe either.

      It is also telling about our activist culture that the first comment on this article is in defense of rapists, rather than rape survivors. "Won't someone think of the poor rapists?" This needs to change now.

      Delete
    2. "Unless a rape survivor can be un-raped, a rapist will always be a rapist.

      We've seen too many "reformed rapists" welcomed back into our circles with their "changed ways" as badge of honor. Fuck this shit. Rape survivors will never feel safe around their attackers. Rapists should never feel safe either.

      It is also telling about our activist culture that the first comment on this article is in defense of rapists, rather than rape survivors. "Won't someone think of the poor rapists?" This needs to change now."

      Second.

      Delete
  2. I've worked in child welfare with children who were survivors of rape and/or molestation, I've worked in mental health settings to help adults work through sexual abuse trauma, I currently work helping people who become addicted to drugs/alcohol and more importantly I would also consider myself to be an activist. I strongly object to your approach in dealing with such a difficult situation. What you have written sounds like a lot of hateful ranting and raving. It is hard to take seriously. Not healing and not beneficial to anyone. I like Kate's comment above about how we talk about people distinguishing them from their behavior, mental illness, disease of addiction, etc.

    Under Capitalism the mentality is “punish” not rehabilitate (corrections does this only in name). To dehumanize someone and then go further to fault an entire organization for one persons behavior does not seem rational. We all have an internal contradiction between individualism and working for the collective good. Capitalism by design forces us all to become slaves to the system. This selling of our labor to the highest bidder and constant competition corrupts us all—not only those at the top. We have to struggle with one another to overcome our individualism and to do the morally right thing.

    My heart goes out to those that have been hurt. Anger is a normal reaction, but let’s not be consumed by anger and hatred.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rape is normalized behavior that is extremely common. Mental illnesses are maladaptive behaviors that do not allow individuals to fully participate in society. Portraying rape as just a "bad choice" of on individual, you erase the social reality of rape as a normalized assault that in most instances carries virtually no repercussions and fits neatly into our broader values, even amongst activists. What is truly fucked up about your post is that it ends up constructing the survivor's desire to live free from the presence of the rapist as the actual mental illness. In a situation where the survivor is unable to "let go," "get over it," "forgive," their failure to do so becomes socially maladaptive in the context of a community that has decided to "heal" and include the rapist. Nice priorities.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps you missed the part where defenders of this rapist advocated for the murder of the rape survivor and her supporters? This post is about the systematic defense of a rapist and the lack of accountability for the rapist or his defenders.

      Who is showing more "anger and hatred" - the survivor's supporters calling for the removal of a rapist and his defenders from the activist community, or the rapist who violently attacked someone, and his defenders calling for her murder? Why do you single out the survivor to not be consumed by anger?

      Delete
    3. For many months, we've attempted to work with PL to find a way to productively address what happened, i.e. to find justice for the survivor and hold the attacker accountable, which is one step towards rehabilitation. What happened instead was that the organization actively worked to shield this individual from accountability, knowing without a doubt that this individual is a repeat attacker. Healing and rehabilitation cannot take place so long as that individual's community (not just organization) is working to prevent both from taking place, attacking the survivor and her supporters, and creating an atmosphere where the attacker can attack again with impunity. We can talk about the possibility of someone being defined as something other than a rapist only when they are voluntarily and honestly seek to change who they are; until then, they are a rapist and nothing else.

      Delete