As I strolled through my neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice that the political postings calling for a recall of Mayor Jean Quan had been updated. Now I’m a fan of social progress and activism. I support the global Occupy/Decolonize movement. I don’t believe passivity will save us. I believe those being attacked have a right to physically defend themselves. I am also mad as hell about the fact that the physical brutality that Mayor Jean Quan is responsible for is considered an appropriate reason to plaster this bullshit all over the neighborhood that I have to walk through.
I don’t live in the part of Oakland where Mayor Quan lives. My neighborhood is a little more sketchy than that. It doesn’t have any easy access to the BART line, it’s a bit of a walk to get to any real commercial districts, and when I walk my streets I’m going to face no small amount of street harassment. Cat calling is not about compliments or beauty; it’s about harassment and the entitlement to say whatever you want to someone minding their own business just trying to get to the corner store. Whoever placed those signs did not take into the account that there are women who walk these streets with the knowledge that stalking them is not only socially appropriate, it’s heralded as damn near romantic in the mainstream media and cinema.
What do we know about stalking? According to a 2010 CDC report we know:
- 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men in the U.S. have experienced stalking at some point in their lives in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
- In the United States, approximately 1 in 5 Black non-Hispanic women experienced stalking in her lifetime. The prevalence of stalking for White non-Hispanic and Hispanic women was similar (1 in 6 and 1 in 7, respectively). Additionally, approximately 1 in 3 multiracial non-Hispanic and 1 in 4 American Indian or Alaska Native women reported being stalked at some point during their lives. (Note: the CDC report has a blank regarding women of Asian/Pacific Island descent.)
- More than half of female victims and more than one-third of male victims were stalked before the age of 25.
- People of color continue to bear a heavier burden of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence.
- The average duration of stalking is 1.8 years, but increases to 2.2 years when involving intimate partners.
California was actually the first state in the country to criminalize stalking in 1990. The penal code states:
- Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($ 1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in the state prison. Note: the average duration of stalking by a strange or acquaintance is 1.8 years, many victims will move to a new home, or may actually be asked to leave their job because of the “risk” they pose to the workplace for being a victim.
- This section [stalking] shall not apply to conduct that occurs during labor picketing.
When someone is stalked, they are encouraged by anyone they report the behavior to get a restraining order. A restraining order is great if the individual receiving it is A) confused as to the nature of your relationship and B) reasonable. If someone wants to scare you, hurt you, rape you, or kill you a piece of paper is not going to stop them. A restraining order may reduce your stress and anxiety level but if you are genuinely concerned for your life it’s not going to be a restraining order that saves it. It’s just a piece of documentation for court if your perpetrator is arrested and if your district attorney pursues the case.
Stalking victims are re-victimized by people who either don’t give a shit and even by people with the best intentions. All in all, stalking and repeated malicious harassment are not taken seriously regardless of how many people are impacted each year. The number of women annually reporting stalking? It’s now well over 1,000,000 reports a year in the US. In Oakland, it took me 30 minutes to get a police response to an active burglary in my home when I was alone. A stalking victim in Oakland cannot maintain any faith whatsoever that the police will be able to uphold their restraining or protective orders.
These stalking signs are numerous in my neighborhood. I understand that they were written as a call to action against a mayor who DID take horrible life harming action against protesters but I’m the one who has to walk the streets of my neighborhood everyday.
I don’t want any part of your revolution if a “tactical political tool” is placing a reminder every 50 fucking feet by my house that stalking is a totally acceptable thing to do to a woman. The signs calling for a recall against Ed Lee in San Francisco, matching the recall signs for Jean Quan, have not been altered to reflect the pro-stalking stance so this isn’t being universally applied to any and all politicians pulling the string on the response to Occupy encampments. This was an articulation of the thoughtless misogyny that happens everyday.
There are men who are stalked but it’s positively fascinating that when it came to a female mayor, the reacting call to violence for her action was, perhaps “appropriately,” altered to reflect a form of violence against women that is systemically ignored and often fatal in the country. It’s a reminder that most anarchist spaces are not safe for marginalized people. The rhetoric matters.
I’m not proposing passivity. I’m asking to consider why some words are chosen for some people and not for others. Why not words like mace, tear gas, restrain, take down, rise against, incarcerate, kettle, or any other immediately related activities that would clearly demonstrate the utter lack of ethics she actually displayed in the way that Occupy Oakland has been handled without bring acute misogyny into it? Why was “stalk” chosen other than the fact that it is one of the scarier things you can imagine if you’re a woman? Why is it justified to throw the women in my neighborhood completely under the bus in regards to the very real world experiences we are having because someone wants to show just how angry they are at the mayor?
Knock that shit off and think for just 5 fucking seconds about whether or not you’re using the words that fit your intention. My neighborhood in Oakland does not have money or resources. We have bars on our windows and corner stores in the middle of the street. Every single night you can hear gun shots and after a few months you’ll never mistake the sound of gun fire with a car back fire ever again. It’s a load of fucking bullshit to put those signs on my streets in some fucked up way to reach people and get them to join the movement because Jean Quan does not fucking live here. It wasn’t a message for her, it was a message for the residents of my low income neighborhood. Fuck you very much for that, by the way. Our streets don’t get regular cleanup here and there’s a lot of us who already have more than our fair share of worry about stalking.
It took not only misogyny and a total lack of compassion for victims to infect my neighborhood with tons of those signs, it also took a lot of classism. These were signs made my someone who felt entitled to make those of us affected most by that kind of violence deal with the heavy weight of that message.