Today I raced and placed in an annual alleycat race called the Frigid Bitch, an all-womyn urban bike race in Pittsburgh. This was the 5th annual race, organized by epic local cyclist Anna-Lena Kempen, but it was my first time competing. This year, the race pledged to donate a portion of the money to the Women’s Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, but they then upped the ante and pledged to donate ALL of the money collected if the race drew 100 riders. It did! And in the meantime, two generous people decided to match the total, so this race even raised a ton of a money for a great cause. The ride was incredibly empowering — it was amazing to see so many ladies pushing themselves up steep hills and having a blast doing so. The cycling community in general has a very heavy male dominance, among messengers, mechanics, and riders, but there are still TONS of womyn hitting the pavement everyday, and the Frigid Bitch is a great way to celebrate those badass bitches.
Alleycat races are a tradition that comes out of messenger cycling communities, largely focused on fixed and single-speed bikes, the preferred style of riding for those folks. They are a creative style of race that is some version of a scavenger hunt, meaning rather than having a set route that everyone is racing on toward a finish line, there are various checkpoints on the map that you have to reach in a given amount of time. Designing your route or your team’s route is the key feature of an alleycat, playing off of the skills of bike messengers whose brains have very detailed maps of city streets because of their work. Speed is, of course, a major factor, but strategy and execution are equally important. Additionally, these races challenge the street warrior skills messengers and urban cyclists have to learn fighting for space on the road. All through the race, you’re dealing with angry drivers, stop lights, gaping-huge potholes, and in Pittsburgh: enormous hills, so alleycats here specifically challenge your body’s adaptation to our local geography.
I have been participating in alleycat races since I got my first bike in college back in 2008, a green single-speed mixte Motobecane. I got introduced to cycling through some pretty hipster friends, and they convinced me that single-speed was the way to go. Gainesville, FL wasn’t entirely flat, but it was easy enough to get around most of UF’s campus and the city on a single-speed bike. I used that Motobecane for my first race, the Alleygator, which was about 30 miles and WAY above my skill level, but me and my teammate pushed ourselves anyway! The only reason we didn’t win the award of DFL (dead fucking last) was because one person got completely lost and turned around. Ha!
That alleycat was the beginning of my cycling era. For years I had admired the freaky fast Jimmy John’s bike messengers who zipped around campus on their flashy bikes. A year after I started biking, I joined their team and started my career as a bike messenger. By that time, all the cool kids I knew rode fixed gear, and I had decided to join them. I started to fall in love with the way you become connected to your bike riding a fixie. For messengers, it provides an extra amount of control over your speed that is helpful when navigating heavily trafficked pedestrian areas, sidewalks, and alleyways because you have braking capabilities with your legs in addition to handbrakes. You can have so much control over your speed with your legs alone that some extremely skilled fixed gear rides have no handbrakes at all! I definitely saw the practical potential of fixed gear riding for my job, and I just loved the culture of fixed gear bikes and the way they ride.
The alleycats I raced in college were reflective of the cycling community there, very heavily centered on fixed gear bikes but also including geared riders. The top two awards were always First Overall and First Fixed, recognizing the extra difficulty associated with taking on a race with only one gear. There was also often an additional First Female award given out, and then tons and tons more prizes — the most fun part of alleycats! There was also sometimes a hilarious prize for the person who had won the title of DFL.
In Pittsburgh, alleycats are equally reflective of the cycling community here, which is much more geared bike focus because hello! It’s Pittsburgh! Still the style of race is translated completely and is always incredibly challenging because of the topography of the city, no matter what kind of bike you ride. There are a million different ways to design an alleycat race and Anna-Lena always crushes the maps and the fun. I have ridden in several of her races at this point. Sometimes you don’t know the checkpoints ahead of time and have to solve riddles for locations. Sometimes you can only go to certain checkpoints after you have gone to others. Sometimes there are activities to complete at the stops. Add in themes and there are a million ways to build a fun alleycat.
This time we got the manifest (the name for the map/instructions in an alleycat) up to an hour before the race, which was a hand-drawn not-to-scale map of Pittsburgh with 7 checkpoints:
The instructions said to hit as many checkpoints as possible in two hours and then get back to Spirit. At each stop, you would have the volunteers record your spokecard number and carry on. The distance to hit all of these points is 25-30 miles, which is very tough to do in under two hours! Several badass ladies made it happen today! Most people missed at least 1 checkpoint, those who did largely choosing to skip out on the furthest stop (West End) or the tallest hill (Water Tower). My teammate Bernadette and I decided to go for distance and saved the Water Tower for last in case we didn’t make it that far in time. We made it to our 6th checkpoint with just 5 minutes to spare before time was up. I bike multiple times a week and have biked all over the city of Pittsburgh and still there were multiple stops that I had never been to before. It required careful planning ahead of time! And deciphering what some of the stops even were.
The route I designed for the course ended up being 20.8 miles, and we climbed over 1,000 feet! Even leaving out the steepest hill in the ride! Bernadette and I have been riding together for a while with the intention of competing in an alleycat together. We have been getting out on the warm days that pop up this winter for 15-20 mile rides here and there. Bernadette is fast and has amazing stamina. As a messenger at heart, I am the navigatrix and leader of the pack, but Bernadette plays an equally important role by following closely and trusting my risky but calculated choices on the road. She also pushes me to climb hills I never thought I could master!
Today we had the chance to test out our dream, and it was an absolute blast! We were both so happy with the route and our combined execution. The checkpoints were so challenging but so much fun. The organizers and volunteers really did an excellent job creating a fun and smooth ride! Bernadette and I both placed in the top 20 and I was First Fixed, a goal of mine since the alleycats back in Gainesville! As I was racing against the clock toward our last checkpoint, I was channeling all of my awesome cyclist mentors from back in the day who taught me how to be a skilled and confident cyclist on the road. 10 years later, I’m still improving as a cyclist everyday I hop on my workhorse and hit the roads! I look forward to so many more fun cycling events in Pittsburgh. Despite our city’s complicated layout and relatively sad amenities for bikers, we have a strong and dedicated cycling community here in Pittsburgh and I’m proud to be a part of it!
1. “State & Revolution” – Vladimir Lenin
An incredibly necessary political text written DURING the Russian Revolution in 1917. In fact, the book is even unfinished because Lenin was too busy literally leading the only successful socialist revolution in history. This book is absolutely critical for anyone who is serious about ending oppression once and for all! If you don’t know the difference between Stalin and Lenin, look it up, and then pick up some Lenin because the dude will blow your mind. Absolutely brilliant political thinker and revolutionary.
2. “Counterpower” – Tim Gee
Found this one at the Big Idea, my favorite place for radical reading inspiration. An in-depth historical look at several critical social movements in history, including India’s Independence from Great Britain, ending Apartheid in South Africa, and ending the Vietnam War in America. Some are success stories, other are not. Gee explores the tactics used by organizers in each of the movements discussed to determine the best fighting tactics for change.
3. “The Dispossessed” – Ursula Le Guin
I usually HATE fiction, but dystopian scifi is becoming an exception for me. I tried to read a different book of Le Guin’s years ago and it just didn’t resonate. I am so glad I tried again with this book though because it rocked my world! The book tells the story of a physicist who lives in a small anarchist colony on a moon called Anarres. His world and its parent capitalist planet Urras have been socially disconnected for 160 years until scientific progress depends on their reunion. This book challenged so many social and cultural ideas of what a functioning socialist world might look like and was just delicious candy for my radical queer brain!
I’d love to host a book club/discussion group for any one of these books!
The history of oppression and the history of struggle go hand in hand. No people in any part of history have been a willing victim to the stripping of their liberties. Regardless of identity, our truly collective history as working people is one of struggle against the ruling class. Black, white, African, poor, queer, disabled, Muslim, no matter the identity, we have all risen up time and time again to try and throw off our oppressors and reclaim our liberties. Our greatest successes have been when we have joined forces across those boundaries in solidarity, both within cultures nationally and between cultures internationally.
It is extremely important to study the history of social movements and to study it with the proper lens. Only through this study can we learn what tactics will help us end oppression once and for all! Because we are intentionally NOT taught this history in our formal education, we are apt to believe that the struggle we are experiencing in this age is new. This is a very disempowering belief because it seems absolutely terrifying to learn about all of the injustice in the world all of the sudden and be confronted to deal with it every single day. We are all going through an extremely trying emotional time with the escalation of the Trump regime’s attacks and an information age that is dropping new horrifying realities that shake our world view on a regular basis. Many of us go through this emotional turmoil alone! No wonder we all feel so exhausted and immobilized! We want to fight, we want to learn, but how????? The ruling class has very intentionally kept this information from us by dictating public school curriculum for many decades. It’s going to take time to relearn!
This is why I enjoy being a part of a real fighting organization like Socialist Alternative. Instead of going through this scary time alone, I get to meet weekly with my comrades to discuss current events, politics, and methods of action. Then, during the week, we go out into the world and put our work into practice by going to political meetings and hosting actions like tabling, public meetings, or protests. We also read A LOT. We are literally studying the 10,000 year global struggle of working people against oppressors. There is soooo much to learn! I read political material and current events every single week, and instead of processing it alone, I get to hang out with people who are smarter than me and can help me to better understand the information. It’s humbling, challenging, and incredibly empowering.
Over the last year of my serious involvement in this organization, I have built relationships with this group of 15 or so and we have challenged our trust in each other many times. We expect A LOT from each other, often because our safety is at risk because of the work we do. I have complete faith in my comrades – we put our bodies out in traffic for one another, we risk arrest with one another, we come through when serious shit goes down with cops or violent people, we challenge ourselves to do things we are scared of, like speaking in front of a protest crowd or preparing a 25 minute political presentation. We have become an incredible team. And the beautiful part about SA is its national AND international community that connects us to struggle all around the world in real time. In the last 6 months, we have had comrades come speak to us from Belgium, Ireland, and other national branches, and we have sent comrades to political meetings, trainings, and campaigns in Ohio, Minnesota (twice), and even Germany. As an individual member, I am up to date on the national and international actions of my organization on a weekly basis. This is what democracy looks like, my friends.
Every week, one of us has the task of deepreading a political article, doing background research on the topic, and preparing a 15 minute presentation before a 30 minute group discussion. I do this once every three months or so and it’s a joy more than a burden honestly. Every other week, I just read and show up for discussion. This week, I gave a presentation on Marxist Feminism from an excellent pamphlet by Socialist Alternative. We have been studying this topic for a month and it’s been really exciting for me as the radical queer feminist I am. I’m always excited to push my theory and understanding further. There were two major lessons that I learned from this study as a whole:
Years ago when I was first getting involved with activism through the Black Lives Matter movement, I had a lot of local organizers I looked up to and learned from: Julia Johnson, Bekezela Mguni, Joy KMT, Celeste Smith, Etta Cetera, and many many more. I learned how to put my body in the streets from these women. I learned how to chant. I learned how to fight. I learned how to face cops. I learned how to yell. I learned that it was my duty to keep showing up. Once I learned these basic tools, I took it upon myself to continue my training by joining Socialist Alternative and combining my political action with studying political theory. Etta once led a song chant at a protest that I still echoes in my mind. The lyrics are simply “Organize! Organize! Organize!” but the song has so much power when sung by a crowd. Three years later, I know why this one has stuck with me so magnetically: you learn through studying the struggle that organizing the working class as a unified body is the only way to win the fight against ALL oppression. There is no place for division. None are free until all are free. Our strength is in solidarity, and we have proved this as a global people time and time again. We must learn from our radical ancestors! We must follow our radical leaders!
As Americans at large, 2017 was our year of shock and awakening. Let’s make 2018 the year of organizing and action!
Join me in the fight! https://www.socialistalternative.org/
Recently, I’ve been studying a lot about Marxism and dialectical materialism, the theoretical approach Marxists take toward history. Materialism asserts that culture is informed by the material conditions that exist around a particular group of people, specifically concerning how they produce and reproduce the essential goods they need for survival. This essentially refers to the economic organization of a given people, since economic systems exist to determine how to produce things like food and shelter and how to distribute them. The second part of this theoretical approach (dialectics) asserts that once a culture grows out of an economic system, the culture will also begin to inform the material conditions, which will then in turn affect the culture, and so on and so forth in a neverending feedback loop. Economics forms the root of culture, but they grow together, influencing one another over the course of time.
About 10,000 years ago, humans began using agriculture to produce food for the first time in our 200,000 year history. Cultivation allowed for surplus for the first time in human history, which led to stockpiles of extra food that could be controlled by a small group of people. This marked the beginning of class society. Written language was actually first developed to keep track of the distribution of these goods, and since only a few people understood the markings, it allowed a small group of elites to control the food supply. This was the first example in human history of “bosses” and “workers,” or as Marx would say: people who control the means of production and people who labor to survive.
Before the invention of agriculture, human beings all across the globe lived in what Marx calls “primitive communism,” small clan-based societies that operated in equality. The skills of all members were valued because they all contributed to the group survival. Women, men, and children had differentiated roles based on the material conditions of their environment, but none of the roles were valued among the others. Decisions were made and conflicts were resolved democratically through group action.
When humans progressed from this stage into the stage of cultivation and thus class society, systemic inequality followed. One of the most harmful effects of this development has been the onset of the Patriarchy, which has continued to oppress women and all non-cismales for the last 10,000 years. If you’re interested to read more about the connections between agriculture, class society, and the Patriarchy, check out this pamphlet: “It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This: Women and the Struggle for Socialism.”
As the millennia pass, we see other horrific developments as a result of the introduction of class society, including systemic Racism, but for now I am going to focus on the Patriarchy and the way it has affected our view of time and, by extension, our understanding of suffering and healing.
Capitalism is largely centered on the notion of forward progress, and we are taught through our culture and the way we teach history to understand that human beings are marching in a straight line of betterment. Yes, slavery existed in the past, but then MLK Jr came and we got over that. Women used to be barred from voting and earning money, but then we all decided that was wrong now we’re in a better place. As informed individuals, we know that this is not really the way things work. Chattel slavery is technically abolished, but the world still has over 40 million people living in conditions similar to slavery. Women have the right to vote and work (in some places), but we make significantly less than our male counterparts and we experience absurdly high rates of gender violence in the form of assault and regular harassment.
I would like to argue that this false sense of forward movement and progress is rooted in Patriarchy because it disconnects us from the natural flow of time that is expressed in our universe through planetary orbits and seasons, which manifests in the assigned female body through the cycle of menstruation. I also would like to argue that this disconnection from the reality of time interferes with our individual and collective understanding of suffering and healing.
When we look at the world (and the worlds) around us we can clearly see that time passes in a cyclical manner. The Earth does not move forward in a straight line with the Sun racing alongside of it. Time is moving forward, but it does so while moving in a circle. As the Earth moves around the Sun, we experience the changing of seasons. When our part of the world is facing toward the Sun, Summer brings life and growth, and when it is facing away from the sun, the Winter brings death and decay. This happens year after year with no chance of stunting this cycle to create a neverending summer. We see this same kind of cyclical phenomenon in the way the Moon orbits the Earth, creating tides which influence the flow of ocean currents on our planet.
Assigned female bodies also experience this cyclical nature. For the majority of our adult lives, we bleed for a week out of the month every month. As our periods approach, we experience of the symptoms of our body preparing for this shedding: volatility, sadness, discomfort, and pain. Then the bleeding hits and these feelings intensify as our body rids itself of its waste. As the bleeding ends, we start to regain our energy, which builds over the next two weeks until we begin to prepare for the next cycle.
This cycle mimics the changing of the seasons so perfectly. Winter is a tragic time for all life. It puts all creatures through intense trial. As the Summer turns into Fall, we watch the Earth prepare for her Winter. Leaves fall, annual plants that are only meant to live for one season put out their seeds and die, and perennial plants and animals begin to store their energy for the long and cold struggle ahead. Over the course of Winter, those that are alive continue to struggle and not all creatures make it through. Spring comes, breathing new life into the Earth. New seeds begin to take root and sprout. The creatures who made it through winter will show off their new growth as Spring comes and rolls into Summer. Summer is a celebration of life and production, but it is only one of four seasons, and even in the deepest joy of Summer we know that Winter will still come.
By attaching ourselves to the Patriarchal notion of time, which implies that we are capable of overcoming struggle once and for all, we put ourselves in a very difficult position to handle new stress when it arises. In order to really process the struggle of life, we need to embrace Matriarchal Time, which is based in alternating cycles of difficulty and growth. It seems obvious that this is a lesson humans should know, considering that half of the population is imbued with physiology that reminds us of the cyclical nature of our universe, but the Patriarchy has disempowered the feminine for so long that this understanding of time was thrown out in preference of a notion of straightforward progress. Under the Patriarchy, vulnerability and healing are seen as weaknesses that should be avoided at all costs. But the Earth reminds us that Winter cannot be avoided and is not a sign of weakness but a necessary part of the growth process. Assigned female bodies remind us of this truth too: in order for life to continue, we must endure the pain and blood.
Understanding Matriarchal Time has helped me personally cope with the difficulty and struggle I endure in my life, including that associated with my period, which is very painful and taxing. Instead of seeing struggle as permanent or as a failure, I am able to see it as a part of the cycle of life. Three weeks out of the month, I am strong, energetic, and productive, but for the other week, I am to forced to take a break to handle the pain and the blood. The same is true in my life on a larger scale: pain and success happen in cycles and the pain I endure helps me grow into a person who can reach even greater successes. Looking at my own narrative, I can see clear examples of this cycle over the course of my whole life. Struggle and achievement are in this constant reciprocal dance, and I can very clearly see periods that are Spring (rebirth), Summer (production), Fall (maturation), and Winter (death). The stronger I am, the more I am capable of surviving hard Winters, and the more beautiful and impressive I am come Spring. Healing doesn’t come from eliminating struggle, but from understanding the way struggle relates to growth and building an empowering narrative that will allow us to face difficulty head on.
Part of my radical Marxist feminist journey is exploring the deepest ways that the Patriarchy has infiltrated our culture and prevents us from healing and advancing to a stage of peace. As a dedicated permaculturist, these reflections are always considered alongside examples from the natural world because I believe the Universe provides us with material examples of how to live in harmony and abundance. This is a style of analysis I hope to continue to develop through writing this blog and I hope you will participate in this journey with me!
Welcome to my blog Femme Power 007! It seems appropriate to explain what this project is and why I started it. Sharing thought online is something many millennials have been engaging in since quite a young age, myself included. After interacting with the web through AOL, AIM, and HTML for a couple years, I started my first online journal in late middle school, graduating to regular livejournal use by early high school. My friends and I all updated each other a couple times a week on how our weeks were going – happenings in class, marching band, family, what have you. It was small and personal – we all commented on what each other said because it was essentially a group conversation. Since those days, social media has evolved tremendously, to MySpace around 2005 and Facebook around 2007, which is currently a platform that dominates a serious number of lives on this planet. Online sharing went from being personal conversations between in-person community groups or online shared interest groups to an enormous capitalist industry that mines data and uses algorithms to control what information people do or do not see. We now have a way to contact a billion people around the world directly to their cell phone! Needless to say, lot has changed in how we interact with one another.
Over the last few years, we have seen Facebook go from being a personal social tool to a global marketing giant, and the attitude of what gets shared has changed as a result. Nowadays, our news feeds are dominated by political rants, clickbait articles, fake news, and very real news, like raw images of police brutality, war, and hate crimes. It’s an emotional rollercoaster for most people to log on most days, but we care about what’s happening so we continue to engage. I spend a lot of time sharing leftist political news and views on Facebook in an effort to reach people with a socialist message that they may not otherwise be accessing. Undoubtedly though, Facebook is being used by Elites like Mark Zuckerburg to control the information that gets spread. To those of us who actively share content from causes like Black Lives Matter, No DAPL, anti-war, and general Leftist opinion, it is abundantly clear that our messages are being dampened while silly memes flood our feeds.
Simultaneously, when political messages are seen, they become battlegrounds. Suddenly everyone is a political expert even though their analyses of politics and the world are completely false and not based in history. Their theory falls apart at the first challenge. It is a really frustrating phenomenon to witness. Everyone is terrified of being called out or is stressed out by some FB argument they are involved in. It is becoming obvious to me that social media is a tool being used against the working class to keep us tied up in petty arguments instead of building genuine relationships with one another so that we can fight the bosses together. Look at the growth of social media: they replaced genuine personal connection with corporate information control.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have also limited the amount of information we can share at once, which leads us to make short jabbing comments about issues instead of being able to write longform pieces that explain the thought behind the point. I do not believe these short bursts of information are enough to truly change someone’s perspective on an issue. Most of the time people get defensive and close off. This is not my preferred approach to discussion! I would much rather find our common ground and then move forward from that basis.
These are the reasons I am beginning to explore a blog as a way to write about my political views and the way they connect with the various projects I run or participate in during my daily life. No doubt I will have less reach for my posts than I do on Facebook, but I hope to engage people who care to follow in genuine political thought and discussion. I am an active socialist, a community organizer, and a radical poly lesbian. I have a Bachelor’s in Political Science, a Master’s in Food Studies, specializing in Food Justice, and I have been working in leftist political organizing for 2 years. I am also a Certified Permaculturalist and former farmer. I have been running a justice-based intentional community in Pittsburgh for 5 years. All of these qualifications inform my perspective on international, domestic, & local politics, queer theory & lifestyle, intentional community, and the future of food & farming, which are largely the topics I will be writing on.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts and are interested in joining me in discussion and exploration on these subjects!
Solidarity with all Oppressed Peoples! The revolution is intersectional & international or not at all!