Meet Temple University Press’ new acquisitions editor, Ryan Mulligan

This week, in North Philly Notes, a Q&A with our new acquisitions editor, Ryan Mulligan.

You are acquiring books in sociology, criminology, and sports as well as regional titles. What is your affinity for these discipline?
I worked on sociology books in my previous position and found the discipline to be so vibrant and necessary. Sociology places the human faces we see into the contexts that shape them and make them the way they are. Conversely, it also puts real, complex, human faces on the contexts we make assumptions about. So much of academia is rightly concerned with showing the ways the real world resists our assumptions and heuristics, but sociology is extra important because assumptions and heuristics about people can be so dangerous.

This is a great moment to be getting into criminology, as there is so much skepticism and room for questions and answers in law and order today. Criminology has a close relationship with sociology. It has been mostly published by larger publishers and I’m excited about the opportunity to take a more targeted topical approach to specific subfields that merit a tighter focus but have broad implications.

Everyone who knows me knows I love sports and Philadelphia sports in particular. Everyone describes Philadelphia fans as passionate but we are also demanding and informed, which makes us a voracious readers and consumers of perspectives and information. In other words, it’s a great environment in which to be publishing sports books. Beyond my own fandom I’m also excited about the sports list as a publishing opportunity. So much of sports publishing has traditionally been nostalgic and I think there’s a real opportunity, especially for a university press, to publish books that are curious, socially engaged, forward looking, and concerned about how sports arrived at where they are and where they are going. I see so many outlets online serving a broadly interested and educated sports fan and think that shows a readership underserved by many of the sports books on the bookstore shelf.

I’ll especially look to continue Temple University Press’s strengths in urban sociology, criminology, labor studies, social movements, social stratification, and sexuality and gender studies.


What book (or books) made you fall in love with reading and the power of words?
I’m going to go to my childhood with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan. It was interesting, later on, to read White’s indispensable writing guide, The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.) and see him explicitly outline what had enlivened his writing for me as a child: a charming honesty and understated directness. Ray Bradbury deserves a shout-out, too.

What was the last great book you read? (Can be academic or not)
Just before starting work here on the sports list, I read The Only Rule Is It Has to Work, published last May, a book by two analytics-oriented baseball writers who had the opportunity to take over baseball operations for an independent league baseball team. They describe the victories, defeats, and culture clashes resulting from their attempt to put the strategic consensus of the SABR community in to the game plans of the all-too-real coaches and players that inhabit their would-be sandbox. It underscores how hard it still is to get everyone, whatever their view of baseball, to come to grips with their uncertainty, more than a decade after Moneyball.

What one book would you recommend everyone read?
As long as I’m talking about uncertainty and data, everyone should read Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise. The fun of it is reading well-told stories from several fieldsweather, politics, economics, sports, earthquakeson how the best prognosticators make the best predictions. Everyone can learn something about how the best in a field you don’t know find sense within the mountain of information available to them. But the message that I think should resonate for scholars and civilians like myself alike is how the most knowledgeable people are honest with themselves about what they don’t know

What book or author do you wish more people knew about?
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy. This is an intervention in one of those debates where there are two cogent sides but neither approaches the crux of the problem: Leovy shows that whether we institute more policing or less policing, we would benefit from better policing.

What titles might we be surprised to discover on your bookshelf?
Learn to Surf, by James Maclaren. Not really the vibe I give off – maybe because I haven’t been very successful at it.

What author(s), living or dead, would you be most interested in meeting, or having over for dinner?
Shakespeare. There’s a Titus Andronicus joke to be made here, but I can’t quite work my way around to it.

595_regWhat Temple University Press title could you not put down?
If declaring a favorite child is an unwise parenting strategy, choosing a favorite child among the many you just inherited seems doubly fraught, so I’m going to venture outside my own lists here at Temple and choose a great book on Temple’s backlist that I read as an undergrad philosophy student: The Philosophy of Alain Locke, edited by Leonard Harris. Locke’s philosophy provides background and context for the Harlem Renaissance and for so many pride movements to follow.



Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!



Public Security: The Most Important Theme in Rio de Janeiro

In his second Olympic-themed blog entry, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, addresses the theme of public security in Rio during the Games.

Two term Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has easily been the most interviewed and quoted public authority for the Rio Olympic games, has said more than once that public security is the most important theme in Rio de Janeiro. For Olympics organizers, a main question always has been will public security forces be able to control Rio de Janeiro’s rising street crime and newly emboldened gangs. A much less publicized question—How can anti-Olympics protesters be repressed without violating their human rights?—has already been answered: It can’t be done. The protesters demonstrate against what they view as public money misused on the Olympics because it is needed much more for health, education and various social programs. There are also protesters—some doubtlessly the same individuals—fighting against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. They see impeachment now entering its final phase as a coup d’etat by her political party opponents against Brazilian social democracy. Not discussed at all in politically charged Brazil is the fear of sabotage by opponents of the Olympics or the government—such as setting fires in Olympic installations. All of the above are the various public security fears that must haunt an authority such as Minister of Justice Alexander de Moraes. Focused on Brazilian behavior which is what he knows best, Moraes has played down the possibility of foreign ISIL inspired terrorist attacks.

In the lead up to the Olympic games, public security preparations were usually discussed as numbers of police and of funding them. Taking the lead in providing security is the state of Rio with more than 30,000 police available for Olympic duties. However, for most of 2016, the state of Rio has been broke. On June 17, 81 year old vice-governor and economist Francisco Dornelles—acting in the place of Governor Luis Fernando Pezão then undergoing treatment for lymphoma—rattled Olympic organizers when he declared that Rio de Janeiro was in a “state of public calamity.” It was the first time in Brazilian history this designation had been used to describe anything other than a natural disaster. An immediate effect was the return of 50,000 Olympic event tickets. Dornelles also took experts in public administration by surprise. They questioned whether a “state of public calamity” could be applied to a fiscal collapse. But the wily acting governor, a veteran of 30 years of political combat in Rio de Janeiro, got what he wanted. He activated an immediate transfer of 2.9 billion reais, about 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate, from the federal government to Rio de Janeiro. The money was to help strengthen public security at a time when state police forces more and more appeared not up to the job protecting the people of Rio, the athletes, and the half million tourists expected for the Olympics. The transfer meant police and other public service professionals including teachers and health workers could expect to receive their salaries. One or more local gangs took notice and responded by hijacking a truck transporting containers just arrived from Europe. The containers carried the equipment of two German TV networks for transmitting the Olympic games. The truck was later abandoned. The containers had not been opened, and the valuable equipment was untouched and safe. But the gangsters served notice that they had interests of their own. Following this show of strength, some arrangement might be expected whereby organized crime groups will play a part in keeping Rio de Janeiro safe during the Olympics. Retail and wholesale drug trafficking no doubt continues with little interference. Brazil ranks second on the list of countries in consumption of cocaine, and Rio de Janeiro is a major port for the export of cocaine to Africa and Europe.

The police began to receive back salaries dating to May. Still, on July 4, the civil police staged an event at Rio’s international airport when they received passengers with  “Welcome to Hell” English language banners, and with stuffed figures of dead, bloodied police spread on a terminal floor. The message: Police would not die for Rio if they were not being paid. An exasperated Eduardo Paes viewed the spectacle as yet one more public relations disaster. He went on CNN and in an English-language interview pronounced Rio’s public security “Horrible.” He blamed the police, and the Rio state government. He insisted the city government of Rio had nothing to do with public security which is a state responsibility. But he also knew help was on the way. The next day Mayor Paes welcomed the arrival of federal armed forces, federal police, and soldiers of the National Security Force. Together with state police, they are now conspicuously present in order to discourage crime, and reassure visitors that Rio de Janeiro is a safe haven. Accordingly, 51,000 members of security forces have been deployed in metropolitan Rio. 22,000 members of the armed forces and federal police are assigned to protect the Olympic installations, the routes and public transportation taking people to and from the games, and the Tom Jobim international airport. With security apparently well in hand, a much subdued Paes declared on July 5th that the Olympics would surely be a tremendous success and leave a positive legacy for the city of Rio.

Layout 1This optimism lasted a little over two weeks. The evening of July 21 brought news that police were arresting 13 homegrown ISIS inspired would-be terrorists. All were self-indoctrinated converts to Islam. They communicated with each other via social media. Calling themselves “Defenders of Sharia,” they pledged allegiance to ISIS as virtual acts on the internet. One suspect was said to have tried to buy weapons in Paraguay.   Minister of Justice Moraes said the individuals were clearly amateurs, and in the early stage of planning something.

The arrests and revelations clearly added to public uneasiness in Rio de Janeiro, and mobilized authorities. Would Brazilian security forces be up to the job of thwarting one or more terrorist attacks? There was skepticism as can well be imagined. But people soon learned that the project of thwarting had become internationalized. Other countries, including the United States, France, Israel and Russia with their more experienced intelligence services were present for the Olympics and working with Brazilians which brought reassurance. Intelligence and other security agents—no doubt feeling their backs to the wall after all the recent terrorist attacks in different countries—seem absolutely determined to stop terrorists at the Olympics, be they a Brazilian home grown variety, or foreigners infiltrated into Olympic crowds and groups of tourists. It’s them against us. In this spirit of providing safety, wherever crowds of people gather in Rio, there are substantial numbers of well-armed police or other security forces reinforced by plainclothes agents.

Many people in Brazil and elsewhere no doubt believe that terrorist acts cannot be stopped entirely. The Rio Olympics offer a chance to show otherwise at least for a moment when several billion people around the world are watching the games on TV.  Minister of Justice Moraes has lately declared “minimal” and “approaching zero” the probability of a terrorist attack.

Uncanny experiences explained

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Waskul, author of Ghostly Encounters,  writes about what prompted him to write about his uncanny experience. 

Whether you are a believer or a skeptic one fact is undeniable: people continue to report uncanny experiences with something that they believe is, or might be, a ghost. Those experiences people have, how they interpret them, and the reasons people believe (or disbelieve) are undeniably real regardless of whether one has faith in the existence of ghosts or, equally, faith in contending that ghosts are a fanciful fiction. In short, ghosts exist as a social and cultural phenomenon, the focus of our research, and the socio-cultural reality of ghosts is entirely independent of the ontology of them. Thus, in Ghostly Encounters, Michele and I have maintained an agnostic perspective on those fundamentally unanswerable questions as we spoke to people who believe they have experienced a ghostly presence and visited places alleged to be haunted. Our focus throughout this book is on the experiences people report, how people arrive at the conclusion that they have encountered a ghostly presence, what those ghosts do to and for people, and the consequences thereof.

Ghostly Encounters_smA wise sociologist, Gary Marx, once taught me to know the difference between a scholar and a fundamentalist. As Gary phrased it so succinctly, “the scholar starts with questions, not with answers.” Seen in this light, fundamentalists come in many guises, and only some of them are religious. Hence, as scholars, Michele and I sought to start with questions about the ghosts that people allegedly encounter, the unique ways that people interpret them, how those ghosts function in the lives of people, what those ghosts do to and for people. Starting with questions, instead of answers, is always at least a bit risky, and mainly because one does not know where those questions will lead, nor what experiences they might facilitate. Indeed, from beginning to end Ghostly Encounters was an incredible adventure for both Michele and I as it led us to people and places we never expected, in addition to understandings and surprising experiences that we did not anticipate. In the end, we sought to replicate that unforeseen experience for our readers with intimate and accessible forms of ethnographic writing that bring our readers inside of these lived experiences of ghostly encounters, within a highly unique organizational structure that assures unexpected surprises. While we hope our readers find the book both informative and enjoyable, above all we urge anyone interested to equally know the difference between a scholar and a fundamentalist—and to start with questions, not answers.

A Q&A with the authors of American Dunkirk

This week in North Philly Notes, we sat down with American Dunkirk co-authors James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf to talk about their new book on the boat evacuation from Manhattan that took place on 9/11.

Jim, you are a geographer by training, and Tricia, you are a sociologist. But you both also refer to yourselves as “disaster researchers.” What exactly is disaster research?

As social scientists, we are interested in how people, organizations, and communities think about and behave in disaster situations. How do people experience disaster in different ways? What do we perceive as risky, and why? What helps or hinders coordination, be it in preparing, responding, or recovering from disaster? And then it’s often working with other scientists, be it from engineering, atmospheric, or health science, to solve these problems in a more comprehensive way. Disaster research requires that kind of holistic approach. The Disaster Research Center, where we are fortunate to work, is also well known for quick response research. For over 50 years, its researchers have collected information in the immediate aftermath of disasters, information that often is otherwise forgotten or lost. This has led to critical insights that have improved our understanding of disaster events.

American Dunkirk_smThe boat evacuation on 9/11 is a fascinating story. What drew you to looking at this event?  

We had seen the power of improvised activities in our documentation of some other emergency response activities in New York City, such as the re-establishment of the Emergency Operations Center after the original at 7 World Trade Center had been destroyed. During that study, we began to hear about the boat evacuation. The fact that approximately 500,000 people could be evacuated by boat so successfully without any direct plan in place was amazing, but it was also an example – on a larger scale – of the kind of improvisations we had seen and continued to see in other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. And those improvisations extended beyond the boat evacuation, to the bus transport of people once they reached the Jersey shore, to setting up dinner cruise vessels to serve as respite centers for Ground Zero responders, to the retired fireboat John J. Harvey being pulled back into service for fire suppression. We quickly realized there was so much to learn. Plus Jim had been a merchant marine officer, so he was attuned to the aspects of maritime culture: such as the professional obligation to “get the job done” and their capacities for making do with limited equipment. We were grateful for the University of Delaware Research Foundation and National Science Foundation funding to support this extensive work. Over the years there have been a few accounts shared about the boat evacuation, but we still are mostly greeted with surprise when people learn about what transpired along the waterfront that day.

You talked to 100 people involved with various aspects of the boat evacuation and response. What were some of the key lessons you drew from your study?

The boat evacuation is one of many heartening moments throughout an otherwise tragic day, and much of that is grounded in the idea of community. In this case, it was the extended harbor community who were able to envision a role for themselves, who were able to draw on their extensive network within that community, who were open to new ideas that seemed to be working in the moment, and who were able to galvanize the latent resources on their boats, along the shoreline, and across the metropolitan area. But it’s not only the harbor community that can do that. As we’ve said elsewhere, successful disaster response involves ordinary people achieving the extraordinary, solving one problem at a time. What an important insight! Any one of us might not be able to do everything, and there are a lot of things we might not do well, but we can usually do something quite well.

Notable was the number of maritime workers who started out without a plan. They said, “We didn’t know what we were going to do.” But the mariners had a strong ethos of rescue they applied, even if it was a land-based emergency. They had technical and environmental knowledge, and experience working on the fly. But we also learned of a bartender who handed out chips and talked with people queuing up for boats on one of the piers. He saw a need: providing comfort in the form of food and conversation, and it was in his wheelhouse as a bartender to notice the need. We all have something in our wheelhouse.911_CGboard

Before 9/11, and to a much greater degree afterward, public officials and policymakers were emphasizing the need for “command and control.” But large-scale disasters are always characterized by emerging and unplanned activities that are better coordinated than controlled. It’s OK to strive to get a sense of the big picture, but we also have to recognize that no one will have that in the midst of an unfolding disaster. Responses that work involve people starting to put together their part of the picture, alongside other formal and informal responders. It’s a community effort, at its heart.

James Kendra is a Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration and Tricia Wachtendorf is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. They are the Directors of the Disaster Research Center.  Visit them online at


Brazilian Blues: Operation Carwash, The Oligarchs Strike Back

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire files another report from Brazil. 

The political crisis in Brazil has reached a climacteric. The oligarchs of the Brazilian congress came out from behind the scenes for all the world to see. The chiefs or caciques can no longer tolerate the “Carwash” investigations as they are being conducted. They see these investigations of venal politicians, with no one too prominent to be excluded, leading remorselessly to criminal charges, arrests, trials, and loss of political rights. One leader after another has been investigated and exposed to public scrutiny. Deeply wounded, they decided to have a go at trying to stop them. In fact, this was the plan from the beginning of the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in which Vice President Michel Temer was a central player as he saw friends and colleagues of many years being investigated and showing signs of crumbling under the pressure.

Layout 1First, Dilma had to be removed. She refused to use executive branch power to interfere in the investigations. Temer supported the impeachment, then as acting president he joined the effort to stop further investigations as least as currently practiced. When two ministers in his newly formed government were caught in phone taps plotting to obstruct justice, there was an enormous public outcry. Temer reluctantly bowed to it. He accepted their resignations, though his preference was to maintain them in their posts.

Then on Monday, June 6, Henrique Alves, Minister of Tourism was accused of corruption by Rodrigo Janot,  Prosecutor-General of the Republic (Procurador-Geral da Republica). This time Temer balked. He decided to keep Alves on the grounds that the accusations were old, that nothing new had been presented. The next day, Tuesday, June 7, Janot asked the Federal Supreme Court to order the arrest of former President José Sarney, Senate President Renan Calheiros, suspended Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha and Senator Romero Jucá for obstruction of justice in the Carwash investigations. The Federal Supreme Court has to decide whether to order the arrests since under the 1988 Constitution members of Congress, Ministers of State, the Pres and VP are all judged in the first instance by the Federal Supreme Court, a disposition which incidentally puts an intolerable burden on the Court.

Senate President Renan Calheiros quickly spoke up for the accused: “We ought not to worry ourselves about excesses committed against us.” What do the oligarchs want?   First, a different approach to plea bargains. The bargains are now made with individuals under arrest and sitting in jail. If they agree to a plea bargain, they get released. If not, they stay in jail. The change would require that bargains not be made with imprisoned persons. Such bargains have the quality of being coerced, and can be seen as examples of (light) torture. Second, that a new policy of leniency be extended to individuals who have been charged allowing them perhaps to plead guilty, cooperate, pay fines. Will they serve jail terms? If so, under what conditions and for how long? Will they lose their political rights, that is to hold elective office?  If so, and for how long?  These changes would complement the process already underway of making accords with representatives of big construction firms who paid bribes or “tips” (propinas) to politicians or political operatives, then recovered the money in overpriced government contracts. Under the accords, a firm would pay a fine for breaking the law, perhaps also their executives. The firm would then be allowed to resume signing government contracts in order to get on with the immense tasks of building Brazil’s infrastructure up to the level of a developed country.

More important than the fate of a politicians accused of various corrupt practices is the risk posed by impeachment to Brazil’s democratic institutions still undergoing the process of consolidation, and to social advances under the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers Party) governments of Presidents Lula, and Dilma Rousseff since 2003. In a June 4th interview published online in the Mexican daily La Jornada,  writer and activist Leonardo Boff, member of the Franciscan order from 1959 to 1992 and a leading producer of liberation theology, remembered that 36 million Brazilians had risen out of poverty into the middle class during the Lula and Dilma presidencies. He pointed out that Brazil was also the country with the greatest number of popular organizations, and that they could stop the country from one day to the next. Earlier in March at the outset of the impeachment process, Boff had called on former president Lula in effect to return to active duty and assume leadership in saving Dilma’s mandate in order to preserve the social advances. In the June 4th interview, he alluded to the possibility of violence if members of popular organizations were provoked or humiliated. Acting President Temer has repeatedly said he plans no assault on social programs.

The fear of popular violence needs to be set beside the fact that mass political protests in all the large Brazilian cities in 2015 and 2016 have been peaceful, not violent. No one has been killed, and property has been almost always respected. The same can be said, with certain exceptions, of the mass protests of 2013. It is true that the MST (Landless Workers Movement) and its urban affiliate MTST (Homeless Workers Movement) are large militant popular organizations. Lula has referred to the MST as the army of its leader João Pedro Stedile. However, Stedile is a greatly respected leader and intellectual of the social democratic Left, and he does not preach or threaten to use violence. The MST and its causes continue to be supported by the Catholic Church. Also, the MST has always kept its independence. It was never an annex of the PT. Lula himself largely abandoned the popular organizations as President. He preferred to work through the political system with governors and mayors, getting resources to them, even when they were his political opponents. Experts called this the politics of “governability.” Lula’s explanation was somewhat different. He said he did not care about his opponents, but he did care about the people they governed who needed money from the federal government. Under Lula, Rio de Janeiro for example received more money from the federal government than ever before even though Cesar Maia, the mayor of Rio was a political opponent, and used his blog to criticize Lula regularly.

The Brazilian elite is viewed by its critics as unable to accept the new and higher status attained by blacks, mulattos, and the poor, and also that a former auto worker (Lula) and woman (Dilma) have twice each been elected president. The presumed inability to accept these new developments is sometimes referred to as an example of upper class hatred for their social inferiors, and various expressions of disdain and worse aimed at the PT, its government, Lula and Dilma can be treated as class conflict. At the same time, the programs to reduce poverty were put in place without any noticeable political opposition expressed in debate or Congressional votes. The Law of Social Quotas of 2013 was affirmative action that reserved half the seats in public universities for public school graduates, blacks and native indigenous Brazilians. It passed the Senate with only one vote against out of 81. Earlier in 2004, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of racial quotas. Such actions suggest a politics not of hatred, but of ethical consensus to end poverty, and confront social class and race discrimination. In Brazil where the study of law is a serious, much practiced endeavor, these laws have been milestones in advances toward citizen equality before the law.

At present, Michel Temer himself and his government have little credibility. There is a chance that Dilma will not be found guilty as charged by the Senate and restored as President. But Temer is in power as acting president, and has come with a neo-liberal agenda to replace the social democratic  agenda of Lula, Dilma and the PT. Neo-liberalism was prominent in the two terms of Lula’s predecessor President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002). A neo-liberal agenda means less government involvement in advancing a social agenda that favors low wage earners. It also means greater internationalization or openness of the economy, and reducing the state’s entrepreneurial role. The process of trying to implement this agenda began quickly. On assuming his task, Ricardo Barros the new Minister of Health announced  that “some universal rights guaranteed by the Constitution will have to be rethought.” He identified one as the universal right to health care under SUS or the United Health System. Not everyone enrolled could receive medical attention. Barros pleaded insufficient resources, arguing that Brazil had fallen into a situation comparable to bankrupt Greece. This seems a curiously inapt comparison considering the relative sizes of the respective Brazilian and Greek economies and populations, also the higher standard of living prevailing in Greece, and the far greater need to extend, not retract health care in Brazil. The public has been demanding greater access to better health care, a demand emphatically expressed in the mass protests of 2013. In labor law, the Boff interview referred to certain changes favored by the Temer government such as negotiations between unions and employers to change some work place rules and benefits in the name of increasing productivity. Executives of foreign firm executives are said to have expressed exasperation with what they regard as excessively bureaucratic rules for the workplace. The new government is anxious to appease them and attract foreign capital. However, Dilma Rousseff’s government  was considering similar changes, but set them aside as too ambitious at a time of  economic (the great Brazilian recession now in its third year) and political (the crisis of impeachment) turmoil. Temer is also said to want to restore the right of foreigners to buy land in Brazil which Dilma prohibited in 2010 fearing a large scale Chinese entry into commercial agriculture and stock raising. Also announced are further privatizations of state owned enterprises. Privatization has always been a key policy of neo-liberal economics, much favored by former president Cardoso, but resisted by Lula, Dilma and the PT. Finally, foreign policy is being reoriented in favor of more commercial agreements with Europe, and less integration with South American countries, such integration now labeled the partisan policy of a political party (the PT).

Unlike the l990’s, a neo-liberal program in 2016 seems suddenly antiquated, having fallen out of favor even perhaps at the International Monetary Fund which had presided over its creation. Christine Legarde, IMF General Director since 2010, noted the great boom in commodities of the first decade of the 21st century, having come to an end, would not return soon, perhaps never. Today’s IMF economists now admit that the benefits of neo-liberalism may have been oversold. The governments of Lula and Dilma never bought the neo-liberal package of policies, and neo-liberalism is now strongly questioned even in the United States as illustrated in the 2016 presidential primary elections. There may have been a neo-liberal heyday, but trying to resuscitate it in 2016 undermines even more the credibility of the Temer government. However, Leonardo Boff may be allowed the last word. He expects the solution to Brazil’s political crisis “will come from the street.” On June 10, there were anti-government protests in 24 cities. As of this writing, acting President Temer is under siege and cancelling public appearances.

It’s Not (Only) About Transgender: Bathroom Bills and the Politics of Fear

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost a column by Finn Enke, editor of Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, that first appeared April 2 on, about bathroom legislation and the climate of fear these bills produce.

In 2015, 21 different anti-trans bills were put before legislatures in over 12 states. In the first 3 months of 2016, politicians have brought us another 44 bills in still more states. Most of these bills focus on public facilities that are sex segregated; most criminalize transgender and nonbinary people for using public facilities; most suggest that these bills are necessary for the “safety” and “privacy” of “the public;” most include a definition of “sex” as that determined by birth assignment and confirmed by birth certificate, and chromosomes. Many focus on public schools. In their rhetorical conflation of transgender with perversion and predation, and in their legitimation of excessive surveillance, they disproportionately impact people who are already most targeted: trans and queer people of color, trans women generally, and nonbinary people.

Whether or not they pass, these bills produce a climate of fear and suspicion, and they have already contributed to an increase in violence in and around bathrooms.

As a white transgender person who doesn’t “pass” well in either bathroom, I am more nervous than ever every time I need to use a public restroom (roughly 1,500 times a year).

These bills don’t originate from public concern or from any documented problem, and protests against them show that many people aren’t buying it. After all, trans people have been around forever, and there is no record of any trans person harassing anyone in a bathroom, ever. Plus, the bills themselves are staggering in their fantasies that sex could simply be flashed at the door with the wave of a birth certificate. Most people know that these bills don’t make bathrooms safe and only marginalize trans people, even making it impossible for us to use any bathroom.Transfeminist Perpectivessm

We know we are political fodder. The GOP made a sudden “issue” out of our access to public facilities in order to galvanize a crumbling party. It wouldn’t be the first time the GOP has created a political platform around vilifying already-marginal communities. As John Ehrlichman explained in 1994, Nixon advisors designed the war on drugs in order to derail the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam Antiwar Movement. In the midst of the Cold War, the GOP also consolidated itself around anti-abortion platforms. And from the 1990s on, the GOP turned gay marriage into the fuel behind their campaigns rather than addressing economic and environmental crises.

But even more specifically, the rhetoric surrounding these bills relies on a very old trope of white women needing protection against sinister intruders. In Wisconsin during a 9 hour public hearing about its bathroom bill, we heard from quite a few men who didn’t want their daughter or granddaughter to be vulnerable to men preying on girls in the locker room. One said, for example, “we don’t allow exhibitionists and child molesters to hang out outside of school buildings, so how can we even be talking about letting them into girl’s locker rooms?”

North Carolina State Senator David Brock shared a similar concern in response to the state paying $42,000 for an emergency session to pass SB2 which criminalizes trans people for using public facilities: “you know, $42,000 is not going to cover the medical expenses when a pervert walks into a bathroom and my little girls are in there.”

Or we can look at the campaigns against Houston Proposition 1 during 2015. Prop 1 was an Equal Rights Ordinance barring discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of gender identity as well as sex, race, disability and other protected statuses. These are rights that should already be guaranteed under the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and elaborated by Title IX and the American with Disabilities Act. Refusing to affirm these rights, those who opposed the bill claimed that the bill would allow men into women’s bathrooms. They created TV ads depicting large dark men intruding on white girls in bathroom stalls. They rhetorically turned a housing and employment nondiscrimination ordinance into a “bathroom bill,” and they succeeded; Prop One failed to pass.

And let’s not forget that the North Carolina bill also contains unchallenged sections that discriminate against workers and veterans. Against the more graphic iconography of predatory men in women’s bathrooms, the rights and workers and veterans are easily lost from view.

This is not the first time that demands for equality across race, sex and gender have been resisted with the claim that public accommodations will become spaces of unregulated danger against innocence. The face of the intruder may change slightly, but across centuries, the victim is ever and always a young white girl.

It’s also not the first time we have seen white women used in the service of sexist and racist and transphobic violence. Feminist historians have conclusively shown that the 19th and 20th c. trope of protecting young white womanhood was foremost about securing white masculinity, domesticity, and white supremacy.

Though they cause real violences, these bathroom bills are not primarily about transgender people or bathrooms. Nor have lawmakers, for all their concern about young girls being molested in bathrooms, shown similar concern about the most common forms of sexual violence and assault against girls and women (across race) that take place outside of bathrooms.

As mean as these bathroom bills are, something much larger is also at stake.  The North Carolina bill is designed primarily to strip the right of local municipalities to set their own anti-discrimination and protection laws.

We have lost all semblance of constitutional, democratic process.

These anti-trans tactics work because they succeed in directing fear away from the corporate demolition of democracy; they succeed by making people believe that the reason they are struggling and vulnerable is because some other group of people is dangerous and taking away something “we” worked hard to earn.

How, then, can we best address the fact that these bills increase everyone’s vulnerability and directly make the world less safe for people of color, people who are known or perceived to be trans, nonbinary, queer, or gender non-conforming?

While politicians vie for corporate favors at the expense of their constituents, and as more and more people struggle to maintain jobs, health, and life, we can still refuse to perpetuate hatred. Our only hope may be to refuse the rhetoric that pits people against each other. As politicians and corporations dismantle democracy, it is more crucial than ever to organize across race and class and ability, across queer and feminist and trans and straight; and to be brilliant in our resistance to cooptation.

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