Krys Méndez

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Reflections on Disability, Capitalism, and Time

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 at 9:00 AM

“Don’t worry, it’ll happen. Just give it some time.”

“But you’re so young. You’ve got plenty of time to try things out.”

“We’re young, though. We’ve got plenty of time before we have to deal with that.”

As a single young adult with an invisible, chronic degenerative condition, these are some of the most unnerving comments that I hear all the time, however banal and unordinary they seem. I hear them especially as a first-year graduate student, a time when the possibilities are supposedly vast and unpredictable, if not entirely “endless.” And as a twentysomething, I have these comments directed at me both from other young adults as well as those who are older, often with the assumption that age is inherently synonymous with a range of life opportunities that are only possible because of time.

To me, such comments are illustrative of how a certain normative standard of temporality is so consistently invoked, rendered so commonplace, that it is beyond noticeability or scrutiny. Unless we’re confronted with clear, visible instances of a bifurcated futurity in youth—say, someone with a terminable health condition—we generally go about our day with unquestioned and prefabricated assumptions about how human life should unfold across our linear version of time.

There are, of course, obvious exceptions and counterarguments, such as that neither youth nor old age are the same for everyone, across all geographical and cultural contexts. We see instances of how standardized periodizations of age are called into question, for example, when examining the culturally divergent definitions of ‘adulthood’—of what it constitutes and when it starts—or the social construction of adolescence. But the dominant time and age-related assumptions are nevertheless there, codified into our social institutions and reproduced in our colloquial expectations.

Although we are conditioned into thinking of it as an absolute and natural given, a mere backdrop against which social events unfold, I would agree with others that time, like space, is socially constructed. We’ve made decisions on how to read it–say, along axes of terrestrial movements using a sexagesimal system and a Gregorian calendar—and how such time is to be “spent” (an allusion to the naturalized connection between productivity, consumption, and time). Histories are made and remade, and our relationship to them shapes our sense of the future as well as our identities and experiences in the present.

And as with other facets of our social existence, the political economy has been instrumental to the ways we conceptualize time, humanity, and the trajectories of life. It’s worth remembering that the production of our first time-telling instruments was driven, in large part, by the needs of agricultural production. The advent of capitalism accelerated the changes as efficiency, productivity, and time became especially intertwined—a fact that was well noted by the so-called founders of sociology, particularly Marx, Weber, and Simmel.

I bring up this social history to highlight the seemingly arbitrary nature of how we temporalize life into discrete parameters and periodizations that are far from “natural.” Capitalist time has performed an incredible feat in measuring virtually everything against time-based markers of efficiency, a fact seen most cruelly today in the way neoliberal logic uses quantifiable metrics to convert schools into test-taking factories, bodies into malleable overtime engines, and brains into calculating computers. Even in our dominant allopathic healthcare, the logic of capitalist time is used in the treatment of bodies as machines, with an increasing trend toward “specialization” turning organs or bodily systems into isolatable cogs and pinwheels.

For people with disabilities or chronic conditions, such parsing of time under this logic continually works against us as our bodies are said to “betray” us. We internalize the idea of failure when we can’t all measure up to the same standards of productivity and efficiency, and rather than devoting our limited energies to living life within a still-enriching range of possibilities, we are punished through de facto institutions of punishment and control: incarceration, hospitalization, or a regulatory “welfare” and its inordinate criteria of eligibility. (Those institutions, as it turns out, have their own alternate temporalities that involve “checking out” from the typical spatial and temporal conditions of the working masses.)

That said, when speaking of the ways in which time doesn’t “work in my favor,” I speak of the perverse ways in which social institutions and everyday expectations of normalized life trajectories make it difficult to live life with my particular set of abilities, skills, and interests. Being coerced into making decisions that align with certain pre-planned futurities, I find it difficult to peg any decisions around future-bounded notions of “climbing the ladder” or “starting the journey” of a career—not to mention those temporalized notions of partner-finding and family-making—when I can’t even be certain of my ability to wake up or pull myself out of bed the next morning. Living with a degenerative condition, I exist in a much different temporality marked by daily, sometimes hourly, unpredictabilities–a temporality that relates unevenly with the presumed “willing and able” logic of long-term work projects or social expectations. Given the nature of the condition, I’m unlikely to see the sort of “rewards,” like certain job opportunities or social accomplishments, that capitalist time tells us to wait for.

Sure, we can talk about how such “uncertainty” is true for all of us, that we can all get struck by a bus tomorrow. But with a disabling chronic condition, those questions of the future are always weighted against the very real possibilities of a changing body in an unaccommodating world. Although I have dreams for the future like everyone else, when I’m reminded of how my in-pained present was the future at one point, I’m also reminded that the future is far from being a limitless or delayable abstraction.

Indeed, it is this tendency toward ‘delay’ that permeates our social life that I see as pivotally hinged to the logic of capitalist time. We justify excessive and exploitative work conditions in the present using obscure promises based on ‘delayed’ rewards and ambiguous futures. (“Don’t worry, you continue working this hard, and you’ll get there.”) We ‘delay’ our attention to issues like climate change or death-promoting destruction in the global south, pointing to all the work that needs to be done before we get to those luxurious issues. If we only had all the time in the world, we would provide that helping hand.

All of which leads me to wonder: why are we so busy in the first place?

Oh, right. All that work.

Clocks have become the universal metonym for time. Even the notion of time "running out" uses a particular able-bodied ideal measured within a capitalist frame.

Clocks have become the universal metonym for time. Even the notion of time “running out” uses a particular able-bodied ideal measured within a capitalist frame.


An Open Letter From Assata

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Frontlines of Revolutionary Struggle

My name is Assata Shakur, and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex-political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984.

I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. Because the Black Panther Party…

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Why I’ll Never Get Married: On DOMA, Assimilation, and Pink Capitalism

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2013 at 11:59 PM

While many news outlets, mainstream and independent alike, were saturated with updates about the different Supreme Court rulings this week, I made some observations about something that was vastly more intriguing: people’s reactions. In my social terrain within the left-wing spectrum, it was the rulings over civil rights—the right to vote and the right to marry—that garnered the most attention and provoked the most visceral reactions. One day people clogged my inbox and news feed with catastrophic laments over the callous evisceration of voting rights for disenfranchised people of color. The next day were various rainbow-colored displays of elation and relief, with a minor undercurrent of radical critique over the conservative institution of marriage (the latter of which I’m a part of).

Concerning yesterday’s Court case, United States v. Windsor, I find myself ambivalent, and extremely annoyed, with the deradicalized, traditionalist politics it embodies. Enough so that I’ve finally felt it necessary to add my voice to the infuriating cacophony of voices that infiltrate the Web. The notion of marriage has never been a component in my dreams or imagined personal narrative, and felt so distant that I didn’t care to give it more attention than economic inequality and the impacts of disaster capitalism. I’m breaking with this instinct to avoid “equality” talk because I see very little representation of people like me in the cyberscapes.

Enjoy Pink Capitalism

Do you prefer your oppressive, chemical-ridden carbonated sugar-water in black, brown, or pink? The U.S. v. Windsor (2013) ruling certifiably marks an additional step in the mainstreaming of “LGBT.”

For one thing, the “marriage equality” movement centers around an over-decade-long multidimensional debate with a mind-numbing amount of variables and issues, such as the quandary over dominant social norms, the role of the State in arbitrating interpersonal relations, and the constructions of meaning of the most ambiguous of terms used by liberals: “equality,” “justice,” and “liberation.” The numerous debates and critiques over “marriage equality” speak more to the issue than I ever can, though I think it’s important to highlight the Left critique of this historical practice that occupies such an integral part of the amerikkan imaginary landscape. As many queer theorists and activists rightly argue, “equality” and liberation are not identical concepts (although they may overlap). That “equality” has become virtually a trademark of the mainstream gay rights movement is a testament to how well their conformist, capitalist leaders have coopted a term, turned it into a politically saavy, marketable commodity, and repurposed it to mean a rigid form of formal/legalistic equality before the State. If this what “equality’ means, I want no part in it.

As a queer person of color, I simply don’t relate at all to the movement for marriage equality. Listening to and observing people’s reactions that confirm their deep-seated longings and acceptance for marriage, I can’t help but feel ever-more marginalized as the expansive scope of mainstream neoliberalism accepts more of this post-modern petty-bourgeoisie into its yoke. As dominant society accepts more “diversity” (if not the ever-growing legions of poor people) into its strictly-protected borders, I realize that those of us living in the alternative underground will be further invisibilized. Just as post-modernity fractures us within a kaleidoscope of subcultures, hybridities, and identifications, it can also atomize us to the point of colossal despair.

As someone sympathetic to anarcho-communist principles, such as State-less self-governance and the universal democratization of all human relations, I find marriage to be an extremely conservative institution, an oppressive relic of our sexist and colonial Judeo-Christian heritage. I fear that this latest ruling’s expansion of definitional marriage will only perpetuate an oppressive notion that the State has legal authority to sanction (i.e. “bless”) a particular, two-person relationship with exclusive benefits that would not be available to other, variably arranged relationships (e.g. polyamorous relationships, co-habiting non-spousal family members, non-romantic friends). If nothing else, a widespread legalization and proliferation of same-sex marriages would only deepen, and hence further the normalization and acceptability of, its significance in dominant society.

As a single, chronically ill man of color, I also find marriage to be an out-of-reach concept that has no pertinence in my life and would not, in any conceivable circumstance, proffer me any material benefits. It is alienating and disconcerting to see my affluent, white queers embrace this decision with hugs and wine glasses while I struggle through economic insecurity and chronic disease. The celebratory screams of my former classmates and co-workers simply accentuate the ever-present throbbing in my head as well as my disdain for an expansionist pink capitalism. I also need not say more about the rabid heteronormativity and singlism it perpetuates.

Having unleashed all this venom, however, I recognize that there are actually a number of radical leftists who defend the marriage equality movement in some shape or form. And I agree with some of them. There are great, substantive reasons (including some articulated below) to support a movement that can potentially ameliorate the material realities of marginalized individuals, even if it does come in a reformist package. In some of these more critical arguments in defense of legalizing same-sex marriage, the “movement” is defended as a short-term strategy that can uplift people on the road to revolutionary momentum. Although I can’t expound on these arguments, I think the general idea is that legalizing marriage today, within the oppressive western, white imperialist society we’ve inherited, could at least offer much-needed material benefits—such as adopting a partner’s health insurance, saving on expenses and taxes, and possibly gaining legal residency or other state-sanctioned status.  Since I am so disconnected from the very notion of marriage itself (I’ve never had a long-partner), I haven’t devoted much time to extricating the different strands of arguments and can’t make a decision about these arguments with any definitiveness. On the surface, at least, they seem to make sense granted one important condition: that it is done conscientiously, with participants being aware of their complicity in a structure that needs to be radically transformed.

In spite of the negative identity politics associated with marriage equality, I’m hoping, perhaps, that much of those millions of dollars and hours of human energy expended on marriage equality will finally filter into the frontlines of the working poor and add much needed fuel to the fights for humane housing, immigrants’ rights, labor justice, and health care equity. Perhaps.

Here are some articles and cases that DO reflect a good, immediate-term usage of marriage equality:

Colorlines: What DOMA Ruling Means for LGBT Families of Color

Colorlines: DOMA Ruling Clears Path for Binational Couples

Politico: DOMA ruling stops deportation hearing at last minute

Left* arguments around queer liberation and the same-sex marriage movement:

Scot Nakagawa (03.25.13): Why I Support Same-Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

Tamara K. Nopper (05.19.12): Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance

Kate Bornstein (12.04.09): Open Letter to LGBT Leaders Who Are Pushing Marriage Equality

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (11.02.09): Why Gay Marriage IS the End of the World (or the queer world, at least)

Yasmin (07.06.09): Legalize Gay, Or: So You Think You’re Illegal?

Dean Spade & Crag Willse: I Still Think Marriage is the Wrong Goal


Hear from Dean Spade, Kenyon Farrow and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in Queer Voices: Beyond The Queer Mainstream – Beyond Gay Marriage and the Mainstream Gay Movement:

Assimilation Not Liberation!

I seek to be free, not another consumerist cog in the white imperialistic power structure.

Whose Day? Our Day!

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2013 at 10:30 PM

It’s May Day, or International Worker’s Solidarity Day. If you are reading this in the U.S. and are currently employed, you’re likely not observing this historical day due to some forfeiture by the corporate state. Instead, if you’re “off” today, it is likely because you called in sick, used a personal day, lied to your boss, etc., all of which are ploys and tactics to get around your typical work-slave drudgery.

This year, I join rank with the millions who are jobless or underemployed. And given my various ailments pertaining to meandering medical treatments and relentless chronic pain—problems which I attribute to this country’s for-profit medical-industrial complex, the pollution of our planet, and the crude misinformation that is presented in our media—I still plan on marching on May Day. If there’s anything I’ve learned, May Day is the closest thing to a well-acknowledged global event where the issues that affect us all—workers, students, immigrants, the incarcerated—have some presence in the explosion that has yet to reach its fruition. That is, May Day is a day of possibilities, a day to unshackle ourselves from the servitude for which we’ve been pummeled into accepting, a day to create a world we say is possible. As the son of immigrants, I don’t need a lesson on the global consequences of our ‘postmodern’ neoliberal order, where 1% of the world owns 40% of its wealth. As a working-poor queer Latino, I don’t need to be told how identity politics converge with material politics to oppress my people. As someone with chronic conditions emanating from the abuses of industrialized society (our so-called civilization), I don’t need a lesson on environmental degradation or the threats to our physical survival. What I need is solidarity from the people who claim to be comrades in the struggle for our freedom. What I need is empathy from the people who claim to care.


Heavily promoted poster in Seattle comparing May Day 2012 with the memorable rioting against neoliberal globalization during the 1999 WTO conference.

For me, May Day is a day that has folded within itself the plentiful struggles and hopes that come from a people dying to be free. My first experience with May Day was back in 2006—the year anti-immigrant legislation was being considered before Congress (H.R. 4437). I was a senior in high school at the time and, as I was making my way home from school that day, I noticed the large procession marching down Broadway, with many signs in support of just immigration reform or against anti-immigrant sentiment. I had only recently opened my eyes to the possibility of community organizing, so I stuck, watching as an onlooker. In the years to come, I saw May Day as another chance to raise awareness about immigrants’ rights issues with fellow comrades doing work in that amorphous realm of “social justice”—a phrase that I’ve come to be more critical of as I delved deeper into the euphemistically categorized “grassroots” “non-profits.” It was only this previous year—in preparing for May Day 2012—that I began to truly research and understand the holiday’s radical origins.

I won’t bother to give details about a day that has been historicized and romanticized enough. Suffice it to be said that a celebration of workers’ solidarity on May 1st came out of several decades’ worth of unionization efforts around the world. What we gently call the “Haymarket Affair” (yet another example of de-radicalization in North American history books) was actually a massacre and pinnacle event stemming from a long history of labor resistance against capital. Preceding the massacre, the American Federation of Labor had adopted a resolution in favor of an eight-hour work day with May 1st, 1886 as their deadline.

Tens of thousands of people took the streets that day, risking their jobs as they fought for this now-commonly-accepted (and continually abused) labor condition. Despite the lack of support by local media, the fervor over a worker’s revolt took hold in Chicago, where labor conditions (including the infamous meatpacking factories) were worse than in other cities. On May 4th, after consecutive days of mobilization, people rallied in front of the McCormick Reaper Works factory near Haymarket Square; there, while police attempted to dismiss a peacefully assembled crowd, a bomb and several police guns went off. Revolutionary anarchist leaders, including August Spies and Albert Parsons (whose roles in the bombing are still debated), were sentenced to death and essentially martyred in the eyes of the labor movement.  In the following years and decades, anarchists, socialists, and communists alike chose May 1st to both honor the anarchist leaders murdered by the amerikan state as well as to commemorate the ongoing fight against capitalist hegemony.


Before marchers even arrive, police are all “prepared” (and lined up) by Wall St and Broadway

My initial associations with May Day were issues relevant to immigrant justice. Years later, I’ve come to see May Day as being a day for workers, a day for students, a day for the chronically disabled or unemployed. Whether the “turn out” is as high as it was last year is unlikely—but we should also question our understanding of success, if it is defined by numbers, when we are challenging basic capitalist assumptions. This is one year in which I wasn’t actively involved in preparing for May Day events, and having become recently unemployed, I can’t say what resonance this particular May Day will have for me. Regardless, I know there’ll be something in the air as I try to reconcile the different meanings of solidarity. What does it mean for a single Latina mother to join with a white male activist? Or when professional organizers join with unpaid anarchists? Or when we try to assemble such seemingly disparate issues as the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline and the efforts to end stop-and-frisk and police terrorism?

I guess there’s only one way to find out: on the streets.

Silence As Complicity

In Uncategorized on February 19, 2013 at 4:30 AM

Audre Lorde_Your silence will not protect you

Audre Lorde was a black feminist lesbian poet, writer, activist, warrior. Nearly 80 years after her birth, her words continue to resonate with those of us who are surviving intersecting oppressions. And her simple, powerful words on silence are also shared by a community of scholars, thinkers, and freedom fighters. Below I’ve listed other quotes that offer a basic, primal message: silence is complicity. Neutrality is complicity. To speak out against injustice is a moral imperative.

Martin Luther King Jr. As Prisoner

Despite systematic efforts to sanitize and depoliticize U.S. history, to obliterate a history of mass genocide, slavery, and exploitation, freedom fighters in this country hardly ever succeeded without confronting the defenders of the status quo. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a veritable freedom fighter who realized that silence is a form of complicity.

Various quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“A time comes when silence is betrayal”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Silence = Death

Famous ACT UP slogan against the silence surrounding the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s/’90s

“[T]here is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world–by a teacher, a writer, anyone–is a judgment. The judgment that has been made is that this fact is important, and that other facts, omitted, are not important.”

– Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States


“Academicians, politicians, all the people  that are supposed to be guiding this country say you’ve got to be neutral. As soon as I started looking at that word neutral and what it meant, it became very obvious to me there can be no such thing as neutrality. It’s a code word for the existing system…. Neutrality is just following the crowd. Neutrality is just being what the system asks us to be. Neutrality, in other words, was an immoral act.”

Myles Horton, co-founder of the Highlander Folk School, an incubator for the formation of the U.S. civil rights movement


“Lying is done with words, and also with silence.”

– Adrienne Rich, feminist and activist


“At times to be silent is to lie. You will win because you have enough brute force. But you will notconvince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right.”

– Miguel de Unamuno, Spanish novelist and philosopher


“We have maintained a silence closely resembling stupidity”

– From the Revolutionary Proclamation of the Junta Tuitiva, La Paz (July 16, 1809); quoted by Eduardo Galeano in Open Veins of Latin America

Silence is a war crime

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