FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs - 12/10
BP Funds Climate Ed
Evening with Evo
Jailed for Activism
Tea Party Threat
Resistance in Oaxaca
Faces of ELAM
Labor's Civil War
Zaps - 11/10
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Victory or setback for Chavez supporters?
The good news for Venezuela's socialist and pro-Chavez forces is that while the results of the September 26, 2010 National Assembly election might seem disappointing—because Chavez's party only won about 50 percent of the popular vote—they are actually quite impressive. During the last 12 years in government, there were 2 particularly bad years in which the economy shrank, there were numerous blackouts due to a severe drought and a lack of hydroelectric power, crime seemed to reach new heights, and government mismanagement caused thousands of tons of food to rot. Nonetheless, the results represent a new opportunity for the governing socialists to learn from past errors and to move forward in their program to construct 21st century socialism.
On a district-by-district basis, Venezuela's governing party, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela), won 98 seats in the National Assembly (AN) to the 65 seats for the opposition coalition MUD (Table of Democratic Unity) and two for the independent party (PPT). The opposition thus achieved its goal of preventing a two-thirds majority for the PSUV. Thus, given their near complete absence in the previous AN, this represents a comeback for the once moribund right-wing position.
Why "only" 49 percent of the vote, but 59 percent of the legislators? Chavez's critics now argue that the PSUV's new 59 percent majority in the National Assembly, which is 9 points higher than its popular vote, is proof of an unfair electoral system. In particular, they point to a new electoral suffrage law that was passed in 2009, which weakened the previously existing proportional representation system. The change is a bit complicated, but given that this has become a major issue in the international media, it is worth explaining.
Proportional And Direct Voting History
First of all, Venezuela has a mixed voting system, which gives 30 percent (or 52 out of 165 seats) in the National Assembly to statewide proportional party representation and the other 113 seats to directly-elected electoral district representatives. Voters thus have two types of votes, one for a state party list of candidates and another for one to three individual electoral district representatives. (The number of district representatives depends on the size of the district.) For the 2000 and 2005 national assembly elections, the electoral law stipulated that the statewide party list vote (Venezuela has 26 federal states) should be considered in conjunction with the direct candidate votes, so that if a party wins a direct representative in that state, it would receive one less representative via the party list. This system, which is modeled on Germany's, guarantees that small parties can be represented in the legislature even if they don't win any directly-elected district representatives—as long as they get over a certain percentage of the statewide party list vote.
However, in 2000, an opposition governor of Yaracuy state discovered that if you set up two different parties that are in alliance and have one of the parties run only on the direct vote part of the ballot and the other only on the proportional vote of the ballot, then this alliance can significantly increase its number of representatives. In effect, a way was found to game the system that favors a dominant party or alliance. In 2005, Chavez's then-governing party, the MVR, picked up this trick and created a new allied party, the UVE, which ran only on the proportional part of the ballot, while the MVR ran only on the direct part. Subsequently, the Supreme Court denied a constitutional challenge to the practice, saying that since the Constitution does not specify the method for proportional representation, parties cannot be prohibited from forming this type of alliance. In the end, the opposition boycotted the 2005 National Assembly election and the issue became moot, since Chavez's supporters won 100 percent of the National Assembly representatives.
In 2009, the National Assembly passed a new electoral suffrage law, which eliminated the provision that had caused direct representatives to count against the proportional representatives a party could have won. As a result, the direct vote and the proportional vote would be counted separately and the winning candidates adjudicated separately. This made the trick of running two allied parties unnecessary. Also, the new law lowered the number of proportional representatives from 40 percent of the National Assembly to 30 percent. As a result, proportional representation in the National Assembly was reduced significantly and now mainly guarantees that an opposition party that does not win candidates via the direct representative vote may at least win a few proportional representatives.
In the case of the September 26 vote, if it were not for the proportional part of the ballot, the opposition would have won 33 percent of the Assembly, instead of 39 percent. However, if the old electoral suffrage law had been in effect, the opposition would have won 45 percent of the seats, 6 percentage points or 10 seats more. As this would not have changed the PSUV's absolute majority in the Assembly, this would not have made a significant difference.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is the implication that Venezuela's electoral system is somehow "rigged" against the opposition. The fact is, Venezuela's legislature (even before the 1999 constitution) has always slightly over-represented rural areas so as to ensure that they would not be completely dominated by more populous urban interests. It just so happens that Chavez is far more popular in rural electoral districts than in urban ones. It is perfectly legitimate to debate whether such an overrepresentation is wrong, but one must keep in mind that this is not an invention of the Chavez government.
Also, it is quite possible that if Party A has many voters in a few districts and Party B has its voters more evenly divided throughout the country, but always outnumbering its rival party, then B will end up winning far more districts than A, even though their national level of support is more or less the same. For example, this is what happens quite often in Britain where the Labor Party won 55 percent of the seats in 2005 with only 37 percent of the vote. In such a system it is even theoretically possible to have a minority of the popular vote and still win a majority of the seats.
As for the accusation that electoral districts have been changed to give the PSUV more votes, even opposition supporters argue that these changes have been minimal. Certainly they have not come even close to the gerrymandering seen in some congressional districts in the U.S.
Unfair Media Advantage?
Another common accusation against the Chavez government has been that it has an unfair media advantage because the government controls more and more media outlets. Indeed, many new state-run or state-funded media outlets have been created in the past few years, such as Telesur, National Assembly TV (ANTV), Avila TV, Vive, and Tves. However, even combined, their audience share does not come close to that of the private TV stations. For example, in the battle for news and politics viewers, the private, hard-line, opposition-oriented Globovision usually reaches twice the audience share as the state-run VTV during prime time.
It should thus come as no surprise that in a year in which the government was facing multiple crises (economic, electric, crime, and mismanagement of state food distribution), the oppositional media would be able to run with these issues and make important inroads. Polls in early 2010 showed Chavez's popularity dropping from a high of nearly 70 percent in May 2008 to just under 50 percent in early 2010. However, as the economy gradually recovered in mid-2010, Chavez's popularity recovered too. Another reason for this increase in popularity was that Chavez went into full campaign mode and started inaugurating new industrial centers, health centers, and new social programs—such as a new credit card called, "Buen Vivir" or Good Living.
The Power Of The National Assembly
The reason that Chavez made such an all-out effort is that Venezuela's National Assembly is more important and powerful than most people realize, since most see in Venezuela a very presidentialist political system. However, the fact is that Venezuela's National Assembly is arguably more powerful than the U.S. Congress. Not only does the Venezuelan president not have the right to veto legislation, but the AN appoints all members to three of the other four branches of government—the Supreme Court, the Citizen's Branch (including the Attorney General, the Comptroller General, and the Human Rights Ombudsperson), and the National Electoral Council. Also, the AN has the power to dismiss ministers and the vice president.
To complicate matters further, many laws (laws that set the framework for state institutions and for other laws, so-called "organic" laws) require a two-thirds majority, including many of the appointments to the other branches of government. This means that losing a two-thirds majority in the AN will cause a serious problem for the Chavez government. The more likely result, though, will be paralysis in such cases, which is what happened frequently during the 2000-2005 legislative period when opposition and Chavista forces were nearly evenly matched in the AN.
The September 26 election cements the comeback of the opposition. Following a failed coup (2002), an oil industry shutdown (2003), and the boycott of the last AN elections (2005), the opposition is gradually reintegrating itself into Venezuelan political life, with its participation in the 2006 presidential election, in the 2008 regional election, and in this AN election. Also, with the formation of a new alliance (the MUD), the opposition appears to be more united than in the past. However, it still has to overcome some key obstacles if it is to become more effective in combating Chavez. For one, it would have to abstain from accepting money from foreign sources. According to a recent report, opposition-affiliated groups have received tens of millions of dollars in the past year.
Second, the opposition would have to become more democratic by holding primary elections for its candidates, as well as elections for its party leaders. For the recent AN election, the opposition held primaries in only 18 percent of the electoral districts, while the PSUV held primaries in all electoral districts.
Castro-Communism Versus Fascist Capitalism?
As long as the Bolivarian Revolution is beginning to show signs of wearing out, such as in poorly executed social programs and difficulties in overcoming key problems of the past year (particularly the economic crisis and crime), the opposition will have it easier. Still, in Venezuela's barrios and in the countryside, people continue to feel loyal to their "Commandante" Chavez. The land reform, the communal councils that give citizens more power in their communities, and the many social programs are highly valued in these sectors. Although many are frustrated that day-to-day problems remain unresolved, by and large they do not turn to the opposition, which still largely consists of the country's old elite. They do not believe the opposition when it claims that Chavez is taking the country towards "Castro-Communism." On the other hand, it is doubtful that they believe Chavez's warning that the opposition represents capitalist fascism.
According to opinion surveys, a little over a third of the population consists of die-hard Chavez supporters and a little under a third consists of die-hard Chavez opponents, and a third tends to be undecided and often considered to consist of "ni-nis" (neither with Chavez nor against Chavez).
One party has now tried to capitalize on this segment of the population by rejecting both Chavez and the opposition. This party, the PPT (Fatherland for All), which for a long time supported Chavez, split from the pro-Chavez coalition earlier this year and attempted, with the help of the popular governor of Lara state, Henri Falcón, to constitute a third force in the country. In a surprise to many analysts, this effort appears to have ended in failure, since the PPT picked up only two AN representatives and none in Lara. Apparently the PPT took votes mostly from the opposition, which would suggest that voter loyalty to Chavez is stronger than to the opposition.
Despite the relatively equal vote count for the two remaining sides, the opposition is claiming that this is the beginning of the end of Chavez. This would seem plausible if one considers that Chavez enjoyed a high point of popularity in 2006, shortly after his reelection with 63 percent of the vote. On the other hand, Chavez has been declared politically dead before only to reemerge stronger—such as 2002-2003 after the coup attempt and the oil industry shutdown. Much can still happen before the next presidential election in 2012, for which Chavez has already announced his candidacy.
Chavez's main program for the time until the next election is to continue the effort to establish "21st century socialism" in Venezuela. Exactly what this means is still not entirely clear, but there are a few indications. Towards the top of the agenda is a new labor law, which could democratize not only state-owned enterprises, but private enterprises, too, via workers' councils. Also, the role of communal councils is to be strengthened, particularly on the citywide and perhaps even statewide and national levels. With regard to the economy, the government intends to expand its industrial planning effort and to support strategic private industries so that the country becomes less dependent on oil export earnings.
These efforts, however, will be complicated due to the PSUV's loss of its two-thirds majority in the AN. The real danger, though, is that Chavez and his supporters will interpret their 59 percent AN majority as an undisputed triumph and that they will forget, as a result, that barely 50 percent of Venezuelans voted for the PSUV.
Many, both in the opposition and in the more moderate wing of the PSUV, are trying to convince Chavez that the reason for the narrow loss is due to his too radical approach and that he needs to "slow down." There is little indication, though, that this is the reason Chavez's popularity has suffered in the past year. Rather, the reasons are to be found with basic problems, such as unemployment, insecurity, and poor government services. This is what most surveys and casual conversations in the barrios indicate. Also, given that most Venezuelans (especially the poor) have so far reacted positively to Chavez's larger program of deepening the democratization of the economy, of the media, and of the polity, there is every reason to believe that they will continue to support him if he follows this program. If Chavez and his supporters decisively address the basic issues, as well as the strategic programmatic ones, then Chavez has an excellent chance of being reelected in 2012 and thereby reversing the opposition's recent comeback.
Greg Wilpert is a freelance writer and editor of Venezuelanalysis.com. He is also the author of the book, Changing Venezuela By Taking Power: The Policies of the Chavez Presidency.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.