Aug 112013

 The Cleveland case, part 2

By Beth Connors-Manke

Editor’s note: in part one of her essay, Beth began examining the ways Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who recently pleaded guilty to imprisoning and raping Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, represents structures of thought that are shocking yet familiar in our culture. Here, she looks more closely at the ways privatization threatens individuals and the public sphere.

Unless something very unexpected happens, we’ll probably see relatively little of any of them again. The picture will fade; whatever pattern was momentarily illuminated for us will fall back into disparate pieces; we won’t be able to see how any of this works.

Ariel Castro, by agreeing to a plea deal of life in prison without parole, seems to be avoiding both the death penalty and the probing glare that would come with a trial. Whether it is his intention or not, he may also be granting Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight the privacy they have asked for—the privacy that they recently affirmed via video is necessary for their recovery. The women’s strong desire to be shielded from public interest was asserted again when family members of Berry and DeJesus presented victim’s statements in court.

Sylvia Colon, DeJesus’s cousin, said, “Today is the last day we want to think or talk about this. These events will not hold a place in our hearts.”

Beth Serrano, Berry’s sister, explained Berry’s wish to shield her daughter: “She [Berry] does not want to talk about these things, she has not talked about them even to me. She does not want others to talk about these things. The main reason she does not want anyone to talk about the things or be forced to talk about these things is because she has a young daughter. She would love to be the person who decides to tell her daughter, when to tell her daughter, how to tell her daughter, certain things.” Serrano’s statement goes on to say that Berry does not want other people to talk or write about what happened.

For the time being, what happened in that house at 2207 Seymour Avenue in Cleveland will remain veiled, cordoned off from public view. What Castro was once keeping from the world, the young women are now asking to be the gatekeepers of. Continue reading »

Jun 062013

The familiar Castro

By Beth Connors-Manke


You’re looking and looking at something for years. Eyes wide as they can be, waiting for the equation, or picture in the puzzle, or the kaleidoscope pieces to fall into place. So the problem can be resolved, so your life can move on. So that you can look at something else.


My husband usually doesn’t wake me up for breaking news. But there he was, beside the bed saying things my groggy mind couldn’t quite tie together: “Amanda Berry,” “Cleveland,” “found.” Nonetheless, before I went back to sleep, I did register one thing: he felt connected to the story.

All three women held by Ariel Castro disappeared after my husband and I had moved away from Cleveland: Michelle Knight in 2002, Amanda Berry in 2003, and Gina DeJesus in 2004. We were gone, so their disappearances weren’t stories that we woke up to every morning in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But when the news broke on May 6, that didn’t seem to matter. My husband is a born Clevelander; he quickly placed the now infamous 2207 Seymour Avenue address; his father had grown up a few blocks away during the 1930s and 40s. The area of the abductions, near West 110th and Lorain Avenue, abutted my old neighborhood, where I walked the streets and took the bus. If nothing else, the geography of the story tied him to the Internet as events unfolded during that first week. Continue reading »

May 082013

Misadventures in the city

By Beth Connors-Manke

Sometimes persistence is not a virtue. And this guy had it. The first time, he pulled up next to me in a way I could easily ignore as coincidence. When he then did a U-turn and honked at me, I started to get it. My ire flared, but I figured that the complicated maneuver of following me the wrong way down a one-way street would deter him. The issue would be finished. Continue reading »

Mar 062013

Misadventures in the city

By Beth Connors-Manke 

In December, I wrote a column about stickering over sexist images and graffiti that popped up along on my daily commute. In both cases, my resistance was reactive: I was trying to block someone else’s message.  Since then, more sexist—sometimes virulently and violently sexist—messages have come my way, although not always at street level.  Continue reading »

Feb 042013

The continuing struggle of garment workers

By Beth Connors-Manke 

If you view history as a discrete set of events, then the similarities are eerie. March 1911: 146 garment workers, many of them young women, die in a factory fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. November 2012: 111 garment workers, many of them women, die in a factory fire at the Tazreen Fashions Company. Neither building had a sprinkler system, although the technology was available. Both factories had fabric stored in ways that led easily to raging fires; in both factories, escape routes were blocked and workers were hindered from speedy evacuations. In each case, workers had protested labor conditions before the disasters.

However, if you view history as a long struggle for progress and social justice, the similarities are depressingly tragic. One hundred years after the Triangle fire in New York City, the Tazreen blaze in Dhaka, Bangladesh, again finds Americans thoughtlessly complicit in deadly working conditions for garment workers. It may not have happened in one of our industrial cities, but the Tazreen fire still occurred in our supply chain—it is still a product of our economic structure and attitudes about labor. Continue reading »

Dec 052012

Be George Bailey

By Beth Connors-Manke

The transcendent part of It’s a Wonderful Life is supposed to be George Bailey’s realization that his life, disappointing as it was to him, had positively impacted others’ lives. As viewers, we’re supposed to empathize with George’s struggles and be warmed by his hope and reconciliation at the end. However, when I watched the film again last week, the part that resonated the most wasn’t George’s redemption; it was the economics of housing. Continue reading »

Dec 052012

Misadventures in the city

By Beth Connors-Manke

I’ve been a feminist for a long time and have always seen it as a survival skill, a way of protecting myself. For instance, when I was in grade school I was issued this warning: “Stay a way from that park—a girl got raped there.” (The park area abutted our suburban neighborhood.) This turned out to be one of many warnings that I received over the years, many of which were validated by stories of friends who were raped, friends who were persuaded that sex was the main thing they had to offer, friends who circumscribed their lives because of sexist pressures. All this made me immensely angry—as it should have—and feminism helped me push back. It also helped me survive girlhood relatively unscathed. Continue reading »

Nov 072012

Misadventures in the city

By Beth Connors-Manke

Last summer, I wrote a column entitled “It’s getting dangerous around here” about being bitten by a dog in my neighborhood. The result of the incident (besides the aforementioned column) was that I bought pepper spray as a mild attempt at holding off canine attacks.

From that Misadventures dispatch: “When I get home [from being bitten by the dog], I’m pissed. I’ve spent the last year and half negotiating the hazards on N. Lime so I could make the streets safer for myself, and now someone’s damned dog has made my walks dangerous again. Seriously, I’d rather have a drunk yell profanity at me three times a week than have some lame-o’s loose dog take a big chunk out of my calf.”  Continue reading »

Oct 032012

Shadow economies, part 3

By Beth Connors-Manke

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, Beth discussed sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Here, she ends the series by considering how the economy of human trafficking denies individuals a place in the public sphere.

In the course of this series, I’ve gotten to speak with, or listen to, anti-trafficking activists of various stripes: lawyers, academic researchers, social workers, politicians, grassroots activists, and once a survivor of sex trafficking. In my research, I’ve found mostly statistics and anecdotes—articles on the topic generally read: “there are this many victims, and here’s a representative story.” When speakers who have survived trafficking come to town, they are usually women, and it’s usually about sexual slavery.

In other words, in most of the discourse about the issue, the response is numbers and drama. Sometimes the discussion wades into the structural elements, economic and cultural, that contribute to human trafficking, but rarely does it go deeply into those waters.

That’s to be expected. Anti-trafficking activists are attempting interventions that will affect lives right now, whether that be through legislation, law enforcement practices, social services, or consumer awareness. All of this is necessary and timely, and there is much work to be done.

However, in my last piece in this series, I’d like to ask different questions, ones that reflect on the direction of our public sphere.  Continue reading »