[Marxism] Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Sun Oct 14 15:24:38 MDT 2018

Stern is entirely right to concentrate on the underappreciated damage that
the plan did to poor women across the country. The program, he shows, was
never really about venereal disease—it was an effort to clean up the
streets and police the behavior of women. He recounts how local law
enforcement used the American Plan to “commit girls between the ages of ten
and seventeen” for “frequent[ing] saloons,” or “lounging upon the public
streets,” or “attend[ing] any public dance, skating rink or show” without a
parent’s permission, but never boys. This was not a response merely to more
blacks, immigrants, and women moving to America’s cities. Once relocated
these people needed, and demanded, decent housing, jobs, wages, and, most
threatening of all, greater equality. This method of maintaining the racial
and economic status quo in the face of demographic and political disruption
declined with the widespread availability of penicillin in the 1940s, but
others took its place; Stern considers the marginalization of HIV/AIDS patients
in the 1980s as an “intellectual, legislative, and judicial successor” to
the American Plan.

When we see the American Plan not in isolation, but rather as a part of a
long history—from slavery in the 1800s to mass incarceration in the
2000s—Stern’s book is not merely the story of one women’s fight against
injustice. His research exposes both the insidious ways in which calls for
“public safety” soon come to justify the curtailment of rights, and the
extent to which today’s most destructive carceral apparatus has its basis
in fear on the part of the powerful. Race, class, and gender profiling
inform which citizens today are policed and imprisoned. The same factors
determined who was surveilled and locked away under the American Plan.


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