Take our Feminist Movement survey

Warning: pissing on other feminists’ organising cornflakes a bit. Dear UK Feminista: I think it’s great you did a survey. But it . . . just doesn’t really . . . somehow I had an unexpectedly strong reaction while responding to this survey by UK Feminista. I stumbled across it from the excellent Feminist Webs which I had been reccomended as a resource for networking feminists and girls/ young women’s groups (of which there is an exciting resurgence at the moment), and thought I’d supportively fill it in. But I wrote so much that I wanted to write it up.

feminista survey

The survey started, after the offer of a free T-shirt & tote bag or somthing:

“Tell us about your passions, priorities and needs in our online survey” 

Sure. Ok. I scrolled on down. First question: 

  • Are you part of a feminist, women’s or other campaigning group?* YesNo
  • If yes, what is the name of your group?

Ah, well . . . what group? There are different groups I sometimes attend, and do different things with. I’m not sure if I’m part of any of them. Is there a maybe? I don’t have any group that I primarily identify myself with.

Hackles up, I continued.

  • Please describe your involvement in feminist activismFor example, have you run or participated in any campaigns? Have you attended any demonstrations or protests?

OK, can we just address that formalised feminist activism, in the form of demonstrations or protests, is NOT THE ONLY SORT. I have attended plenty demos, reclaim the night, pro-choice stuff, uh, and erm, loads of non demo/protests . . .one the most worthwhile things I have ‘done’  was a women’s split off from our anarcho network, a group of women in activism joining together to have conversations we hadn’t had before, unfortunately is didn’t get through the puke phase into the productive FUCK YEAH WE WANT TO ORGANISE ON THIS stage, but it felt connected and real and valuable . . .

and wait a minute. actually, this is just not where I’m at.
my feminist activism is my hairy legs and armpits when I work in a school. it’s subverting the make-up out at ‘girls’ club’ at a secondary special needs school with girls who can barely assent yet alone comprehend or express fully why & how they might want to use make up by joking about it, by suggesting to boys that they put on some eyeshadow to bring out the colour of their eyes, and how pretty they’d look if they did, and then in the staffroom discussing how we push genderroles onto kids, in a way that connects with the other staff who will not self identify as feminists.

It’s supporting my women friends in any and everyway, being actively non-judgemental. It’s telling a woman who’s beating herself up about getting interviews but no jobs that it’s capitalism, not her, and capitalism and the patriarchy want her to blame herself and try harder (in more user-friendly language).

It’s dealing with intimacy and power and expectation and consent and our histories in our interactions and relationships. Recognising that there is a rape culture, and acting on the assumption that we are all affected by this, and knowing that anyone could be a survivor of something that they may not ever want to talk about.

It’s reacting to sexist comments with confrontational or jokey or provocative responses. It’s letting a fellow applicant who’s got two kids know that I thought the introduction to our PGCE course where they said ‘by the way, don’t get pregnant this year’ was bang out of order. It’s letting a girl choose to get muddy or not get muddy in the garden.

It’s not ever greeting a girl with ‘oooh you’re pretty aren’t you’ as the first comment, and calling out my colleague when she does it, but finding a way to talk to her which doesn’t make me seem like a wanky PC academic feminist but actually connects with her.

It’s having a conversation on equal terms with that 10ryold girl about playing, growing up, maturity, conflict, bullying, teachers, safety vs sticking up for your friends, football, when she says tentatively ‘it’s like they’re sexist or something’ affirming ‘they are sexist’, and making plans with her for setting up a girls’ group, letting her know that she is able to get things and stick up for herslef in a way that adult women struggle with, but sometimes adult women come together to help each other stick up for themselves better, and seeing her mother, and discussing the issues around the conflict kids have to deal with, and the responsibility as a single mother . . .

It’s pointing out to my partner that he’s been socialised to under-estimate the amount of cleaning that gets done in a house because his mum did the lion’s share, and so actually he’s over estimating the proportion of washing up he’s doing.

And most of these things are things that women do every day without calling them feminist activism. It’s life. And many women who operate in the everyday sphere of feminism normally haven’t had the hours of explicit feminist spaces and campaigns and protest that I have had to to articulate this rant in terms of feminism, and certainly not in response to your question and it’s answer box. Most people have learnt at school and in their workplaces that you should give the answer to a question that is wanted on a form. Say yes, no, specify, elaborate, Don’t question the question, that gets you in trouble.

Well, your box hasn’t run out. I’ve got physical space to write this, but you didn’t invite it. And you wonder why UK feminista isn’t being led by a greater diversity of women. No-one who is at the bottom of the capitalist patriarchal heap has got the energy to come and seek out a movement that’s not going to help them with immediate practical stuff. Go and try meet some people where they’re at and find out how you can support them. This survey isn’t the way to do it.

this next question . . . I like what it’s asking for, but not how it asks it.

  • Describe a feminist action or campaign you have found particularly inspiring or empowering

practical feminist self defence. Getting women who are not necessarily active in Feminism together, to learn and share practical, useful reactions to the violence and oppression and harrasment perpetrated against them, and discovering a commonality of experience, including having learned to be ‘polite’ and also discovering a variety of ways in which we experience harassment etc and choose to deal with it in different circumstances.

  • What are the top three issues you are most passionate about taking action on? women sticking up for themselves women looking after each other

    learning ways to work together for collective action

And the survey went on a little bit more. I think there are some wider reflections to draw out of this, that are dynamics between organising around a campaign, or organising around people as a starting point. I’ve had a lot of recent contact with youth work engaged for social change, in the sense of emancipatory, youth-led, holistic youth work rather than youth services, and discussions around the failures and successes of activism and youth work, and one thing I’m processing from that is picking out those two distinct organising dynamics. I think that Feminista’s survey is a campaign centred approach, which I am just coming to view as inherently and problematically limited in its potential for inclusivity. This, after having entered a-lot of stuff through quite formal, if anarchofeminist in consensus decision making process, groups. I’ve just had a transformation in my levels of connection and motivation, for the better, and I’m trying to formulate and express how my vision of ‘how to organise’ has changed/ what it has become. Thanks, Feminista, for provoking this thought-space. I might try and draft a more people-centred variant on this survey. Or look for an existing one.

IF we talked about Food Sovereignty…

Food sovereignty is absolutely critical. NOW. AND WE CAN DO STUFF! Wait a minute. How much have people even heard of food sovereignty? Out of curiosity:

So, global hunger. Big problem, right? We’ve all seen the snapshots, the comic relief films, the ads, since we were too small to understand them. So let’s go through what we know…

Where’s it a problem?

The global south/ third world/ areas of drought/famine/war/disruption to systems.

So who should lead the solution?

The farmers based in the global south, who still feed 70% of the world using smallscale agriculture.

What are they saying?

Food Sovereignty.

What have the G8 and its newly formed body,the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and the IF coalition of NGOs lobbying the G8 done about Food Sovereignty?

They have actively pushed it off the agenda.

I first heard of Food Sovereignty a few years ago, from friends who live a nomadic lifestyle supporting different self sufficiency – food sovereignty – projects in the UK and beyond. It grabbed me as the absolute key aspect of global justice that I wanted to engage in, and I took the opportunity, studying anthropology & development, to read as much about it as possible. Food Sovereignty is an idea which fundamentally threatens the colonial institutions of development, and this is why we do not hear about it from the G8 and the NGOs who spend their efforts asking the G8 for solutions.

Food Sovereignty is a concept that has been developed in the global south. La Via Campesina is often described as the world’s largest social movement, with around 200 million members, and uses food sovereignty as a framework. What Food Sovereignty means is the ability to produce food to feed oneself without dependency on any external corporation, system or institution. The Food Sovereignty movement works to reduce dependencies (whether on local, regional or national levels) on others for land, seed, equipment, distribution systems and other necessities for producing food. MST (Movement for the Landless, Brazil) is a major member of La Via Campesina, and since it formed, the balance has shifted from farmers wanting to use modern industrial farming methods to agro-ecological methods becoming dominant. Agro-ecological methods use mixed cropping methods, which produce higher yields per land. The higher labour required, in the context of rapid rural-urban migration creating massive social problems, can be, if anything, an advantage.

Autonomy in food production makes people less vulnerable to external pressures, whether these are global neoliberal capitalism or an oppressive national regime. Agro-ecological methods maintain biodiversity and thus the flexibility necessary for resilience in the face of climate change. And, the framework of food sovereignty links up the local to the global. Here, in the UK, we can engage with food sovereignty in two ways. On the one hand, we can develop our own local food sovereignty and link into the global movement formed by La Via Campesina and others, taking their lead. We can also take advantage of our unfairly privileged position in global politics, and put pressure on the international powers of our politicians, NGOs, and corporations to stop actively undermining food sovereignty and instead support it.

Developing our own local food sovereignty can be done on many fronts. Choosing to consume local, organic, non-GM options is one thing, but one where affordable options are limited.  So, let’s work on more affordable organic,local food supply solutions – some are suggested here! Growing your own, individually or in communities is a great solution. But, to do so, people need access to land, and time. Get involved in land struggles. Every little helps a trend – finding spaces to be claimed and cultivated as commons can happen on every street corner, park, workplace and school. There may well be a project near you that is looking for more support. Project Dirt is one of many attempts to build links and a network of individual projects. One place to start finding out more about larger scale landclaims is Reclaim the Fields . An immediate threat in the UK is further changes to squatting law, which would criminalise the use of abandoned land. Look out for ways to try to prevent these proposals.

Time and skills are also needed. The unequal distribution of free time, opportunities to access knowledge, and income are intertwined, and all are damaging. Check NEF’s 21 hours report, because we need to get a shorter working week as an option for everybody, from overworked highflyers, to overworked and underpaid double working cleaners. This is inextricable from campaigning for living wages. People must be able to support themselves, and have time and options to explore new ideas, permaculture and food cultivation being only one of these. Growing our own food sovereignty, we increase our resilience, and can start to withdraw from mass agricultural exchanges of cheap grain produced in the industrial north for southern markets for luxury goods produced at the expense of subsistence crops. And, we are working alongside others around the globe, and need to learn from their struggles and experiences.

Now, to our influence as citizens of a nation with disproportionate power. We have a prime minister who is chair of the ‘hunger summit’. We have celebrities who film themselves with him for their charity fundraiser hit. We must battle this sickening PR with the truth – that Cameron works consistently, hand-in-hand-in-pocket with the big agriculture corporations – against the interests of the global poor. This is a battle to fight in the streets, outside the headquarters of agribusinesses, their financers, with our MPs, in our schools, in our universities, in our community gardens, in the media, and everywhere. Join a group to work together – and take whatever initiative you can, wherever you can. The film ‘Seeds of Freedom’ is free to download in HD – could you watch it? Watch it with some friends? Arrange a public showing and discussion about actions people can take?

45 000 people turned up to Hyde Park to support an agenda put together by Western NGOs to be utterly unthreatening to their funders, at the cost of silencing the issues that really matter. We have to beat that. We’d better be in this for the long haul.

And finally, something immediate. In May 2012 the G8 launched the ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’. It actively undermines the work of the democratically mandated UN Committee on World Food Security. The UK’s DFID has just announced it will be contributing £395 billion from the UK aid budget to this unaccountable, private sector investment organisation. Find out more and sign this petition here – only 3 minutes of your time, and pass it on.

And, if you read this before Friday 14th June 5pm, come to THIS. The G8 are gathering next week, and they need to know that there are voices close to home in solidarity with people across the world.

Written with inspiration from a workshop at The Spark.

beautiful chaos

I wrote this in 2010 or early 2011, for the Nowhere community, in parallel to writing up my dissertation on Nowhere. Some thoughts last night on attending a Q&A meet-up with Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, have prompted me to post it up. 

Saturday night, Nowhere 2010

beautiful chaos in the jungle dome

this space was without straight lines, an immersive space,  with the huge, bulging, glowing cephadaria filling the top half of the dome, ropes enabling the fantastically present and highly decorated humanity to spill upwards, the dancing filling the whole dome, blending into the green foliage-esque decor. it was utterly beautiful chaos. I immersed myself to dance, withdrew to the edges to take air, inverted myself at the edge to experience a new perspective, shared this excitement with other revellers. I realised that a game I had learnt in the woods with a children’s charity was ideal for the moment. I set up two people playing- one person is a ‘camera’ and the other controls what they see. The ubiquitous use of digital cameras often transforms the present into something to be filed away and remembered in the future, the documentation of doing something. To be a human camera is to focus on a beautiful image that your friend seeks out to show you- to have the appreciation of a sight that is often expressed with photography, but without the removal from the present.

“it’s hilarious. everyone’s so utterly fucked in there” a man in board shorts shared with me. I didn’t like this phrasing of it. In sixth form I hung out with people who would become drunk and do ‘hilarious’ random things. Like downing dirty pints, non-consensually drawing on passed out people. When I snogged a female friend, something which made perfect sense at the time, this was presented to me on Monday as ‘hilarious’. I resented this label (but accepted it at the time, for social reasons, innit). The things we do when we are partying, in chemically altered states, are sidelined in mainstream culture, into a space where they are groaned about and laughed at the next day. People distance themselves from revelations about the importance of love, appreciation of beauty, the hollowness of their employed life or their will to change the world by the words ‘I was wasted’. I once overheard a lucidly drunk banker on the tube at 6.30am spill out revelations to his friend, feeling he had worked down to the core of his psyche, describing his utter disconnection to his work. He was going to go to work on Monday, putting on what he recognised as ‘a face’. His mate would probably remind him ‘you were so fucked on the tube, remember?’.

How do we deal with liberated openness at nowhere, whether combined with altered states of minds or not? Is it different from the ‘default world’?

Dumping the ‘we’ to return to my own perspective… I didn’t first find the attitude of accepting open self expression or questioning the world at Nowhere. I found it in various places, and took it inside myself, and I seek out these places. It didn’t stand out to me during my first year at Nowhere, I found people working together voluntarily natural to me, though I noted that it was remarked upon as remarkable by others. I was distracted from the event on its own terms by relationships with the people I’d come with. This year (2010) I immersed myself more in the community, hearing from many people how transformative Nowhere and Burner culture had been for them. It seemed most important personally for the people who found it an utter contrast to their experience of the ‘default world’. Inspiration leaks, however, from Nowhere to the lives of participants, and the inspiration generated at Nowhere is only what participants bring with them, given a platform to be expressed and to grow. The surreality of the event- the physically extreme location and abnormality of costuming creates an environment where people can feel removed from their everyday routines, and so are free to question them without having to immediately be confronted with a situation where they must either drastically change their habits or else admit hypocrisy. Recognising the efficacy of Nowhere in creating a platform for transformative thought and experience made me value it as more than a fun place to be. I realised I was interacting with people who I would normally have no connection with, as they move in such different ways from me in their daily lives, through income, age and inclination. People at Nowhere are away from their usual life paths, and are reduced to our shared humanity- we can interact as beings in the world without regard for social divisions that might normally be between us.

At Nowhere it seems there is a culture which does not ridicule openness displayed during the night before in the daytime. Is this because the day of Nowhere is still within the event, and the event is to the return to the default world as the lucid night out to the following week?

I believe this is partially true. The entirety of Nowhere is a space where openness, and distance from one’s routine is explored and celebrated. However, while this is partly dismissed and boxed away -“yes, I know when I was doing that I thought it was beautiful, but that was at Nowhere. Wasn’t it crazy!!”, the insights gained through experiencing Nowhere also spill out. We learn that we can enjoy interacting with strangers, that we can express ourselves without fear of ridicule. Some find it difficult to take these things from the context of the desert to elsewhere,  others they already know these things in other contexts. The appreciation of the beauty of humanity existing at its best, once freely experienced, can be tapped into again.

frankie and I climbed the mountain for sunset It w150187187056

note: photos are from nowhere 2009. and not closely related to what I’m talking about here!

Cops, solidarity, stopping the BNP/EDL

cops solidarity

Today some of best loved friends will be getting beaten up. By cops and/or BNP. They are doing it because they know that when the rascists march unopposed they call it a victory, and they get stronger. Europe is vulnerable to fascisms. Look at the Golden Dawn in Greece, if you need help to take our British EDL and BNP seriously. They target vulnerable, disempowered, frustrated people, and give them a target for their anger. We need to work on people being less vulnerable to the appeal of ideologies driven by hate. And we need to show, on the streets, that the BNP and their ilk are a minority, and most people don’t like them. Doing so makes people who aren’t white, aren’t straight, aren’t heteronormative,  and/or who want to stick up for those who aren’t less intimidated by the BNP. And that makes it worth it.

I’ll be working in my community garden. And if it comes up, or I can make it come up, I’ll be having conversations with the kids about the racists on the streets, and how the anti-fascist movement, in all its diversity, opposes them. And we’ve got our charming cardboard copper, a PCSO who comes in for a cup of tea. On the scale of the BNP & EDL the police aren’t that racist these days. They are still institutionally racist. Stop and Search is targeted disproportionately at certain groups. A young black man who lives around Blackfriars shared that while he’s fine if he’s in his suit from work, if he goes from home to the gym in his workout clothes he will often as not be stopped and searched. I’m a white woman, and I can pull out my Cambridge English when I feel like it, so I don’t get that hassle. But I do attend  protests, and the majority of times that I have been intentionally assaulted have been by police. I’m talking  in the region of 3 out of 4 here – I don’t seek out trouble. One time was a cop shield bashed into my arm in a bruise that stayed for 5 days when I was helping keep space around a child so they and their parent could leave along the railing as a police line advanced into a kettle. I was describing the situation to the police – they heard me, but said “I’m not interested in anything you have to say.”.

Talking about police violence is a bit of a diversion from anti-fascism, but there’s going to be a load of stuff in the media about ‘violent anarchists’ if anything escalates today. I hope it doesn’t, because I don’t want people to get hurt, but I also hope that there is physical opposition in the streets to the BNP, such that they are prevented from marching. I don’t want them to be escorted safely by the police, I want them to be stopped.

Solidarity. And I’ll be supporting you with my diversity of tactics. I’m hatching some exciting anti-racism community bridging residential plans …

Heavy today, better tomorrow

The world’s crushing in through the screen that I stare at,

my thoughts drain through my eyes slurping out a vacuum,

they leave some stagnant mush where my brain’s supposed to be,

and it fills with the weight of the world’s misery…

channelled through the internet, where what you think  is what you get;

if trouble comes along,  cropping up close to you

you find it echoed, repeated and magnified,  clogging up the view.

I left. To get some air

to let my brain try to care

now it feels it and my tears flow

tho being sad’s pretty pointless, yeh I do know.

I should crack on it’d be more productive

might do my jobs better if I stick to the positive

but while life can be joy it is also bitter

and I feel it slipping by, each day goes quicker

it’s passing me by when I feel like a stone

grey, impervious, surrounded yet alone

then I get words so heavy they choke me

when I feel broken words hover and crush me

words getting stuck where pure meaning flows

they’re the flotsam and the ripples in the river hard to capture

when you think you got them down, the meaning’s seeped away

the heaviness is gone to emerge another day.

well the world’s fucked now, but it’s always been screwed

since adam and eve there’s no time it’s improved

the best there’s ever been is slots of opportunity

and places and times to exist with impunity.

Optimism? Pessimism? I’ll stick with realism,

you just gotta do what you can.

And I need to draw my community around me,

surround me with bonds that make it feel more livable

survivable. We can make it through, we can stay true.

At least we know we care, that we give a shit.

And shit can help stuff grow, if you let it so.

So let’s chill in these cracks, gently push them open

’til everyone can see them, the signs of decay.

Yeah they might put concrete over, but we won’t go way,

the seeds are everywhere, and the concrete shows they’re scared.

When they are gone, we will push through

when they are gone, we will grow anew.

Ever present are living spirits and the struggle of life is beautiful

though hierarchies can give distance, to develop isms that let us demonise.

with empathy we can develop our power to realise we can rehumanise,

and then we’re ready to organise, to link up and  revitalise,

so freshen up what you see  through your eyes,  and spread that feeling til we recognise

that its this society that distorts us and we gotta make it better til we’re free.

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I wrote this over a few weeks. Starting when I’d been on a computer, drawn into the dark places of the internet, feeling down about the kids I work with who are too anxious, for good reasons, like family members  in prison, to go to sleep at night, and then I went out and sat by the canal, and got words out into my notebook, and cried. I carried on working through the words, talking through it as I cycled home from parties where I’d felt my community around me. I was stuck on the ending though, until I came to it refreshed from Nest, [the first official regional burn in the UK]. I’ve come back with a hugely increased self-esteem, and comfort around myself, from my contribution to the event being appreciated so openly and reflected right back at me. My thoughts, writing and creativity are all flowing, after being blocked for  a long time.

Loving anthropology, Hating anthropology, and beyond

When I went to uni, I was initially delighted to find that, for the most part, my interests aligned fairly closely with the subjects I was studying. During the first year, I had a paper in each of Sociology, Politics, Psychology and Anthropology. By the end of it I came to find the frameworks into which arguments and data were forced in politics and sociology overly rigid, and realised that the psychology I was most interested in was that which was ethnographic in its approach. For the first two terms the anthropology, despite some fascinating content, was fragmented,  but in the third term a reassuring and enthusiastic supervisor guided and empowered us to knit together the elements of the course. Suddenly anthropology seemed less bounded and more flexible than the other disciplines. Realising that choosing a discipline was to choose a medium of study, rather than a topic, I continued in anthropology.

I interpreted second year as the year with less pressure, and allowed myself to follow my interests more freely, and to prioritise my sanity and state of mind over academic work. I was excited about my plans for dissertation work based on a participative arts event, “Nowhere”, held in an arid, dusty part of Northern Spain. When volunteering for the event, I consented, despite angst centred on the difficulty of separating out my academic and participant documenting roles, to also help with a documentation project for the community. Once I was on site, I settled in as participant, building, cooking, and hanging out, and once I was established I was delighted to find everyone around me supportive of both the ‘historias’ documentation project, and for my academic work. Not only were people supportive in theory, but were incredibly willing to talk. Seeking out personal stories both made me empathetically tuned in, and emotionally exhausted. However, despite experiencing a snapping point, where my capacity for social interaction shut down, the experience was resoundingly positive. I gained insight into the inspiration that participants gained, and also developed my own sense of the value of the event. Subsequently to the event I was offline, as I cycled round the Pyrenees. Contact with the internet reconnected me to Nowhere with dozens of friend requests and photos on Facebook. However, in September, I felt distant from the community, I felt an inertia that utterly disconnected me from the energised, socially secure and confident self I had been during the event.

Faced with the task of writing, in academic format, about Nowhere, I felt the truth of the critiques I had intellectually appreciated during the past years of studying anthropology. Facing the task of translating the lived experience of Nowhere into a piece of writing with the purpose of getting as good a grade as possible brought up many problems that were not just academic hurdles, but affected me emotionally.

I came to hate viscerally that experience is treated as raw material for a product, judged only by its worth to the academic institution, not its value to people. I produced something of limited interest both to ‘academia’ and to nowherers. Though my supervisor enthusiastically predicted me a 1st, it was marked a low 2:1. Maybe some differences of opinion there.* At Nowhere 2011 I had absolute fatigue of talking about any aspect of Nowhere, and particularly of my dissertation, though I brought a couple of copies along out of debt to the community. And I more or less fell out of Burner circles for a while, not going to Nowhere the next year, busy with other things, not planning to this year either.

A few days ago, however, I went to Nest. And it was transformational for me. Many, many things linked up, and suddenly I was intensely involved, stepping into the gaps left by multiple unfilled lead positions. The thing that allowed me to see what there was to be done, and do it, and link people to things that they would like to be doing, to let their contributions flow, was absolutely my experience of researching Nowhere. Finally, that energy of ethnographic investigation of Nowhere, and the insights I gained through it, has flowed back into me, and into a community. I’m happy to attribute how I’m able to think about things in part to my academic training, and I think I might be revisiting some of those academics that I found exciting three years ago. Feels like I’m become whole, healing my soul, and hell, I’m not going to be studying for the academy for a while, I’m going to be keeping busy building links between all the different awesome communities that I’m plugged into, I’ll be going with the flow, to go go go.

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