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20 May
directions to the fight
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I've seen this happen in movements and groups since I've belonged to either. Everyone would like for the group they belong to to perfectly represent them. So we fight over representation, over the simple fact that a group can't (and shouldn't) have one homogenous opinion. Everyone gets upset. Some people bail. Things change.

People and democracy are imperfect. I don't think I've ever been part of anything where this didn't happen.

I wonder if this is a uniquely Western problem. That is, if the problem is trying to coalesce a group out of people who place a premium on individuality and individual contributions. I find the frustration of group participation less... well, frustrating, when I think there might be a global explanation for why people act in mode X when mode Q would be so much more effective. [In a completely unrelated vein, it just hit me that a coalition is what you get when people coalesce. Which is obvious, I suppose. They're good words.]

Direct democracy is problematic.

I say this because leaderless groups I've belonged to seem to suffer this problem of coalescence pretty much constantly, while groups with recognized leadership seem to not suffer so much (unless the leadership is contested). It's nice to be able to look up from the group and see someone pointing: This is the direction we're taking. This is what's next.

This is all by way of introduction. I commented on Tish's entry about the problems of coalescence on BFB that other social movements aren't any more in agreement, even on essentials, than we are.

What other movements have is action, organizations that will point you to the problem and the action you could take to solve it. It's a form of leadership and direction. It's the fight. Whether that fight be for overtime pay protection, reproductive rights, marriage rights, equal pay, accessibility to buildings. Someone has a list of demands. It's not a list approved by everyone in the movement, but at least there's something to fight for.

There is an aspect of any fight that should be education and conversion of people. That's the glacial current of social change. But education is really the recruitment arm of any movement. You change attitudes so people demand and make changes to the How Things Are.

The problem with fat activism is that there's no easily followed map to the fight. Sometimes it feels like there is no fight, nothing to be demanded. Just talking and educating people for the fight that isn't.

How does a movement get out of recruitment and into the fight? Kell had an idea. What are our demands? What is our plan of action? Who is pointing the way to the fight?

 

19 May
in abstract
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Someone said of the photographs of tortured Iraqi prisoners that we're not so much outraged by the acts of torture that accompany war but by the fact that we've been forced to endure the pictures.

There's some truth to that.

I've heard people say torture is just what we have to do to protect others. Torment information out of one guy in order to save thousands. Okay. A trade of one for a thousand seems logical in abstract. Seeing or even reading about seeing a photo of someone suffering forces you to empathise with the one guy. Creates feelings we don't want to feel about our "enemies".

I think most of us recognize that horrid things happen during a war, but we'd like to believe in their horridness as abstract. If it's not abstract, then it shines light on things terrible and uncomfortable.

Does anyone think torture is a good idea? I mean, from a sit-down-at-look-at-it perspective, ethically and otherwise. I don't think so. But we're willing to accept it as an undeniable part of the way we wage war, and willing to accept war as part of the way we live. As the thing we do when we can't negotiate. Or sometimes, without attempting negotiation.

Is it possible to shift our paradigm enough that those undeniable things no longer happen? Or can we only expect that a few rules about how cruel you can be will be enforced and adhered to? Perhaps the best we can hope for is that war will maintain a veneer of civility, that at least we won't have to see it up close. [Er, a side note... which is that "civil" is of cities or culture, and I wonder if war isn't precisely that - what happens when we draw boundaries around ourselves.] Perhaps violence against each other is essential, ingrained, or part of the nature of living in a civilized world.

I don't know.

 

14 May
this is a good country, dammit.
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I've read a couple of fellow liberals' journal postings lately about how they're going to fight fight fight against W this year and, if they still don't win, they might just pack it in for Canada.

With all due respect for those folks, that's a coward's way.

This country is built on debate. It's a child of the Enlightenment, of disillusionment with church-run states and state-run churches, of argument, of out-on-a-limb science and philosophy and theory. It's kindof an experiment.

And while we don't need to know or care what the country was founded for (and if anyone else tells me what Jefferson thought as if that's what I'm supposed to think, I'll slap them), we ought to remember that we have a history of change and fighting and revolution behind us. And probably in front of us, too.

There are major problems with the How Things Are in the US today. There are also solutions to those problems. Those solutions depend on the changes of individual people, which become the changes of groups, which become the changes of a country. This is not overnight change I'm talking about.

But if you feel strongly enough about something, the way to effect it is to change 100 other people's minds. To make them feel as strongly as you do, strongly enough to change 10,000 other people's minds.

If you finally got off your ass and started caring about politics this year, or last year, or four years ago, you need to understand that your opinions can change in that span of time, but the opinions of a whole country are slower to mobilize. The most important thing you can do as a citizen is push other people off their asses and into caring - even if they're on another side of your issue. Hell, especially if they're on another side!

What does democracy look like?

It looks like everyone who can contribute to the politics of decision-making actually doing so. It does not look like only 30-40% of eligible voters showing up. It looks like all sides showing up, fighting it out, and coming up with a compromise.

If you as a liberal convince 100 people to vote this year, even if your candidates don't win, you've pushed us 100 people closer to democracy. If you don't like the pace of social and political change, work on convincing 10,000, or 100,000.

It takes courage to make those demands of other people. It takes constant energy to mobilize yourself and others. It takes even more courage to do those things in a social climate that tends to apathy and handing off your decision-making to others. It is much easier to withdraw into complaint. And it's much colder in Canada.

Yes, it will suck if we lose the presidential election this year.

But there are Congressional elections, too. There are state and local folk. There are thousands of other people who make decisions that could change the How Things Are. All of those people combined are more important than one more guy in a white house.

And all too often, more than half of the people eligible to select those people - and the guy in the white house - don't show up for the fight.

If we lose the presidential election this year, don't stalk off in a melodramatic huff. Explain to a fourteen-year-old why it sucks. Show her how to register to vote. Give her a feminist book. Take her out to vandalize "voting is for old people" t-shirts. ;)

Because we are a good country. And we are not being represented when half of us don't even vote. And we will be even less represented if you disengage.

Build more activists. Make an army of voters. Don't be a coward.

[cross-posted to livejournal]

 

11 May
your problem or ours?
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I've been meaning to expand on something I posted awhile ago in response to Steph's social vs. individual responsibility piece. She was, essentially, wondering how we manage to see some problems as social and others as exclusively a matter of individual incapacity. I haven't built much of what she said into this, so you should read her stuff first for this to make any real sense.

I'd theorize that we're at different points in our understanding of difference based on race (or gender, even) than we are with addiction or size. So, all these social questions might follow the same path ultimately. We think of them first as pathological, then as individual, and finally as global/systemic issues.

My theory assumes that a wide range of social issues follow very similar patterns. Because this pattern moves at the pace of social change, it's not something we actually experience happening, which is why I sometimes feel so surprised that we're where we are with reference to equal pay vs. say, fat acceptance.

The cycle is essentially this, with the phases overlapping:
1. Demonize the "other"/minority group upon which the issue centers as a biologically/scientifically inferior class. Investigate with mad science that people will make fun of in 100 years. Create panic about "other" condition and treat as illness.
2. Recognize individual members of the "other" as more-or-less equally human as the majority. Attempt to address their issues while keeping them clearly distinct from the majority, mostly by "taking care of them".
3. Stereotypes of the "other" are idealized in popular culture. Declare victory.
4. Individual representatives of the "other" form coalitions and demand actual parity of rights.
5. The "other" voice becomes visible in mainstream culture, particularly popular culture. Some essential equal rights are granted. Declare victory.
6. The "other" coalitions realize they're still shafted and insist on true equality. This gradually seeps into mainstream culture, where the problem is recognized as bigger than ever suspected.
7. Insist that victory has already been declared, ergo the war is over. Backlash against the "excessive" rights granted the "other" ensues.
8. Actual change does, in fact, continue - at a geologic pace.
9. Create new "other" group and start over.

Where race was concerned, we had to start by arguing ourselves out of the idea that people who weren't "white" were a subhuman species first, then "take care of them", then defend essential civil rights, and as a result of that come to see racism as a systemic issue (for the most part), which we are still dealing with. Gender issues parallel this; no surprise considering the parallel time tables of civil/women's rights in modern Western culture.

With addiction, we first transitioned away from blaming/hiding the issue with individuals to an attitude of "taking care of them" and are still, I think, adjusting to that. We're a long way from adjusting beyond step 2 with reference to addiction, mental illness, and disability - and progress is complicated by the individual nature of those conditions.

With fat, we are still at the point of trying to talk our way out of thinking fat is something akin to subhuman. And, as much as #1 sounds like I wrote it just about fat, if you look at the "woman condition" or the "mind of the Negro" arguments from the 19th century, they are freakishly parallel. Gayness as an identity started as a pathology, too. You could argue the same of reproduction, particularly where the teen mom is concerned. There's a remarkable strain of concern with "clean living" and "health" in Western culture starting with the Enlightenment at least, if not earlier.

This is, of course, wildly theoretical and in no way backed up by any serious history. But it does provide an explanation of sorts for the way we get from thinking of a problem as just about you to thinking of it as a question of rights/equality.

 

04 May
cd meme thing
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Someone in the car on the way to dinner after The March brought up an idea for a cool offline meme.

I don't remember exactly what the idea was, but it came from an LJ friend's excellent March-inspired CD of women artists. It goes something like this: anyone interested will create a mix CD of entirely/predominantly women artists, which will then be shared with all the other participants by a distribution mechanism I don't recall. I think there was discussion of doing some sort of complex round robin where everyone passed each CD along after making themselves a copy, but ultimately it would be simpler and no more costly to just burn multiple copies of the CD you made and send them to everyone.

I bring this up because a) it's cool and b) I'm working on a female-dominated CD of mostly indie pop tunes now. And I thought, well cool, this would be a good time to do this CD swapping memeish thing. Are you interested?

A long time ago, I participated in something similar, but it was more of an organized CD swap. And, I think, only women were invited. I'd rather invite anyone to participate, as long as they can come up with a grrrl-dominated CD.

 

01 May
disappearing information on women
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Earlier this week, Salon published an article about a report that the US government was slowly and stealthily removing information about women's health and status from various government websites.

You can find the report itself online at National Council for Research on Women's website (report is available as as PDF).

My initial reaction was "OH GOD, NOT BUSH AGAIN", but reading the report made me a bit skeptical. The report itself is couched in such political terms that it loses credibility in my eyes. It sounds as much like a diatribe as like a research document. Couldn't they keep the alarmism in the abstract and make the rest of it more factual? I mean, it reads like someone's blog posts, and someone only slightly more fact-oriented than I (have you ever seen me quote a statistic?). I like to write this way, but if I'm reading research, I would rather see a list of instances of specific information removed or altered and how they might impact people than a list of impacts with some vague references to some things that happened. Parts of the report do that, parts are just spastic.

[Edited after the fact to add... Also of note is that, while every feminist group or mailing list I belong to was Up In Arms about it when the news first broke, I haven't heard word one from anyone on this since. Isn't that odd? It's almost as if we colluded on this one.]

 

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