Transformation https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/12848/all cached version 17/08/2018 12:46:14 en “The price on everything is love:” how a Detroit community overcomes a lack of city services. https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kevon-paynter/price-on-everything-is-love-how-detroit-community-overcomes-lack-of-cit <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts address basic needs that aren’t met by local government.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KevonPaynter2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Jessica Ramirez in front of the storefront that houses&nbsp;<a href="http://detroitershelpingeachother.weebly.com/">Detroiters Helping Each Other (DHEO)</a>. Credit: Kevon Paynter for YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.</p> <p>A multitude of voicemails and text messages from desperate neighbors flooded Jessica Ramirez’s cell phone on a brisk morning in October 2013. Winter was coming.</p> <p>Using social media to reach potential donors as well as those seeking help, Ramirez created a makeshift donation center on the sidewalk outside her Southwest Detroit home. There, the community organizer and her neighbors handed out warm clothing to children and recycled beds, dressers and microwaves to new mothers who needed furniture.</p> <p>When school began the next year, she was at it again, donating reams of school supplies she had collected from businesses and individuals. “Everything was being done out of my home when I started,” Ramirez says.</p> <p>Recognizing her efforts, the property manager of an abandoned local storefront gave her use of the facility. That’s when her charitable acts became a community shop—<a href="http://detroitershelpingeachother.weebly.com/">Detroiters Helping Each Other (DHEO)</a>—where kindness and generosity, not money, is the currency of exchange. Their motto: Teamwork makes the dream work.</p> <p>“I would love to see us not need this anymore,” she says.</p> <p>“In the meantime it’s showing people the community still cares.”</p> <p>Decades of economic and population decline, a depleted tax base, and critically underfunded city services have forced Southwest Detroiters to self-organize, establishing a local network of goods and services to fill in for missing city services. The result is a range of neighbor-to-neighbor efforts, like DHEO, that seek to address broader needs that are going unmet by local government agencies.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<a href="http://cocswdetroit.com/2018/04/" target="_self">Congress of Communities</a>, for example, is a charitable programming organization that, among other things, offers anti-domestic violence trainings to Southwest Detroit residents in 2010. The trainings aimed to improve public safety at a time when it took police nearly an hour to arrive at a crime scene.&nbsp;</p> <p>A coordinated effort called<em>&nbsp;</em><a href="https://www.facebook.com/MowerGang">Detroit Mowers Gang&nbsp;</a>organized volunteers with gloves and protective eye gear to mow overgrown grass in the city’s abandoned lots and public playgrounds. The so-called weed vigilantes get together every other Wednesday to do what the city doesn’t, calling itself a “crafty crew” that refuses to let budgets and bureaucracy stand in the way of unruly grass on a playground getting cut.</p> <p>And the&nbsp;<a href="http://detroitblackfoodsecurity.org/">Detroit Black Community Food Security Network</a>, organized educational programs for youth and adults, and operated a food co-op to ensure Detroiters had access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food. Its ongoing work includes a food council that promotes a sustainable food system and advocates for food justice and food sovereignty in the city.</p> <p>“The price on everything is love, man,” says Rico Razo, a native Southwest Detroiter and a former mayor-appointed district manager tasked with ensuring city services respond to residents’ needs.</p> <p>“It’s spreading love through giving with the hopes that the people they’re helping out—if they catch someone else who’s on hard times—that they pay it forward. That’s the model that [DHEO] rolls with. I think it’s been successful.”</p> <p>Three years ago, the city of Detroit named DHEO “Organization of the Year” for its role helping families recover from a fire that burned seven homes to the ground, just blocks from Ramirez’s home. Her generosity has extended beyond helping people in need. She collected a U-Haul truck of dog food to feed 369 of her neighbors’ dogs and donated straw to keep their kennels warm during Detroit’s cold months.&nbsp;</p> <p>She shares stories about DHEO’s work on social media, so that donors can see who they’re helping.</p> <p>She vets people who say they are in need to make sure no one is taking undue advantage of the community’s generosity. “We do our homework,” she says.</p> <p>She has asked for a police report in the case of a family replacing items they say were taken in a home burglary or documentation when a family asked for a donated bed to keep their children out of Child Protective Services.</p> <p>But Ramirez says a family’s inability to produce any of those things won’t be a hindrance to receiving help. And ultimately, the organization relies on trust between neighbors in the community and the social networks that underlie it.</p> <p>“Yeah, they get stuff for free,” Ramirez says. “But we can call recipients up and say ‘come volunteer.’ If they’re able-bodied, we tell them ‘hey go cut the elderlies’ grass’ or ‘show up to a community feeding event.’ And they show up,” she says.</p> <p>Razo said that for the longest time when the city cut back on services, including trash pickup, streetlights, and lawn maintenance, he saw self-organized community initiatives and nonprofits offer food and healthcare to people in need. After-school programs and summer jobs for high school students emerged as well as job training and job readiness efforts.</p> <p>City and state government services are rebounding but the hope is they won’t threaten what neighbors have already built to save their communities.</p> <p>Rather, Razo said he believes the city should look to them and partner with them to remove some of the burden and empower them to continue. He’s said he running for state representative to the Michigan Legislature on a platform that seeks to bolster Detroit’s community-based sharing economies, especially by integrating them into city services.</p> <p>“They don’t do it for us,” Ramirez says of business and city government. “The community takes care of itself without the suit and ties.”</p> <p><em>This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation and was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/the-price-on-everything-is-love-how-a-detroit-community-overcomes-a-lack-of-city-services-20180719">YES! Magazine</a>.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kevon-paynter/with-marijuana-now-legal-los-angeles-goes-further-to-make-amends-for-wa">With marijuana now legal, Los Angeles goes further to make amends for the war on drugs</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kevon-paynter/before-nfl-took-knee-four-lesser-known-moments-of-resistance-in-sports-">Before the NFL took a knee: four lesser-known moments of resistance in sports history</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/caitlin-endyke-sean-thomas-breitfeld/breakfast-in-detroit">Breakfast in Detroit </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Kevon Paynter Economics Care Activism Thu, 16 Aug 2018 19:29:34 +0000 Kevon Paynter 118981 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who can we trust? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/harry-blain/who-can-we-trust <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How can we cultivate a healthy skepticism of our institutions even as we rely on them for information, knowledge, and crucially, protection from aspiring autocrats?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/HarryBlain7.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">MRC billboard, Charlotte 2016. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charlotte_billboard_1.jpg">Emolchan1 via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>.</p> <p>At some point since the US presidential election on November 8 2016 you’ve probably been told that ‘our institutions are in crisis.’ The media is menaced by Twitter mobs taking their cues from the White House. Academics are ignored even more than usual. The intelligence community is subjected to ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories. Scientists are treated with mindless suspicion. What brought us to this point? </p> <p>For many people the answer is obvious: Donald Trump. But there are two big problems with this view: firstly, the idea that we can’t trust those with polished credentials and college degrees isn’t new, nor has it been confined to the “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzagate_conspiracy_theory">Pizzagate</a>” wing of the far-right. In fact, it has deep roots on the left. </p> <p>Moreover—and perhaps more disturbingly—the whirling diatribes of Trump and his supporters do actually hint at some truths. We don’t have to wear ‘Make America Great Again’ hats to realize that the media <em>is</em> often corrupt, that the FBI is <em>not</em> a dispassionate guardian of the US constitution, and that scientists <em>can </em>be wrong or misleading. </p> <p>This speaks to the core of the challenge we face: how can we cultivate a healthy skepticism of our institutions even as we rely on them for information, knowledge, and crucially, protection from aspiring autocrats? Who can we trust? </p> <p>Throughout American history these questions have been particularly difficult for the left. On the one hand, there is the legacy of ‘progressives’ emerging at the beginning of the 20th Century: men (and they were mostly men) whose gospel was science, rationality and enlightened political leadership. </p> <p>In his days as a political scientist, <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/2009-05-01/reconsidering-woodrow-wilson-progressivism-internationalism-war">Woodrow Wilson</a> was a leading figure in this movement, blending reformism with elitism in his <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Congressional-Government-American-Politics-Library/dp/0765809281">call for</a> the United States to embrace more elements of the British constitution. With fewer restrictions on party leaders and less rigid ‘checks and balances,’ he argued, Britain had become much better at empowering wise men than the Americans, who were stuck with their messy separation-of-powers and ponderous congressional committees.</p> <p>Like many of his progressive contemporaries, Wilson also believed passionately in Science (with a capital ‘S’), including <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-liberals-who-loved-eugenics/2017/03/08/0cc5e9a0-0362-11e7-b9fa-ed727b644a0b_story.html?utm_term=.548e701af96c">the promise of eugenics</a> &nbsp;through which society could be remade from its biological foundations. His shameless racism and aggressive repression of the left during the First World War has led to Wilson’s exclusion from many progressive narratives, but the next Democratic President, Franklin Roosevelt, remains front-and-center. </p> <p>Roosevelt’s own faults are numerous, including his timidity on African-American civil rights and his irredeemable assault on Japanese-Americans in World War II. But his role in creating the modern American welfare state ensures that he is still frequently venerated. In pursuing this mission, his commitment to expertise—embodied in the “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_trust">Brain Trust</a>” network of economists, lawyers, sociologists, scientists and social workers who designed the “<a href="https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/fdr-brain-trust">New Deal</a>”—stands in sharp contrast to President Trump and his cabinet of unqualified, unprincipled and self-enriching vandals.</p> <p>This was old-school progressivism at its finest: recruiting and trusting the best available minds to grapple with stubborn social injustices. Yet the left has never fully embraced this strand of thought. For one thing, high-minded and public-spirited “Brain Trusts” have often let us down. Roosevelt’s, for example, surgically excluded African-Americans from almost every New Deal program, especially <a href="https://www.amazon.com/When-Affirmative-Action-White-Twentieth-Century/dp/0393328511">labor protection, social security</a> and <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Color-Law-Forgotten-Government-Segregated/dp/1631492853">federal housing assistance</a>, largely to mollify a Southern-dominated Congress. The Wilsonian experts also <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Opponents-War-1917-1918-Gilbert-Fite/dp/0313251320">became autocratic</a> as soon as they lurched into World War I. More recently, Barack Obama’s professorial team promised the necessary revolution of universal health care—and instead delivered a 900-page bureaucratic maze. </p> <p>The left, then, has good reason to treat even the most brilliant progressive minds with suspicion, but this impulse goes beyond the question of trusting or distrusting politicians and their advisers. </p> <p>Take, for instance, the left’s approach to science. Today, we ridicule the flat earthers, the young earthers, the creationists, the biblical literalists and the climate deniers for their rejection of scientific facts. However, we also know that science is often distorted and abused: to <a href="https://www.centeronaddiction.org/the-buzz-blog/revealing-bad-science-behind-oxycontin">sell heavy and addictive narcotics as every-day painkillers</a>, for example; to <a href="http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/themes/controversies/thalidomide">promote new drugs before their side-effects are known</a>; or to <a href="http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/tuskegee">conduct experiments on the most vulnerable people in society</a>. </p> <p>These tensions were best exemplified by the three-time Democratic Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, who is often remembered for his <a href="http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/william-jennings-bryan.html">fumbling attack on the teaching of evolution</a> in the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” trial. Now mainly the subject of scorn, in his time Bryan was considered one of the great spokesmen of the left, <a href="http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/people/william-jennings-bryan.html">and his concerns</a> that science could be “an evil genius” in war, or could build a cold society of “intelligence not consecrated by love” are far from antiquated. Indeed, they reflect intellectual and spiritual dilemmas that we are yet to overcome.</p> <p>There are similar difficulties with the media. At the most basic level, journalists, like scientists, have the mundane yet indispensable job of giving us information. They also—depending on our mood and political allegiances—regularly alternate in the public mind between the image of guardians of heroic truth and scurrilous servants of those in power. </p> <p>Because the Trump movement has taken so much joy from hitting the ‘fake news’ punching bag, many on the left have rallied around the cause of press freedom. In principle this is a very good thing, but again, the larger picture is complicated. </p> <p>Even as we condemn the notion that the <em>New York Times</em>, the <em>Washington Post</em>, MSNBC or CNN constitute “enemies of the people,” we shouldn’t forget that they all, to some extent, <a href="https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2004/02/26/now-they-tell-us/">sold us the Iraq War</a>, or—in the case of the broadcasters—gave Candidate Trump the <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/12/03/how-media-iced-out-bernie-sanders-helped-donald-trump-win">endless free publicity</a> that was central to his campaign’s success. And in their zeal to report on the ‘epidemic of fake news’ online, some of these media outlets have also, since the election, played <a href="https://fair.org/home/public-radios-mccarthyite-smear-of-black-activists-shows-danger-of-russia-panic/">an unpleasant role</a> in <a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/">smearing</a> small, often left-wing websites as tools of ‘<a href="https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/">Russian propaganda</a>.’</p> <p>To the extent that there is a crisis of confidence in the American media, it cannot solely be attributed to Trump. Instead, it stems from the commercialization and centralization of media ownership—trends that have crushed local, independent media and promoted the kind of ratings-worship infamously distilled in <a href="https://fair.org/home/trump-bad-for-america-good-for-cbs/">Les Moonves’s summary of Trump</a> as “bad for America” but “damn good for CBS.” </p> <p>Comparable pressures have squeezed the knowledge and information producers of academia. Although there is no clamor for ratings or sensational headlines, there is the same financial and employment insecurity that constricts time, freedom and independence. The results are predictable: history professors scrambling around desperately for funding; new PhDs taking jobs with whatever lobbying firm will <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/poverty-u-many-adjunct-professors-food-stamps-n336596">keep them off food stamps</a>; and overworked graduate students mumbling ‘<a href="https://www.chronicle.com/article/Publish-or-Perish-Yes/235319">publish or perish</a>’ in their sleep.</p> <p>In this context, it’s no surprise to hear stories of <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2012/07/25/professor-behind-pro-fracking-study-slammed-for-oil-industry-connections/#20ab28f29b27">respected academics selling their expertise to the oil industry</a> or <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/10/the-science-of-spying-how-the-cia-secretly-recruits-academics">freedom-loving government agencies like the CIA</a>. It’s even less surprising to see the public’s total lack of enthusiasm for ‘outreach’ proposals like teams of academics<a href="https://www.poynter.org/news/these-academics-are-frontlines-fake-news-research"> sifting through the news</a>: separating real from fake; good from bad; and, presumably, Russian from red-white-and-blue American.</p> <p>To be sure, market forces can’t take all the blame for this situation. Few peer-reviewed journal articles, even in supposedly accessible fields like my own (international relations), make the slightest effort to use language that connects with anyone other than the mysterious gatekeepers who are empowered to say ‘accepted,’ ‘rejected’ or ‘revise and review.’ Everyone else can justly claim to be suspicious of self-appointed authority figures who seem to deliberately exclude them from discussion and debate. </p> <p>In short, despite their differences, society’s expert authorities display several common signs of decay. Although some are undoubtedly self-inflicted, many are also structural, rooted in a near-crippling exposure to the imperatives of what we fatalistically call ‘the market.’ </p> <p>But this market has not been created by an ‘invisible hand’ or by the actions of Donald Trump alone, but by much longer-term actions and institutions: the profit-driven patent regime that pushes medical research towards <a href="https://newint.org/features/2016/05/01/medical-research-priorities">male baldness over malaria</a>, for example; the <a href="https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding">collapse of public funding for universities</a>; and the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/nyregion/dnainfo-gothamist-shutting-down.html">refusal of media barons to tolerate even minimal job security demands from their newsrooms</a>.</p> <p>Because this mess is human-made, we can collectively clean it up. A good start would be to pursue the complete opposite goals and policies of Trump and his friends. Their attempt to eviscerate public science agencies was thankfully <a href="https://www.aip.org/fyi/2018/trump-fy19-budget-spares-some-science-agencies-slashes-others-following-deal-boost-spending">contained by Congress</a>, but this is small consolation when the Secretary of Education is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/13/business/education-department-for-profit-colleges.html">killing investigations into fraudulent colleges</a> and the Federal Communications Commission is encouraging the growth of media monopolies (<a href="https://money.cnn.com/2018/02/16/media/doj-trump-bias-att-lawsuit/index.html">except CNN</a>) <a href="https://www.wired.com/story/ajit-pai-man-who-killed-net-neutrality/">on</a> and <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/11/16/fcc-repeals-decades-old-rules-on-media-monopolies/">offline</a>. What is needed is more, not less public money in all these areas; strong, not supine regulation of media oligarchs; and an attack on, not an embrace of, snake oil universities.&nbsp; </p> <p>Would this be enough to restore trust? It wouldn’t eliminate the expert who abuses their power or the citizen who hides their cash in a mattress. But it could go some way towards eliminating a culture in which knowledge is the property of the highest bidder, helping us to tell the difference between the scientist and the fracking lobbyist, the journalist and the lurid entertainer, the historian and the paid-for hagiographer. </p> <p>Perhaps then we could begin the task of refining our old and precious gifts of skepticism, doubt, critical thought and imagination. &nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/why-left-needs-to-re-embrace-first-amendment">Why the left needs to re-embrace the First Amendment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/can-there-be-progressive-patriotism">Can there be a progressive patriotism? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/harry-blain/why-is-american-left-so-prejudiced-about-south">Why is the American left so prejudiced about the South? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Harry Blain Trans-partisan politics Culture Tue, 14 Aug 2018 19:35:28 +0000 Harry Blain 119232 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The enemy between us: how inequality erodes our mental health https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kate-pickett-richard-wilkinson/enemy-between-us-how-inequality-erodes-our-mental-heal <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Inequality creates the social and political divisions that isolate us from each other.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KatePickett.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/27305863@N07/6023390537">Flickr/mSeattle</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>When people are asked what matters most for their happiness and wellbeing, they tend to talk about the importance of their relationships with family, friends and colleagues. It is their intimate world, their personal networks that mean the most to them, rather than material goods, income or wealth.&nbsp; </p> <p>Most people probably don’t think that broader, structural issues to do with politics and the economy have anything to do with their emotional health and wellbeing, but they do. We’ve known for a long time that inequality causes a wide range of health and social problems, including everything from reduced life expectancy and higher infant mortality to poor educational attainment, lower social mobility and increased levels of violence. Differences in these areas between more and less equal societies are large, and everyone is affected by them.</p> <p>In our 2009 book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spirit-Level-Equality-Better-Everyone/dp/0241954290/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1533714435&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=wilkinson+spirit">The Spirit Level</a></em>, we hypothesised that this happens because inequality increases the grip of class and social status on us, making social comparisons more insidious and increasing the social and psychological distances between people.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p>In our new book,&nbsp;<em><a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/188607/the-inner-level/">The Inner Level,</a></em> we bring together a robust body of evidence that shows we were on the right track: inequality eats into the heart of our immediate, personal world, and the vast majority of the population are affected by the ways in which inequality becomes the enemy between us. What gets between us and other people are all the things that make us feel ill at ease with one another, worried about how others see us, and shy and awkward in company—in short, all our social anxieties. </p> <p>For some people, these anxieties become so severe that social contact becomes an ordeal and they withdraw from social life. Others continue to participate in social life but are beset by the constant worry that they have no small talk or come across as boring, stupid or unattractive. Sadly, we all tend to feel that these anxieties are our own personal psychological weaknesses and that we need to hide them from others or seek therapy or treatment to try to overcome them by ourselves.</p> <p>But a recent <a href="https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/stressed-nation-74-uk-overwhelmed-or-unable-cope-some-point-past-year">Mental Health Foundation Survey</a> found that 74 percent of adults in the UK were so stressed at times in the past year that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One-third had suicidal thoughts and 16 percent had self-harmed sometime in their lives. The figures were much higher for young people. In the USA, mortality rates are rising, particularly for white middle-aged men and women, due to ‘despair’, meaning deaths due to drug and alcohol addictions, suicide, and vehicle accidents.&nbsp; An epidemic of distress seems to be gripping some of the richest nations in the world.</p> <p>Socioeconomic inequality matters because it strengthens the belief that some people are worth much more than others. Those at the top seem hugely important and those at the bottom are seen as almost worthless. In more unequal societies we come to judge each other more by status and worry more about how others judge us. <a href="https://academic.oup.com/esr/article/30/4/525/2763459">Research on 28 European countries</a> shows that inequality increases status anxiety in all income groups, from the poorest ten percent to the richest tenth. The poor are affected most but even the richest ten percent of the population are more worried about status in unequal societies. </p> <p><a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-social-policy/article/poverty-in-global-perspective-is-shame-a-common-denominator/DED0C9DC02D8ABCAA8F177BA3CC477AB">Another study</a> of how people experience low social status in both rich and poor countries found that, despite huge differences in their material living standards, across the world people living in relative poverty had a strong sense of shame and self-loathing and felt that they were failures: being at the bottom of the social ladder feels the same whether you live in the UK, Norway, Uganda or Pakistan. Therefore, simply raising material living standards is not enough to produce genuine wellbeing or quality of life in the face of inequality.</p> <p>Although it appears that the vast majority of the population are affected by inequality, we respond in different ways to the worries it creates about how others see and judge us. As we show in <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Inner Level</a>, one way is to feel burdened and oppressed by lack of confidence, feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem, and that leads to high levels of depression and anxiety in more unequal societies. </p> <p>A second is to try to flaunt your own worth and achievements, to ‘self enhance’ and become narcissistic.<strong> </strong>Psychotic symptoms such as delusions of grandeur are more common in more unequal countries, as is schizophrenia. As the graph below shows, narcissism increases as income inequality rises, as measured by ‘<a href="https://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/JoP2008a.pdf">Narcissistic Personality Inventory’ (NPI)</a> scores from successive samples of the US population. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Katepickett.png" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Sources: <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8">The Inner Level</a> and <a href="https://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/JoP2008a.pdf">Twenge et al 2008</a>.</p> <p>A third response is to find other ways to overcome what psychologists call the ‘social evaluative threat’ through drugs, alcohol or gambling, through comfort eating, or through status consumption and conspicuous consumerism. Those who live in more unequal places are more likely to spend money on expensive cars and shop for status goods; and they are more likely to have high levels of personal debt because they try to show that they are not ‘second-class people’ by owning ‘first-class things.’ </p> <p>In <em>The Inner Level, </em>the evidence we show of the impact of inequality on mental wellbeing is only part of the new picture. We also discuss two of the key myths that some commentators use to justify the perpetuation and tolerance of inequality. </p> <p>First, by examining our evolutionary past and our history as egalitarian, cooperative, sharing hunter-gatherers, we dispel the false idea that humans are, in their very nature, competitive, aggressive and individualistic. Inequality is not inevitable and we humans have all the psychological and social aptitudes to live differently.&nbsp; </p> <p>Second, we also tackle the idea that current levels of inequality reflect a justifiable ‘meritocracy’ where those of natural ability move up and the incapable languish at the bottom. In fact the reverse is true: inequalities of outcome limit equality of opportunity; differences in achievement and attainment are driven by inequality, rather than being a consequence of it.</p> <p>Finally, we argue that inequality is a major roadblock to creating sustainable economies that serve to optimise the health and wellbeing of both people and planet. &nbsp;Because consumerism is about self-enhancement and status competition, it is intensified by inequality. And as inequality leads to a societal breakdown in trust, solidarity and social cohesion, it reduces people’s willingness to act for the common good. This is shown in everything from the tendency for more unequal societies to do less recycling to surveys which show that business leaders in more unequal societies are less supportive of international environmental protection agreements. &nbsp;By acting as an enemy between us, inequality prevents us from acting together to create the world that we want.</p> <p>So what can we do? The first step is to recognise the problem and spread the word.&nbsp; Empowering people to see the roots of their distress and unease not in their personal weaknesses but in the divisiveness of inequality and its emphasis on superiority and inferiority is a necessary step in releasing our collective capacity to fight for change.&nbsp; </p> <p>The UK charity we founded, The Equality Trust, has <a href="https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/take-action">resources for activists</a> and a network of local groups. In the USA, check out <a href="http://inequality.org/">inequality.org. </a>Worldwide, the <a href="https://www.fightinequality.org/en/about/">Fight Inequality Alliance</a> works with more than 100 partners to work for a more equal world. And look out for the new global <a href="http://wellbeingeconomy.org/">Wellbeing Economy Alliance</a> this autumn.</p> <p>Our own focus for change is to work for the increase of all kinds of economic democracy—everything from more cooperatives and employee-owned companies to stronger trade unions, more workers on company boards and the publication of pay-ratios. We believe that extending democratic rights to workers embeds greater equality more firmly into any culture.&nbsp; </p> <p>Of course, we would also like to see more progressive taxation and action on tax evasion and tax havens. We’d like to see more citizens paid a Living Wage, and action taken on universal provision of high-quality lifelong education, universal health and social services. There are lots of ways to tackle inequality at the international, national and local levels, so we all need to work in ways that suit our capabilities and values. </p> <p>Inequality creates the social and political divisions that isolate us from each other, so it’s time for us all to reach out, connect, communicate and act collectively. We really are all in this together.&nbsp;</p> <p><em>Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson’s new book is<strong> </strong><a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Inner-Level-Societies-Everyones-Wellbeing/dp/1846147417">The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/mental-health-why-were-all-sick-under-neoliberalism">Mental health: why we&#039;re all sick under neoliberalism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/kira-m-newman/why-does-happiness-inequality-matter">Why does happiness inequality matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sue-gerhardt/hard-times-human-face-of-neoliberalism">Hard times: the human face of neo-liberalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/joel-millward-hopkins/neoliberal-psychology">Neoliberal psychology</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Inequality Richard Wilkinson Kate Pickett The politics of mental health Care Economics Sun, 12 Aug 2018 18:08:05 +0000 Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson 119209 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Navigating the white water of these turbulent times https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/george-lakey/navigating-white-water-of-these-turbulent-times <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The struggle for liberation has never been about safety; justice is gained by confronting reality, however dangerous it may be.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This article first appeared on <a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/navigate-turbulent-times/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/GeorgeLakey4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">White water rafting, Rangitata Valley, NZ. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_water_rafting,_Rangitata_Valley,_NZ.jpg">Flickr/Rob Chandler via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The latest lurch in global statecraft—Trump’s dissing NATO allies then playing footsie with Vladimir Putin—leaves many scrambling to maintain some balance. Republicans for whom the enemy status of Russia is an article of faith are beside themselves. Democrats are running out of adjectives to describe Trump’s behavior. And activists who have been around for longer than the last election are wondering how to steer a steady course in the midst of extremities.</p> <p>It reminds me of whitewater rafting on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia, the kind where people aren’t supposed to even get into the raft unless they’ve had prior experience. I never paddled so hard in my life. At one point, even our guide was tossed out of the raft; thankfully a nearby kayaker grabbed him and returned him to us.</p> <p>When the activist and lesbian feminist writer Barbara Deming encountered Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of the Earth,” she praised his raising the question of balance. Fanon, involved with with the Algerian war of independence from the French empire, was writing about armed struggle for liberation. He said a major challenge for revolutionaries at a time of accelerating turbulence is how to avoid vertigo, the dizziness that accompanies highly emotional events happening around us.</p> <p>Deming’s personal experience in the 1960s civil rights movement brought that kind of challenge, she said in her reflection “<a href="https://www.warresisters.org/store/revolution-and-equilibrium-barbara-deming">On Revolution and Equilibrium</a>.” Deming found in the midst of turbulence that her commitment to nonviolence was steadying for her and others. Locked up in jail in Albany, Georgia, as one of a group of pacifists arrested for breaking the segregation laws, Deming undertook a fast that—when I saw her in the courtroom—left her hardly able to walk. The group won their struggle with the infamous Sheriff Laurie Pritchett.</p> <p>When I read her essay, I saw that her nonviolent commitment had a steadying ability to lead her more deeply into her center—where, as organizer and trainer Starhawk teaches, one source of power lies.</p> <p><strong>What does the white water mean for strategizing?</strong></p> <p>Whichever practices we choose for self- and group-centering, there is still the question of strategy. When paddling to keep up with the river, it matters whether you avoid the biggest rocks and how you handle the waterfall that lies just ahead. Black historian Vincent Harding&nbsp;<a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/There_is_a_River.html?id=ppCEJb_lZh0C">likened the history of his people to a river</a>, sometimes so placid that the current was hardly noticeable, and other times racing at a furious pace. His metaphor helped me to see that in black history the ability of people to make the most of the rapids was linked to the group capacity they’d built in the quieter times.</p> <p>Community organizers know this, nurturing leadership skills and supporting group solidarity—so that when the white water comes, the team will paddle together. But what do we do now that we’ve already entered the white water?</p> <p><strong>Use opportunities efficiently.</strong></p> <p>We need to choose tactics that achieve strategic goals. Venting is not enough reason to have a demonstration. For a hundred years we can express ourselves through one-off actions and not make a difference. Corporate executives and politicians know that we can gather a hundred thousand or a million people together and that we’ll go home the next day. From their point of view, no problem.</p> <p>A politician running for office knows that winning requires more than holding a rally and then counting the votes. To win, they need a campaign. That’s exactly the case for activists: direct action campaigns give us a chance to win. A campaign has a demand, a target (the decider who can yield the demand), and a series of escalating actions that reflect campaign growth and increased campaign militancy.</p> <p><strong>Expect attitude change.</strong></p> <p>In the accelerating 1960s, a number of white segregationists began to accept the need for integration. In the turbulent 1930s, stoutly racist white auto workers in Michigan&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/unions-have-been-down-before-history-shows-how-they-can-come-back/">began to see the value of an integrated United Auto Workers</a>. I’ve watched patriots supporting the Vietnam War start to oppose it and family members contemptuous toward LGBT people embrace us. A century ago, while war and industrialization accelerated change, male chauvinists became willing to give the vote to women.</p> <p>As the river runs faster, the big problem becomes rigidity among activists who grew accustomed to excluding those who weren’t “in the know.” Judgment becomes more important than effectiveness, when activists would rather be right than learn how to unite to win.</p> <p>I’m told that increasing numbers of young people are now realizing that “the calling out culture” was a toxic trap, creating activist groups on campuses and elsewhere that marginalized themselves.</p> <p>As a gay man brought up working class, I am in touch with the fear that leads me to judging, to differentiating myself from people who I expect through long experience will keep the micro-aggressions coming. These days I rage and cry, at home, about the professional middle-class activists whose description of Trump supporters is riddled with prejudice against my class.</p> <p>It helps me to know that the struggle for liberation has never been about safety, about protecting myself inside a bubble apart from the reality that is out there. Justice is gained through campaigns confronting the reality and changing it. Ironically, the greatest availability for change is in those political moments when the ugly reality is most apparent, when the bigots yelled “fag” at me and my people as we campaigned for equality.</p> <p>In the midst of turbulence humans tend to “gird ourselves for defense” instead of continually scanning for the changes in attitude that happen around us. Then we miss opportunities to support the changes. It helps to watch revealing films like John Singleton’s “Higher Learning,”<em>&nbsp;</em>or listen to reformed white nationalist&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510298/ted-radio-hour">Christian Picciolini tell his story</a>.</p> <p><strong>Support growing interest in alternatives.</strong></p> <p>Most people experience political turbulence as stressful, since it comes on top of what can be challenging personal lives. Some respond with nostalgia for the “good old days,” but others open their minds to an alternative vision.</p> <p>The 1850s in the United States was a period of whitewater. In the turbulence surrounding the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision, black abolitionist Martin R. Delany published a utopian novel “Blake.” Feminists and ecological writers famously published visions in the 1970s. We see the theme now again in the hit movie “Black Panther.”</p> <p>Alternative visions help in vital ways. They express hope, especially needed now by those distracted by the negativity of Trump. Visions help to create platforms for uniting a movement of movements, an essential if we want a living revolution. They also add significance to the new economy institutions that are being built in our midst, the start-ups for what needs to happen after a power shift opens the way to the new society.</p> <p>In her book “No Is Not Enough,” Naomi Klein shares the process Canadian civil society groups went through to come up with&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/resistance-cant-win-without-vision/">their vision of a just Canada: The LEAP Manifesto</a>. They intentionally called it a “leap” to distinguish from the step-by-step incrementalism that held many Canadian progressives in its soggy embrace.</p> <p>In short, acceleration of the pace of change opens opportunities that activists need in order to launch mass movements. After the failure of Occupy, we’ve been in a period of what I’ve called “low-grade depression,” a dogged determination accompanied by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness.</p> <p>Symptoms include plodding through tactical rituals (marches and rallies) and indulgence in blaming and guilting. The choppy white water of the river we’re traveling on invites a different orientation: to devise creative tactics as part of ongoing campaigns that can produce wins, to invite everyone to join whether or not they’re hip or use our favorite language, and to plant alternatives while taking seriously the need for a vision to replace the imploding status quo.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/george-lakey/what-role-were-you-born-to-play-in-social-change">What role were you born to play in social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/george-lakey/how-to-build-progressive-movement-in-divided-country">How to build a progressive movement in a divided country</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/george-lakey/reaching-trump-supporters-with-promise-of-vision">Reaching Trump supporters with the promise of vision</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation George Lakey Transformative nonviolence Activism Thu, 09 Aug 2018 18:26:17 +0000 George Lakey 119084 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why Boris is wrong about the burka https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mathew-guest/why-boris-is-wrong-about-burka <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What is more offensive—concealing your face or misleading the public?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/MathewGuest2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Colien's Winter Burka. Credit: Flickr/<a title="Go to Eduard Bezembinder&#039;s photostream" href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bezembinder/">Eduard Bezembinder</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">CC BY-NC 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Boris Johnson has become the latest in a long line of right-wing politicians to criticise Muslim women who wear the <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niq%C4%81b">niqab</a> </em>or<em> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa">burqa</a></em>. Writing in <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/08/05/denmark-has-got-wrong-yes-burka-oppressive-ridiculous-still/">his column for <em>The Telegraph</em></a>, Johnson mocked such women as looking&nbsp;“like letter boxes,” “bank robbers”&nbsp;and&nbsp;“absolutely ridiculous.” Despite calls for an apology from opponents and colleagues, at the time of writing Johnson remains unrepentant.&nbsp;</p> <p class="Body">Perhaps we’ve come to expect tabloid jibes from Johnson, and his attempt to re-insert himself into the public eye after his resignation as foreign secretary is predictably clumsy. But what is arguably more alarming is his attempt to position himself as the voice of reason and moderate good sense.</p> <p class="Body">Across Europe and beyond, governments have passed legislation that bans the wearing of the <em>burqa</em> in public, and Johnson’s column focuses on the introduction of a new measure passed in Denmark. While Johnson warms to the assured individualism he finds amongst the Danes, he opposes an outright <em>burqa</em> ban as a step too far into strident secularism. He is uncomfortable with the regulation of religious dress in public, and is mindful of how such measures play into the hands of radicals. He is even gracious enough to affirm the rights of a ‘free born’ woman, ‘minding her own business,’ to be left to get on with her life unimpeded by a heavy handed state. Enter Boris the liberal…</p> <p class="Body">In case we were under any illusions that the former foreign secretary had finally seen the light and migrated to the centre ground, he expands on his perspective with a series of caveats. It seems there are limits to Johnson’s newfound ‘live and let live’ philosophy. Specifically, businesses and government agencies should be able to ‘enforce a dress code’ that obliges women to reveal their faces. He already feels ‘fully entitled’ to expect Muslim women to do the same at his constituency surgeries, and he supports the same approach within schools and universities.</p> <p class="Body">So Johnson is gracious enough not to call for a ban, but nevertheless feels entitled to expect women to behave according to his own understanding of&nbsp;“full disclosure.” As he says,&nbsp;“it’s how we work,”&nbsp;the implication being that ‘we’—presumably the British public—have ‘our’ customs and conventions, and minorities need to observe them in order that society can function properly. &nbsp;It all makes good, plain sense doesn’t it? No prejudice here, just a sincere call for everyone to play by the same rules (i.e. Boris’s rules).</p> <p class="xxxbody">We might reflect on the irony of such a mercurial and opportunist politician calling for more transparent expression in public life. In the opaque and fractious politics of Brexit, we have learnt that those who speak loudest, simplest and with bare-faced confidence are not necessarily those we should trust.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson mirrors another pattern among right-wing commentators: he presumes to comment on women’s intentions on the basis of their clothing. We’re probably more familiar with the moral judgements that are often projected onto women in western garb, but what values are imputed to Muslim women wearing the <em>niqab</em>? No doubt they frustrate conventional expectations, and perhaps that’s why figures like Johnson find such women so problematic—they are too covered, too hidden, and therefore break the rules that inform the male sense of entitlement to see what lies beneath.</p> <p class="xxxbody">The many Muslim women who have been attacked on Britain’s streets know what this feels like, since a common act of violence is <a href="https://news.sky.com/story/man-tries-to-pull-off-muslim-womans-hijab-in-suspected-hate-crime-attack-10950692">to pull the veil or <em>hijab</em> from their faces</a>. This is why so much hate crime against Muslims is best understood as a form of misogyny. It is targeted against those women who most visibly transgress the prevailing assumptions about what the female form should look like, and who implicitly challenge the assumption that men should have an unimpeded view.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Johnson also assumes that wearing the face veil indicates an experience of oppression, alluding to the&nbsp;“weird and bullying”&nbsp;expectations of men. There is no acknowledgement that women may freely choose to wear the <em>niqab</em>, and no effort to find out why. Any religious meaning it may convey is lost behind Johnson’s faux liberalism.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Unfortunately, uncompromising criticism of the <em>niqab</em> is also found among some liberal and <a href="https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/4199/why-feminists-should-oppose-the-burqa">feminist commentators</a>, whose western lens on human agency struggles to see such covering as anything other than <a href="https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/muslim-woman-veil-hijab">forced concealment</a>. In this view, the liberated self is exposed and, it is assumed, is therefore more honest, more forthcoming, more trusting—and in our own context, more British.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Those on the right may want to excuse Johnson as a voice of so-called&nbsp;‘common sense.’ After all, he rejects the need for an outright ban, thereby distancing himself from those European nations who have imposed punitive measures on their Muslim minorities, and preserving intact his Brexiteer credentials while rehearsing the myth of the great British compromise.&nbsp;Neither loony left nor hard right nor confused continental, his position is presented as a sensible middle way—laudable for avoiding extremes, an argument from practical sense that needs no further justfication.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> But this is why his comments are so dangerous: it is the unexamined cultural conventions that are often the most insidious carriers of prejudice and ignorance. By categorizing them as uncomplicated truths we abdicate our responsibility as citizens to question the norms by which we live, and risk overlooking the injustices that persist in our midst.</p> <p class="xxxbody">When uttered by an embodiment of that most British of clichés, the upper class eccentric, comments like Johnson’s slip neatly into a cluster of associations that together reinforce our most deep-seated and intractable habits of thought, as if Eton and Oxbridge had bestowed a special gift of sight on those socially-awkward elites who we both love and loathe. We don’t have to think about our British customs and presumptions because Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg will do it for us. Except that they won’t—they’ll just keep us cosy in our habits by telling us that all is well; we’re British after all.</p> <p class="Body">This is unsettling not just because of the platform Johnson enjoys, but because it is a habit of thought that achieves new plausibility within our Brexit-obsessed context. The underlying message is not just that Muslim women who wear the <em>burqa </em>are veering wide of the true British way, but that the nativist narrative that excludes them is essentially benign and obvious. It is an expression of the age old Tory conceit that to be a Conservative has nothing to do with ideology, and everything to do with good, pragmatic sense.</p> <p class="Body">With such confusion about the labyrinthine complexities of Brexit there’s an understandable attraction to plain speaking, and to the idea that cultural problems are easily solved with a little of the good sense we all possess. But behind this apparent democratisation of wisdom lies a more malign populism, one whose story is deceptively simple yet is quietly fierce in its defence of our narrowest boundaries.&nbsp;</p> <p class="xxxbody">The reactionary perspective affirmed by Johnson states that those who cover their faces aren’t just suspect; they aren’t playing the game. They are out of step culturally speaking, and so, in an important sense they don’t belong. They isolate themselves by concealing their faces from us, and this is a most unBritish practice.</p> <p class="xxxbody">Face-veiling elicits a curiously passionate counter-response, as though it indicates a strategy of deceit. Somehow, concealing one’s face is presented as more offensive than concealing one’s intentions, ambitions and moral shortcomings, more offensive even than misleading the public. Johnson needs to take a look in the mirror the next time he considers opining on the British tradition of honest speaking. He may find the problems of concealment lie much closer to home.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ourkingdom/anisur-rahman/should-britain-consider-banning-burqa-and-niqab">Should Britain consider banning burqa and niqab?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/val%C3%A9rie-hartwich/dangers-of-burqa-ban">The dangers of a burqa ban</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mathew-guest/can-universities-still-provide-transformative-experience">Can universities still provide a transformative experience?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation religion and social transformation Mathew Guest Love and Spirituality Intersectionality Culture Wed, 08 Aug 2018 00:09:35 +0000 Mathew Guest 119176 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sexual exploitation and abuse: why pick on charities? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/mike-aaronson/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-why-pick-on-charities <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>There is always a line to be drawn between protecting reputation and doing the right thing. Charity trustees should be judged on whether they draw it in the right place.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Mike Aaronson.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption"><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfataustralianaid/21614837788/">Members of the Solomon Islands Young Women’s Christian Association march in support of female rights during International Women’s Day in Honiara</a>, 2011. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Members_of_the_Solomon_Islands_Young_Women%E2%80%99s_Christian_Association_(YWCA)_march_in_support_of_female_rights_during_International_Women%E2%80%99s_Day_in_Honiara_(21614837788).jpg">Flickr/DFAT/Jeremy Miller via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In February 2018 The Times newspaper claimed that Oxfam GB workers in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake had paid young women for sex and that Oxfam had covered this up. This provoked a frenzy of criticism of Oxfam in <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43112200">the media</a> and in <a href="https://dfidnews.blog.gov.uk/2018/02/20/international-development-secretarys-statement-to-parliament-on-oxfam-and-safeguarding-in-the-aid-sector/">Parliament</a>. It was followed by further assertions that the aid sector had failed to deal adequately with sexual exploitation and abuse, including alleged poor governance and process around the handling of sexual harassment claims at Save the Children UK. Oxfam in particular has been forced onto the back foot and has struggled to defend itself. Both charities have suffered serious <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-44496430?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cz3nmk0k7k3t/oxfam&amp;link_location=live-reporting-story">falls</a> in <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/09/save-the-children-uk-expects-income-to-fall-by-67m">income</a>. </p> <p>The Charity Commission has launched two statutory inquiries and the House of Commons International Development Select Committee (the IDSC) has undertaken an investigation into sexual exploitation and abuse in the wider aid sector. The Charity Commission is yet to pronounce, but the IDSC’s <a href="https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmintdev/840/840.pdf">report</a> was published on 31 July. It is an impressive piece of work, a welcome attempt to provide a holistic and balanced view of a complex and difficult issue.</p> <p>Yet having worked in the sector in a leadership role and grappled with these problems I find some of the report’s conclusions harsh, particularly with regard to Oxfam. Aid organisations carry a lot of risk, operating in chaotic and stressful environments where in trying to do good they can end up doing harm. Recent revelations of sexual exploitation and abuse have pointed the finger at aid charities, but actually they are the ones who have done most to address this issue. The problem is complex and there are no easy answers; sensationalising the debate doesn’t help.</p> <p>We should definitely take the IDSC’s recommendations seriously: the aid community’s duty to protect vulnerable people demands that it does better than it has done so far. Even if some of the proposals turn out to be unworkable, doing nothing is not acceptable. Improved systems and processes will make a difference, but ultimately it is the integrity and quality of leadership that counts most.</p> <p>Nevertheless it is important to stress that the report is not about aid charities but the “aid sector” as a whole (including United Nations and other multilateral bodies, UN peacekeepers, bilateral donors including the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and international and local NGOs. Yet you would struggle to understand this from some of the media coverage of the report’s launch.</p> <p>For example the headline on the BBC <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal">website’s coverage</a> was “Charities' sexual misconduct scandal,” while the more <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-45013078?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cme28xx5grnt/charities-sexual-misconduct-scandal&amp;link_location=live-reporting-story">detailed report</a> that followed quotes the IDSC’s reference to a "collective failure of leadership" and then lazily links this to “the charities” rather than to the wider aid sector. Indeed, much of the criticism directed against charities since February has been disproportionate. Why have they been the target when the problem goes much wider?</p> <p>One answer is that they are in the spotlight because they take the issue of safeguarding seriously. The report’s starting point is the 2002 <a href="https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/international-development/2002-Report-of-sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-Save%20the%20Children.pdf">enquiry</a> carried out for Save the Children and UNHCR into sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee children by aid workers and peacekeepers in West Africa. It draws extensively both on this and on a further 2008 Save the Children <a href="https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/sites/default/files/documents/no_one_to_turn_to_1.pdf">study</a> covering Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire and South Sudan. </p> <p>Following the 2002 enquiry the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR), which comprises the chief executives of the leading international relief agency networks including Oxfam and Save the Children, instituted a process of peer review and chose the issue of safeguarding as its first topic. </p> <p>In other words, these are responsible agencies who attempt to do the right thing even if they don’t always succeed—though I distinguish here between Save the Children’s approach to safeguarding in its operational work and the way it appears to have handled <a href="http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/international-development-committee/sexual-exploitation-and-abuse-in-the-aid-sector/oral/83412.pdf">allegations concerning its senior executives</a>&nbsp;in 2012 and 2015, which I make no attempt to defend. Bad behaviour at the top of an organisation certainly weakens efforts to tackle it lower down. </p> <p>In terms of its operational work, however, the only reason the unacceptable conduct of Oxfam staff in Haiti came to light was because Oxfam had policies and procedures in place that allowed them to discover the problem and to deal with it—including putting the information in the <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14514905">public domain</a> (although not all of it - see below). As the report makes clear, of more concern is what goes on in those agencies that don’t have the same standards, who don’t take safeguarding seriously enough, and where there is a “culture of denial” that sexual exploitation and abuse actually takes place.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>Unacceptable behaviour by expatriate relief workers has dominated the media coverage of the Oxfam/Haiti saga. However the IDSC was told that local people make up the highest proportion of abusers (simply because they are more numerous), and that it is impossible to deal with sexual exploitation and abuse by staff in any culture in isolation from how women—especially—are treated in those cultures; in other words the problem goes beyond the aid sector. </p> <p>This highlights the limitations of one of the flagship recommendations of the report, the introduction of “a global register of aid workers.” I would support this measure because it sends a clear message, but it will almost certainly not catch the majority of potential offenders. We must not let a focus by the media on a few individuals blind us to the wider dimensions of the problem. </p> <p>At various points the report accuses the aid sector of being more concerned with protecting its own reputation than with tackling the root problem of sexual exploitation and abuse. It argues that Oxfam should have given DFID more details of what happened in Haiti and that aid agencies should always be “fully transparent.” While I accept the importance of transparency it seems to me that this fails to take into account the genuine challenges faced by the trustees of charities, who have a fiduciary duty to protect the reputation of the organisation. That is because, if the charity suffers, so do its beneficiaries. So, up to a point, it is perfectly reasonable for charitable trustees to seek to act in a way that protects the charity’s reputation.</p> <p>Charities are independent organisations, not arms length bodies of government. Clearly they must keep their donors and regulators informed of serious failings. But this sits alongside other obligations, and difficult decisions have to be made. What do trustees do when legal advice and values clash? For example, the legal advice Oxfam received made clear that if it had shared externally the names of those staff members it had disciplined or the reasons for their dismissal it would have exposed itself to legal risk in terms of potential privacy/human rights claims. Any costs arising from such claims would have had to be met from charitable funds that could otherwise have been used to support beneficiaries. It is easy to see why Oxfam were cautious. </p> <p>Clearly, this duty to protect the reputation of the charity has limits; it cannot legitimise neglecting the interests of beneficiaries or promoting the self-interests of the organization over the values to which it subscribes. There is a balance to be struck and a line to be drawn; trustees should be judged by whether they draw that line in the right place. In the Haiti case, Oxfam at the time judged that they had; the IDSC disagrees. The Charity Commission’s conclusions on this matter will be interesting. </p> <p>These considerations aside, the central argument in the report is that the aid sector must demonstrate zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse. The Committee is absolutely right about this. Fundamentally this is about just two things: values and leadership. All organisations—but particularly those claiming to be values-based—need to be clear on what they stand for, spell out the behaviours they expect to see and those they will not accept, and demonstrate that they mean what they say through courageous and consistent leadership.</p> <p>Not for the first time, I am reminded of the wise dictum of philosopher Onora O’Neill: “<a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p457t">trustworthiness before trust</a>”—in other words, if you want people to trust you, you have to show you are worthy of their trust. Even if all the recommendations in the IDSC report proved to be workable and were adopted, they could not on their own achieve that end. Systems and processes have an important role to play, but ultimately the only way to sustain trust in the aid sector—among its beneficiaries as much as its donors—is for all aid organisations to behave in a trustworthy way. And if they can’t achieve that they shouldn’t be operating at all.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/uk/stephen-twigg/international-aid-groups-must-reform-in-face-of-sexual-abuse-scandals">International Aid groups must reform in the face of sexual abuse scandals</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">At what cost? A reflection on the crisis at Save the Children UK</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Mike Aaronson The role of money Economics Care Tue, 07 Aug 2018 06:45:19 +0000 Mike Aaronson 119155 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The future of sharing: it's still about freedom https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jem-bendell/future-of-sharing-its-still-about-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The original vision of the sharing economy hasn’t died—it just needs more support and protection.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Jembendell6.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Australian network lead Annette Loudon (end right) with Swop day participants in Sydney. Credit: Russ Grayson. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0.</a></p> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Jenkin">Tim Jenkin</a> is a real-life superhero. A white South African, he took up campaigning for the African National Congress (ANC) and against Apartheid and was jailed for “terrorism.” After two years he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WyeAaYjlxE">ghosted his way out of jail</a> using keys he forged himself. In the 1980s he built an encrypted communication network which helped the ANC become an effective political force. Then in the late 1990s he began writing software to help people swap goods and services without money. When I <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oc0OKMWWJSc">met him</a> last year, I discovered how his approach could resuscitate a vision I thought was dying.</p> <p>That vision was of a sharing economy to help humanity. In a 2013 <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_YGL_CircularEconomyInnovation_PositionPaper_2013.pdf">report</a> I helped to write for the World Economic Forum we were quite gung-ho about the economic and environmental potential of the sharing sector. Alongside the large corporate platforms like <a href="http://www.uber.com/">Uber</a> and <a href="http://www.airbnb.com/">Airbnb</a>, we also mentioned locally-owned and locally-focused systems, believing all these approaches would reduce the environmental resources required to deliver a better quality of life by unlocking underused assets like power tools and empty bedrooms.</p> <p>But five years on, it turns out we were wrong. These corporate platforms have received a barrage of criticism. The most recent research indicates that the environmental impacts of Uber are not positive. One <a href="https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/doc/1899208739.html?FMT=AI">study</a> estimates that Uber and its competitor <a href="https://www.lyft.com/drive-with-lyft?v=city-bkn-2&amp;ref=1000R350D60&amp;adname=Tips-Ease_V2_TXT_NA_SO&amp;utm_source=google&amp;utm_campaign=PAID_DAX_SRCH_US_BKN_WEB_DESK_BRND_LYFT_EXACT&amp;adgroup=lyft_NA_NA&amp;utm_term=lyft&amp;device=c&amp;matchtype=e&amp;targetid=kwd-158399963&amp;loc_ph">Lyft</a> could be increasing total vehicle travel miles per year in the US by as much as 5.5 billion. It turns out that ‘sharing’ isn’t quite the right word for connecting independent taxi drivers with their clients. The idea that Airbnb would reduce the environmental impact of where people stay is not backed up by research. The authors of a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210422417300825?via%3Dihub">recent review</a> of the sharing sector concluded that “the early claims of the inherent sustainability of the sharing economy are ill-founded.”</p> <p>In fact, there were some earlier signs that the large corporate platforms were not as interested in the sustainability potential of sharing as we observers were. At the 2013 summer Davos summit in China the co-founder of Airbnb, Nate Blecharczyk, sought to moderate my enthusiasm by saying he thought that his company had little philosophical commitment to a sharing economy and was simply focused on growing the business. It was early days. The company was only worth $2.5 billion then, not the $31 billion it is today. In the intervening years, the problem of focusing on private profit instead of public purpose has become much more apparent as corporate platforms have experienced a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2210422417300825?via%3Dihub">backlash</a> from regulators and stakeholders.</p> <p>By talking to Tim, however, I realised that the social and environmental promise of the sharing economy has not disappeared. Away from the media attention given to the billion-dollar firms, Tim’s network and two others compatible with it have grown to embrace 20,000 people in 16 countries. Together these three networks have created the <a href="http://www.creditcommons.net/">Credit Commons Collective</a> to further coordinate their work. Last year their members exchanged almost a million hours-worth of value, and all for free. That's small in comparison to corporates like Airbnb, but the human and environmental upsides are real.</p> <p>Take this story from Dawn Pilatowicz in Cape Town, for example: “I am physically challenged so everything I do from shopping, to going to the doctor, to an evening’s entertainment I need help with” she told me. “It got to the stage where I felt I had worn out my friends, constantly asking for help, but Tim's exchange system changed all that.” Dawn can buy food and get treatments from the network (called a community exchange), and pay someone in their local units of currency called “talents” to go do her shopping.</p> <p>“Instead of my few loyal friends I have over 1,000 people out there I can call on to help me” she said beaming. “When my geyser burst, I completely redecorated the house. I had the walls painted, murals painted, curtains made, a patio made, tiling done—all on the exchange. In return, I’ve rented out accommodation, done BodyTalk treatments, taught Taijiquan, sold old clothes and furniture, and designed and printed business cards. My ability to participate actively in my community has been transformed.” The Collective lists more such case studies on their new <a href="http://www.localpay.tech/">fundraising website</a>.</p> <p>Annette Loudon is the representative of the Collective in <a href="https://www.cesaustralia.org/">Australia</a>. When I spoke to her about these human and environmental upsides, she told me that: “We estimate over a third of all exchanges between our members have a direct pro-environmental impact.” In that category she includes the reuse and repair of household goods, tool exchanges and car sharing—the real kind where people share rides to work as opposed to Uber’s model.</p> <p>In addition, Annette found that local food production comprised another third of transactions within the network in Australia. Although some lifecycle analyses question the environmental benefit of local food production, neighbourhood collaboration in this area is likely to strengthen community resilience to <a href="http://iflas.blogspot.com/2018/07/new-paper-on-deep-adaptation-to-climate.html">climate-disruption</a>. Annette told me the participants in the <a href="https://www.cesaustralia.org/">network</a> often do so as part of their environmental interests and so they share ideas on how to make their local food systems greener.</p> <p>The third head of the Collective, Matthew Slater, is responsible for the <a href="http://www.communityforge.net/">software</a> that supports the network across Europe. He has also been leading&nbsp;<a href="http://www.geo.coop/content/thwarting-uber-future-complementary-currencies">their research</a>. He explained that they “would like more detailed analysis on the possible pro-environmental impacts both in Australia and across the other 15 countries where we support local groups, but we are all volunteers and maxed out on the day to day support.”</p> <p>When I congratulated Tim on his environmental achievements he didn’t seem flattered. “The environmental benefits are just the side effects of people supporting each other and saving money,” he told me, “For me the sharing economy is a political project. Ordinary people need more control over their lives, whether it’s to respond to climate change or any other threat.”</p> <p>Tim’s way of supporting local control like that starts with his software, which any community can <a href="https://www.community-exchange.org/home/">use for free</a>. It lets people list what they need and can offer each other. Each community group has its own unit of account for measuring how much members are sharing with others. The Collective doesn’t advertise or sell data to advertisers. All Tim asks for is a small promise of goods or services from each group&nbsp;as payment in kind. It could be candles, garden honey, an old washing machine or a lift in a neighbor’s car. The only money he has received for 15 years of building a free software platform was a three-year grant from the <a href="http://www.ashoka.org/%E2%80%8E">Ashoka Foundation</a>.</p> <p>Now a <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5797184/">Hollywood film</a> is being made about Tim's early life, but even superheroes retire, and now well into his 70s he’s increasingly kept from his computer by his failing eyesight. His software started as a hobby, but in 2018 it takes a skilled team to design, build and maintain it, and one person can’t keep up with the venture capital-funded projects that may entice his users away.</p> <p>As private investments surge into social media technology, Tim worries that the doors of a much larger, fully automated ‘jail’ are closing behind him, just as they did to stop him protesting in South Africa all those years ago. This new jail is one in which the titans of Silicon Valley can see everything we do, filter everything we read, price everything we buy, and even make educated guesses about what we are thinking in order to direct our attention elsewhere.</p> <p>The Collective has therefore teamed up with <a href="https://friendsoftheearth.uk/">Friends of the Earth</a> to attract the <a href="http://www.localpay.tech/">necessary funds</a> to grow Tim’s sharing economy. "We escaped from prison as a team of three", he told me, "but we’ll need more than that to keep our digital freedoms."</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/adam-parsons/sharing-economy-short-introduction-to-its-political-evolution">The sharing economy: a short introduction to its political evolution</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/adam-parsons/it%E2%80%99s-time-to-put-power-of-sharing-back-into-sharing-economy">It’s time to put the power of sharing back into the sharing economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jem-bendell/what-happens-to-democracy-in-cashless-society">What happens to democracy in a cashless society?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Sharing Economy Jem Bendell The role of money Economics Sun, 05 Aug 2018 18:12:47 +0000 Jem Bendell 119109 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Depression and the healing desert https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jana-richman/depression-and-healing-desert <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Nature offers solace for a man living with depression—and a lesson in acceptance for his anxious partner.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/JanaRichman.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">“Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it’s not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope.” Credit: <a href="https://unsplash.com/@solotravelgoals">SoloTravelGoals/Unsplash</a>. <a href="https://unsplash.com/license">Unsplash License</a>.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p>“In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” Theodore Roethke</p></blockquote> <p>It slips in quietly. A hint of terseness marks his voice, an opaque film covers his blue eyes, his face flushes and its lines deepen. His 6’4” frame droops toward the floor as if he’s ashamed to drape his sorry self over it, and he tries to creep from the room unnoticed. It hurts him to be seen.</p> <p>We share the only bed in our house, but he curls close to the edge, his face in the moonlight twisted and consternated. I want to reach out with a soothing touch, but I have learned not to. When he is deep in his dark world, a simple touch will send a startle response through his bones. He will burst from the bed as if facing a knife- wielding attacker and his wild eyes will be locked on me.</p> <p>When I wake in the morning to find his side of the bed cold, I search for signs: a spoon in the sink indicates coffee was made; a creaking floor in his upstairs office indicates movement. From the signs, I can measure the depth of his depression and the probable length of its stay. No signs at all, and I feel as if I’ve been stalked into a dead-end alley.</p> <p>I once believed myself capable of empathetic greatness, a belief that’s been gutted and redesigned like a nineteenth-century farmhouse. The crumbling bricks still hold, but the interior structure bears little resemblance to the original.</p> <p>Steve was fifty when we met; I was forty-eight. Our future held no golden wedding anniversary; silver was dubious. Such reckonings cut short the discovery period of romance enjoyed by the young. We acknowledged our love for each other, and, almost in the same breath, we acknowledged our impediments: Steve’s depression, my anxiety.</p> <p>Having anxiety in our anxious culture is like wearing a white T-shirt—it’s not conspicuous—so I had minimal awareness of its scope. And being wholly naïve about depression, I shrugged it off in the name of love. With less caution than warranted, Steve and I joined hands and stepped into the abyss.</p> <p>Anxiety and depression share commonalities. In our case, the emotional memories of each are decades—maybe generations—old, with no faces, no bodies, no specific points of origin. These similarities generate compassion between us but not necessarily understanding. And distinct differences make us ill-suited for sharing a life.</p> <p>Anxiety gushes out, soliciting reassurance and relief; depression pulls in and sets up barriers. Anxious people want to process, often in a desperate, frenetic way. But insisting that a depressed person process his current state is worse than futile; it is merciless. Working together, depression and anxiety construct a near impermeable trap. When I sense Steve’s depression, I churn in angst. When Steve senses my anxiety, he drops deeper.</p> <p>Steve’s depression is episodic, triggered in a moment that takes him down. And in that moment, life is brusquely shifted, shut down for an indefinable period. When I first saw it, although I had been forewarned, I had no idea what I was seeing. The shift in his physical appearance alone pulled me up short, and the abrupt change in personality seemed like a subterfuge. And for many years I treated it as such, demanding that he stop and explain himself.</p> <p>He retreats into his impenetrable misery behind the closed door of his office. I walk to keep my body occupied while my emotions lurch from confusion to sadness to anger to desperation. I return to a quiet house, no traces of movement. I search the bookshelves and Internet for comfort. So much advice—all of it familiar, none of it useful.</p> <p><em>Two days go by without verification of life. I stew and listen and watch. I dissect the days and hours leading up to the moment it slithered in. I pinpoint the trigger and rewrite the script. I chant a whispered mantra:&nbsp;</em>This will end.<em>But I worry that it won’t end, that we’ll be here on our respective sides of a cheap, hollow door three weeks, three months, three years from now.</em></p> <p><em>On the third day, the door opens and I jump to attention. He slouches down the stairs without making eye contact, looking ten years older than he looked four days prior. I offer to make soup, I suggest a hike, I extend bookshelf advice in a cheerful voice tinged with urgency. I speak to him as if he doesn’t understand his own mind. He goes back upstairs and shuts the door.</em></p> <p>Steve embodies light and dark in their extremities. The dark runs deep and murky, but radical light runs parallel. I fear the dark will snuff out the light and destroy him, destroy us. He assures me that will never happen, and like a religious skeptic&nbsp;teetering on the edges, I work to keep the faith.
 I want to pry him apart, separate light from dark. I want the model with the personalized options, not the package deal, but his GPS is already installed. Ripping it out would leave him lighter, yes, but also deformed, shrunken, misshapen. Much of his beauty comes out of the shadow. His gentleness, his patience, his wisdom, his passion—all flow from having dwelt in the tender place of despair. I deeply understand the truth of this. Still, I want it to be easier—for him, yes, but mostly for me. He knows this darkness, and he oddly draws strength from its familiarity, as if it constitutes some sort of sacred ritual. I cower in its presence.</p> <p>On the fourth day, I wake to find the office door open and him gone. I breathe a sigh of relief for a morning without his dark presence and say a small prayer to the gods he worships: redrock canyons and sagebrush flats. He has gone to the desert.</p> <p>I walk out to the garage to see what’s not there: a cot, a sleeping bag, a five-gallon water jug. All good signs. He will spend nights under a dark sky, and when the sun rouses him, he will walk between redrock walls, bumping against them in his rawness. He will find a flat run of slickrock to lie upon, and he will stay until desert light finds a fissure in his constructed shield. Then he’ll come back to me.</p> <p>Shortly after I met him, Steve said something that would become a refrain in our relationship: I need to go to the desert. We met in Tucson and lived in Salt Lake City, so technically we had always been in a desert, but that’s not what he meant. He sought a desert free of humans and their debris, full of light, where he could dwell undisturbed for an extended period of time.</p> <p>Having grown up in Utah’s West Desert, I, too, have an appreciation for such places, but I initially thought him prone to hyperbole. Imprudently clinging to the popular view that all power lies within, I equated Steve’s stated need to the exaggerated notions of a teenager needing a new iPhone. But after twelve years of inadvertent research, my flippancy has waned.</p> <p>On our wedding day, Steve promised to always rescue himself—it was written into the vows. In my most anxious moments, I have extracted the promise from him again and again, but the last time I did was in the autumn of 2013, which was when I, at long last, understood that he has only one fail-safe rescue: the desert.</p> <p>It was our worst year together, high anxiety and deep depression, each tightening the knots of the other. We futilely tugged from opposite ends for eight months. In the fall, I suggested a weekend backpack on the Escalante River, and he nodded his agreement. But on the day we were supposed to leave, he couldn’t rally the energy to abide my company, having, no doubt, sensed my desperate reach for relief. After he shut the upstairs door, I sat amid the mess of freeze-dried food packets and cried. Then I packed.</p> <p>I would like to say I left the house quietly, but I didn’t. I breached the sanctity of the closed door and made a dramatic, sobbing speech and exit. I no longer remember the words, but I remember the cruelty behind them. I’m sure I demanded some sort of promise or explanation that he could not possibly give. I remember his horrified face as I loaded my pain onto his.</p> <p>I drove fifteen miles to the trailhead shaking with the kind of generalized rage that has no receptacle. Only after hoisting the pack and splashing through the knee-high, sun-warmed water for the first of many river crossings did I acknowledge that I had never backpacked alone, never spent a night out there by myself. It was an easy three-mile hike upriver to the Sand Creek confluence where I planned to camp, and the physical risk was minimal. But the sun drops early in the river gorge, and the long stretch of night ahead played on my nerves.</p> <p>Righteous indignation propelled me forward, a feeling of something having been thrust upon me that I did not deserve. I slogged through deep sand, stumbled often, and expended a great deal of energy to gain little ground. Had I lifted my eyes from the trail, I might have been awed by Escalante Natural Bridge, a sturdy, flat-topped, deep red and brown arch that spans a side canyon like a train trestle. Had I lifted my eyes, my heart may have been lightened—or at least distracted—by the Indian domicile ruins on a ledge next to a wall of seven-hundred-year-old petroglyphs. But I did not lift my eyes. I rounded the bend in the river that alerted me to the confluence without acknowledging the painted red snake on the slickrock I skirted, without pondering its symbolism, although it may have been as relevant to me as it was to its creator. Rebirth? Resurrection? Initiation?</p> <p>I dropped into a hole that brought the river to my upper thighs before climbing the sandy, steep bank on hands and knees. Knowing that seeking ant-free ground would be futile, I pitched my tent among the small creatures under a cluster of cottonwoods and cooked dinner before the sun went down. Then I crossed the cold, shin-high waters of Sand Creek and set my Therm-a-Rest chair on a partially dry, flat rock in the last splice of sunlight. I faced a soaring, creamsicle-orange wall with white streaks—as if someone had poured a bucket of Clorox from the top every few yards—and waited for darkness to descend. But it never did.</p> <p>The wall, a magnificent domed rock bestowed with runs of creamy smoothness from calving, was the last in the canyon to lose light. It presided over the celestial ceremony of sundown—quieting the whistling birds, hushing the croaking ravens, piloting a change of temperature and a kettle of turkey vultures on a gust. As the diurnal fell silent, whispering grasses and rustling river willows filled the void. On my right, a tranquil spring wallpapered the Navajo sandstone with ivy, ferns, and columbine before trickling through a crack in many straggling fountains at mouth level and leaving the rocks below it covered in spongy lime-green moss.</p> <p>Sand Creek approached me from behind a grassy bend, ran over slickrock and sand, bumped against, and parted for, volcanic boulders, passed me close enough to splash my left arm and leg, gathered spring water from the right, and then disappeared around an eastern bend to meet the river. Near and distant, peach and rose, honey and ginger colored walls, polished to a high sheen by desert varnish and pockmarked by wind and water, surrounded me on all sides, sharing the warmth of the sun.</p> <p>As the reigning wall lost its light, the hanging garden lost its shimmer in the shadows, the creek gurgled, the spring trickled, and a warm breeze blew. I sat very still, every sense heightened—and pacified. Tranquility edged in like rainwater through a crack in sandstone. After a while, I could no longer discern my feet on the rock or sand on my skin. The place integrated my presence as if I were natural to it, and I felt the whole of it.</p> <p>I sat. I had been breathing shallowly for many months, holding myself together with a pinched brow and rigid muscles. I breathed. My shoulders fell. Fear and dread oozed from my body and was cleanly washed away by Sand Creek—as if it were no problem at all—and delivered to the river where it would flow out of reach. Shhhh, the place whispered. Be still.</p> <p>Moonlight climbed sandstone walls bringing with it the thought of Steve’s refrain: I need to go to the desert. I had heard the urgency in his voice, but I refused to hear the truth in his words. I had scoffed at the idea that a place could do for him what I could not—that a place could hold him, soothe him, reach into the depths of that darkness and pull him out. And now, here I sat, held by the place. And here was the thing that left me dumbfounded: the place had been here all along. Through many months of homebound angst, through my desperation and rage, through my vain perseverance, the place was here—flowing, buzzing, being.</p> <p>That night on the slickrock bank of Sand Creek, I understood what I had been doing to Steve for twelve years. I had done what every well-meaning person in his life—every lover, every friend—had done. I had tried to fix him. And in doing so, I had delivered a sharp message:&nbsp;<em>I cannot love you this way</em>.</p> <p>The next morning, I was sitting on a log, swiping ants off my legs and sipping a cup of tea, when Steve walked into camp. He was not entirely tall and steady, but he was upright. He smiled weakly but genuinely, and I thought if ever there were an element natural in its desert environment, there it stands.</p> <p>We walked up Sand Creek without conversation, each sensitive to the other’s fragility. When we reached a sandy beach on the water’s edge, we sat facing a hollowed-out red wall. I have a gift for you, I said. He turned toward me, blue eyes tired but clear. I told him I would no longer participate in his depression; I would no longer view it as a problem to be fixed. I am giving you the gift of your own depression, I told him. He looked at me for a long moment, and when he started breathing again, vestiges of apprehension drained from his face. Thank you, he said.</p> <p>I have since kept my promise. It turns out, I can love the whole of him, and doing so has settled something in me. I don’t hold any notion that he will one day be cured of depression, and I no longer seek that. But removing myself as custodian of his state of being has given us space without shame. The chasm is shallower, more light filters in. In turn, I am released from my own shaking hellhole of onus and distress.</p> <p>And then there’s the desert, right here, where it’s always been—gushing, illuminating, revealing.</p> <p><em>From&nbsp;Nature Love Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness, edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner. Copyright Jana Richman and Torrey House Press,&nbsp;<a title="https://www.torreyhouse.org" href="https://www.torreyhouse.org/" target="_blank">www.torreyhouse.org</a>.</em></p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/depression-and-the-healing-desert-20180613?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180615&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180615+CID_cd0e50d8ab948866c92e475c998fd3bd&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Depression%20and%20the%20Healing%20Desert">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/tim-flinders/going-out-i-found-i-was-really-going-in-john-muir-s-spiritual-and-politi">Going out, I found I was really going in: John Muir’s spiritual and political journey</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/marisa-handler/when-meditation-isn-t-enough">When meditation isn’t enough</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jana Richman Love and Spirituality Culture Thu, 02 Aug 2018 16:44:19 +0000 Jana Richman 118784 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What hope for the millennial generation in politics? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/oliver-ward/what-hope-for-millennial-generation-in-politics <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="xmsonormal">Millennials are confronted by political systems that don’t look like them, speak like them or address their core concerns, but that may be changing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="xmsonormal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Oliverward.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffdjevdet/28221768912">Flickr</a>/<a title="Go to Jeff Djevdet&#039;s photostream" href="///C:/Users/edwarmi/Documents/Documents/speedpropertybuyers.co.uk/">Jeff Djevdet</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Millennials have faced a litany of charges in the media from displaying traits of narcissism, self-entitlement and laziness to killing off traditional&nbsp;<a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-04/young-americans-are-killing-marriage" target="_blank">attitudes to marriage</a>,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/hey-millennials-stop-killing-the-vacation.html" target="_blank">vacations</a>, and even causing the future demise of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jefffromm/2014/10/02/will-the-millennial-generation-kill-home-depot/#32c1283b522b" target="_blank">Home Depot</a>. They are infantilised and derided, branded as a generation of “<a href="http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/05/26/nation-peter-pans-have-created-country-filled-with-perpetual-children.html" target="_blank">Peter Pans</a>”&nbsp;who shun responsibility and fear growing up.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">But unlike the baby boomers before them, millennials have not had the opportunity to step out of their parent’s shadow and flourish. The economic climate of the 21st&nbsp;century has produced a generation of overworked and underpaid employees living through a rise in right-wing thought that is testing the resilience of the political system on both sides of the Atlantic.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">In the US, the average millennial enters the workforce with&nbsp;<a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/annajohansson/2017/09/28/why-are-millennial-salaries-disproportionately-low/#75c3b91a23f8" target="_blank">more than $37,000 of student debt.&nbsp;</a> Millennial unemployment is&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ballstatedaily.com/article/2016/10/news-millennial-unemployment" target="_blank">more than double</a>&nbsp;the national average, and those who do find work are paid salaries that are&nbsp;<a href="http://fortune.com/2017/03/29/millennials-income-chart/" target="_blank">20 per cent lower</a>&nbsp;than those the baby boomers received when they were the same age. Between 2008 and 2013, millennials were the only section of the workforce who saw their&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-unluckiest-generation-what-will-become-of-millennials/275336/" target="_blank">real wages fall</a>.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">With real wages sinking and student debt climbing, economic circumstances are causing millennials to postpone taking on financial responsibilities. In 1985, the 21-34 demographic accounted for&nbsp;38 per cent&nbsp;of America’s car sales, a figure that <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-unluckiest-generation-what-will-become-of-millennials/275336/">had fallen to 27 per cent by 2010</a>. Between 2008 and 2011,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-unluckiest-generation-what-will-become-of-millennials/275336/" target="_blank">half as many</a>&nbsp;young people took out a mortgage than between 1998 and 2001. Despite falling prices for food and clothing, younger generations trail their parents' wealth at the equivalent age by&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-unluckiest-generation-what-will-become-of-millennials/275336/" target="_blank">seven percentage points</a>.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">The decision to put off marriage, children, and purchasing a home is not borne out of some &nbsp;“Peter Pan syndrome;” it’s a product of the economic uncertainty that faces most millennials, who havn’t been fed the same economic nourishment that promoted maturity, self-sufficiency and independence among their parents. Instead, economic malnourishment has left many craving the financial safety and security of the nest.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/04/the-unluckiest-generation-what-will-become-of-millennials/275336/" target="_blank">More than a third</a>&nbsp;of 25-29-year-olds report moving back into the family home at some point.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Millennials grew up with the mantra that a college degree guarantees a better life, but after graduating into a recession they are discovering that this is an illusion. Education-inflation has eroded the value of an undergraduate degree even though employers now expect undergraduate studies for even the most rudimentary positions.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Once entering employment, millennials are facing longer workdays. Rather than a lazy generation fused to their iPads, they work longer hours than their parents’ generation. ‘Manpower Group’ found that millennials in the US shun the 40-hour working week, with the average young worker putting in&nbsp;<a href="http://www.revelist.com/science/millennials-work-harder-than-parents/2601" target="_blank">45 hours</a>&nbsp;a week and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.revelist.com/science/millennials-work-harder-than-parents/2601">21 per cent&nbsp;of the survey’s millennial respondents</a> working more than one job to make ends meet. A ‘Project:Time Off’ survey also found that millennials are more likely to forfeit paid vacation (<a href="https://hbr.org/2016/08/millennials-are-actually-workaholics-according-to-research" target="_blank">24 per cent</a> compared to&nbsp;<a href="https://hbr.org/2016/08/millennials-are-actually-workaholics-according-to-research">17 per cent&nbsp;</a>of baby boomers among respondents).</p> <p class="xmsonormal">How does this feed through into politics?</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Millennials are confronted by a two-party political system that doesn’t look like them, speak like them, reflect their political views or address their core concerns about precarity.&nbsp;The under-30 demographic is the most ethnically diverse in American history, but the&nbsp;<a href="http://thehill.com/homenews/house/306480-115th-congress-will-be-most-racially-diverse-in-history" target="_blank">115thCongress</a>&nbsp;that took office in January 2016 was made up of just 19 per cent women, nine per cent African-Americans, seven per cent Hispanic members, three per cent Asian-Americans, and one per cent openly gay members.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">That’s one reason why young voters are disenchanted with politics. Baby boomers now outvote millennials by some&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/the-liberal-millennial-revolution/470826/" target="_blank">30 per cent</a>&nbsp;and voting among the under-30 demographic in non-presidential elections is at its&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/the-liberal-millennial-revolution/470826/" target="_blank">lowest rate</a>&nbsp;in 50 years. This means that millennial concerns are often overlooked in favour of themes that resonate with a candidate’s older core voters. But without candidates that inspire them, a growing number of young people are turning their backs on the traditional political system.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">A growing majority of 18-35 year old voters reject the core values of both the Democrats and the Republicans. A Reuters/IPSOS poll showed that the Democrats&nbsp;<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-millennials/exclusive-democrats-lose-ground-with-millennials-reuters-ipsos-poll-idUSKBN1I10YH" target="_blank">have lost nine percentage points</a>&nbsp;of support among voters aged 18-35 in the last two years. But this support is not going to the Republican Party. Only&nbsp;<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-millennials/exclusive-democrats-lose-ground-with-millennials-reuters-ipsos-poll-idUSKBN1I10YH">28 per cent&nbsp;of 18-35 voters</a> expressed support for the Republicans, the same figure as two-years ago.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">These unaffiliated voters are politically receptive and ready to put their support behind a candidate or a party that speaks for them. But neither of the established parties have offered much to excite the millennial generation. However, when millennials do mobilise behind a candidate they become a powerful voting bloc. Bernie Sanders attracted more than&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/02/the-liberal-millennial-revolution/470826/" target="_blank">80 per cent</a>&nbsp;of the under-30 vote in key states like Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, and partly as a result was able to mount a coherent campaign in the Democratic presidential primaries.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Most recently, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez">Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez</a> has emerged as a beacon for millennial voters. A 28-year-old community activist and former Bernie Sanders campaign organizer, Ocasio-Cortez defeated the incumbent and senior leader of the House, Joseph Crowley, in New York’s 14th&nbsp;Congressional District Democratic primary in June 2018.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Ocasio-Cortez is running on a Democratic platform, but she doesn’t fit the Democratic mould. On paper, she is even further to the left than Sanders, and supports the abolition of ICE (America’s immigration enforcement agency), free college tuition, and universal healthcare. Her off-the-script running campaign acknowledged her break from the Democratic faithful. Rather than targeting Democratic voters she went after the unaffiliated, persuading them to register as Democrats to vote in the primary, which they did in overwhelming numbers.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">The Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez campaigns have shed some light on what it might take to bring millennial voters back into the political fold, and what the future of American politics could look like if they did.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Firstly, millennials don’t subscribe to the current two-party model. Although Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez emerged from within the Democratic Party they occupy the fringes, living in a political River Styx with one foot in the Democratic camp and the other in a political world of their own making.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Secondly, millennial voters are not single-issue voters. Unlike their parent’s generation, just because a candidate aligns with them on one core issue doesn’t mean that they will feel sufficiently inspired to head to the polls and vote. This was evident in the 2016 presidential election, when Donald Trump ran on a platform to reduce the influence of established economic and political interests in politics—a message that is often promoted in millennial circles—but he still&nbsp;<a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2016/11/21/how-millennials-voted/" target="_blank">lost the youth vote</a>&nbsp;to Hilary Clinton.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Finally, young people are acutely aware of the limitations of the four-year-democratic-cycle. They crave solutions to problems that transcend such cycles like climate change and racial injustice. Neither problem has a solution which can demonstrate results within a single term. These issues consistently rank at the top of millennial voter agendas but are rarely priorities for established political candidates, who prefer to channel resources into issues which have quick solutions and produce tangible results that they can call on to drive their re-election campaigns.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">But as generational shifts reduce the political influence of the baby boomers, millennials have the opportunity to transform American politics. They have the chance to break up the two-party system, perhaps introducing new parties founded on millennial values or pushing the Democratic Party to the left. Millennial voters could also force both parties to confront the limitations of the current political system. Revitalising democracy to tackle the problems of the modern world would inspire millennial voters and could lead to the emergence of grassroots movements campaigning for reform within the American political system.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Ocasio-Cortez was recently quoted in the left-wing magazine ‘In These Times’ as&nbsp;<a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/politics/ct-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-new-york-20180627-story.html" target="_blank">saying this:</a>&nbsp;“the only time we create any kind of substantive change is when we reach out to a disaffected electorate and inspire and motivate them to vote.”</p> <p class="xmsonormal">In millennials she has found a whole generation of disaffected voters—disaffected by an economy that has left them working longer hours for less pay than their parents’ generation; disaffected by the pursuit of education and a better life that has left them saddled with debt; and disaffected by a political system that has pushed them and their left-leaning beliefs into the margins.</p> <p class="xmsonormal">Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders are showing that millennial voters carry political clout, and that it is perfectly possible to bring them back into the political fold. The Democrats and Republicans can ill-afford to dismiss them as non-voters in the future. Whether or not the two party system survives, the millennial generation will be a force to be reckoned with in the future of American politics.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/saskia-brechenmacher/democratic-distress-in-europe-and-usa-transatlantic-malaise">Democratic distress in Europe and the USA: a transatlantic malaise? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/when-will-there-be-harmony">When will there be harmony?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/where-are-all-leaders">Where are all the leaders?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Democracy and government Oliver Ward Trans-partisan politics Activism Tue, 31 Jul 2018 19:15:32 +0000 Oliver Ward 118979 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Harvesting hope: the permaculture movement in India https://www.opendemocracy.net/simin-fadaee/harvesting-hope-permaculture-movement-in-india <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The major transformative potential of permaculture in India lies in its ability to make small-scale farmers self-sufficient. Hence, it offers viable solutions to the very deep crisis farmers are facing.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img alt="open Movements" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" width="460px" /></a><br /><b>The <i><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements">openMovements</a></i> series invites leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.</b></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0761.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0761.JPG" alt="lead lead " title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Farmers using permaculture in the state of Telangana, India. Here an activist has gathered farmers on her permaculture farm and is talking to them. All photographs belong to the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On the first of June 2018, thousands of Indian farmers started <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/06/indian-farmers-protesting-180604194005599.html">a 10-day protest</a> demanding farm loan waivers and higher prices for their products. This large-scale protest followed a <a href="https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/long-march-india-farmers-forces-government-act-180314124401687.html">long march</a> by 40,000 farmers to Mumbai in March. India’s farming sector – which employs&nbsp; most of the country’s labour force – has been in crisis for decades. A significant indicator has been the dramatic increase of farmers suicides which first entered the headlines in the 1990s. According to a <a href="https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/over-12000-farmer-suicides-per-year-centre-tells-supreme-court/articleshow/58486441.cms">government report</a> which was released in 2017, since 2013 over 12,000 suicides have been reported every year. </p> <p>At root, the agrarian crisis in India has a number of causes. While <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/31/suicides-of-nearly-60000-indian-farmers-linked-to-climate-change-study-claims">climate change</a> and its consequent effects on Indian agriculture has played a role, activists and opponents of the government’s agricultural policies see the Green Revolution which started in the 1970s and the transformation of Indian agriculture into large scale corporate industrial agriculture as the main reason behind India’s agricultural crisis. Prominent environmental and alter-globalisation activist Vandana Shiva, for example, has referred to <a href="http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/farmers-suicides-nothing-but-genocide-says-vandana-shiva/article3130684.ece">farmer suicides as a genocide</a>, and has accused the WTO and the government’s agricultural policies of destroying small-scale farmers. Among a number of movements, civil society organisations and campaigns addressing the agrarian crisis and the effects of industrial agriculture in India, the permaculture movement is fast gaining ground among subsistence farmers and proponents of alternative agriculture. If expanded, they think it would be able to counter many of the discontents of Indian farmers. </p> <h2><b>Permaculture: a concrete and viable alternative</b></h2> <p>The term ‘permaculture’ was first coined by the Australian biologist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren in the 1970s. It combines “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture” and advocates the three ethics of people care, earth care and fair share. Based on farming practices, and particularly influenced by the Japanese natural farmer Masanobu Fukuoka combined with a number of scientific findings in agriculture, permaculture provides a set of <a href="https://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/">principles</a> which offer practical guidance on how to build functioning and sustainable alternatives that bring together the needs of humans and nature. </p> <p>Permacultures help build resiliency among small-scale farmers and facilitate the creation of self-regenerative systems and communities with regard to energy, food, shelter and other needs, in harmony with nature. Permaculture principles are applicable in diverse environments and on different scales, from densely populated urban settlements to farms and rural areas. In other words, the principles are seen as universal, although the methods that materialize from them vary significantly according to context. Therefore, permaculture is culturally rooted and to a large extent its practice is based on local knowledge, customs and resources. </p> <p>Since its inception, permaculture has grown into a global movement and is practiced by various communities <a href="https://permacultureglobal.org/projects?page=1">around the world</a>. In the following section I briefly explain the history of the movement in India, introducing the actors and sites of their engagement before taking an overview of its transformative potential.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <h2><b>Building the movement in India</b></h2> <p>Permaculture was introduced into India by Bill Mollison, who visited the country in 1986 and regularly returned thereafter to hold permaculture workshops for farmers. In the course of these workshops, small-scale farmers could learn rainwater harvesting, biomass generation, recycling organic waste, composting, soil conservation and many more techniques which would help them remain or become self-subsistent. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0780.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_0780.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>With the support of an Indian NGO, <a href="http://ddsindia.com/www/default.asp">Deccan Development Society</a>, the first permaculture demonstration farm was established in Andhra Pradesh situated on the south-eastern part of India and became a learning education site for alternative agricultural practices. The permaculture Association of India was formed in 1989. Within this framework Indian permaculture experts started to conduct practice-oriented workshops for farmers and relevant NGOs in different parts of India. Over the years permaculture has gradually expanded and today a number of organisations and farms promote principles and ethics of permaculture throughout the country. </p><p>The Hyderabad-based <a href="http://permacultureindia.org/">Aranya Agricultural Alternatives</a> has been one of the most active proponents of permaculture in the country. The organisation hosted the first <a href="http://www.npcindia2016.org/">National Permaculture Convergence</a> in 2016 which brought together more than 1,000 farmers, academics and practitioners of alternative agriculture from across the country. It provided an inclusive forum not only for practitioners of permaculture but for those interested in various fields of sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, natural resource management, health and nutrition and sustainable living. </p> <p>This event gave the movement momentum, attracted many to the philosophy and practice of permaculture while connecting those who were already practicing and working with permaculture in one way or another. Moreover, it provided the base for the emergence of Indian permaculture network.&nbsp; In 2017 Aranya Agricultural Alternatives hosted the <a href="http://ipcindia2017.org/">13<sup>th</sup> International Permaculture Conference and Convergence</a> in India under the theme “Towards Healthy Societies”. This event brought together a large number of national and international delegates including 450 local farmers. The first ever permaculture teacher training course in India and an extended 20-day permaculture design course preceded the event. </p> <h2><b>Actors and sites of engagement </b></h2> <p>Four kinds of actors are involved in the permaculture movement. The first group is comprised of individuals working for agrarian-oriented NGOs who provide permaculture training for farmers through courses and workshops, by establishing permaculture demonstration sites or by assisting farmers on their own farms. Although many of these NGOs might not exclusively identify as permaculture NGOs they actively or passively engage with permaculture principles in their work. </p> <p>Another group of actors involved in the permaculture movement are individuals with non-farming background who have settled and/or work on small farms implementing a permaculture design. Some have transformed barren land to a food forest – a low maintenance and sustainable food production method based on forest ecosystems – or are in the process of transforming already existing farms to permaculture sites. In most cases they actively engage with their communities and the farmers in their area by providing assistance and supervision to the farmers based on their needs. Their farms function as demonstration sites for farmers and for those who would like to develop their land into a productive and resilient system.</p> <p>The third group is comprised of traditional farmers who have successfully transformed their lands or are transforming them into permaculture farms and have become advocates of permaculture in their own area and community, helping others in permaculture practice. Those more active have become leaders of their communities and have mobilised large numbers of fellow farmers against pesticides, monocropping and other unsustainable and harmful agricultural practices. Some of the farmers have connected with India’s growing organic sector and sell their products in local organic markets.</p> <p>The last group of actors are urbanites who do not have access to large swathes of land. This group practices permaculture in their urban gardens, kitchen gardens and rooftops and grows a significant amount of vegetables for daily use. Moreover, urban permaculture encompasses community organising in neighbourhoods, encouraging composting, water harvesting and waste management as well as transforming common and public land into sites of food production if not necessarily permaculture sites. </p> <p>Promotion and facilitation of permaculture design for buildings and private urban gardens is another task these actors encourage. Very often they work with landscape designers and architects who use natural materials in buildings. &nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, urban permaculture is strongly involved with permaculture education at schools and universities. Through workshops and seminars different issues and problems related to alternative agriculture, health and malnutrition are discussed. </p> <p>In their attempt to develop sustainable and healthy communities which are in harmony with nature, permaculture practitioners are joined by many other actors such as activists of organic or local food who would not necessarily identify with permaculture. They take part in similar events and gatherings, and may be involved in the same local struggles. Yet those who exclusively distinguish themselves as permaculture practitioners refer to two aspects of permaculture which makes it stand out from others. First, permaculture practitioners admire the holistic approach permaculture offers to life which is interwoven with the three ethics of people care, earth care and fair share. Second, for many who are in search of alternatives to the status quo, permaculture is practice-based and solution-oriented. This makes it a “flexible design system which can be practiced on different scales, by different people, with different needs and in different ecosystems” as one of the practitioners explained.</p> <h2><b>Transformative potential</b></h2> <p>The major transformative potential of permaculture in India lies in its ability to make small-scale farmers self-sufficient. Hence, it offers viable solutions to the very deep crisis farmers are facing in a country where more than 80% of agricultural holdings are under 2 ha.</p><p>In many ways permaculture incorporates several elements of India’s traditional farming methods which prevailed until the Green Revolution and were geared towards self-sufficiency rather than largescale production. Therefore, it is not difficult for many farmers to relate to it. Furthermore, a thorough permaculture farm meets farmers’ needs with regard to food, soil fertility, input costs and income. Permaculture farms offer food throughout the year, reduce waste and pests and keep the soil healthy and productive. As permaculture provides solutions for any environments many farmers from dry and unproductive areas have shown interest in permaculture techniques. Permaculture favours simple farming technologies and methods and therefore, farmers can avoid becoming dependent on loans and machines. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_8957.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/500209/IMG_8957.JPG" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460"/></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span>Instead, these nature-inspired techniques can be implemented by everyone and can be adapted to farmers’ particular environments and needs. In other words, permaculture aims at creating resiliency and autonomy for farmers by decreasing their cost and dependency on any external factor from seeds to pesticides and machines, and this has been the main attraction for many farmers. </p><p>Moreover, for many young and educated Indians, many of whom who have left (or are leaving) their jobs in the corporate sector to contribute to the growing permaculture movement, permaculture has become a life project which gives their personal lives meaning. Frustrated with the ever-growing consumer culture, socio-economic disparities and increasing malnutrition and health problems in their country, permaculture provides them with an alternative project which is not only self-fulfilling but also helps them contribute to the transformation of their communities in line with the ethical values of people care, earth care and fair share. These provide the foundations for a more sustainable and just society.&nbsp; </p> <div style="background-color: #f9f3ff; width: 100%; float: right; border-top: solid 3px #DAC2EA;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox"> <div style="margin-bottom: 8px; padding: 14px;" class="partnership-in-article-banner-infobox-inner"><span style="font-size: 1.2em; margin-bottom: 8px;"><b>How to cite:</b></span><br />Fadaee S. (2018) Harvesting hope: the permaculture movement in India, Open Democracy / ISA RC-47: Open Movements, 29 July. https://opendemocracy.net/simin-fadaee/harvesting-hope-permaculture-movement-in-india</div><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/openmovements"><img style="width: 460px;" src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner.jpg" /></a> </div><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/openmovements-banner-small_1.jpg" alt="" /></a></p><p>More from the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-partnerships/openmovements">openMovements</a> partnership.</p> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> India </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Economics </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> openIndia Transformation India Civil society Economics Ideas International politics openmovements Simin Fadaee Sun, 29 Jul 2018 18:08:26 +0000 Simin Fadaee 119053 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could shock tactics do more harm than good to the vegan cause? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-fittock/could-shock-tactics-do-more-harm-than-good-to-vegan-cause <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As veganism advances in popular culture it makes sense to shift the movement’s strategies from ‘horror’ to ‘hipster.’</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisFittock.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Inside Veganz, a vegan supermarket in Berlin. <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Veganz,_Schivelbeiner_Stra%C3%9Fe_34,_Berlin,_June_2012.jpg">Flickr/Josefine Stenudd via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC 1.0 Universal</a>.</p> <p>The slaughterhouse: as a locus of elemental horror it’s surely sited near the foot of hell. A grind-core kitchen of mechanical death; a bone-yard of plenty; an acre of flesh; a dead weight of muscle, blood and spine.</p> <p>This image is at once real and rhetorical, its cruel rationale demanding the type of language usually reserved for myth or nightmare yet actual and abiding, and even <a href="https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2018-07-02/countryfile-host-tom-heap-schools-should-visit-slaughterhouses-as-part-of-the-national-curriculum/">championed</a> by BBC <em>Countryfile</em> presenter Tom Heap as a necessary schoolyard excursion. The same image was also the visual focus of a recent workshop on veganism I attended at the <a href="https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/festival-of-ideas/food-thought/">Food for Thought Festival</a> held at Edge Hill University in the north west of England.</p> <p>Nine of us sat in a small lecture room—eight vegans and one vegetarian. Taken quickly and credibly through the health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet, it readily became apparent that the session’s centre of attention was animal advocacy. And so it came to pass.</p> <p>“You may wish to look away,” it was suggested before the videos rolled, “But nobody who views this sort of footage could fail to stop eating meat.”</p> <p>Ignoring the fact that everybody in the room <em>had</em> <em>already </em>stopped eating meat, the workshop became a site of collective penance in which to martyr ourselves for the sins of others. Look at this torture. Look at this heartache. The burden of the omnivores must be ours.</p> <p>Downstairs however, the atmosphere was different. The festival’s main space had been transformed into a busy vegan market, with vendors displaying everything from candles and confectionery to juices and junk food. The whole enterprise was fun, friendly and informative, full of aspiration and—perhaps most significantly—sheer ordinariness.</p> <p>Everything was vegan, but the aesthetic wasn’t something removed from everyday life. Don’t attend this market to be worthy but to be healthy seemed to be the message. Don’t purchase this candle to be ethical but because it smells great. In building support for veganism this seems sensible to me, and perhaps more effective as a strategy than the temporary shock value of images from the slaughterhouse.</p> <p>Can negative imagery play a decisive role in the movement’s maturation from fringe to mainstream, or does the advance of veganism in popular culture render such tactics irrelevant?</p> <p>The UK is reputedly home to over <a href="https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/veganism-skyrockets-to-7-of-uk-population-says-new-survey">three-and-a-half million vegans</a>—an increase of more than 500 per cent in just two years—while the Vegan Society reports that over half of all adults now follow <a href="https://www.vegansociety.com/whats-new/news/vegan-lifestyle-winning-hearts-and-minds-across-britain-survey-shows">vegan buying behaviour</a>. Britain’s biggest supermarkets are clamouring to catch up, with <a href="https://uk.kantar.com/consumer/shoppers/2018/is-2018-the-year-brits-go-vegan/">200 million more meat-free meals</a> eaten in 2017 than in the previous year, and an additional £30 million spent on meat-free products. Meanwhile <em><a href="https://veganuary.com/blog/a-record-breaking-veganuary-2018/">Veganuary</a></em> has seen the number of registered participants rise from 59,500 in 2017 to 168,500 in 2018. Google Trends showed a 525 per cent increase in searches for the term ‘vegan’ between January 2014 and January 2018.</p> <p>Clearly, the growth of vegan culture has been exponential, but the traditional provocation of graphic imagery may not be the primary cause. In 2018 for example, for the first time health and environmental concerns surpassed animal welfare as the top reasons for registering with <em>Veganuary</em>, while NeoReach’s top ten Vegan Influencers on Instagram now concern themselves exclusively with healthy living and environmentalism. Of the ten most subscribed-to vegan channels on YouTube, nine are food and lifestyle-based and the tenth (“The Dodo”) focuses on feel-good narratives.</p> <p>With around 40 per cent of vegans in the UK aged between 15 and 34, online and social media spaces are pivotal for information and advocacy, and it’s in these spaces that the movement must compete with lifestyle blogs, recipe websites, celebrity news, and <a href="https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/catsofinstagram/?hl=en">#catsofinstagram</a>. When the noted vegan actor and singer <a href="https://www.instagram.com/jaredleto/?hl=en">Jared Leto</a>’s Instagram count exceeds <a href="https://www.instagram.com/peta/?hl=en">PETA</a>’s by over nine million people, and the plant-based food channel <a href="https://www.facebook.com/bosh.tv/">BOSH!’s</a> Facebook followers outnumber <a href="https://www.facebook.com/farm.animals">Compassion in World Farming</a>’s by a factor of fifteen-to-one, it makes sense to shift veganism’s primary mode of evangelisation from shock to swank and from horror to hipster.</p> <p>Admittedly this view derogates the cultural message of explicit advocacy documentaries such as <a href="http://www.nationearth.com/"><em>Earthlings</em></a>. If a key component of veganism’s rise has been the co-option of mainstream media combined with digital availability, then Amazon and Netflix have bestowed a kind of cultural commonplace on the deployment of graphic imagery, with <a href="http://www.cowspiracy.com/"><em>Cowspiracy</em></a>, which interrogates the environmental impact of the animal agriculture industry, now as accessible as <em>Captain America</em>. Anecdotal evidence for these films as catalysts for change cannot be discounted.</p> <p>However, appraising the efficacy of either approach rigorously is fraught with difficulty. Barbara McDonald’s 2000 <a href="http://www.animalsandsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/mcdonald.pdf">study</a> into vegan adoption strategies found that emotional shocks could be effective catalytic experiences; but Marie Mika’s 2006 <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/4494944">research</a> into non-activists’ responses to shocking imagery cast doubt on its ability to persuade. Neither is there any systematic evidence to gauge the extent to which viewers of <em>Earthlings</em> are self-selecting or casual, already on the road to veganism or unwitting carnivores. Nor do we know how many of the 1.5 million followers of the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/bestofvegan/?hl=en">Best of Vegan</a> Instagram account are actually vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, omnivore, or something else entirely.</p> <p>It’s precisely this broadening out that vexes many vegans, who argue that veganism without a moral basis is not veganism at all—it’s just a diet instead of a doctrine; a lifestyle rather than a different way of living. Such faddish co-option gives the impression of a problem being solved while actually obscuring the perpetuation of cruelty against animals.</p> <p>Despite the rise of veganism in mainstream culture and the increasing availability of vegan products in our supermarkets, there is yet to be any significant drop in the consumption of animal products. In the UK for example, the <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/716200/slaughter-statsnotice-17may18.pdf">volume of meat production</a> for April 2018 rose year-on-year by 13 per cent for beef and 18 per cent for pig meat, while consumer spending across all meat purchases increased by one percentage point. Meanwhile, production of <a href="https://dairy.ahdb.org.uk/market-information/dairy-sales-consumption/cheese-market/#.W0g7r34na7O">milk and cheese </a>&nbsp;rose by around one per cent in 2017.</p> <p>This goes some way to explaining why many of the vegan faithful—as opposed to the greenhorn fashionistas of social media—continue to utilise shock advocacy tactics. There is both moral purity and ethical clarity in confronting scenes of suffering directly, a strategy that refuses to accept that compassion can be divorced from justice and sees Meatless Mondays and <em>Veganuary</em> as little more than welfarist enterprises that fail to foster any fundamental changes in attitudes and behaviour.&nbsp; By making veganism ‘too easy’ we may misappropriate its necessary righteousness.</p> <p>The problem with this critique is that pragmatism really matters: attitudes and behaviour transform to different beats. Behaviour change relies on more than information. It’s contingent on adjusting circumstances, removing barriers and offering incentives. It isn’t theoretical but practical and experiential. It is Meatless Mondays and healthy living and five hundred likes on Instagram. These things are perhaps the surest way to shift beliefs among less partisan members of the public.</p> <p>Despite the occasional <em>Earthlings</em> conversion story, the truth is that such Damascene moments are exceptional. Behaviour change is more commonly messy and incremental, with attitudinal change evolving in its wake. It is unrealistic to expect that one set of tactics will lead to a swift and total vegan adoption across the general population.</p> <p>A strategy of shock and awe can be seen as contrary to a strategy of incrementalism, but does this mean we should ignore the indecencies of tearing calves from their mothers, or slaughtering sentient, intelligent creatures by the truckload? Plainly not: there are multiple means to the same end, and these means rely heavily on social context and circumstances.</p> <p>In my case I didn’t feel I could leave that blood-soaked workshop at Edge Hill University and sell the vegan message successfully to the unconverted. But I could say ‘try this brownie’ and ‘smell this soap’ and most of all, enjoy the experience without having nightmares.</p> <p>The truth is I felt relieved that there were no carnivores in the room that day. For implicit in the counsel that ‘you may wish to look away’ is the invitation to disconnect. It sounded like a self-defeating premise, and what use is that? I left the event dispirited rather than energised. Horror had overshadowed hope.</p> <p>Rather than shock and awe we need normalisation and encouragement. Incrementalism is better than no change at all, even if it means softening our ideological stance. The careless imposition of imagery that is repulsive risks repelling many of those we want to attract to the vegan cause.</p> <p>There’s no need to turn away from action on the suffering of animals, but images of gothic horror can do more harm than good.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/janey-stephenson/you-don-t-have-to-be-embarrassed-to-be-vegan">You don’t have to be embarrassed to be vegan</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/gary-francione/it-s-time-to-reconsider-meaning-of-animal-welfare">It’s time to reconsider the meaning of ‘animal welfare’ </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sam-earle/how-should-we-feel-about-feelings-of-animals-we-eat">How should we feel about the feelings of the animals we eat?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Vegan politics and animal rights Chris Fittock Environment Culture Activism Sun, 29 Jul 2018 17:12:12 +0000 Chris Fittock 118942 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The rise of resistance and resilience to tear gas https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/anna-feigenbaum/rise-of-resistance-and-resilience-to-tear-gas <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Tear gas turns the square, the march and the public assembly into a toxic space.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This text is adapted from “<a href="https://www.versobooks.com/books/2109-tear-gas">Tear Gas: From the Battlefields of World War I to the Streets of Today</a>” and was first published in&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/resistance-tear-gas/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p><p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/AnnaFeigenbaum1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">A whirling sufi wearing a gas mask during the 2013 protests in Turkey in Gezi Park. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whirling_Sufi_Protester_wearing_gas_mask_in_Gezi_Park.jpg">Wikimedia/Azirlazarus</a>. <a title="Creative Commons" href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Creative_Commons">Creative Commons</a>&nbsp;<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported</a>&nbsp;license.</p> <p>All around the world people invent, adapt and share techniques for resilience and resistance to tear gas. In doing so, they care for each other. They transform this weapon into a collectivizing tool. There is a growing transnational solidarity of tear gas resilience, aided by social media and mobile technologies that help protesters circulate relief remedies, gas mask designs and grenade throwback techniques. Displaying what social movement researcher Gavin Grindon has called “grassroots cultural diplomacy,” these tips are tweeted from Greece to New York, from Palestine to Ferguson, from Egypt to Hong Kong.</p> <p>In places like Bahrain and Palestine, widespread and even daily use of tear gas has made this chemical weapon a part of life. As a way of exhibiting and collectively processing this trauma, people sometimes transform tear gas canisters into other objects. Acts of anger, grief and memorializing emerge as artistic practices. For example, in Bahrain, people designed a throne made out of tear gas canisters to signify their royal family’s role in the suppression of democracy protests.</p> <p>In Palestine, tear gas canisters have been used as Christmas tree ornaments to send a holiday message to the United States about the role of its tear gas and arms manufacturers in the violence of the Occupied Territories. In 2013, images of a Palestinian garden made out of plants potted in empty tear gas shells went viral, picked up by mainstream media outlets as an image of hope and quiet resistance. Yet, as Elias Nawawieh&nbsp;<a href="https://972mag.com/photos-what-the-press-missed-in-bilin-tear-gas-flower-garden/80129/">pointed out</a>&nbsp;in&nbsp;<em>+972 Magazine</em>, absent from the news stories, Twitter photos and Facebook posts was the grave built as the garden’s centerpiece. It bears a translucent photo of Bassem Abu Rahmah, who was killed by the IDF in 2009 after being shot in the chest at close range by a tear gas grenade.</p> <p>In 2013,&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/what-turkey-should-remind-us-about-tear-gas/">Occupy Gezi in Turkey</a>&nbsp;became a site of innovation, a place where people designed, adopted and adapted novel modes of resistance and resilience to tear gas. There was Ceyda Sungur, the woman in the red dress, pepper-sprayed at close range and turned into a movement icon. There were dancing ballerinas in whirling, brightly colored skirts that contrasted against the harshness of the full-cover gas masks they wore as they spun around. Penguins wore gas masks to symbolize the media’s failure to cover police violence, after television news stations attempted to block out news of the uprisings by screening a documentary about penguins instead of footage from the protests. Christian Gubar writes that “as both political commodities and stage props, goggles and gas masks were embraced for their eerie theatricality, speaking volumes to the grotesque banality of living under billows of noxious gas.”</p> <p>Rampant tear gas use on protesters and point-blank pepper-spray blasts are as common today as they were in the 1990s and early 2000s, with their use rapidly increasing across the Middle East and Eastern Africa. Like mobile video recording the decade before, the emergence of digital social media has meant that images of police violence against public demonstrators can circulate around the world in seconds. People directly hit with aerosol CS, pepper spray, and other tear gases take photos and videos that travel around Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, spreading stories often before the release of any official news reports. Such images can become movement icons.</p> <p>The 2011 Occupy movement in the United States was marked by a number of these tear-gassed iconic images. First there were the young women penned in plastic while unarmed and peacefully protesting. Images of this action went viral, picked up by social and mainstream media. Then there was retiree Dorli Rainey, who was sprayed directly in the face at Occupy Portland.</p> <p>These objects were as much about material reality as symbolism. Protesters in Gezi borrowed, translated, and reproduced instructions for making a gas mask out of a plastic bottle, and for using Maalox and other household ingredients as remedies for the painful effects of tear gas. Talcid Man appeared after a rumor spread that Talcid (a liquid medicine to relieve stomach inflammation) could help ease the effects of pepper spray. He emerged onsite, distributing the medicine as an embodied mobile care unit, and became a symbol of the movement’s resilience and generosity—depicted in stencils and sketches that circulated far beyond the occupied park.</p> <p><strong>Street medics.</strong></p> <p>In the gas-flooded streets, a variety of shops, sidewalk stands, ground-level flats and even a hotel became makeshift medical field stations, providing remedies and treatments to protesters. At these sites, health workers and those with basic first-aid skills converged. These medical volunteers often have a clearer and more accurate understanding of the real-world impact of “less lethals” than scientists running tests in sterile laboratories. It is here, under the tarpaulins of protest architecture and in the pop-up clinics, amid the chaos these weapons intentionally provoke, that the bruises and bleeding, the choking and vomiting, the inability to breathe, the concussions, and the paralysis are immediately felt.</p> <p>At the site of protest, pain is not a toxicity count or a threshold percentage. “Less lethal” is no longer a technical term but a vision of how much torment a body can take, of how close someone can come to death without dying. Measured in human experience, the medical field stations of protests can make visible the reality of riot control. Their ways of seeing and knowing medical injury can move us beyond the flames and smoke of media screens. They can provide far more accurate and detailed on-the-ground accounts than hospital records can. Their testimony can be mobilized to challenge the clinical trials produced by military-paid scientists.</p> <p><strong>Stopping shipments.</strong></p> <p>The export chains that enable the sales of less lethal weapons are also often targeted by campaigns seeking to intervene in what Amnesty International calls the “trade in torture.” In an act of defiance that ignited the unions in Egypt, customs worker Asma Mohammed, a member of her union’s women’s committee, refused to process a shipment of seven tons of tear gas from Combined Systems Inc. According to the War Resisters League, which honored her with its 2012 Peace Award, Mohammed recalled, “I said ‘No, I refuse—because I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s pain or death.’ So in solidarity with me, or with the cause, my co-workers said, ‘No, we’re not going to work on it either.’”</p> <p>In 2014, Bahrain Watch launched a #stoptheshipment campaign targeting Korean manufacturer Dae Kwang Chemical, which had contracted to supply more than a million canisters of tear gas to Bahrain—a country where more than 40 people have died and thousands more have been injured as a result of tear gas. Campaigners worked with Amnesty South Korea, Korean unions and local campaigns, as well as journalists at agenda-setting publications such as the&nbsp;<em>Financial Times</em>and&nbsp;<em>New York Times</em>. These longstanding tactics were combined with sophisticated, contemporary uses of social media, including a catchy, action-based hashtag, timed retweets and a campaign-specific website. They succeeded in pressuring the South Korean government into placing an embargo on tear gas to Bahrain, stopping the Dae Kwang shipment.</p> <p><strong>Engaging in direct action.</strong></p> <p>Another way to resist excessive uses of riot control and protest profiteering is engaging in direct actions that intervene at sites where the transnational training of police forces takes place.</p> <p>In October 2013, the Facing Tear Gas campaign brought together organizations to&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/2014/05/urban-shield-will-make-boston-safer/">protest against Urban Shield</a>, an annual SWAT team training session and security sales expo that promotes the use of military tactics for protest policing. The campaign built a coalition of more than 30 local groups in Oakland, including the Oscar Grant Foundation and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.</p> <p>The next year they came back more organized, more informed and determined to make a difference. They created online petitions, held dedicated coalition-building meetings with council members, adopted a preemptive press strategy, and staged a demonstration outside the expo site that drew hundreds to the streets. Their efforts paid off: The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office announced that Urban Shield would no longer be held at the Marriott, and Mayor Jean Quan said that the City of Oakland would not renew its contract with Urban Shield. This was a small victory in a much larger struggle to change policing policies and practices.</p> <p>A key part of the success of the Stop Urban Shield campaign is sometimes called “going for the low-hanging fruit.” Trying to counter police use of force at the level of government policy or even at the sites of corporate headquarters will likely be slow and require legal action. Expos and SWAT training events held in public, or in spaces that have some public access (like hotel lobbies), are often easier to reach. They offer a convergence site for demonstrations, architecturally and territorially. Likewise, as sites where policing products are sold and displayed, expos offer activists an opportunity to make the secretive world of the arms trade visible. As the wide circulation of Shane Bauer’s 2014&nbsp;<a href="https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/10/swat-warrior-cops-police-militarization-urban-shield/">video exposé</a>&nbsp;of Urban Shield for&nbsp;<em>Mother Jones</em>&nbsp;evidenced, in today’s journalistic world of fake news, seeing verified information is believing.</p> <p>In addition, social media has changed PR, making image management a two-way process where customers’ influence is bigger than ever before. This transition is expanding the field of image-based activism, as people find key image locations—moments and partnerships—that are ripe for intervention. While this can appear to be auxiliary, targeting theaters or museums sponsored by arms dealers hits PR teams where it hurts. In this case, by linking Urban Shield to ongoing events in Ferguson and to Oakland’s past cases of police brutality, particularly against young black men, the Stop Urban Shield coalition’s multi-ethnic, queer membership made it impossible for the city council to support the expo without further damaging the city’s image.</p> <p>Importantly, it was not just the act of showing up and demonstrating at an arms fair that had this effect: It was making a global struggle local through grassroots mobilization and antiracist critique. Similarly, in explicitly targeting the Marriott, a large international hotel chain popular with families, Stop Urban Shield forced the company to weigh the profits of running this policing event against the risks of tarnishing its image. Getting the Marriott to pull out of Oakland’s Urban Shield is no guarantee that it will stop hosting similar expos elsewhere. However, Stop Urban Shield’s success in Oakland reveals a key pressure point that could become the grounds for a sustained campaign to get for-profit policing out of the Marriott.</p> <p><strong>Resisting from within.</strong></p> <p>In 2013, after I began writing in the media about tear gas, I received an email from a police trainer working in Eastern Europe. “I hope you will continue to read my message after I confess [my job] … I worked in this field for 20 years, and I realized that the high-profile policing (using force against demonstrators) is a dead-end, and I campaign for the communication-based or low profile approach. Now I lead a police training center and hope I can use my influence to spread this idea.” The officer went on to ask for training materials that he might be able to translate for his trainees. Letters like this one serve as a much-needed reminder that other worlds are possible. They remind us that we often have more in common than we think.</p> <p>It is not an easy thing to question the principles and protocols that shape your job and the way it is done. While my focus has been on advocacy from the outside, there are also a number of ways you can help transform how police are trained from the inside. In doing so you are likely to upset others around you, and you will certainly upset all those private consultants and experts who make money off the Saturdays you spend in their classrooms. </p> <p>Yet, by speaking out from within, you will be joining the ranks of many officers who have fought against the way excessive force is taught, enacted, and then covered up and protected within police departments. You will be speaking out against the cycles of trauma that can produce and perpetuate unnecessary uses of force. Change cannot just be about better public relations; it must also come from the bravery of speaking out from your heart and mind against systems you know are broken or corrupt.</p> <p><strong>What now? What next?</strong></p> <p>The increasing deployment of tear gas around the world has led to more canister strikes to the head, more asphyxiation from grenades launched in enclosed spaces, more tear gas offensives coupled with rubber bullets and live ammunition. These violent deployments of chemical weapons continue to leave people dead, disfigured, and with chronic physical and mental health conditions. If the century-long medical history of modern tear gas shows us anything, it is the problem with for-profit science. When science is leveraged for the profit of the few instead of the protection and health of the many, all of society suffers. At the most basic level, people deserve to know more about the chemicals that can be used against them. This is an issue of public health that must be researched independently and disclosed in ways that allows people to clearly understand the effects.</p> <p>Tear gas must also be considered in its material form—as an object designed to torment people, to break their spirits, to cause physical and psychological damage. No amount of corporate public relations or safety guidelines can hide that foundational truth of chemical design. Tear gas is a weapon that polices the atmosphere and pollutes the very air we breathe. It turns the square, the march, the public assembly into a toxic space, taking away what is so often the last communication channel people have left to use. If the right to gather, to speak out, is to mean anything, then we must also have the right to do so in air we can breathe.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/protest/anna-feigenbaum/tear-gas">Tear gas and protest: &#039;there’s a vested interest in escalating force&#039;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/marijn-nieuwenhuis/tear-gas-at-eu-border">Tear gas at the EU’s border</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/julian-sayarer/twitter-and-tear-gas-on-power-and-fragility-of-networked-protest">Twitter and tear gas: on the power and fragility of networked protest</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Anna Feigenbaum Transformative nonviolence Activism Fri, 27 Jul 2018 01:08:18 +0000 Anna Feigenbaum 118184 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Democratic distress in Europe and the USA: a transatlantic malaise? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/saskia-brechenmacher/democratic-distress-in-europe-and-usa-transatlantic-malaise <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>What could Americans and Europeans learn from each other about the looming crisis of democracy?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SaskiaBrechenmacher.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Protest March, Trump not Welcome, 24 May 2017, Brussels North Station. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trump_2017-05-24_19-37-31_ILCE-6500_DSC01538_(34043775294).jpg">Flickr/miguel_discart_photos via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>Liberal democracy is floundering in places where it was long thought to be most securely established. In both Western Europe and the United States, polls suggest that <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/03/03/americans-have-lost-faith-in-institutions-thats-not-because-of-trump-or-fake-news/?utm_term=.5301119058b6">many</a> <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/09/22/europeans-have-lost-faith-in-their-governments-and-institutions-why-we-did-the-research/?utm_term=.b376b0fc527e">voters</a> have lost confidence in democratic institutions, while political polarization and illiberal parties appear to be on the rise. </p> <p>A striking feature of this crisis is the perception that many of the most pressing political challenges are shared between the US and Europe. This represents a significant change from earlier decades, when most observers saw America’s democratic shortcomings as rooted in uniquely American political syndromes distinct from Europe’s own political troubles. </p> <p>But is this new sense of a shared democratic malaise accurate? To what extent are current democratic challenges in Europe similar to those facing the USA? </p> <p>Neither Europe nor the US are homogenous political entities: democratic problems vary widely from region to region and country to country. Yet at the macro-level some crucial challenges are clearly shared. A crisis of trust in political institutions is one of them.</p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SaskiaFigure 1 (old 1).jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>In 2017, for example, only 12 percent of Americans <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/195716/americans-trust-political-leaders-public-new-lows.aspx">expressed</a> a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in Congress, down from 30 percent in 2004. In Europe, the 2017 Pew Global Attitudes Survey <a href="http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/10/16/globally-broad-support-for-representative-and-direct-democracy/">showed</a> alarmingly low levels of satisfaction with the functioning of democracy in France, Greece, Italy and Spain, as well as a large gap in trust in government between those who think the economy is doing well and those who don’t.</p> <p>On both sides of the Atlantic, political parties have borne the brunt of this discontent. Parties have long been one of the <a href="https://www.government.nl/documents/reports/2016/01/18/public-integrity-and-trust-in-europe">most disliked</a> political institutions, but recent economic crises and tensions over immigration have worsened this disconnect. In France, Greece, Italy, and Spain, for example, fewer than ten percent of people expressed trust in their country’s political parties in 2014. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SaskiaFigure 2 (old 3).jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>The most striking consequence of this decline in trust has been a well-documented <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01402382.2016.1181871?src=recsys&amp;journalCode=fwep20">surge</a> in support for self-proclaimed outsider movements and candidates. Not all of these anti-establishment forces are antidemocratic, and some have added new vitality to democratic competition. Yet others—like France’s <em>Front National</em> or Germany’s <em>Alternative für Deutschland</em>—clearly exhibit illiberal and xenophobic strands. And while European parliamentary systems are in some ways better suited to adapt to these changes than the US two-party system, greater party system fragmentation has also made it more difficult to form stable governments, thus causing more dysfunctional governance. Most recently, Germany was left without a government for six months as Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43276732">struggled</a> to form a viable governing coalition. </p> <p>Both the US and Europe are also grappling with an increasingly fragmented public sphere. Across many European democracies and in the United States, trust in traditional media outlets is already <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/09/why-do-americans-distrust-the-media/500252/">quite</a> <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/SPECIAL/surveyKy/2173">low</a>. In the US, this trend is <a href="https://kf-site-production.s3.amazonaws.com/publications/pdfs/000/000/242/original/KnightFoundation_AmericansViews_Client_Report_010917_Final_Updated.pdf">exacerbated</a> by heightened partisanship, with Republicans especially likely to have unfavorable views of mainstream news organizations.</p> <p>As more and more political discourse shifts online, domestic and foreign actors are also exploiting new platforms to sow distrust and undermine fact-based debate. For example, <a href="http://ide.mit.edu/sites/default/files/publications/2017%20IDE%20Research%20Brief%20False%20News.pdf">new research</a> confirms that false political news spreads more rapidly online than verified information, though the full implications for people’s political views remain poorly understood. And while Russian efforts to interfere in US and European elections and key referenda such as Brexit have received much attention, <a href="https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/05/23/russian-election-interference-europe-s-counter-to-fake-news-and-cyber-attacks-pub-76435">policy responses</a> remain fragmented. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SaskiaFigure 3 (old 6).jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>Despite these areas of convergence, the US faces some challenges that are more pressing than in Europe. Perhaps the most visible of these is partisan polarization. Polarization in today’s Congress is <a href="https://www.vox.com/cards/congressional-dysfunction/what-is-political-polarization">higher</a> than at any time since the late 1800s, and the share of Americans with highly negative views of the opposing party has <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/political-polarization-in-the-american-public/">more than doubled</a> since 1994. The causes of this trend are complex, harking back to sociopolitical changes that began in the 1960s. In practice, the result has been persistent legislative gridlock, as well as a greater <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/562246/how-democracies-die-by-steven-levitsky-and-daniel-ziblatt/9781524762933/">willingness</a> on both sides to disregard democratic norms, neglect congressional oversight, and play constitutional hardball for political gain. </p> <p>In addition to <em>horizontal </em>polarization between left and right, the US also struggles with exceptionally high levels of <em>vertical</em> polarization caused by <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/pikettys-inequality-story-in-six-charts">deepening</a> socioeconomic inequality. Weak institutional safeguards—particularly lax campaign finance and lobbying regulations—enable the highly privileged to exert disproportionate political influence. For example, <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/cycle_tots.php">outside spending</a> on presidential elections has skyrocketed from approximately $339.5 million in 2008 to $1.3 billion in 2016. Costly campaigns perpetuate the <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/news/hawkings/">overrepresentation</a> of wealthy politicians and corporate interests, while low-income citizens participate in politics at much <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/soc4.12390">lower rates</a>. While socioeconomic divides have also deepened in some European countries, the trend is most pronounced in the USA. </p> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SaskiaFigure 4 (old 9).jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p> <p>Lastly, the US electoral system suffers from intense partisan disagreements over voting and redistricting rules. Since 2010, 23 US states have <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/new-voting-restrictions-america">enacted</a> new laws that make it harder to vote, particularly for low-income voters. Not surprisingly, voter registration rates and election turnout in the US are consistently <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/">lower</a> than in Western Europe—despite declining <a href="https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/voter-turnout-trends-around-the-world.pdf">turnout trends</a> across many European democracies. Partisan gerrymandering has become another hotly contested issue, with critics arguing that allowing legislative majorities to redraw districts in their favor has undermined democratic competition and fair representation.</p> <p>However, European democracies also face some challenges that are more acute than in the USA. For example, European multiparty parliamentary systems—while more responsive to changes in political alignments—also provide more room for extremist and anti-pluralist political forces to gain political representation. In Hungary and Poland, democratically elected illiberal governments have already taken major steps to undermine independent civil society and the rule of law. While US President Donald Trump has displayed similarly illiberal instincts, he does not command control over an organized political movement, and at least to date, the US judiciary, civil society and much of the media have managed to exert a strong countervailing force.</p> <p>In addition, European democracies still struggle with the consequences of supranational integration: as more decision-making has moved from the national to the European level, efforts to boost citizen participation have not kept pace. Many voters <a href="https://www.euractiv.com/section/elections/news/record-60-of-europeans-tend-not-to-trust-eu/">feel disconnected</a> &nbsp;from political debates in Brussels, which provides ample room for Euroskeptic politicians to mobilize support.</p> <p>In sum, both Europe and the US are grappling with heightened levels of distrust in democratic institutions, alienation from establishment political actors, and unease about an increasingly fragmented public sphere that is vulnerable to polarization. Yet they are also contending with specific patterns of political dysfunction. </p> <p>Identifying such areas of political convergence and divergence opens the door to a bigger question: can American and European actors striving for democratic reform learn from each other, and if so, what would be the most fertile areas for such learning? To date, linkages between US and European activists, reformers and experts are still underdeveloped; there are few networks through which to share lessons about effective responses to democratic challenges. But since people on both sides of the Atlantic are looking for innovative ideas, a transatlantic lens could open the door to more productive partnerships and more effective action.</p> <p><em>This article is based on a longer report from the Carnegie Endowment which is <a href="https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/06/21/comparing-democratic-distress-in-united-states-and-europe-pub-76646">available here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/richard-youngs/can-non-western-democracy-help-to-foster-political-transformation">Can non-Western democracy help to foster political transformation? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/does-donald-trump-s-foreign-policy-actually-make-sense">Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/byung-chul-han/who-is-refugee">Who is a refugee?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Can Europe make it? Transformation Democracy Saskia Brechenmacher Trans-partisan politics Tue, 24 Jul 2018 20:02:21 +0000 Saskia Brechenmacher 118901 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Five ways to curb the power of corporations https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jeremy-lent/five-ways-to-curb-power-of-corporations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Of the world’s 100 largest economies, 69 are transnational businesses. How can we control—and ultimately transform them?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/jeremylent9.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Corporation by&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyphotographic.com/">Nick Youngson</a>.&nbsp;<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>&nbsp;<a href="http://alphastockimages.com/">Alpha Stock Images</a>.</p> <p>Transnational corporations have become the dominant force directing our world. Humanity is accelerating toward a precipice of overconsumption, and the large transnationals are the primary agents driving us there. We’re rapidly losing the earth’s <a href="http://www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm#.Wz6H5thKjUI">forests</a>, <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/living-planet-report-2016">animals</a>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/20/insectageddon-farming-catastrophe-climate-breakdown-insect-populations">insects</a>, <a href="http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2015-09-16/half-marine-life-lost-in-40-years/6779912">fish</a>, even the <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/">topsoil</a> we require to grow our crops. The earth is becoming denuded of its bounty as every living system ­is ransacked for resources—not to mention the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/mar/18/welcome-to-the-climate-emergency-youre-about-20-years-late">looming emergency</a> of climate breakdown. As a result, twenty thousand scientists have <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/12/19/what-will-it-really-take-to-avoid-collapse/">recently issued</a> a public warning to humanity, while prominent academics consider the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.2845">collapse of civilization</a> this century to be a serious threat.</p> <p>Changes in our personal consumption patterns are important, but are ultimately inconsequential compared with the impact of the transnationals that have come to dominate our global economic and political system. Of the world’s hundred largest economies, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/corporations-not-countries-dominate-the-list-of-the-world-s-biggest-economic-entities/">sixty-nine are now corporations</a>. Political parties in many of our so-called democracies are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/05/american-elections-battle-billionaires-civic-inequality">funded in large part</a> by billionaires, while government cabinet positions are <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2017/06/21/nearly-70-percent-trumps-picks-top-administration-jobs-have-corporate-ties">staffed by corporate executives</a>. International bodies setting global policy are <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/01/fossil-fuel-companies-undermining-paris-agreement-negotiations-report">infiltrated by corporate agents</a> so successful at entrenching corporate power that even those governments that still prioritize their people’s needs can no longer make autonomous decisions without <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/badge/globalsupercourt">risking crippling lawsuits</a> from the transnationals whose interests they threaten. Meanwhile, countries and cities compete with each other to beg their corporate overlords for investment dollars, even it means <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/series/big-tech-desperate-cities">undermining public services</a> and legal protections for their own populations. </p> <p>Environmental groups, recognizing where ultimate power resides, try to pressure corporations to improve practices through the threat of public shaming, with <a href="https://www.ran.org/campaigns">some appreciable results</a>. However, these attempts are necessarily constrained by the very structure of big corporations, which exist to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/maximizing-shareholder-value-the-goal-that-changed-corporate-america/2013/08/26/26e9ca8e-ed74-11e2-9008-61e94a7ea20d_story.html?utm_term=.bee6f69c0bd1">enrich their shareholders</a> regardless of the consequences. The common goal of corporations around the world is to monetize human activity and what’s left of nature’s abundance as rapidly and efficiently as possible. The overriding purpose of the world’s powerful institutional force is thus directly at odds with a flourishing earth or a viable future for humanity.</p> <p>Having spent the first part of my career in the heart of the capitalist system, consulting to major international banks and corporations, I developed a sense of the underlying forces that direct the centers of financial power. These ideas are my distillation of what I believe could be effective levers for humanity to take back some control from the increasing hegemony of corporations and billionaires. </p> <p>If we are to avoid disaster, our global economic system with its gaping inequities and deranged consumption will eventually need to dismantled and replaced by one <a href="http://davidkorten.org/home/ecological-civilization/">based on life-affirming principles</a> rather than wealth maximization. These suggestions, even in aggregate, wouldn’t do that. They represent mere tweaks in a system that ultimately needs to be completely transformed. But like a modest trim tab that helps <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-jon-farris/the-power-of-trimtabs-wha_b_5863520.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&amp;ir=Impact">redirect an ocean liner</a>, perhaps they could begin to curb the destructive force of transnationals and redirect their enormous power toward a more sustainable path. </p> <h2>1. Triple bottom line required for corporate charters.</h2> <p>A fundamental reason for the rapacious behavior of transnational corporations is their drive to maximize shareholder value above anything else. While there is <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/corporations-dont-have-to-maximize-profits">no explicit requirement</a> for this in the standard corporate charter, <a href="http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2012/05/case-law-on-the-fiduciary-duty-of-directors-to-maximize-the-wealth-of-corporate-shareholders.html">a century of case law</a> has entrenched this principle into the behavior of large corporations to the point that is has become the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/16/what-are-corporations-obligations-to-shareholders/a-duty-to-shareholder-value"><em>de facto</em> standard of operation</a>. As a result, if corporations were people, <a href="https://patternsofmeaning.com/2017/11/30/ai-has-already-taken-over-its-called-the-corporation/">they would be considered psychopaths</a>, utterly devoid of any caring for the harm they cause in the pursuit of their goals. </p> <p>It is easier, however, to change a corporation’s values than those of a human psychopath. All you need to do is change the legal basis of their charter. Instead of pursuing shareholder interests alone, they could be re-chartered with the explicit purpose of achieving a triple bottom line of social and environmental outcomes as well as financial—sometimes known as the “triple Ps” of people, planet, and profit.</p> <p>This alternative corporate value system is already available through chartering as a <a href="http://benefitcorp.net/">benefit corporation</a> or <a href="https://www.bcorporation.net/what-are-b-corps">certifying as a B-Corp</a>, and has been adopted by over 2,000 corporations in over fifty countries around the world—including <a href="http://www.bcorporation.net/become-a-b-corp/how-to-become-a-b-corp/multinationals-and-public-companies">several multibillion-dollar transnationals</a>.&nbsp; My proposal is that, instead of being a voluntary step taken by a select few, this would be a requirement for all corporations above a certain size.</p> <p>Overnight, the intrinsic character of the corporation would be transformed. Currently, CEOs and corporate boards are faced with continual pressure to grow their earnings at all cost. If they chose to make a humane decision, such as not to exploit a copper mine because of the consequent pollution, they could expect to be sued by shareholders, and possibly acquired by a more ruthless competitor. However, if they were legally required to achieve a triple bottom line, they would weigh up decisions in a more balanced way, as a rational person might. With the board responsible for all three bottom lines, they would have to consider the risk of being sued if they caused excessive pollution, or if they were callous to the needs of the communities where their plants were located. </p> <p>Currently, large corporations boast of their <a href="https://hbr.org/2015/01/the-truth-about-csr">corporate social responsibility</a> departments that are supposed to care about issues such as employment practices of their suppliers, sustainability of their raw materials, environmental impact of their packaging, gender balance and ethnic diversity in the workplace, and investments in local communities. Suddenly, they would have to stop paying mere lip service to these issues and take them as seriously as marketing costs, revenue growth and distribution channels—the things that CEOs actually worry about when they go home at night.</p> <h2>2. Charter renewal required every five years.</h2> <p>Changing the corporate charter requirement might not, however, be enough by itself to halt the relentless pursuit of profits by large transnationals. After all, executive pay packages consist of dollars rather than goodwill, and those dollars are linked directly to the share price, which is driven by shareholders’ expectation of financial returns. If they could get away with it, they might continue their rapacious practices, while trying harder to look like they’re meeting the other two bottom lines.</p> <p>That’s the reason for my second proposal, which is to require that corporations, which currently enjoy what’s known legally as a “<a href="https://smallbusiness.findlaw.com/incorporation-and-legal-structures/what-does-it-mean-that-corporations-have-perpetual-existence.html">perpetual existence</a>,” get their charters renewed every five years. If they failed to meet pre-established criteria on their two non-financial bottom lines, they would not be permitted to continue in business. Currently, if a company can’t meet its financial obligations, it’s forced into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and the value of its stock generally tanks to zero. Under my proposal, executives would also have to consider the risk of declaring “social bankruptcy” or “environmental bankruptcy” as they made their business decisions.</p> <p>As in currently regulated industries such as banking, the final step of losing their charter would not have to be immediate. If a corporation failed to meet its basic parameters, it could be given a warning, with a time period set to fix things. However, the mere threat of this happening would lead corporate executives to make sure they were well above the criteria required to keep their charter.</p> <p>Corporations are, of course, highly adept at using their financial resources to influence regulatory bodies through bribes and other mechanisms. To avoid this, panel members responsible to renew the charter would be representatives of the communities and ecosystems covered in the company’s scope of operations. Their task would be to weigh up the findings of experienced independent auditors on the company’s performance. To minimize corruption, the panel could be chosen by a process of random selection called <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition">sortition</a>, just a like a trial jury is chosen in our legal system. </p> <h2>3. Tax stock trades based on the length of the holding period.</h2> <p>Powerful as they are, even corporations have their masters: their shareholders. But don’t think of the typical shareholder as a Warren Buffet type, sitting back in his leather armchair perusing his holdings. Instead, corporate stocks are subject to the frenetic activity of financial markets, where split-second computer algorithms govern much of the trading. Investment firms spend hundreds of millions of dollars enhancing their computing networks to shave <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/04/everything-you-need-to-know-about-high-frequency-trading/360411/">as little as three milliseconds</a> off the timing of their trades. The hyper liquidity of global markets means that investors are obsessed with short-term market trends, which leads corporate CEOs, forever anxious about their stock price, to focus their time horizon on the next quarterly earnings report. Financial valuations apply discount rates to future earnings, which means that an investment paying off thirty years in the future can be worth as little as five percent of its future payoff in the present. Under these conditions, why would any CEO care about the state of the planet—or even their company—thirty years from now? </p> <p>During the 2016 US election campaign, Bernie Sanders proposed a <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/bernie-sanders-takes-it-t_b_7438808.html">Financial Transaction Tax</a> to pay for free college tuition, setting the rate at 0.1% of the transaction. In Europe, <a href="https://www.bna.com/eu-restart-financial-n57982091709/">discussions are under way</a> to apply a similar EU-wide tax. My proposal increases the tax rate by orders of magnitude, and differentiates based on the length of the stock holding. For example, the tax rate might look like this:</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 10% if the stock is held less than a day</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 5% if less than a year</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 3% if less than 10 years</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 1% if less than 20 years</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Zero if more than 20 years</p> <p>The effects of this single step would be enormous. The financial services industry would be transformed overnight. High frequency stock trading and same-day traders would disappear. The short-term orientation of the stock market would be replaced by carefully considered long-term investment decisions. A typical mutual fund, which in the US currently turns over its portfolio at <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/articles/mutualfund/09/mutual-fund-turnover-rate.asp">the rate of 130% a year</a>, could no longer afford to do so, and would have to change its investment decision-making based on sustainable returns. The tax could be waived for individuals experiencing a life-changing event or for simple hedging techniques where, for example, farmers need to lock in the price of their produce at a future time.</p> <p>The result would be a massive shift away from destructive extractive industries and toward sustainable businesses. For example, the fossil fuel industry is recognized to be vastly overvalued as a result of its “<a href="https://www.carbontracker.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Unburnable-Carbon-Full-rev2-1.pdf">unburnable carbon</a>”: the amount of fossil fuels in the ground that can never be burned if the world is to keep climate change below the 2° rise agreed at COP21 in Paris. A recent study estimates the overvaluation <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0182-1">as high as $4 trillion</a>. Investors, however, play a game of musical chairs, hoping they won’t be the ones left holding the stranded assets. This proposed transaction fee would incent them to dump fossil fuel investments immediately for opportunities in renewable energy with longer-term payoffs.</p> <h2>4. Cap on billionaire’s assets over $5 billion.</h2> <p>As corporations have taken increasing control of the global system, they have catapulted founding shareholders and their heirs to previously unimaginable pinnacles of wealth.&nbsp; The combined wealth of the world’s 2,754 billionaires is now $9.2 trillion, an amount that has <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billionaire">doubled in the past six years</a>, and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World%27s_Billionaires">increased tenfold</a> since the beginning of this century. The magnitude of this wealth is difficult to conceive. The top six billionaires <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/richest-men-in-the-world-2274065153.html">own as much</a> as the lower half of the entire world’s population. Taken together, the world’s billionaires would represent the third largest economy in the world, behind only China and the United States, with wealth equivalent to the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)">GDP of Germany and Japan</a> combined.</p> <p>There is no legitimate rationale for this outrageous concentration of such wealth in a few individuals. The argument that the founders of Microsoft, Amazon, or Facebook deserve such excessive wealth is no more valid than the belief of the ancient Egyptians in the divinity of their Pharaoh, or the Medieval notion of the divine right of kings. Mark Zuckerberg, aged 33, currently owns over $70 billion. If someone had singlehandedly miniaturized the transistor, developed the logic for computer code, invented the PC, and come up with the internet, then maybe they’d deserve having close to that amount as a reward for the value they created. But all Zuckerberg did was figure out a way to connect people up in a network that became a bit more popular than other networks, and because of the internet’s scale effects, he was the lucky one who hit the jackpot. Zuckerberg merely took advantage of all the other infrastructure work that led to the internet, painstakingly pieced together by millions of people over decades, which has been the real value creator for the world. </p> <p>In response to this excess, my proposal is to cap billionaires’ wealth at, say, $5 billion. It’s an arbitrary amount, still obscenely high and presumably more than enough for those who argue that people should receive ample financial rewards for success. Beyond a certain level of wealth, however, what drives these people is power and prestige. This could be tapped by requiring them to donate their excess wealth to a trust over which they could retain some influence. </p> <p>Such a trust, however, would need to have some strict criteria. While the billionaire could influence the trust’s priorities, he would not have control over its activities. The current Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, while a step in the right direction, is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_%26_Melinda_Gates_Foundation">under the total control</a> of the Gateses and Warren Buffet. The foundation set up with much fanfare by Mark Zuckerberg is viewed by experts as little more than <a href="http://fortune.com/2015/12/02/zuckerberg-charity/">a fancy tax dodge</a>. </p> <p>Each trust would need to avoid interference in a country’s political system and be dedicated to life-affirming activities, the scope of which could be based, for example, on the <a href="http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/">principles of the Earth Charter</a>, a framework for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society endorsed by over 6,000 organizations.</p> <p>The positive impact that these trillions of dollars could have on human and natural welfare would be prodigious. Imagine a country the size of Germany and Japan combined dedicated entirely to serving human and natural flourishing. It would have the resources to <a href="https://www.visionofearth.org/economics/ending-poverty/how-much-would-it-cost-to-end-extreme-poverty-in-the-world/">end extreme poverty</a>, increase regenerative agriculture to <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/regenerative-agriculture">over a billion acres</a> worldwide, educate <a href="https://www.globalpartnership.org/funding/education-costs-per-child">hundreds of millions of girls</a> through the Global South, disseminate <a href="https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/clean-cookstoves">up to a billion clean cookstoves</a>, and much, much more.</p> <p>The billionaires of the world, meanwhile, would continue to enjoy enormous wealth, and when they <a href="https://www.verdict.co.uk/wef-2018-davos-year-super-rich-dwarf-worlds-elite/">jet to Davos</a> to hobnob with other luminaries for the annual World Economic Forum, they could finally have something worthwhile to boast about.</p> <h2>5. Declare a crime of ecocide at the International Criminal Court.</h2> <p>Even with all these constraints, the powers of transnational corporations would remain enormous, and there would still be times when, through willful negligence or intentional bad faith, corporate action causes massive environmental damage. A UN study, which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/feb/18/worlds-top-firms-environmental-damage">remained unpublished</a>, found that the world’s largest companies had caused over $2 trillion of environmental damage, which would cost a third of their overall profits if they were forced to pay for it. Because of their extensive political influence, even their most damaging activities go unpunished. This leads to my final proposal: to declare a crime of ecocide at the <a href="http://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/explore/international-criminal-court">International Criminal Court</a> (ICC).</p> <p>The ICC is an independent judicial body set up by international treaty, the Rome Statute, in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, genocides, and crimes against humanity. While it continues to <a href="https://www.opencanada.org/features/despite-recent-achievements-many-challenges-ahead-international-criminal-court/">face serious challenges</a> to its enforcement powers, it has had the effect of putting tyrants everywhere on notice that they can no longer act with impunity. If ecocide—the loss, destruction, or severe damage of an ecosystem—were declared a crime by the ICC, this could have a similarly daunting effect on those corporate tyrants who currently know they can get away with devastating the world’s “sacrifice zones” where they are pillaging the earth’s resources for profit.</p> <p>There is a campaign, <a href="http://eradicatingecocide.com/">Eradicating Ecocide</a>, already under way to make this happen. A <a href="http://eradicatingecocide.com/the-law/the-model-law/">model law</a> has been drafted, and an <a href="https://www.missionlifeforce.org/">Earth Protectors Trust Fund</a> has been set up to permit common people everywhere to become legal Earth protectors. If a two-thirds majority of the Rome Statute signatories were to approve this as an amendment, it would become enforceable globally. Suddenly, corporate boards and CEOs everywhere would realize they are no longer above the law.</p> <p>There is a strange paradox to consider about these proposals.&nbsp; One the one hand, notice how limited they are in scope. Even if they were all implemented overnight, the global system would not be overturned. People would still go to work and get paid, food would still be on the shelves of the grocery store, the same governments would still be in power, and the internet would still work. The gaping structural inequities of our current world order would continue unabated, and we’d still be consuming far more than our planet can sustain. Ultimately, we need a complete transformation of our global system if our civilization is to survive intact through this century.</p> <p>On the other hand, it doesn’t take a political genius to realize that these ideas are so far from mainstream thinking that they have virtually no chance to be adopted any time soon. They would be considered too radical for even the most progressive mainstream politician to endorse. What does this tell us about our current political dialogue? To me, it suggests that our conversations are too severely constrained by what we’re “allowed” to think in terms of how our system works. We need to cast our gaze outside the norms that our billionaire-controlled mainstream media permits us to consider.</p> <p>Imagine a world where these ideas (or others like them) began to be seriously entertained. How would they even be enforced? The only way corporations could be brought to heel, or billionaires compelled to give up their excess billions, would be a concerted effort led by the United States in conjunction with the European Union, and joined by the preponderance of other countries. </p> <p>This, of course, could only happen if grassroots demand for these ideas spread so powerfully that politicians had to take notice. This is not such an unrealistic scenario, given the worldwide disavowal of the dominant capitalist model: most Europeans have a <a href="https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/02/23/british-people-view-socialism-more-favourably-capi/">higher opinion of socialism</a> than capitalism, and even in the US, the overwhelming majority see <a href="http://fortune.com/2015/11/03/majority-of-americans-dont-like-capitalism-yougov-poll/">big business as unethical and unfair</a>. </p> <p>Then, there is the potential <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/val-jon-farris/the-power-of-trimtabs-wha_b_5863520.html?utm_hp_ref=impact&amp;ir=Impact">“trim tab” effect</a> of adopting these ideas. Even though these proposals alone wouldn’t fundamentally transform our system in the way that’s needed, they might set changes in motion that could eventually take us there. There may be other ideas more effective than these, and of course each proposal contains within it complications that would need to be worked out carefully. However, my hope is that these ideas invite a new mode of political dialogue, along with a recognition that even in the darkest times, realistic pathways exist toward a thriving future for humanity and the natural world. </p> <p>When the Occupy movement failed to achieve its initial promise, many people pointed to its lack of specific demands as a reason for its demise. If and when the next radical grassroots movement emerges, which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/11/america-left-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-new-york-primary">may be sooner than you expect</a>, let’s make sure they have an array of ideas such as these in their quiver to focus public opinion on actual political deliverables. </p> <p>There are very few people who really want to see our civilization collapse. If these proposals eventually did get implemented, perhaps even the executives of the transnational corporations might sleep better at night, knowing that they can become part of the solution rather than a force of destruction.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/steven-pinker-s-ideas-are-fatally-flawed-these-eight-graphs-show-why">Steven Pinker’s ideas are fatally flawed. These eight graphs show why.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jeremy-lent/culture-shift-redirecting-humanity-s-path-to-flourishing-future">Culture shift: redirecting humanity’s path to a flourishing future</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/david-sogge/corporate-wax-nose">The corporate wax nose</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Jeremy Lent The role of money Economics Sun, 22 Jul 2018 20:53:05 +0000 Jeremy Lent 118859 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Real gender equality includes femininity (and the color pink) https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/anne-th-riault/real-gender-equality-includes-femininity-and-color-pink <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As feminist parents we tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, but what’s wrong with skirts and baby dolls?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/AnnTheriault.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images via YES! Magazine. All rights reserved.&nbsp;</p> <p>A few months ago, my 4-year-old son went to a classmate’s birthday. The party was superhero-themed and the loot bags were packed with cute little superhero trinkets, including temporary tattoos. One little girl, let’s call her Izzy, put hers on immediately.</p> <p>“LOOK,” Izzy yelled, running up to everyone in turn. “IRON MAN. SO COOL.”</p> <p>The other children and parents in attendance oohed and aahed over her forearm. Every single one of them showed their admiration and approval for her Iron Man tattoo.</p> <p>Later, as we parents were watching our cake-smeared kids run around in a sugar-induced frenzy, one of the other mothers turned to me and said, “Isn’t it funny that [your son] loves My Little Pony so much? I mean, he’s&nbsp;<em>such</em>&nbsp;a boy.”</p> <p>Not really knowing how to answer, I said, “I don’t think it’s funny. It’s a good show.”</p> <p>“Oh, sure,” she said. “It’s just that it’s so&nbsp;<em>girly</em>.”</p> <p>I’ve been thinking a lot about this episode, along with all the other weird remarks people have made about my kid’s love for all things Rainbow Dash. I’ve especially been thinking about them since reading sailor mercury’s wonderful post&nbsp;<a href="https://medium.com/@sailorhg/coding-like-a-girl-595b90791cce">Coding Like a Girl&nbsp;</a>on Medium. I’ve also been contemplating my own internal biases about women and how I view them within existing power structures. And while I know that I’m not saying anything huge or revolutionary here, I’m still going to go ahead and put it out there: We live in a culture that simultaneously claims to embrace the equality of men and women and at the same time seriously devalues femininity.</p> <p>Little girls are, for the most part, taught that women can be anything. This is a message that we try to instill in them from day one. However, what they aren’t taught is that people who dress, think, or act in a traditionally feminine manner can be anything. The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Like, sure you can be a girl and write code, but you can’t write code while wearing a dress. You can chair a meeting, but not while wearing sparkly hair clips. You can repair a bicycle, but not while wearing lipstick. Everyone knows that lipstick prevents people from being competent.</p> <p>The flip side of all of this is that we shame any boys (and, to a certain extent, girls) who participate in activities or behaviors that are seen as being more “feminine.” I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who think they’ve somehow failed at feminism because their daughters like lace and Barbie dolls; it’s much rarer to see the parent of a boy upset because his love of Batman and Star Wars doesn’t sufficiently challenge gender roles.</p> <p>This devaluation of femininity is why everyone was fine with Izzy’s Iron Man tattoo but balked at my son’s appreciation of My Little Pony. It’s less about enforcing rigidly defined gender roles on boys and girls and more about straight-up misogyny. Anything regarded as “feminine” is still seen by men and women alike as occupying a lower status.</p> <p>We see the devaluation of femininity play out in tons of different ways. For example, as sailor mercury mentions in her post, there’s the whole trope of “you throw/run/play like a girl,” not to mention the fact that “girl” is routinely used as an insult among boys and men. Women are advised to tone down their femininity—less ruffles, less makeup, less flashy jewelry, more dark suits with clean lines—if they want to be taken seriously at their jobs. And while the backlash against the hyper-gendering of little girls—the ubiquity of princess culture, puffy skirts, and a color palette that veers strongly toward pink—is very much needed, there is occasionally an anti-femme tone that creeps into the discourse.</p> <p>The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with pastel colors or fluffy little tutus; problems arise when we use these things to push certain gender expectations on girls. For example, Amazon sells a “<a href="http://www.amazon.ca/Fre-Childrens-Educational-Simulation-Medicine/dp/B00NMAR78I/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1426779423&amp;sr=8-7&amp;keywords=doctor+play+set">medical kit</a>”&nbsp;that comes in shades of pink and mauve, which is super sucky on one level because it sends the not-so-subtle message that girls need some kind of special girl equipment in order to be girl doctors. But on another level, there is nothing objectively wrong with a pink stethoscope. When people ask, “Why can’t girls just play with a regular doctor kit?” I always wonder why the pink kit can’t be the “regular” kit? I mean, I&nbsp;<em>know</em>&nbsp;why, but it’s frustrating to constantly see the more masculine-leaning version of any given toy being hailed as the status quo, while the feminine version is pooh-poohed as being silly and unnecessary.</p> <p>Gender equality doesn’t mean that everything has to be androgynous. It means that all the girly things we’ve been taught to have such disdain for should be seen as being just as good as all the masculine stuff we self-described patriarchy-hating folks continue to embrace. The way forward isn’t to teach girls to be more like boys—that’s just the same old patriarchal shit of privileging masculinity over femininity. Instead, we should be teaching&nbsp;<em>all</em>&nbsp;kids that wearing skirts and loving pink and wanting cuddly baby dolls are totally cool and fine ways to be. There’s nothing inherently bad about being femme; problems arise when we try to enforce femininity on people as a means of oppression.</p> <p>We feminists tell ourselves that we’re trying to break down the gender binary, which is, for sure, an admirable idea that should be tackled with enthusiasm. But as we move toward viewing gender as more of a spectrum, we need to make sure that spectrum includes the color pink.</p> <p><em>This article by Anne Thériault originally appeared on&nbsp;<a href="https://ravishly.com/2015/03/20/why-we-need-stop-devaluing-femininity" target="_self">Ravishly</a>&nbsp;and was republished with permission in <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/real-gender-equality-includes-femininity-and-the-color-pink-20180613?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180615&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180615+CID_cd0e50d8ab948866c92e475c998fd3bd&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=Real%20Gender%20Equali">YES! Magazine</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sofa-gradin/please-call-me-they">Please call me they</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/k-and-robot-hugs/what-if-we-thought-of-gender-like-ice-cream">What if we thought of gender like ice cream? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Anne Thériault Liberation Intersectionality Culture Thu, 19 Jul 2018 20:45:05 +0000 Anne Thériault 118782 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where next for the New Economy movement? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/eli-feghali/where-next-for-new-economy-movement <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">It’s not enough to create niche alternatives; we have to transform the architecture of the economic system.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="normal"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/EliFeghali2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ash-Lee Henderson, M Adams and Makani Themba speaking during the opening plenary of the CommonBound summit in St. Louis on June 22 2018. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/neweconomy/28331550017/in/album-72157698221471784/">Flickr/New Economy Coalition</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p class="normal">In late May of 2018, the Buffalo city council agreed to a strategic plan that gives residents on Buffalo’s East Side a meaningful voice in how their neighborhood will be developed. The council transferred up to 20 vacant lots to the <a href="https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/buffalo-common-council-paves-way-for-community-driven-development">Fruit Belt Community Land Trust</a>, a nonprofit that will manage the property and keep housing prices affordable for those who need it most. They also agreed to give nearby homeowners the option to buy other vacant parcels.</p> <p class="normal">This victory was the result of years of community organizing by local residents who were determined to take action in the face of the gentrification of their neighborhood. The long-term goal is “development without displacement,” attracting new jobs and building new housing but not at the expense of the existing residents who call the Fruit Belt home.</p> <p class="normal">The Fruit Belt Community Land Trust is just one of thousands of stories of people who are organizing to build what many call “economic alternatives.” But lots of people working on these “alternatives” in <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/new-economy-movement/">the US “new economy movement</a>” reject that framing because they aren’t interested in staying in the margins. Instead, their goal is to transform the system, not create a niche alternative for a small number of people. The new economy wants to be <em>the</em> economy, but how?</p> <p class="normal">Modern capitalism is resilient, and it has proven effective at incorporating revolutionary efforts into its logic. For example, the fair trade movement started with grand aspirations to radically transform the nature of global trade. Despite fair trade’s decades of tremendous growth and meaningful impact for several hundred thousand farmers and tens of thousands of artisans, global trade remains uneven and unfair. Nations with the most economic and military might set the rules of engagement, while producers and farmers in poorer nations have little leverage to fight back.</p> <p class="normal">Meanwhile you can find fair trade products in just about every grocery store in America. Modern capitalism absorbs these trends by passing on the cost to consumers as more expensive options in a sea of products. Chocolate bars with cacao organically farmed by cooperative worker-owner farmers earning a living wage? They cost five dollars at Whole Foods (which is to say, Amazon who own the chain). Chocolate bars produced using child labor, with palm oil harvested through the destruction of rainforest habitat? They can be bought for a dollar fifty by a gas station attendant working three minimum wage jobs to support her family.</p> <p class="normal">The fair trade story demonstrates that going mainstream is not enough. We have to build enough power to change the fundamental architecture of the economic system. Folks in the new economy movement use this principle of system change as a lens to evaluate potential strategies and policies. Take universal basic income (UBI)—a policy in which every person receives a monthly check from their government large enough to cover their basic needs. Although it’s an idea that can be traced back to the 16th century, UBI has gained traction in the past few years as societies consider the impact of advanced automation, a.k.a. robots taking our jobs.</p> <p class="normal">Supporters argue that UBI is needed to ensure that the masses have enough money to afford a middle-class lifestyle and businesses have enough customers to buy their products. In a future where it's cheaper to automate most jobs than hire a human being, the UBI is held up as a solution. It’s fascinating that this position is being debated on the left, right, and in-between.</p> <p class="normal">Conservative economist Milton Friedman argued for a version of UBI through a negative income tax as a replacement for state welfare. Mark Zuckerberg included it in his commencement speech at Harvard. Andrew Yang, a democratic candidate for president in 2020, has placed UBI at the center of his platform. “I’m a capitalist,” he <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/technology/his-2020-campaign-message-the-robots-are-coming.html?smid=tw-nytimesbusiness&amp;smtyp=cur">told the New York Times</a>, “and I believe that universal basic income is necessary for capitalism to continue.”</p> <p class="normal">However, the point is not to save capitalism but to usher in a new system that values the dignity of all human beings, no matter their income. Yes, automation is replacing many human jobs. It’s actually been happening for quite some time. The stakes just seem higher now because the social safety net has been decimated by years of disinvestment and the scarcity of good union jobs.</p> <p class="normal">The problem isn’t actually automation, it’s about who owns and controls technology. As many of UBI’s supporters on the left ask, what if the gains from technology weren’t captured by a small number of capitalists but the workers themselves? Without changing the ownership and governance of the economy we risk not changing much at all, even if UBI becomes a reality.</p> <p class="normal">The good news is that more and more people are thinking about exactly these questions. Six hundred of them met up in St. Louis in June 2018 for the New Economy Coalition’s <a href="https://commonbound.org/">CommonBound conference</a>. This summit, which happens every two years, brought together leaders within the new economy movement (more often called the solidarity economy or the social economy outside the US) including those working on cooperatives, community land trusts, non-extractive finance, energy democracy and participatory budgeting.</p> <p class="normal">The question we explored was simple: “how do we get to a new economy?” How exactly do we move forward with sophistication and seriousness to build the power necessary to take on the existing system? As Makani Themba, one of the conference’s plenary speakers put it, “It’s not just about how we build a new, parallel economy—it’s also about how we starve the beast which is the current one.”</p> <p class="normal">The conservative movement provides a kind of blueprint. While it may seem like the right wing takeover of the economy happened overnight, it’s actually been a multi-decade movement involving a complex ecosystem of groups and strategies. For example, the conservative overhaul of the Supreme Court (continuing just this week with Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh) is something that organized groups have been plotting <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/us/politics/supreme-court-conservatives-trump.html?hp&amp;action=click&amp;pgtype=Homepage&amp;clickSource=story-heading&amp;module=span-ab-lede-package-region&amp;region=top-news&amp;WT.nav=top-news">since the 1980s</a>. What will it take to advance a justice and liberation agenda with the same vigor and long-term planning?</p> <p class="normal">Many activists and community organizations are considering that question through networks like the <a href="https://neweconomy.net/">New Economy Coalition</a>, a network of more than 200 organizations in the US. At national and cross-sectoral conferences and within and across communities, groups are developing shared strategies because they know that no one organization is capable of ushering in a new economic system. It will require a much greater scale of coordination than we’ve previously achieved, taking new and bigger risks and contesting power in arenas we’ve tended to shy away from.</p> <p class="normal">Take policy for example. What would a new economy policy platform look like? We’ve already started work on this challenge, informed in part by recent efforts like <a href="https://policy.m4bl.org/platform/">the Movement for Black Lives platform</a> released in 2016. At the municipal-level, we’ve seen a number of significant developments in recent years including the rapid growth of participatory budgeting experiments across the US, and cities like New York which are investing millions of public dollars into the expansion of community land trusts.</p> <p class="normal">Nationally, there has been some positive momentum despite the adverse political conditions. In June 2018 a bill supporting worker ownership passed in the US Senate. This legislation will provide financial vehicles and significant incentives to help small businesses transition to employee-owned companies or cooperatives. A companion bill <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/2018/05/09/the-house-passes-a-bill-aimed-at-helping-employees-buy-out-their-employers/?noredirect=on&amp;utm_term=.82f07832cba9">passed the US House</a> in May and is expected to be signed into law soon.</p> <p class="normal">These policy victories could be a sign of the mass appeal of new economy values and ideas. That certainly seems to be the case in parts of UK politics, where the Labour party has adopted policies and narratives about democratizing the economy in their national party platform. This development was inspired in part by the success of the “<a href="https://thenextsystem.org/learn/stories/infographic-preston-model">Preston model</a>”—an economic development framework which gives priority to building an <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnXsteyfiUg&amp;feature=youtu.be">ecosystem of institutions that work together to build and circulate wealth within the community</a>. This model (named after the city of Preston where it’s been tested since around 2013) was itself inspired by a US experiment, the <a href="http://www.evgoh.com/">Evergreen Cooperatives</a> in Cleveland, Ohio, a network of worker cooperatives financed and supported by anchor institutions like hospitals and schools in the community.</p> <p class="normal">It remains to be seen whether the Preston model and its introduction in the Labour party platform will transform the UK’s economy at the scale many activists hope. Perhaps the same can be said about what’s happening in Buffalo and many other places in the USA. At CommonBound, Preston and Buffalo came together in a workshop about building bottom-up power to change the economic system. Hearing these and so many other stories, it’s hard to deny that momentum is building around the ideas and values of a new economy. Backed by grassroots organizing, this constitutes a legitimate cause for hope. <strong></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/eli-feghali/fixing-broken-economy">Fixing a broken economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sam-cossar-gilbert/five-ways-to-transform-our-economies">Five ways to transform our economies </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kate-raworth/seven-ways-to-think-like-21st-century-economist">Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Eli Feghali The role of money Economics Tue, 17 Jul 2018 19:51:05 +0000 Eli Feghali 118858 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Does Donald Trump’s foreign policy actually make sense? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ian-hughes/does-donald-trump-s-foreign-policy-actually-make-sense <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s entirely logical for narcissists to seek alliances with authoritarian leaders.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/IanHughes5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump meet in Hamburg, Germany on July 7 2017. Credit: <a href="http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/55006/photos">en.Kremlin.ru</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/">CC BY 4.0</a>.</p> <p>After leaving allies rattled at the NATO Summit in Brussels and dodging mass protests in the UK, Donald Trump is now traveling on to meet with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki—a meeting <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/10/politics/trump-putin-meeting/index.html">he has said</a> “may be the easiest of all.” Trump’s boorish behaviour in Brussels fits a now well-established pattern of attacks on democratic allies and praise for authoritarian leaders that has left the rest of the world struggling to make sense of his seemingly incomprehensible conduct. Viewed from the perspective of Trump’s possible mental state, however, his foreign policy makes perfect sense.</p> <p>From the beginning of his involvement in politics Trump’s behaviour has prompted questions about the state of his mental health. During the 2016 presidential election campaign, <a href="https://qz.com/871961/a-harvard-psychiatrist-wrote-to-obama-to-demand-a-psychiatric-evaluation-of-trump/">three psychiatrists wrote</a> to then-President Barack Obama warning that Trump’s “widely reported symptoms of mental instability—including &nbsp;grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality—lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office.”</p> <p>After Trump was sworn in as President, 27 psychologists and mental health professionals <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Case-Donald-Trump-Psychiatrists/dp/1250179459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1531128837&amp;sr=8-1&amp;keywords=the+dangerous+case+of+donald+trump%27+27+psychiatrists+assess">published a book</a> called “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” in which the authors expressed their collective professional opinion “that anyone as mentally unstable as this man simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency.”</p> <p>While a range of conditions have been mooted by mental health professionals as possible explanations for Trump’s disturbing behaviour, the condition that most concerns these psychiatrists is a disorder known as ‘<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ian-hughes/fire-and-fury-psychodrama-of-stable-genius">malignant narcissism</a>.’ This disorder combines extreme narcissistic behaviour and acute paranoia with the absence of conscience that is usually exhibited by psychopaths.</p> <p>One of the distinguishing traits of malignant narcissism, as the psychiatrists’ letter to President Obama noted, is a hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, which results in what is known as ‘narcissistic rage’ towards anyone who disagrees. &nbsp;When exhibited by someone in a position of power, this would manifest as a kind of fury towards one’s political opponents, the press and the courts, together with active measures to curtail their dissent.</p> <p>Individuals with acute paranoia are characterised by a worldview that sees other people as inherently untrustworthy, along with an unshakable conviction that these others are out to harm them. A paranoid leader would therefore recoil from alliances and seek to fortify their territory against internal and external threats. Leaders who combine both extreme narcissistic and paranoid traits characteristically hold deeply racist beliefs, viewing others unlike themselves as not only inferior but also as existential threats to this territory, or to ‘the nation’ and ‘our values.’</p> <p>A third feature of malignant narcissism is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the condition, namely an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Leaders with this condition tend to view themselves as world figures capable of bending history to their will, and the blueprint they have in mind for reshaping the world is typically a dangerously simplistic, narcissistic and psychopathic vision. </p> <p><a href="https://disorderedworld.com/2013/04/01/hitler/">Adolf Hitler’s narcissistic fantasy</a>, as laid out in <em>Mein Kampf</em> and later enacted in the Second World War, saw the ‘true’ international order as one where ‘pure’ nations fought to the death. In his view, war was a means by which the strongest nations on earth assumed their rightful position as overlords. In preparation for such a war, nations must ‘purify’ themselves of their ‘polluting elements’—whether Jews, homosexuals, the disabled or ‘inferior’ races. Hitler’s ambition was to conquer Europe and eliminate the ‘inferior’ populations of Russia and Eastern Europe, while retaining a minority as slave labour, becoming ‘Emperor of all Europe’ in the process. In pursuit of this fantasy, tens of millions of people were killed.</p> <p>Trump is not Hitler, but the debate on his mental health must consider the possibility that he too harbours a terrifying narcissistic fantasy. The outline of that fantasy is beginning to become clear: </p> <p>That the world is a dangerous and threatening place; that alliances are treacherous; and that only strong nations standing alone can survive. That in this dangerous world the ‘superior’ white Christian civilisation is existentially threatened by ‘inferior’ civilisations, chiefly non-white people, Islam and China. And that under these circumstances, the US must ‘purify’ itself, build up its military strength and seek new alliances with ‘strong’ powers in place of the ‘weak’ nations with which it is currently aligned. </p> <p>That America must therefore seek the dissolution of its alliances with NATO and its small East Asian allies, along with the breakup of the European Union, and form a new and stronger alliance with white Christian Russia. And that an alliance of the US and Russia, which would command 92 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, would be unassailable in the coming confrontation with Islam and China. In this narcissistic fantasy, Donald Trump would become ‘Emperor of the World.’ But while this may be a fantasy there’s a definite logic to it, albeit one that is distorted and pathological. </p> <p>Malignant narcissism is a dangerous mental disorder. In their quest for and exercise of power, the malignant narcissist’s greatest weapon is the fact that psychologically healthy people are not able to believe that any individual could harbour such insane ideas. But our tendency to dismiss the unthinkable without serious consideration leaves us without a frame of reference to interpret and address the malignant narcissist as they relentlessly pursue objectives that are clear and consistent. Our refusal to think the unthinkable leaves us confused, disoriented and unable to resist effectively.</p> <p>History clearly shows how extreme the danger from malignant narcissistic leaders can be. Tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin and Mao each displayed traits associated with psychopathy, extreme narcissism and acute paranoia. The lethal mixture that each of these leaders displayed in terms of their total disregard for human life, their pathological paranoia, their narcissistic inability to doubt their own beliefs, and the pathological fantasies that propelled them, were significant factors that led to the Holocaust, the Gulag, and Mao’s Great Famine.</p> <p>If, as it appears, Trump came to Europe to undermine NATO and align the US more closely with Russia, we urgently need to begin to think the unthinkable, before the unthinkable happens again. The NATO Summit and Trump’s meeting with Putin should mark a turning point in the Republican Party’s support for this dangerous President. Recognising that a distorted logic may be driving Trump’s every decision should unite democrats on both sides of the aisle to curb his actions and remove him lawfully from power. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/fire-and-fury-psychodrama-of-stable-genius">Fire and fury: the psychodrama of a very stable genius</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/demons-and-angels-strongman-leaders-and-social-violence">Demons and angels: strongman leaders and social violence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/ian-hughes/real-clash-of-civilisations">The real clash of civilisations</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Ian Hughes Care Sun, 15 Jul 2018 17:12:09 +0000 Ian Hughes 118857 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Remembering Dorothy Cotton, freedom educator https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/lucas-johnson/remembering-dorothy-cotton-freedom-educator <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We need to believe ourselves capable of something greater than the dehumanizing roles our society has given us.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This article was first published on <a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/dorothy-cotton-movement-educator-democracy-freedom/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p><p><em><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LucasJohnson.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></em></p> <p class="image-caption">Dorothy Cotton was the director of education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the Martin Luther King years<em>. </em>Credit: Twitter/@natcivilrightsmuseum. All rights reserved.</p> <p>On June 10 2018, the world lost another veteran of the 20th century struggles for freedom and democracy. Dorothy Cotton, director of education for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, or SCLC, when it was led by Martin Luther King Jr., passed away at the age of 88.</p> <p>As an invaluable member of a legendary team of preachers and organizers, she was one of the few women at SCLC to have served in a senior leadership position. Amid the efforts to register black voters in the segregated South, SCLC came to realize that registration was not enough for a population that had been disenfranchised for centuries. Cotton wanted people to understand the mechanisms of a government that had never really represented them or their interests and, ultimately, make that government their own—a process that would involve much more than voting.</p> <p>She devoted herself to this work in the 1960s, ensuring that black people were taught black history and lessons important to economic empowerment, alongside classes on the constitution and ways to pass literacy tests. After the movement years, she went on to become the director of student activities at Cornell University and, among other things, supported students who were organizing in solidarity with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.</p> <p>I didn’t meet Dorothy until long after she retired from Cornell. In 2012,&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/remembering-vincent-harding-enduring-veteran-hope/">Vincent Harding</a>&nbsp;had asked me to join a historic delegation to Palestine that was being organized by the Dorothy Cotton Institute. I was uneasy about joining the delegation—which was mainly veterans of the black freedom struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s—but eventually agreed.</p> <p>It was a tremendous honor to be among such a remarkable group. Led by Cotton and Harding, the delegation was, in part, a testament to her commitment to education. Even before leaving, we read, discussed and shared insights. Since the delegation was composed mostly of African Americans and Jews, we delved into the complicated history of relationships between the two groups in the United States. But that was just one part of the journey we undertook together.</p> <p>I learned an incredible amount on that delegation, and I owe Dorothy a great deal for it. Perhaps one of the most significant lessons was one I didn’t notice I was even learning. Dorothy would use movement to push us forward during the more difficult moments of the delegation. She was modeling for me, and the rest of us, the role of music in the movement. She would sing because we needed it and call us to song because she needed it.</p> <p>I had learned about the important role of music in the movement before—that it gave strength and courage to weary and sometimes frightened marchers. I knew of the power of song, but the demonstrations of my generation had more chants than songs. To experience Dorothy Cotton leading us all in song, in an effort to renew our souls on a hot and exhausting day, is among the greatest blessings of my life.</p> <p>We sang often during the trip. I don’t recall exactly when we began, but there was a notable moment for me in the West Bank, after our group of travelers had been listening all day to the painful stories of the occupation. We had heard of the destruction of homes, the stories of beatings, brutality and unequal treatment under the law. The truth of the occupation of Palestine is difficult for anyone to hear and see, much less a group of people who witnessed and survived similar treatment in the segregated United States.</p> <p>Our bus had stopped in front of the “separation barrier,” which interrupts the ancient route of the Jericho Road. We had gotten off to see the tear gas canisters marked “Made in the U.S.A.” The canisters added the burden of our complicity to the weight of all that we had seen and heard. In my memory, we were quite silent when we returned to the bus, and it was Dorothy Cotton’s singing that broke the silence. “Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumblin down.” </p> <p>It seemed at once an expression of lament and a defiant call to hope. The song represented a strange juxtaposition of time: the story of the ancient Israelites, carried in a song composed by our ancestors while they were enslaved, being sung in a location closer to the original story, but at a time far removed.</p> <p>Palestine in 2012 was also quite far from the movement years of the 1960’s. But the lessons Dorothy Cotton, Septima Clark and others involved in SCLC’s Citizen Education Program could be felt in that moment. They understood the importance of vigilance in the struggle ahead. Then, as much as now, in order to transform the world, we have to see ourselves and each other differently. We will need to believe ourselves capable of something more than the dehumanizing roles our society has given us. We have to look beyond the caricatures of ourselves, caricatures that we are so often tempted to become.</p> <p>In 1960, that meant that African Americans needed to free ourselves of the beliefs we internalized about our own inferiority, our own criminality. This was the importance of black history in the citizenship education workshops. The lies told about us for centuries were so pervasive and so penetrating that even if they had stopped 50 years ago, the struggle to free ourselves from them would still be necessary.</p> <p>For all of us in this country, and most especially for white Americans, our task was and still is to free ourselves of the corrosive myth of white supremacy — a myth that has touched every fabric of American life from local economic structures to foreign policy. It is a myth that so distorts one’s sense of self that it has the power to suppress empathy, perhaps the key component of our humanity.</p> <p>We know today, as clear as ever, that this myth is not easily defeated. This was the vigilance for which Dorothy and others prepared us. They knew democracy, equality and freedom would not be secured by the right to vote. To have considered this and prepared for it at a time when people were being killed for such efforts is a testament to the remarkable foresight and tenacity within the movement.</p> <p>Dorothy’s vigilance and commitment to freedom is what inspired her to travel to Palestine while in her 80s. She was unsatisfied with the official narrative of events. Through the pain of what we saw, the difficult conversations we had upon our return and the relationships we risked to tell the truth, she wrestled alongside us. Dorothy demonstrated a consistency of courage, even at a time when she could have rested on her well-deserved laurels. She modeled a life dedicated to the destruction of walls that divide us, and she was anchored by the belief of who we could become.</p> <p>I will remember her and celebrate her life not only because of who she was in the 1960’s—and the&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/why-civil-rights-movement-veterans-didnt-fail-us/">sacrifices of her generation</a>&nbsp;that made my life possible—but also because of all she continued to be. She taught us how to be a citizen and how to be more fully human, even until the end.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/welcome-to-transformation-0">Welcome to Transformation </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/where-are-all-leaders">Where are all the leaders?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Lucas Johnson Transformative nonviolence Activism Thu, 12 Jul 2018 20:50:32 +0000 Lucas Johnson 118780 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Who is a refugee? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/byung-chul-han/who-is-refugee <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>I would like nothing better than to flee to a dreamland again, a hospitable country in which I can fully be a patriot again, a lover of the country. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ByungChulHan.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Demo "Gleiche Rechte für alle" (Refugee-Solidaritätsdemo) am 16. Februar 2013 in Wien. Credit: <a title="Haeferl" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Haeferl">Haeferl</a> via <a href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/13/2013-02-16_-_Wien_-_Demo_Gleiche_Rechte_f%C3%BCr_alle_%28Refugee-Solidarit%C3%A4tsdemo%29_-_Refugees_are_human_beings.jpg/1024px-2013-02-16_-_Wien_-_Demo_Gleiche_Rechte_f%C3%BCr_alle_%28Refugee-Soli">Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>.</p> <p>“We Refugees” is the title of <a href="http://www.arendtcenter.it/en/2016/10/11/hannah-arendt-we-refugees-1943/">an essay by Hannah Arendt</a> that was published in 1943 in <em>The Menorah Journal.</em> There, in a refreshing manner, she abandons the conventional concept of the refugee. She writes:</p> <blockquote><p>“A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term ‘refugee’ has changed. Now ‘refugees’ are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees.”</p></blockquote> <p>Arendt, then, will describe herself not as a ‘refugee’ but as a ‘newcomer’ or ‘immigrant.’ Here Arendt is imagining an entirely new figure of the refugee, perhaps one that is yet to come. This refugee is simply someone who goes to a new country in the expectation of a better life. Arendt describes the figure of the ‘optimistic refugee’ as follows:</p> <blockquote><p>“The more optimistic among us would even add that their whole former life had been passed in a kind of unconscious exile and only their new country now taught them what a home really looks like. [...] after a year optimists are convinced they speak English as well as their mother tongue; and after two years they swear solemnly that they speak English better than any other language—their German is a language they barely remember.”</p></blockquote> <p>In order to forget, this species of refugee avoids any reference to the concentration and internment camps, as this would make them ‘pessimists’. Arendt quotes the words of a fellow countryman who had barely arrived in France before founding what were known as ‘assimilation societies:’ “We were good Germans in Germany and therefore we shall be good Frenchmen in France.” The ideal immigrant, Arendt argues, is like “a woman of tidy size [who is] delighted with every new dress that promises to give her the desired waistline.”</p> <p><strong>First, the painful social isolation.</strong></p> <p>In Hannah Arendt’s terms, I was an optimistic refugee myself. I wanted to live a new life in a new country that was impossible for me in my home country. The expectations of my social environment and its conventional structures would not have allowed me to live and even think differently, radically differently. I was twenty-two at the time. After studying metallurgy in Korea I wanted to study philosophy, literature and theology in Germany.</p> <p>On the campus of my university in Seoul I often gazed at the sky, thinking to myself that it was too beautiful for me to want to spend my entire life as a metallurgist beneath that sky. I dreamt of a better, more beautiful life. I wanted to reflect philosophically on life. I fled to Germany and arrived there, twenty-two years old, penniless and devoid of language; at the time I hardly spoke any German.</p> <p>At the beginning, like every optimistic refugee, I was confronted with social isolation. It is painful. This makes me feel deeply the pain of today’s refugees. I suffer with them. With my poor German, it was hard to integrate into the social structures I encountered. Inadequate language skills were the main obstacle to settling in as I sought to do (I am reluctant to speak of so-called integration). Then love proved to be the best strategy for settling in.</p> <p>A German woman who loved me, I thought simple-mindedly, would listen to me and quickly teach me the German language in order to understand what I thought of her, what feelings I had towards her and so forth. I was greedy for every new German word. I wanted German; my ambition was to speak like the Germans.</p> <p>We know that <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willy_Brandt">Willy Brandt</a> also followed this strategy: within a few months of exile he was writing articles and speeches in Norwegian. While living under the pseudonym of Gunnar Gaasland in the Berlin underground he spoke German with a Norwegian accent. Clearly it was not only his talent but also his greed for language, in fact his greed for love, that accelerated his acquisition of a foreign language to such an extent.</p> <p>One year after arriving in Germany I believed, like the optimistic refugee described by Hannah Arendt, that I spoke German better than any other language. For Arendt, patriotism too is purely a ‘matter of practice’. The ‘ideal immigrant’ is one who “immediately discovers and loves the native mountains.” They are a patriot, a lover of the country. They love the country in which they have set up a new life. I too love this country. One day I adopted German citizenship and gave up my Korean pass in exchange; now I am a German.</p> <p>Meanwhile I speak German better than my mother tongue, which has literally been reduced to a mere mother tongue: I only speak Korean to my mother. My mother tongue has become foreign to me. I love Germany. I would even call myself a patriot, a country-lover. I am certainly more patriotic than <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frauke_Petry">Frauke Petry</a>, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Gauland">Alexander Gauland</a> and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B6rn_H%C3%B6cke">Björn Höcke</a> put together. With their irresponsible populism they degrade Germany, my country, which has always been a very hospitable country towards me.</p> <p><strong>What does it mean to be a good citizen?</strong></p> <p>Someone who was a good citizen in their native country will also be a good citizen in the new one. We should continue to welcome these ‘newcomers’. Someone who was already a criminal in their native country, like Tunisian-born &nbsp;<a href="https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/europe/anis-amri-berlin-christmas-market/index.html">Anis Amri</a>, the perpetrator of the 2016 Berlin attack, will remain a criminal in the new one. We will turn them away. But we should offer the newcomers an environment in which they can become good citizens.</p> <p>But what does it mean to be a good citizen? I am the second Korean to hold a professorship at Berlin’s University of the Arts; the first Korean professor was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isang_Yun">Isang Yun</a>. He was a significant composer. He was a political person. In the 1960s he protested vehemently against the military dictatorship that was ruling South Korea. He was arrested by the South Korean secret service in 1967, in the middle of Germany.</p> <p>In Seoul he was sentenced to life imprisonment. After being released early he returned to Germany, now stripped of his citizenship by the South Korean regime. He became a refugee and was naturalized in Germany. But perhaps he too, like Hannah Arendt, would deny that he was a refugee. Like Arendt, he would have said, ‘I am a good, optimistic immigrant’. His German was excellent.</p> <p><strong>I would like nothing better than another dreamland.</strong></p> <p>A good citizen is good on the basis of their mentality. They share moral values like liberty, fraternity and justice. Their actions against the ruling political system may be criminalized by it; but because of their moral mentality (in the Kantian sense) they are still a good citizen and also a patriot, someone who loves the country and its people.</p> <p>In the last years of his life, Isang Yun despaired at the open eruptions of xenophobia in the reunified Germany. He was distressed by images of the crowd applauding in front of the firebombed residence for former Vietnamese contract workers in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rostock-Lichtenhagen_riots">Rostock-Lichenhagen</a>. And he was disappointed, for he loved Germany. I too consider the events in Rostock a pogrom.</p> <p>At the moment I am unsettled by the resurgence of xenophobia in response to large numbers of refugees, both in Germany and other European countries. I would like nothing better than to flee to a dreamland again, a hospitable country in which I can fully be a patriot again, a lover of the country.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/optimismus-der-fremden-wer-ist-fluechtling-14718649.html">Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung</a>. It has been translated by Wieland Hoban.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/byung-chul-han/why-revolution-is-no-longer-possible">Why revolution is no longer possible</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/how-politicians-and-media-made-us-hate-immigrants">How politicians and the media made us hate immigrants </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/lena-kainz-rebecca-buxton/all-refugees-want-to-go-home-right">All refugees want to go home. Right?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation refugees Byung-Chul Han Culture Care Tue, 10 Jul 2018 19:50:23 +0000 Byung-Chul Han 118733 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Will robots take care of grandma? Maybe, if she's rich https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/moriah-mcarthur/will-robots-take-care-of-grandma-maybe-if-shes-rich <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Some are heralding new technologies as the key to managing the so-called ‘silver tsunami.’ But there are significant privacy, labour and equality concerns.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/565074/image2(1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/565074/image2(1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A robot at the 2018 Elderly Care fair in Germany. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Across suburban America, cheerful advertisements and roadside billboards market idyllic retirement communities and state-of-the-art facilities where grandma can live out her last days in comfort and peace. In Japan, adorable <a href="http://www.parorobots.com/">robotic seals</a> are sold as companions for lonely seniors. A recent <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ln9dGdIxTCE">Amazon ad</a> shows grandma overcome with emotion, video-chatting with distant relatives.</p><p dir="ltr">With the world’s <a href="http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/ageing/">population ageing at an unprecedented rate</a>, the message seems clear: the elders are coming, and so are opportunities to profit from them. Though, of course, the realities of ageing and elder care are more complex than such upbeat images would suggest. Many families simply cannot afford the assistance their loved ones need to age with dignity.</p><p dir="ltr">At home, the burden of unpaid care work falls <a href="https://www.caregiver.org/women-and-caregiving-facts-and-figures">disproportionately on women</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;who are also overrepresented in paid care jobs, which tend to be low-wage and part-time with <a href="https://phinational.org/survey-home-care-worker-turnover-topped-60-percent-in-2014/">high turnover rates</a>. Without sufficient support, elders may struggle even more with physical and cognitive decline and reduced autonomy. </p><p dir="ltr">How to manage the so-called ‘silver tsunami’ is thus a huge contemporary social and economic conundrum. For some, the answer lies in the application of new technologies&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;from artificial intelligence to <a href="https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2016/12/to-help-residents-with-dementia-one-japanese-city-has-a-high-tech-fix/511343/">GPS trackers</a>. But rosy visions of how new technologies will end isolation in old age, ease burdens on caregivers, and improve quality of life, must be treated with appropriate caution.</p><p dir="ltr">There are significant privacy, labour and equality concerns with this approach that can’t be blindly accepted as the price of modernity.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/565074/image3.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/565074/image3.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A stuffed robot seal on the table at a care home for dementia patients. Photo: David Hecker/DPA/PA Images.</span></span></span><a href="https://iwpr.org/get-involved/events/will-robots-take-care-grandma-technology-elder-care-improving-quality-jobs-elder-care-workforce/">“Will the robots take care of grandma?”</a> was the subject of a recent Washington DC discussion at the AFL-CIO trade union headquarters where speakers discussed how assistive technologies (think smart devices) rather than automation (robots) could improve care for both elders and care workers.</p><p dir="ltr">But, they noted, care workers’ salaries, hours and benefits must also advance in order for the benefits of new technologies to be fully realised.</p><p dir="ltr">This is a crucial point. Care work is often considered ‘low-skilled’ with these jobs paying less and providing fewer hours and benefits than <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ppar/article-abstract/27/3/88/4085586">other low-wage employment</a>&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;and it’s far from a foregone conclusion that technological advances will mean <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/dec/08/could-automation-make-life-worse-for-women">better wages and working conditions</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">New innovations could make difficult and undervalued care work jobs easier and more desirable&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;for those who can access them. New tools could ease physical demands on care workers (who may frequently have to lift clients) and greater tech literacy requirements could make these jobs more prestigious.</p><p dir="ltr">Increased automation has been linked to <a href="http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_FOJ_Executive_Summary_GenderGap.pdf">job losses</a> in other sectors like clerical work that are also dominated by women. But it seems unlikely to make home health aides or nursing assistants obsolete in the fast-growing US elder care industry, set to expand further as baby boomers retire.</p><p dir="ltr">More vulnerable workers, in terms of their education and skills, may not be able to keep up with new innovations, however. Increasing emphasis on care workers’ tech competency cannot be allowed to undercut the value of so-called ‘soft skills’ (such as compassion, patience, or communication). </p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s far from a foregone conclusion that technological advances will mean better wages and working conditions in this field.</p><p dir="ltr">There are other reasons for concern too. New technologies may require or allow care workers’ movements to be easily recorded or tracked, for instance. This could improve efficiency and safety at work, but what about privacy rights?</p><p dir="ltr">Across the US, undocumented immigrants are among those working in the care industry. What if routine tasks, such as reporting client updates remotely, require workers’ fingerprints as logins? Could such innovations produce new potentially <a href="https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/12/protecting-immigrants-high-tech-surveillance-2017-review">mineable datasets</a> for immigration enforcement?</p><p dir="ltr">There are further risks of widening inequalities among elders, and quality of life in old age, depending on different abilities to afford or access new innovations.</p><p dir="ltr">We’ve seen this before. Unequal access to technology has widened gaps between students at <a href="http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/02/28/how-teachers-are-using-technology-at-home-and-in-their-classrooms/">schools</a>, for example. Digital divides between <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/22/digital-divide-persists-even-as-lower-income-americans-make-gains-in-tech-adoption/">high and low income</a>, <a href="https://www.ntia.doc.gov/blog/2016/state-urbanrural-digital-divide">rural and urban communities</a> are already significant and are now widely recognised as significant barriers to equal education and work opportunities. </p><p id="docs-internal-guid-93d8061c-70db-6f53-bd57-34c72de1ed23" dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">There are further risks of widening inequalities among elders, and quality of life in old age.</span></p><p dir="ltr">A core promise of technology evangelists is that new tools can support elders to have greater independence and longer or happier lives. But we must proceed with caution whenever new technologies are brought into intimate spaces.</p><p dir="ltr">Sure, voice control and hands-free devices can make some daily activities easier. But elders have been targets of <a href="https://cybersecurity.wa.gov/seniors-a-growing-target-for-hackers-44ccb66e47e4">scams and hackers</a>. New technologies may collect huge amounts of detailed, personal data which can enable attacks. Devices have also captured and shared information with others <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-amazon-echo-alexa-20180524-story.html">by mistake</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">All cultures have traditions that honour and revere their elders and caring for them is our moral imperative. Robots can’t solve innately social problems. We must invest in the women and immigrants already doing this work&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;and ensure the privacy and protection of vulnerable populations.</p><div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> 50.50 50.50 Transformation women's work Moriah McArthur Mon, 09 Jul 2018 07:02:11 +0000 Moriah McArthur 118679 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Motherhood and an end to women’s civil war https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/niki-seth-smith/motherhood-and-end-to-women-s-civil-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Maternal ambivalence has always been provocative: a review of Sheila Heti’s new book.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NikiSethSmith5.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Doors, choices, decisions. Credit: <a href="https://pixabay.com/en/doors-choices-choose-decision-1767562/">Pixabay/qimono</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Sheila Heti’s <a href="https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1098254/motherhood/">‘Motherhood’</a> came out in May, not a day too soon for me. Her book is something I urgently needed to read, a novel drawn from life and a kind of fictionalized diary that allows Heti to interrogate the question, ‘Should I become a mother?’</p> <p>Her answer is ‘no,’ she will not. Or given that Heti inverts the question, seeing it as a positive choice: ‘yes,’ she will remain childfree. Although the book doesn’t use this term, <em>freedom</em> is an idea to which it keeps returning.</p> <p>The narrator calls writing the book a “prophylactic” or a “raft” to get her to the other side of 40, an age Heti reached while finishing the manuscript. The reading experience is often maddening, like watching a mouse scurry around in a trap.</p> <p>&nbsp;“On the one hand, the joy of children,” she writes, “On the other hand, the misery of them. On the one hand, the freedom of not having children. On the other hand, the loss of never having had them…”</p> <p>As in Heti’s breakthrough work <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/11/sheila-heti-how-should-person-be">‘How Should a Person Be?’</a> much of ‘Motherhood’ consists of recounted conversations with friends and family as the narrator seeks direction from anyone and everyone in her life. In offbeat injections that brighten the prose she also consults ‘the coins’ (a flipping method adapted from the I-Ching), producing exchanges in which we are tempted to find meaning, at turns comic and profound.</p> <blockquote><p>“Are these women punished? </p><p><em>Yes </em><em></em></p><p>By not experiencing the mystery and joy?</p><p><em>Yes</em><em></em></p><p>In any other way? </p><p><em>Yes </em><em></em></p><p>By not passing on their genes? </p><p><em>Yes </em><em></em></p><p>But I don't care about passing on my genes! Can't one pass on one’s genes through art? </p><p><em>Yes</em><em></em></p><p>Do men who don't procreate receive punishment from the universe?<br /> <em>No”</em></p></blockquote> <p>There’s a note at the beginning of the book explaining that the coin results are real. This is typical of Heti’s irreverent approach to philosophy, allowing her to both poke fun at and acknowledge the desire for a spiritual destiny or guide.</p> <p>This constant self-seeking has led Heti to be <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/06/25/true-lives-2">accused</a> of narcissism. A <a href="https://harpers.org/archive/2018/04/never-done/3/">caustic review</a> of ‘Motherhood’ in Harpers Magazine went even further, denouncing the book as “existential solipsism.” The reviewer, Christine Smallwood, doesn’t seem to acknowledge the echo of an accusation that’s levelled at all non-mothers—that&nbsp; they are ‘selfish, shallow and self-absorbed,’ which turns out to be the title of a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/books/review/selfish-shallow-and-self-absorbed-sixteen-writers-on-the-decision-not-to-have-kids.html">recent collection of essays</a> from 16 writers on their decision not to have kids (three are childless men but there’s an acknowledgment that women come in for greater social punishment).</p> <p>Maternal ambivalence has always been provocative. Rachel Cusk’s 2001 memoir ‘A Life’s Work’ <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/21/biography.women">led to a vicious backlash</a>, including accusations similar to those levelled at Heti that she was a “self-obsessed bore” and overly-intellectual (Smallwood says Heti is “only interested in abstraction”). If doubting one’s own choice to be a mother is taboo, dwelling on the decision is <em>verboten</em>. At a recent <a href="https://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/events/past/2018/5/motherhood-sheila-heti-and-sally-rooney">London Review of Books event</a> the host asked Heti how it felt to “write into the void.” Heti confessed that she’d struggled to find any books on which to build.</p> <p>That’s why I’m grateful that ‘Motherhood’ exists. Yes, the book has tunnel vision: it never looks far beyond the particular perspective of a Canadian woman with Hungarian Jewish heritage who belongs to a charmed circle of writers, yet it never pretends to try. Rather, it’s a book of pillow fears, drenched in the night sweats of the moments when we’re terribly alone with ourselves.</p> <p>While Heti is attempting to exit the long phase of life shadowed by the 'Big Decision', at the age of 32 I’m still at the threshold. The dismay and surprise I’ve already encountered from family, friends and even medical professionals has dismayed and surprised me. “But you’ll make a great mother!” “You don’t want to leave it too late and miss out.” My mother’s initial response was, “People shouldn’t think about it too much”.</p> <p>Likewise, Heti’s narrator wonders if she should simply obey her impulses. “Does the lizard brain trick the body into singing its ancient song?” Yet she finally follows another urge, also located deep in the psyche, to remain without children.&nbsp;</p> <p>The number of childless women is rising. In 2016, <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/childless-women-on-rise-more-than-ever-before-fertility-crisis-menopause-career-study-reveals-a7882496.html">17 per cent of women in England and Wales</a> over child-bearing age (defined as 45) didn’t have kids. That’s nearly twice as many as the last generation and is a trend that’s <a href="https://www.economist.com/international/2017/07/27/the-rise-of-childlessness">reflected across Europe</a>. Yet the demand to justify one’s position, and the increasing media visibility of ‘<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/topic/childfree-by-choice">childfree by choice</a>’ or ‘voluntarily childless’ as a growing identity, means that we usually hear from women only after they have made the decision. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Why+I+Don%2527t+want+kids">‘Why I don’t want kids’</a> YouTube videos are now practically a genre of their own—fierce , fun, feminist and 110 per cent sure.&nbsp;</p> <p>Young women like me are urged to choose a side in what one of the voices in ‘Motherhood’ calls a “civil war.” Even Heti, making up her mind, clearly feels that she is on the frontlines. Many of the book’s descriptions of mothering radiate admiring wonder yet often veil a violent rage, as in the narrator’s reaction to the constant news of her friends’ pregnancies. “There are craters, all around, and no home is safe enough not to be pummeled to dust by these blessings, by these bits of stardust, these thousand-pound babies aimed straight at the earth.”</p> <p>The pressure to decide on a role, and then to play it convincingly, is also in the theme of ‘trying on’ lives, as the narrator does with her friend Nicola, who is described as a “respectable” mother with three kids, a marriage and a house. The narrator finally rejects this life. “I realized that my fantasies were misplaced—they wormed inside me like a disease.” “Look at her life like a beautiful ocean liner, a grand old steam liner passing by…”</p> <p>This dismissal is horribly dehumanizing, as is the image of the worm. No mother’s life is a pleasure cruise. This is recognized as the poison of rivalry later in the book: “…one person’s life is not a political or general statement about how all lives should be,” the narrator admits. She shouldn’t feel superior <em>or</em> ashamed.</p> <p>‘Motherhood’ could just as well have been titled, ‘How should a woman be?’ The drive to pose this question, and the struggle to resist it, is the primary tension in Heti’s work. No wonder it raises hackles. Only the privileged have the luxury to reach for the ‘best kind of life,’ just as the vast majority of women in the world have never had the choice not to bear children.</p> <p>Yet this doesn’t make ‘Motherhood’ apolitical. It is precisely this oppressive edict—to embody the one true perfect woman—that&nbsp; exposes womanhood itself as a fraught and impossible performance beset by contradictory pressures. Being childfree is a threat to this illusion by rejecting the drive for success. “What if I pursue being a bad woman and don’t breed…” the narrator considers. “Only in the pursuit of failure can a person really be free.”</p> <p>Where ‘Motherhood’ disappoints is in failing to acknowledge the same psychic oppression that is at work on mothers themselves. If childless women are seen as failures, so too are women with kids. As <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/mind/why-being-the-perfect-parent-can-be-bad-for-your-health/">various studies</a> have shown, reaching for the modern holy grail of ‘perfect parenthood’ is a rigged game. The feminist socialist Angela McRobbie <a href="https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-353212615/feminism-the-family-and-the-new-mediated-maternalism">has described</a> a "neoliberal intensification of mothering," particularly since the financial crash. As state support is stripped away, more responsibility is piled on women to be ideal mothers, workers and wives: they have already failed before they begin.</p> <p>Jacqueline Rose takes this further in her latest work, ‘<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35406477-mothers">Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty.’</a> Drawing on diverse philosophical, literary and cultural sources including Ancient Greek medical lore, Elena Ferrante's <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26828169-the-neapolitan-novels">Neapolitan novels</a> and post-natal depression in South Africa, the book argues that mothers have long been held accountable for the suffering of the world. “Motherhood is, in Western discourse, the place in our culture where we lodge, or rather bury, the reality of our own conflicts, of what it means to be fully human,” she writes. In other words, mothers are the “ultimate scapegoats.”</p> <p>As Rose goes to great lengths to show, mothers, just like childless women, are always perceived both as threats and failures. In this she builds on Adrienne Rich’s ‘<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/305826.Of_Woman_Born">Of Woman Born: ‘Motherhood’ as Experience and Institution’</a>, a pioneering work of second-wave feminism which agued that “there is much to suggest that the male mind has always been haunted by the force of the idea of dependence on a woman for life itself.”&nbsp;Women have the ultimate power: to bring life into the world, or not. Therein lies the threat. The fight for control over women’s bodies will be lost for good if women decide not to breed.</p> <p>So who bears the heaviest cross—the outcast witch or the always-inadequate mother? This, of course, is the wrong question. Both camps are under siege, and as so often under patriarchy, they are conveniently turned against each other. We don’t even possess a neutral language. Whether we use ‘childless’ (implying defectiveness) or ‘childfree’ (implying that mothers are ‘unfree’) is just one of the many battle-lines. By getting lost in the fray and exposing the bitterness and sorrow of division, Heti’s book can be read as an urgent missive to lay down arms.</p> <p>There has never been a better moment to acknowledge that neither position is ‘natural,’ and to accept <a href="https://philosophynow.org/issues/69/Becoming_A_Woman_Simone_de_Beauvoir_on_Female_Embodiment">Simone De Beauvoir’s classic statement</a> on the realities of self-construction: “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” It’s not only the rising number of childless women; it’s also the growth of different kinds of mothering through the increased use of reproductive technologies like IVF that’s used by lesbian couples to <a href="http://helloflo.com/the-rise-of-shared-motherhood-in-lesbian-couples/">share motherhood</a>. There’s an ongoing struggle for the rights of queer bodies to use this tech, as well as a class and racial divide due to its expense. Yet the possibilities give new meaning to the question, ‘Will I make a good mother?’</p> <p>I, for one, am undecided. ‘Motherhood’ is also a raft for me in entering these turbid waters. Heti doesn’t touch on some of my most vital concerns. For a book published in the Trump era, it doesn’t waste many words considering what kind of future might be bequeathed to the next generation. If I listen to my animal instincts, they are telling me to direct all my powers, such as they are, towards protecting the good that is already in the world. Practically, financially, and in deeper terms of emotional energy, I am not sure I can also have children.</p> <p>There is much more to say, yet Heti is brave to have opened the door. ‘Motherhood’ is a gesture towards honesty, bringing much that was dark into light. The book makes it more possible to <em>think</em> the decision, but also to dream, embody and feel it. And that’s what I intend to do. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sofa-gradin/we-don-t-have-to-be-related-to-be-family">We don’t have to be related to be a family</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/emily-rowland/i-want-to-talk-about-my-miscarriage">I want to talk about my miscarriage</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/niki-seth-smith/romantic-love-agent-of-change-0">Romantic love: an agent of change? </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Niki Seth-Smith Liberation Intersectionality Care Sun, 08 Jul 2018 18:48:29 +0000 Niki Seth-Smith 118732 at https://www.opendemocracy.net To build peace we have to ask why people go to war https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/harriet-lamb/to-build-peace-we-have-to-ask-why-people-go-to-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New findings from Mali underline the failure of hard security approaches to conflict-resolution.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/HarrietLamb.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Members of a Senegalese Formed Police Unit (FPU) of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) participate in training on maintaining and restoring public order at the Police Academy in Bamako. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/minusma/27868296527">Flickr/UN Mission in Mali</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.</a></p> <p>A recent spate of extremist attacks in Mali has once again underlined the need to rethink the hard security approach that dominates the response to terrorism in the Sahel. &nbsp;</p> <p>The end of June saw attacks in Mali on French forces as well as the headquarters of the G5 Sahel Joint Force, a security force made up of five regional countries to combat jihadist insurgents and criminal groups. The attacks overshadowed the African Union (AU) summit in Mauritania, which also hosted French President Emmanuel Macron keen to discuss the region’s burning security problems. </p> <p>Over the first four months of this year, <a href="https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jihadists-on-rampage-in-mali-force-schools-to-close-in-boko-haram-style-campaign-rknj2jh0j">more people</a> were killed in terrorist attacks in Mali than the whole of last year. The country has been plagued by violence since 2012, when an armed rebellion by Tuareg-led jihadists with links to al-Qaeda broke out in the north. A peace agreement negotiated in 2015 remains extremely difficult to implement. The UN’s peacekeeping mission established in 2013, known as MINUSMA, has the <a href="https://www.sipri.org/commentary/topical-backgrounder/2018/establishing-regional-security-architecture-sahel">highest rate of casualties</a> of such missions in the world. </p> <p>So we desperately need to talk about security in Mali. But equally urgently, and indeed to get successfully to stability, we need to talk about why people join armed groups in the first place. Efforts to build peace in Mali will not be possible without addressing the root causes of conflict.</p> <p>Mali has long struggled with weak governance, poverty, youth unemployment, droughts and food insecurity. Ethnic tensions have been exacerbated through lawlessness and marginalisation. With more and more schools being shut in some areas by Jihadis, children face an uncertain future. Porous borders over which arms, drugs and people are trafficked create a major security headache that is felt not just in the region but globally. </p> <p>In an effort to understand what is happening and why, International Alert went to a number of communities that are struggling with violent extremism in the Sahel region, and <a href="https://www.international-alert.org/news/violent-extremism-driven-mostly-state-abuse-central-sahel">asked young people from Fulani (herder) communities </a>&nbsp;why they may or may not choose to join armed groups. &nbsp;</p> <p>The answers had little to do with religious ideology. A great majority of those we interviewed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso strongly <a href="https://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Sahel_ViolentExtremismVulnerabilityResilience_EN_2018.pdf">blamed</a> the state’s inability to provide security and services. </p> <p>They said state abuse and corruption with impunity drives some young people to join armed groups. Last week, <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mali-security-un/un-says-malian-forces-executed-12-civilians-at-a-market-idUKKBN1JM2LA">the UN mission</a> in Mali said that Malian troops from the G5 Sahel had “executed 12 civilians” at a market after a soldier was killed in May. </p> <p>Such incidents provoke grievances which violent extremist groups use to incite communities to embrace an alternative political and social model inspired by the Sharia. </p> <p>Our research also found a complete lack of trust in the defence and security forces among the communities we work with. This lack of trust runs across all sections of society, both feeding off and exacerbating ethnic tensions. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Therefore it is important to rebuild trust between communities and security forces. Dialogue is one way to achieve this. Over the past few years, International Alert has established and supported <a href="https://www.international-alert.org/media/bridging-deep-divisions-mali">community-based forums</a> that for the first time, bring together women, men and young people with some of those they fear the most: the Malian military. </p> <p>I attended one of these forums during a recent visit to Mali. Around the table were representatives of farmers and foresters, and different religious communities. One participant told me that after his Fulani friend was killed by the security forces, he was so angry that he went to join the armed groups. He didn’t, in the end, as he felt their vision did not represent the Islam he believed in. He is now one of a brave group of community leaders that regularly discuss local issues with the security forces. </p> <p>A female participant told me she had never sat in a room with the military before. “This has transformed my opinion of them and their role in protecting us. I now understand that they have problems too,” she said. </p> <p>This initiative is successful locally, but as the participants told me, such trust building needs to be undertaken more widely. International military support in Mali is driven by a desire to stabilise the region, push back the armed groups, re-open schools and restore the State. But to succeed in any of these areas in the long-term these forces need to win the trust and support of the communities they wish to serve. </p> <p>The G5 Sahel Joint Force is without a doubt a core pillar of stabilisation in the region, but it has to be accountable or risk undermining its aim to reduce violence, and could instead weaken regional stability. The European Union and the UK government need to ensure that their support for the Force goes beyond providing funds and training, to insist on assurances that it interacts with the local population in non-abusive ways that can build trust over time. </p> <p>There also needs to be much more investment in addressing the root causes of the conflict. The international community needs to support Mali’s government to improve access to justice, reduce inequality and create job opportunities for young people. Without these long-term solutions peace will prove elusive.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em>International Alert’s latest report "If victims become perpetrators"&nbsp;is available to download&nbsp;<a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Sahel_ViolentExtremismVulnerabilityResilience_EN_2018.pdf" target="_blank">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/marije-balt/europes-bold-ride-to-stabilise-mali"> Europe&#039;s bold ride to stabilise Mali </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/harriet-lamb/peace-is-possible-if-we-remember-4-lessons"> Peace is possible… if we remember 4 lessons</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/phil-vernon/peace-writ-large-peacebuilding-works-but-we-may-need-to-shout-about-it-more">Peace writ large: peacebuilding works, but we may need to shout about it more </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Mali </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Mali Conflict Harriet Lamb Fri, 06 Jul 2018 07:00:00 +0000 Harriet Lamb 118731 at https://www.opendemocracy.net I love you just the way you are https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/richard-gunderman/i-love-you-just-way-you-are <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Why kindness matters, personally and politically.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Zoe Ferguson_1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit:&nbsp;<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/planeta/30870467422">Flickr/Ron Mader</a>.&nbsp;<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The release of the Mister Rogers documentary&nbsp;<a href="https://slate.com/culture/2018/06/mr-rogers-documentary-wont-you-be-my-neighbor-reviewed.html"><em>Won’t You Be My Neighbor?</em>&nbsp;</a>calls to mind the essential message of Rogers’ long-running children’s program in the USA,&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/28/arts/mister-rogers-tv-s-friend-for-children-is-dead-at-74.html">Fred McFeely Rogers</a>, who died in 2003, was also an ordained Presbyterian minister. Over the course of three decades on public broadcasting, he brought to millions of children what his faith’s&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pcusa.org/resource/minutes-215th-general-assembly-2003-part-i-journal/">General Assembly&nbsp;</a>referred to as “unconditional love.”</p> <p>In preaching love, Rogers wasn’t just attending to the moral character of his youthful audience. He believed that he was also promoting their health. As he said in&nbsp;<a href="https://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/464_US_417.htm#464us417n27">1979</a>, “My whole approach in broadcasting has always been, ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.’ Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.”</p> <p>Since Rogers’ death, evidence has mounted that he was on to something—namely, that love and kindness truly are healthful, and that people who express them regularly really do lead healthier lives. Simply put, people who are generous and volunteer their time for the benefit of others seem to be happier than those who don’t, and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.dartmouth.edu/wellness/emotional/rakhealthfacts.pdf">happy people&nbsp;</a>tend to have fewer health complaints and live longer than those who are unhappy.</p> <p><strong>Love gave rise to a calling.</strong></p> <p>Born in Pennsylvania in 1928, as a young minister, Rogers regretted the messages television was conveying to children in the 1960s. He&nbsp;<a href="https://www.salon.com/1999/08/10/rogers_2/">said</a>, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>&nbsp;debuted nationally in 1968 and won its creator and host many&nbsp;<a href="https://www.fredrogers.org/fred-rogers/bio/">accolades</a>, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom, two Peabody Awards, and over 40 honorary degrees.</p> <p>Rogers believed that the need to love and be loved was universal, and he sought to cultivate these capacities through every program, saying in a 2004&nbsp;<a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433376/">documentary</a>&nbsp;hosted by actor Michael Keaton, one of his former stagehands, “You know, I think everybody longs to be loved, and longs to know that he or she is lovable. And consequently, the greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know they’re loved and capable of loving.”</p> <p><strong>Love and health.</strong></p> <p>As it turns out, there are many ways in which love and kindness are good for health. For one thing, they tend to reduce&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27100366">factors</a>&nbsp;that undermine it. Doing something nice for someone causes the release of endorphins, which help to relieve pain. People who make kindness a habit have lower levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/12/17/460030338/be-kind-unwind-how-helping-others-can-help-keep-stress-in-check">stress hormones&nbsp;</a>such as cortisol. Intentionally helping others can even lower levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://health.clevelandclinic.org/acts-kindness-can-ease-social-anxiety/">anxiety&nbsp;</a>in individuals who normally avoid social situations.</p> <p>Carrying out acts of kindness, or even merely&nbsp;<a href="https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_our_bodies_react_human_goodness">witnessing&nbsp;</a>them, also increases levels of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/hormones/oxytocin">oxytocin</a>, a hormone with&nbsp;<a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0ac8/c14228b62b9c87636f5b6eb536a434fd04de.pdf">health benefits&nbsp;</a>as diverse as lowering blood pressure, promoting good sleep, and reducing cravings for drugs such as cocaine and alcohol. That oxytocin should have so many health benefits is not so surprising when we recall its central role in stimulating uterine contractions during birth, the letdown of milk during lactation, the pleasure associated with orgasm and pair bonding.</p> <p>Acts of generosity and compassion also appear to be good for mood. A <a href="https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/11189976/dunn,%20aknin,%20norton_prosocial_cdips.pdf?sequence=1">2010 study&nbsp;</a>showed that while people with money tend to be somewhat happier than those without it, people who spend money on others report even greater levels of happiness, an effect that can be detected even in toddlers. When people give money to others, areas of the brain associated with&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569866">pleasure</a>&nbsp;are activated, and this response is greater when the transfer is voluntary rather than mandatory.</p> <p>Such happiness can have big benefits in longevity. For example, a&nbsp;<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2010.01045.x">review</a>of 160 published studies concluded that there is compelling evidence that life satisfaction and optimism are associated with better health and enhanced longevity. Another&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/10/happiness-associated-longer-life">study&nbsp;</a>of older people showed that, even after correcting for other factors such as age, disease, and health habits, those who rated their happiness highest were 35 percent less likely to die in five years than those who were least content.</p> <p><strong>What would Mister Rogers say?</strong></p> <p>Of course, Rogers would remind us that there are reasons to be committed to love and kindness that extend far beyond their health benefits. Rogers was, after all, not a physician but a minister, and ultimately he was ministering to an aspect of human wholeness that cannot be analyzed by blood tests or visualized with CT scans. In a&nbsp;<a href="https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2018/03/revisiting-fred-rogers-2002-commencement-address">commencement address&nbsp;</a>at Dartmouth College in 2002, he focused less on the body than what he might have called the spirit:</p> <p>“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”</p> <p>When Rogers encouraged children to be kinder and more loving, he believed that he was not only promoting public health, but also nurturing the most important part of a human being—the part that exhibits a divine spark. As Rogers indicated in another&nbsp;<a href="https://archive.org/details/rogers_speech_5_27_01">commencement speech&nbsp;</a>the year before at Middlebury College, “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing, that when we look for what’s best in the person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does; so in appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something truly sacred.”</p> <p>In expressing such deeply religious sentiments, Rogers was not trying to undermine a concern with bodily health. In fact, he regularly encouraged his viewers to adopt healthy life habits, and Rogers himself was a committed&nbsp;<a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-g-long/what-would-mister-rogers-eat_b_6193910.html">vegetarian&nbsp;</a>and lifelong swimmer who maintained a low body weight his entire life. Yet he also believed that health alone does not a full life make, and he regarded the soundness of the body as but part of the wellness of whole persons and communities, which may explain why he was able to face his own mortality with such equanimity.</p> <p>Just a few months before he died, Rogers recorded a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/watch-fred-rogers-heart-warming-final-message-grownup-fans">message&nbsp;</a>for the many adult fans who had grown up watching&nbsp;<em>Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood</em>. In it, he practiced what he preached, saying:</p> <p>“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”</p><p><em>This article was originally published by&nbsp;<a href="https://theconversation.com/why-mister-rogers-message-of-love-and-kindness-is-good-for-your-health-97970" target="_self">The Conversation</a>. It was edited for <a href="http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/why-mister-rogers-message-of-love-is-good-for-your-health-20180608?utm_medium=email&amp;utm_campaign=YTW_20180608&amp;utm_content=YTW_20180608+CID_899529f3182c0e0e8ca592dd4bbada4a&amp;utm_source=CM&amp;utm_term=hy%20Mister%20Rogers%20M">YES! Magazine</a> and re-posted on Transformation under a new title, stand-first and image. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/zoe-ferguson/does-kindness-matter">Does kindness matter?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/genevieve-vaughan/why-kindness-is-key-to-new-economy">Why kindness is the key to a new economy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/beulah-maud-devaney/how-random-acts-of-kindness-could-transform-support-for-battered-">How random acts of kindness could transform support for battered women</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Richard Gunderman Empathy Care Love and Spirituality Thu, 05 Jul 2018 12:25:57 +0000 Richard Gunderman 118419 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Migrant Quilt: re-stitching the fabric of community https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/valarie-lee-james/migrant-quilt-re-stitching-fabric-of-community-along-us-mexico-bord <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Memory is the first form of resistance.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="image-caption"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ValerieLeeJames.jpeg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Part of the Migrant Quilt, photographed at the opening of <em>What the Eye Doesn’t See Doesn’t Move the Heart:&nbsp;Migrant Quilts of the Southern Arizona Borderlands”</em> in Nogales, Arizona. Credit: Valarie Lee James. All rights reserved.</p><p>In the late 1990s in Northern California, we placed a photo of Liz (my late wife) and me, taken by the renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, onto a quilt. Friends and family members gathered around and hand-sewed keepsakes of their lives with Liz into the cloth: bits of jewelry, ribbons, and personal messages.</p> <p>By the time the black and white photograph, created for a national “Be Here for the Cure” AIDS campaign could be seen in magazines and writ large on subway walls, many of the people Leibovitz photographed would be dead: the cute guy, the sparky little kid, the strong transgender woman and the straight teenage girl. Few would make it for the cure.</p> <p>People died by the thousands while the government turned a blind eye. Families mourned, shrouded in secrecy. The closest friends I will ever have grieved for each other even as they, too, prepared to die.</p> <p>America as a whole seemed to shake itself awake only when thousands of AIDS Names Project Quilts were laid end-to-end on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., forming a master quilt strewn with names as far as the eye could manage—a seemingly endless landscape of unspeakable loss and undeniable love. Visitors dropped to their knees, humbled by such terrible beauty.</p> <p>Now in my backyard, another quilt—the Migrant Quilt Project—continues to take shape. Now on show at the Pimeria Alta Museum in the border town of Nogales, Arizona, it is inspired in large part by the AIDS Quilt. The Migrant Quilt panels are traveling across the country and the artist/activist Jody Ipsen (the quilt’s originator) and Peggy Hazard (the project’s curator), along with many volunteer makers, hope for a similar impact on hearts and minds.</p> <p>Women on the border often have a different take on immigration issues: more of a ‘tend and befriend’ approach, a kind of common sense, needle-to-fabric mend. The responses of women to the Migrant Quilt exhibit define the soft heart of what it means to be human. The day we visited, we watched female visitors leaving in tears.</p> <p>“Docents had to go out and buy boxes of tissues” said Ipsen, “you cannot walk away from this without being moved.”</p> <p>&nbsp;The 17 quilts in the project bear the names of people who have died each year crossing the desert in the Tucson Sector since 2000—the year the county medical examiner’s office began documenting the names of the dead, including unidentified remains. Patched together with denim, work shirts, embroidered cloth, and bandanas left behind on the desert floor, the quilts are scrappy in design and raw with truth.</p> <p>Many of the&nbsp;<em>bordados</em>&nbsp;(embroidered&nbsp;cloths) stitched into the Migrant Quilts are inscribed with endearments.&nbsp;<em>Contigo en la Distancia</em>&nbsp;(With You Far Away) or&nbsp;<em>Duerme Amor Mio</em>&nbsp;(Sleep My Love) shock the viewer with familial intimacy. These personal embroideries, sometimes used as&nbsp;<em>servilletas</em>&nbsp;to carry food across the desert, are often blessed then sent along with a traveling family member. The embroideries have come a long way. Now they rest alongside the names of the deceased. &nbsp;</p> <p>Each quilt represents countless lives lost on border ground, a hundred-mile strip of geography spanning two countries. The interstitial border region has morphed into a distinct culture of its own, and the quilts, with their binational contributors, fly its flag.</p> <p>On the US side of the border, volunteers create each piece according to their own inspiration. Worn material migrates through the quilts and melds in the viewer’s eye. Names of the dead rise off the surface in bas-relief like rogue wildflowers pushing up through the desert floor, commanding the same kind of attention as the white crosses we see strung with wire in and around the slats of the border wall.</p> <p>“Quilts have traditionally been made to memorialize loved ones who died,” said Curator Hazard, “and also, to raise consciousness.” In the Nineteenth century, women used quilts not only to raise funds for the anti-slavery movement, but to express their feelings about slavery.</p> <p>Memory is the first form of resistance, and quilt-making—a primary tool of resistance and remembrance—stands the test of time. At QuiltCon 2018, the Modern Quilt Guild’s annual convention, the exhibits were honeycombed with activist quilts. The resurgence in “truth textiles” also carries on at the Social Justice Sewing Academy, which empowers youth activists for social change.</p> <p>The humblest materials can communicate what cannot be said in dangerous times, can comfort the family, and can mourn the dead. Quilting, embroidery, and applique—arts of hearth and home—remain a language shared.</p> <p>Two decades ago in Northern California, our fragile but fierce community took turns stitching Liz’s favorite piece of mud cloth onto a quilt. I remember the silence that day as we worked together, united in the province of memory. Craig, Liz’s long-time brother-in-arms, his large brown eyes brimming with tears, leaned over and carefully sewed a cowrie shell onto the fabric. Craig would be the next to die.</p> <p>Now, on our southern border, our neighbors continue to die crossing cultures. The personal is political and the political is spiritual. Rather than ask “How do we build higher walls?” we are best served as people to ask, “How do we meet?” and “How do we mourn?”</p> <p>The root of the word ‘memory’ stems from the word ‘mourn.’ The devotional art of making quilts in the service of others allows us on the US side of the border wall to touch the essence of the Other, to offer witness, and to mourn.</p> <p>The Migrant Quilt Project succeeds where rhetoric fails. Pinning and stitching, working the cloth to make sure the dead are not forgotten, these quilt-makers trust that no one turns a blind eye.</p> <p><em>This article was first published in <a href="https://www.kosmosjournal.org/kj_article/the-migrant-quilt/">Kosmos Journal</a>.</em></p> <p><em>The Migrant Quilts are on exhibit at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, through July 15. After that, they will travel to Michigan and Illinois. See&nbsp;<a href="http://migrantquiltproject.org/">here</a>&nbsp;for the exhibit schedule and more information.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/kali-swenson/social-justice-with-knitting">Social justice with knitting</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/virtues-of-many-sided-life">The virtues of a many-sided life</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/how-politicians-and-media-made-us-hate-immigrants">How politicians and the media made us hate immigrants </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation immigration Valarie Lee James Activism Care Culture Tue, 03 Jul 2018 12:20:00 +0000 Valarie Lee James 118604 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why criticisms of identity politics sound ridiculous to me https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sincere-kirabo/why-criticisms-of-identity-politics-sound-ridiculous-to-me <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Sincerekirabo.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p><span class="image-caption">Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional Rally/March, Pittsburgh East Liberty Women's March 2017. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/nosuchuser/32328714031">Flickr/feral godmother</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0</a>.</span><span></span></p> <p>I&nbsp;remember the first time I was called a nigger.</p> <p>I was in the 4th grade. I remember being in a classroom, joking with a friend (a white girl) and calling her a nincompoop. She looked to me, her smile melting into a look of contempt, and replied, “You’re wrong…<em>you’re</em>&nbsp;the nigger.”</p> <p>She had obviously misheard me, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about yet I understood, on a visceral level, the underlying message and how it made me feel: small, ugly…&nbsp;<em>less than</em>.</p> <p>Since that unwitting attempt to “put me in my place,” I’ve endured countless scenarios — sometimes casual, sometimes hostile—that made me feel one or more of those things throughout my life, a consequence of navigating a white-dominated society with an anti-black value system woven into the tapestry of its white-oriented culture.</p> <p>The thing is, I’m not just Black: I’m also an&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/12/struggles-atheists-understand/" target="_blank">atheist</a>. While far more benign compared to anti-blackness, being an atheist tacks on a more uncommon layer of prejudice that I contend with given our Christian hegemonic society, even within the Black community. Since most are reared in a social environment that constantly encourages and reinforces some type of religious or theistic belief, many view these normative ideas as being identical to truth.</p> <p>This view results in thinking something traumatic must have happened to those who reject these normative beliefs, or that they must hate god (which is&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misotheism" target="_blank">misotheism</a>,&nbsp;<em>not</em>&nbsp;atheism), or that there must be something wrong with them mentally—because, somehow, we’ve been conditioned to believe that no sane individual would reject the idea of an invisible yet omnipresent supernatural being we’ve never seen and are only familiar with through primitive stories and hearsay.</p> <p>But I’m not just an atheist. I must deal with a wide range of animus, fear, bias, ignorance, microaggressions, alienation, and erasure reserved not just for atheists, and not just for Blacks, but for the intersection of blackness and atheism. I’ll always be an outspoken atheist as well as&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/06/respectability-politics/" target="_blank">unapologetically Black</a>&nbsp;(that is, I despise&nbsp;<a href="http://bigthink.com/alicia-wallace/everyday-respectability-politics" target="_blank">respectability politics</a>, readily speak to the real-lived texture of Black life, and choose to not diminish issues disproportionately impacting Black America).</p> <p>Those who suggest I ignore either of these essential pieces of my being, depending on which space I occupy, are really asking me to deny who I am for their comfort and their allegiance to social norms declaring those aspects of my identity matter less. Being a Black atheist within white-centered atheist spaces that satiate the concerns and interests of white atheists really helped me realize the importance of the questions, “<em>Who’s being left out—and why</em>?”</p> <p>Thinking deeply about this also helped shape my appreciation of the ways I hold many social advantages as an able-bodied,&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/02/straight-allies-lgbtqia-spaces/" target="_blank">cisgender</a>, heterosexual male in a society that confers a surplus of meaning to those occupying these identities while delegitimizing the humanity of those who do not. So, for me, the reason why intersectionality is vital is apparent: it’s both a metaphor and frame of understanding that acknowledges multiple “avenues” of prejudice and marginalization exist, and that these “avenues” intersect.</p> <p><a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/07/intersectionality-anti-black/" target="_blank">Intersectionality</a>&nbsp;reminds us to consider how we are all impacted differently due to the complex, intersecting nature of social power dynamics. Still, there remain many who disparage or otherwise question the need for intersectionality. This usually happens for three reasons.</p> <p><strong>1. Naysayers don’t understand identity or its impact on our shared social&nbsp;reality.</strong></p> <p>There are many assumptions we take for granted when it comes to identity and the patterned social arrangements of society. Before speaking further about the significance of an intersectional analysis, it’s necessary to unpack some fundamentals of what identity does and does not entail.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are</em>&nbsp;systematized descriptors that reference objective and causally relevant characteristics of a shared reality.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are</em>&nbsp;based on specific cultural contexts, social histories, and lived experiences.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are</em>&nbsp;the conditional products of social interaction and social institutions, subject to occupying particular locations within time, social space, and historical communities.</p> <p>Identities&nbsp;<em>are not</em>&nbsp;an attempt to reduce an entire group to an essential, coherent monolith. To share an identity with others is to share in only one facet of a multifaceted reality. There is no contradiction between identifying with specific social groups and being a complex, unique individual.</p> <p>When discussing common identity—separate from individual identity—we’re describing what’s imposed on us by an established history of social standards, stratification, controlling images, and stereotypes.</p> <p>To affirm that we have an identity, or to state that we’re a part of a particular identity group, is to simply agree that we have a location in social space informed by the interlocking social structures we inhabit.</p> <p>It’s necessary to increase awareness regarding the ways in which this complicated social reality impacts people differently if we want to build a society where the most vulnerable among us are recognized and listened to in hopes of alleviating (and ultimately,&nbsp;<em>eliminating</em>) their vulnerable status.</p> <p>This is why Kimberlé Crenshaw, scholar and civil rights activist who coined the term intersectionality,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/?utm_term=.80f6258e582c" target="_blank">once described intersectionality</a>&nbsp;as being “an analytic sensibility” and “a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power.”</p> <p><a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersectionality-i-wanted-come-everyday-metaphor-anyone-could" target="_blank">She’s also articulated how intersectionality helps us</a>&nbsp;increase attentiveness to identity-based “blind spots” when it comes to aspects of unequal social power dynamics we don’t ourselves experience.</p> <p><strong>2. Naysayers associate intersectionality with their favorite bogey monster: “identity politics.”</strong></p> <p>The phrase “identity politics” is merely a pejorative blanket term that invokes a variety of ambiguous, cherry-picked ideas of political failings.</p> <p>Declaring something is “identity politics” is often a measure taken to trivialize identity-based issues that make many members of dominant social groups uncomfortable (e.g., Black Lives Matter critiquing anti-black racism, feminists critiquing sexism, LGBTQ activists critiquing cis-heteronormativity, etc.).</p> <p>Basically, “identity politics” is used as an expression to identify political deviance — to describe political actions defying imbalanced political structures we’ve been conditioned to accept.</p> <p>What’s ironic is politics are unavoidably connected to identity&nbsp;<em>for everyone</em>. Who and what we are is rooted in our identities. Identities are forged by socio-historical context, and they directly impact&nbsp;<em>interpellation</em>&nbsp;(the means by which we encounter our culture’s values and internalize them) as well as our lived experiences. Experiences correlate with identity to provide both an epistemic&nbsp;<em>and a political</em>&nbsp;basis for interpreting the world we exist in.</p> <p>Consider&nbsp;<em>white-centeredness</em>, a deeply-rooted cultural feature of this nation. The term “white-centeredness” describes the centrality of white representation that permeates every facet of dominant culture. This representation upholds as “normal” the ubiquity of language, ideas, values, social mores, and worldviews established by the white perspective.</p> <p>White-centeredness standardizes whiteness. This standardization saturates what we refer to as the “status quo.” The maintenance of this social order&nbsp;<em>is&nbsp;</em>white identity politics, as engaging in political activities to preserve these ideas and structures demands prioritizing the collective interests of white America.</p> <p>The thing is, nobody distinguishes political motivations, political judgments, or political maneuvering that enshrines white-centeredness as being white identity politics. Instead, white identity politics go “undetected,” as we’re socialized to regard the sustaining of dominant culture as “what is expected” or “the way things&nbsp;<em>ought</em>&nbsp;to be.”</p> <p><a href="https://othersociologist.com/" target="_blank">Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos</a>, a sociologist with Swinburne University, echoes this sentiment, stating:</p> <p>If the phrase has any value at all—and it really doesn’t—“identity politics” calls attention to the ways that people from majority groups, especially White people, do not “see” how their identities are governed by politics.</p> <p>This is how Whiteness works: White culture is embedded into all fields of public life, from education, to the media, to science, to religion and beyond. White culture is constructed as the norm, so it becomes the taken-for-granted ideal with which other cultures are judged against by White people.</p> <p>Hence, White people do not recognise how their race shapes their understanding of politics, and their relationships with minority groups.</p> <p>It shouldn’t be surprising that those who occupy positions of social dominance seek to discredit identity politics wielded by those with restricted social power.</p> <p>They’ll refer to it as “divisive” or “tribalism,” neglecting the fact that the political activism they belittle is&nbsp;<em>in response to&nbsp;</em>pre-existing social divisions situating certain social groups (<em>tribes</em>) with greater sociopolitical power at the expense of subordinating other social groups.</p> <p>They’ll go to great lengths to invalidate missions for increased social and political power by those from&nbsp;<em>marginalized social groups</em>—communities systematically disenfranchised in ways that restrict access to resources, rights, or opportunities made fully available to other social groups.</p> <p>In other words, the term “identity politics” is typically employed as a linguistic Trojan horse to stigmatize campaigns for civil rights.</p> <p>In 1977, a Black feminist lesbian organization known as the&nbsp;<a href="http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html" target="_blank">Combahee River Collective issued a statement</a>&nbsp;that may be considered the historical genesis of explicit identity politics. In it, the group expresses the relevance of identity to politics and how shared aspects of identity produces solidarity when confronting unique forms of oppression that target specific identities.</p> <p>The group was formed after issues related to their particular life circumstances were continually disregarded due to pervasive heterosexism, erasure within the&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2017/04/white-feminism-womens-march/" target="_blank">white-dominated women’s movement</a>, and erasure within the male-dominated Black liberation movement.</p> <p>For marginalized social groups, what is perceived as explicit identity politics is a challenge to status quo, and used as a means of seeking increased sociopolitical power currently not being distributed in an equal or just manner. This form of political engagement—which emphasizes issues and perspectives relevant to shared aspects of an identity— erves to address social ills that disproportionately impact the lives of marginalized social groups in clear and specific ways.</p> <p>A laser focus on matters related to our own social positions breeds insularity and complacency, obstructing our emotional and intellectual connection to disparate social realities we don’t experience. This is why we need intersectionality—to challenge and expand that narrowed focus.</p> <p>Speaking to how intersectionality forces us to move beyond more simplistic notions of complex social matters, Zevallos says:</p> <p>Intersectionality is not about “identity politics,” a term used to denigrate minorities’ contributions to activism, academia and other public discussions. Intersectionality is a framework used to illustrate how systems of discrimination are interconnected.</p> <p>Black women struggled against industrial relations law as they experience co-occurring incidents of racism and sexism in the workplace. The law puts Black women into a tricky position by forcing them to focus workplace complaints in either the area of race discrimination or gender discrimination.</p> <p>Professor Crenshaw’s use of intersectionality shines a light on how existing processes act as if individuals belong to discrete groups, when, in fact, Black women face multiple inequalities at the same time. Over the decades, theorists, including Professor Crenshaw, have further developed intersectionality to show how other relations of power structure inequality.</p> <p>For example, a Black woman activist at a Black Lives Matter protest unfortunately could not expect the police to protect her safety, as we have seen all over the world — <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/was-the-womens-march-just-another-display-of-white-privilege-some-think-so/2017/01/24/00bbdcca-e1a0-11e6-a547-5fb9411d332c_story.html?utm_term=.37865a981d5a" target="_blank">while a White woman activist at a Women’s March protest</a>&nbsp;can expect the police to provide a peaceful environment for her to march across the city. Race offers a buffer for one gender group (White women), but not another (Black women); hence, interconnections of race, gender and other forms of disadvantage require concurrent attention.</p> <p><strong>3. Naysayers don’t want seismic social&nbsp;change.</strong><strong></strong></p> <p>Many people simply don’t want radical social progress, or significant societal changes that would create a more inclusive social order, as this requires casting asunder oppressive ideas and systems codified into the status quo that dominant social groups benefit from.</p> <p>When you’re socially and politically exempt from&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/11/white-americans-dont-face-racism/" target="_blank">systemic inequality</a>, it isn’t unusual to focus on matters that relate more to your vantage point and to greet treating matters that decenter your purview with indifference, defensiveness, bewilderment, or hostility.</p> <p>Editor at Large of&nbsp;<em>The Establishment</em>&nbsp;Ijeoma Oluo, who spoke to this tendency in her article&nbsp;<a href="https://theestablishment.co/thank-god-for-identity-politics-fba03f73be43" target="_blank"><em>Thank God For Identity Politics</em></a>, describes those who take issue with intersectionality as “people who are threatened because they see intersectionality as something that is forcing them to change, to see themselves as something other than the aggrieved party.”</p> <p>This brings to mind the recent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. No, it wasn’t a “We Hate Intersectionality” protest, but it damn sure was a flagrant display of white folks&nbsp;<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/local/charlottesville-videos/?utm_term=.4d676a3c9f7c" target="_blank">espousing exclusionary beliefs</a>&nbsp;(e.g., chanting “You will not replace us,” parading KKK and neo-Nazi symbols) and expressing dissatisfaction with steps toward social progress: removing&nbsp;<a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/take-the-statues-down/536727/" target="_blank">monuments commemorating white supremacy</a>.</p> <p>Despite being white and existing within a white-dominated society steeped in a white-centered culture, both the protestors and their sympathizers are unable to see themselves as anything other than “victims” of a changing world gradually eroding their hegemonic status.</p> <p>This imagined distress of the privileged is encapsulated by the popular quote, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”</p> <p>We Need Accountability<strong></strong></p> <p>I asked Oluo about her opinion regarding the criticism that intersectionality creates a “hierarchy of suffering,” to which she responded:</p> <p>I think that it is the lack of intersectionality that creates a hierarchy of suffering. Intersectionality does just the opposite: it adjusts to the nuances of individual situations, and holds us all accountable to each other.</p> <p>This. Right. Here.</p> <p>Intersectionality demands&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2017/08/responsibly-take-accountability/" target="_blank">accountability</a>. Those occupying dominant social positions tend to be less accustomed to taking responsibility for attitudes or behaviors that adversely affect non-dominant group members.</p> <p>This is something I’m intimately familiar with when it comes to Black men who embrace shallow “Black first” ideas of wokeness that’s hip to the antiblackness ever-present within our white supremacist society while also reproducing ideologies that overlook or cosign <a href="http://www.gradientlair.com/post/84107309247/define-misogynoir-anti-black-misogyny-moya-bailey-coined" target="_blank">misogynoir</a>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/07/black-lives-matter-gay-marriage-lgbt-supreme-court/" target="_blank">heterosexism</a>. This is why Oluo affirms, “You cannot only pick up the parts of revolution that free you and then fight against those working to free themselves and still call yourself a revolutionary.”</p> <p>We’ve all been socialized within a profoundly oppressive culture wherein widely accepted social mores cater to dominant social groups, whether based on gender, class, race, sexuality, ability, religion, or a combination of these and more.</p> <p>The exercise of intersectionality intervenes on the everyday assumptions, expectations, and interests we uncritically accept that routinely eclipse the concerns of&nbsp;<a href="http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/12/so-you-got-called-out-on-facebook/" target="_blank">marginalized communities</a>.</p> <p>Writer, educator, and social activist&nbsp;<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/sally-hemings-died-in-charlottesville_us_599afc92e4b02eb2fda321c8" target="_blank">Sikivu Hutchinson</a>&nbsp;explains it this way:</p> <p>Intersectionality is the human condition. It addresses the multiple positions of privilege and disadvantage that human beings occupy and experience in a global context shaped by white supremacy, capitalism, neoliberalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, segregation and state violence.</p> <p>Intersectionality upends the single variable politics of being “left” or “right.” It speaks to the very nature of positionality in a world in which it’s impossible to stake a claim on a solitary fixed identity that isn’t informed by one’s relationship to social, political and economic structures of power, authority and control that are themselves rooted in specific histories.</p> <p>As Oluo puts it, intersectionality requires folks to “set aside their egos and realize that we can always do better, and should always strive to do better, if we really want to be better.”</p> <p>For the sake of realizing a society more inclusive of the disadvantaged and the underrepresented so that increased access to well-being and autonomy is possible, it’s vital we take advantage of an analytical tool that deliberately seeks out those who exist on the margins. And that tool is intersectionality.</p> <p><em>This article was first published on <a href="https://theestablishment.co/heres-why-your-criticisms-of-intersectionality-and-identity-politics-sound-ridiculous-89b4116f9239">The Establishment</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lori-lakin-hutcherson/my-white-friend-asked-me-to-explain-white-privilege-so-i-decide">My white friend asked me to explain white privilege, so I decided to be honest.</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jennifer-lentfer/wrestling-with-my-white-fragility">Wrestling with my white fragility</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/scot-nakagawa/blacklivesmatter-and-white-progressive-colorblindness">#Blacklivesmatter and white progressive colorblindness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation identity politics Sincere Kirabo Liberation Intersectionality Sun, 01 Jul 2018 19:05:56 +0000 Sincere Kirabo 118257 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The evisceration of storytelling https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/sujatha-fernandes/evisceration-of-storytelling <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Are stories really the magical elixir for social change we imagine them to be?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SujathaFernandes.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Black white vintage by rawpixel. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/">CC0 Public domain</a> via&nbsp;<a href="https://unsplash.com/photos/-gJkKc6agtM" target="_blank">Unsplash.</a></p> <p>In his seminal essay “The Storyteller,” published in 1936, the German philosopher Walter Benjamin decried the loss of the craft of oral storytelling marked by the advent of the short story and the novel. Modern society, he lamented, had abbreviated storytelling.</p> <p>Fast forward to the era of Facebook, where the story has become an easily digestible soundbite on your news feed or timeline. The popular stories on social media are those that are accessible. Complexity is eschewed in an effort to create warm and relatable portraits of others who are just like us. If modern society abbreviated storytelling, the digital era has eviscerated it.</p> <p>In recent times, carefully crafted narratives with predetermined storylines have been used in philanthropy, diplomacy, and advocacy. From the phenomenon of TED talks and Humans of New York, to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and strategists, contemporary life is saturated with curated stories. “Tell your story!” has become an inspirational mantra of the self-help industry. </p> <p>Narrative research centers have emerged to look at the benefits of storytelling in areas from treating depression to helping new immigrants build community. An avalanche of books on the topic like Jonathan Gottschall’s “The Storytelling Animal” and Jonah Sachs’ “Winning the Story Wars” present storytelling as an innate human impulse that can help us to navigate life’s problems and change the world for the better.</p> <p>But are stories really the magical elixir we imagine them to be?</p> <p>Not in the curated form of storytelling that has come to reign. Curated stories omit the broader context that shapes the life of the storyteller. This was the case with the heartrending stories of abuse told by migrant domestic workers in New York to legislators in Albany as they campaigned for a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2010. At one legal hearing, a Filipina worker related how her employers accused her of stealing a box of $2 Niagra cornstarch. Another spoke about how her male employer frequently exposed himself to his staff. And one West Indian domestic worker recounted that her employer violently beat her and called her the n-word. </p> <p>But these stories—limited in duration and subject to protocols—could not say why migrant women were so vulnerable and undervalued, and why they were forced to migrate for work. Instead, workers could speak only to the technical conditions of their employment. As a result, the stories encouraged the idea that the abuses were the result of a few bad employers who could be reined in by legislation, rather than a vastly unregulated global industry.</p> <p>The Italian narrative theorist Alessandro Portelli says that when we tell stories, we switch strategically between the modes of the personal, the political, and the collective. The contemporary boom of curated storytelling has involved a shift in emphasis away from collective and political modes of narration toward the personal mode. An online women’s creative writing project features personal stories written by women in Afghanistan. </p> <p>In one piece, Leeda tells the story of fifteen-year old Fershta. The girl is given by her father in marriage to a violent man who beats her and kills her seven year old brother. Leeda concludes that it is the father’s bad behavior that has led to this horrific situation. Other stories blame Afghan mothers for allowing violence to be perpetuated. Because the stories don’t often address the social or political backdrop of war and poverty, we have little means to understand the desperation that might lead a father to pull his daughters out from school and marry them off. As readers, we are helpless voyeurs without an avenue for effective action.</p> <p>It has become increasingly common for stories to be harnessed for utilitarian goals – like a legislative victory or registering people to vote. For instance, during Barack Obama’s electoral campaigns, volunteers were trained to tell two-minute stories that they deployed when canvassing voters. While legislative campaigns and voter recruitment may be worthy goals, they require that stories be whittled down to a dull and formulaic soundbite that can be delivered in a legal hearing or a recruitment drive. </p> <p>Immigrant families who visited the offices of senators to tell their stories and ask for the passage of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in 2010 seemed to be weary of reciting their stories all day long. And it’s not even clear that this strategy works. While activists mobilized to tell stories and extract promises for a bill that would never pass, legislators were busy passing anti-immigrant bills like SB 1070.</p> <p>One response to this capture of storytelling has been refusal. Some prefer to remain silent rather than give in to the logic of the soundbite, to the reduction of their selves to a blurb that can fit within the lines of a grant application or legal protocol.</p> <p>Others go off script. They employ their artistic skills to render their stories in all their depth and complexity. One group of domestic workers from the New York-based South Asian organization Andolan said that they did not want to speak any longer about simple narratives of exploitation and victimhood. They said that publicly telling stories of abuse can backfire for workers, who may have a harder time finding work. They preferred to go “off message” to talk about their families or the Liberation War in Bangladesh. These workers want to tell stories about the complicated nature of transnational lives.</p> <p>Curated storytelling has extended deep into contemporary social life and political and cultural institutions. Curated stories package diverse histories and experiences into easily digestible soundbites and singular narratives of individual victims. The impact has been to deflect our attention from structurally defined axes of oppression and to defuse the oppositional politics of social movements. Perhaps, in response, we should heed Benjamin’s call for more deeply contextualized and complex storytelling—the slow piling up&nbsp;of thin, transparent layers, one on top of the other—that is so much needed in today’s world.</p><p><em>Sujatha Fernandes is the author of <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/curated-stories-9780190618056?cc=us&amp;lang=en">Curated Stories: The Uses and Misuses of Storytelling</a>, published by Oxford University Press.</em></p> <p><em>This article was first published on the <a href="https://blog.oup.com/2018/06/curated-stories-storytelling/">OUP blog</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/simon-hodges/what%E2%80%99s-so-special-about-storytelling-for-social-change">What’s so special about storytelling for social change?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/joanna-wheeler/unlocking-transformative-potential-of-storytelling">Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/karen-malpede/drama-of-thinking-heart">The drama of the thinking heart</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation storytelling Sujatha Fernandes Culture Thu, 28 Jun 2018 18:30:59 +0000 Sujatha Fernandes 118550 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Building a different form of power: young people’s voices from California’s Central Valley https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/pacita-rudder/building-different-form-of-power-young-people-s-voices-from-california- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We are proud to be Black and Brown, we are proud to be immigrants and refugees, and we are thriving.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/PatriciaRudder1.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Members of <a href="https://www.facebook.com/99Rootz/">99Rootz</a> in California’s Central Valley. Credit: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/99Rootz/">99Rootz</a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Driving down Route 99 in California mile upon mile of grapes, nuts, lemons, and tomatoes line the land next to the asphalt. Highlighted within this landscape of farmland and truck-filled highways are young people: strong, beautiful, Black and Brown young people full of fire and wisdom, unapologetically organizing amidst big agriculture and small towns. They are organizing for a Central Valley that provides all of its residents with what they need to be whole. At the center of this energy is “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/99Rootz/">99Rootz</a>.” </p> <p>99Rootz is a regional youth and young adult leadership initiative specific to the Central Valley, and was launched in early 2018 by Mobilize the Immigrant Vote and YVote. MIV-YVote (soon to be&nbsp;Power California) harnesses the energy of California’s diverse majority to create a state that is fair, inclusive and just for everyone who calls California home. MIV-YVote builds the power of young, immigrant and refugee voters of color and their families to win policy victories, elect and hold leaders accountable, and meet the aspirations of their communities.</p> <p>As a youth organizing project rooted in social justice, 99Rootz builds leadership pathways and safe spaces for growth and development for young people in the towns that surround Route 99. Working out of two offices in Sanger and Merced, Alicia Olivarez, 99Rootz Strategy Director and Crisantema “Crissy” Gallardo, their Senior Organizer, know firsthand the joys and struggles that young people experience in the region. Alicia and Crissy were born and raised here, left to attend university at Harvard and UC Berkeley respectively, and then returned to their hometowns to help build a movement of young people of color who are transforming their communities. </p> <p>Crissy describes her own upbringing in the Central Valley like this:</p> <blockquote><p>“In Atwater, I always felt like there was never anything to do. Public transportation was pretty much non-existent so getting around to the bigger towns was hard. Monday through Thursday my [farmworker] immigrant parents worked in the fields and on Sundays, their only day off, we would go to mass and then grocery shopping. That was our routine.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>My older siblings got involved with drugs and gangs and law enforcement was constantly at my house. My older sister was murdered when I was sixteen and my older brother was in jail at the time. That moment made me feel like I was the last child that could do something to make my parents proud. They worked really hard and their biggest dream was for one of us to make it to college.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>I left for UC Berkeley [and] was fortunate to find a support system composed of womyn of color [who] helped me unlearn all the lies I was taught by the school system in the Central Valley, like if I spoke English well enough I would succeed and if I assimilated everything would be fine. My time at UC Berkeley challenged me to think for myself to find my own identity.” </p></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;Alicia told me a similar story:</p> <blockquote><p>“My neighborhood [in Sanger] was made up of hard-working, largely immigrant, farm and packinghouse workers. This included my family who worked the surrounding fields. My parents could not be around for numerous reasons, including needing to work, so it fell on me as the oldest child to take care of my siblings. I did this as best as a child can take care of other children.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Growing up all I could think about was how badly I wanted out of my reality, which included being accustomed to drive-by shootings, worrying about loved ones with meth addictions, and living in housing infested with roaches and mice. I just felt incredibly alone and hopeless.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Through all of these challenges I learned about my own capacity for resilience and transformation. To resist, I had to learn to cultivate my own hope and a different narrative of our communities and carry this with me in my work with 99Rootz. To resist collectively as a region, we have to plant, nourish, and cultivate our own narratives and hope.”</p></blockquote> <p>The scale of problems in the Central Valley creates a heightened sense of the absence of community safety and wellbeing. Elected officials and law enforcement maintain power by fabricating a performance of safety through excessive criminalization. True safety requires the inclusion of people who are the least engaged in decision making—especially youth and women of color, queer, and disabled folks—while also lifting up their power. </p> <p>99Rootz is shifting the ways in which these communities are viewed and the ways in which they participate in the political spaces of the Central Valley by utilizing a combination of culture and organizing. They are helping residents to create a future where all people have a say in the decisions that affect their lives; power that truly rests with the people.</p> <p>This year, youth organizers at 99Rootz are campaigning for safe schools and communities. The 99Rootz office serves as a cultural hub for young people to experience and create art; a base from which to run phone banking and door knocking campaigns; and a resource for political education and voter registration.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the majority of people in leadership positions in the region hold values that run counter to the needs of the majority of the population who are Black and Brown. As Alicia told me:</p> <blockquote><p>“The Central Valley continues to be a political battleground when it comes to hotly contested seats, conservative congressional leadership, and prominent local criminal justice agencies allied with the racist federal administration.”</p></blockquote> <p>99Rootz works to change this from the ground up by organizing to elect decision-makers who have a genuine knowledge and understanding of the communities in which they work. They are helping to train the next generation of leaders in the values and skills they will need to govern faithfully for all.</p> <p>As part of 99Rootz’ commitment to providing young people with the skills and resources they need to thrive they lead a “Freedom Summer” in partnership with the University of California campuses at Santa Cruz and Merced. In the footsteps of the 1964<a href="https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/freedom-summer"> Freedom Summer</a> where young Black folks travelled to Mississippi to register as many Black people as they could to vote, 25 students from the Central Valley have come back to their hometowns as 99Rootz interns to organize young people in low-income communities and organize voter education and registration drives. </p> <p>They will also help to facilitate 99Rootz Summer Academies for young people of color. The academies include deep training on identity, political education, and campaign planning as well as a culture track through which young people can gain opportunities to create art and attend workshops that acknowledge collective trauma and create the space and trust to heal together.</p> <p>Crissy and Alicia’s vision is expansive, and rooted in love for community.</p> <blockquote><p>“[99Rootz is] a pathway that amplifies the local talent and resources that already exist in our communities,” Says Crissy, “Young people in the Central Valley are powerful. We are proud to be Black and Brown, we are proud to be immigrants and refugees, and we are thriving.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>More freedom centers will open up across the valley and more young people of color are going to be in the forefront fighting for justice. I want 99Rootz to be the vehicle youth use to transform our schools, cities, and region.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>We are going back to the basics, #eachoneteachone, sharing our stories, building our leadership, and taking it to the streets and ballots. The contributions of Hmong refugees, Punjabi immigrants, and Latina farm workers will be acknowledged and represented brightly in community murals, school curriculum, and elected positions. Our Central Valley is full of color, art, and pride. The Central Valley is the HEART of Cali.” </p></blockquote> <p>Alicia continues:</p> <blockquote><p>“I came back to the Valley because, although I was talking about social justice work and wanting to create change, I kept finding myself further and further away from those most impacted. By the time I got to Harvard, literally across the continent in one of the most concentrated institutions for power and privilege, I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Our communities deserve to be healthy by design and free from corporations that seek to profit off our people. My vision is for 99Rootz to help create pathways that are bigger than us, that are unapologetic about where we are from, and that build collective power.” </p></blockquote> <p>The model 99Rootz represents is important because it places power directly in the hands of young people from the Central Valley. They register other young people to vote in their high schools, talk to their peers on the phone, and walk in their own communities talking to their neighbors. </p> <p>What makes this work even more impactful is the integration of art and culture into organizing. 99Rootz recognizes that this movement is not whole until people start connecting to each other in new ways. When those in power want us to be quiet we scream louder. When they want us to be still we dance joyously with all our loved ones. </p> <p>99Rootz is making space for the creativity and joy that comes from art and culture to surround organizing work and provide what people truly need to grow and imagine a different future. They are leading the way and showing us that&nbsp;it is&nbsp;possible to be woke, to dream, and to change the power structures of self and society all at the same time.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/fearless-collective/we-protest-by-creating-beauty">We protest by creating beauty</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/dan-silver/taking-pictures-that-mean-something-everyday-life-in-salford">Taking pictures that mean something: everyday life in Salford</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/peroline-ainsworth-kiran-nihalani/five-ways-to-build-solidarity-across-our-difference">Five ways to build solidarity across our differences</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Pacita Rudder Transformative nonviolence Activism Tue, 26 Jun 2018 19:52:55 +0000 Pacita Rudder 118569 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Could NGOs flourish in a future without foreign aid? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/could-ngos-flourish-in-future-without-foreign-aid <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Only when myths are revealed as myths can there be a clear-eyed conversation about the best ways forward.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/themythologyofforeignaid.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">“Self-reliance.” Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/taiwanicdf/6479907743">Flickr/Taiwan ICDF.</a> <a href="blank">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.</a></p> <p>The last few months have been a season of myth-busting around NGOs like Oxfam and Save the Children—myths like ‘bad things don’t happen in organizations with good intentions,’ and ‘charities have better management than other types of organization because their staff are so committed.’ </p> <p>Myth-busting is inherently painful, particularly if you believe that your own myths are true. The chair of Save the Children International has resigned and the agency is currently the subject of a formal inquiry by the Charity Commission. At Oxfam GB over <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/oxfam-charity-lay-off-100-people-haiti-sex-scandal-funding-cut-a8357476.html">100 jobs have been lost, donations are down</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/15/oxfam-warns-staff-urgent-savings-16m-haiti-scandal">program cuts are inevitable</a> according to a leaked internal document, while the Haitian government has <a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/06/oxfam-reaction-to-haitian-government-decision-to-withdraw-oxfam-gb-permission-to-work-in-haiti">withdrawn Oxfam-GB’s “right to operate”</a> “<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-oxfam-haiti/haiti-withdraws-oxfam-great-britains-right-to-operate-after-misconduct-scandal-idUSKBN1J92R4">for serious violation of the principle of the dignity of human beings</a>”—the very principle on which Oxfam was founded 75 years ago.</p> <p>It’s difficult to imagine a deeper wound than this, but myth-busting can also be liberating if it creates more opportunities for reflection and transformation: only when myths are revealed as myths can there be a clear-eyed conversation about the best ways forward.</p> <p>That’s what I hope will happen with international charities. In fact it’s already happening as these agencies rush to improve their protection systems and educate their staff about bullying, sexual harassment and the need to nurture a culture of honesty and respect both inside the organization and outside. The question is, could it also happen with other, larger myths that I think are holding the sector back?</p> <p>I see these other myths as a set of inter-locking ‘Russian dolls’ each emerging from the next. The first contains a set of once-popular assumptions about the supposed strength of NGO management systems, governance, accountability and communications, all of which have been tested and (to some extent) found wanting in the current crisis over the handling of alleged sexual harassment and abuse. </p> <p>Oxfam GB’s communications about events in Haiti initially struggled to keep up with a fast-paced story, culminating in a sleep-deprived <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/16/oxfam-boss-mark-goldring-anything-we-say-is-being-manipulated-weve-been-savaged">interview with the Guardian</a> in which chief executive Mark Goldring appeared to minimize the seriousness of what had happened—“what did we do?” he said, “We murdered babies in their cots?” <a href="https://www.prweek.com/article/1457796/flop-month-oxfam-guide-crisis-mismanagement">PR Week</a>, the flagship publication of the public relations industry, called this response “a paragon of PR cack-handedness” and featured the charity as it’s “flop of the month—the Oxfam guide to crisis <em>mismanagement</em>.” To be fair, however, Oxfam has since responded pretty well, and Goldring (who was not in charge when events in Haiti unfolded) <span><a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/05/oxfam-chief-executive-to-step-down">has announced his intention to step down</a></span> from his position at the end of 2018.</p> <p>In Save the Children’s case, information about the handling of sexual harassment allegations has emerged in dribs and drabs rather than being released in total and up front. It was only after the BBC revealed the details of a leaked internal report on the handling of these allegations that SCF-UK shared it with the public, “ to ensure there is a full picture of the situation at the time and the actions taken since” as <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/save-the-children-statement-">a press statement issued by the charity on March 7 2018</a> put it. </p> <p>After Save the Children International’s chairman, Sir Alan Parker, <a href="https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/80453782-7232-427d-be6e-64633734bf7e">gave oral evidence to the Parliamentary Committee on International Development’s Inquiry</a> on Sexual Harassment and Abuse in the Aid Sector on May 22, he still wrote <a href="https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/international-development/Letter-from-Sir-Alan-Parker.pdf">a supplementary letter</a> to MPs to provide more details on exactly what had happened in answer to their questions. That’s the problem with this kind of drip-feed information strategy: even when you’re innocent it can make you look guilty.</p> <p>Lurking in the background is another, deeper myth that could be seen to act as a rationale for missteps like these: that the ‘ends justify the means.’ </p> <p>In the case of both Oxfam GB and SCF-UK, some information in the agencies’ own internal reports was not made public at the time of the investigations in order to protect the reputation of the organizations, their funding, and their ability to carry out their work—a justifiable decision but one that was to backfire badly. Oxfam only released its 2011 report on Haiti on <a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/02/oxfam-releases-report-into-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-in-haiti">February 19 2018</a>, eight years after the events in question and ten days after the Times published an expose of these events. </p> <p>As an <a href="https://www.oxfam.org.uk/media-centre/press-releases/2018/02/oxfam-releases-report-into-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-in-haiti">Oxfam press release put it</a> at the time, “We are making this exceptional publication because we want to be as transparent as possible about the decisions we made during this particular investigation and in recognition of the breach of trust that has been caused,” a sentiment echoed by Goldring in his <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/16/oxfam-boss-mark-goldring-anything-we-say-is-being-manipulated-weve-been-savaged">interview with the Guardian</a>: “I believe it was done in good faith to try to balance being transparent and protecting Oxfam’s work,” he said. But the fact that Oxfam had not told the full truth about what had happened stoked up the negative press coverage and produced a furor that created exactly the damage that Oxfam wanted to avoid. </p> <p>At Save the Children-UK, a confidential, internal report from 2015 into the handling of allegations of sexual harassment against two senior staff members concluded that “There existed a management culture that did not sufficiently adhere to established and published policies and procedures” as <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/save-the-children-statement-">an SCF-UK press statement from March 2018 put it</a>. Exactly why the agency fell short in this respect is a matter of conjecture, but a number of insiders including Jonathan Glennie (who was SCF-UK’s Policy Director at the time the allegations were made) have speculated that the agency had developed a culture of “macho behavior,” <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">as Glennie describes it</a>, that successfully drove the agency’s growth and influence but may unwittingly have eroded its commitment to care for some of its staff. For its part SCF-UK insists that it “has always sought to protect all employees from inappropriate comments and behavior,” as <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/new-save-the-children-statement">a press release put it</a> on February 20.</p> <p>One of the men involved in these allegations—Brendan Cox—“was suspended and a disciplinary process commenced. The panel included independent trustees and a QC, and the process was administered by a London law firm. Mr Cox resigned before it could be completed” <a href="https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/news/media-centre/press-releases/save-the-children-statement">as another SCF-UK press release put it on February 18</a>. Cox signed off with an email to colleagues that was later shared with the humanitarian website <a href="https://www.irinnews.org/feature/2018/02/22/former-save-children-staffers-speak-out-abusive-culture-under-justin-forsyth">IRIN News</a>: “apologies to all of you for any times I’ve been unreasonable, overbearing or relentless,” it read, “it was always with the best of intentions.” </p> <p>‘We may have messed things up or got things wrong,’ seems to be the message, ‘but if we did it was only to protect the organization and advance its work.’ Again, Cox seemed to be deploying an ‘end justifies the means’ argument. Yet Save the Children’s founder Eglantyne Jebb reached the opposite conclusion as far back as the 1920s: “so long as we are piling up injustices with our left hand,” she wrote, “we cannot establish justice with our right.” </p> <p>In cases like these the means-end myth may be rooted in noble intentions, but it is risky, and can eventually lead to a full-blown scandal. As <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-second-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">Glennie put it</a> in one of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">two articles for <em>Transformation</em></a>, “the <em>how</em> matters just as much as the <em>what</em>”<em> </em>in determining any charity’s actions and activities. And the only way to avoid the kind of damage suffered by both SCF-UK and Oxfam GB is to do the right things in the right ways in the first place—to be ethical in both ends <em>and </em>means with no exceptions. </p> <p>What is it that gets in the way of implementing this level of ethical integration? I’d suggest the third of my ‘Russian dolls’—the myth of indispensability that can turn international NGOs into hamsters on a wheel of endless growth and competition, constantly tempting them to prioritize their own organizational self-interests. </p> <p>Without us, says this myth, millions of people will die, or never go to school or be able to grow their own food, so please give us your money since that’s what will make the difference. It’s not surprising that this myth lies at the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/phil-vernon/what-s-it-all-about-oxfam">heart of charity fundraising</a>, but it’s also the ultimate insulation against pressures to reform, since none of us wants to be responsible for the unnecessary death or suffering of another human being. The problem is, in most cases it isn’t true. </p> <p>In contrast to the images of passivity and dependence that are retailed by much charity advertising, most people don’t need an industry of outside intermediaries to ‘help’ them realize their dreams—they just need to be to be trusted, listened to and supported to take charge of their own destinies in ways that place <em>their </em>agency at the center of the action, surrounded by the contacts and resources they need to make things happen both individually and collectively. </p> <p>Of course, everyone needs some help to do this properly. In emergencies they might need more than usual and in war zones even more—when people are starving they need food and water, not political correctness—and there are circumstances in which <em>non</em>-local groups can be especially effective because they can offer more connections and protection. </p> <p>But as a general principle it’s hard to argue that bureaucracies funded and governed from thousands of miles away are better-placed to provide support than local institutions embedded in their own communities and subject to indigenous pressures to improve over time. And if Oxfam and Save the Children haven’t been supporting those institutions to grow and develop over the last 75 years then what have they been doing? This is different from launching local franchises of global brands which is already common practice.</p> <p>As I’ve said <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam">many times before</a>, there are lots of valuable roles to play for international NGOs in this scenario which are actually healthier and more effective in promoting their long term goals. The problem is that they won’t bring in the money required to maintain these agencies in their current size and shape. That’s the nettle that eventually has to be grasped, but once it is there will be less pressure to surrender to the means/ends myth, the ethical confusion it can create, and the management failings that may result. </p> <p>In other areas of life like our families, communities and social movements this wouldn’t be a problem, since the imperative to step aside is obvious: at some point, those who are older, or who have more power and opportunity, must move into the background so that others can develop independently and flourish, with all the risks and excitements this entails. “The golden rule is to help those we love to escape from us” as the Austrian theologian <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_von_H%C3%BCgel">Friedrich von Hügel</a> <a href="https://archive.org/stream/MN5160ucmf_0/MN5160ucmf_0_djvu.txt">once wrote to his niece</a>.</p> <p>But at the moment, asking organisations like Oxfam and Save the Children to envisage a world outside the foreign aid industry is like asking a fish to imagine a world without the water in which it swims: to 95 per cent of charity CEOs and board members it’s simply inconceivable. Nevertheless, planning for such a future is the first step towards the transformations required for NGOs to flourish in world without the asymmetries and contradictions that bedevil the current system—and which lie buried deep in the heart of that nest of Russian dolls. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/it-s-time-to-take-our-charities-to-cleaners">It’s time to take our charities to the cleaners</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jonathan-glennie/at-what-cost-reflection-on-crisis-at-save-children-uk">At what cost? A reflection on the crisis at Save the Children UK</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/michael-edwards/what-s-to-be-done-with-oxfam-part-2">What’s to be done with Oxfam, part 2?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation International Aid Save the Children Fund Oxfam NGOs Michael Edwards The role of money Activism Economics Sun, 24 Jun 2018 17:19:23 +0000 Michael Edwards 118565 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Fifty years later, we still have a dream https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/rosa-pavanelli/fifty-years-later-we-still-have-dream <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Poor People’s Campaign arrives in Washington DC it’s time to celebrate Public Service Day.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/RosaPavanelli.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Ohio Poor People's Campaign 5/29/18, Columbus Ohio. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/becker271/28570189458/in/album-72157696830366554/">Flickr/Becker1999</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>They gather every Monday. Hundreds of low-wage workers, faith leaders, civil rights organizers, trade union members and liberal activists from all over the US have been taking to the streets each week since May 13th2018 to protest&nbsp;inequality, racism, ecological devastation, militarism and all kinds of discrimination.</p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">They call themselves the “<a href="https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/">Poor People’s Campaign</a>”, a direct reference to the movement launched by Martin Luther King Jr. a few months before his assassination on 4 April 1968.&nbsp;</p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">The heart of King’s campaign was a mule-drawn procession from Marks, Mississippi, at that time the poorest town in the poorest state of the United States, eventually arriving in Washington DC. Today’s Poor People’s Campaign will also&nbsp;culminate in a national action&nbsp;at the US Capitol on 23 June,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.un.org/en/events/publicserviceday/" target="_blank">UN Public Service Day.</a></p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">This is not a coincidence. Only real access for all to quality public services like education, health care, childcare services, decent retirement, public transport, efficient justice systems and quality infrastructure will allow the fight for social justice and the reduction of inequalities to progress.</p> <p class="m-2456473295912727091paragraphscxw101230683">Martin Luther King knew this. On the day of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee he was supporting 1,300 sanitation workers who were on strike, convinced that a coalition of activists from trade unions, faith and social justice organizations was the best way to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.</p> <p>Fifty years later, this agenda is more relevant than ever in the US and the rest of the world. Public capital—as opposed to private—has <a href="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a0c602bf43b5594845abb81/t/5a3850658165f5e58acc60c2/1513640041168/wir2018-summary-english.pdf">shrunk to nearly zero everywhere since 1970</a>. It is less than zero in the US and Britain due to austerity programs and regressive tax systems, along with a political framing that considers public companies as obsolete and public servants as a class of privileged workers who are expensive and inefficient. Not to mention trade unionists, who are seen as dangerous dinosaurs who should be mocked at best, and at worst imprisoned or killed.</p> <p>The consequences are devastating. Income inequality has increased in every region of the world in recent decades as the global top one per cent of earners has captured twice as much of GDP growth as the poorest fifty per cent, as shown by the&nbsp;<a href="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a0c602bf43b5594845abb81/t/5a3850658165f5e58acc60c2/1513640041168/wir2018-summary-english.pdf" target="_blank">World Inequality report 2018</a>.</p> <p>This phenomenon is especially acute in the United States, where the top one per cent’s share of national wealth rose from 22 per cent in 1980 to 39 per cent in 2014. Most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1 per cent of wealth owners.</p> <p>The battle to reverse these trends is tough and dangerous, as public sector workers are constantly under attack all over the world. The number of countries which tolerate the arbitrary arrest and detention of workers increased from 44 to 59 in 2017 according to the International Trade Union Confederation's&nbsp;<a href="https://www.ituc-csi.org/ituc-global-rights-index-2018?lang=en" target="_blank">Global Rights Index</a>. About 2.5 billion people in the informal economy, among migrants and those in precarious jobs are excluded from any protection under labor laws.</p> <p>But this is not inevitable. At&nbsp;<a href="http://www.world-psi.org/en" target="_blank">Public Services International</a>&nbsp;(PSI), a Global Union Federation dedicated to promoting quality public services, we are convinced that now, more&nbsp;than ever, working people need strong unions to fight back and secure good jobs with fair salaries and benefits.</p> <p>Just like Martin Luther King 50 years ago we have a dream: that one day&nbsp;workers of all races and backgrounds will have&nbsp;a decent life. "<em>One Day" </em>is also the title of a PSI&nbsp;<a href="http://oneday.world-psi.org/#/" target="_blank">series of films</a>&nbsp;on the world of&nbsp;labor&nbsp;which highlights the extraordinary lives of ordinary public sector workers around the globe.</p> <p>On this Public Service Day, we want to celebrate these workers. But celebration and struggle are not about one day or one moment. They are about building a movement that&nbsp;will&nbsp;last.&nbsp;This will be a long journey, but when social movements and trade unions come together they can win.</p> <p>It is time to shift the narrative. The struggle for universal rights such as a living wage, good working conditions and access to quality public services will never be outdated.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert-kyle-moore/great-society-versus-poor-people-s-campaign">The Great Society versus the Poor People’s Campaign</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sarah-freeman-woolpert/renewed-poor-people-s-campaign-revives-king-s-dream-of-challen">A renewed Poor People’s Campaign revives King’s dream of challenging class divides</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/steven-parfitt/future-of-trade-unions">The future of trade unions</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Trade unions Rosa Pavanelli Activism Economics Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:56:39 +0000 Rosa Pavanelli 118539 at https://www.opendemocracy.net What we can really learn from Gandhi? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/chris-moore-backman/what-we-can-really-learn-from-gandhi <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Social struggle calls for true transformation, a trading in of old lives for new.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/ChrisMooreBackman.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Credit: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marche_sel.jpg">Yann via Wikimedia Commons</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/">CC0 Public Domain</a>.</p> <p>Once again I’m thinking back to the 16th of February 2003. By that time, my own experiments with nonviolence had formed my lukewarm (at best) opinion of the marches and rallies currently in fashion. But February 16th was not a day to let skepticism reign. The Iraq War was imminent and people were taking to the streets. I knew I ought be among them. And, while I cannot claim that I stepped out on that winter morning with every bit of my hard-earned skepticism left at the door, I did step out. With an earnest and open heart, I stepped out. </p> <p>Downtown, I met up with a small group from my Quaker meeting. We wove among many thousands of our fellow San Franciscans, adding our voices to a resounding “no,” collectively and clearly pronounced in the face of the looming re-invasion of Iraq. It was an exhilarating day. It was a day of passion and purpose. Perhaps most dazzling and heartening was the knowledge that our voices were lifted in concert with millions of others the world over.</p> <p>Remember that? We were experiencing a taste of the immense potential of people and of the great underlying solidarity that bound us together. It was a marvelous day. And, it was one of the loneliest days of my life. The profound loneliness I experienced wasn’t simply a case of my skeptic shadow getting the best of me. On the contrary, it was the relaxed grip of my skepticism that opened me to the truth I encountered that day. In the painful isolation I had that singular experience of clearly seeing something for the first time that at some level I had known all along.</p> <p>Amidst the day’s exhilaration it was plain to me that something essential was missing—that there was, in fact, a gaping void at the very heart of it all. Deep down, I knew that this marvelous day was a day of certain failure. I knew that our massive mobilization to stop the war would inevitably and necessarily fade, and it would do so quickly.&nbsp;During the march, my eyes were invariably drawn by particular phrases scrawled on several of the signs and banners. And I couldn’t help but think of the person behind those catchy one-liners: Gandhi.</p> <p>Like every great prophet Gandhi is customarily placed on a pedestal. We revere him as a patron saint of nonviolence, a mahatma—the Sanskrit term of veneration meaning great soul—a larger-than-life figure we can never hope to fully emulate. We hold him at this comfortable distance, deeply impressed and inspired, while remaining free and clear from what he actually taught. Gandhi himself bristled at the thought of being called mahatma, doubting his worthiness of the accolade, and knowing well that such veneration would necessarily distract people from what he was actually doing. Gandhi urged his fellow Indians not to exalt him but to look at the nuts and bolts of nonviolent transformation. </p> <p>Over the last decade, I’ve seen my primary work as that of taking Gandhi down off the pedestal. I’ve studied him closely, including his teachings about Satyagraha, a term coined by him and variously translated as “truth force,” “soul force” or “clinging to truth,” generally used in reference to nonviolent resistance or a specific nonviolent campaign. I am committed to listen to Gandhi as a trusted guide with concrete instructions relating to my here-and-now, day-to-day life. Following February 16, 2003, this quest became particularly focused. I felt compelled to understand both the gaping hole I experienced that day and the nature of its possible remedy. I hoped Gandhi’s life and work would offer guidance. And in due time, I found this guidance in the space&nbsp;of a single paragraph penned by Gandhi at a critical point&nbsp;in his life.</p> <p>On February 27, 1930, two short weeks prior to launching the Salt Satyagraha, a pivotal episode in India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire, Mohandas Gandhi wrote a short article for a national publication. The article was called “When I am Arrested.” While the Salt Satyagraha has been the subject of immense interest to scholars and activists, this article appears to have gone mostly unnoticed. This is understandable, given the drama of the “great march to the sea” and the massive civil disobedience that followed it.</p> <p>The British, in order to maintain their monopoly on the salt industry, had prohibited any unsanctioned production or sale of salt. Gandhi defied British imperialism by leading a 385-kilometre trek to the Dandi seashore and lifting a now-iconic fistful of salt above his head in contravention of the salt laws. It stands as one of the most potent touchstones in the history of nonviolent resistance.&nbsp;</p> <p>It’s hard not to get lost in the drama, power and personality of the Salt Satyagraha, but if we look closely at “When I am Arrested,” we catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner workings and design of India’s independence movement. Gandhi published the article to put the masses of India on alert and to give them a final set of instructions. It also offered an impassioned battle cry, culminating with Gandhi’s declaration that this time not a single nonviolent devotee of Indian independence “should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.”</p> <p>Within this call to action I found the paragraph I believe we activists most need to hear. The paragraph refers to the ashram that was Gandhi’s home, a place where religious devotees lived, raised their food and worshipped together. It was also the starting point of the march to the sea.</p> <blockquote><p><em>"So far as I am concerned, my intention is to start the movement only through the inmates of the Ashram and those who&nbsp;have submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit&nbsp;of its methods. Those, therefore, who will offer battle at the&nbsp;very commencement will be unknown to fame. Hitherto the Ashram has been deliberately kept in reserve in order that by a fairly long course of discipline it might acquire stability.&nbsp;I feel, that if the Satyagraha Ashram is to deserve the great confidence that has been reposed in it and the affection lavished upon it by friends, the time has arrived for it to demonstrate the qualities implied in the word satyagraha.&nbsp;I feel that our self-imposed restraints have become subtle indulgences, and the prestige acquired has provided us with privileges and conveniences of which we may be utterly unworthy. These have been thankfully accepted in the hope that some day we would be able to give a good account of ourselves in terms of satyagraha. And if at the end of nearly 15 years of its existence, the Ashram cannot give such a demonstration, it and I should disappear, and it would be well for the nation, the Ashram and me."</em></p></blockquote> <p>What struck me that day in San Francisco, on the eve of war, was that we peace-minded folk were entirely unprepared for the battle at hand. Our so-called “movement” lacked the depth necessary to sustain it. It came as no surprise, then, to see that after the bombs started dropping, we returned, with few exceptions, to our lives—to business, “progressive” though it may have been, as usual. Though committed nonviolent practitioners dappled the crowd that day, the marching thousands were not grounded by the presence of a core group such as that which gave such depth to India’s independence movement or the civil rights movement, which drew heavily on Gandhi’s teaching and example. Try as we might to organize faithful and effective nonviolent resistance, if we proceed as though the battle doesn’t require that kind of depth, discipline and training, our efforts will necessarily continue to come up short. And where does such depth come from?</p> <p>In Gandhi’s article, “When I Am Arrested,” he offers us a valuable clue: 78 people prepared for 15 years. In community life, they underwent the training of spiritual discipline and constructive work of social uplift. Though they were the core of the Salt Satyagraha, those 78 did not carry it out on their own. The great power of that movement was many-layered, involving literally millions of individuals responding to the direction of a superlative leader. But the role of that core of 78 was essential to the Salt Satyagraha’s success and the ultimate success of India’s struggle for independence.</p> <p>If we want to truly benefit from Gandhi’s guidance here, we need to enter into a deep and soulful investigation of this ashram experience, and discover what Gandhi meant when he said that the Salt Satyagraha would only be started by those who had “submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit of its methods.” Gandhi calls for true transformation, a trading in of old lives for new. What is remarkable about Gandhi the teacher is not that he introduced novel concepts—he said himself that nonviolence is as “old as the hills”—but that he so deftly systematized the transformative work of building a nonviolent life, and that he did it in a way that can be effectively translated for our time and place.</p> <p>Gandhi’s approach to nonviolence, which was the foundation of his ashram communities, points us to interrelated, mutually supportive spheres of experimentation. Nonviolence scholar Gene Sharp notes three such spheres in Gandhi’s writings: personal transformation, constructive program (work of social uplift and renewal), and political action, prioritized in that order. At the heart of Gandhi’s approach to social change is his understanding that the building blocks of a nonviolent society are the vibrant, productive, nonviolent lives of individual women and men.</p> <p>Effective nonviolent political action does not spring from a vacuum; it grows out of daily living grounded in personal and communal spiritual practice, and in constructive service to one’s immediate and surrounding communities. Nonviolence on the political stage is only as powerful as the personal and&nbsp;community-based nonviolence of those who engage in it. The importance of the ashram experience flows from this understanding.</p> <p>This fundamental aspect of the Gandhian design almost entirely eludes us in our North American context. Here, we most often employ the reverse order of Gandhi’s threefold approach, seeking a political response first, the building up of a constructive alternative second and the stuff of all-out personal reformation third, if at all. This reversal allows North American activists of faith to sidestep some of the most foundational aspects of Gandhi’s nonviolent recipe: namely, radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice.</p> <p>Because we do not believe nonviolence requires these of us, we miss the necessity of the ashram experience. No one can build a nonviolent life as an individual. I may be able to practice some measure of piecemeal nonviolence more or less on my own, but if I’m going to pluck the seeds of war from every part of my life that I possibly can, if I am going to renounce and abandon the violence of my first-world way of life, I need to be surrounded by others whose knowledge, wisdom and experience will complement mine, and whose example and company will inspire me to stay the course.</p> <p>The 78 members of Satyagraha Ashram who were the cadre of “foot soldiers” Gandhi chose to be the nucleus of the Salt Satyagraha were doing all of this for one another for a period of nearly 15 years. This prepared them for the high level of self-sacrifice that Gandhi foresaw when he said, “Not a single believer in nonviolence as an article of faith for the purpose of achieving India’s goal should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.” Until faith communities embrace this level of commitment and clarity of purpose, it is up to those of us who feel called in this direction to seek each other out.</p> <p>We need to hold one another accountable to this magnificent charge. We need to manifest our shared strength and leadership. We need to move together toward the key ingredients in Gandhi’s nonviolent recipe—radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice. As we walk that long, disciplined, grace-filled path we and our religious communities will be rightly stretched. And in time, I trust that we will be gradually readied for sustained nonviolent struggle.</p> <p class="image-caption">Syndicated from <a href="http://www.earthlingopinion.files.wordpress.com/">www.earthlingopinion.files.wordpress.com</a>.This article originally appeared in&nbsp;<a href="https://geezmagazine.org/">Geez magazine</a>.&nbsp;Geez is an independent quarterly Canadian magazine dealing with issues of spirituality, social justice, religion, and progressive cultural politics.&nbsp;A version of this article appeared in Friends Journal, April 2006.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/mark-engler-paul-engler/how-did-gandhi-win">How did Gandhi win?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/danielle-batist-arun-gandhi/arun-gandhi-grandfather-mahatma-nonviolence-peace">Stopping war comes from each of us: Arun Gandhi on his grandfather Mahatma</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Chris Moore-Backman Transformative nonviolence Activism Love and Spirituality Thu, 21 Jun 2018 17:45:10 +0000 Chris Moore-Backman 118071 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Would psychedelics really lead to democratic transformation? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/adam-smith/would-psychedelics-really-lead-to-democratic-transformation <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>History offers many&nbsp;reasons to look askance at technical shortcuts to the reformation of human character: a response to <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd">Vikram Zutshi</a>.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Adam Smith.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/25604678278">Flickr/Torbakhopper</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">CC BY-ND 2.0</a>.</p> <p>In his recent article for <em>Transformation</em> <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd">Vikram Zutshi</a> argues that if psychedelic drugs can radically reform our relationship to nature and each other, then “those of us committed to social transformation must start to take the use of psychedelics much more seriously.” He suggests that in the face of environmental collapse and intensifying hatreds, “perhaps real change begins with rewiring our perceptual framework.”</p> <p>It seems clear that psychedelics can rewire our perceptions, and since our perceptions drive our politics these drugs certainly do have political significance. But it’s not clear that that a psychedelic politics would also be a&nbsp;<em>democratic</em>&nbsp;politics, nor that the social transformations Zutshi envisions would be positive if what we want is a more open and inclusive democracy.</p> <p>Of course everything depends on what we mean by terms. Maybe Zutshi has a different notion of what politics is, and what it means for politics to be democratic. I think politics is democratic when we meet each other as equals in debates about public matters. So, for example, there can be no democratic politics between children and adults. Of course in reality the line between childhood and adulthood is messy. Some children are more than the equal of adults and some adults are less mature than some children. </p> <p>But the point is this: democracy is never just about inclusion in the abstract. It’s always about being included&nbsp;<em>into</em>&nbsp;some real community of people who treat each other as equals—not in every capacity but in terms of the capacities required to participate in common decision-making. We can debate precisely what these capacities are, but if so that means that one of the good democrat’s capacities is precisely the willingness to debate, and that includes a basic level of respect for facts and logic, as well as for the feelings and sensibilities of others.</p> <p>Of course there’s always a risk that the requirements for inclusion in this process will be confused with excuses to exclude people who ought to be treated as equals—groups that traditionally have been marginalized and oppressed such as women, minorities and the poor. But if there are no such requirements then we are no longer talking substantively about democracy, because a democracy isn’t just a particular set of rules for governing the use of power. It’s also a particular attitude, a desire and determination to <em>share</em> power. </p> <p>This attitude must be cultivated and can also be lost, but it’s very clear that not everyone shares it.&nbsp; So the democratic project is never just about making political institutions more democratic. It’s always also about making human beings into democrats. It’s about making ourselves and others into certain kinds of people, people who are capable of acting as democratic citizens.</p> <p>Would a more psychedelic politics really be a more democratic one?</p> <p>I think Zutshi’s prescription for his brave new world makes the common mistake of thinking instrumentally about what are ultimately ethical questions. For him, psychedelics are a means to an end: we should use these drugs to make a certain sort of person in order to make a certain sort of politics so that we can make everyone happy. But thinking about democratic politics in this way is misguided. </p> <p>Democracy isn’t an end-state to be achieved; if it was, an end-run to its achievement might be justified. When we think democratically we do have goals in mind—to do justice, diminish suffering and so forth. But in terms of democracy it is better to think of the goals themselves as means to these ends, and to think of the ends not as whatever we might accomplish but as&nbsp;<em>how</em>&nbsp;we try to accomplish it. </p> <p>We can see what is dangerous about instrumental thinking when we think about the terrible things that have been done to people in the name of ‘the people’—the &nbsp;<em>gulags </em>and pogroms and cultural revolutions, the ‘eggs broken for all the omelets.’ History offers many&nbsp;reasons to look askance at technical shortcuts to the reformation of human character, including more recent neoliberal attempts to reduce people completely to cogs in the capitalist machine.</p> <p>What is it about psychedelics that might make them the wrong way to go about reaching the right place? Just this, in my view: what we respect in ourselves and in our fellow citizens—that special capacity that justifies political inclusion—is not our capacity to see the world ‘clearly.’ If it were, and if psychedelics really did give us that capacity all in one go, then some of my suspicion would be soothed. </p> <p>But that can’t be right, since it would make ideological clarity the litmus test for inclusion. And if that’s the test we use to distinguish ‘more democratic’ from ‘less democratic’ then there’s little room for a politics in which citizens know, not only how to cooperate but also how to engage respectfully in <em>conflict</em> with each other; a politics in which people know how to fight on the ground with and against their political friends, not just how to ascend to the spiritual heights where all differences dissolve in some psychedelic state of bliss. </p> <p>In Zutshi’s vision there isn’t much room for a&nbsp;<em>democratic</em>&nbsp;politics like this, because in a democratic politics we don’t just&nbsp;make&nbsp;people into democrats by implementing one person’s idea of what a democrat is. Instead we are all made into democrats by experience as we contest one another’s ideas and positions. So it’s in conversation that we come to see more clearly. If everyone already had the clarity that drugs may or may not provide, there would be no need for conversation at all. There would be no need for anything like ‘democracy.’ </p> <p>We can pursue democratic goals democratically, but we can also pursue them in an un-democratic spirit, in which case we must hope that we fail. Psychedelics might open up the spirit of politics but I’m not sure it would be the spirit that we want.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/vikram-zutshi/political-significance-of-lsd">The political significance of LSD</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ronan-harrington-emil-ejner-friis/why-progressives-need-to-take-higher-states-of-cons">Why progressives need to take higher states of consciousness seriously</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/jeremy-gilbert/psychedelic-socialism">Psychedelic socialism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Adam Smith Culture Tue, 19 Jun 2018 19:55:19 +0000 Adam Smith 118422 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Confronting the money-power elite https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/thomas-h-greco-jr/confronting-money-power-elite <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Those who control the creation and allocation of money are able to control every other aspect of society. Shouldn’t that be us?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/TomGreco.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/2207307656/">Flickr/Liz West</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p>The world today is controlled by a small elite group that has been increasingly concentrating power and wealth in their own hands. There are many observable facets to this power structure, including the military security complex that President Eisenhower warned against, the fossil fuel interests, and the neoconservatives and others that are promoting US&nbsp;&nbsp;hegemony around the world, but the most powerful and overarching force is the ‘money power’ that controls money, banking, and finance worldwide. It is clear that those who control the creation and allocation of money through the banking system are able to control virtually every other aspect of society.</p> <p>What can be done to turn the tide? How can we empower ourselves to assert our desires for a more fair, humane and peaceful world order? I believe that the greatest possibility of bringing about the desired changes lies in economic and political innovation and restructuring.</p> <p><strong>The monopolization of credit.</strong></p> <p>I came to realize many years ago that the primary mechanism by which people are controlled is the system of money, banking, and finance. The power elite have long known this and have used it to enrich themselves and consolidate their grip. Though we take it for granted, money has become an utter necessity for surviving in the modern world. But unlike water, air, food, and energy, money is not a natural substance—it is a human contrivance, and it has been contrived in such a way as to centralize power and concentrate wealth.</p> <p>Money today is essentially credit, and the control of our collective credit has been monopolized in the hands of a cartel comprised of huge private banks with the complicity of politicians who control central governments. This collusive arrangement between bankers and politicians disempowers people, businesses, and communities and enables the super-class to use centralized control mechanisms to their own advantage and purpose. It misallocates credit, making it both scarce and expensive for the productive private sector while enabling central governments to circumvent, by deficit spending, the natural limits imposed by its revenue streams of taxes and fees. Thus, there is <a href="https://reinventingmoney.com/new-approach-to-freedom/">virtually no limit</a> to the amounts that are lavished on the machinery of war and domination. </p> <p>In today’s world, banks get to lend our collective credit back to us and charge interest for it, while central governments get to spend more than they earn in overt tax revenues by relying on the banking system to monetize government debts as needed. These two parasitic drains on the economy—interest &nbsp;and the inflationary monetization of government debts—create &nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/thomas-h-greco-jr/money-debt-and-end-of-growth-imperative">a growth imperative</a> that is destroying the environment, shredding the social fabric, and creating ever greater disparities of income and wealth. </p> <p><strong>How can money power be confronted?</strong></p> <p>Fortunately,&nbsp;<em>we the people</em>&nbsp;have in our hands the means of our own liberation: the power to allocate our credit directly without the use of banks or political money. How to assert that power is the theme of my most recent book,&nbsp;<em><a href="https://beyondmoney.net/the-end-of-money-and-the-future-of-civilization/">The End of Money and the Future of Civilization</a></em>.</p> <p>Over the years there has been a long parade of reformers who wish to take the power to create money away from banks. This is an admirable objective that I wholeheartedly endorse. But the alternatives they propose have been to revert to commodity money like gold (which has proven to be inadequate), or transfer the power to issue money to central government—what I call the “greenback solution,” which harks back to Abraham Lincoln’s scheme for financing the Civil War. That proposal calls for the federal government to bypass the Federal Reserve and the banks by issuing a national currency directly into circulation from the Treasury. At first glance this may seem like a good idea, but it has many shortcomings. </p> <p>First of all, the greenback solution does not propose to end the money monopoly but merely to put it under new management: it’s a gross delusion to think that the Treasury is, or might become, independent of the interests that now control the Federal Reserve and the major banks. Consider the fact that most recent Treasury Secretaries have been former executives of Goldman Sachs, the most powerful financial establishment in the country. It is naïve to expect that they will serve the common good rather than the money power that has spawned them.</p> <p>Second, central planning of complex economic factors has been shown to be unworkable. That is especially true with regard to money. Neither the Fed nor the Treasury is qualified to decide what kind of money—and how much—is necessary for the economy to function smoothly. The issuance and control of credit should be decentralized into the hands of the producers of needed goods and services so that the supply of money automatically rises and falls in accordance with the quantity of goods and services that are available to be bought and sold. If private currencies and credit clearing exchanges are allowed to grow without interference from vested interests, their superiority will quickly become apparent.</p> <p>Third, the greenback solution does nothing to eliminate deficit spending and inflation, which are enabled by legal tender laws. As long as political currencies are legally forced to circulate at face value, the abusive issuance of money, the debasement of the national currency, and the centralization of power will continue. All government programs, including social programs and the military budget, ought to be funded by legitimate government revenues, not by the underhanded means of monetary debasement. </p> <p>Centralized control of credit money and the imposition of legal tender laws enable the hidden tax that is called&nbsp;<em>inflation.&nbsp;</em>Salmon P. Chase, who as Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary presided over the issuance of greenbacks, argued later as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that the issuance of greenback currency was unconstitutional and exceeded the powers of the federal government. &nbsp;“The legal tender quality is only valuable for the purposes of dishonesty” as he put it. Finally, the political process has been so thoroughly corrupted and taken over by the power elite that political approaches to solving the money problem have virtually no chance of success.<strong>&nbsp;</strong></p> <p><strong>Towards more effective means of empowerment.</strong></p> <p>Business people, farmers, professionals, and others who are engaged in productive enterprise are clamoring to gain access to credit, but they fail to recognize that it’s already in their collective hands. Under present arrangements we give our credit to the banks, and then beg them to lend some of it back to us and pay them interest for the ‘privilege.’ But there is no good reason for credit to be monopolized in this way. Businesses routinely offer credit to one another when they deliver goods and services and allow some period of time for payment to be made. This practice can be extended and organized on a multilateral basis.</p> <p>The real solution to the problem lies in creating new structures for allocating credit that are based on the legitimate needs and the resources of businesses, workers, and state and local governments. C<strong>ompetition in currency</strong>&nbsp;can transcend the dysfunctions inherent in the present centralized system and ensure that there will be sufficient amounts of different media of exchange to enable all desirable trades. Competing currencies will also ensure that political currencies like the dollar cannot be abused without losing patronage in the market. We need to promote the&nbsp;<strong>separation of money from the state&nbsp;</strong>by&nbsp;deploying exchange mechanisms that&nbsp;<strong>decentralize and democratize the control of credit</strong>.</p> <p>Money is first and foremost a medium for facilitating the exchange of goods and services and other forms of real value, but the&nbsp;exchange function&nbsp;can be <a href="https://youtu.be/uO7uwCpcau8">effectively and efficiently provided outside the banking system</a> and without the use of conventional political money. This is already being done through credit clearing exchanges and through the issuance of private currencies or vouchers by businesses that produce valuable goods and services. Both approaches have the capacity to provide exchange media that can also be used by the general public to mediate all manner of transactions.</p> <p>Is there any practical possibility of organizing producers on a sufficiently large scale to achieve this? Yes, because this approach is far more practical and empowering than any other currently on offer. Improvements in the human condition have always stemmed from the creativity, industriousness, and goodwill of people. A cooperative and compassionate, society <a href="//youtu.be/ty7APADAa8g">can emerge</a> from the&nbsp;creation of exchange alternatives that are based on voluntary, free-market, and community-based initiatives that enable people to transcend the money monopoly&nbsp;and the war machine. </p> <p>This process begins at the local level by utilizing the credit of local producers to mediate the exchange of goods and services that are locally produced or sold. There are many examples of successful private currencies that have been circulated in various times and places. Whatever they are called—<em>vouchers</em>,&nbsp;<em>scrip</em>,&nbsp;<em>credits</em>,&nbsp;<em>certificates</em>&nbsp;or&nbsp;<em>coupons</em>—sound private and community currencies can be&nbsp;spent&nbsp; into circulation by any trusted producer or reseller who is ready, willing, and able to reciprocate by redeeming the equivalent amount as payment for real value,&nbsp;<em>i.e.</em> the goods or services that are their normal stock in trade and are in regular demand. There is <a href="https://beyondmoney.net/2016/08/26/solar-dollars-a-private-currency-with-multiple-benefits/">nothing mysterious or complicated</a> about this process. </p> <p>The exchange of goods and services is also enabled on a moneyless basis by using a process of direct ‘credit clearing’ among buyers and sellers. This is already being done by scores of commercial trade exchanges (sometimes called ‘barter’ exchanges) that have been operating successfully around the world for more than 40 years. These commercial credit circles, comprised of thousands of businesses of all kinds, presently mediate an estimated 20 to 30 billion dollars’ worth of trades annually, and these numbers continue to grow. </p> <p>As operational improvements are made and credit management procedures become standardized, these exchanges <a href="https://beyondmoney.net/excerpts/limiting-factors-in-the-operation-of-commercial-trade-exchanges/">could be networked together</a> to realize the vast potential of moneyless credit clearing arrangements.&nbsp;In this emerging&nbsp;worldwide web of exchange,<strong>&nbsp;</strong>members of each local circle or node are known and allocate credit to one another based on their reputation and ability to provide valuable goods and services. Thus we can eventually have an independent system of non-monetary payment in which&nbsp;credit is locally controlled but globally useful.</p> <p>It is essential and entirely feasible that we reduce our dependence on the banking system and conventional political monies. Through the deployment of innovative mechanisms of exchange like private currencies and credit clearing networks, individuals, businesses and communities can empower themselves economically and politically to build a society that is free, fair, prosperous and peaceful.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><em>A longer version of this article is available <a href="https://beyondmoney.net/confronting-the-power-elite/">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/thomas-h-greco-jr/money-debt-and-end-of-growth-imperative">Money, debt and the end of the growth imperative</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sam-cossar-gilbert/five-ways-to-transform-our-economies">Five ways to transform our economies </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/rajiv-khanna/are-we-losing-our-love-of-life-it-must-be-money">Are we losing our love of life? ‘It must be the money’</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Thomas H. Greco Jr. The role of money Economics Sun, 17 Jun 2018 20:07:55 +0000 Thomas H. Greco Jr. 118421 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Eight lessons from climate organizing for today’s youth-led movements https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/nick-engelfried/eight-lessons-from-climate-organizing-for-today-s-youth-led-movements <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As a young person, there’s nothing less empowering than listening to an older person tell you how real activism was done in the 1960s.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em>This article was first published on <a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/lessons-youth-activism-climate-movement/">Waging Nonviolence</a>.</em></p><p><em><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/NickEngelfried.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></em></p> <p class="image-caption">Climate justice activists protest the Dakota Access pipeline outside the White House in February 2017. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenmelkisethian/page1">Flickr/Stephen Melkisethian</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">CC BY-NC-ND 2.0</a>.</p> <p>On March 24 2018 I stood in the rain in front of City Hall in Bellingham, Washington with some 3,000 people for the local March for Our Lives demonstration. It was one of 800 similar events happening nationwide that day, with about two million people participating coast to coast.</p> <p>The March for Our Lives against gun violence is one example of the wave of massive demonstrations that have swept the country since the Trump administration took office. From the Women’s March, to responses to Trump’s attacks on Muslims and immigrants, to protests against police violence, rallies for healthcare, and uprisings against pipelines, the last two years have been characterized by mass movements unparalleled in the United States in decades. Many, like the March for Our Lives, involve young people in leading roles. As someone who spent most of the past decade as a “youth activist”—in my case, a climate activist—I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.</p> <p>I became an activist while attending Portland Community College at age 17 in 2005. Inspired by a political science professor who discussed social movements in class, I researched projects like the Campus Climate Challenge, a campaign to pressure school administrations to curb campus carbon emissions. I got involved in pushing for recycling at my college.</p> <p>Fast forward a couple years to when Energy Action Coalition organized Power Shift 2007, a gathering of about 5,000 students in Washington, D.C. that included a multi-day organizing conference and a rally at the Capitol. At the time, it was the largest-ever demonstration for climate action in the United States. For many of us, this stands out as the moment the “youth climate movement” became a distinct force in progressive politics.</p> <p>I didn’t make it to Power Shift 2007. But I was in D.C. in 2009 for the next Power Shift, an even larger gathering of some 12,000 youth. Then a senior at Oregon’s Pacific University, I convinced three classmates to fly across the country with me.</p> <p>A lot has changed since those early years of youth climate activism. For one thing, many of us who got involved then are no longer “youth”—I recently turned 30. More importantly, the movement has grown in remarkable, unexpected ways, overlapping with other progressive organizing efforts. Indeed, my sense is that there’s no longer a distinct “youth climate movement” the way there was in 2009. It’s become several movements—for fossil fuel divestment, opposition to pipelines and solidarity with indigenous nations. Another way of looking at it is youth climate activists are just one part of a much larger coalition of progressive movements that simply didn’t exist on this scale 10 years ago.</p> <p>For almost exactly a decade, I identified as a youth climate activist. After graduating from Pacific University in 2009 I volunteered for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, focusing on involving college students in the effort to close Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant. In 2011 I moved to Missoula, Montana and spent four years rallying students and others to oppose coal export and mining projects. These last few years I’ve made a transition to supporting the growth and leadership of a new generation of young activists working on climate change or other issues.</p> <p>Like all large movements, youth climate activism has had its successes and setbacks, its enormously inspiring moments and others when it failed to live up to its ideals. What follows are some reflections on lessons from the movement, necessarily limited by my own experience and position as a white male organizer from a middle-class background. Despite this bias, I hope these reflections may be of use to people involved in today’s fast-growing youth-led movements.</p> <p><strong>1. Trust in students’ abilities.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the best things the youth climate movement did early was stop telling young people they were apathetic—as media figures&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/10/opinion/10friedman.html">like Thomas Friedman</a>&nbsp;were doing—and start saying they were powerful and inspiring. Events like Power Shift promoted positive messages about the abilities of youth. This inspired many young people, including me, to think we could make a difference and try to do so.</p> <p>Still, some national groups have not fully realized this lesson, limiting their work with youth to voter turnout drives, trainings and large rallies. With some exceptions, large national groups have been more reluctant to trust students’ ability and willingness to engage in tactics like civil disobedience.</p> <p>I first got arrested at a protest when I was 23, at a&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/montana-coal-protesters-argue-necessity-defense/">sit-in I helped coordinate</a>&nbsp;in the Montana State Capitol. I had studied the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience and concluded that this was a step I was ready to take. I was less sure my slightly younger peers, who possibly lacked this background, would be willing to do the same. Yet, over the next few years, I was pleasantly surprised to see students who’d only recently gotten involved in activism step forward and risk arrest&nbsp;<a href="https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/stop-coal-train-tracks/">blocking the paths of coal trains</a>&nbsp;and sitting in at lawmakers’ offices.</p> <p>We tend to underestimate the ability of young people to intuitively grasp the significance of nonviolent direct action as a strategy. Of course, the opportunity to engage in this kind of activism must be presented in a way that feels accessible and meaningful—but when this is done, youth will step up. Have faith in their abilities.</p> <p><strong>2. Follow-up is hugely important.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Building a sustained movement means following up with those who participate to ensure they stay involved. A campaign that failed to do this well was Power Vote in 2008, a national multi-organization effort focused on getting students to pledge to vote ahead of the election. I was the campus lead for Power Vote at Pacific University and only later realized the flaws in how the national campaign was structured. We gathered hundreds of pledge cards with students’ contact information—but this valuable data wasn’t collated in a timely manner that would have allowed it to be used for following-up.</p> <p>Follow-up is important in all campaigns, not just those with students. But it can be especially important for young people who are mostly new to political engagement. Following up and reminding students to fill out their ballots, show up to the next rally, and contact their elected officials helps build habits that will likely keep for years—but it requires mechanisms to ensure their data is preserved and used.</p> <p><strong>3. Teach transferrable skills.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>The best activism serves two purposes: It accomplishes a campaign objective while helping participants master skills they can put to use in other contexts. This is especially important with young people, who often have little formal activist training but can take what they learn and apply it again and again.</p> <p>Many activist skills—setting up meetings with public officials, testifying at hearings, holding nonviolence trainings—aren’t actually that complicated but can seem vastly mysterious to someone who has never done them before. Once armed with the right knowledge, young people become empowered to transfer skills to new campaigns and situations. Accomplishing this means structuring movements in such a way that youth have leadership roles and get hands-on experience building campaigns from the ground up.</p> <p><strong>4. Be specific about movement goals.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I got involved in climate activism, we talked a lot about “comprehensive climate legislation” and “creating green jobs.” This sounded great, but it was sometimes unclear exactly what these words meant. This came back to bite the movement in 2009-2010, during the fight over national climate legislation that eventually went down in flames.</p> <p>The problem with vague terms like “comprehensive legislation” is they mean many things to many people. As it turned out, to lawmakers—like then-Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Lindsay Graham—they meant a cap-and-trade plan riddled with loopholes and giveaways to polluters. This truly terrible piece of legislation split the climate movement—including youth activists—between those who saw it as a small step forward, and those who believed it was worse than nothing.</p> <p>On the other hand, the campaigns that have done most to strengthen the climate movement have very specific goals tied to clearly defined strategies. These include efforts to stop oil pipelines, close coal plants and divest universities from fossil fuels. These campaigns have accomplished concrete wins while building coalitions that leave the movement stronger—whereas the push for national legislation left climate groups fragmented and demoralized. Fossil fuel divestment is a particularly good example of a student-focused campaign with an easily understood goal and clear framework for building power.</p> <p><strong>5. Partner with frontline communities.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only is this the right thing to do, but it’s strategic, fun and empowering. Some of the most inspiring moments I can think of from youth climate campaigns involved students interacting with people on the frontlines of extraction and polluting industries. I’ve seen student activists collaborate with farmers impacted by natural gas pipelines, residents of working-class rail line neighborhoods affected by coal trains and indigenous groups fighting oil infrastructure. In each case, the partnerships that developed were (I believe) mutually rewarding for both groups.</p> <p>That said, building effective, lasting partnerships with frontline communities takes work. It’s not just about saying the words “people of color” and “climate justice” in every press release. This kind of work requires commitment to lasting relationships built on good faith and the belief in a shared stake in a better future. It requires learning form the people most affected by pollution so as to challenge fossil fuel industries effectively.</p> <p><strong>6. Partner with older activists.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another of the most empowering experiences youth activists can have is the opportunity to work with no-longer-quite-so-young individuals who have a whole different set of life experiences. For students, it can be heartening to see that their generation isn’t the only one concerned about the status quo. Similarly, non-youth activists tend to find it encouraging to see young people rising to build a movement.</p> <p>This doesn’t mean student and older activist groups should merge. There’s real value in youth-specific organizations that let young people bond and learn from their peers in a familiar setting. Different activist generations also tend to have different organizational cultures, which don’t always mesh well in the meeting room. However, none of this prevents youth and non-youth from collaborating on campaigns, attending each other’s events and building strong alliances. I’ve seen college freshmen and retirees sit down for campaign conversations that were eye-opening for both parties.</p> <p><strong>7. Have hard conversations about equity and inclusion.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>From the movement’s early days, national youth climate organizations have used a lot of language about racial and economic justice. This positive language hasn’t always been supported by the kind of on-the-ground organizing needed to truly combat environmental injustice and oppressive hierarchies embedded in the movement itself.</p> <p>The mainstream climate movement and environmentalism generally continue to be overwhelmingly white middle-class affairs. But today’s students seem more ready than ever to have tough conversations about dismantling racism and deconstructing environmentalism’s Euro-centric dominant narratives. As a white teenager, I wasn’t asking the kinds of questions that I should have been about these subjects—and I’m continually impressed by how much more aware today’s students, including white students, tend to be.</p> <p>This isn’t to say white students don’t have a lot of hard work to do to address the implications of their privilege—and some will do it clumsily, especially at first. However, while the hard work remains to be done, I see a willingness to begin it that seems more widespread than it was 10 years ago. To do this work effectively, students need support from mentors and organizations that are committed to equity and inclusion as much more than catchphrases or boxes to be checked.</p> <p><strong>8. Youth need mentors, not sages.</strong>&nbsp;</p> <p>As a young person, there’s nothing less empowering than listening to an older person tell you how real activism was done in the good old ‘60s (or the ‘90s, ‘00s, etc.). Young people don’t need sages telling them what to do. What they can use are mentors—people who’ve left their 20s behind and have experience and knowledge they’re willing to share, but do so humbly and with the realization that youth also have their own knowledge and skills to share.</p> <p>As a student, I was never particularly motivated by the argument that because the generation before mine screwed up, it was my generation’s job to fix things. I wanted to know, since that older generation was still around, why they couldn’t pitch in and help. I’ve also known many, many older activists who have tried to help in just this way, and taught me things I never could have learned by myself.</p> <p>The “youth climate movement” of today looks very different from the one of 2007. To become more effective it has both narrowed and broadened its focus. The narrowing is a result of it zeroing in on winnable campaigns like divestment and stopping pipelines, while the broadening is due to a growing focus on building bridges with other movements. Done effectively, both of these approaches may succeed in generating the kinds of incremental wins that could cascade into a national wave of climate and progressive victories.</p> <p>I’m deeply humbled by campaigns like the March for Our Lives, which succeeded in building a truly massive youth-led movement in a way climate activists of my generation never quite managed to do. Yet, when 5,000 students came together for the first Power Shift in 2007, few movements were prioritizing youth leadership the way climate organizers were. The story of youth activism these last 10-plus years has been one of gradually building power, learning hard lessons and setting examples of what dedicated organizing looks like. The climate movement made a significant contribution to this process. Without the work of climate and other youth activists over the last decade, some of the larger mass movements of today might not have come into being.</p> <p>What will youth climate activism, and young people’s organizing more generally, look like over the next 10 years? I don’t know, but I look forward to finding out.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/paul-hoggett-rosemary-randall/sustainable-activism-managing-hope-and-despair-in-socia">Sustainable activism: managing hope and despair in social movements</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/leslie-davenport/strengthening-our-ecological-imagination">Strengthening our ecological imagination</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/robert-holtom/environmental-movement-blockbuster-in-making">The environmental movement: a blockbuster in the making?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Nick Engelfried Transformative nonviolence Environment Activism Thu, 14 Jun 2018 18:57:35 +0000 Nick Engelfried 117751 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Why we should all be concerned about musicians’ mental health https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/lydia-smith/why-we-should-all-be-concerned-about-musicians-mental-health <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="normal">Music is crucial to everyone’s wellbeing, so when musicians suffer so does the rest of society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/LydiaSmith3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit live @ The Caves, Edinburgh. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/markusthorsen/3106578760">Flickr/Marcus Thorsen</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY 2.0</a>.</p> <p class="normal">Last month, the tragic news of the death of Frightened Rabbit singer <a href="https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/frightened-rabbit-singer-scott-hutchison-dead-at-36-w520181">Scott Hutchison</a> hit the music community hard. He had spoken openly about his struggles with anxiety and depression, and channelled raw emotion into his songs. He was found dead at the age of 36.</p> <p class="normal">Hutchison wasn’t alone in facing these problems. Around <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/">one in four people</a> in the UK experience mental health issues each year, and this problem affects musicians disproportionately. A <a href="https://www.westminster.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2016/can-music-make-you-sick-new-research-from-the-university-of-westminster-finds-musicians-are-three-times-more-likely-to-suffer-illness">2016 survey</a> by the University of Westminster for the charity <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/">Help Musicians UK</a> found that those working in music can be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public. Addressing this problem isn’t just crucial for musicians; it’s crucial for the whole of society and the economy, and for our collective health and wellbeing, because we all benefit when the creative arts are thriving.</p> <p class="normal">Mental health is complex and there are many factors that can impact our wellbeing, from our surroundings to our relationships. But the Westminster research highlighted something that many people already know only too well—that musicians face unique pressures.</p> <p class="normal">Low and unpredictable pay and a lack of financial stability affect musicians’ mental health, and the uncertainties around employment go hand in hand with the pressure to be ‘creative on demand.’ Many are forced to juggle several jobs and often work away from home which can be exhausting and isolating. The absence of a regular routine along with poor sleep and bad eating habits all influence wellbeing.</p> <p class="normal">“Being a musician has the impact of any self-employed job, you never switch off, everything is connected to your success; your relationships, your friendships and your social life,” Joe Tilson told me in a recent interview, a singer-songwriter from West Yorkshire. “At the time I never thought of music as the cause of any of my low points, I saw it as the escape and cure, that I was lucky to have it.</p> <p class="normal">Now I’m looking back from a more balanced life of music, work and family, I can recognise that a lot of the things that caused me anxiety and dark times were as a result of my devotion to music. Maybe if being devoted to music was more widely accepted as a choice for a living, the less disconnect there would be from the majority of people.”</p> <p class="normal">But it’s not just the conditions that musicians face in the music industry that creates these problems—it’s also the condition of the industry itself. Over the last decade, austerity in the UK has <a href="https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Funding%20Arts%20and%20Culture%20in%20a%20time%20of%20Austerity%20(Adrian%20Harvey).pdf">squeezed</a> local authority spending on arts and culture. Early in 2018, <a href="https://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Home/News/2018/May/Britain-risks-cultural-void">research by the Musicians’ Union</a> found that 44 per cent of orchestral musicians in the UK say they don’t earn enough to live on because of funding cuts.</p> <p class="normal">Because of this increasing financial squeeze, professional musicians who have spent years honing their talents are being forced to take other jobs, and it’s not a stretch to say that someone’s self-worth may decline when they aren’t able to use their skills to make a living. Musicians in the UK aren’t alone in facing this problem. In the US, for example, President Trump has repeatedly <a href="https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/trump-budget-eliminates-pbs-nea-funding-1202695205/">sought</a> to end federal funding for government arts programmes, although fortunately, he’s been unsuccessful so far.</p> <p class="normal">Despite the huge contribution of the music industry to the economy—with creative industries <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy">estimated to generate £85 billion net annually to Britain’s GDP</a> according to 2016 figures—governments &nbsp;still fail to recognise its importance, including in education. Recent research by the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42862996">BBC</a> found that creative arts subjects are being cut back in many schools because of funding pressures and an emphasis on a narrow core curriculum. For universities meanwhile, courses in creative subjects are being undermined by a focus on graduate salaries as a measure of success, with many arts and humanities courses being labelled as a waste of time because they won’t lead to well-paid employment.</p> <p class="normal">Music venues, which are integral to local communities, are closing. Around a third of the UK's small gig spaces have closed in the past decade, according to <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/41152834/the-new-campaign-to-save-small-music-venues">Music Venue Trust</a>. One venue in south London, <a href="https://www.southwarknews.co.uk/news/20919-2/">The Montague Arms</a>, shut just a few months ago only to be replaced with a music-less gastropub—of &nbsp;which there are plenty already.</p> <p class="normal">While these issues may not directly lead to mental health problems they send out the message that creativity isn’t valued, and when combined with the challenges musicians already face they have the potential to undermine their wellbeing even further. Witnessing the arts being sidelined runs the risk of depleting musicians’ self-worth and self-belief. Therefore, ensuring that everyone working in music has access to mental health support is essential, and there are a number of organisations which do offer help.</p> <p class="normal">Last year for example, <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/">Help Musicians UK</a> launched <a href="https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/">Music Minds Matter</a>, a 24/7 nationwide mental health service for anyone working in the music industry. Despite government cuts to arts funding, the charity is increasing its support for various initiatives including the <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/working-retired-musicians/musicians-hearing-health-scheme">Musician’s Hearing Health Scheme</a> and the <a href="https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/creative-programme">Creative Programme</a>, which supports emerging artists.</p> <p class="normal">Musicians can also access free health assessments through <a href="http://www.bapam.org.uk/">The British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM)</a>, while the charity <a href="http://www.musicsupport.org/what-we-do">Music Support</a> offers help to anyone working in the music industry struggling with their mental health. It also provides ‘safe tents’ at music festivals for artists and those working backstage to address issues that may come up while on tour. <a href="http://www.mind.org.uk/">Mind</a>, the national mental health charity, also provides advice and support.</p> <p class="normal">None of this is just an issue for individual musicians; protecting them and their ability to make music is also crucial for the health and creativity of society as a whole. We often express our innermost emotions and feelings through music and communicate to others what isn’t always possible in words. Listening to music has a major, positive impact on our mental health, in part because <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12135590">it releases dopamine</a>, a neurochemical that’s linked to wellbeing.</p> <p class="normal">Music lessons in schools also have huge benefits for children, boosting their <a href="https://www.makeabignoise.org.uk/news-events/raplochs-big-noise-children-are-happier-more-confident-and-better-behaved/">happiness</a>, self-esteem, concentration, <a href="http://www.ucl.ac.uk/impact/case-study-repository/music-in-schools">numeracy and language skill</a>s. “The positive impact of art and culture on society can’t be overstated,” Ruth Kilpatrick told me, who works with the ‘<a href="https://twitter.com/prsfund">PRS for Music Fund</a>,’ a charity providing financial help and support to members of <a href="https://www.prsformusic.com/">PRS</a>, the UK’s music licensing organisation.</p> <p class="normal">“Human beings thrive on connection and shared experience, a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. Music, art and culture in general all connect us to a common thread and deserve to be valued as such.”</p> <p class="normal">Singer-songwriter Joe Tilson takes this argument one stage further: in an age where more work is being automated, he told me, it’s especially important to recognise the importance of creative arts and music.</p> <p class="normal">“There is so much value and transferable skills from the world of performing music that can make people a positive addition to the workplace. People will always be creative. The less support the government gives, the more the government will be the focus of poor, angry, frustrated musicians.”</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/lydia-smith/why-mental-health-is-hidden-cost-of-housing-crisis">Why mental health is the hidden cost of the housing crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/ray-filar/mental-health-why-were-all-sick-under-neoliberalism">Mental health: why we&#039;re all sick under neoliberalism </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/amber-massie-blomfield/austerity-inequality-and-arts">Austerity, inequality and the arts</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Lydia Smith The politics of mental health Culture Care Tue, 12 Jun 2018 20:29:41 +0000 Lydia Smith 118284 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The future of trade unions https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/steven-parfitt/future-of-trade-unions <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Unless democracy is reinstated as the movement’s guiding principle, organized labor will fail in any form.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/StevenParfitt2.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Fight for 15 PA, SEIU 32BJ, and other unions representing fast food workers, home care workers, airport and retail workers rallied and marched around a South Philly McDonald's on Labor Day, 2017. Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/109799466@N06/36216998973">Flickr/Joe Piette</a>. <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.</a></p> <p>British and American unions live in contradictory times. Scarred by 40 years of demoralisation and decline and with a tumbling membership, stringent legal restrictions on their work and fading political influence, they may also now stand on the cusp of a revival. </p> <p>A wave of recent battles on both sides of the Atlantic, notably the <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/steven-parfitt/us-teachers-strike-in-historical-perspective">ongoing teachers’ strikes in the US</a> and an unprecedented <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/02/britain-university-strike-pensions">14-day strike by British university staff,</a> might anticipate a coming upsurge in trade union action. Smug corporate types like to dismiss unions as industrial dinosaurs, killing time as they wait for the comet to land and finally bring about their extinction. We might yet get to see the smirks wiped from their faces.</p> <p>The sharpest edge of this contradiction involves workers at the bottom of the occupational pyramid: the least-skilled, lowest-paid, largely female, migrant and non-white precarious layer of the workforce who British and American unions have historically struggled to organize. In the past several decades they have seldom tried.</p> <p>The failure of unions to organize precarious workers has gone hand in hand with a failure of internal democracy. Falling membership in the past 40 years stems in part from union leaders not doing enough to draw on the talents and abilities of their members. An active membership, with real space to debate and change what their union does, is essential if unions are to organise precarious workers and bring about their own revival.</p> <p>Different traditions within the British and American unions have addressed these questions in their own distinct ways. Each has their own take on what unions should and shouldn’t do, and each has their own approach to organizing precarious workers and fostering democracy within the labor movement. As unions teeter between revival and further decline, it’s worth thinking about what these traditions are, where they come from, and which we should support in the years ahead. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The first of these traditions is craft unionism. It was strongest in the unions of the <a href="https://www.tuc.org.uk/our-history">British Trades Union Congress</a> and the <a href="https://aflcio.org/about/history">American Federation of Labor</a> during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and represented the most skilled, privileged and powerful minority of the labour force. More interested in making improvements within existing social arrangements than in transforming them, their bargaining power rested not on numbers but on the fact that the members of craft unions were, thanks to their long apprenticeships and training, not easily replaceable. </p> <p>They were often contemptuous—and sometimes even fearful—of the great mass of workers below them, whom they saw as prone to outbreaks of self-defeating militancy which would jeopardise the gains that ‘respectable’ unions made through negotiation. In general, the craft unions ignored such workers whenever possible. </p> <p>The second, more inclusive tradition is industrial unionism, which found adherents on both sides of the Atlantic in the rise of the mass production industries during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Industrial unionists saw a greater role for unions in the fight for social change. This meant conceiving unions not as a minority of skilled workers but as mass organisations that could mobilise workers in each industry from top to bottom. </p> <p>In the US the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_of_Labor">Knights of Labor</a>, the <a href="https://iww.org.uk/about/history/">Industrial Workers of the World</a> and the mass production unions of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congress_of_Industrial_Organizations">Congress of Industrial Organizations</a> all succeeded to some extent in building a mass movement. The ‘new’ and general unions in the United Kingdom such as the <a href="http://www.unitetheunion.org/uploaded/documents/The%20Great%20Dock%20Strike%20of%201889%20-%20web%20booklet11-23272.pdf">Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers Union</a> and the <a href="http://www.gmb.org.uk/about/history/birth-of-a-union">National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers</a> did likewise. Not coincidentally, they organised precarious workers (especially women and non-white workers) in far greater numbers than craft unions ever did. </p> <p>The third tradition falls somewhere between unionism and charity. What might be called ‘philanthropic’ unions do not rest, as craft and industrial unions do, on the bargaining power, numbers and militancy of their members. They depend instead on middle- or upper-class support to promote organisation among this or that group of highly exploited workers who, such supporters feel, don’t have the time or the strength to organise on their own. </p> <p>Some of the first major steps in the promotion of women workers’ unions took this form. In 1874, for example, Emma Paterson and a number of other female workers set up the <a href="http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/06/20/womens-trade-unionism/">Women’s Provident and Protective League</a>, an organization designed to encourage the creation of womens’ unions. The League survived for several decades on subscriptions from prominent ladies with aristocratic titles. As a result, it was more likely to call for collaboration with sympathetic employers than struggle against those who were unsympathetic.</p> <p>These three traditions all still exist today, and their future development will determine the destiny of British and American unions in the years to come. </p> <p>The craft unions of the nineteenth century may be long gone, but the spirit of craft unionism remains. The horizons of many union leaders have narrowed during the past forty years of retreat even as their strategy to retain existing members—the so-called “service model” based on the provision of fringe benefits more than on demands at the workplace—has failed. Their record in organizing precarious workers, especially in rapidly-growing service industries, has been even worse. Money that could have been spent organising has flowed instead to the Democratic and Labour Parties in the hope that a legislative fix could halt these unions’ long-term decline. They still await political deliverance.</p> <p>In other cases, the philanthropic idea holds sway. In the US for example, the <a href="http://idwfed.org/en/affiliates/north-america/national-domestic-workers-alliance-ndwa">Domestic Workers Alliance</a> works with and on behalf of one such group: the people who work in other people’s homes, often the homes of the rich. The Alliance has <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/maureen-purtill/labor-of-love">won badly-needed improvements</a> for domestic workers at a state level in California and elsewhere, working with an employers’ organization called <a href="http://domesticemployers.org/about-us/">Hand in Hand</a> to promote good practice across the industry. </p> <p>Yet the funds that make the Alliance possible depend on the goodwill of well-meaning liberal donors, who might not prove so generous if domestic workers choose more militant forms of protest. There are also signs that the Alliance has <a href="https://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/domestic-workers-at-a-crossroads">prioritised legislative solutions over the organising of domestic workers themselves</a>, and some organizations affiliated with the Alliance, such as <a href="http://www.domesticworkersunited.org/index.php/en/">Domestic Workers United</a>, have called for a different, more worker-led model of organization. </p> <p>The same philanthropic model guides living wage campaigns at UK universities today. Academics, students and union officials have pressured university managers to boost pay for low-wage workers on campus, using tactics from media campaigns to artistic interventions that have often proved effective. As with the Domestic Workers Alliance, however, they tend to work over the heads of the workers who stand to benefit from the campaign, and who must defend those gains from future attacks by university management. Unless that changes so that member-led democracy replaces charity as the guiding principle of the movement, these campaigns and alliances will fail in the longer term.</p> <p>If craft unionism is a dead end and philanthropic unions suffer from a deficit of democracy, then what of industrial unionism? The broad, radical thrust of that tradition has not energised the mainstream of the unions for some time, but its spirit still lives on. </p> <p>To take one example, the <a href="https://fightfor15.org/">Fight for $15 campaign</a> has brought thousands of fast-food workers, service and domestic workers traditionally considered beyond the reach of the American labor movement into the union fold. Its legislative victories in city after city from New York to Seattle prove to previously passive workers that strikes and mobilisations can <em>work</em>. If Fight for $15 can join with other radical movements with a strong working-class flavour such as Black Lives Matter, undocumented migrants’ campaigns, the new fighting feminism and ongoing struggles for LGBTQ rights, it could go from strength to strength. </p> <p>The same spirit animates a growing number of trade unionists in Britain. The <a href="https://www.bfawu.org/mcstrike">Bakers’ Union</a>, for example, has followed the American lead and organized the first strikes at British branches of McDonald’s in 2017 and 2018. Best of all, new unions have taken up the task of organizing precarious workers where the existing ones have failed. </p> <p>The Independent Workers of Great Britain (<a href="https://iwgb.org.uk/">IWGB</a>) and the United Voices of the World (<a href="https://www.uvwunion.org.uk/">UVW</a>) draw on the legacy of the ‘Wobblies,’ the Industrial Workers of the World. Working with food delivery workers at <a href="https://deliveroo.co.uk/">Deliveroo</a> and migrant cleaners and service workers at several London universities, they rely on direct action by an active and engaged membership to force concessions from employers. To promote unity between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking members they began English-Spanish language exchanges. And they have strengthened the skills, capacities and militancy of their members on the picket lines and in the wider community.</p> <p>At institutions from the School of Oriental and African Studies to the London School of Economics, they have waged successful strikes to secure better sick pay and holiday pay, and to end the outsourcing of their jobs. In April 2018 their struggle against outsourcing moved to cleaners, security guards and other workers employed by agencies for the central administration of the University of London. Their struggles have set an example for other trade unionists to follow. </p> <p>That doesn’t necessarily mean that we should abandon established unions and create whole new ones. It <em>does</em> involve a fight for the real control of those unions by their members—a struggle as old as the labour movement itself.</p> <p>These fights go on. The President of the Teamsters, James P. <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/teamsters-hoffa-tdu-zuckerman-pope-reform-ups">Hoffa</a>, son of the infamous Jimmy Hoffa—a &nbsp;name associated with the corrupt unionism of <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Godfather">The Godfather</a></em> and <em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Waterfront">On the Waterfront</a></em>—was nearly unseated as President in late 2016 by a grassroots coalition called <a href="http://www.tdu.org/">Teamsters for a Democratic Union</a>. A 14-day strike in February and March 2018 has transformed my own union, the <a href="https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/03/ucu-university-staff-strike-deal-pensions-union">University and College Union (UCU),</a> whose national leadership faced harsh criticism for its apparent willingness to end the strike on any conceivable terms. UCU leaders can now no longer rely on a rubber stamp from an inert membership, and the possibilities for a campaign by and for casual academic workers have never been greater. </p> <p>The exact form that unions take as organizations is less important than the spirit that guides them. Craft unionism means further decline and irrelevance. Philanthropic unionism means eternal dependence on fickle liberals. Inclusive, industrial unionism remains the only tradition with real democratic potential. It alone has the wide vision needed to organise the millions of precarious workers alongside those with greater leverage and bargaining power. </p> <p>Whether or not that tradition is expressed through new unions or old, the example set by the IWGB, the Fight for $15 and other grassroots movements is the one we should follow if we want to restore dignity to the most exploited and fight most effectively for real social change. </p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/steven-parfitt/us-teachers-strike-in-historical-perspective">The US teachers strike in historical perspective</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/beyondslavery/tom-hunt/building-up-bundle-of-sticks-new-ideas-for-union-organising">Building up the bundle of sticks: new ideas for union organising</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/beyondslavery/jenny-andrew/embracing-data-is-key-to-future-of-unions">Embracing data is key to the future of unions</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Trade unions Steven Parfitt Activism Economics Sun, 10 Jun 2018 20:00:00 +0000 Steven Parfitt 118065 at https://www.opendemocracy.net