Friday, 31 December 2010

mushrooms are REALLY amazing

watch this, seriously, watch it. if you ever worry about pollution and toxic waste and you know the general destruction of the ecosystem we live in. this mushroom geek guy, paul stamets, is talking about proper scientific experiments he's done that show that mushrooms can break down diesel spills - and not only grow mushrooms from the diesel, but that they then become food for birds and they rot and create soil for plants to grow in so that amazingly fast, a toxic patch of diesel can become normal healthy land again. and he's done other work about fungi defeating other kinds of toxic waste. this is TRUE.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

seeing outside of the non-profit industrial complex

so many people (including me up til recently) have wood-for-the-trees problems when it comes to charities /  non-profits (and the public sector, and academia, for that matter), and the prospect of working for one. i'm so heartened to see this discussion on tumblr, at Radically Hott Off (though i'm confused about how to reference tumblr stuff properly) about the failure of non-profit orgs to actually do much to effect social change, apart from set ourselves up in nice salaried positions and then work to maintain that salary structure:
"the number one reason I hear people say that they are working at 501c3s [US term for charities / voluntary sector orgs] is because they believe in the work and they’d be doing it anyway and this way they can survive. but…isn’t there just a bit of moral —-unevenness i guess—in assuming that our neighbors, our fathers, our grocery store check out lady—don’t have the same wishes?


what happens if instead of saying *I* want a job that pays me enough to live on AND makes me feel a little less ethically violated—and say *WE* want jobs that pay us enough to live on and doesn’t kill the world? indeed makes the world a better place? 


what would it look like to begin the left transition from dependency on 501c3s to a steady communication with radical on the street/community driven movements? [...]. *F*eminist orgs do absolutely NO grassroots organizing, instead focusing on “recruitment” in universities—that is: finding the next generation of women to run the orgs.


it’s like there’s no clear understanding that raped women in prisons, raped women in migrant camps, raped women in your family, raped next door neighbors, raped friends, etc are all pretty freaking powerful and can create more changes than olberman can ever dream of—if we’d work to give those women skills to organize. The right may have more money—but they have the top five percent of the money makers to recruit from. we have the entire world."
yes. it's really clear to me how much we who are working in charities/non-profits are just working to bolster the comfort of our own privilege - sleep tight at night knowing we've "done good", "tried hard" - rather than actively undermining the structures that privilege us over those we say we are trying to help.

when i quit my proper job and was handing over to my replacement, i was explaining to her some of the issues around supporting women with 'no recourse to public funds' and how totally trapped those women can be, between their abusive partner and the immigration system. her response was like a perfect summary of why i had to quit! she said: "oh wow. you'd just want to take her home, wouldn't you? i mean, i've got a spare room and... oh but you couldn't. you could never do that! ... but if she had nowhere else to go! it's so terrible! ... but obviously i know you could never do that..." and in that paid role, of handing over my old job to this new worker of course i had to shake my head along with her: "no, you could never do that."

but you know how women's aid refuges started in the 1970s - feminists had spare rooms and opened them up to strangers fleeing abuse. they squatted buildings. families shared rooms. that absence of resources is unimaginable now when compared to multi-million pound blocks of self-contained apartments that new labour helped to fund for several cities' DV provision.

except - that absence of resources is precisely what women with no recourse have now. but somehow we've forgotten how to offer our spare rooms to them, or how to squat or do whatever is necessary to protect these women. because women like us are now relatively protected by the state. sort of. well, maybe not. but hey at least we're getting paid now, eh? and god forbid we risk offending the funders.

i so love the part of the quote above that i bolded. i'd never even thought of it that way. it just highlights so perfectly the entitlement of the reasoning (that i held for many years) that we have a right to elevate ourselves into paid charity positions so that we can feel better about ourselves, as if other people without the same access to those jobs don't feel the same way. and then when we're in, we have the audacity to keep (other) survivors out, because you know, 'managing volunteers is resource-intensive', 'we don't have the funding right now to run a volunteer training programme', 'volunteers complicate risk-management' etc etc.

so - yes! that seems like an amazing central premise for organising - not that i should scramble to get a funded place inside the nice safe (and shrinking) NPIC while extending a hand from the parapet during office hours to 'help' 'them' - but that i should work for the right of all of us to be doing well-resourced, well-recompensed, non-violating, meaningful, engaged work.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

We're Telling

and in more good news there's a new tumblr project, We're Telling: (via Flip Flopping Joy)
"Sharing anonymous accounts of rape and sexual assault; demonstrating that rape happens, everywhere, often.

WE'RE TELLING is a new blog whereby anyone can anonymously share their own accounts of attempted or completed sexual assault or rape."
demonstrating that rape happens, everywhere, often. it's been up for a day and there's already loads of posts. it's overwhelming. so important. i love the internet sometimes. i hope it's helping. i'm sure it's helping. is it just me or is there a real feeling in the air - in all sorts of cultural - political - personal ways - of the truth coming out, of belated acknowledgement of what really is...?

writing on Safety

aaaanyway... onwards with the celebration of radical voices that make the world make sense. this is wondrous and amazing - black queer voices on safety, security and travelling:
"Security, to us, means having the upper hand in an unsafe situation.  Security, to many, means having access to the violent means that the state uses to defend itself, the police, the national guard, the private security forces that companies use to protect their wealth.  For those of us, black, queer, young, radical, and grassroots, who are not often seen as part of the state’s project to reproduce itself (except when we are targeted as consumers) those sources of security are not dependable. As far as we can tell security comes from weapons.  And only works if you got more, faster, bigger weapons than whoever makes you insecure.   Maybe we could achieve security if our mobile home was a fortress, if we attached an alarm system with missiles, or a system that sent an electroshock through anyone who touched it.   None of these things, however would make us safe.  And methods like that would surely make the more low-tech partner on the trip, likely to be the first to trip the booby trap, and our comrades less safe.

We acknowledge that in a world where violence against queer and gender queer young people of color is common, security is not a light matter.  We have also decided, however, that security is not enough.  Our intention is for our journey to be SAFE.

Safety, to us, means being able to be comfortable in our skin, having the freedom to move, being able to sleep restfully and wake renewed and excited about the journey.  Safety comes from knowing that we are held by a community that has our backs.  Safety comes from knowing that all along the road there are home-spaces with comrades who will welcome us and who will answer if we call on them.  Safety comes from relationships and people."

Friday, 17 December 2010

"at least you're not going through this in the community "

-is my quote of the day from the 'professionals meeting' on a mental ward i went to today. oh my god. i really had intended to stop getting paid to be around this kind of shit, but i went back for some no-strings-attached shifts, didn't i, because it's less stressful than working somewhere unfamiliar, and before i know it i'm covering everyone's sick leave (and *everyone* is sick), including having to go outside of the office and try to look less frayed and more professional. 

so, well... these wards aren't the worst places in the world these days. they are just like slightly roomier and cleaner halls of residences. there was a greenhouse with december-wizened tomato plants in the courtyard - (i really truly believe in plants&soil as a potential lifeline of mental health, so that was good). the managers and consultants seemed genuinely to be trying to take an empowering approach. only one worker at the meeting, out of about eight of us, was acting like this woman was the biggest pain in the arse ever (i really don't understand professionals who get exasperated with clients who are not actually abusing them or causing them to have to work overtime - we get paid the same either way, right? what does it matter if this woman returns to her partner "after all our hard work"? it's not like you actually care about her, evidently), and who was saying things like (repeatedly) "she needs to be boundaried". no one challenged her on it, but at least the ward manager and the consultant had the decency to wince a bit. all the rest of the staff got it when i pushed the focus of the meeting towards giving the woman as much control as possible, regardless if she ends up returning to her partner. i guess the new labour years really did do some good in funding awareness-raising around domestic violence - and less coercive practice in mental health.

that said... the woman had said how shit she felt going through christmas in the hospital while she waits for a refuge place and dealing with grieving for her relationship and harassment threats and mind games from her ex. and the worker said "at least you're not going through this in the community." which i guess is mental health service -speak for any where outside the hospital ward.

the worker who said it was the most focussed and engaged with the woman we were actually there for, and had known her the longest. and it just seemed so amazing to me that even this worker who was doing relatively awesome holistic woman-centered work couldn't imagine a better way, a better community, or a better place for this woman to be than on a locked ward.

and there was more that was wrong with the meeting. so much subtle coercion glazed with the right, 'patient-centred' words. like the consultant (who was the most patient-centred consultant i've dealt with) told her that she was "giving him [her ex partner] mixed messages by replying to his manipulative texts when the relationship is over". later the consultant gave her totally mixed messages by saying she wasn't to pick up his calls but "texting is understandable" and then implying that she wasn't to have any contact with him at all. just loads of stuff like that, subtle erasures of her equal personhood to the professionals around her who are holding all the power.

i fantasised about recording the meeting and being able to use it in some kind of training session where everyone had to identify the parts of the transcript where the woman was being silenced, put in a catch 22, pathologised and/or subject to the same framework of abuse that occurred within her relationship. highlighter pens at the ready! but the trouble is, these people (with the exception of the pain in the arse woman) are already highly trained and as right-on as it's possible for those of us working within such a coercive system to be. this was the nicest one of these meetings i've ever been to. i could continue to attend these things and fight little battles and try to defend one woman at a time in one meeting at a time, to the inadequate best of my ability. but is that not 'giving them an aspirin to lick', when the system putting these women in these situations needs to end. and the communities to replace these hierarchical institutions need to be built.
"They [many doctors within concentration camps] would hide them [sick inmates] from the selection officers who were going to kill them. They would do this to protect the inmate for that day. They would put them to bed, you know. They would actually do everything—if they were in pain, they would give them aspirin to lick. They would do what they could to help, except for the most important thing of all, which is they wouldn’t question the existence of the entire death camp itself. So they would find themselves working within the rules, however they could, to try to improve conditions marginally. And in retrospect, of course, that’s just not sufficient."

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


i've been meaning to write about supermarkets, and why i've tried to stop shopping in them. i want to write more about how people - we - try to eradicate violence from different areas of our lives, and how we often look in the wrong places. well, i haven't got that post together yet, but here is a quote from a beautiful short article by someone, about shooting a deer for food. it is very well worth a read. 
"It’s clear to see that a human killing a beautiful wild animal is kind of sad [...] What is unclear is how sad consuming any plant or animal as food is. 

Food from the store, as a rule, kills even more beauty, destroys unimaginably more life, than a hunt like the one I described above. Its invisible killing, to the consumer at least, because its culturally accepted. [...] To actually wrap one’s head around how much suffering and loss went into their ‘guilt free’ bowl of organic whole grains with tamari and olive oil is probably not possible..."

Monday, 13 December 2010

we really need to get our shit together about trafficking

after the refuge i worked at explicitly opened itself up to "women trafficked into the sex industry", when one of the first thus-labelled residents moved on, she set herself up as a high-class escort, with a fancy website. my colleagues, gathered around a computer, were scandalised and bitterly amused. "all that work for nothing!" "we were really taken for a ride there"... this woman had come into refuge because she was fleeing violence from pimps, my colleagues were not disputing that. but they felt that "all their efforts" had been in vain, because she "hadn't even wanted to exit prostitution".

as often happens in the office, i was too taken aback to really say anything of use. i muttered something about "don't you think it's great that she's free to make her own choices now?" to which they said "mmm", but continued to look disgusted.

i just find it crazy, though so illustrative, that schemes like this can get specialist funding to support trafficked women, while having no guiding philosophy (except, Trafficking Is Wrong), or politics, and no political or philosophical guidance for the staff doing the work. but it's illustrative because, of course, if an organisation was political, let alone holistically empowering of women who've survived trafficking, it wouldn't get funding.

and meanwhile, there's this crazy moral panic about trafficked women, through which any migrant sex worker, especially if she is 'illegal', could potentially find herself 'rescued' (which can take the form of deportation) against her will. it's really disturbing how there are so many feminist organisations latching onto the anti-trafficking thing, without simultaneously defending the right of women to migrate and do sex work. i was totally confused and distracted by these feminists for a long time, and until recently still couldn't articulate to myself why their campaigns were fucked up. the voices of migrant sex workers are so marginalised, including by well-meaning (? why do i keep using that word?) feminists, i'd kind of gone along with the deeply racist implicit conflation of all migrant sex workers as forcibly trafficked and enslaved, which also carries the assumption that this conflated group 'just can't ever speak out. they're too oppressed. or something.' i'm ashamed.

anyway, i've just read this amazing interview with Nandita Sharma, over at the Incite! blog, originally from No One Is Illegal Radio. she just cuts through the crap with such clarity:
"It is impossible to legally get into Canada as a sex worker and enter as a permanent resident. You don’t get “points” for being in the sex industry, even though there is high demand. The anti-trafficking legislation is another way to attack women’s ability to work in the sex industry, and it does so in a way that further legitimizes (and relies on) the idea that no woman should ever be engaged in sex work. Ultimately, the moral panic against sex work makes migrant women more vulnerable in the sex industry.
Ultimately, if we want to end the exploitation of women, we need to challenge capitalism, which is the basis for all of our exploitation. Whether we’re working in the sex industry, a restaurant, or in a university, we’re being exploited by those who are benefiting from our labour. So, if we want to end exploitation, we don’t give more power to the state to criminalize workers, we give more power to workers to end their exploitation. Of course, being a university professor is not demonized like sex work is. So we also need a major attitude adjustment. 
Those of us who are critical of anti-trafficking rhetoric and legislation are often accused of not caring about women. We’re accused of not caring about women who are kidnapped, women who are beaten up, women who are enslaved or not paid wages, women who have their passports and other documents withheld from them so that they’re rendered immobile. In response to these accusations, the important thing to remember is that all of those crimes are already addressed in the Criminal Code of Canada. It is illegal to kidnap people, to beat them up, to rape them, to not pay them wages, to withhold their documents without their permission, etc. Why do people think new anti-trafficking legislation will make women safer when the police seem completely disinterested in enforcing Criminal Code measures that already exist to protect women? Instead of anti-trafficking legislation, we should be demanding that workers in the sex industry are protected under occupational health and safety regulations, as all workers should be."

Sunday, 12 December 2010

BFP on Wikileaks

BFP is on fire at the moment. i feel privileged to share a planet with her.

"What’s important is what actions are being taken–not even so much against Assange–but against wikileaks. Against supporters of wikileaks. Even against those who have no idea who the fuck wikileaks is or what it’s done. 
Because indeed–those of us who care about gender liberation must, absolutely MUST, be aware of and understand that the nation/state that *F*eminists have entrusted to mete out “justice” for violated women–is using “justice” to criminalize all of us. It is up to us to understand that this isn’t a simple case of did he do it or didn’t he or “stand in solidarity with rape victims.” This is a case of our own tools being used against us. Not against Julian Assange. Against us. Because all of us who have been there understand on some gut level–how likely is it that these women will actually receive justice? What horrific price will they have to pay (in testifying, getting their names dragged through the mud, etc) to “get justice”? At the same time, how many of our lives will be dramatically affected by the “threat” we all now present to the nation/state?"
and here:
"it is the US government that seems to have perfected the role of patriarchal duality that we have all assigned to Assange. The advocate for the dispossessed rolled into a messy soup with dirty slimy scum bag that beats his girlfriend on the side.

It is the US government that is both rapist and activist. It is the US government that we all pretend not see hear the beating on the other side of the wall–because it’s doing such good for the community!

Just as we have to wonder why it makes sense to tell soldiers or policemen that it’s ok to kill when they have a certain uniform on, but not when they’re wearing clothes bought at Target–we have to wonder why it makes sense to condemn men who rape and abuse in private, while willfully and continuously ignoring the private rape and assaults of our government in the name of the “good” it does in public.

And that’s not to say that we let the man off scott free–but rather instead to question: if our goal is to stop rapes before they happen–how do we negotiate the dissonance of the “model” of public advocate/private rapist the US reinforces continuously with the idea of “anti-gender violence citizen”?

Specifically: how will gendered violence ever end when gendered violence remains, at the core, a esteemed value of the US government that we all live under?"
...and so much more in those posts. read them! 

Friday, 3 December 2010

can we get real with children

i'm slightly heartbroken after reading this guardian article, 'a year in the life of a foster parent', because... it's something i really wanted to do. want to do. i did know it was that bad. i could tell from the stories i hear at work, the parents i meet and the social workers i meet, that it is that bad. that the system really is that much the opposite of child-centred, that social workers really are that offensive, that judges really are that clueless, that children really are that screwed-over. i knew that if i foster children that i will be powerless in a system that dumps children with me, then with someone else, and never asks them what they need. i knew i could ask them what they need, but i'd be powerless to give it to them.

i guess i'd been telling myself that i only know about the domestic violence cases, and these are only a small amount of all the reasons children are taken into foster care. i told myself that in the other cases, the right decisions might be being made.

the article includes four year old twins who have been removed from their parents due to concerns for their safety. they are placed in foster care, with regular visits to see their parents (it's not made clear whether the visits are supervised and/or overnight, etc). the twins tell the foster carer that they have been severely physically and sexually abused and that they never want to see their parents again. you might expect this to be the end of their contact with their parents, particuarly in this era of hysteria and ultra-caution around childhood sexual abuse paedophilia, right? i've imagined myself as a foster parent, getting disclosures like this and - of course - being able to say "those people will never do that to you again" etc etc. and being able to keep that promise. i don't know what i was thinking. the twins are interviewed and a bureaucratic, police and courts process takes many weeks. then it is decided that they are too young to make decisions about whether they see their parents, and (in a glorious and very typical example of kafkaesque contradictaryness of social care and the CPS) that they are also too traumatised to give evidence in court. therefore no court, therefore no end to their contact with their parents.

and what sticks in my head is - did anyone explain anything to the children? it seems like the foster mother really wanted to, and was traumatised by her powerlessness to protect them. but what could she actually say that was true? not "you are safe now", not "you don't have to go through that again", not "it's good that you've told me this because now i can help you"...

i know fuck all about children or parenting, but it just seems blindingly obvious that they need to be told what is happening to them, and if in doubt about what has happened to them, asking seems to be a good option. whenever i have heard about 'suspected sexual abuse' cases, asking the child concerned has not factored at all. what happens is: abuse is suspected, child is hauled in for medical examination (as if bruises/injuries have anything to do with 90% of sexual abuse!!), evidence is given to police who give it to CPS, CPS decide whether the evidence is over 50% likely to prevail in court... while this is happening (which takes up to a year) the child cannot be given counselling/therapy because it could prejudice them giving evidence in court. when that process is all over (and obviously out of the tiny number that go to court only a tiny number convict the abuser), counselling/therapy is usually conviently forgotten by social care as it is too expensive. when i have argued for play therapy for my clients' children i get the "oh you know, the waiting lists are really long", as if it's not worth getting the children onto the waiting lists at all. and if they do ever get to the top of the waiting list they get like 6 weeks!

all of which is a painful reminder that this society is not interested in protecting children from sexual abuse. and especially not in supporting children and adults who have survived sexual abuse. it's interested in busting paedophile rings, sure, but that focus is on criminalising the wrong kinds of sex, not in articulating what abuse it, and stopping it.

and my final question would be, out of the people i love who were abused by their families, how many of them would rather have gone through the social care (and courts) system, rather than staying with their families?