Tuesday, June 28, 2011


So on my way home today, I was daydreaming on the streetcar as I often do, and I started to imagine...

What if protesters stood outside of every Catholic church, on a regular basis, holding signs and pictures of, oh I don't know, victims of the genocides perpetrated, condoned and/or not opposed by the church? Maybe children who had been raped and molested by priests, or maybe impoverished people suffering from AIDS? You know, that kind of thing. And whenever people tried to go into the church, the protesters would run up to them, get right in their faces and scream at them, calling them murderers and telling them they were going to hell. Or maybe the protesters would beg and cajole them not to go into the church, crying out "You have other options!". What if the protesters stood by the door of the church waiting for the priest to arrive, and when he did they threatened and harassed him, calling him a baby killer and saying they hoped he would choke on the communion wine?

I wonder what the law of the land would have to say about that.

It wouldn't make anything better, of course. Just a little dream I had...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekly Reader

Sorry I skipped a week - I was in Ottawa working my butt off! Here are the things I've been reading the last two weeks:

Alberta's battle against STDs.

Some reflections on Dr. Tiller's death, on the second anniversary.

An amazing clinic escort in Fredericton on anti-abortion lobbying and the long-term effects in New Brunswick.

Abortions are not done "willy-nilly" in Canada.

Serial abortion clinic protester released from jail.

Fredericton doctors quit over RIDICULOUS service cuts.

Some headway in the fight against the New Brunswick abortion policies.

A legal history of the Morgentaler decision.

Friday, June 24, 2011

On Grassroots, Privilege and Taking the Next Step

Something I have been thinking and reading a lot about lately is how to take the next step after learning about privilege and acknowledging your own. I have been harping on about privilege for about two years now, but I still haven't figured out how to turn it into something that is useful for people who don't have it. I read this article by Courtney Martin about how we move past the guilt and into the real work (go read it; it's excellent) and I started to put it into the context of my own life and work.

My place in the (progressive/leftist/radical/whatever) struggle is fraught with potential pitfalls. I have not gumbooted, for example, since a friend called me out on Facebook for the culturally appropriative nature of a group of white women using a traditional South African dance - born of slavery - to express our message (even if it was a message of resistance and solidarity). I am still thinking about that. I want to gumboot. But that's not a good enough reason. And I think a lot of progressives who are privileged can relate to the experience of being afraid to help, afraid to reach out and be an ally because there are so many ways you can fail.

I am lucky then, in my oppression as a woman. At least I have some frame of reference for what an ally needs to be. I want men to keep trying to be feminists - even when they fail. The men in my life trip up every day, but still it means more to me that they are trying, that they're on my side. So I have to hope that when I fuck up as an ally, I am still allowed to keep trying.

What I really want to talk about is the nature of activism and work and how people like me go about it. I think I have been working under the assumption that the best, safest thing to do is to fight the oppression(s) I directly experience, and then once we have those beaten I'll turn around and work on the ones that I don't experience - racism, transphobia, poverty, etc. It has just now started to dawn on me that this "trickle down" style of organizing is ridiculous. I recognized that all oppressions are linked, but I figured that meant once I was free of mine, I could help those worse off than me. It never occurred to me to approach from the opposite end - that perhaps once the people worse off than me are free, my own oppressions will no longer be there.

In Canada, the movement for suffrage began around the start of the 20th century. But it wasn't until 2002 - NINE YEARS AGO - that universal suffrage became a reality. Nine years ago. And when you think about why that is, you can look back and see the history of it - first we had to fight for white women to get the vote, then people of different races, then First Nations people, then prisoners. Bit by bit, oppressed group by oppressed group - white folks first of course. And of course this struggle is valuable, but we can see in our history that even a progressive struggle for suffrage has upheld the hierarchies of kyriarchal system. White ladies fighting for the vote, getting it, and then maybe turning around and helping black folks isn't nearly as awesome or as progressive as if they had just said from the beginning: "We're all human beings, we all get a say in this democracy, everybody gets the vote. Full stop."

I know that such an approach might not have been as effective or as fast as what actually happened. But it's the only way it's fair. I'm just using voting as an example because there's a clear history, but look at any other progressive struggle happening right now. There is such a disparity in the distribution of rights around bodily autonomy and reproductive justice, for example. For many people in this country, the Morgentaler decision may as well have not happened, because without the elimination of systemic barriers like racism, regionalism, colonialism and class, it hasn't made a difference. And there's always challenges to it, always another fight for urban middle-class white women to protect the rights that their less-privileged sisters don't even have yet, that we have to ask: when exactly is it that we will be free enough to turn around and help everybody else?

So, maybe the way to use my privilege is not necessarily to work on my own struggles while giving little more than lip service to being an ally to others. Maybe the way to do it is not trickle down; to stop forming groups and then waiting for women of colour to sign on. Instead I think the key is to be the one doing the signing on; to listen and find out what the concerns are a couple rungs below me on the privilege ladder and start working on those. In other words: grassroots.

I think the first step after acknowledging your privilege is asking those who don't have it: how can I use this to help in your struggle? To exercise the ACORN model: go to every disadvantaged, oppressed or otherwise marginalized person, door by door, and ask what issues are you fighting in your day to day life - and how can I fight them with you? And then, step back and let the people living that reality lead the fight. Just because we are the privileged ones doesn't mean we should naturally be the leaders. (Another organization that is great at this is the Stephen Lewis Foundation. They find groups and collectives that are already organizing to fight HIV/AIDS, and use the privilege of "first world" respectability and fundraising experience to get the money and the attention straight to the grassroots).

So this is why I'm going to be spending less time and energy on things like pay equity and electoral reform, and more time and energy on - well, whatever is needed right now the most. It's not that I don't think those concerns are important; it's just that once we address the more urgent, more radical concerns, I have a feeling the other stuff might just take care of itself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reflections on Age, Mortality, and Death

So, this year I turned 27. Normally I am not the kind of person who thinks a lot about my age, or feels the biological clock ticking or stuff like that. I am much too young to do the ridiculous pretending-I'm-younger routine, but I can't imagine myself being that way even when I'm older. But for some reason, being 27 is making me think a lot about age.

Yesterday, the day my brother turned 30(!), my last grandparent passed away. Just last week we lost Dr. Kevorkian, so I've been thinking a lot about assisted suicide (not for myself, just in general). Especially when I remember my other grandmother - the penultimate grandparent - being in one of those special care homes for old people who really can't look after themselves or be left alone. I used to go there and see rows of old people in wheelchairs lined up in front of the TV, staring, drooling, not really there. My grandmother herself had checked out a few months before - in the last year before her death it wasn't really her we were visiting - she was already gone. It was her still-living body, with the strange consciousness of an infant. My mother hated the idea of that place, the way that as a society we have no problem "warehousing old people". And yet Dr. Kevorkian is still a widely reviled figure. People get old though. We need to accept it.

I guess the reflections on age started earlier this year, when my mother had an accident that forced my siblings and me to face the mortality of our own parents. Our beloved family cat had just died, marking the end of an era in the life of our little unit. Suddenly the three of us were grown people, on our own, out in the world. My parents are still living of course, but it's very different to live away, to chat over Skype and have no familiar Sunday dinners. We are adults now.

And so I am starting to find myself, if not unhappy with where I am at this point, at 27, then at least a little restless. I just found out that Johann Hari - whom I had always pictured as a wise, older fellow not unlike my own father - is only five years older than me. I feel unaccomplished. I have been thinking particularly about my activism in the context of my work, and wondering about whether a commitment to working in a field that I care about is enough, or whether perhaps it would be more personally satisfactory to be doing actual tasks that I was good at and cared about. And if that's possible.

I know it maybe sounds like I'm leaving my job at the clinic, but that's not really on the table - at least not right now. But hopefully in August I will know where we will be living next, and at that point I have some decisions to make. Not knowing what I want to be when I grew up was kind of charming at 22, but now it's making me a little nervous.

Just some thoughts.