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activism Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

2022: Sisters, the campaign starts here

“This is the year our collective righteous bloody-minded refusal to shut the fuck up finally broke the impenetrable wall of ‘no debate’” – Jane Clare Jones on Twitter, 31st Dec 2021 Click here to read the whole message.

So we have won the right to have the debate. Now, we need to win the debate.

Let’s set the terms of the debate

Have sympathy for the young folks who were sold the repressive ideas of gender identity and ‘born in the wrong body’ misfits. Have a bit of respect for their ‘non-binary’ get out clause. We do need to (gently) explain to them that their instinct is right, but that it’s nothing to do with sex. Personally, I think the idea of a gender-neutral pronoun is a good one but not sure ‘they’ will stick, as it’s illogical in the setting of our (largely non-declining) language. If the grammar of your verb doesn’t tell you about case, gender, plurality and so on, you need words that do.

We have successfully reached the government over this, and they have laid down guidelines which, if parents and teachers keep pushing, will get the worst of the misleading ‘education’ out of schools. (Here’s the relevant directive, and an analysis by Transgender Trend of recent changes. )

Have sympathy for the people we used to call transsexuals, people like April Ashley. There aren’t many of them, you know – most are male, most are people who made a full medical and social transition, and attempted to go about their lives without interfering with anyone else’s rights, legal or otherwise. In 2004, they won the Gender Recognition Act – a messy bit of legislation, made by politicians who, if you look at Hansard, didn’t really know what they were talking about. They left some fluff in the works, but nothing that can’t be sorted out when the yelling finally dies down – it did at least solve the problem transsexuals had back then, before same-sex marriage was legal.

The GRA was followed by the Equalities Act 2010, which gave specific protective rights for transsexuals (under the exemption for ‘gender reassignment’) and for females and males as a sex class (under the exemption for ‘sex’). Again, there’s fluff – including lots of surrounding texts and directives with conflicting assumptions and definitions but you could be forgiven for thinking that that solved the big issues, and just left a bit of clearing up to do.

So what’s the problem?

Transgender woman India Willoughby demonstrates a not uncommon
attitude ‘TRA’s have to the more traditional transsexuals.

The GRA was not good enough for a lobby of mature males attempting to muscle in on all things female. Mature males, manipulating the situation to change Equalities Law and societal practice to suit themselves, had no regard for the safety, well-being or self-respect of women and girls, let alone GRC-holding, integrated transwomen. That’s the issue.

It’s not all about males?

It’s true, there are females who want women’s rights dismantled in the belief it will help them ‘live as men’. I think they need to think again. Take prisons, for instance. There’s been a lot of noise about our legal system granting males identifying as women ‘the right to socialise with women’ in women’s prisons, but very little traffic in the opposite direction. This is because trans men hardly ever get placed in male prisons. It so very obviously isn’t safe. Your average sex-offender, in his male prison, simply is not going to say ‘oh look, there’s a person with a vagina but I’ll leave her alone because she says she’s a man’. It cannot, and does not, happen. Trans men, just as much as those of us who are happy to be women, are safer in a world where the law understands sex-based provision.

So: The debate so far

First, they touted the idea of ‘self-ID’. Some years ago, the public at large grasped that this was being used to ‘let in’ males who had not transitioned at all, and the public did not like it.

So they stopped talking about ‘self-ID’, and started talking about ‘gender Identity’, but we still weren’t allowed to actually debate it…

Definition of gender identity. Very long, and based on a 'personal perception of a stereotypical assumption'
It’s very easy to get organisations to sign up to protecting
people’s ‘gender identity’, especially if there’s been no debate
to flag up the problems. It seems, on the surface, like a
very reasonable call to let people express themselves how
they wish – but what if such an agreement is a prelude to an
untestable category and a law-change?

The debate

ROUND ONE

“I feel like a woman”    “I was born in the wrong body”

TRA (Trans rights activist): I have the body of a male, but the mind of a female.

Feminist: but what do you mean when you say “I feel like a woman”? As a woman myself, I feel like someone whose life has been shaped by female biology – by female puberty and reproductive processes, by the danger of rape and the possibility or actuality of pregnancy and child-rearing, and by all the assumptions society makes about me because of that.

TRA: You can’t understand the feelings of another human. You must just accept that I feel like a woman.

Feminist: but if you can’t understand the feelings of another human, how can you possibly KNOW you feel like a woman?

TRA: Bigot!

Feminist: Look, I’m not intolerant. I’m not stopping you living your way. Dress how you want, call yourself what name you want, get a GRC and call yourself a woman if you must, but leave us the spaces and services we ourselves have fought for, to help women and girls get through all the consequences of female biology.

TRA: Shut up, transphobe.

ROUND TWO

“There is no conflict between trans rights and women’s rights.”

FB meme: If you believe women discussing their rights goes against trans rights, then you have no choice but to accept trans rights are an infringement on women's rights.

ROUND THREE

Dying like flies

TRA: but why are you obsessed with trans people? It’s men who harm women.

Feminist: yes, that’s why we are defending the Equalities Act provisions which are based on SEX. Men, you see, are a potential danger because they are MALE.

TRA: What about transwomen? Transwomen are more oppressed, and in more danger of violence and murder than any other group.

Feminist: how dreadful! Could you show us some evidence of that?

TRA: look, here we all are grieving on Trans Day of Remembrance.

Feminist: grieving for who?

TRA: Shut up, heartless terf.

(To be fair, it’s rarely trans people of any variety having these arguments. TRAs appear to be a small group of very noisy students and their even smaller group of older, mostly female, admirers, bulked out on Twitter by endless armies of semi-anonymous males who like being rude to women. Their apparent clout is down to the scurrilous actions of Stonewall and the many organisations who use Stonewall’s approval as a substitute for actual virtue).

After monthsnmonths of the kinds of conversations shown here, Stonewall gave up their #NoDebate position, and offered up CEO Nancy Kelly to talk it through on the radio. According to commentator Jane Harris, it went like this…

ROUND FOUR

“We pass, therefore we are.” and “I wasn’t happy as a male, therefore didn’t benefit from ‘male privilege'”

Women have been making our case on blogs, in any magazines or papers that would take our work, for years. (Lo-o-o-o-ong years.) As have the other side, in separate articles. But it’s only really in the last few months that attempts at debate have appeared much in print. Where they do, the example in the Winter Special edition of Prospect magazine is typical. Under the title ‘gender wars’,  “a lawyer and a philosopher respond to seven propositions”, transwoman Robin White and Kathleen Stock lay out their respective cases.

Stock explains that “humans are a sexually dimorphic species”, states that the idea we can “change sex” is a fiction (in law, it is what is known as a “legal fiction” since the GRA 2004). She also demonstrates understanding of, and sympathy for, those who do transition, as well as explaining the many reasons why sex matters.

White spends a large amount of the page-space listing all the things he’s done which he believes make him look like a woman, and presents this as the main reason he deserves to be treated as one. (NB most women do, and always have, accepted that, socially, and will use the pronouns and everything. That’s why most transgender women think they ‘pass’). Extraordinarily though, this professional arguer of cases, this lawyer, then presumably unwittingly gives one of the clearest examples I’ve seen of why women desperately need special provisions in law on the basis of sex:

Robin White writes: I have done little to alter my speaking voice, as it is something I rely on in my job as a barrister

Many women, through all too real life experience, can confirm the low status women’s voices have in the arena of the justice system. This assumption that women’s voices don’t count runs though many areas of life. Take, for example, the situation described above, where trans women have managed repeatedly to be heard stating their need to be moved into women’s prisons. Bizarrely, although it’s recognised that trans men would not be safe in men’s prisons, women in women’s prisons are just assumed to be able to put up with the presence of male sex-offenders. The doubts and fears of female prisoners simply have not been heard where it counts.

James Max gets irritated by women being audible…

The famous artist birdy rose commentates on an exchange in which a woman is called hateful, then a man is accepted whilst saying the same things.
Tweets: one complains about 'shrill voices continue in my ears about biology'. Another offers to explain in his 'baritone'.

(These conversations are among those that appeared in response to James Max’s extraordinary brush with Posie Parker, analysed here by Clive Simpson )

We are winning the debate

Don’t stop now!

We are winning the debate, but it has only just started. Please keep talking to everyone, keep writing those emails, keep going to those conferences and demos – we do need to win it, because our children need rescuing from the ‘gender identity’ smoke and mirrors, and because mature males who’ve scented a potential advantage won’t let go of it easily.

We’ve won the right to have a debate. It’s looking good so far but it’s a long way from over. Stay patient, stay polite. There are people out there who still haven’t grasped the basics. They would appear to include a lot of our politicians so hone your arguments, and get ready to win the debate. It’s not just about explaining how, in our sexist, porn-soaked society, unregulated male access is so dangerous for women and girls. It’s also about communicating the wider human context – that every human society, everywhere, liberated or otherwise, has always allowed some kind of ‘women’s place’ within its structure (as far as we can see, those ‘third genders’ that were touted around for a while did not have access to women’s spaces – they were just excused male warrior rites, probably because they were gay). And for the women who have let all this float past them, it’s about explaining the value of women’s groups, women’s politics, women’s sports and all the rest of what we created for ourselves, through a hundred years and more of campaigning, about how all those things demonstrate to our girls that they don’t have to pretend to be men, or reject sex altogether, in order to get some kind of a grip on life.

Are you ready to win the debate?

I suggest a subscription to The Radical Notion as a good way to start preparing yourself.

Here’s my own statement of the gender critical stance

Here’s my analysis of a recent attempt at debate on the telly

A note on pronouns

We’re going to win this!

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people
Categories
activism media Politics prejudice

Spoonfuls

I am going to found a media corporation, just like all the others. I’m going to call it Spoonfuls.

For every court case, dispute, scandal or other human flurry that gets noticed, I will pick a woman or sometimes, for variety, a slightly goofy beardy man, and put that person’s photo in the news every day, along with shoutable headlines suggesting it’s all their fault.

For every act of warfare that shows up in the world (all of which are instigated by those who wear the clothes of statehood and spend their energies scrapping over bits of terrain with useful business consequences), for every one of those outbreaks of high-tech violence, I’ll do a wee report, letting people know how ‘we’ are doing against ‘the enemy’. No need to complicate things with indications of who ‘we’ or ‘they’ are.

Want to be ‘a journalist’? Let me know, I’ll send you a template. You can send in articles, and I’ll put them in my ‘opinions cost nothing’ section, so you’ll go away with the vague idea that not getting paid is all part of the wonder of living in a free country.

I’ll have a few professionals who will help build the long-term character-assassination of anyone who is positioned to mess up the narrative, and if ever we feel things are slipping, they’ll all play in concert for a while and get everyone really annoyed with, say, feminists or black activists – doesn’t matter who, as long as it’s a section of everyone. ‘Refugees’ is good at the moment. We did ‘single mums’ once – that was a laugh. Circa 1996 I think; unaccompanied pushers of pushchairs hardly dared go out in daylight after a while.  

My little team of professionals will be celebrities – that’s always gratifying – but more importantly, they’ll be paid enough to feel as though they have something to lose. Other than that, it’s all profit – I don’t need to sell the papers or anything. People who benefit from the mainstream narrative will give me Big Presents.

Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! Happy New Year!

(Alternatively, you could stop watching mainstream TV – for heaven’s sake, you can get a pretty good idea of the mainstream narrative by glancing at the headlines on news stands, or the clips of QT and all the rest of it that people pass round on soc media. It’s MUCH quicker, and just as informative. For real news, find some intelligent bloggers – Caitlin Johnstone, Jonathan Cook – whatever rocks your boat, as long as they’re ‘outsiders’.)

Categories
activism Book reviews Politics prejudice Uncategorized women

If you were honest, what would you say?

Or Janice’s Goats

***Long Read for Twixt Week***

I used to think I lived in a free country – born in the UK in the 1960s, it was a long time before I questioned the idea. Even when I discovered it wasn’t entirely true, I was still aware that as countries went, our country in the 20th century was relatively good on freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

My but it’s changed, and not in a good way. Politically, we now have pressures on our freedoms from both right and left, each in their own way, and for their own reasons. Can you tell which is which? Do you judge both varieties in the same way? You might like to test your attitude to one or two of these: (or skip straight on to ‘a failed workshop’ below, if you already know what I mean).

Police Crime and Sentencing Bill

Nationality and Borders Bill

Julian Assange extradition

Cancel Cancel Culture

Fawlty Towers

Johnny Rotten

J K Rowling

Russia and China

The first thing is to see that we are – understandably – very confused. Three examples from my direct experience

A failed workshop

Long ago, before covid, I was at a literary festival (no wait – let me think – this matters – it was 12 years ago) I ran a workshop on freedom of expression. I did it because I’d recently published a book which I thought might be controversial. It was about child abuse, and incest, and other nasty things – but the arena in which these things played out was a small-town Christian community so when we published, I was kind of waiting for complaints.

I got complaints. What surprised me was that they weren’t about religion. They were accusing the writer of appropriation because she had a main character who was lesbian. It was only a handful of complaints, and every single one backed off when I said to them ‘do you know the author? Why do you think she’s not a lesbian?’

So, I figured, the complaints were ideological so, when I was asked to set up a series of festival workshops on issues relevant to writers, I decided I wanted to know what writers thought they could or couldn’t express. I set out to explore our writing and publishing world in search of taboos, and find out what the workshoppers thought could not be set down in print. The workshop was a flop. None of the attendees could think of any taboos. They were utterly sure that artists of all varieties could and should say anything they want to. I had to prompt them to get a grudging agreement that you probably shouldn’t name living characters and slander them.

I admit I concluded they mostly weren’t professional writers or else they weren’t being honest, but just think how different that workshop would be in 2021.  The complainers about that probably-not-a-lesbian author were a small minority on the other end of email exchanges, no-doubt forerunners of the post-modernist tide demanding ‘authenticity’.

I think attempting authenticity is a good idea when, for example, a film director looks for black people to play black parts, disabled people to play disabled parts and so on – but to say that authors are only allowed to write about people like them – that fiction authors are only allowed to use their real life standpoint – is a step too far for me. As Ursula le Guin put it, ‘it’s fiction. We make stuff up.’

A Mantel Piece

In Hilary Mantel’s collection of her journalistic writings, she includes an essay on the censorship she experienced around her when living in Jeddah. Writing in 1989, she is explaining the concept of censorship, on behalf of a UK readership whom she assumes have not heard of such things. She gives examples: my favourite was the scouring of the recipes on the back of packets of imported sauce mixes, in order to strike out (and I quote) ‘that dreadful word, “pork”’. Mantel explains that

…you cannot abolish the concept of pork from the world, but if you are assiduous you can unsay the word; if your felt tips are busy enough, and numerous enough, you can take away its name and thus gradually take away its substance, leaving it a queasy, nameless concept washing around in the minds of unbelievers, a meat which will gradually lose its existence because there is no way to talk about it.

Does that situation sound familiar to you at all? She then moves on to talk about the UK’s reaction to the Rushdie affair. In case you’re not old enough to know, the Ayatollah of Iran condemned a book Rushdie wrote, called The Satanic Verses – in fact, he went so far as to condemn Rushdie himself, calling a fatwa against both Rushdie and his publishers.

Mantel observes that some authors and commentators in the UK responded by asking whether the book was, in fact, bad form in some way. Mantel comments, ‘politeness may be the ruin of the West’. She serves up a typically English (ie, devastatingly polite) verdict on those in the UK who ‘cast doubt on Rushdie’s integrity’ or called for ‘the withdrawal of the book’.

‘Perhaps,’ she writes, ‘it is understandable that the authors of children’s books and light social comedies should decline to defend The Satanic Verses. Their freedom of expression is not at issue.’

I cheer on Mantel’s view here. The authors she describes are an example of the ‘sheep’ of our society. Rather like the attendees of that workshop I ran, they probably don’t even tell themselves about self-censorship, so can’t possibly tell anyone else. In more recent years, in publishing particularly, we have seen what I consider to be an extremely craven backing away from any colleague who has been accused of anything that people seem to fear might ‘rub off’. The consequence is the enabling of mass bullying, which those authors appear to manage not to notice.

Pronouns

In recent years many women, particularly if they’ve been active in the trade union movement or party politics, have had much to say on the pressures being applied over how people talk about sex and gender. I for one have expended a lot of energy defending the vocabulary women need to describe our political and social experience, and to maintain safeguarding boundaries. Our statements on the topic are often met with determined efforts at making us stop it.

I did suggest to my sisters at one point that perhaps we should concede the whole pronoun thing – I’ve always been of the opinion that a gender-neutral pronoun would be a useful addition to our language – I suggested it because I thought it was more important that we get ‘female’ and ‘woman’, and the language of childbirth clear. (Not just because of the women’s rights v trans rights debate but it really is still very hard for people like midwives and doulas to converse on social media, because of the tendency of the sites to assume naming women’s body parts can only equal pornography).

But I have changed my mind. ‘Misgendering’ is being treated as though it was a crime. It has taken several court cases to assert that using ‘wrong’ pronouns is not a crime. (See Maya Forstater and Harry Miller ) The assumption that we are morally obliged to apply people’s required pronouns when talking about them is a whole lot different to politely referring to people according to their wishes when talking to them. The latter is often useful and usually harmless. The former is accepting censorship.

Fortunately, I believe, the refusal of ‘required pronouns’ has been more widespread amongst the young than many suppose. A recent survey reported in ‘Prospect’ magazine (‘Gen Z explained’ in winter special 2022) states that 75% of ‘Gen Z’ respondents would agree to a designated pronoun for someone – but these are university students. I’d put it at less than half if taking a sample from secondary school students I’ve mixed with lately.

I’m less concerned about that though, now we’ve established it is NOT a matter for criminal law – I will make my own decisions when presented with pronoun requirements, because I know can. We still need to push back against workplace and judicial bullying on the issue, though. Women in prison can find themselves punished for ‘misgendering’, and that report about ‘Gen Z’ somehow managed to have a whole section on attitudes to gender, identity and sexuality without using the word ‘sex’. It suggests to me that ‘sex’ has become a ‘queasy, nameless concept’ for the report’s authors (see ‘pork’ above). It suggests serious bullying has led to serious self-censorship.

Authoritarianism, bigotry and bullies

I reject censorship and compelled speech, especially when enforced by police officers and employers because it’s directly against our beleaguered human rights. I spoke to a woman recently who is considered one of the ‘extremists’ in the women’s rights v trans rights situation. What makes her ‘extreme’ is her practice of calling a male a male, however they ‘identify’. Speaking to her, I found her view both reasonable and useful. Many women struggle with the current constraints, especially if they have been abused, or need to express safeguarding concerns about a sex-related issue. This ‘extremist’ woman told me she had seen such relief on the faces of women hearing her forthright words. They needed a model of someone calmly and unwaveringly expressing what they could see but not say. She considers her stance far from extreme, she considers it a kindness and a necessity.

I think she’s absolutely right and, as long as no-one starts laying down the law about such situations, your decision about words you say is just fine, whatever it is. I suggest being diplomatic when it seems right to you, and being forthright when you see a need.

I reject ‘cancel culture’. I consider it anti-fa gone mad. Young people have picked up on the techniques their elders have used to contain genuinely violent fascist movements, and a noisy minority are adding rowdy bully-tactics to boycott actions such as were applied so successfully against apartheid South Africa, in attempts to put a stop to anything they happen to disagree with.

The inability to accept others having meetings, giving lectures or writing books you disagree with is called ‘bigotry’. I don’t know where this idea got turned on its head but bigotry means intolerance of others’ views. Those militant youngsters and their refuse-to-grow-up grey-haired apologists are bigots, and bigotry leads to bullying.

Decency and respect

I think the vital point which gets missed, as our country sinks into ever more authoritarian attitudes, is that you don’t need laws, or rules, or bullies, to maintain decent social behaviour. As an editor and a publisher, I was a ferocious defender of the author’s right to lay down whatever words and ideas they needed to but I would from time to time go back to authors and question what I considered to be unnecessary or harmful passages.

I abhorred a large proportion of what I saw on telly when I was a kid, because, long before I had the vocabulary to express the idea, I found both news and entertainment were regularly racist, sexist, classist and gratuitously violent and sensational. Many of the things I abhorred are now actually removed from viewing schedules, because decency has prevailed. At least I thought it had. I hope it was decency, because if it was enforced censorship, I disapprove. I refer you to Eveline Beatrice Hall: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

A decent society does not encourage gratuitous vulgarity and abusiveness, nor does it allow vulnerable minorities to become scapegoats or the habitual butt of jokes. We should be sensitive to how our national conversations are going. I actually left out a line in one of my quotes from Hilary Mantel above because I thought, on its own, published in 2021 as opposed to when she wrote her piece, it would look unnecessarily critical of Muslim culture as a whole. There is a nasty tendency for that in our society at the moment, therefore decency requires avoiding anything that appears to support that tendency unless that something is 100% accurate and necessary. (Please pay attention – I’m NOT saying Mantel said anything wrong. Don’t think of ‘cancelling’ her!)

You can’t easily made decisions like those I make as an editor in an authoritarian country full of bullies. That’s why defending freedom of expression is vital.

Now, if you don’t know why I’ve called this piece ‘Janice’s Goats’ but you were polite enough to read it anyway, this would be a great time for you to read Janice Turner’s article in the Times, 24th Dec 2021. Here’s a link.

Oh and one more thing…

Just in case I haven’t convinced you, neither official censorship nor mob-attempts at cancel culture work. Why is that…?

Goats are fearless – here’s Stephanie Winn

Goats are curious – here’s my response to a book launch getting ‘cancelled’.

Categories
activism Book reviews economics Housing media Politics prejudice

Thirty Years Ago

***Long Read***

I’ve been reading a report called Blood Sweat and Tears, about a project in the 1990s, instigated to address rising racial tensions, crime and related problems on an estate in Bermondsey.

I have this temptation to make a terrible joke first, and I think I’m going to give in to it, and say ‘my but they had proper racism in those days’. It wasn’t about old Tories sobbing over imperialist statues. It wasn’t a spat over the appropriateness of a 1950s novel in the library. Back then, the National Front and BNP were recruiting – or trying to, and shiny-headed boot boys were around in our cities, drawing swastikas on walls, ganging up on immigrant kids and lobbing bricks at black families’ cars.

“Evidence of racist activity in the area suggested that black people were becoming easy targets for the frustrations and political impotence experienced by the local white community,” says the report, and “two cornerstones of the effort were work with young black people to develop confidence when faced with racism and work with young people with racist attitudes and street gangs to promote anti-racist ideas…”

Already, reading that introduction, two thoughts were rising in my head. The first was that someone assigned to deal with the situation would have a choice of two focuses: the “racist activity” or the “frustrations and political impotence experienced by the local white community”. As an anti-racist, if you choose “racist activity” the temptation is to see finger-waving, slogan-chanting and placard-bearing as the way to go. If you focus on the second, and ask yourself what are the causes of “frustrations and political impotence”, you are giving yourself a long, hard and wide-ranging job but that, the Bermondsey team concluded, was the job that needed doing.

My second thought was about current events in my own town, here in 2021 because seriously, I do know that racism, nationalism and related blindnesses are still a destructive force. We too are suffering ”frustrations and political impotence”. We are struggling with austerity and recession, and now people are getting themselves into a state over whether we can ‘afford to’ help refugees who wash up on the beach, and in some cases asking why they ‘come over here’, and now I hear it’s attracting the attention of those far-right groups looking to feed on people’s fears.

I feel we should be talking about austerity and recession, along with the larger, global issues that create displacement. I believe politicians’ chosen stance on those larger issues are the causes of our doubt that we can or should extend a welcoming hand to refugees but, as I settled down to read about the setbacks, lessons and triumphs that made up that three year, government-funded project in 1990s London, I felt my spirits sinking – where would a 21st Century council or NGO find either the patience or the funds to follow where this project led?

Rising Tensions

The report states that in the ‘90s there was a (possibly mistaken) view that racial tension was caused by far-right organisations such as (at that time) the BNP and the National Front, but that among the issues that needed addressing were socio-economic problems and establishment-led anxieties designed to discourage immigration, or to demonise particular elements of society. Those people would then bear the blame for government failings in welfare, housing and education provision. (Believe it or not, black single mothers were often blamed for all our woes back then. I can remember the crazy arguments).

Investing time, thought and planning

Looking at the detailed work that went into setting up and maintaining the project in Bermondsey – and the debate about how to get genuinely, constructively involved with the local community, I can’t help thinking that anti-racist efforts I’ve seen more recently are way, way too brief and self-serving. There is no way the kind of work these people did could be done, for example, within the span of an election campaign or even with a year’s funding with tick-box targets from some grant-farming organisation.

The project put time and a lot of thought into finding, stabilising and activating a team of appropriately skilled people and then into building awareness, trust and relationships in the community. Dealing with racist attacks, and other forms of misdirected (or just plain undirected) anger is a difficult and potentially dangerous occupation, and the staff had other forces – such as local papers – working against them, seeking to sensationalise and even provoke community problems for the sake of a story.

The young men

As for any hopes of black and white kids working together within the project – that took even longer because at the start, they would not see any black kids on the street at all. It simply and obviously wasn’t safe for them, but the project stuck with their work, talking to groups of young men they found hanging out, or playing football until, to use the words of one of those young men, “you lot have stuck it out, haven’t you – you don’t turn your back on us and walk away, you don’t think we’re all bad.”

Respect is a two-way street and responses like the above appear to have been the result of the project’s practice of politely challenging aggressive behaviour, but “there was agreement that challenging would not involve putting individuals down or belittling them in front of their peers”. The staff were resolved to stick by their own commitments, and demand the same of the young people they worked with, and to make “a clear distinction between the young people they were working with and their negative attitudes”.

The young women

It took longer for the project to find the girls. They were “more likely to be in school, less likely to be hanging round the streets” but in time, they did find them, and found the girls to be somewhat better at working together, and also more willing to spot and call out destructive behaviours.

The project team had been concerned that “targeting the potential and actual perpetrators of racial violence would reinforce the exclusion of the black young people who were their potential or actual victims.” This issue began to be solved as girls formed their own activities and relationships, and black and mixed race families began to take part. In the third year, as the project turned their attention to how to create a legacy, some of those girls wrote about the project, and turned up to meetings planning for the future, seeking to preserve new-found support and awareness.

The police

The group were also enthusiastically endorsed by the local police, who reported an impressive reduction in racist, violent and other destructive acts on the estate as the project progressed. One officer also told of the frustration the police feel, when attempting to ‘move along’ potential trouble makers if they know there’s no-where for them to go. While the project was running, there had been somewhere.

Conclusions

Reading the report outcomes, my mind goes back, time and time again, to a stand-off I once had with an ‘anti-fascist’ activist who was seeking funds from my union group to hire a minibus to do what I suspected would not be a million miles away from lobbing half-bricks back at racists on a march. That might be good fun, and I’m not saying there isn’t a place for those parachute-in actions, (I’m reminded of when EDL or some such group tried to descend on Liverpool, and never even got out of the railway station because local socialist activists were there in force – that was, I think, an example of effective on-the-spot action) but this report convinces me that changing hearts and minds requires more, much more, and more sustained efforts.

How you actually counteract fascism has been on my mind lately because I have been the target of some of those parachute-in anti-fa groups in recent years. Seriously, yes, we have a generation that learned anti-fa tactics and somewhat over-applied them. In recent years, some of them added women’s groups to their list of targets, calling us ‘anti-trans hate groups’ and so I know exactly, deeply and personally just how much the targets of such actions (us) do not change our minds because a bunch of yobs turn up to yell at you.

Why am I telling you this now?

The report describes itself as “not just an account of an interesting and worthwhile project but as a practical resource that will be of particular use to community workers and activists, youth work students, trainers, teachers and others involved in anti-racist work with young people.” It provides detailed examples of the kinds of situations the team dealt with, and transcripts of their debates about those incidents. It offers “structured tasks and discussions … of particular use to people involved in training youth workers, as well as to others that are keen to develop positive approaches to anti-racist work in their own communities.”

I have discussed this, and other related issues with Leah Levane, who worked on the project, and she told me that the group were invited to give talks on their experience after its completion, and had hoped to see similar projects instigated elsewhere as a result. Unfortunately, as the ‘90s progressed into the ‘00s, we found ourselves with a government even less inclined to invest in local projects, and councils which, as local government grants dwindled away, could not have put up the funds themselves so here’s my appeal to you:

Blood, Sweat and Tears - A report of the bede anti-racist detached youth work project

Don’t let the Bermondsey project work be forgotten

Please download the report and read it in full, and then go tell your local community, union, political or youth group about it. Maybe you can get a working group to study it, and consider how similar work could be instigated or developed where you are.

Download link Blood Sweat and Tears report

Categories
activism Corbyn economics Election Hastings Housing Labour NHS Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Make lousy politicians a minority

We could do this. Here’s how…

There are millions of people in this country who, like me, have used the phrase ‘politically homeless’. They have been thrown out of, or lost faith in, their ‘natural’ choice of party. There are also increasing numbers of people who, like me, have realised there’s more to politics than the competition between red, blue and any other party colours that choose to challenge the tyranny of red and blue. We know the ‘minority parties’ won’t get far, though, and many of us are having trouble believing we can magically agree on yet another new party, and get them into a realistic position before the next election.

There’s a better way

There are millions of people, if you put them together, who have thrown their efforts into the anti-austerity movement, perhaps via the People’s Assemblies, or through their unions. Others have chosen one of the big issues our survival depends on, and started working with XR, or Stop the War, or the women’s movement.

It’s become obvious to most that the main political ‘opposition’ known to the establishment is Keir Starmer’s Labour, despite the fact that Labour’s willingness to defend basics is minimal. By basics, I mean things most of us agree that we need – like the NHS, water, power and transport services, housing and workers’ rights. Many people also value women’s rights, anti-racism and of course the environment, and that means millions won’t sit easy with a party that neglects or worsens those issues.

You are being taken for a ride

Starmer’s Labour is cheerfully dancing to the right, confident that they don’t have to be much different to Johnson’s Tories now. They think a few familiar names from the last century, a few professional looking politicians who handle themselves better than Johnson, is all they need. The Greens are still too absorbed in arguing with each other over whether women exist to come anywhere near XR in environment-defence campaigns let alone on any other issue that matters to real people. The Lib Dems are still as pointless as they have been ever since Nick Clegg demonstrated their ‘beta Tories’ stance. There are other options in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, if you’re Welsh, Labour may seem less of a lost cause to you but for English voters, no other party is going to get a nose into Westminster politics unless we force our politicians into a complete overhaul of the voting system, and indeed, many have joined vote-reform pressure groups.

Great – we need that. Join a vote-reform pressure group, but that isn’t very exciting, and doesn’t feel like the whole of an answer, does it?

Get mad AND get even

The politicians you shout at on the telly are all completely confident that you’ll choose red or blue or give up and do nothing. It’s time to prove them wrong. In the next election, there will be a lot of people who will need to be persuaded to vote at all. This is the situation where inspiring independent candidates have a really good chance and, if those independents want to win, now is the time to be planning and organising. But they need to have something most maverick independents don’t have. They need an organisation, and some informed supporters.

If you’re a member of a campaigning group of any kind, on any issue, national or local, that has natural justice on its side, get talking now about whether you have someone who’s real candidate material – someone your group would rally round with enough enthusiasm to inspire others. You should be preparing now, to offer your own Refugee Support candidate, or Housing is a Human Right candidate, or Anti-Austerity candidate, or No Shit candidate (the latter has become a popular slogan in my town, since our water company was taken over by a shameless, profiteering polluter).

Take back control

In the last two general elections, independent candidates were often unpopular because the main parties had a lot of passionate support. In one of those elections in my town, an independent candidate won a mere 400 votes but they were votes that could have toppled an unpopular MP. Although that maverick candidate raised some important issues and gave the unpopular MP some nasty moments in the hustings, he was seriously considering leaving town after voting day, for his own safety. The situation has changed now. In most constituencies, no-one would weep for the loss of main party offerings.

Consider both council and national elections. Don’t let the reds and the blues choke our politics. If every council had a range of experienced, specialist independents, if every hustings at the next GE had a range of candidates speaking knowledgeably on the real issues, seasoned activists from those pressure groups we all support, like We Own It, Defend the NHS and the rest – if that happened, the major parties would have to pull their socks up, start doing real politics, or lose seats big time.

That will make them listen to you. Think about your groups and campaigns, talk the issue through with fellow activists, and get organised now. It’s a big job, but it’s far, far more satisfying than sitting around feeling bullied by lousy politicians. Find a well known campaigner on an important local issue to put up for council, and an effective activist on a big national issue to put up for the next General Election. At the very least, your candidates will raise the level of the debate and make the big party politicians work but it’s perfectly possible that if enough groups did this, we could make lousy politicians a backward-looking minority on your council and in Westminster.

Doesn’t that idea just bring joy to your heart? Who are you going to talk to? Which of your local groups could do this? Let’s get to it, now.

Categories
activism Hastings Politics prejudice

Christmas lights on the beach

Dear Home Secretary,

Fairy lights are on the trees and the lamp posts in the town centre, and the coloured lights are appearing in the shops and the windows of everyone’s houses, but these lights are the ones people of Hastings took to the sea-front, as a farewell message to the families who drowned in the English Channel this week.

They drowned in the sea because France rejected them and Britain would not help them. It’s very clear that you, like the former Home Secretary, who was our Hastings MP, do not prioritize people whose families come to Britain seeking sanctuary, or a more bearable life, you prefer to prioritize ‘our own’ – but could I ask you to look at it like this?

How do you think the people of seaside towns like ours feel, looking out over that cold, dark sea at night, and thinking there may be families drowning in that cold, dark sea? How do you think we feel, knowing that you are asking our RNLI – volunteers, who do the work they do because they care deeply about people – you are asking them to turn their backs on those people, and you are asking our border forces to do a ‘push back’ which will lead to more drownings?

I don’t believe that you are unable to find a humane solution to this. I don’t believe you are trying. The people of Hastings have been going down to the waterline to help frozen, soaking wet, terrified refugees for a long old time now.. This Christmas, if you wake up in the night, never mind the little match girl, try to imagine a little girl drowning in that cold, dark sea. For as long as that is happening, our country is not civilised, and your party is not the party of ‘law and order’, or ‘family values’.

Yours sincerely,

One who stood on the Stade tonight, unable to stop imagining families drowning in that cold, dark sea.

People of Hastings stand vigil for the drowned refugees, November 2021.
Categories
activism economics Housing media NHS Politics prejudice Uncategorized

Transports of delight!

Oh, what an original idea! Gather up all these alarming, inconvenient people and send them to some far-flung corner of the world we have a bit of control over.

https://www.dumptheguardian.com/world/2021/nov/21/migrant-crossings-are-becoming-a-problem-for-red-wall-tory-mps

It worked before, didn’t it? That’s why Australia is what it is. Come to think of it, lots of UK citizens who hadn’t been marked as undesirable followed them, once the country got on its feet. I think we should all consider jumping the gun this time – depart Cruel Brittania, and go with the refugees to a new world built by those the Tories always did, and always will think of as ‘undesirables’.

Now, what next? As they dismantle and sell off the remains of our services (the NHS is to all intents and purposes under the hammer in parliament this week) which of the Victorians’ cruel ideas do you think our abysmal politicians are going to try out next in their endless attempts to avoid the obvious truth?

The obvious truth

We had the best NHS in the world. We had transport, power, education and care services that were faulty but sort of worked. Now so many of us are struggling to find dentists, get medical and social care, we realise ‘sort of’ was a lot better than nothing. We got as far as ‘sort of’ because we had a government that saw its job as running the country, and local authorities that saw their jobs as running the services in their areas. We knew that all those administrators were there to provide people’s needs. They were paid to do it, and paid enough to live decently, not to get rich off our services. For decades, we’ve been told our services all needed to be sold off because they were faulty. Not so. We needed a government that would keep at it, make the poor services better and the good truly great.

Demand better – demand change. If you’re over 50, you’ll know we did it once before so we can do it again. If you’re under 50, ask granny how the NHS, housing, education, social services etc etc used to work. Fight back. If acting on your own doesn’t work, get some people around you and become an active part of everyone who’s demanding better.

What’s it got to do with refugees?

All those services we fought for and won in the last century – we did all that in time when (as now) lots of people emigrated to the UK when things were unsustainable where they lived. They came because they heard the UK was better. This was not a bad thing. They can’t help coming now. The ones who reach the north coast of France and get bullied into the sea by the French authorities are a minority of the refugees on the move. Pity them – they’ve landed in a country with a merciless government, and next to no local services.

But one thing we do know about the people washing up on our beaches is that they’re strong enough and clever enough to get that far. Maybe they’re strong enough and clever enough to help make a new country, either here or on the other side of the world when we all get sent to the Falklands for stealing our daily bread, like desperate people did in the bad old days before the NHS, social care services, etc etc.

This week’s ‘Destruction of the NHS’ Bill in parliament

If you want some help fighting back, contact the People’s Assembly office@thepeoplesassembly.org.uk Or try your local Trades Council. Or check if there’s a local branch of Defend the NHS where you are.

Categories
activism Labour media Politics prejudice women

Forced teaming has dreadful consequences

Imagine Neptunian people are your thing (I know, I know but just imagine… ). Imagine the Neptunian Support Group has been the centre of your life and activity for decades. Then one day, the Neptunian Support Group is offered a load of funding for promoting Plutonian welfare. I mean, Plutonians are nice and all that, but how are you going to react when the charity you volunteer for because of your love of Neptune says you must not do anything without mentioning Plutonians, then progresses into telling you that Neptunians don’t matter, and in a way don’t exist, and you must not mention them because to do so would be ‘Pluto exclusionary’.

It’s bizarre, isn’t it – in no time at all you’d be getting frustrated and saying quite rude things about Plutonians. What if you were then roundly told off for being ‘anti-Plutonian’ when you talk about Neptune? If you were sensible, you’d probably walk away from the not-very-Neptunian not-very-supportive-Support Group at that point and refocus your attention, maybe start another group for Neptunians. What if the former Neptunian Support Group then called your group an ‘anti-Plutonian hate group’, and started trashing anyone who had anything to do with your organisation?

I expect you’ll agree with me that that Neptunian Support Group has done real and lasting harm to both Neptunian and Plutonian welfare by turning what was a lot of good work by very committed people into a bitter war.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the powers that be were aiming to make all those people hate each other but no, it’s just money. It’s always money. For the last 30 years or so, there have been huge streams of funding available, usually coming from the USA, for Plutonians, so Neptunian charity and political organisations have been determined that Neptunians should shut up while they rake it in.

What if, as trusted, benevolent charities, several Neptunian Support organisations have been going into schools and recruitment organisations, teaching them to prioritise Plutonian needs over Neptunians? What if they even have quasi-academics arguing that Neptunians don’t really exist as a meaningful category, and extrapolating on this, have attempted to persuade the government to cancel Neptunian legal rights in favour of Plutonians’? What if their activist base is a bunch of angry kids who’ve been convinced Neptunians are their enemy?

—–

It started out as ‘LGB’ – a grouping of people with same-sex orientation. Then more and more categories – categories that were *not* same-sex orientation were added – to grow the organisations? To attract more funding? Heaped on top of a series of bad decisions made since funding streams changed back in the late 20th century, Stonewall and other organisations have been neglecting and negating actual L G and B people, and yet have decreed that L G and B people should not go off and set up their own organisations.

Guess what he found – T, T and more T. No L, G or B

The main reason Pride marches have hit the news for most of us in recent years has been amateur videos of incidents where members of LGB organisations have been hounded off marches for being ‘exclusionary’. Now, the Labour Party has joined in the trouble-making by making two extremely contradictory decisions.

They have recently accepted ‘Labour Trans Equality’ as a ‘Friends of Labour’ group, and then told ‘Lesbian Labour’ they cannot be Friends because there is already an LGBT+ group affiliated to the party, and ‘it is against the rules to establish new groups that might duplicate the work and status of existing groups’. So you can break away from the many-headed LGBT+ to set up an additional T group, but you can’t have one that’s only L, G or B? Looks like a clear case of discrimination against a protected characteristic to me. Oh my, here come *more* court cases….

The malais is spreading to the mistreatment of other protected characteristics. London has taken to putting apparently LGBT+ friendly road-crossings all over the place, causing people to complain that road crossings no longer look like road-crossings, and reps for disability groups say they are causing confusion and danger. Councillors are following the well-funded habit of being aggressive in ‘defence’ of LGBT+.

Fortunately for the UK, this situation will not last. Gay men have a good voice whatever their opinion.

And lesbian politics has always been a strong force within British feminism. Fortunately, no-one has ever known how to shut them up. One day, someone will ask why so many powerful organisations *try* to shut them up. Maybe someone should have asked that back at the start of the century, when Julie Bindel warned Ruth Hunt (CEO of Stonewall) that tacking the T onto LGB to court funding would cause conflict.

Lesbian Labour

LGB Alliance

Categories
activism Politics prejudice women

My pronouns are I/me

For most of my life, feminists have called upon women to resist stating their ‘gender’ in work situations, to discourage sex harassment and/or discrimination.

Many public authority jobs used to be advertised and processed in a sex-blind and race-blind manner, to avoid discrimination in recruitment.

Then someone decided the way to check for and correct discrimination was to ask people to state their sex, race, disabilities etc for an anonymised data-list so they could check for discrimination.

I suppose that was okay, except that it worried people who remembered Nazis collecting such info and/or using those records when they set about their systematic attack on ‘undesirables’.

But it also got people used to the idea that any and every form they filled in would ask those things. And then the whole sex and gender thing got mixed up, so that nobody knows what it means now, when you are asked to state your sex, or ‘assigned’ sex or gender, as though it’s something handed out by the quarter master, or gender identity, a thing that may or may not exist, because you just have to choose from whatever oddities the form you’re currently filling in has gone for.

And now, the government has put out a form for people to fill in to do a consultation on issues deeply connected to those features, and it asks you for information about ‘the gender you were assigned at birth’ – a complex and contentious idea that many people roundly disagree with.

And now, in their workplaces, people are being asked to state ‘their’ pronouns on everything, so that women who want to follow the rules our generation lived by either have to hide their sex by plumping for some made-up pronoun, or they have to advertise their sex on everything they write, say and do.

If they come for you, tell them your pronouns are I/me.

If they want to talk about themselves, they can say whatever they like. If they want to talk about you, tell them to use whatever pronouns they like – it’s supposed to be a free country.

As for me, I am waiting for our culture to rediscover those oh-so important words, ‘we’ and ‘us’ because, way, way more urgently than anyone wants their unique identity to be validated, we need to relearn how to work together to solve our many, urgent problems.

Categories
activism Politics prejudice women

Tell me one thing that’s right about women in prison

My Dad worked on prison reform, way back in the last century. Obviously (I thought!) because he was a bloke, he worked in male prisons (I just learned that female prisons also have male officers but there you go). One of the things dad often said was that people are obsessed with how many *years* people get, when they read about this or that crime but that in his experience, if someone was sent to prison for more than THREE MONTHS their lives fell apart – home lost, job lost, friends lost, relationships changed or broken… He reckoned their lives would not recover, they were condemned to a dysfunctional existence and would probably be back in prison again after a bit of flailing around.

These days, a lot of people accused of crimes end up in prison for more than three months *on remand*. But last night, I was told that most women in prison are there for ‘short’ spells – on remand, or with sentences of six months for petty crimes. Lives ruined. It’s estimated that there are perhaps a few dozen women in the entire country whose crimes suggest they might be any kind of danger to life and limb. Most then, go into prison, get their lives ruined, and for no useful reason whatsoever.

Prisons are not fit for purpose

We’ve had the evidence of that before our eyes for decades. Why has nothing been done? The meeting I went to last night was mainly supposed to be about a problem specific to the current women’s sex-based rights campaign. We were there to ask why self-identified trans people (men who say ‘I am a woman’), are housed in female prisons, when a court has judged that is detrimental to women. Why is it still happening?

So yes, I ask why but, as many of my friends and colleagues have commented during and after last night’s meeting, we have a whole basketful of urgent problems on the topic of women in prison.

There are about 5000 women in prison in the UK, mostly on remand, or on short sentences. Thing is, when you’re up in court, you don’t know how it’s all going to end. Women have often sent their kids to school, then they’re sent down. They can’t make phone calls, to the world outside they’ve ‘gone’. In some cell, somewhere in the country, they are wondering where their kids are, and who might have picked them up from school, and told them what.

If they’re single parents, the kids will lose their home. If they have violent partners (a large proportion of the women in prison are there on charges that stem from domestic violence situations) if they have violent partners, they are thinking about the kids left at home with no-one to protect them. If they are refugees who’ve been detained, they haven’t even had a chance to get started on life here. Women in prison tend to believe they’ve failed, and begin to self-harm, get suicidal, or get drawn into drug use. There is ample opportunity for all those things in British prisons.

About 18 000 kids a year are affected by their parents going into prison. Professionals in childcare talk about things called ACEs – ‘adverse childhood experiences’. Mum going into prison is one of those, one that often leads to more, as life plummets into chaos and ‘care’. It’s reckoned that 4 ACEs are enough to guarantee that a child will grow up too troubled to ever entirely get control of their life.

When men go into prisons, their families become in effect single-parent families. When women go into prison, 95% of the affected children are displaced from their homes.

There is rarely a public safety reason for putting women in prison. I know of no other reason for putting someone in prison than that they are a danger to themselves or others. Although it can seem, initially, like a respite from abuse or from sex-trade traps, the notion of prison as ‘a safe place’ or as ‘deterrence’ is absurd, when we know that prisons are a hive of crime and dysfunctional behaviour.

I haven’t got around to worrying about the thing about male prisoners who declare themselves women, get moved to female prisons, take the opportunity to pester and frighten women, then declare themselves men again when they come out, but when I do, I am going to be *very* angry. I hope you will be too.

Men tend to be bigger and stronger than women, and are more likely to cause harm to women although yes, sometimes women bully other women, too. Those bullies, of whatever type, are doing immeasurable harm both to women and to most trans women, for whom all of this is just plain terrifying – and all due to bad laws and worse interpretations of those laws, by Stonewall and their ilk.

If you’d like to find out more, or if you’d like to help…

The law does not work for women

https://howardleague.org/

https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/

https://theradicalnotion.org/

https://womansplaceuk.org/