(Dear FAC, apologies for the long delay in publishing this! I’ve been reminded that it needed doing after the very timely response to the recent review.)
Structure of the session
- We shared experiences in which we felt we had been treated unfairly
- We made and discussed a list of ways in which women are oppressed relative to men, asking ‘why?’ or ‘what is the history?’
- We made and discussed a list of ways in which Black and minority ethnic people in the UK are oppressed relative to white people in the UK, asking ‘why?’ and ‘what is the history or institutional basis?’
- We found some parallels and related aspects on these lists
- We discussed ways of taking anti-racist work forward into the future
“Identity politics” is a disparaging term used by people on “The Left” to talk about all forms of oppression that do not directly and specifically affect heterosexual white men. It includes struggles against all the forms and manifestations of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat hatred, sexism, misogyny, and many others besides.
We frequently hear the complaint that “Identity Politics” is destroying the unity of “The Left”. But that unity never existed, except in the imaginations of those who struggle against class-based oppression while simultaneously ignoring, minimizing, or outright denying the existence of every other form of oppression.
Whenever I hear
Identity politics are destroying the unity of The Left.
I mentally translate it to
Why can’t everyone just do what I want? You brown people and women and queers are ruining everything with your pesky demands that I act like your lives and experiences actually matter. Waaaaaaaaaaaaah. (Throws toys out of crib.)
And most of the time, that seems to fit.
See for example:
Privilege Politics is Reformism
Independent Working Class Association: Multiculturalism & identity politics – the reactionary consequences and how they can be challenged
New Statesman: The problem with privilege-checking
This post is a review of two free ebooks: “Occupy Theory” by Michael Albert and Mandisi Majavu (PDF), and “Occupy Vision” by Michael Albert and Mark Evans (PDF). As the names suggest, these books are being put forward as a potential unifying ideology for the Occupy movement, and for the anti-capitalist movement more generally. The ideas in these books also form an ideological basis for the International Organisation for a Participatory Society (IOPS).
A key figure in all this is Michael Albert, an academic and lifelong activist who co-authored both books. In the dedication to “Occupy Theory”, it’s made clear that the ideas in this book are being put forward as a potential unifying ideology for both the IOPS, and for the Occupy movement itself.
“Poll reveals public unease about plans to redefine marriage”  reads the headline on a Christian online publication. This is certainly the impression the Coalition for Marriage has tried to create with their petition to deny gay couples the right to marry. This petition received a flurry of press attention, but does this translate to a real groundswell of grassroots support?
Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame) checked out the petition website and found it odd that there is so little information about who is behind it:
But who are the Coalition For Marriage? They don’t say.
The Coalition for Marriage is an umbrella group of individuals and organisations in the UK that support traditional marriage and oppose any plans to redefine it.
The Coalition is backed by politicians, lawyers, academics and religious leaders. It reaches out to people of all faiths and none, who believe that marriage is the most successful partnership in history and should not be redefined.
But I can’t find a list anywhere, in any of the coverage, press release, anything.
Googling the address: “C4M, 8 Marshalsea Road, London SE1 1HL” it looks like they are in the same building as the Christian Medical Fellowship and the Lawyers Christian Fellowship.
When I told a friend that I was going to write an article about the fact that “whatever we do, it’s wrong”, we realized after a few minutes of slightly chaotic dialogue that we didn’t mean the same thing. I meant that whatever a woman does with her sexuality, she is judged and criticized for it. And my friend thought that I meant that whatever, as feminists, we do, it’s never completely right and satisfactory, because it’s never truly intersectional.
I first thought it was a misunderstanding, and we moved on. Then I thought that it was a meaningful misunderstanding, and that I had to take it into account as such: as a sign from the god that doesn’t exist (or from my friend) that my politics are not intersectional enough. And now I think that even though I didn’t think so when it happened, my friend and I were talking about the same thing. Or rather, I should have considered that we were talking about the same thing even though I didn’t. Because we were both talking about how to fight domination – any domination, including the one we exercise on other people, on other women whom we call sisters and who could legitimately call us enemies. I should have considered that we were talking about the same thing because MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT. I cannot separate the two; writing about one means writing about the other, otherwise, yes, it is bullshit.
In this article, I first address various inventive patriarchal criticisms of my sexual and affective behaviour, and then try to make a link between the fact that all these criticisms are very hurtful whoever utters them, and the necessity for my feminism to be truly radical and intersectional.
Trigger warning for homophobic and racist violence and bullying.
I remember being told as a kid that I should be grateful that I lived in a country where there was freedom of speech. No-one would be arrested for writing a book or newspaper article, and no-one had to fear being arrested for criticizing the government. We were free to say anything we wanted.
Even as a kid, I knew it wasn’t really true that you could say whatever you wanted. I had already learned that if I mentioned the not believing in god thing to anyone other than my parents, the person would likely get extremely angry and upset. (And it was best not to tell my parents that I sometimes went to church with my friend’s family on Sunday after a Saturday night sleep-over, because it would lead to a half-hour grilling to determine whether or not I was being indoctrinated into Christianity).
There were so many secrets that hiding things was second nature. If I’d told my school friends that I secretly wasn’t that attracted to Corey Haim*, but thought Micheal Jackson was cool, I would have been punished with social exclusion. Micheal Jackson was considered to be ‘gay’ among my friends (who I suspect had only the haziest idea of what the word ‘gay’ meant, and mostly used it as a synonym for ‘bad’). And then there was the fact that I spent large amounts of time making up elaborate stories in my head, completely ignoring the world around me – I always knew that there would be trouble if I revealed that to anybody.
If you prefer to read text rather than squinting at an image, there’s a transcript at the bottom.
I’m thrilled to introduce this article by the brilliant KM, discussing questions of organisation, hierarchy and transparency in activist organisations. While she is writing about the Occupy and Climate Camp movements, these questions of hierarchy and group structure are equally integral to feminist organising. The second wave discussed how to organise both effectively and non-hierarchically, most famously in Jo Freeman’s seminal article, The Tyranny of Structureless (very much worth reading), and so it’s great to see this line of thinking continued here on our blog. he feminist blogosphere recently has been resonating with discussion of how to respond to rape and sexual violence and intimidation within the Occupy movement. The questions of organisation that KM discusses here are the building blocks towards creating the kind of groups that we will be able to participate safely, effectively and happily in. And finally, of course, there is plenty to think about here as regards the organisation of our own group, and reading this article has made me start thinking really critically about what we can do better – which is a lot. Happy reading!
1. Intro and motivation
The Occupy movement began in New York City’s Zucotti Park in September 2011, as a protest against economic inequality and specifically against the banks of Wall Street. Occupy quickly spread, and around the world camps were set up in public spaces, protesting against economic inequality, and organising themselves non-hierarchically, with decisions made in leaderless General Assemblies. The occupations are notable for their lack of a platform or list of demands, as shown in this statement from Occupy Oakland:
To the Politicians and the 1%: This occupation is its own demand. Since we don’t need permission to claim what is already ours, we do not have a list of demands to give you. There is no specific thing you can do in order to make us “go away”. And the last thing we want is for you to preserve your power, to reinforce your role as the ruling classes in our society.
What does it mean to say that “This occupation is its own demand”? I would argue that this expresses a desire for Participatory Democracy; a political system characterised by a lack of hierarchy, in which people participate directly in making decisions that affect them. This is in contrast to Representative Democracy, in which people vote for their rulers once every four or five years but apart from that have few opportunities to participate in decision-making. At least for some participants, the purpose of Occupy is not to influence government, but to replace it.
However the form of participatory democracy practised within the Occupy movement is far from perfect, and despite the best of intentions what happens in General Assemblies falls short of full and equal democratic participation for all. Many people are drawn into this movement by the promise of openness and equal participation, and so when these promises are not realised, people drift away.
In this article I’m going to look at how participatory democracy is practised within Occupy and related movements, show some of the problems that often come up, and suggest some improvements. I’m also going to talk more generally about how Participatory Democracy can be used in other types of organisations. Finally I’ll argue that Participatory Democracy isn’t just something that just happens in meetings, and that is requires a cultural shift in the way we think and related to each-other. This shift requires hard work, but in my opinion it’s definitely achievable.