This, totally!!! Phantom in a nutshell!!!
So I know I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been super busy with the holidays, school and the podcast, not to mention a housing hunt! But I wanted to post this for Valentine’s Day because it’s about love, though not of the kind conventionally understood as romantic.
For the past couple of years now, there’s been a vigorous debate within the world of climate activism over the best way to motivate people to take action. In particular, there has been a vigorous debate over whether positivity or fear is more effective. Do you emphasize the positive – the fact that we already, now, have everything we need to transition off of fossil-fuels, and thereby build up people’s hope and enthusiasm? Or, do you emphasize the danger – the increasingly dyer scientific warnings, the horrific visions of the future if we don’t change, and try to scare people into “waking up” and taking action? I would argue that both sides of this debate are, with all respect, wrong. Neither positivity nor fear is what’s needed. Positivity alone is too weak a motivator for the kind of massive, whole-scale transformation called for by the climate crisis. The crisis literally requires that we change everything – our economy, our agriculture, our transportation and travel habits, everything. And change that sweeping can be as scary as exciting. It will therefore require something stronger than just positivity about the fact that it can be done to help people push through the fear, leave behind the devil they know, and become active in the transformation.
Using fear, meanwhile, can backfire in two distinct ways. First of all, as has been frequently pointed out, it can have the effect of shutting people down, so that they become even more inactive and disengaged. But also, though far less discussed but of equally great concern (or it should be) to activists, is that while fear can powerfully motivate people to fight for their survival, it can motivate people to do so in very nasty ways. Because, when people are afraid for their survival, unless they already have a very strong, very well developed and embodied ethic/politics/spirituality/practice of radical compassion in place, they tend to fight ruthlessly, doing whatever they feel they must in order to assure that survival. It tends to create a “lifeboat” mentality, in which those other than “their own” are felt to be in competition for survival resources and thus a threat. And so people fight xenophobically and cruelly. This is a big part of the reason why times of crisis provide such fertile ground for fascists and other right-wing demagogs. And I don’t think we want a “life-boat” mentality to inform climate politics!
Rather, as Naomi Klein beautifully shows in her three most recent books – This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate (2014), No Is Not Enough (2017) and The Battle For Paradise (2018), by far the most courageous, determined, but also generous and open-hearted struggles for transformation come neither from positivity nor from fear, but from love. Often, they come from love of place, love of animals, love of children/grandchildren and their future, or love of cherished ways of life (farming, fishing, subsistence hunting, Indigenous traditions). These struggles tend to invite allies in to help defend what is beloved rather than seeing strangers as threats, and to forge common links with others engaged in similar struggles. This has even allowed groups once antagonistic to each other (settlers and Indigenous people, ranchers and Vegan activists, BIPOC and white allies, youth and elders, etc,) to come together to resist extraction projects and demand climate justice (see Klein for some amazing examples). And this has even lead to the beginning of powerful processes of healing from historical trauma (see again Klein,)!
To some extent, the role of love in motivating struggle has been understood by activists as campaigns to get people to “fall in love with nature” show. What has not been grasped yet, it seems to me, is the necessity to activate people based on what they already love rather than trying to get people to love what you think will activate them. We need to not only meet people where their knowledge is, but where their hearts are. We need to not only help people see how what they love is endangered by climate change, but how what they love can be transformed through politicization, and thus be carried forward into a new, just, sustainable world. Because, if people believe that the transformation will destroy what they love every bit as much as climate change will, they won’t fight. They’ll go into despair instead. And they will cling desperately to the old civilization even as they know it’s destroying the planet, preferring to “go down with the ship” then to loose what they love dearly – basically, nihilism. And/or, they will join the struggle, but half-heartedly, held back by ambivalence.
I struggled with this myself for a long time. Because, although I deeply believe that Phantom is a story about social justice, I feared greatly that the aesthetic, especially of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage-show, could not be continued without the big-city, capitalist infrastructure that originally produced it. But that aesthetic is part of what I love about Phantom. And oddly enough, I feel a deep connection between the aesthetic and the social justice (more on that in future posts). I felt very much on my own, however, in finding my way out of this impasse, because I did not feel that I could talk about it with fellow activists. Most of the activist I know express their politics through aesthetics of simplicity, and so I feared that they would not be any too sympathetic to my love of the high-romantic aesthetics of Phantom (an attitude with which I do have prior experience, so that fear does not come out of nowhere). Thus, although my Phanship and my anti-poverty and Disability activism have been a strong fit with one another right from the start, for a long time I feared that my Phanship and my climate activism were incompatible. Because, I feared that the necessary social and economic changes to transform us to a degrowth society would destroy Phantom just as much as climate change itself would. I wanted to believe that there was a way to carry it forward – that that destruction wasn’t inevitable, but I couldn’t see how yet. And the message I felt coming from climate activism was, not meeting me where my heart lies and helping me figure it out, but “put away childish things, leave behind such a relic of white, heteropatriarcal, bourgeois consumer-capitalism, and fall in love with nature instead and thereby embrace simplicity”. Not that anyone has ever said this to me directly, but it seems to be very strongly implied in the messaging of much climate (and other) activism. But I have never found that terribly helpful, and I suspect I’m not alone there! Because, you can’t just stop loving what you love because some one says you should, even some one you admire and respect. You love what you love for reasons, even if those reasons don’t always make sense to others!
Now, I have recently begun to see a way out of this dilemma, and not by renouncing my Phanship either! I have begun to see a way that Phantom, in all, or at least most, of its high romantic splendour, can be transformed so that it can be carried forward into a post-carbon, degrowth world. Though, no, I won’t give away what that is just yet! And certainly the time and energy spent wrestling with this issue didn’t stop my climate activism. I worked for a habitable planet and a society based on climate justice, and hoped that Phantom might be preserved even as I feared that it wouldn’t. But it did hinder my climate activism. It made me ambivalent, and therefore less effective then I might otherwise have been. And I suspect that there are lots of others out there in a similar position – knowing that climate change is a crisis, wanting to do something about it, wanting to make the world a better place, but fearing that the things they love will be lost in the transformation.
I think, then, that we need to do four things if we truly want to get people mobilized and active:
1. We must learn to tell the difference between love and consumption simply to fill the void of an alienated life. For example, a lot of people would likely read my Phanship practices as mindless, addicted consumption. And they certainly do involve a fair bit of buying stuff I’ll unapologetically admit! But there’s so much more to it than that, as anyone who reads this blog or listens to my podcast can hopefully tell! I would argue, then, that the difference (or at least one of the key differences) is that, like for so many Phans/fans, my/our love for Phantom/whatever our passion is inspires me/us not only to consume, but to create as well – blogs like this one, Phan/fan art, Phan/fanfiction, Phan/fan crafts and jewelry, etc,. (I haven’t yet done Phan art or crafts, but I know lots of people who have! And the same most definitely goes for folks in other fandoms, too.)
2. Help people understand how what they love is endangered by the climate crisis itself, and by the underlying societal problems that created and drive it.
3. Without dissing, shaming, talking down or condescending, help people politicize what they love by making the critical tools available in a friendly, safe and supportive way. For example, although I had an instinct that Phantom was inherently political from the beginning, I couldn’t articulate why or how until I almost literally stumbled across intersectional Critical Disability theory. But once I did, that opened Phantom up to all kinds of explorations of its political possibilities that I wish I’d had access to years earlier! Also, though, support those who already do have a politicized understanding of what they love, even if it’s not yet well articulated. “Jedi Knights for Justice” (no, sadly that’s not actually a thing that exists that I know of) should be welcome at any climate rally or march, as should be “Phans for Social Justice”! (No, that latter doesn’t actually exist either, but it’s something I’d love to start!) Yet all too often, pop-culture fans see activists as super-serious people who’ll give them dirty looks if they come in their fan/Phan regalia, and activists see pop-culture fans/Phans as frivolous, narcissistic and juvenile – a highly unproductive impasse! So we really need to move beyond those stereotypes and start coming together to discover how all the things we love can power us into a just, equitable and sustainable future.
4. Get really super creative, and help facilitate people’s being able to imagine the things they love transformed so that they no longer depend on the fossil-fuel economy to exist. This will require a lot of creativity and “outside the box” thinking, because many things seem so deeply imbedded in the current system that it is hard to imagine them any other way (film, television, fashion, big rock ’n roll, etc,). But if I can figure out how to imagine a post-carbon ALW Phantom, then surely it can be done for other things people love as well!
These four inter-related recommendations are by no means the final answer to how to mobilize the world for the struggle for climate justice, though I hope they are at least a start. But certainly the task they’re components of is a significant part of that answer! Because, as we all surely know, there is no more powerful motivator than love! It can change lives, and it can change the world. People don’t sell out what/who they love for a better deal no matter how “irresistible” that deal is made to sound – as various fossil-fuel companies have found out when trying to get Indigenous communities to agree to let pipelines and other extractive projects into their lands (see Klein). And this position baffles and stymies the power-structure who only understand greed and competition (see Klein). Moreover, people will risk and sacrifice everything for what/who they love, up to and including safety and even life (see again Klein’s work for amazing and inspiring examples). As Naomi Klein says in This Changes Everything, “love will save this place”. Indeed, I would argue it is the only thing that can, but only if people believe that their love can carry them forward into a world transformed for the better. If they believe their love is doomed, though, then they will feel doomed as well and act accordingly. And that would be a vast and unnecessary tragedy when, if we can but activate the great love people already have for their particular piece of the world, we really do have the power to change everything! But as has been said at every climate march since the massive one in New York City in 2014, “to change everything, we need everyone”. So we’d better make sure we don’t exclude anyone!
Naomi Klein (2014). This Changes Everything. Simon and Schuster.
Naomi Klein (2017). No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. Penguin Random House (which division varies by country).
(Note, outside of the U.S. it’s published as No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.)
Naomi Klein (2018). The Battle For Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes On the Disaster Capitalists. Haymarket Books.
Note, all of these are available in unabridged audiobook as well.
So I recently read a brilliant piece by the very awesome writer, artist and Witch Clementine Morrigan on inter-femme competition and’ internalized patriarchy. And it’s ended up giving me a lot to think about in the context of Phantom and Phanship! She was talking about this issue in the context of poliamorous relationships, and how one must unlearn that inter-femme competition in order to make such relationships work. Because, as she points out, femme folks have been taught, in all kinds of subtle and not so subtle ways, that our sole value lies in our ability to attract. But more than this, we have been taught that we are “a dime a dozen” – that those whom we hope to attract have “oceans of us to pick from”, and therefore that we are easily replaceable if we cease to be sufficiently attractive (Morrigan). And as a result, as Morrigan points out, femme folks are pitted against each other in competition for who can perform femme the most perfectly – for who has the best, most “flawless femme skills”. This messaging is especially strong on those femmes seeking masculine folks. But, as Morrigan again points out, because we all live in a broader society which is still deeply patriarchal, Queer communities aren’t immune from falling into this trap either!
In reading her piece, though, I realized that, for my entire life as a Phan, I’ve been in exactly that kind of inter-femme competition with the character of Christine. Moreover, I realized that this is a significant part of the “gender trouble” I’ve found myself in with regard to Phantom. It’s part of what I meant before about getting tangled up, and perhaps a bit lost, in the details of the heterosexual high romantic idiom in which the story is told. Because, Christine is the quintessential presentation of at least a certain kind of femme. Her femininity is unambiguous (long hair, flawless skin, able-bodied/minded, with nothing to compromise or render ambiguous her gender presentation), and she is innocent and girlish. She is the light to the Phantom’s darkness, the innocence to his harsh experience. AND one gets the impression, at least I did, that these qualities are a significant part of what he falls in love with in her (and certainly many Phanfics portray it that way). Thus, as a young, female-identified Phan, I felt that, in order to access the love-story aspect of Phantom (because my great dream was then and, don’t laugh but, still is to meet someone like the Phantom and have them love me as he loved Christine(, I needed to emulate her performance of that kind of femme. I felt that I had to match Christine’s ability to be that kind of femme – to do it as well or better – in order to be desirable to someone like the Phantom.
The problem, of course, is that I could not then and cannot now perform that kind of femme without having to seriously contort and distort myself. So from the beginning, this inter-femme competition was one I was set up to loose. And not just because of the hirsutism! Although, that has ultimately been what has forced me onto the long and difficult journey of trying to get out of that space. And indeed, I want to thank Clementine Morrigan for addressing this issue! I’d never thought about my struggles with the character of Christine in these terms before, and doing so now has been enormously helpful and liberating! Because, as I said, the hirsuitism has only been the final straw – the thing that made the conflict impossible to ignore. But long before it showed up, trying to perform Christine’s type of femme forced me to choose between my desire for love and my own history. For although I do share with Christine the problem of having remained extremely sheltered well into adulthood (a sadly common problem among Blind and low-vision people because of lack of access(, unlike her, my experience was not one of a care-free idyll. Certainly my childhood home was, thank God, a place of love, safety and support, and indeed my refuge. But my experience outside of home was one of repeated trauma due to medicalization, bullying, and ableism (especially in the education system but also beyond), pierced at intervals by the beauty and joy of music. And this history lead me, when I came into Phanship, to identify much more powerfully with the Phantom than with Christine except as his love object! Indeed, except for one year when my then boyfriend went as the Phantom and I as Christine, I always went “in drag” as the Phantom for Halloween. But not completely in drag! My long hair was tied back, but it was still visible and femme. And as weird as people found that, I wouldn’t have had it any other way! But I didn’t know what to do with that in terms of the love-story, and at every time of year other than Halloween I worked very hard to present as Christine.
As can be seen from the above, though, in order to perform Christine’s type of femme I had/have to split off my identification with the Phantom’s pain, outrage and resistance from my desire to be his love object. Not to mention having to hide or “correct” the various body-mind “abnormalities” that made/make it increasingly difficult to look the part of the ingenue! And as my level of vision dropped, as my CP became more noticeable on account of its side-manifestations (a bent and twisted spine and what I now suspect to be mild dysarthria), and, of course, as the hirsutism appeared, such concealment and splitting off became increasingly impossible. Although, I still tried! Because, of course, I still dreamed of finding someone like the Phantom. AND I didn’t see how that was possible if I wasn’t a Christine.
After reading Morrigan’s piece, however, as mentioned above, I’ve come to recognize in this exactly the kind of inter-femme competition she’s talking about! Like fashion-models or movie/TV stars for so many of my femme peers, Christine became for me the gold-standard of femininity with which I had to compete if I hoped to attract the man of my dreams. It left me comparing myself to her, and, of course, finding myself lacking. It left me fearing that, unable to measure up to that standard, I would be excluded from the love-story.
Realizing the role that inter-femme competition with Christine has played in my life and Phanship has been enormously helpful and liberating! And, as I said above, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Clementine for her article that’s been such a catalyst for me in beginning to work this through! So now my task is to work to unlearn that patriarchal conditioning and liberate my Phanship from it. Because I’m not Christine! I’m no ingenue. I never truly was, and I never will be (although, don’t get me wrong, I love beautiful dresses, beautiful hair and roses as much as the next femme!). So now I have to explore what it really means to be a PhantomFemme – a femme-identified and presenting person who knows and understands the Phantom’s darkness because she’s been there (although, thank God, not to the extremes that he suffered), who shares the Phantom’s drive to resist and carve out a space of dignity and empowerment, and who also shares the Phantom’s deep romanticism and desire for passionate love. And as part of that, I have to teach myself to imagine the love-story in new ways. Though, I freely admit that I don’t have a clear sense, yet, of what those new ways might be!
* Note: Sadly, the piece to which I refer here is only available at present to those who support Morrigan on her Patreon, though I hope she will eventually republish it elsewhere. For now, though, I highly recommend that you join her supporters if you can, so you can read this piece and more of her awesome, inspiring and liberating writing!
So now onto some of the current stuff. And I know this is way over-due! But, believe me, although it’s taken me a long time to get around to posting about it, I haven’t been oblivious! I’ve mostly been following through Democracy Now‘s superb coverage and on Twitter. But I really felt I had/have to post something too!
What’s been happening at Standing Rock is unbelievable in the twenty-first century! We should be way beyond sending cops armed with military-grade and military style vehicles and weapons to brutally repress and displace people who are only trying to defend their land, their water – not to mention the water-source of several million other people, and the burial grounds where their people have been laid to rest. I mean, how would you feel if some corporation barged into your community and basically said “we
re going to do this project whether you like it or not, and we don’t care if it endangers your drinking water, and by the way we’re going to bulldoze your cemetery, too, because it’s in the way”? But then, that doesn’t happen in White, middle/upper-class communities. Does it? And the fact that it’s happening anywhere should be unbelievable in 2016, except that we should be way past where cops can just shoot people for traffic “violations”, too. But we’re not! And when people get rightly pissed about it, what do we do? We send in the cops with armoured vehicles and rifles! We should be way past this shit by this time, but, sadly, we’re not! Racism and colonialism are alive and well! And what’s happening at Standing Rock is a classic instance of both, with environmental racism on top.
And it’s not just Standing Rock either. We have similar struggles here in Canada too! Although, so far, things haven’t been escalated by the “authorities” to quite such a degree yet. I hope? If I’m wrong in that, then please correct me! Though, I hope to God not! But, here, too, we have extraction projects being pushed through the lands of Indigenous people who’ve said a loud and resounding “no” – TransMountain, Northern Gateway, Kinder-Morgan, Line 9, Energy East, and, of course, the tarsands themselves. Not to mention the Site C dam! And the government is still trying to persuade/arm-twist communities in the paths of these projects to accept them, in spite of Justin Trudeau’s promises to respect Indigenous rights. In many ways – not only this, but on Bill C51 and electoral reform too – he’s behaving very much like his predecessor, all the while trying to conceal it behind his good looks and affability.
The good thing is that the folks at Standing Rock and all these other sites of struggle have world-wide support. They’re most definitely not facing this shit alone! Protests in support of Standing Rock in my home city have been large, loud and powerful! And they’ve made a point of making the connection/s between Standing Rock and those other struggles, and, indeed, to the struggles of other marginalized people for justice and dignity – Black Lives Matter, the struggles of migrants/undocumented people, the struggles of Queer and Trans people, especially Queer and Trans people of colour. So efforts at “divide and conquer” aren’t working thank God!
Anyway, my thoughts/prayers/good energies/etc, are most definitely with the land and water protectors right now. I’m in absolute awe of their courage and determination! And I hope, for all our sakes, that they succeed! Because, not only would DAPL contribute to the worsening of the climate crisis by allowing for the expansion of fossil-fuel production, which is absolutely the last thing we need right now, but, as the defenders point out, if that pipeline breaks, which is a “when” not an “if” given the track-record of these kinds of projects when it comes to safety, it would contaminate the water-supply for 17 million people. And for what? So already rich people can get richer? Because the fracked oil that it will carry is not for local use. It’s all for export (they’re still desperately hoping there’s a market for it in Europe or Asia)! And the same is true for the pipelines here in Canada too. They’re all meant to carry oil to ports for shipping over-seas. And meanwhile, Indigenous and other marginalized communities’ lands and waters get polluted and wrecked, disrupting subsistence ways of life, and causing major health impacts. In the words of a song by one of my favourite hiphop groups, WTF?!!!
But the land and water defenders have said they’ll keep defending as long as they have to to stop this evil – this totally unnecessary destruction. And thank God for their devotion and dedication, and may God/Spirit give them what they need to do it! And we, their allies, will continue to support them in whatever ways we can too. because, we’re all in this together! In the words of another song by that same group:
“Protect Mother Earth don’t settle for less!
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
Resist till the colonizers settle the debt.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
We got one planet let’s protect what’s left.
This is Turtle Island don’t you ever forget!
So I know that, once again, I’ve been away from posting for a really long time! Really sorry about that! It’s been a really busy couple of months with school and, of course, extra-curricular political activities. But I’ve been meaning to get back here for ages! It’s just taken me a while to have the time and the spoons.
Anyway, before going on to all the current stuff, I wanted to finish my “coverage” of the World Social Forum from back in August. Because, I definitely didn’t cover everything before! Warning, though, that might make this post a bit long. Sorry about that, but there’s a lot to pack in!
So we did actually make the workshop on Friday morning that we wanted to, which was the one from earlier in the week that got rescheduled on “The Fight for the Global City”. And boy was it awesome! There were three panelists – two from Latin America, and one from India. And they talked about various struggles for social justice in their cities, but also about various initiatives to make their cities more just and sustainable. Unfortunately, it’s been such a long time since the workshop that I can’t remember the details. But I’ll look them up as soon as I can, and post links if possible!
The most interesting idea to come from that workshop, though, and the one that’s really stayed with me as something to think about, is the idea of struggling against and resisting what they called “urban extractivism”. They suggested that, under the current neoliberal capitalist economic system, cities are looked at, not as places where people live and have community, but as resource-deposits from which profit can be extracted. So, for example they talked about real-estate markets as a form of extractivism in which land and housing are viewed as resources to be “mined” (not the exact wording, but a similar analogy). Similarly, they talked about how, in this paradigm, urban populations are looked at as a resource to be extracted – as labour, as advertising recipients, as statistical data, as heads to be paid by the number of (as in hospitals and prisons where funding as allocated according to number of patients/inmates, so more bodies = more money). It was a really interesting way to think about those processes! We tend to think of extractivism as something that happens “out there” – in mines and oil and gas extraction sites, but not as something that happens in cities. If anything, we tend to think of cities as the beneficiaries of extractivism. So I thought it was really interesting how these speakers showed how it’s not that simple! And, of course, they noted that this urban extractivism is applied differently to different urban populations, falling hardest on the urban poor.
Then, in the evening (LOL if there was an afternoon workshop I don’t remember what it was), we went to the last of what they called the “Grand Conferences”, which were basically panels of speakers on various issues that had been focussed on throughout the forum. We’d already heard one on neoliberalism and health, which was interesting if depressing, and one on LGBTQ+ struggles around the world which was really cool!
The Friday night’s, though, was on ableism. And it was fantastic! The first chap who spoke did an absolutely brilliant run-down of what ableism is, and of the difference between ableism as individual prejudice and what might be called structural ableism. I really hope his talk was YouTubed, as it’d make a great “ableism 101”! I’ll try to find it and post a link. In fact, I’ll try to do that with as many of the talks as I can, as they were all fantastic!
Then, my friend Laurence, who’s a colleague from way back when I was doing my MA, gave a really great talk on Disabled struggles in the Francophone world. She spoke about the struggle to find a way to define the issue in French without simply borrowing either the English terminology or that coming out of the academy in France, as it may not translate well since different words, with slightly different connotations, are used in different French-speaking regions. For example, she talked about how slightly different terminology is used in France vs in Quebec. And the point is, as has been done so effectively in English with the word “ableism”, to find a term that takes the presumed natural superiority of the able-body and turns it on its head to show how it actually supports a hierarchy. So it was a really interesting talk!
Then the final panelist signed about the emergence of Deaf culture and Deaf arts, and her own emergence as a Deaf poet. Again, really interesting! And I was really thrilled to hear the issue of ableism given such a prominent spot in the WSF. Because, as the title of the panel pointed out, it’s the one system of prejudice that’s all too often forgotten, even among those who are trying to organize for justice and change! So it was good, and refreshing, to have that recognized and an attempt made to do differently. Granted, the attempt could have been more successful. Sure! But, A, at least it was there, and B, that just means there’s more to work on. And the logistical challenges – of making an event like that accessible with all volunteers, a minimal budget, and an organizational structure that tries to be as horizontal as possible – are formidable! So I certainly didn’t get the sense that the access failures that there were, and there were, came from lack of trying. And they certainly seem to be open to learning how they can do stuff better in the future!
Anyway, the next day was the closing events – a sort of wrap-up conference to summarize and assemble everything that had been decided through the week in terms of actions going forward, and then a big closing concert. Mom and I didn’t go to that stuff, though, because, by then, we were both pretty exhausted! LOL We did try to go to the concert, but got seriously rained out! It was a great week, though. I’m really glad we went, and so’s Mom (LOL kind of in spite of herself)! And I very much hope I’ll have the chance to go to another WSF in the future now that I have a better sense of how the whole thing works. I think I’d get much more out of it next time, and be much better able to contribute! We’ll have to see, though. But I hope that might be possible, as, for all that it was incredibly exhausting, I had a really awesome time!
So the next workshop we went to at the World Social Forum was on Thursday afternoon (Aug. 12). LOL Again, we meant to go to one in the morning too, but sleep intervened! But we made the afternoon workshop we wanted to get to, and, again, were really glad we did. It was another great one! Though, at first, I wasn’t sure it would be. But it turned out very effective and productive!
So the workshop was on building what it called “cosmopolitan solidarities”. And the way they were using this language was to mean building solidarities between groups who do not necessarily share the same agenda, goals, or even underlying beliefs/political orientations. We seemed to focus on building solidarity and, ultimately, allyship among diverse groups and people. And it’s an extremely important topic! Because, if you want a broad-based movement, you need to build that kind of solidarity. And it hasn’t always been easy!
What was great, though, was that many folks in the workshop had a lot of on-the-ground, hands-on experience with doing that kind of organizing, so they were able to share a lot of wisdom. One guy in particular had some fantastic stories from the collective he had been part of! And another woman had a lot of insight from her days as part of the collective running a Feminist paper. And the woman who facilitated the workshop had a lot of experience, too, organizing with refugees and around the refugee crisis in Germany where she’s from, and where she’s, in fact, doing her doctorate on this very issue. So it was really great!
In the end, what we arrived at was not a set of best practices, because the one thing that really came through loud and clear was that there is no “one size fits all”, but rather a set of best attitudes or best mindsets. And I hope I can remember all the “ingredients” we came up with! Because, we ended up thinking of it as kind of like a soup – a recipe that could be blended differently depending on the needs of the situation. But we decided that the basic ingredients were: respect, flexibility, real listening, humility – being willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers, awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of the situation and the particular people in the group, reliability, but also awareness that people have to contribute according to their abilities, a sense of humour and an ability to have fun, creativity, and an ability and willingness to adapt. If anyone else who was there reads this, have I missed anything?
Anyway, although the above definitely isn’t news or anything Earth-shattering, it was still a really great, productive workshop. It was really fantastic to hear about everyone’s experiences in actual organizing so that it wasn’t just a theoretical discussion! And I really liked the list of best approaches we came up with. I thought it really useful as something to think with going forward into future work!
So the first session we actually made it to at the World Social Forum was on Wednesday afternoon. We meant to go to one in the morning too, LOL but it got moved to Friday morning amidst a great deal of confusion! At least we made the afternoon one, though. And I’m so glad we did, as it was really fantastic!
The workshop we attended, then, was called “Decolonizing Our Faiths”. It was presented by the Community of Living Traditions, which is an intentional community living just outside New York City. They are a community of Jews, Christians and Muslims working to live together in peace and fellowship while staying true to their faiths, and also while working for peace and justice in the wider world. It sounds like an amazing community, and the people I heard speak from it were awesome! I went because interfaith organizing is something I’ve been interested in for a very long time. I practice as a Christian, although I would definitely describe myself as a “cafeteria Anglican” LOL. And I know for myself what an important role my faiths, both as a Christian and as a Phantom Phan, play in informing my work for justice and peace! And I know, too, that that’s so for many others around the world. Yet, of course, I also know that one faith alone doesn’t have all the answers and can’t do it alone. So having different faiths work together for change is incredibly important! But it can also be incredibly hard because of all the histories of war, forcing conversion and other imperialist crap that has gone along with the institutions of our faiths for so many centuries, and which has built up a shit-load of mistrust, especially of Christianity because of its historic role of providing the ideological and theological justifications for Europe’s colonization and exploitation of the rest of the world. And this workshop was about exactly that – how faith communities can become aware of their histories of privilege and oppression, and how we can begin to work against them in our own traditions and beyond. It was really inspiring! The Community of Living Traditions are doing great work in that struggle!
So we talked about what decolonization meant, and how it plays/might play out in each of our traditions. We talked about the importance of recognizing the role that economic exploitation plays in driving inter-religious conflict, and, therefore, of being involved as people of faith in struggles for economic justice. We talked about traditions, not as dead continuations of history, but as living processes in the present – that it’s important to respect our traditions, but also to give them room to evolve. And we talked, which was cool, about how other things besides faiths can be living traditions! For example, we talked about how social movements, such as those of and for Black liberation, can also be living traditions, and how important it is to recognize and honour this. And we talked about the importance of having the really tough but necessary conversations, both within our own faith-communities and between them – the conversations about race, Zionism, gender, white privilege, Christian privilege, economic privilege, etc, – and of sticking with those conversations, but in a loving, respectful and supportive way. And we also talked about the importance of communities like the Community of Living Traditions as incubators for new ways of living together, which struck me as a really awesome idea!
For me, one of the most useful and powerful things to come out of the workshop was the concept, not of safe space, but of courageous space. I heard that and went “Wow!”. Because it’s true that, while we need to create spaces where people feel safe to speak their truths knowing that they will be respected, loved and supported, those spaces can’t be so safe that one is never challenged. Those spaces also have to be ones where we are able to have/find the courage to have those tough, uncomfortable conversations referenced above, and to have our comfort-zones pushed toward greater justice and inclusion. So that’s one I’m going to be thinking about a lot – how we create and nurture such courageous spaces!
Well, this is my first time trying to post from my new iPad, LOL so we’ll have to see if it works! I hope so! Anyway, so Mom and I just got back yesterday from the World Social Forum, which was held this time around in Montreal. It was really awesome! LOL Though now we’re both totally exhausted. It was fantastic, but very intensive! Wow! But it’s the first time a WSF’s Ben held somewhere we could actually get to, so we really wanted to go!
So, as you may already know, the World Social Forum was originally conceived of as an alternative to things like the WTO, OECD, G8/10/20, etc, as a global forum for ordinary people – activists and social movements – to come together to build the future we want. And hitherto, it’s been held in the so-called “global south”, most famously in Cochabamba Bolivia. But this time, in order to challenge and start to break down the north/south divide, they decided to hold it in a country of the so-called “global north”. Thus, it came to be held in Montreal Canada. The cool thing was, though, that it really was global! We had people there from all over the world, and the issues covered truly reflected the concerns of the whole world! Obviously, the refugee crisis, the climate crisis, and global concerns around corporate grabs for land, water and seeds were in particular focus since those are so hugely urgent in so many places. But lots of more specific, regional issues were addressed too, including those from here in Canada and those specific to Quebec and Montreal.
LOL Unfortunately, because of time and energy, or rather lack of the latter, we only barely scratched the surface of all there was to do at the Forum! But we did manage to get to a bunch of really fantastic workshops and panels. And we did also manage to make the WSF Cabaret each night, which was totally awesome! They had some super-talented musicians there! Wow! 🙂 And we met a lot of really great people there too. That was one of the best parts – the networking! We met new folks there, and I also got to see colleagues I haven’t seen in years except on Facebook!
Anyway, I think I’ll post about the actual events we attended separately. LOL Otherwise, this post would get really long and I’d get really tired! But that’s at least the intro. LOL So I hope this works and that this post shows up!
So Friday I attended another really awesome conference, and I thought I’d post about it. It was the York University Critical Disability Studies Students Association’s 11th annual conference. And, as always, it absolutely rocked! I’ve been going for years, and have even presented at a couple of them. And they just keep getting better! The organizers did a great job as they always do. The awesome part is that, right from its inception, the conference is entirely student-driven and student run!
The theme for this year was “Cripping Canada”, so all the talks and workshops looked at disability in our Canadian context in some way. But many also looked at Canada in its global context, and where disability is in that broader picture. Really cool, critical, thought-provoking stuff as always! I left with a lot to contemplate!
So it opened with a really wonderful introduction by an Indigenous elder that included a smudging ceremony – which was really awesome! Then we went into the first session.
The first session had a panel in one room and a workshop in the other, and I opted for the workshop. It was by an organization called Deliciously Disabled, and was on disabled inclusion, or not, in Queer communities. It was really interesting! Although, frankly, I wish the presenter had cut a lot of the preliminary stuff on disability, ableism and sex in general, which, honestly, every one there already knew, so we could have had a lot more time for questions and discussion. I wish we’d had a lot more time to actually talk about disabled participation in Queer communities – what’s happening, what’s not, if and where there are safe, accessible spaces for Crip people to participate in Queer communities and how to access them, etc, because that stuff’s not so well known. At least, not to me anyway.
So then we had a break, and went into the second session – which was just a panel this time, no workshop. So this panel was on intersections of disability and race, both here in Canada and beyond. The first speaker discussed transnationalizing disability studies so that it’s more attentive to the way disability is situated in its global contexts – to, for example, the role that war plays around the world in producing both disability and disabling conditions, and also to the role/s that transnational relations of power play. It was fantastic! Then, the second speaker talked about issues around mental health and encounters with the Toronto police, and how those issues and the people who live with them were represented in a series of articles in the Toronto Star. Again, really interesting work!
Then we had lunch, which, blessedly, was provided by the conference, and which, blessedly, was not all vegetarian and vegan LOL! And, over lunch, LOL I got roped into going to join the meeting of the York AODA Alliance (a York-centered group working to see the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act actually implemented) that was happening then. And, actually, it was really great! There weren’t many of us there, but it felt very productive. Apparently the group’s only just getting up and going, so there hasn’t been much activity yet. So the meeting was still largely set-up. Plus, of course, it’s the end of term, and everything’s about to really scale back over the summer. But hopefully stuff will get going in the fall! 🙂
Then, after lunch, we had the keynote. It was given by Dr. Tanya Titchkosky, and it was absolutely mind-blowing! I wasn’t familiar with her or her work before then, though she came very highly recommended by my colleagues. But her talk was absolutely amazing! Seriously, she just wrote my manifesto as an artist for me! Her talk, as best as I can sum it up – and this completely fails to do justice to it, was on engaging disabled imaginaries to unseat normative “man” from his privileged position as difinitive humanity. And, when they’ve got the transcripts of the conference posted on the website, I can’t reccommend highly enough that you go and read what she said! In fact, I hope they are, or some one is, given permission to post the recording so you can actually hear her speak it! Because, part of what made the talk so powerful was her way of delivering it. She is a great speaker! She has a wonderful cadence, and a real gift for pacing, inflection and emphasis, without in the least talking down to her audience. It absolutely rocked!
Then we had another break, and went into the first of the afternoon sessions. There was supposed to be another workshop during this session, but, unfortunately, it apparently got cancelled. So it was just the panel. Bummer, as that workshop was one I was really looking forward to! But the panel was really awesome too, and, in fact, would have been a really tough choice between it and the workshop anyway. So it worked out! Anyway, the first speaker gave a really interesting, delightfully informal talk on “Taking Back Self-Harm” from medical discourse, and giving voice to the actual experience of those who do it. Really interesting, and not a topic you hear discussed often! Then, the second speaker, again, talked about intersections of disability, race, class and gender from her experience, both as an activist/organizer, and as some one who’s done front-line work with people with cognitive “disabilities”. Once again, really cool!
Then, the last panel of the day was on disability in the education system. So speakers looked at, for example, the construction of “behaviourally problemed students” in the Ontario public school system, and at ableism in early childhood education, both toward students and toward educators with disabilities. And again, examinations of how race, class and gender intersect/ed with disability figured strongly. In fact, that was very much a theme throughout the conference, which was fantastic!
So, alas, that was the end of the conference for this year. And, as this hopefully gives a hint of, it absolutely rocked yet again! 🙂 I’m already looking hugely forward to next year’s. I can’t wait to hear what the theme is and what folks will do with it! And, in fact, I hope I get the call for papers in time, because I’d love to actually present again, depending on the theme and if I have a relevant topic to speak on. As I said, I’ve presented at their conferences in the past, and it’s been super fun! So I’d love to do it again now that I’m back in school!