Richard Hering
Posts: 55
Stars: 47
Date: 27/10/14
Hamish Campbell
Posts: 297
Stars: 239
Date: 27/10/14
Patrick Chalmers
Posts: 7
Stars: 7
Date: 03/07/14
Matthew Paul Foster
Posts: 1
Stars: 1
Date: 27/12/13
John Sinha
Posts: 1
Stars: 1
Date: 22/10/13

Culture or politics? Feminism’s Answer

The other day I led a group of 25 women on a magical, moonlit walk along the riverside in Oxford, fields on one side, the still, glassy water on the other reflecting the 12-hours-off-full moon above us. We called it Reclaim the Moonlight – a gentler sister march to our annual autumn Reclaim the Night noise protest through the city centre, raising awareness of the ongoing epidemic of violence against women. We organised Reclaim the Moonlight as part of the Oxford International Women’s Festival www.oxfordwomen.co.uk , which each year does more with a smaller and smaller budget. I swear those women are witches – how else do they make it happen?

I know a woman who hates the festival – she sneers at it and calls it ‘cultural feminism’. She’s a very political activist – a Labour councillor, and national anti-poverty campaigner, good at what she does, effective, with no time for soppy women’s music and arts stuff.

Leaving aside that joy is essential to the development and survival of a political movement; that without dancing no one will join the revolution; that the freedom to make art is just one of the achievements of this amazing movement; and of course all the culture that is integral to the politics of the women’s movement, I’m also bothered by that separation of culture and politics.

Also on Tuesday, I was interviewed by a new local Oxford radio station http://www.ox105fm.com/, and asked: “What do you say to those who say that in some places women’s lack of rights is just cultural?”

I said: “Well, it’s kind of funny how we separate culture and politics. Because really, culture is just tradition, tradition is just history, and history is just politics.”

This isn’t just true for feminism: every tradition has had its renowned cultural workers: singers (Peggy Seeger, Billy Bragg, David Rovics); artists (Judy Chicago, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, William Morris); poets and playwrights (James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Adrienne Rich). The importance of play to politics has been understood for years: see Charles Fourrier’s utopian visions, and more recently the serious funsters and cultural activists of the Rebel Clown Army and others. In survivors’ movements politicised voices have emerged through creative writing, and art therapy.

So today, I urge you all to go out and play, have fun, make art, and let your politics sing through your your creative acts. Feminism reminds us that the personal is political – and so is the cultural.

Going beyond safer spaces

As the sad report of a rape at Occupy Glasgow shows, we need safer spaces policies. I asked a woman at Occupy London Finsbury Square whether, in light of the news coming from Glasgow, they had a safer spaces policy there. No, she said, “we’re such a small camp and it feels so safe already here, that we haven’t felt we needed to put one together”. Of course you never realise you needed something until it turns out that you need it, and if you haven’t already got it you’re a bit stuck at that point. There’s something in the old scout’s motto ‘Be Prepared’.

But I think that’s the classic problem with safer spaces policies. As a friend involved in squatting social spaces pointed out, they are usually seen as policing documents setting down rules for use as a last resort, when things go wrong. When they should be seen as something we set down at the start of creating a new space in order to make it intentionally, consciously safe from the outset. How else can we expect people who routinely or often, or ever expect sometimes brutal and violent oppression to feel that our self-organised spaces are places where they will be welcome and included?

Because let’s face it, while our self-organised spaces may feel a lot like the utopia that we hope to live in one day, but in the end they are just bubbles, surrounded by the prevailing social oppressive racist, sexist, classist social structures.

And they have porous boundaries – when people enter a self-organised autonomous space they don’t automatically, magically experience an erasure of their privilege or oppressive behaviours.

And this is where I start to think that we need to go beyond what we currently think of as ‘safer spaces’ policies and think about what we really need to make our self-organised, autonomous, albeit temporary communities really inclusive. Because really, we don’t want to be ‘safe’ from others, we want to be equal to each other, and in order to achieve this, we want to know that we are entering spaces where all who take part consciously acknowledge and claim their privilege, and the power differentials accorded to us by society and resulting from the privileges we inherit.

Granted it’s not as cool as a kind of magic, psychic footbath that will wash away all oppressive behaviours as you cross the threshold into an incense-filled, rainbow-hued utopian self-organised space. But if we’re going to be conscious about the oppression outside our spaces, we have to be conscious of the privilege we carry into our spaces, and determined to claim and address our privilege. Only then can we stand a chance of making spaces where all can feel included and empowered to participate as equals. 

Occupy London: Holding ground

 photos by Anja Lietzman

I'll start by admitting I'm a huge fan of consensus, and I'll also admit that I'm a really big fan of calm, considered conversation. I like it when people think things through, and I like to be part of a group that's working collectively, in a focused way, to come to agreement. That's why I feel so at home at Occupy London.

 

I didn't expect to feel this way the first time I stopped by the camp outside St Paul's Cathedral, right in the heart of the busy, heartless-seeming City of London – I was surprised to find such a grounded,gentle,space of discussion and deliberation.

 

But what really surprised me was finding these qualities of calm, consideration and deliberation standing up to the ultimate test: a threat of eviction. And passing that test with flying colours.

 

I arrived 5 minutes after the letter from the Dean of the Cathedral had been delivered. “It is with a heavy heart” the Dean said, that “we ask you to withdraw peacefully.” Careful language that was met by the occupiers with a suitably considered response. An hour later we all sat down for an emergency assembly to discuss the situation. The letter from the dean was read out, then the original statement of the occupation, then the response from the occupation – which clarified that the fire services had no health and safety issues with the camp, then a clarification from the legal team that no eviction could be carried out until after a court order – unobtainable before the weekend. In this context of clear information, we broke into small groups and discussed what to do.

 

The groups fed back to the main assembly, and the consensus was clear – one spokesperson after another reiterated the same points: certainty that the cathedral was coming under political pressure; determination to stay, and to decide whether or not to stay and how long for on our own terms not those imposed by panic and police pressure; a refusal to fall for the smokescreen of excuses listed under 'Health and Safety' – one occupier pointed out: “We're here for health and safety – we're the ones trying to save the NHS!” And a desire not only to maintain dialogue with the cathedral, but more importantly to reach out to people of faith who support the occupation, to put the call out to them to stand with the occupation, to stand on their faith and call on the church's centuries-old tradition of sanctuary.

 

The authorities threatened the occupation with eviction, and the occupiers responded not only by seeing through the fabricated excuses for removal, but also through finding the strength in the camp's processes to resist the attempt to disrupt the considered, deliberative space which the occupation has created.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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