Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cohousing and other innovative habitats

Having a neighbour babysit, a friend around the corner to drop in for a cup of tea, no noisy cars and choking exhaust fumes, shared dinners, communal gardens... where is this utopia? 

At the September Discussion Group we spoke about cohousing. Cohousing is an intentional community, meaning a group of people plan and manage shared living arrangements that generally comprise private homes and some shared facilities, such as gardens, kitchens and recreational spaces. The idea originated in Denmark in the 1960s by groups of families that were dissatisfied with the existing housing options, and sought to establish a living arrangement that would meet both social and physical needs. The idea has risen in popularity in recent years, particularly in the promotion of 'eco-villages' that also seek solutions to environmental concerns by sharing energy needs and reducing people's reliance on cars for transport.

Australia's cohousing communities are listed on the cohousing website, which provides details of the two currently operating in Perth. SomerVille EcoVillage is in Chidlow, and is set in 162 hectares. It comprises 10 clusters of residences, each with a car-free common area at the centre, and a 20-hectare car-free zone in the centre of the village. Owners can purchase land in the community and must build their dwellings to specific sustainability requirements, and the community also has shared gardens, farms, laundry and living areas. Pinakarri is in Hamilton Hill, and has a land area of less than one acre with 15-20 dwellings. It is funded by both public and private funds, and offers affordable rentals as well as private ownership. Again, it has shared gardens, farms, laundry and living areas as well as holding shared meals on a self-rostered basis and a monthly open house community dinner.

These innovative habitats seek to address a range of social and environmental issues and are based on the premise that by working collectively individuals can achieve more than they would otherwise. In the midst of Perth’s current housing crisis, with only 2% of rental properties vacant, such projects could not be timelier. However, cohousing does not necessarily have to involve spending large sums of money to buy into a cohousing estate or even the collective ownership by a group (which can be problematic as a result of the legal issues associated with shared ownership- this should become easier if the new cooperative law is passed in state parliament). Sharehousing can be a way of creating intentional communities, with weekly dinners or Mojito Mondays providing a social event for housemates. Choosing to rent or buy a property in close proximity to friends, family, and work/study locations is another way of intentionally designing your living arrangements around social, environmental and consumption concerns. Taking down fences between properties (obviously with your neighbour’s consent) is also a means of structuring your living space so you can share it with others.

However, these options may not available to everyone, particularly our newest Australians. The First Home Project is a unique and inspirational form of cohousing, where a family of three have sought and received community support and funding to buy a large property that can fit three families at one time to provide medium term accommodation and an inclusive community for recently-arrived refugees. 

So if neither a 3x1 in Perth’s rolling suburban sprawl or an inner-city dog-box are appealing or affordable, perhaps cohousing offers some alternatives.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Discussion Group: Cohousing and other innovative habitats

Suburban sprawl getting you down? Inner-city living unattractive and/or unaffordable? Come to this month's Bluestocking Discussion Group to explore innovative ways to build communities. Our discussion will first look at the concept of cohousing and its emergence, and examples in both Australia and elsewhere. We'll then look at "intentional neighbourhoods" and other efforts to build communities within the boundaries of standard property rental and ownership regulations, and also some of the issues facing such ventures.

Location: The Moon Cafe, 2/323 William Street (corner Newcastle), Perth
Time: 6pm, Sunday September 9th
RSVP: in the comments here, or on the Facebook event page

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Discussion Group: Bluestocking Week 2012

Celebrating Bluestocking Week
 August 2012

At the Discussion Group last Sunday we celebrated the start of Bluestocking Week for 2012, enjoying a delicious dinner and delving into discussions about what ‘bluestocking’ represents for women, education and society today.

Below is a blog by one of our members, ‘Lizzy Unpronounceable’, with some fascinating insights into the history and significance of the Bluestocking ‘movement’. Thanks Liz!

Lizzy’s disclaimer: This post is very brief, and so skirts around a lot of issues. It is also focused on English and Australian higher education.  History of bluestockings in non-English speaking countries such as Japan would be pretty fascinating, and I invite others to comment with any information about such movements.


It is ironic that the term 'bluestocking', now used to exclusively refer to women in academia, was actually coined in this sense in 1756 in reference to a man.  Benjamin Stillingfleet was the first Bluestocking; the term referenced his eccentric behaviour of wearing his blue woollen stockings to a high society literary gathering, rather than fine white silk stockings as was expected.  The literary gatherings were hosted by Elizabeth Montagu, a member of the literary elite who was wealthy enough and well connected enough to encourage the growth of a circle of fashionable intellectuals.  The group (the membership of which also included Mary Wollstonecraft, Catharine Macaulay, Hannah More, Samuel Johnson, and Edmund Burke) become known as the 'blue stocking philosophers' after Stillingfleet's faux pas, and Montagu's house became known as the 'Blue Stocking Lodge'.  Stillingfleet's blue stockings were taken on as a sort of symbol of unconventional behaviour, just as the idea of women being interested in and able to participate in intellectual pursuits was unconventional.  The term came to refer only to women engaging in intellectual pursuits, and then to women lobbying for (greater) access to higher education and as a derogatory term for supposedly unfeminine, unwomanly, and worst of all unmarriageable women engaging in academia and higher education in conjunction with women's rights more generally.

Bluestockings and women in higher education

Elizabeth Montagu and her intellectually minded friends were operating at a time when women were completely excluded from higher education.  Universities were elite institutions, and higher education was not nearly as accessible in the 18th century as it is now in the 21st century.  However, while men were excluded from the academy on the basis of class or wealth, women were excluded because they were women.

Girls were notionally expected to be educated up to a point, either through the contemporary equivalent of primary and secondary schools, or home schooling by a parent or governess.  However, schooling was limited by the teacher's own level of education and by the parents' willingness to bear the financial burden, particularly when the child reached an age where they could start to earn an income.

There were avenues that women could follow if they were academically minded, for example enjoying religious and literary scholarship by joining nunneries, or self instruction through reading their way through fathers' or husbands' libraries.  Girls could learn vicariously through their brothers when they were home for the holidays, relying on second-hand information remembered from the boys' own classes.  However, until the 1800s, there were no social structures for girls' continued schooling or for encouraging women to engage with academia.

In England in the 1800s, teaching colleges started to spring up, providing women a way to qualify for one of the only respectable careers available to them.  Colleges and universities started to allow women to attend out-of-hours public lectures.  In America, a number of colleges admitted women from about 1830 onwards, and women-only colleges like Vassar and Smith were established in the second half of the century.  In Australia, the first universities were established in the 1850s, and women were excluded from them until 1881.

Once women were admitted to universities, there was still no guarantee of equal access to educational experiences.  Some universities still excluded women from certain courses, effectively funnelling women into education and home economics.  There are examples of lecturers refusing to lecture when only the female students had bothered to turn up to class, and of tutors setting different problems for female students, or marking them differently.  Oxford and Cambridge allowed women to matriculate, studying the same degree courses as men, from the second half of the 1800s.  However, women were not awarded degrees until 1920 and 1948 respectively.  After winning the fight to occupy academia, women had to fight to participate in academia.

A range of bizarre beliefs about women and women's capacity to learn plagued the bluestocking cause.  One commonly held medical belief was that women's reproductive 'apparatus' would be endangered by the redirection of energy from the ladyparts to the brain.  Anti-bluestocking arguments asserted that the act of studying would lead to a withering of the womb, and would make women barren, weak or sickly, mentally ill, and possibly eventually cause death.  Those whose education did not rob them of their reproductive abilities and physical and mental strength were attacked for marrying later in life or not at all, and anti-bluestocking arguments morphed into concerns about low birth rate leading to humans dying out.  Another argument against higher education for women was a little closer to reality.  There was little demand for women with degrees in the labour market, and so what use was a university education to a women whose post-degree options were often limited to a career in teaching or homemaking?  For many women, university life was a brief respite from familial duty, and once the classes ended, so did their access to the academic world.

Arguments that supported women's higher education were not all that enlightened either, and tended to focus on the benefits of an educated thinking woman to society and to their menfolk.  That is, an educated woman would be better placed to pass on that education to their sons.  Education for the betterment of women as individuals did not seem to be taken as a compelling argument.

Bluestocking and Suffrage

Restricting women’s access to higher education was also a way of restricting women's access to other freedoms, particularly suffrage.  As male student riots in Cambridge in 1897 demonstrated, people were motivated by an underlying fear of gender equality that manifested in attacks against women's education, women's suffrage, and even women's right to ride bicycles – all symbols of the freedom and equality that first wave feminists were fighting for.  Arguments against women being allowed to vote often centred on their supposed inability to think rationally and their childish or uninformed opinions.  Voting while female was a danger to society, as women were not in a position to know enough about the world to make meaningful decisions about it.  Increased equality in higher education was a slippery slope that would eventually lead to equality in many other areas where men enjoyed privilege.  Give women degrees and soon they would expect equal access to employment, income, and suffrage.  With hindsight, we can now happily say that they were spot on about that, at least.

In 1949, women accounted for 20% of all university undergraduate students in Australia.  A government briefing paper from 2003 put women's engagement in higher education at just over 50%.  However, echoes of the historical bluestocking experience are still evident when looking at the subject areas that men and women tend to pursue.  In 2002, women were still more likely to engage in arts and humanities, and far more likely to pursue education than men.  Men were slightly more likely to enrol in physical and chemical sciences, and far more likely to pursue information technology and engineering.  This is also true across the globe, as women are vastly more likely to graduate with a degree in an education area than one in engineering or computing [UNESCO have released an atlas of global access to education].

In less than 200 years, women have gone from complete exclusion from higher education to making up more than half of the global student body.  However, 19th century ideas of biological 'fitness' for certain areas of academia still inform both women and men's choices about higher education.  Women still tend to pursue higher education in traditionally 'feminine' fields seen as requiring communication and nurturing skills, and are actively discouraged from pursuing areas that are perceived as requiring 'masculine' abilities of logic and rational thought or of manual dexterity and strength.  'Bluestocking' as a label has changed from a badge of honour to a vicious pejorative, and back again.  Women's education is now seen as an integral part of economic and social growth, recognising the potential for women as change agents.  Far from bringing about the end of the human species, Bluestockings started the ball rolling for equal access to higher education and academia, a cause that we must still actively pursue.

Further Reading

Aleman, Ana M. Martinez & Renn, Kristen A. (2003) Women in Higher Education: an encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO []

Carrington, Karry & Pratt, Angela (2003) How Far Have We Come? Gender disparities in the Australian higher education system, Information and Research Services, Department of the Parliamentary Library. []

Eger, Elizabeth (2010) Bluestockings: Women of reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism, Palgrave MacMillan,

Kamm, Josephine (1965) Hope Deferred : Girls' Education in English History, Routledge []

Robinson, Jane (2009) Bluestockings: The remarkable story of the first women to fight for an education, Viking. []

UNESCO eAtlas of Gender Equality in Education (2012) []

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Proud to be a Bluestocking

This article was written by Shannon Green and was originally published in the Frederick News-Post on 8 June 2012.  Click here for a link to the original article.

One day while waiting for my daughter's gymnastics class to let out, I decided to steal a few minutes to read my book. I hadn't finished one chapter when a woman plopped her gym bag on the couch seat next to me and asked, "What are you reading?" I replied that I was finishing up "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin." She paused and then said, "There's a name for women like you, intellectual women, blue something or other." I told her that I was not familiar with any such term. After rummaging in her bag for a moment she made a hasty retreat. I didn't think a whole lot of the exchange until I recounted it to my husband that evening at dinner. He encouraged me to look it up, and thanks to the infinite knowledge of Wikipedia, I discovered what she was trying to call me: a blue stocking.

I had never heard this term before, so I read the entire article. Wikipedia defines "blue stocking" as an 18th-century term for an educated, intellectual woman. OK, that's not so bad. But as I read further I discovered that the term had mostly negative connotations, and the blue stocking name itself came from the cheaper stockings allegedly worn by educated women as opposed to the more fashionable black stockings that were in style. What really got to me was there was only one word in the "See Also" section of the entry. And that word was "nerd."

Upon further investigation, I also found that in 1811 an Irish playwright wrote a play titled "The Blue Stocking" that parodied such women. On the flip side, I also discovered the Blue Stocking Society. Established in England in the mid-1700s, the society was a circle of women interested in the education of their fellow females. They would meet, invite learned men to attend and discuss the intellectual issues of the day.

Since women were not allowed to attend college at that time, meetings like this attempted to fill the gap in their education. One quote from one of the most famous Blue Stocking members, Elizabeth Montagu, really struck a chord with me. In 1743 she stated: "In a woman's education little but outward accomplishments is regarded ... sure the men are very imprudent to endeavor to make fools of those to whom they so much trust their honour and fortune, but it is in the nature of mankind to hazard their peace to secure power, and they know fools make the best slaves."

In the 20th century, some women's groups and colleges have tried to reclaim the name much the way Revolutionary War soldiers reclaimed the word "Yankee." Not to much avail, however, since the term is rarely used.
Now I won't pretend to know the woman's motivation or intentions when she called me this. Perhaps she didn't mean it as an insult. Most of my friends think that she did. Whatever her reason, I am thankful that she did it.
Who knows if I would have ever encountered this term or learned about these women who so bravely sought equality and an education?
Shannon Green writes from Frederick, Maryland where she still reads in public, no matter what the cost.

Fairtrade product search

From Fairtrade Australia New Zealand

Click on Find Fairtrade on the Fairtrade Australia New Zealand website to use a great new product search function. Type in a product type, location or simply browse the many brands of Fairtrade Certified products available. Generated by Fairly Local, you too can contribute to the database by submitting locations where you have seen Fairtrade Certified products - read more here on how to contribute.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Uranium Mining and Fracking in Australia

This month's discussion group will look at uranium mining and fracking in Australia. For those who can't make the discussion, there are some overviews below. Feel free to add comments if you have questions or opinions to share.

Uranium Mining in Australia
There have been three main bursts of uranium mining exploration in Australia. The first was in the mid-1940s and 1950s, after pressure from the US and UK governments encouraged the federal government to offer tax concessions. The second came in the late 1960s as nuclear power began to take off, and the third has happened since 2002 (driven, in part, by claims that nuclear power will help to provide an energy source with a lower impact on climate change than coal).

an image of a minesite, fenced off, with a 'controlled area' sign in front of it
Photo courtesy of Alberto OG on Flickr

Opposition to uranium mining has accompanied these developments, with activists concerned about the environmental impacts, the impacts on Aboriginal communities and lands, and the links between uranium mining and nuclear weapons.

The Wikipedia entries on uranium mining in Australia and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia both provide useful overviews.

This interactive map provides a useful overview of previous, current, and proposed nuclear sites, covering processing facilities and waste storage sites as well as military and mine sites.

The RoxStop website offers some suggestions on how to take action on uranium mining in Australia, including signing petitions and shifting your super away from funds that invest in uranium mining.

The Lizard's Revenge website provides information on the upcoming attempt to highlight the problems with the expansion of Olympic Dam.

For people in Western Australia, the Conservation Council of Western Australia has provided an overview of the problems with the proposed Toro Energy mine at Wiluna.

Fracking in Australia
Photo from Darth Ambiguous on Flickr
Fracking is a relatively recent development in Australia: the technology has only become feasible over the last decade or so, and while it has been used quite extensively elsewhere Australia has seen the most rapid expansion of fracking since 2010. Fracking involves using pressurised fluid mixed with sand and a range of chemicals to fracture gas reservoirs so that the gas can be accessed. There are a number of concerns about this technology, including the environmental impacts and the impacts on farmers. 

This article in The Economist, Gas Goes Boom, looks at the development of fracking in Australia, as well as some of the concerns about the environment and effects on farmers.

Dennis Cooke's Explainer: coal seam gas, shale gas, and fracking in Australia on The Conversation is also a good starting-point for those wanting to find out more.

For more on opposition to fracking in Australia, you can visit:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Democracy in Burma?

Democracy in Burma?
Bluestocking Discussion Group (May 2012) 

At the Bluestocking discussion group last Sunday, we discussed the promising chain of events occurring in Burma/Myanmar at the moment. From a strict military regime to fair elections, all occurring within the space of 2 years, there’s certainly a change in the air. The questions these circumstances prompted us to ask were: What led to this change? And: Is it as wide-sweeping and permanent as people in Burma, and around the world, are hoping for?

A brief timeline of events can help to answer some of these questions... though only time will tell if Burma’s experiment with democracy will continue. (For a more detailed timeline see BBC news and

After colonisation by the British and invasion by the Japanese in WWII, Burma became an Independent nation in 1948. Following a short spell of democratic governance, the national government was removed in a military coup, with the subsequent establishment of a military-backed ‘socialist’ government (by the mid-1970s).

Over the following decades, human rights abuses and international sanctions left Burma’s populace economically and politically disempowered. While ties with ASEAN countries and China kept the national economy afloat, there was discontentment on the ground, with several significant public protests. The two most well-known of these protests were in the late-1980s and in the late-2000s. One result of the first of these ‘anti-government riots’ was the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition party NLD. Aung San Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest (with brief stints of reprieve) for the next 20 years.

From the late-1980s to the late-2000s, the Burmese government oscillated between appeasement and enforcement: with political prisoners, for example, released and re-imprisoned, often in response to fluctuating international pressure. In late 2007, however, public sentiment flared again, with anti-government street protests, most notably by a large contingent of Buddhist monks.  A government crackdown ended the demonstrations, and in 2008 the government published its new constitution, which favoured the military and barred Aung San Suu Kyi from contesting elections.

In 2010, under the new constitution, elections were held, and the ruling party claimed a resounding victory amid wide-spread condemnation of the corrupted electoral process. From these very unpromising beginnings, though, a change can be seen in the government’s approach. From 2011 to 2012, the new government and president Thein Sein released Aung San Suu Kyi, suspended construction of a controversial dam, freed political prisoners, enacted new labour laws, and began ceasefire agreements with several rebel groups. Most significantly, as far as the international media was concerned, the government allowed Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to contest in by-elections, in which they won 43 out of 45 seats.

So where does Burma go from here? Are these genuine reforms, are they temporary changes to appease international interests and spark the economy, or is there intern political power struggles within the government which will determine Burma’s future reforms? For answers to these questions, we will just have to wait and see. The NLD is in the government now, but it only holds 43 out of 664 seats. Ceasefires with the Karen and the Shan appear to be progressing, but there is still little government commitment to negotiations with the Kachin rebel group. Yet, we have also seen, over the last few months, some of the most promising changes in Burma’s undemocratic history- changes that we can only hope will continue.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Discussion Group: Kony 2012

At this month's discussion group we looked at the Kony 2012 campaign.

The film: Kony 2012 was created by Invisible Children, Inc. and released on 5 March. The purpose of the film is to promote Invisible Children's 'Stop Kony' campaign which seeks to make Ugandan war criminal, Joseph Kony, globally known to assist in his arrest. In the film the acts of Joseph Kony are explained through filmmaker Jason Russell's explanation to his son. The film also features Jacob Acaye, whose brother was killed by Kony. In the film Jason Russell promises Jacob that he will do everything possible to 'stop Kony'. The film is approximately 30 minutes and it has received over 100 million views. Following criticisms of the film, Invisible Children Inc. released a sequel video, 'Kony 2012: Beyond Famous' on 5 April. It received much less interest, with only 1.7million views in its first two weeks.

Joseph Kony: Kony is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). He claims to be a spokesperson of God and a spirit medium. The LRA formed over 26 years ago and according to the film, in that time it has kidnapped over 30,000 children, many of which have been subjected to appalling crimes including rape and mutilation. Initially the LRA claimed it was a resistance movement against the central Ugandan government who were viewed as privileging southern Ugandan ethnic groups at the expense of northern ethnic groups. The LRA has been classified as a Christian militant group although many commentators argue that it no longer has any ideology or political programme.  

The 'Stop Kony' campaign: The purpose of the movie is to raise global awareness of Kony to assist in generating support for foreign military involvement in his capture, such as preventing the cancellation of a US advisory group mission that was deployed by President Obama to assist the Ugandan military. The film suggests that people go to the Invisible Children, Inc. website and send emails to 40 influential people, including 20 'celebrity culture makers' and 12 policymakers. The campaign also involves the 'Cover the Night' action which took place on 20 April. To raise awareness of Kony, the film advocated plastering campaign materials across cities around the world on 20 April. Invisible Children offer posters online and sell action kits that include buttons, posters, bracelets and stickers. 

Responses: 'Cover the Night' was widely perceived to be a failure. Across the globe the anticipated crowds did not come out, leaving many cities 'unplastered'. The LRA purportedly released a statement that condemned the film as 'a cheap and banal panic act of mass trickery to make the unsuspecting peoples of the world complicit in the US rogue and murderous activities in central Africa'. Meanwhile, two US senators put forth a resolution on 21 March condemning Kony and backing the efforts of a combined central African military force to capture Kony. It received bipartisan support from 37 senators. On 23 March the African Union announced that it would send a brigade of 5000 troops from central African countries where Kony is believed to be active, namely Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This force is led by the Ugandan military and has the backing of the US. It is planned to exist until Kony is captured.

Support: Many influential and high-profile people and organisations have supported the film, including Luis Moreno Ocampo, Chief Prosecutor at the ICC; Abou Moussa, Special Representative and Head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa; Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF; and Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Support for the film has generally centered on the high degree of public interest that the film sparked. 

Criticisms: The film received many criticisms. It was argued to be highly simplistic in that it barely mentioned that Kony and his forces, now much reduced in numbers, are no longer in Uganda. Nor did the film highlight the Ugandan military's earlier use of child soldiers during conflict with the LRA. The film's focus on the capture of one person as a solution to this conflict was also criticized. The film also did not highlight the importance of a Ugandan-led solution in ensuring the longevity of any solution. It was argued to unfairly represent Uganda, given that the country is no longer in a state of conflict. Alex de Waal also argued the campaign glorified Kony, rather than presenting him as a "common criminal and failed provincial politician". The finances of Invisible Children Inc. have also been the subject of controversy, given that they received funding from anti-gay Christian groups.

Possible impacts: The 'Stop Kony' campaign clearly sparked a lot of public interest and debate, and spread awareness of the atrocities committed against so many children. Importantly, individuals could unite globally to take action in support of this issue, and this unique feature was most likely the source of strong public interest that it received. The campaign did, however, leave a lot to be desired, evident in the numerous criticisms it received. It didn't lead to the public action that the organisers had hoped for, seen in the failure of 'Cover the Night'. It's not known whether the failure of the campaign to move from the internet to the streets reflected apathy, or rather that people became aware of the campaign's criticisms. If the lack of action followed people's awareness of these criticisms, then the film did have a positive effect by prompting people to engage with this issue.

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference: a ‘people-oriented’ ASEAN?

Kelly Gerard 

The first of two ASEAN Civil Society Conferences to be held under Cambodia’s chairmanship took place in late March, alongside the first ASEAN Summit for 2012. The Cambodian government’s intervention in this event set a new benchmark for measures employed by ASEAN governments to oust civil society participation from official discussions. This event presented numerous challenges to Southeast Asian civil society groups, and provides insight into the current state of ASEAN-civil society relations.

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference has been held eight times under various titles, and is organised by members of the Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) network. This occurs in consultation with national civil society groups in the host country and the relevant ASEAN government where necessary. Consequently, it is considered the ‘genuine’ forum for Southeast Asian civil society organisations to present their ideas, network, collaborate on common areas and attempt to engage ASEAN officials on issues of concern.

The event shadows the ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting and comprises a series of plenary sessions and workshops where participants discuss regional issues and collaborate in drafting a ‘People’s Statement’ addressed to ASEAN leaders. Participants also appoint a civil society representative from each country, who later participates in an interface meeting with ASEAN heads of state. In some instances, these meetings have lasted up to 30 minutes, as seen in Hua Hin in February 2009; at others the host government has not permitted the interface meeting to take place at all, such as in Singapore in November 2007. Here, the ‘People’s Statement’ was submitted to officials in the hope that it would be tabled during their discussions.

This year’s event presented a number of challenges to Southeast Asian civil society. The conference was held from 29-31 March at the Lucky Star Hotel in Phnom Penh, and attracted 1200 participants from 300 organisations across the region. The first obstacle the conference faced was the rival ‘ASEAN People’s Forum’ held at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall from 28-30 March. It was organised by a Cambodian organisation, Positive Change in Cambodia, which is widely perceived to have close ties to the Cambodian government. The event was supported and attended by senior Cambodian government officials, and some other ASEAN governments also supported the rival event. This was evident in the transfer of 30 Laotian delegates by the Laotian ambassador from the ASEAN Civil Society Conference to the ASEAN People’s Forum. The rival forum also divided civil society participants, who were forced to choose between groups viewed as independent and those portraying themselves as wanting to work with governments.

The second obstacle was the Lucky Star Hotel management’s opposition to a number of workshops. The management threatened to cut power and padlock the venue if particular workshops proceeded. These included workshops on Myanmar's current political and human rights situation and its planned ASEAN chairmanship in 2014, as well as land evictions, the expansion of mono-culture plantations and the protection of ethnic minorities’ rights to land. SAPA network members noted that it is difficult not to believe the Cambodian government had a role in these prohibitions. These obstacles came on top of delays in gaining access to the venue, following the slow release of necessary permits by Cambodian officials.

The third issue was the Cambodian government’s request that ASEAN member states nominate a civil society representative for the interface meeting, rather than allow civil society groups to conduct their independent nomination process. Only the Indonesian and Philippines governments consulted with independent civil society groups on this matter, and their representatives subsequently boycotted the meeting.

These events cast doubt on the credibility of ASEAN’s commitment to becoming a people-oriented organisation. ASEAN began promoting its efforts to build a community in Southeast Asia following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and after the signing of Bali Concord II in 2003 the idea of a ‘people-oriented community’ became a buzzword. This was reinforced by the ratification of the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which committed member states to democratic norms and to the promotion and protection of human rights. After 30 years of having little to no impact on the lives of average citizens in Southeast Asia, these developments created the expectation of change. But the Cambodian government’s intervention in the ASEAN Civil Society Conference, and the support it received from other member states, belie the hollowness of these commitments.

Through these efforts, the Cambodian government has also demonstrated it rejects the value of civil society’s contributions to ASEAN processes. It disregarded their expertise in numerous areas relevant to the discussions of this ASEAN Summit, including drug and people trafficking, the plight of migrant workers, the environmental impacts of large-scale infrastructure projects, and disaster preparedness. The exclusion of civil society groups is likely to prove costly in the coming decades, both in undermining ASEAN’s efforts to distance itself from its previous image as an ‘old boys club’ and in not utilising civil society’s expertise in its ongoing reform agenda.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Discussion Group: Occupy Oakland

5:30pm - 7pm Sunday 11th March 2012, Moon Cafe (Northbridge).

Welcome to Bluestocking’s Discussion Group series for 2012!

The first Discussion Group of the year will look into the ‘Occupy’ movement which is sweeping the globe. Our very own Sky Croeser has recently returned from Occupy Oakland in the US, and will share with us some of her experiences and insights.

Come along for a fun, informal discussion! At the Moon Cafe (323 William Street, Northbridge), 5:30pm this Sunday. All welcome. RSVP here.

For more information on Occupy Oakland:-

Over the last few months Sky has been populating her website (and the media) with her accounts of Occupy Oakland, and the broader Occupy movement, including activities here in Perth. This experience has been part research (via Curtin University) and part personal interest for Sky. And, as you can read in the articles below, she has certainly been keeping in the thick of it.

Below is a few links to Sky's blogs, and a copy of her article in Global Comment concerning her experiences at Occupy Oakland:


“Occupy Wall Street: movements and manifestos”

“The violence we don’t see”

“Why I’ll be at Occupy Perth (and the protests against CHOGM)”

As we marched down the road a man with his face covered in a black bandanna ran up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, pointing to the intersection ahead of us. “The police are up there,” he said, knowing from an earlier conversation that I had to be careful not to get arrested, “you might want to get onto the sidewalk.” I ran up towards the front of the march: police were blocking roads in at least three directions, and I couldn’t see the fourth. A group of people who’d been arrested at Saturday’s Move In Day started walking off down a side street and I joined them, worried that the police would start moving in at any moment.

Occupy Oakland has been criticised for taking a more militant tone than other Occupies. The Mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, has attempted to widen divisions within Occupy by calling on ‘leaders’ of the Occupy movement to oppose Occupy Oakland for its failure to commit to nonviolence.

On January 28th, Move In Day, which was meant to lead to a building takeover to set up a social centre, people brought down home-made riot shields, barricades, and gas masks. For the last six weeks, sections of Occupy Oakland have also been having a ‘Fuck the Police’ (FTP) march every Saturday night, which the Tactical Action Committee describe as “a militant action” and “not a march intended for people who are not fully comfortable with diversity of tactics” (a phrase which refers to tactics that might include resisting the police and property damage).

However, what critics often miss is that the same people who carried barricades at Move In Day go to Occupy events in San Francisco empty-handed. When I went to Occupy Wall Street West in San Francisco on 20th January, I didn’t see any barricades or riot shields, and very few gas masks. The reason for this is clear: activists don’t expect to be teargassed, shot with rubber bullets and beanbag guns, maced, and beaten in San Francisco.

The FTP march may make some activists uncomfortable. Honestly, if I wasn’t trying to get a better understanding of Occupy Oakland for my research, I may not have attended: it’s not the kind of event I would usually be comfortable with as an activist. But then, I was never teargassed, shot at, or kettled until Move In Day, and my interactions with the police have been shaped by the fact that I’m a middle-class white woman living in Australia. I am now more anxious around police than I have ever been before.

What the FTP march, barricades and gas masks assert is the right of protesters to be in public space, and the willingness to resist being pushed out of that space. This is a vital right for activists to assert. It is possible for activism to take place in private, or in public only with permission: in rented offices, through letters to politicians or news sources, through decisions to boycott products or buy fair trade, in marches that have been granted permits or ad campaigns paid for by donation. But to believe that activism should be bounded by what is polite, unthreatening, and legal is to accept a system that configures as primarily as consumers, and channels our politics through the funnel of consumption. It means accepting that only those who can afford to speak loudly should be heard.

Being present in public space is an important part of activism. It makes it easier for people to stop by and get involved, to watch from the fringes and try to work out what is going on with the movement. It is a small step towards reclaiming the commons, asserting that healthy communities need shared spaces in which people can spend time without participating in acts of consumption. It also forces activists to work out ways to deal with the contradictions we face: to organise across lines of race and class, to build safe spaces for women, for people who are queer, trans or genderqueer, for children, but also to include those who have been pushed onto the street by a lack of mental health and welfare services.

Saturday’s FTP march demonstrated that people are willing to stand up to police intimidation in order to reclaim their streets. Many of those there were nervous: some had been arrested on Saturday and held in terrible conditions, others knew that being arrested might get them fired. They marched anyway. There were young people there with their faces masked, but also older people in suits, couples holding hands, people carrying pets, people who had never been to a FTP march before but came because of what happened on Move In Day. As they walked through Oakland I saw people watching from balconies and windows and cars, often waving and smiling. I didn’t see any hostile reactions from those who were watching.

I don’t know where Occupy Oakland is headed. In a week, I’ll get on a plane and head back to Australia, where I doubt I’ll be teargassed in the near future. In the meantime, the debates will continue, and activists will keep trying to build a public space for themselves in the face of police confiscations of their property and bad weather.

And, as I have heard so many activists say: Spring is coming. Who knows what the sunshine will bring?

Monday, January 9, 2012

What does it take to make a difference?
How do we translate passion into a useful campaign?
How can we make a big splash on a tiny budget?

Activist Campaign Tools (ACT) is a series of three day courses for community organisers in Perth, WA. Priced for an activist budget, they are designed to provide practical skills and campaign secrets for people trying to improve the world. The courses are designed to provide practical skills and professional training for non-profit organisations, advocates, and anyone working for change!

Three ACT courses are coming up soon:

CAMPAIGN SKILLS: Freo Sunday 29 Jan, 5 & 12 Feb
Translate passion into action!
Campaign Planning, marketing and media, politics and lobbying, events, activism tactics and people skills.
Sunday 11, 25 Mar & 15 Apr NEW
Build your organisation!
Volunteer recruitment and management, fundraising secrets, increase membership, Web 2.0 and Cyber-activism, networking and partnerships.
Sundays 6, 20 May, 10 June
Compelling Communications:
Speaking with Confidence, Speech Structure and Content, Vocal Skills, Body Language, Persuasive Psychology, Dynamic Debating, Impromptu Speaking.

For more details and bookings, visit ACT or call Katrina Bercov at ACT on 9443 7454.